Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 30.1 (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

The Blue and Brown Notebooks
Wittgenstein, Ludwig
The Blue and Brown Notebooks
Preliminary Studies for the Philosophical Investigations

Purchased at Talking Leaves Books. I think. It might have been at St. Mark's Books.

I have been meaning to return to my memories of Ecuador. It dawned on me the other day that I have written a fair amount about myself and the other volunteers and how we lived, but not much about what I did there on a daily basis. Or if I have, I no longer recall what I wrote. Please forgive me if I repeat myself. I am middle-aged. It happens.

A typical workday in Ecuador ran from about eight in the morning until eight at night, with about a forty-five minute commute in each direction. My mornings alternated between physical education and what they called "Programa de Chicas." Physical education was, I think, two days a week and Programa de Chicas three.

The former was taught in a courtyard built into the side of a mountain. Quito is about 9000 feet above see level, so pretty much everything is built into or on top of an incline. The center was near the base. Our courtyard was made of concrete and the lines between the slabs formed a grid. I taught three separate 50-minute classes in the morning. At the beginning of class, I would line the kids (fourth, fifth and sixth grade boys and girls) up on the grid and take attendance.

We would then do about ten minutes of calisthenics, including stretching, running in place and what I called "saltos de alegría," i.e., jumping jacks. Following calisthenics we would organize into teams and play competitive games. Some days we would play "bombardeos," i.e., dodgeball, others "béisbol de pie," i.e., kickball, or "fútbol de cangrejos," i.e., crab soccer. For the latter, I invented my own reflexive verb, "cangrejarse," meaning "to get into the crab position."

To place a further note of absurdity into the idea of me teaching physical education, you have to imagine me with hair halfway down my back and pulled into a ponytail. I usually sported a black t-shirt and jeans. Oh, and I smoked. During class. During physical education class. Yeah.

Anyhow, the other days of the week I would teach "Programa de chicas." The gendering of this particular class had to do with the fact that the little boys would often work in the street shining shoes from 8 AM until noon. They would give a percentage of the money back to the center to deposit into a family bank account to be used at some later date to purchase land and a house. It was too dangerous for little girls to work in the streets like that, so they stayed back at the center.

Programa de chicas was a three-hour class period. Activities were basically the following: make crafts; learn English; watch Disney movies; go to the park. Some of the crafts the kids produced were sold in a store operated by the center and the proceeds went back to the center. I took a lot of photos while I was down there. I used a dark room on site to develop the photos and we in turn used some of these photos to make greetings cards that were sold by the center. The photos were all of the children.

Mornings were followed by a two-hour lunch period. If you stayed in the center from twelve to twelve-thirty, you were expected to attend the mass. Not being much of a church person, I skipped this daily ritual and usually went wandering around the old town of Quito. I often ate at a litte cafe under the national theater, where I'd order a ham and cheese sandwich and a turkish coffee. Sometimes a friend, E.,  would come with me and we would play chess on the tables in the cafe.

After lunch I performed two hours of small group and individual tutoring in reading and writing and math, usually to third and fourth graders. We used a tiny classroom overlooking the courtyard. It could get kind of close in there, as most of the kids' clothing reeked of urine. The families often slept side by side in bed, usually on a mattress on a dirt floor, sometimes with as many as six or eight people to the mattress. Someone would always wet the bed and this would soak into the mattress and permanently into the blankets and clothes. I often had to open the window during these tutoring sessions just to breathe.

In the evening we taught two more hours of adult education classes. Students ranged from sixteen to sixty-five in these classes. Most spoke Quechua as their first language and Spanish by necessity. They could read or write neither, and their arithmetical skills were usually limited to finger counting. We occasionally taught geography and history and other subjects as they came up. I feel like I have written all this before. What I really want to write about are some of the Ecuadorians I taught and worked with.

More tomorrow...

from The Blue and Brown Notebooks

Imagine that I tell you to mix a certain color and I describe the color by saying that it is that which you get if you let sulphuric acid react on copper. This might be called an indirect way of communicating the color I meant. It is conceivable that the reaction of sulphuric acid on copper under certain circumstances does not produce the color I wished you to mix, and that on seeing the color you had got I should have to say "No, it's not this," and to give you a sample.

Now can we say that the communication of feelings by gestures is in this case indirect? Does it make sense to talk of a direct communication as opposed to that indirect one? Does it make sense to say "I can't feel his toothache, but if I could I'd know what he feels like?"

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