It happened fast. My body felt weak, I was a little off at work on Saturday night, I wanted to go home. And then as I was walking home I felt almost too weak to get a pizza. I forced myself, hungry, and halfway through the pizza, laying on my bed and trying a new show on Netflix out, I felt it.
There was a tension in my head, it built, my stomach was tense, it built, and when I fell asleep I was still aware of the pain, increasing all the time. I had bad dreams I now can’t remember. They weren’t exactly bad, but, these days, the vivid ones are the most unpleasant. I woke many times in pain and my body felt weighed down, as if I’d had a session at the gym and overdid it a bit all over my body, not simply limiting myself to leg day or arms or chest.
I knew then what it was.
It was hard to eat. I tried going back to the pizza 12 hours afterwards, in the middle of the afternoon, and although I did it, the cramps after were intense. I laid on the carpet because somehow that made me feel better. I tried a banana, eventually, and toast, but even the water was giving me cramps.
I figured early on the second day by the lack of coughing and the lack of chest pressure that it was food poisoning. That’s all. I went to get tested but I was confident in the result. I knew it was negative. I just wanted it to hurry in time so I could hang out with my friend-colleagues. We were going out to celebrate a late christmas and new year at a pooltop bar I’d always wanted to go to.
But the result didn’t come through. I stayed home. I drank a tequila and it made my guts squirm.
The result came through by text the next day. I was positive. I believed it, but the hard bit was telling the housemates. Did they blame me? Were they mad? It turned out they were sick as well but it hadn’t occurred to them that it was Covid. I found myself starving, unprepared for seven days of self isolation. I felt lonely and isolated in my room, feeling sincerely that the resources you have in your house and the people you are with make all the difference. And it was then that a friend and a boss (a new one actually) reached out and offered to do a food shop for me.
I don’t know how to thank him for this kindness. It means a lot.
OCTOBER. Nearly November. It’s been a while and I don’t know where to start without it being some sort of massive backstory.
I’ve tried to write about it for a while but I just haven’t felt like writing. How is this the case when I’ve been writing my whole life? What do I do when the core part of my identity no longer feels like me anymore?
JANUARY. I left Bundaberg for the Gold Coast….preparing to study. I found a place in the middle of the middle of it all…in Surfers Paradise. A few streets away from the beach, two streets away from all the nightclubs. It was a risk. The rent was a bit more than I was prepared to pay and far from the uni I would study at. My new housemate was a chef and he helped me with my resume, and so, within a few days, I did find a job at a bar/nightclub near by.
I became a glassie.
I quit Tinder. The best thing I did. I wasn’t looking for anyone or anything. At least on a page.
I couldn’t have picked a better place to move to if I wanted to learn more Spanish. It is everywhere. I hear it on the street twice a day. I can hear the neighbours in their house saying “que pasa?” I work with Spanish speakers. Customers are always from somewhere in the latin world. I met people from Peru and Spain and Colombia and Chile and Paraguay and Argentina. I gravitated to these speakers, fascinated, ready to speak, but I never seemed to fit quite right.
MARCH. I started uni again. It’s weird being in the early 30s and looking like you’re in your early to mid 20s. It doesn’t take long to realise that everyone around you is 18 or 19 or maybe as old as 20. I thought of uni as a place of liberal thinking but it all seemed to be a central place of conformity, everyone fresh from school and still bidden to pleasing the lecturers and tutors for the better marks. People offered opinions in the discussion parts of workshops but it all seemed a trap somehow, the tutors being guides and through their guiding moving the discussions along or phasing out the things they didn’t agree with.
Work was too much on weekends so I cut my subjects from four to three and finally to two…but of course, keeping my spanish subject. Spanish was amazing. I learned so much in months but always going back to the roots of grammar. My spanish colleagues would speak to me and correct me and see some improvement from when I started.
And then APRIL, and MAY, and JUNE, and JULY, and through these times I was having the best social life I’d had, and yet the worst. Those outside of hospitality seemed to disappear and I’d work late on weekends. “What time do you finish?” a girl might ask. “Um,” I’d say. “4am.” And that’s it. The conversation was over. Once a girl got my number but I worked on the weekends and she didn’t want to go out on the week days as she worked the following days. It was physically impossible to hang out. Schedules didn’t allow it. I’d hang out on Monday nights with my hospitality friends and we’d drink at the Irish pub and then finish off at karaoke.
I miss Peru so much. I miss the adventures and wandering around. But over the year I’m talking less about it. My friends all know my obsession.
I woke up one day and was afraid I might have had a fetish for latinas, but I thought it about some more, and realised I didn’t really. I didn’t fit in to the dance and the club scenes, I didn’t fit into the sub-culture of what Gold Coast latin life seemed to be, I tried to learn salsa, and it didn’t feel like me. I thought by being close to it I would be closer to how I felt in South America, but it wasn’t like that at all. I just felt fake by pretending to be someone I wasn’t, by trying too hard on things that weren’t my strengths, and weren’t natural to me. I stepped back, but still missed Peru, my friends overseas, and still missed the travel. And dare I say it, I missed my ex, I ruminated in what I was and who I was and who I still am, and knew that then and in the aftermath in Bundaberg I was a toxic and unhealthy creature, and awareness changed nothing. I was making the same mistakes I thought I learned.
I sent a short story to the uni magazine about that sort of world for it to be edited. I took a month off alcohol and the story was written and when it was done I was bloody proud. It was the best work I felt I’d written in years. The student editor tasked with editing it didn’t seem to get my piece, and as I stressed trying to edit it for him the worse the piece seemed to be. It didn’t feel like my writing anymore. I quit the project. And I didn’t get published.
And I didn’t really care.
SEPTEMBER I burnt out again with the study and the writing failure and work. I finally took mum’s advice and I started using a phone app to meditate. I started telling myself “so what?” If something wasn’t perfect, if I made a mistake, if I wasn’t good enough, “so what?” So what.
And OCTOBER. I got promoted and suddenly I wasn’t a glassie anymore, or a waiter, and I hadn’t really been just that for months. I was behind the bar more, and often surprising myself. I knew the cocktails we served by heart (I made them all at home anyway) and actually doing an okay job at that. I’d make espresso martinis and french martinis and long island ice teas and margaritas and bloody marys. Somehow I had become a new person; I felt like I was disappearing; still the same person too. And so what?
I’ve been addicted to social media for a while, but I suppose it’s been worse ever since I used my phone more. I’m not sure when that started to happen. It was either in South America when I began using apps for everything including for my reading habit, or when I returned, or even when I bought a new phone months ago.
Our addictions come because we feel they can fulfill a need that we have. Maybe mine is in having a voice, or seeing the reactions to my voice, or the validation from everyone I know that I exist and am doing well. Regardless, I have been more concerned when I started swiping on my phone when I am asleep. Or waking up at 5am regularly to check my Facebook and Instagram.
I teach online English, and my student and I were discussing this addiction. He said he went through a similar thing by replacing the need. He began using Reddit instead. But I’ve been thinking I can mimic the need for validation by using WordPress more. Fewer people are going to read this, but that’s okay. I won’t have the need to check this every few minutes.
And I’ll be writing more, expressing my feelings, and in theory, consuming less with fewer things. I should be using my laptop more so that I don’t fall into the trap of swiping. That is the addition.
I added an app to my phone in which it monitors the time I spend on my phone and how I spend it. I spent 32 hours on my phone last week. Eight hours was on Facebook, and another eight was spent on Instagram. The thing is I couldn’t tell you precisely what I spent that time on. I shared a couple of photos but mostly it was checking to see who looked at my stories, over and over again. That can’t be healthy. I spent 42 minutes on Tinder between adding it and deleting it.
Meanwhile, I spent seven minutes on Duolingo to learn Spanish.
Right now I have this tension to turn my phone back on and look at it. I don’t even know why. I can do everything I need on the laptop, but I suppose it’s an easier way in my mind to connect with people, who may not actually proactively have an interest in connecting with me.
It’s been a while since I’ve written on here. I suppose I thought I stopped. This was supposed to be an exploration of my time in Peru, my journey learning in South America, an exploration of that foreign identity, and now I suppose I’ve given up on getting back.
I’ve been trying to tackle redundancy and my future. I tried writing for this blog post but it seemed too negative, and not relevant to the theme.
Okay. I’m not sure if I told you if I lost my job as a journalist six months or so ago in the murky months of Covid panic, but I did, and for most of that time since I’ve been stewing in the rental I leased alone. The lease ran out three weeks ago, and I decided to move to the big city…and close to the university I used to study at.
I’ve decided to return to uni. I’m 31. Maybe I might look like a confident 25 yr old but that’s neither here nor there. I’m going to study Government and International Relations because, in my months of doubt I wondered what the point of it all was. And I knew that one can never have too much education and if they have chances to further it then they should grab it. So I took an opportunity.
I want to represent Australia one day. I want to work in an embassy. But people keep assuming I’m going back to South American soon….and I’m apprehensive about that. I don’t think planning to do that is good for me.
I’m trying hard to keep a bright face in all of it, but it’s all fitting in for the short term. I’ve found a share house near the uni, I just received the refund for my return airfare to South America that was supposed to happen in April, and I may have a sweet prospective part-time job in the new year. We shall see.
Of course, being in the city again I couldn’t resist but join Tinder again although I knew it would be a mistake because one can easily lose sense of one’s own identity by doing it. There’s also someone I like who I didn’t meet on Tinder, and although I am starting to question the future in it and the timing and all of that, I really don’t need the murkiness or distractions of Tinder to complicate my hopes. But on the other hand I need the reminder I’m my own person with no commitments and the opportunity for new experiences.
And I had a special experience. I saw a Colombiana on Tinder and I super-liked her and although she was aloof for a bit she began to realise that I really was fascinated with Latam, and knew a little bit of Spanish. This afternoon our lengthy conversation on the app was in Spanish and it’s put me in a bad mood. I’ve taken a spanish lesson each week with a Colombian teacher on Skype, but this was real life, not practice, and it made me feel that I had learned so little when it mattered.
I’m troubled by the whole thing though. I really don’t want a latina fetish, and I guess I want to move away from my south american fascination. It’s getting in the way of my life. Somehow every new conversation I’ve had in 18 months drags back to it.
And yet here we are. I’m a more colourful character. I’m passionate. Yet despite popular opinion passion is not sexy or desirable. Passion is alienating, because before you know it you’ve walked away from everything and everyone that could have been relatable.
I was in the local liquor store last night to pick up some vodka on my way to a mate’s. The security guard said, “I hate to be a pain, but can I look at your ID?”
“You’re going to love this,” I said. “Check the date of birth carefully.” He checked it, gasped in surprise, and passed it onto his curious colleague.
‘Get out of here,” they said.
On the way out the girl at the register also asked for my ID. I smiled and handed it over, and she said, “what?” and passed it back. “You really don’t look it,” she said, to the point that it became overwhelming. I think I was blushing. I paid and grabbed the vodka and left to go to my friends’.
A friend I haven’t seen since before my trip to South America was staying over. He is from Central America and so I was excited to be able to practise my Spanish with him. I was nervous too. After a few drinks we began talking in Spanish. Afterwards, it wasn’t a long conversation, he said, “you speak well. But you get frustrated when you don’t know words.”
It wasn’t frustration and I told him. It was an excitement as I tried to find new ways of something something. Regardless, it was good feedback. He showed me how to take a drink, “para arriba, para abajo, para al centro, para adentro!”
As I entered the house that evening with the vodka, and bragging about how I had to show my ID at 30 years old, twice, in the same store, music was playing on Youtube.
Bueno, solía necesitar tanto tu amor
Entonces vine a vivir con eso
Últimamente tengo un sentimiento lejano
Y todo comienza de nuevo
Oh si, estoy bien
Solo me siento un poco solo esta noche
Estoy bien la mayor parte del tiempo
Solo me siento un poco solo esta noche
-The Apartment Song, Tom Petty (Google Translated)
My Spanish has improved in the two weeks I have stayed at home, on holidays. And I have had time to relax and do all the lazy things that make me happy. I’m making the best of a poor situation. Although I should be somewhere in the Bolivian and Chilean highland desert right about now, I’ve saved a lot of money, under considerably less stress, and possibly have learned as much Spanish.
I read two books, and coincidentally, they were about vampires. I read The Vampire Armand. The second, Dead Until Dark, was easier to get through. I was obligated to read the first, when I thought I would enjoy it. I felt obligated to read the second, as I had bought it, and found myself consuming it faster than I thought possible.
In various forms I have played the Elder Scrolls game Skyrim for years, across three platforms. I bought it for the Nintendo Switch last year and thought it an excellent way to learn Spanish (I’ve played it enough times to figure things out on my own, and it comes with its own subtitles and Spanish voice-dub).
I’ve never finished the main quest storyline. But this time I thought, “hey, why not? Let’s really give it a go.”
I’ve nearly finished, and I’m further than I have ever been. Unfortunately I didn’t really understand what I was getting into, and somehow became a Vampire Lord (Senor de the vampiros). I’m weak to fire, which is unfortunate since the final boss appears to be a dragon.
Almost every evening I get some fresh air by walking around a block or two. I’ve been listening to Kraken on my Ipod. It’s a Colombian rock-metal band.
A Colombian colleague put me onto the band while I worked as a teacher in Peru.
This is the band. I mean, I used to imagine the perfect ideal style, in my head, when I would daydream about leading my own band (despite not having the musical talent). But this band has nailed it, and of course, listening in the evening to their pensive Spanish lyrics, I sometimes pick things out.
I love the song Hojarascas, particularly the bit, that translated, says:
Leaf litters about me
As frosts fall without giving up
You have filled my soul with sadness and loneliness
I'm not a puppet
That got tangled between your fingers
Don't pretend anymore
Because I feel more compassion
You know the best bit is I sense the emotion, the parts that flow, that reach out to me, and it’s like my subconsciousness knows what I may relate to. After all, I do not understand most of this in Spanish.
Then there’s part of this song, Sobre Esta Tierra.
There are men who give their lives for an ideal,
There are others who are only hurt because they are
their own dagger.
I tried quitting Netflix but it ended up being too expensive. I was buying individual shows (although ones I wanted) on Itunes, and in the end it was costing four times as much. There’s quite a Spanish range if you look for it. The third season of Elite came out, and it was only a fairly new discovery.
I recommend it as a high school murder mystery. It feels more relatable than Riverdale, which I lost interest in somewhere near the end of second season.
And I finished watching the first season of La Casa de Papel, in which a group of organised robbers hold hostage a mint. And as the show progressed, I found more and more fascinated by who I think is the anti-hero, El Profesor. He’s like Professor Moriarty, perhaps how I imagined him in the original Sherlock Holmes story, and a genius who can be a little too clever for his own good, or for his own conscience.
I admire his intelligence, his rebellion combined with a righteous motivation, with ethics, and his capacity to physically defend himself while preferring to solve problems through psychology. And yet, women and sex makes him awkward. He’s extremely charming, when necessity dictates that he needs to be, and yet he has no high opinion of himself.
I’m wary about watching it in English, although it might be easier and more enjoyable. Who knows how a change of the voice-dub might interfere with the perceived character?
I’ve started writing again. In fact, I submitted my last manuscript, or a sample of it. And I began an exercise. I’ve been writing the same page over and over, and each day I’ll start the page (the scene) again. I want to see how it will change within 10 days. I’ve done it six times now, and I took a break one day, because it’s getting harder. I don’t know why. Perhaps I’m bored, or feeling more of a pressure to break new ground and tell the same story and share the same descriptions in a new way. Maybe I sense the limitations of my own ability.
Regardless, I realised last night, on the sixth attempt, that this could be the start of a new book, and set in Peru.
ON Saturday I was supposed to be flying to Santiago, for a month of backpacking in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. But the world has changed hasn’t it, and I guess it was self-entitlement to think I was ‘supposed’ to be doing anything.
I’m taking two weeks holiday instead of a month, and I am sitting at home. There’s a lot of time to process my thoughts, and there’s a lot of them that haven’t had time to emerge since I first left Peru. And even then I was in reverse culture shock, trying to get a job and a place to move in.
I left a year ago, and I know why I had to leave. I wasn’t happy, I missed Australia, and I wasn’t financially or socially stable. The time was just right to return. But I haven’t really stopped to think about it, except on the one month and six month milestone. And now.
I just read an article about how the death toll of the coronavirus in Peru is about 80, with about 2500 diagnoses. In Australia there are about 5000 diagnoses, from the top of my head, with about 40 deaths. The article was about how an ex-con living in poverty in Lima is struggling to feed his kids at the markets. The money being distributed by the government isn’t necessarily flowing in places where it’s needed. It’s made me remember that I am lucky, that the worst complaint I’ve really got is a holiday is cancelled, and that I’ve got too much free time safe in my own home, with as many books, TV shows, video games as I could want. So many aren’t this lucky, and while my job isn’t safe, it’s safer than others.
Mentally I’m squirming, because all this time has helped me to confront why it is I am isolated by myself. I’m not just self-isolated, I’m also having to confront why it is I’m actually lonely, what behaviours have led me to this decision, and whether or not this is the result of healthy choices, or poor ones. It’s probably a mix of both.
I look back and I feel there’s a long line of women disappointed in me, but I also know the reason they were disappointed was because I chose what I believed to be right at the time, or to choose what I wanted, in the right way. But when I’m the centre of this disappointment, I start thinking what it is I have learned, or what is wrong with me? Can I move on and have a fulfilling life, and is having passions like travel and learning Spanish helping that to happen, or is it getting in the way?
I reflect on the personal mistakes I made in Peru, with friendships, love, relationships, and there were a lot of them. I felt I was doing the right thing every time and not quite understanding why the people around me reacted the way they did. In a way, I was already in a form of self-isolation there.
I have a Chilean bottle of wine waiting for me in the pantry but I don’t think it’s a good idea to use it just yet.
I’m using this time to learn as much Spanish as I can. I have a few skype lessons booked, but I’ve also taken a beginners’ online course called ‘El Metodo’ and it’s been quite practical. I’m eight lessons in and it’s at my level.
IT HAS been a year since I left Peru, and in three weeks I would return. But I don’t see how that’s going to happen, what this Covid-19.
Even if I could go there with the knowledge the borders in both countries will be open, would it be responsible? Probably not. It would be selfish, and best to forget how much those tickets cost.
Yesterday I bought my backpackers bag from the army disposal store. I decided to buy it anyway because I wanted to be optimistic. It was on sale from $290 to $170.
It’s selfish to whinge, it doesn’t even matter, there’s a lot more at stake than a one month holiday that has been cancelled.
On a positive note, my mum visited for the last week. It took some getting used to, as a 30 year old used to living on his own. But it was great to come home to a cooked meal, and even to see some things fixed that I never quite got round to doing. That included my remote door handle, which I lost and she replaced, and that means I can use my carport again.
One night I came home after a long day at work and I found a typewriter that she had bought from a second hand store, and now I would like to get that working. It is an Olympia, stuck in a brown suitcase. It has no ribbon, and I still need to buy paper for it too.
Perhaps I can use my one month holiday, at home, using the money I saved for dentist appointments long overdue, and to keep up with my writing.
Mum has returned home in Western Australia, but I really hope everything is sorted for her to travel to the UK in October. That month holiday means a lot to her, and is the first holiday she has booked, besides the time with me, in a long time. Not since she finished university, and not since her father was terminally diagnosed.