In 1994, Rotary International District 5790 expanded its teaching program in Mexico to include Playa Del Carman on the Yucatan Peninsula across from Cozumel. Last year the area had been scouted out by William Eubank and Mrs. Claudia McWhorter as a potential site for teaching.
The Playa Club requested two teachers for the period from July 6, 1994 to August 5, 1994. William Eubank and Nancy Barrett were selected to teach at the Playa site.
Nancy has worked in the Arlington Independent School District for many years as a classroom teacher and counselor. William has worked in the Arlington District for three years as a teacher of English as a Second Language.
Nancy and William, along with the Cozumel group of teachers, flew to the Cancun airport on July 6, 1994. The Cozumel group of teachers made a connecting flight to Cozumel on a smaller airline.
The Playa Club members were not at the airport when we arrived. We visited with taxi drivers as best we could and waited for someone from the club to spot us in front of the airport. We did spend time practicing Spanish with the cab drivers and made friends with two drivers that helped us make a phone call to Playa. After about an hour, Nancy called the Hotel Maya Bric and was assured that Club members were on the way to pick us up. The President of the Playa Club, Luis Ricardo Gama and two other members arrived a short time later. Ricardo's wife and another wife was there to welcome us along with the members. They presented Nancy with flowers.
On the drive back to Playa it was learned that Ricardo and his wife were driving up to Merida later in the day to attend a district governors meeting on Saturday. We expressed an interest and were invited to go along. That afternoon the four of us went over to Merida and stayed over night. We attended the Rotary District Governor's meeting for about two hours and then went on a tour of Merida. On the way back to Playa on Sunday we stopped for several hours at Chichen-Itza to view the Myan runs.
In Playa arrangements were made for Nancy to stay at the Hotel Maya Bric. The Club made arrangements for William to stay at an apartment above Ricardo's store and later at the Hotel Sian Ka'an. Both of these hotels were family operations having about 25 units each in several buildings. They were located one block from the beach. The rooms were basic tourist accomodations - indoor plumbing - and un-air-conditioned. Part of the charm of Playa is its rustic style of tourist accommodations. Many of the tourists at Playa stayed for several weeks. We met many Italians and Germans but very few North Americans in Playa. There was plenty of opportunity for interaction with international tourists.
Meals were arranged with Playa Club members taking us for all three meals each day (at Cozumel - the year before - the arrangement was to eat breakfast at a restaurant and then go different families to lunch and then dinner). Sometimes the meals were in the homes of the members amd at times the meals were at restaurants (often owned by members). We ate a wide variety of Mexican, Mayan and Western style meals. I believe the members and wives planned meals to give us the widest variety of foods possible - representing several regional Mexican cooking styles. We ate it all - and gained a certain amount of unwanted extra baggage to take home - now those steamed chicken feet were. . . great! The homes we visited were about half apartments and half free standing structures. Playa is a newer, rapidly developing town and most of the structures were less than ten years old. We did not visit one home or apartment with enough extra room to accommodate a month long visitor.
The details of the project for the Playa Club were taken care of by Marcos D. Estrella Alfaro and his wife. He arranged the schedule for the members to take us to meals. He also arranged for the teaching classrooms and took care of problems as they arose. Marcos and his wife Maggie became our very good friends. We spent a lot of time with them and depended on them to help us make the project a success.
Arrangements were made for the students to come to the elementary school in the middle of the town. Club members cleaned and painted two school rooms on the Saturday and Sunday before classes were to start. We helped put the desks back in the classrooms (30K) on Monday before we started classes. Each room contained about 30 student desks, a real black board, lights and two overhead fans for air circulation. On several days it was very warm which made teaching a bit of a strain.
The first two days we taught as a team with all students in one class room. This was a way to introduce ourselves and to sort the students by ability. Classes were held from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 6 p.m to 8 p.m. Later we divided the classes offering two beginning classes and two intermediate/advanced classes. Some students attended both the morning and evening classes. Students came as far as ten miles each day for classes. They walked and rode public transportation. Visiting them at their job site was very interesting for us and a real treat for them. Their English teacher cared enough to visit them at work! We were treated royally! This can be most interesting when your student is the head bartender!
The students covered a wide range of ages, abilities and occupations. Students as young as twelve and as old as sixty attended. We had doctors, engineers and other professionals as well as hotel and shop workers. In general it is my opinion that the English level in Playa is more basic than that of Cozumel where I taught last year. Our classes varied from ten to twenty students per class per day. An average days attendance was about fifty to sixty students for all classes combined. The teacher must be flexible and be able to offer a lesson that is pretty much stand alone each day.
Our classes were impacted by work shift schedules, vacation schedules, the Fiesta of Carman, a one week international trade show, the weather and other events. In spite of it all, about forty students attended all or most all of the classes and were given a certificate at the end of the program. An evening program was held out doors at the school. The Club member's wives provided snacks. The local cola distributor provided free drinks. At first it seemed that no one would show up but in time the seats all filled. People were getting there right up to closing time and they all had wonderful reasons for arriving when they did. The press was there and took many pictures but we were leaving the next day and did not see the write up.
All the problems were minor. On several occasions either Club members or ourselves were confused as to when or where to meet for a meal or to be picked up for an activity. At one time my nice clean classroom was taken over by a group of lawyers but I just invited my students in and started teaching and the lawyers moved on to one of the other classrooms (last year I kept losing my classroom to the Junior Turtle Guards at Cozumel). On several occasions the school gate was locked at night and we had to contact Marcos for a key or we had to punt. (One time we took the students across the street to a restaurant for a coke and an English lesson, another time someone called a lock smith, etc.)
This year (1994) the Government of Mexico made the clubs at Playa and Cozumel get the teachers "Green Cards" or work permits. They were expensive for the clubs - costing about $70 U.S. for each teacher. The card specified a sixty day limit on our teaching and made it clear that the work was being done gratis. This was a surprise expense for the Clubs. We got to take the green cards out of the country with us when we finished.
MOST of our English teaching took place outside of the school setting. Each day we spent up to five hours with a club member or his family during meals and outings. Much of our time at the small hotels was spent with the owner's workers or family fully engaged in English/Spanish learning - teaching. Our evenings could be as full as we wanted them with regard to spending time with Club members. We attended four formal club meetings on Thursday nights where we met members, had dinner, gave reports and answered questions. We visited students homes and places of employment. There was plenty of time for interacting with the town and with our teaching friends at Cozumel. On several weekends we met as a group on the Playa or Cozumel side. We attended a number of formal and informal parties. We spent a good deal of time with the children of the Club members and have suggested a special session next year for their children.
There seems to be big plans and changes in store for Playa in the near future. The four lane highway from Cancun will be extended past Playa to Tulum with construction starting this December. A new RoRo ferry dock is being built about five miles south of the main part of town which is bound to cause a shift in the focus of population. The bus terminal is being moved from near the current center of town out to the highway which will cut down on the number of buses running past the school (they did make it difficult to teach - 107 went by each day). The town is growing rapidly.
We left early Friday morning August 5, 1994 back to the Cancun airport. The send off wasn't really big at that time of the day but we had had a pretty big going away party the night before. We carried with us many physical and mental souvenirs.