Editor’s note: I found this write up on an old hard drive and thought it would be interesting to repost more than 10 years after the fact.

Feel English school

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Here’s a mall…Don’t worry, I gonna pay ju…Let’s have some gorditas…I’m no gonna pay ju… John and Laura ‘ave corrupted ju…

Laura and I came to San Luis Potosi to work for a woman named Sissy. Laura had talked to her over email and I had spoken to her on the phone. She seemed energetic, excited, and like someone for whom I would like to work. Also, this job fit perfectly into our traveling plans. Spend the first two weeks of February traveling over land to San Luis Potosi, teach for 3 months, earn a little money and get free Spanish lessons before heading on to Central America.

We met Sissy for the first time in person at the San Luis bus terminal after an unexpectedly long bus ride from Tampico. It was about 9 at night and she pulled into the parking lot in her little red car. Now, at this point, we thought that we were the final piece of Sissy’s English school puzzle. From talking to Sissy it sounded like we would arrive on Monday, attend an opening party on Friday, and teach full classes the next Monday. I am now clued in on how nothing in Mexico goes according to plan.

In the car ride to our apartment, Sissy informed us that she had to cancel to party, but the school would still open next Monday (first sign of trouble). For the rest of the week, Laura and I walked around and explored our new home for the next three months. We also met our new flatmate, Laura (2). She showed up at about 5am, straight off the night bus from Mexico City, and flights from Paris and London just previous to that. The three of us got on well and we all went to see the school together later that afternoon.

The school looked great. It was a structure in adequate proportion to its neighbors, on a nice boulevard just outside the colonial center of San Luis. It had an office, three classrooms, and a combined lobby and computer lab. If nothing else, the school eased our worries over this being a scam.

After looking at the school, Laura 2 mentioned that she needed to get some money out of the bank. So Sissy, thinking that since I was from the States and the girls were British, took us to a place that we would really be dying to go…a mall.

We also had a talk with Sissy. She confessed to us that she did have a few students, but not a lot (next sign of trouble).

“But don’t aworry. I have jour money. I will pay ju. Come back on Monday, ju will teach.”

So Monday rolled around, and in the afternoon, Laura 1, Laura 2, and I walked with nervous anticipation to our first classes. We talked about what our students might be like. We were genuinely ready to help start a new school. It was going to be a time to remember.

“Where are the students?” we asked.

“Dere are no estudents today,” Sissy told us. “But don’t worry, I still gonna pay ju.”

Tuesday…two students. One guy for Laura 2. Laura 1 and I hung out and decorated our classrooms until it was time for Laura 1 to teach Sissy’s mom. I basically spent all day sitting around, waiting to teach.

Wednesday, Laura 2 got conned into teaching a morning class. In the afternoon we all sat around waiting for Sissy to give us something to do. After sitting around for an hour, Sissy came out to talk to us about how it was going to be hard and expensive to get our working visas. And she would need our papers. (Okay, this is where Laura and I should have thought things through a little more back in Iowa. We should have brought our degrees. We should have emailed our old jobs in Korea and asked for letters to certify that we have teaching experience. We should have asked Sissy what we needed to bring…oh wait…we did that one. She told us we didn’t need anything so we didn’t bring anything.) We told Sissy that we could get our papers sent to the school in a couple of days and she was fine with that. Then she told us to come back the next day at 4 because at noon she had an appointment with the “Principal” of the local immigration office. They would talk about our situation and we would probably be able to start work as soon as our visa process was started – or even before if she could get a waiver.

Thursday came and we went to the school where we waited for Sissy, who was half an hour late. Once we got inside, she told us that she did not have good news (especially for Laura and I). Then Sissy goes into the story about her meeting at immigration. The immigration office told her that we all needed degrees in education (which none of us had), that we could not work until our visas were finished processing (which would take a while). Also, Sissy had told immigration that Laura and I didn’t get tourist cards when we entered Mexico (our bus never stopped at the border), basically saying she knew the location of two illegal aliens. Then she looked scared and told us that another school in the city, Berlitz, had just been raided and all of the illegal teachers deported. And if that happened in her school, we would get deported, and she would be arrested. (It was right then that I couldn’t help but think of how funny it would be to be an American deported from Mexico for working illegally.)

The Lauras and I got up early the next day to go to immigration to sort things out and get some answers.

“Our bus from Texas didn’t stop at the border, so we never received our tourist cards. Can we get them now?” I asked the non-English speaking immigration officer. I thought that this language barrier might be a problem, which is why I had asked Sissy the previous evening if the immigration officers speak English.

“Of course dey espeak English,” she had said.

Luckily, there was a nice bilingual gentleman from Miami who offered to translate for us.

Language barriers aside, it was a relatively simple process to get our tourist cards. Just fill out and sign a form, go make copies of every page of your passport, take another form to a bank and pay 203 pesos (~$20), bring the receipt from the bank and the copy of you passport back to immigration, sign another form, then come back the next Wednesday or Thursday to pick up our papers. Easy. And after all that, instead of being allowed the standard 90 day stay, we were only allowed to stay in Mexico for only 30 days.

While Laura 1 and I were getting our papers sorted out, Laura 2 met a woman in the immigration office. This woman, Diane, ran an English school. Diane told Laura 2 that it was not worth getting a working visa if you were going to be in Mexico for only three months. She seemed to be in a hurry, but she gave us her card and invited us to come over to her school any time.

Laura 1 and I were relieved to be in the process of becoming legal tourists when we met Sissy Friday afternoon at our apartment (we decided the previous day that it might not be wise to meet at the office, in case immigration came around). After we updated Sissy on our immigration status, Laura 2 gave her the business card of a woman we had met that morning at the immigration office. Sissy promised that she would call Diane ASAP and ask her for advice (mostly regarding how to run a school with undocumented teachers). Then Sissy insisted that we all go out for gorditas on Sunday.

When Sissy picked us up on Sunday, the Laura’s and I asked her what advise she got from Diane. Sissy had been unable to get in touch with Diane. So now we were in the same position as Friday afternoon, only now it was less than 24 hours before students were going to arrive for classes. The only option we could see was for all of us to teach illegally and have Sissy pay us under the table. Everyone (including Sissy) agreed that this was the only option. The only hurdle left was for Sissy to ask her dad if the plan was okay. After the gorditas it was decided that Sissy would talk to her father and convince him that us teaching illegally was to only way to go, then she would come back to our place at 9pm to tell us what he said.

Nine o’clock came…and went.

Nine thirty…nothing.

Ten o’clock…still no word.

Eleven o’clock…seriously, where is she?

Midnight…she better not show up now, or she’s gonna get punched in the ovaries.

One o’clock…what do we do now?

Monday morning came and Sissy never showed. Laura 2 and I decided to walk to the school and find out if we were teaching that afternoon or not. Laura 1 was fed up with Sissy and stay in the apartment.

“Where were you last night?”” Laura 2 asked as soon as we walked in the door.

“Oh, I here was at de school. Working really late.”

“We waited up for you. We were kind of anxious to hear what your father had to say.”

“Oh, I tought ju guys would jus come here in de morning.”

Not a good start to the conversation. Sissy proceeded to waste 10 minutes beating around the bush about how she really wanted her business to be legal. Which is fine, but she told us nothing new until I asked her point-blank, “Do Laura [1] and I still work for you?”

“No,” she replied.

“Thats fine. Now lets talk about the money you owe us.”

“I’m going to call my dad and de accountant. De handle de money.”

At this point, Sissy’s message couldn’t have been clearer if she had it written in lights on her forehead: I’m no a gonna pay ju.

When her father, who always seemed like a nice enough guy, got to the school, he started to explain things in Spanish. Sissy translated. He said that they would certainly pay for all the hours that we worked in the school (roughly 7 hours for Laura 1, 8 for Laura 2 and 5 for me), but not for the hours that we came to the school, ready to teach and Sissy didn’t provide students (or books - they’d just arrived). But before he could hand over any money, he would have to ask immigration if it was okay (???). He also pointed out that since Laura 1 and I were technically illegals during the time that we actually worked, he knew that immigration would not let him pay us – only Laura 2.

“So you are telling me that you are not going to pay us ANYTHING?”

“Well, since ju were illegal last week..”

“Yes or no. Are you going to pay us?”

“No, I’m no a gonna pay ju.”

“Then why are we still talking?”

I stood up quickly and my chair slid into the table behind me. Both Sissy and her dad were surprised and they leaned back, as if to get out of my reach in case I threw a punch.

“This is fucking ridiculous,” I said to no one as I walked out the door.

Now this may not have been the most level-headed move, and I didn’t want to leave Laura 2 behind, but I could not stand to be in a room with Sissy anymore – or ever again.

It took most of the 45 minute walk home for me to start to relax. I wasn’t really angry at losing the job – Laura and I had only applied for this job because we thought it would be a good way to learn the language and make enough money to sustain ourselves before we toured the rest of Central America. I was more angry that Sissy pretended to be our friend and repeatedly lied to our faces.

Later that night, when Laura 2 got home, she told us what Sissy said after I walked out. Evidently Sissy had tried to turn Laura 2 against Laura 1 and myself.

“Dey are bad people, aren’t de? De have had a bad attitude since de beginning, right?” Sissy kept asking and nodding her head to convince Laura 2 (and maybe herself) that it was true.

Laura 2 disagreed, then promptly moved on to threatening legal action. She told Sissy that her father was a lawyer (technically he was a lecturer on maritime law) and that she had all of Sissy’s emails as proof that Sissy had told her that she could have a job for three months, at such-and-such rate of pay, and that no, she didn’t need to take a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course or bring any documentation.

This threat seemed to be enough to get 1000 pesos (~$100) out of Sissy. In hindsight it showed that Sissy was putting on more of a tough front than I had thought. I could have probably gotten a little money out of her, had I pushed harder. But at the same time, Sissy was much more likely to pay Laura 2 because she knew then that Laura 1 and I were gone for good.

I told Laura 1 the news when I got home. She was neither happy, nor surprised. It was pretty easy to come to the decision that we should stay in San Luis two more weeks, until our month of rent was used up, and then finish traveling in Mexico and move on to Guatemala. It was easy because we hadn’t originally planned on teaching and we weren’t out very much money by coming to San Luis.

For Laura 2, things weren’t so simple. She had come to Mexico specifically to teach at Sissy’s school, and she was counting on the income from that job to keep her alive. She had also just spent £500 on her return plane ticket (which didn’t return until August). Plainly put, she needed a job. Luckily, after I left the school, Suzzy showed up.

Sussy was a Mexican-American from Texas, fluent in both English and Spanish. Sissy had wanted her to stop by so they could talk about Suzzy teaching at Sissy’s school. Suzzy ended up being Laura 2’s savior. Evidently Suzzy could tell that Laura 2 was a little distraught and asked her privately what the problem was. Laura 2 explained her situation and Suzzy leapt into action. She called a friend of hers who ran another English school in San Luis. This friend, Chewy, met with Laura 2 the next day and didn’t ever offer her a job. He just picked her up and started her training.

It was from these new found foreigners that we learned what Sissy was telling her new prospective employees. Apparently the Lauras and I had spent our week of work having bad attitudes, swearing at her, and making threats to her. She actually told this to Suzzy. Unbelievable. But I guess that’s the best word to describe Sissy: unbelievable.

So now Laura 1 and I were content to move on, and Laura 2 had a new job (and a possible room at Suzzy’s apartment). Sissy was now just an ugly scar on our travels, but we would march on. Then someone knocked on our door.

Our very friendly apartment manager was wondering when we were going to pay our deposit ($380). We told him that there must be a mistake. We had told Sissy that we didn’t have enough money to cover the deposit and so she took care of it. That was until Sissy called the manager the day we were fired and asked for her deposit back. She told him that we had the money we would stop by his office to pay it. She blatantly lied to someone she kept telling us was her “friend”. The apartment manager was confused now and we told him that we didn’t have the money (In all honesty, we could have come up with the money, but after what had happened with Sissy, we were not about to trust another local).

Eventually, we agreed to putting up $100 as a deposit, but we had to move to a different apartment in the same complex. And we had to move that afternoon. Ridiculous.

That was the last insult. I haven’t seen Sissy for a couple of weeks, and in a couple of days Laura and I will be leaving San Luis Potosi, so I don’t expect to see her ever again.

Concocting elaborate revenge plans is a cathartic activity. When three recently-shafted (and unemployed) people sit around a TV and music-less apartment, planning revenge is honestly the only thing they can do. Oh man, did we think of some good ones. Some were elaborate and subtle, some were simple and violent. Some were petty, childish ideas, and some were…well…mean. Looking back on those plots, I think I really preferred the ones that involved showing the people around Sissy what she was really like. We wanted to show her friends and family how fake she was, how easy lying came to her. That would have been the sweetest revenge. But instead we slashed her tires (just kidding).

Mexico, D.F.
March 2007