An inside Spanish holiday

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).

Skyrim pic.jpg

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.

El Profesor.jpg
El Profesor in La Casa De Papel. The screenshot is from Netflix, and in this moment he has to make a horrible choice.

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.

Spanish online

Huanchaco for dummies

I had a bad earache during the week, and on my way out of the chemist, I ducked into the bookstore next door. That’s when I found the travel section, and more importantly, the Spanish book for dummies. It’s been quite useful. The first chapter is taking me through pronunciation of the alphabet.

Last night I squeezed in a Spanish lesson online. I went through a website called Preply almost a week ago, picked a tutor who I thought seemed professional, booked a lesson, and paid.

Then I waited.

It was 10pm my time, and about 8am for her. I was nervous, wondering if she was going to be late, and then she appeared on my screen, adjusting her hair and looking anywhere but at me.

She couldn’t see me, my microphone and camera weren’t working. Gee, that must have been creepy for her when for 15 minutes I couldn’t get it working, because after a while she turned the screen off, and we tried switching to Skype. Even then Skype was a problem for me, I was unfamiliar with it really, but at last, with 20 minutes of the lesson to go, we had it sorted.

My tutor was Colombian, I think, and I was attracted to her. She reminded me so much of the friends I made in Peru, the beautiful colleagues who I never could really talk to for too long, the ones who looked at me curiously in a similiar way, for to each other we were exotic.

In this way she seemed familiar, except she was a more experienced teacher, and natural, but she was testing the areas of my knowledge, particularly when it came to family, and directions, and the time.

Her mannerisms were so familiar, and when I couldn’t understand her, my reactions returned to how it had been in Peru for 18 months. I would awkwardly flounder for words, and say “como?” and while it isn’t the most endearing thing to do, I found comfort because a part of myself that I had forgotten about had returned.

I left the lesson with a smile on my face, and bought more lessons, booking one for Monday and another for the next Friday.

Then I fell asleep, eventually, ready to work on Saturday.

Yo aprendiendo Espanol

Tratare de escribir este blog en espanol con poca traduccion de Google. 

I will try to write this blog in Spanish with little Google translation.

Mi espanol no es bien. Es malo. 

My Spanish is not good. It is bad.

Quiero escribe mejor. 

I want to write better.

Es dificil.

It is difficult.

Es un problema mi espanol es limitado. 

It is a problem that my Spanish is limited.

Hablar con la gente es complicado. 

Talking to people is tricky.

Yo amor musica. Latino musica es bien. Yo gusta Soda Stereo, Charly Garcia, y Andres Calamaro.

I love music. Latin music is good. I like Soda Stereo, Charly Garcia, and Andres Calamaro.

Yo vivo en Huanchaco.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Missing family in a foreign country

 

family pic.jpg
A very old and outdated pic with the bros and sis. 

It has been more than three years since I have seen my family. Part of the reason for that is the isolation and the expense that comes living in rural Australia.

It’s also partly my fault given that my own mum wanted to see me before I flew from Brisbane to Peru. I thought it would make it harder seeing her before I left for South America.

I missed my family anyway. Not at first but as the weeks become months I find myself reflecting more on what has shaped my attitudes and values.

aaron and I.jpg
Christmas photos are always weird when it comes to Aaron and I (I’m the one without the knife). 

I have barely spoken to my sister for a while but she made me a playlist for Christmas which I listen to often. And she said that I had always influenced her musical tastes with all the mix CDs I used to make her (think Christian rock metal like TFK and Stryper and Switchfoot, combined with Guitar Hero playlists, and songs used for TV shows. As the years went on these were more likely to be British rock lists. The Who’s Baba O’Riley would have made an appearance, as would have The Clash and The Wombats).

kt and i iceskating.jpg
Another old pic. This one is of my sister owning me at ice-skating. Go, Little Lion Girl! 

But her musical tastes have grown in the late teens and so I listen to her music she chose for me, and I’m proud to now be influenced by her. She stumbled onto a song that I listened to in one of my earliest memories in life. In my memory I’m in the bathtub in the last days of my parents’ relationship and the song ‘You Can Call Me Al’ is playing. I never could figure out the name of the song.

I read this and wonder how I relate to my experience living in Peru – besides recording the fact I miss my family in a foreign country. I suppose it comes back to language.

I exaggerate when I say that I haven’t seen any of my family in three years. Before I flew from Brisbane I saw my cousin Mekaela. It’s only when I hugged her that I realised it had been so long since I had seen her or anyone else. She reads my blog but that’s not why I say what I’m about to say. She’s an inspiration in that she’s independent, younger, has the same resources I do (not many) and has already traveled and worked overseas. She lived in Brazil a while and so was able to give me some advice while we drank expensive inner-city coffee.

“It will take three months living in a foreign country before you know basic Spanish. That may not seem like a long time but it will be,” she said.

It’s nearly the three month milestone and I wonder how many words I have learned. There’s not many. It’s enough to get me by awkwardly in an American style supermarket or the restaurants, as long as the conversation doesn’t deviate from the regular pattern.

“Hamburguesa Y papas fritas. Y Cafe Con Leche. Por Favor.”

“Nombre?”

“Que? Ah. Si. Burnzy. Gracias, Senora.”

“Gracias.”

But the other night leaving a restaurant something happened that deviated from the norm. The waitress chased me down the street to try to explain something about the two 5 soles coins I handed her. I asked if she wanted more money. “Mas Soles?”

“No. fsakldjfs winaosidnfds oiansdfsdf  ionasdf alns lkasdfask.”

“Ah. No comprende.”

“sisdifklfnds flkandfkldsfn oiandflkdsnf landfklsnnd.”

Luckily there was a Google translator handy so that eventually she could explain to me the coins I gave her were fake. I had spare coins fortunately. Yet the coins looked so convincing. “A foreigner giving fake coins is bad,” the waitress warned before she left.

I’ve wondered why it is that my cousin could learn so much in three months compared to me. And my Mum explained a possibility.

fat me and mum.jpg
A cousin, and my very beautiful and young mum hold fat-baby me. 

“Maybe it’s because she was on her own in a foreign country and didn’t have anyone to speak English with,” she said. “And you have housemates you speak English to all the time.”

And there’s truth to that.

Bullshit in Ecuador

One of the biggest weaknesses in navigating South America is not being able to count higher than six.

The best way to practice counting is to play Bullshit while waiting in line at the Ecuador border. I did this yesterday. Bullshit is a game requiring lies and deceit. The aim is to get rid of all your cards and if you don’t have the card you need, you have to claim that you do. If someone thinks you are lying, they must claim “bullshit”. The cards are turned over, the truth is revealed, and whoever is lying (or wrong) must pick up the deck.

Amy, Nicola, Guy and I traveled to the Ecuador border yesterday with the aim of extending our visas before we travel south to take on a promising teaching position in Trujillo.

It was a confusing mess. Our taxi driver Jorge (Hor:Hey?) helped us but he didn’t know what was going on either, and he knew little English to give us much insight. We were worried we might be denied entry back into Peru, or wouldn’t get the six months we needed (through our ignorance or inability to communicate).

As we waited two hours in a line (that we didn’t need to be in at that point in time, it turns out) I pulled out a pack of cards and we played Bullshit, standing around the deck. I invited Jorge to play which meant trying to teach him in a foreign language, and it only worked because Guy is naturally gifted at learning Spanish.

I decided to try to play while speaking the numbers in Spanish.

“Uno-Tres.”

“Dos-Cuatro.”

“Hmmm.”

“Tres-Cuatro.”

“Bullshit! That’s bullshit!”

We started having an audience – spectators that began to understand the rules. By the end of the game though, my brain was about to explode with the numbers I was trying to remember and pronounce (I still can’t get the e in Tres right. It’s embarrassing).

As we were about to be served at the counter we learned we had to go to another line in another building and that we would have to return to this same line later. Fortunately when we returned the line was shorter, but we queued in about four lines by the end.

Four hours after the game of Bullshit, we were struggling to fill out our paperwork without tables. “Write on my back,” Nicola offered to Amy.  And Amy started trying to draw on Nicola’s back! Ha ha ha. We were tired.

Finally I was at the counter, confident that with blue eyes and my Aussie charm I might be able to persuade the lady with the stamp that I should be allowed six months more to stay in the glorious Peru.

What I wasn’t so confident about was my ignorance of the Spanish language and my ability to  fuck up burnzy everything up with good intentions. But not today! I carried a slip of paper which said “Seis meses de Peru, Por Favor” (should have had para instead of de, and it would have meant ‘six months in Peru, please”.) and I even had an excuse up my sleeve if they asked “why do you want to stay?”

“La Chica,” I would say. Which is bullshit but it sounds cute.

But I never got the chance to sound like a brainless sap, because the lady at the counter tried to talk to me, and I didn’t understand, and I gave her the paper, and passport and I said “Lo Siento, no hablo Espanol”, and she spoke again, and I looked confused, and she laughed (it’s the, ‘wow, he really is dumb’ laugh and I’ve been hearing a lot of it lately, but it’s actually not a bad laugh).

“Cinco,” she said, (five) and I was glad that Bullshit had helped me with the numbers a little. And I said, “No, Seis, por favor!” and she smiled and somehow I was able to understand that because I had already just been in Peru a month, this year, I couldn’t have the full visa refreshed.

I pouted….I actually pouted! Bloody hell. It was a thinking pout, and then I grinned, and I tried again.

“Seis muy bien!” I said, (six very good!*) and in a tone where I was pleading, but she shook her head, with a genuine wide grin, and said ‘cinco’.

I didn’t dare push it, I was already winning, and I hope I thanked her, I hoped I showed the gratefulness on my face, and I think I did. I left with the final stamp and waited for my friends, and they had gained what they needed to, more or less.

Then we went back to the hotel for a pool party where we could drink as much as we wanted in three hours. I got changed in a red flannie and I sang Mambo No 5 and Black Betty on karaoke, and scared the nearby school children at the party by doing it in a heavy raspy voice, and I drank so much that I threw up by a palm tree (making Australia proud) and nearly passed out in a hammock, and made a real arse of myself. The end.

*With my ignorance of the local language I’ve wondered how on earth I’m still alive. But I am alive and there will be plenty of embarrassing stories to come, I’m sure. Keep safe out there, and I’ll make sure to do the same.