A teacher’s day in Peru

7.00am: I spent my first night in my new place in the northern Peruvian city of Trujillo. I do not know where my new place is in the city, so my landlord walks me to my school. It takes only 10 minutes. What complicates matters is I know limited Spanish, while he doesn’t know English.

I arrive at school just in time to hear loud clangs of cowbells. “Happy teacher’s day!” the school’s psychologists shout as I walk through the gates. I really need a coffee.

New Spanish word acquired: Cruzar 

7.30-8am: I have made myself a coffee (with instant which I’ve stashed in my locker for such emergencies. The school has a ‘House’ system named after American presidents. I am in Kennedy House.

Team Kennedy has organised greeting students at the gates with a banner, gifts for our primary school mates, and our mascot ‘Sully’ from Monsters Inc. It takes me ages to realise who is in the mascot suit and I don’t really want to know.

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New Spanish word acquired: Mascota

8am-10.55am: Today is an unusual day, in that it is the first day of exams. This means regular classes are cancelled while the exams are on. Teachers are scheduled to supervise the exams. I do not have to teach or supervise during the math exam. I ensure my paperwork is complete, and I also mark students’ notebooks.

10.55am-12.15pm: The siesta is over. I now have to supervise grade 10 in their business exam. Students either arrive late to class, ignore my instructions to sit down and put their books away, or ask to use the bathroom.

“Why didn’t you do it in the break?” I ask.  I order students to sit before returning to my strike-candy score system. If students have five strikes we practice dictation exercises, and if they have five candy points at the end of class then I give them candy from my candy jar.

Students quickly get to their seats after one girl rolls her eyes and puts a finger to her head. “Bang”, she whispers.

Students finally settle down but they need help from the business teacher, who undoubtedly is working her way through all the classes. Finally she arrives and I bribe her with candy so she can see our class first.

It turns out I am mentioned in the exam. “Mr. Burns wants to stay in Peru forever! But he is a little confused because the banking system is different in Australia. Where should he put his money? A bank or a caja?”

Students find this funny.

When one student hands me her completed exam, I ask, “did you give me good advice?”

“Yes.”

“Am I going to be broke? Or am I going to be rich?”

“Probably broke.”

Another student asks, “are you really going to stay in Peru?”

“…..sure.”

“Will you be teaching here again next year?”

I use the time to receive some important feedback. “That depends,” I say seriously. “Would you like me to return next year.”

“Yes,” she said looking at the candy jar next to me. “If that comes back.”

New Spanish word acquired: Caja

12.15pm-2pm: I have a break for a while because Thursday is normally my quietest days. I use this time to plan what my lessons are going to be like during exam week. Teaching will prove tricky. I won’t teach all classes, and it’s not appropriate to teach heavy or new content between exams. I consider roleplaying exercises for some classes.

It’s teacher’s day the next day but we will have that time off. Instead, we will be celebrating with designated classes from 2pm. One of my students finds me and she gives me a box of chocolates as a gift.

2pm: I arrive to my designated class where cakes and biscuits are being prepared by students and some of their mothers. I take a seat and as food is being passed around, students give us some speeches. Many students that give a speech don’t address me because they prefer to speak in Spanish, but those that I do understand are lovely and encouraging.

“When you first arrived we thought, ‘oh no, another native speaker, we aren’t going to understand a thing’,” one student said. “But instead, we have learned so much, even when you think we are really bored. And you try to make the classes dynamic and interesting.”

Spanish words acquired: The difference between torta and keke

3pm: Teachers gather for their own assembly once the students leave. We collect awards and certificates  and have a glass of wine while we wait. My friends and colleagues stand one at a time to receive their awards.

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5pm: Everyone has left for the day. I mark the notebooks from students and return the books to the classrooms so students can find them first thing on Monday. I am extremely happy with one student’s response to ‘was dropping the atomic bomb on Japan justified? Why or why not?” Most students didn’t bother completing that question for homework. This student receives a gold star from my sticker collection. I rarely give those ones out. I tidy my locker and then I walk home with my laptop and my passport. At some point I am lost but I don’t stop for my phone. I feel rather vulnerable in these new streets during this time of the day. But eventually I find my door. My landlords give me a coffee and some bread and cheese, and we talk in Spanish (as best as I can). I go to my room and fall asleep before 7.30pm.

Spanish word acquired:  Caminar

 

 

When there was no house to go to…

I wrote this while rather scared in Starbucks last Saturday:

The six month lease on the apartment ended today, and I don’t exactly have a long term plan to stay anywhere. 

I woke with a hangover at 5am, and helped clear the last of the house.  Housemate Adriaan left first (to a hostel nearby), and then Amy left clutching a pot and looking tearful. Nicola and I shared a cab to her new place in Trujillo because the mall was nearby. And that’s where I am now, trying to write with dodgy internet.

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Our cheesy and almost awkward snapshot together. We have lived and worked and even studied together for eight months.

In the taxi I found 200 soles I forgot that I had, which I had put with my passport. What a win! When I left the taxi on an unusually sunny day, I walked with a backpack, my wallet, phone (with no credit), and passport. That is all. My suitcase is in my girlfriend’s room, so the sense of freedom or insecurity right now is only an illusion. I still have to go to work on Monday, and I still have relationships here. But it occurred to me that I could go anywhere I want right now. There’s a big part of me that thinks, ‘why not?’

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Party drinks at a hostel in Huanchaco that we call ‘the cheap hostel’. We used to go here a lot when we first moved here. It is now run by a French and Irish couple.

The apartment and the job has kept me grounded for six months. It’s the apartment mostly. When we first moved in I breathed a sigh of relief and in the seclusion of my room next to the garage at the back I had a place to call my own – the first moments of privacy I’d had for two months in a foreign country. We had a lounge room to watch Netflix and our kitchen. I had my own bathroom. And regular commitments to paying rent.

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My ‘Peruvian sisters have a drink.

I need the job to make money so I can live. But at some point the job took over. It became everything. I have obsessed over it teaching about world wars, the Incan Empire, and Peruvian presidents. I have tried to be the best at this job and find myself in meetings with parents, and disciplining teenagers.

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When we did our TEFL course eight months ago in Zorritos we played a game called Bullshit. Another name for it is ‘cheat’. It is about lies and deception and trying to catch others in doing it. The Joker card is the ‘wildcard’. It can really mess with a good lie detector.

What am I doing? Why am I doing it?

For  friendship. Supongo.

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“This photo sums up our friendship. You annoying the hell out of me.”

In a Hostel

It’s not much of a blog post But it is a real moment.

I am in a hostel near tbe plaza. My bqck is sore from carrying around my backpack yesterday. I have moved out of the apartment with no permanent place to go to.

But this place is nice and for the first time in a long time I do hear rain drip on the roof.

But I found myself muttering in my sleep, dreaming of my students. I think I was teaching them.

End of an era

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The housemates while Amy blows her birthday candles. 

“Three South Africans, a Canadian, and an Australian share a house together for six months. What can go wrong? How many seasons will we get before God cancels on us?”

I wrote this about seven months ago about a month before we moved into an apartment together when I noted that together we all had the makings of a sit-com. I was leaning towards a ‘How I Met Your Mother’ sort of story, while the others preferred more of a ‘Friends’ angle.

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Adriaan and I celebrate by getting rid of six months worth of beer bottles. 

I think in hindsight we were more of a ‘Seinfield’ series but one that got cancelled after one season because nobody ‘got it’.

I mention this because in a week’s time we all move out from the apartment and find our own places to live. I knew this was coming but it’s really only sinking in…well…now, although I am stressing about where I’m going to live next.

You would think a bunch of 20 something year olds living together in a foreign country, in a huge apartment, is living the dream. And I suppose in a way we did live a dream. Sometimes it was wild, but never out of control crazy. And sometimes we fought, but never with violence. Sometimes we didn’t fight, when we probably needed to.

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Up late. 

At the beginning there were six of us together (and not including another Australian who lived in Trujillo). Michaela (American) wasn’t mentioned at the time because she was staying in Lima, but she came to stay on our couch for a bit before eventually returning to America. And at some point Lutie left us for Lima, then came back to regroup and take stock of his resources, before trying one last time to make it work in Peru before he returned to South Africa.

This left Amy, Adriaan, Nicola and I in the house together. Two South Africans, a Canadian, and an Australian living together. What could go wrong?

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Having cake together. 

I guess we lived in several core stages. We all lived and worked together at a school and although we made new friends and colleagues, still spent our social lives together. And then bit by bit we each did our own thing. I guess I closed myself off and did my own thing in order not to think and feel for a while.

I went through the Tinder phase where it became out of control. I spent all my time messaging on Whatsapp and Tinder and Facebook, and most of the time having to translate the Spanish. I would go out drinking and dancing alone, and had some crazy adventures (which could have been more dangerous than they were). I would wake late on weekend mornings with hangovers and with an unwillingness to speak to anyone, and then depending on the night do it again.

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At work. 

And then, at some stage, I found myself in a relationship where all my time was spent with one special person. And I guess I am still at that stage, and I don’t mind it, as long as I do my best not to use it as a crutch or to lose my independence. But when I wasn’t focused on this relationship I focused all my energy on work – even when I wasn’t at work. With my housemates I only talked about two things; work, and my girlfriend.

We lived together but I guess for a while we weren’t together. I guess a lot of that was because we just didn’t have the energy to stay up late and drink as much anymore. Work drains us. Sure we had some good parties and we celebrated Amy’s and Adriaan’s birthdays recently, and maybe with work we did spend a lot of time together anyway.

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Maybe I only regret that this time together felt so ordinary. Maybe I expected something more, something more crazy, and yet maybe all this together was only natural even with the difficulties that life brought us. Maybe naturalness when we’re living and working in a foreign country together is more than we should have expected.

The Temple of the Moon

 

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The Temple of the Moon is something that the Moche civilization built, and it’s among the ruins that are near Trujillo in northern Peru. The Moche lived from about 1200 BC to 1400 AD.

There were two temples (the sun, and the moon) and the sun temple is closed off to the public while archaeologists still search. We are only allowed access to the nearby moon temple (the Huaca de la Luna).

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Now, according to the tourist guide there is no evidence in the ruins of a proper name for the temple of the moon, or of the sun. The Moche relied on paintings and didn’t have a written language. Apparently the temples resemble others found in Mexico and so the name was copied.

The Moche used this temple for their rituals. It’s built next to the Cerro Blanco (the white hill). The hill was also known as Alec Pong (sacred stone).

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This hill was a protecting god for the Moche. There was an area on the hill which had a platform where sacrifices were made.

The sacrifices might have been timed with strong weather events.

“The natural events were because of the anger of the principal deity, who in his fury demanded blood,” said the information in the nearby museum.

The sacrifices were the warriors who had to fight each other. The loser was chosen as the sacrifice, which was then abandoned to the elements.

So according to the nearby museum, the Moche believed in an underground world. The description reminds me of the ancient Egyptians. The dead lords or important people were treated in preparation for their journey.

Also, the priests used coca leaves to connect with the celestial world. I am uncertain if the underground world and the celestial world was the same place, or two different places. But snakes….(why is it always snakes?) could easily travel to the celestial world.

Workaholism, comics and cartoons, and Gypsy Amy

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“Life happens wherever you are, whether you make it or not,” says Uncle Iroh, my favourite character from Avatar; The Last Airbender.

It is only recently that I have started watching the show properly, on Netflix, but I have been doing so in Spanish in an effort to try and learn through my own interests. I think it is helping. Everyone has been noticing some improvement; colleagues, friends, and my girlfriend.

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Yes, I have a girlfriend now, and she is Peruvian. We have basically been in a relationship since our  first date months ago  which I wrote about – but it took a while to become official. Mainly because I never intended to be in a relationship with anyone here. If anything, I wanted to gain more stories experimenting more with dating, but also…deep down, there is the inevitability of returning home to Australia, or to continue travelling the world. All things change or adapt, I suppose, but I suppose it’s just as important to let them in their own time.

I am much better a person to have someone in my life who cares for me, and vice versa.

Sometimes we speak in Spanish, but it’s mainly been through eating dinner at her family’s house and conversing with them without using English. Sometimes I have no choice given her father doesn’t know English (and yes! Meeting a traditional Peruvian father who has never met his daughter’s partner before should be its own blog post). At first I was getting really frustrated and exhausted easily, as I always was, but I am relaxing more now, and with that, enjoying it.

The other day I bought a Thor comic in Spanish…and that has increased my desire to learn (I better learn. It cost me bloody 98 soles). Now I try to learn one phrase a day if I can. Today, I wrestle with ‘No Se’ and ‘No Lo Se’ and their differences (I don’t know, and I think No Lo Se is more like…. I don’t know everything about the subject’. As in; is that true? No lo se.).

My life has mostly focused on preparing lessons for the history classes I teach, and to do so I need to learn more about the subjects. For three of the four grades the subjects have been about the Incas, and old Peruvian presidents. Learning about old political history of a foreign country in a continent across the world is fascinating, but rather difficult to gather as well given old news and facts are mainly in Spanish. I obsess other ways to improve my classes. I consider how I can improve things for my students. Ask my girlfriend how often I talk about work.

It’s sad really, given I left Australia to give up my workaholism. I thought that it was the nature of journalism that did it. But I think it’s just me. I remember ‘Gypsy Amy’ (my housemate) who gave me a tarot reading on the beach of Zorritos more than six months ago. One of the cards she picked up was ‘workaholism’. I can’t remember what she said about it though.

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I want Gypsy Amy to give me another reading. But Gypsy Amy lost her cards. I don’t know if there’s irony in this, or if this just tells us everything we need to know about Gypsy Amy’s free spirit 😉

I don’t need Gypsy Amy to tell me this though. Life seems so much easier for me when I focus all my energy on work.  Life seems so much easier feeling good about my work. And I know that’s not quite healthy.

 

A day and a half in Guayaquil

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In the last blog post I wrote that I was dizzy and feeling like I was dying on a 20 hour bus ride to Guayaquil, Ecuador. The reason that my housemates and I were travelling to Ecuador was to get our visas renewed.

It’s been six months since I first arrived in Peru. Given that this is the maximum amount of time a foreigner is allowed in the country as a tourist I was uncertain I would be able to return for a while. This filled me with dread. I had almost no money remaining in my bank account and I would have to beg my mother to help me get home. Also…I still need to take my yellow fever shot.

I was sick when arriving in Guayaquil but I found my hostel and slept almost 12 hours. When I woke I was rested and relaxed. The hot and humid heat helped me feel better. The sound of a loud fan blowing across the room also reminded me of my childhood. I found a restaurant that served a delicious fruit yoghurt and then I took a taxi into the CBD to find Adriaan and Nicola (who booked at another guesthouse).

 

 

 

We ate at KFC, checked the markets by a river, took photographs, climbed 444 steps through alleyways (passing rather persistent girls trying to tempt us into what must have been a brothel) to see a lighthouse and a church, and went on a ferris wheel at night to look over the lights of the city.

The next morning I went to park in the shadows of a fantastic statue of Simon Bolivar and a massive church. But the park attracted the tourists for the iguanas wandering around being petted by children and tempted with lettuce leaves.

 

 

These iguanas (pronounced iHuanas because G sounds like H) were the biggest posers. They loved the attention. I had one iguana that took a pose as if to climb from the footpath to the lawn. It paused there, waiting as if to say “okay, shoot now!” But then, almost as if it realised the photo could be better, it stepped back onto the footpath, walked closer to me and THEN resumed its same position! It waited until I took the photographs, and left me to it.

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I had to leave quickly to find the others and catch our bus back to Peru, nervously waiting to reach the border.

The visa officer gave me another four months on my passport. But I know I will not be given any more extension.

The lows and the highs of this life

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The graffiti in Huanchaco at night. 

I remember at a rodeo telling a PR associate that I was going to be moving to Peru to teach. And I remember how he branded it. He described how many women I would likely ‘meet’ (especially if I continued my gym and diet regime). And there was something else he said.

“The best part will be when you wake up in the morning,” he said as he held his bourbon and coke. The noises of the bronco ride, the clangs of bells and exclamations of the MC, echoed behind us down the hill on one side, while on the other the TV glared by the bar. The important Rugby League game with the Cowboys was playing. More people focused their attention on this.

“That will be the best part,” my associate said. “When it all becomes your normal life.”

And lately I wonder at that. Because I have long since been in that stage.

I am in no rush to return to Australia but there’s no denying some sort of magic from the novelty has faded. I wake at 5.30am to prepare for work, and then teach students who are mostly bored of my classes. Between classes I always have to prepare for something (whether it’s exams, or the next bimester’s structure, or some sort of paperwork).

I have fought the flu for a fortnight, my visa runs out this week, and there’s one more thing…I’m broke.

It’s funny the mood you’re in when you count the soles that you have left. The stress builds when you wonder if you have enough money to catch the bus at the end of the week, when you cut short the money you spend on food, when there’s no water in the house because its your turn to pay for it but cannot afford the phone call to ring the water delivery guy.

While I am being negative right now I feel it’s important to share these lows, as much as it is to share the heights. I have done much here that I am glad I experience. I am glad to teach, overall, and I am mostly glad to be living in a house in the one place in Peru. I am learning a lot. There’s just a strain in doing so.

I guess I am living a true life now that the novelty has faded.

My students and some of the teachers refer to me as Shakespeare. On World Literature Day I had to quote Hamlet’s Soliloquy (The ‘To Be or Not To Be’ section). I dressed in black and held a skull. But the more I think about it… the more I think I was given an actual real skull. The teeth were at risk of falling out and they had roots. Everything inside it was rather lifelike.

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My students are bored but many of them do like me…or at the least, can tell that I like them. “Mr Burnzy!” I heard in the basement corridor one morning, and I looked around and saw nothing. I recognised the voice of a young student. I thought he must have walked up one of the two staircases but when I returned to the elevator I heard him call “Mr Burnzy!” again.

I surprised him by jogging around a corner to see where he was hiding. We laughed and went our different ways. But I glowed. We both had a lot of difficulty with each other six weeks before (language barrier).

I looked after a Grade 7 class while they did an exam. The youngest I normally teach is Grade 8 and for a while I have been warned about their behaviour. It took them about 15 minutes to realise I knew no Spanish and that was it, their discipline was gone. I had to write on the board that I did not understand Spanish, and I may have wrote a few things to caution them they could not muck around with me.

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One of the louder boys who would not be quiet gasped. “Mr!” he said, putting up his hand.  And he looked terrified. “In Australia, do they eat MEN?” (He knew little Spanish but enough to think that ‘mean’ was ‘men’ and that I was a cannibal).

“Si,” I replied, licking my lips and looking down at him. “Personas deliciosa.” And he gasped. I quickly said I was joking but he was a model student the rest of the time.

Burnzy’s Peru Jam

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The daily grind: Heading to work in the morning. 

This is part of my playlist that I listen to on my Iphone every day, when I am on the bus early in the morning and on my way home from work.

I use it to escape the daily routine, but I cannot understand most of it. Still, a little bit more occasionally I reach a breakthrough with a word, even if it’s only to tell it apart from another noise.

 

  • Bella (Wolfine): Beautiful
…I went to kill my heartbreak
In the rain, in the streets, homeless
Thinking about who did you go home to, woman
What did I do to you now that you’re not coming back…

 

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The mural hidden in the back room of a vegetarian restaurant in Trujillo.
  • Tres (Libido): Three

...Love me, lie to me, touch me, 

Think of me, miss me, hold me…

After a day without you, I can die, 

Tell me I lost my reason. 

 

  • La Ruta del Tentempie (Charly Garcia): The Route of the Tentempie

…And I will not wait

And I will not run

And I will not win

And I will not lose…

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I asked my students to write down questions that they had in class for them to research. This was one question a student came up with. 
  • Estadio Azteca (Andres Calamaro): Aztec Stadium
…When I was a child
and I first went to the Aztec stadium,
I froze up, overwhelmed to see the giant.
When I was an adult, the same happened to me,
but I already had frozen up long before…
  • Mayores (Becky. G. and Bad Bunny): Greater

…I like them older

Those we call gentlemen, 

The ones who open doors and send flowers…

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Friday night drinks. 
  • Hojarascas (Kraken): Fallen Leaves

…I’m not a puppet that gets tangled in your fingers,

No longer pretend, 

Because I feel more compassion…

 

  • De Musica Ligera (Soda Stereo): Of Light Music

…I will not send (her)

Ashes of roses 

Nor shall I avoid 

A secret contact…

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The sunset at Huanchaco beach.

 

  • Matador (Los Fabulosos Cadillacs): Matador

…If we talk about killing, my words themselves kill

It hasn’t been very long since the Leon Santillan fell

And now I know that at any moment I am going to be next.

Ahh matador…. Ahh matador.. Where are you matador?…

 

  • No Me Dejan Salir (Charly Garcia): They Do Not Let Me Out

I’m green, they will not let me out

I’m green, they will not let me out. 

I can not start, I can not leave, 

I can not feel love, that feeling….

On dating and honesty on an exotic continent

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What ended up being a meet up for coffee ended up being a late night (on a work night) which included a photo gallery, coffee and cake, and deep and meaningful conversation in the plaza de armas. 

It has been at least 11 days since my last blog. My mind has been occupied with the good and the bad. It has thought of Tinder and dating and women and work and students at school, and of struggles and workaholism, and of what I should be doing in my life right now.

I had been on a lot of dates lately, and mostly with the same girl who makes me feel good. It caught me off guard because I certainly didn’t come to Peru for a relationship. It felt like I had finally figured out Tinder just as I met her, and suddenly not only did I have so many matches, but so many girls actually wanted to talk, and hey! Holy crap. Even meet me.

There was the date with the lawyer who invited me to her house where she fed me and tried to speak in broken English. Then there was the date at the shopping centre with the girl who knew next to no English. I don’t know how I thought that was going to work. I suppose it was because she was a really nice person who wanted to see me.

I went on one date (after the clowns date) which ended up in a nightclub. She knew English with difficulty, but as a travelling violinist in a symphony knew much more German. We went to an expensive hipster coffee bar where after the conversation slowly stopped she blushingly pulled out a piece of paper with questions in English to ask me.

I had arrived at that date wondering what the hell I was doing when I had just met another girl I liked and wanted to spend my time with. I thought about cancelling, but didn’t. And all through the coffee as I liked this girl more and more, with her awkward charm and piece of paper, I thought to myself, ‘you are scum.’

As we walked to eat dinner she asked me ‘so are you single?’ and technically I was. But I told her there was another girl I did like, over Google translator, and explained further I was not after a relationship. But I really wanted her in my life, so I begged that we be friends. The friendship continued eventually to the nightclub where everyone stared at me for being a gringo, and gradually we stole the centre of the floor dancing to regatone.

But late that night I felt whatever it was, wasn’t the same as the girl I met on the clown date. And as I took a taxi home that night I felt alone, and certainly didn’t want to push good people out of my life. When I arrived home at 4.30am I sent a tired message to the first girl and said I certainly wanted to keep seeing her.

I deliberately don’t think about the future because doing so only worries me unnecessarily, where I see problems when I am not equipped with the answers. I can adapt with solutions with time and experience that I cannot predict from the situations that have yet to happen. Mountains are much easier to see than the roads and the rope and the boots and the caves.

But something happened in the days after I sent the tired message. I realised that I couldn’t keep going on heaps of dates with different girls, especially if they ended up being really nice girls. It would only get confusing.

And so, when the girls I spoke to who I did care about wanted more detail on our future or our dating, I had to be honest and not worried about being liked by the most people.

The more honest I was the more powerful I felt. Girls appreciated it and to a degree admired it, having had enough lies and double-standards in their dating lives. I discovered that being honest was the fastest way to get what I really wanted. The obstacles or the confusion cleared, and for the first time in my life it felt like the people I knew moved around me and to what I wanted.

But of course, when girls found out that I was dating someone more regularly than once, they stopped talking to me, even if the conversation ended politely. And there is something really sad in that, that by being honest I lost the pleasure of their intelligence and conversations, but I understood that they had for a long time realised something I was only just discovering – you cannot waste time on the things that do not fit to what you want.