Dancing with the Peruvian elderly

 

RUNNING away to Peru may sound romantic but the truth is that if you’re trying to go there to escape your inward shit you may find yourself having to confront these issues in more extreme forms.

I talk of course about anxiety and taking on the blame for what’s going on in the world around me.

I left a relationship six months ago in which I was unhappy, and I was unhappy mainly because I was prisoner of my own anxiety – unable to differentiate blame and fairness and therefore unable to express myself without feeling I was doing something wrong.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you may have noticed a sudden change in my written voice in the last week. I fell into a dark patch in Peru, when these feelings of anxiety remerged. What’s shocked me is that I can’t quite explain why I fell in this mood except that it was a combination of stresses that built up into overload.

The more I tried to pretend things were okay, the more I put myself under this pressure, the worse I was in my mind. It was like jumping out of my skin, and I was beginning to feel crazy, in a country far from home. The worst thing is that this has until this morning caused me to question who I am. It felt like nobody around me could understand this intensity, but I couldn’t either.

Last night I wanted to sulk in my room but my new friends came round to play Bullshit (cards involving lies and deception) and eat street pizza, drink beer and listen to music. I played but my heart wasn’t in it for a while, and I was sculling a beer so I could hurry up and make my excuses to leave.Someone suggested the loser of the game jump into the pool and I thought self-sabotage of the game and a swim would be the fastest way to get out of there. I jumped in the pool and I floated underneath the water for a little while. And it felt so fucking good, and it shocked me, this feeling, fighting against that tension that had been irrationally building up within. I left the pool to the sounds of other people laughing, and I went into my room to brood. And it occurred to me that such behaviour was the reason everyone around me think I’m a bit of a weirdo sometimes.

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Having a good time at the bar between dances. 

I changed my clothes but didn’t put on any underwear – not out of sexiness but more because I’d run out of clean ones – and I left the room to keep playing. I was finally allowed to choose the music, and I chose Tash Sultana, and San Cisco, and Band of Frequencies, and Gang of Youths, and I was in an ecstasy because this was music I loved before – when I was at home and in control of my feelings – and it still sounded the same. It still sounded relevant.

 

I have a friend called Ingibjorg who lives in Iceland. She is one of my group of online friends I call ‘the side shovels’. She said something the other day that meant a lot.

“Intense people are interesting people, passionate people, people who shine through the greyishness of every day,” she said to all of the side shovels.

Yes.

I feel intense people are touched by madness. They have felt something powerful and creative and secret in that madness, and through some quick snap or release they have come out the other side to share those emotions with the world around them.

 

 

 

A bunch of senior Peruvians were having a dance party at the hotel next door, so we decided to check it out. And we did. We bought more beer at the bar and slowly a few of us ended up being on the dance floor with these elderly ladies.

You know the stereotype of the drunken Asian tourist making a fool of themselves on the dance floor? This was me last night.

Except I was a terrible white dancer surrounded by Latinas.

There I was dancing with no shoes or any underwear on and all I knew about these dances were what I could copy from my partners – half my height. I danced with a mask on with a group of elderly women who were having the time of their lives – and so was I.

I copied these dances and the ladies on the sidelines helped show me the motions, telling me how to spin around when I needed to.

Dancing is its own language and what I needed was a release – and this was the release. I was myself, I was me, I was shining, and I was making people happy.

I’m out of that madness, I hope, knowing that I haven’t changed, that I’m still the same person. We fuck up sometimes and can’t help how we feel. And I know I’m a dancer even if I’m out of the rhythm of everybody else.

 

Homesickness while hating those damn Aussies

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Last night while deciding on the next great adventure in Peru, I suddenly felt homesick.

I had my first drink of Milo in ages and it tasted like home. I think Milo is Australian but I could be wrong, and it doesn’t matter anyway who claims it. All I know is that I was caught by surprise by this feeling. I’ve never felt sick for home before because in reality, I am a nomad and I never saw myself as having one specific home.

It wasn’t one town I missed, it wasn’t Mount Isa. It was Australia I missed, and I don’t exactly know why. I don’t care about looking back, I want to focus on my Peru journey, but you have to admit it’s a little funny that I am regularly interested in what my Prime Minister’s Instagram story of the day is.

The strange thing is that in my travel experience, the further from Australia you are the more likely it is that you are going to see more Australians in a hostel or working in a bar. And they don’t really like running into each other. It gets old and fast. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it’s that Aussie men find an advantage in having that mystique, that drawl, and that’s taken away when others put on that exaggerated act. Other Aussies must fight that stereotype of being drunken bogans who cannot speak well and who bullshit a lot, and who think they are funny and really aren’t.

I never understood that dislike of running into other Australians, but after speaking to a few at a hostel recently, I was turned off by the “fucken hell” and “mate” from every sentence. It felt fake, but it also made me see that trait in myself.

It’s strange. I miss my country and I miss my land, but I’m not sure I miss the people who don’t have the current attachment to that.

Maybe.

But then…

Suddenly this afternoon…

One of the teachers I work with is Australian and she hates fidget spinners. Adriaan my South African friend and I snuck up behind her playing with the spinners and we made her turn around to look at us.

“You are fucking arseholes,” she drawled with a smile and with twinkling eyes the color of a Queensland sky. These were the exact words and tone I needed to hear. I missed this humour, and I walked away laughing.

Super gringo divertido

I have heard the most beautiful sound in the world and that sound is pre-schooler children calling out in the street, “hola senor!”

I just want to call back “hola Bambinos” but I don’t in case I burnzy it up and confuse them. I’m not even sure bambinos is correct in the context. In mount Isa it’s the name of a coffee shop. I just stick to the Hola from my lips and warmth in my heart, returning from the market in the middle of the day.

I wish I was as innocent or as naive as these cuties, and then I think that maybe I am. Or at least, I aspire to be. There is nothing wrong with goodness and love and kindness and grace, without agenda, and yet at some point at time I could say I resented these traits. Or, more accurately, the people that bragged they aspired to these traits but weren’t quite sure of the subtleties of the opposites.

I’m getting preachy, I think, because I’m tired, and exhausted, and I’ve just returned from a weekend of partying in a nearby resort town in which I had a great night, and a not so good night, and it makes me wonder if alcohol is worth the price to body and especially to mind and connections.

Right now I wait to teach school children English and I’m not as prepared as I could be, because of my tiredness, and mainly that’s from a stomach bug. And I know my friends also teaching feel the same.

Maybe I’m being harsh to alcohol, and I’m really on a soap box but let me keep this going while it’s in my heart because I need to say this. I did not come to Peru to piss my money away on grog. And I have.

To be fair, some of my best moments this year and maybe my life have been while drunk here. And maybe that takes the validity away from what I’m saying.

But I spent more than three months without alcohol before I came here, to eat healthy, and it changed my life. It was the happiest I had been in Mount Isa. It wasn’t intended to have so much benefit, but I made a close group of friends who helped me rely on sobriety, (we called our group Side Shovels and we enjoy Doctor Who and Taylor Swift and Nintendo Switch). Suddenly, I was fitter and happier and stronger and confident, and I was free in my mind from anxiety. And then I came to Peru planning to maintain this sense of freedom and somehow didn’t.

My Side Shovels haven’t actually said it but I sense disapproval from our correspondence, as if my partying had let them down, as if I’m no longer being that guy our relationship was built on.

And yet I don’t quite know what to do. I really like my new friends around me, and fortunately alcohol doesn’t define them either,but suddenly I find myself uncertain on how to act sober. That’s silly, I know. I am me and I can carry on being that decent bloke I KNOW I am, but I find myself using alcohol as a crutch to try and imitate my best moments here.

I am a fun gringo, I am a super gringo divertido, and I can be that while taking it just a bit easy on the Crystal (beer) and the dinero.

Perdon, I want to be serious for a moment

 

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One thing I’ve learned this week is friends do not have to speak the same language. 

When I first pitched this blog, it was supposed to be about my awkward exchanges conversing in Spanish. Yet this week there was little time to buy food at the market or to go to a restaurant or even to drink (until Wednesday night anyway).

I’m not sure when I’ve been more stressed before this week in preparation for the classes I had to teach.

I failed my first class which had been with young teenagers. I still have a bruise on my head from that occasion.

When I thought I failed my second class, it was with young adults. I taught them directions and at the end of the session we played blind man’s bluff. The Spanish speakers have difficulty with vowels, and S. For example, one lady keeps adding an ‘e’ before stop. ‘Estop’. By the end they did well, helping each other navigate the room.

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Watching the football game between Peru and New Zealand. A spot in the world cup is at stake.

‘You!’ one student pointed at me, and they were so enthusiastic that I didn’t have the heart to say no. They guided me clearly to my destination. I was proud, but my lesson was 15 minutes short. I made exercises up but I left rather sulky that I had failed again. I didn’t fail. Still, before I learned I was successful I was nauseous, dizzy, and stressed. I hadn’t eaten properly, I couldn’t change my 100 soles note, and I was failing at not taking it out on the people around me.

A friend suggested the solution to his and my failure was to try harder, and I stormed off, pissed off. I felt I had tried my best. But as I thought about it longer, I knew he was right. It was just advice I didn’t want to hear.

There are things I still have time for; blogging, walks on the beach, Facebook, and just being plain goofy. I can do these things, but I hadn’t given the course everything just yet.

I hadn’t actually given teaching too much thought before I arrived in Peru. I just wanted something different and this seemed to be the answer. I gave up a job I had control over, in a town in which I was perfectly comfortable. I left this job to teach English to people who only spoke Spanish and that loss of control was gone.

What did I expect from an accelerated teaching course? Did I expect that it was going to be easy? Yes, I had, because I had not taken it seriously.

Now it’s time I found a way to take it seriously, while still enjoying the good times with the people around me. Because there is something special about these soon-to-be teachers.

Mr Burnzy’s first class

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Right now I am in an odd mood. It’s almost…a flat feeling. Yet I don’t know why. I should be feeling fantastic.

I’m in Peru learning to teach English and tonight was my first class. I taught English to Peruvian teenagers. It started awkwardly.

The classroom had a tin roof, a wall of grills on the side (windows with no glass) and a picture of Mother Mary in pride of place on a shelf at the front of the room.

The first two children arrived to the class 15 minutes late and when I started writing on the board the first time I dropped my pen. I used the bend and snap but at the top of the snap my head hit the shelf where the Mother Mary picture stood. It hurt.

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Meanwhile, my South African mate Adriaan is also about to begin his class. 

I didn’t realise until after the lesson that the force of the blow caused the picture to fall forward.

It got worse when students kept steadily coming in, some 40 minutes later. I thought ‘ stuff it!” with the order of activities I had planned, and kept it to the same active exercise we planned at the start.

I made sure new students entering the classroom during group work were divided among the more experienced students. I get why my teachers were so cranky that I was 5-10 minutes late to class. It really affected my development and what that teacher could do.

But as my students went on and absorbed more I found myself talking less, letting the students take the lead.

At the end when I finished one of the brighter students handed me my pencils I had lent him.

“Thank you,” he said, smiling at me, in perfect English.

I have felt amazing several times. I have walked on a catwalk to applause, and made people laugh at my stand-up comedy. I thought these were great feelings.  But it was not like the glow I had inside me at that moment. It was a burn and this burn was purpose.

Still, purpose or not, I went straight to the bar afterwards with my fellow teachers.

People and their creatures

 

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There are some days with no expectations tied to them that contain the best moments. Such a case happened the day after my birthday.

It began painfully as I was in a class on how to teach English all day while enduring a birthday hangover. But then I took some photographs across town including up at the lighthouse. The people here in Zorritos love having their photographs taken. I was concerned that it might be frowned upon. Not at all! They do like being asked though.

I took photographs of a football game that children were playing. They saw the camera, stopped the game and posed! The referee was smiling while trying to get the kids to keep playing.  I also captured a photograph of a surfer returning to his motorcab.

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There’s a cheap burger place called Trota Mundo where you can grab an excellent Pollo burger for six soles. It is in a beautiful wooden building that looks almost like a tree house. The company and conversation were fantastic that night and so was the music playing in the background. Iris by Goo Goo Dolls, and Wonderwall (Oasis) played from a speaker near our table outside. The laughs grew when the waitress-owner came out to tell us something in Spanish.

The best Spanish speaker (Guy) hadn’t arrived yet so we tried to bluff our way through understanding. The woman grabbed her phone to translate what she meant and this is what came up. Nicola - translation.jpg

We laughed so much.

Poor creatures 😦

And I also feel sorry for the woman because she didn’t know why we were laughing. It turns out she wanted to know what sauce we wanted on our burgers.

Beers, and more beers. And after those beers Nicola, Guy, Amy and I walked back to our villa and bought beer on the way and drank it. At the hotel bar we brought out a pack of cards and we stayed up until 2am playing Bullshit.

It turns out I’m a terrible liar but what is also unfortunate is I have a tendency to shout ‘bullshit!’ when I’m losing in a game when I’m drunk. But it doesn’t mean I’m accusing someone of cheating, which is what I’m doing in this game when I say ‘bullshit.’

Feliz cumpleaños, amigos!

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To the new amigos! Great company, great health and a great life! Photo: Amy Nicole.

I feel the most lonely when I’m traveling overseas and traveling from place to place. Sometimes there might be a hostel where the people there have a great time for a night or two, but then that’s it. The magic is over and you’re scattered and – if you’re lucky – Facebook friends.

There’s nothing wrong with that and there is a power to solitude, but there are moments like on my 28th birthday where you realise it’s great to be part of something.

I have a tendency to get overfamiliar too quickly but I hope it’s okay to say that I feel different about my Peru experience so far. I’ve made cool friends and I hope it’s not lame saying that.

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They helped me celebrate my birthday. And we had the best time.

We ate pizza from a street vendor and it was okay, and then we walked to a small store to buy beer to drink. The lady behind the counter was overwhelmed by all the foreigners in her store all at once that evening, and even more surprised when we grabbed eight or so large beers from the fridge.

She opened one of the bottles and we asked her to open them all.

(??????? ????????) she said. (something like; what? all of them!)

“Si” we all said, and her face had the expression of ‘foreigners are strange.’ It might be because it’s traditional here for everyone to share the bottle together, and that’s why it’s large. But us foreigners hog each large bottle for ourselves.

She did it and as we left, I turned back and made eye contact with her and smiled. After a moment the confused signora seemed calmer, and the moment she smiled back, I waved, and shouted “Hola!”

“Shit!” I yelled outside the store when I realised I should have said Buenas Noches.

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My first pisco sour, shouted by amigo Nicola. Photo: Lutie van den Berg.

We went to a few more bars and I drank my first Pisco Sour and had great conversations with those around me. One of the bar tenders at the hotel gave me his hat which had the name of the town on it, ‘Zorritos’. The bar looked like the inside of a shed with a dance floor and a few tables (almost like a back yard party in any Australian town) but with a strippers pole. Nobody used it but even so it was a fantastic birthday.

We finished the night drinking tea and sitting by a fire near the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…Some of it in Spanish

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Locals are shaking my hand and saying “Feliz cumpleaños.” I’m not quite sure what that means but given their smiles I think I might have done something right for a change.

This is a lie. I know what it means. It’s my birthday and I’m 28-years-old now. I used to dream of making it into the 27 club but I like living and I’m not famous. Still, I can cross one more thing off my bucket list. I managed to use the combination of ‘Lo Siento, Gringo idiota.’

I’m sorry, this Gringo is an idiot.

I ran out of money on my birthday so a  South African by the name of Adriaan and I hired a taxi to a hotel to take out some cash at the ATM. Our driver didn’t know any English but on the return trip back to mine I tried to make conversation. We sat in the front, silent, and it was awkward. I didn’t know what I could say.

Then I thought, ‘yes I could’. Como Estas (how are you?).

Saying this did a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing was the taxi driver started talking a lot. The bad thing was the taxi driver started talking a lot. Who would have thought people would talk when you asked them how they were? (come to think of it, when is the last time I’ve asked someone that in English?)

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The highway through Zorritos. A motorcab drives towards us.

I couldn’t understand him. No Comprende, I said. Lo Siento, I said. I don’t understand. I’m sorry. (That’s all I seem to say these days in Peru. Much like it was the time I was in my last relationship. But shhh).

He pointed at himself. “Peru!” he said.

It clicked. “I am Christopher from Australia!” I said.

“South Africa!” Adriaan said from the back.

“Ah! Australiano. South Africano.” Then the driver said a bunch of other stuff which didn’t help much. The South African at the back gave me his phone app translator but somehow I couldn’t get it to work and I kept holding it to the driver’s face. He kept nervously staring at the narrow road and the motocabs on it while at the same time checking the phone quickly.

I gave up. And then I said it.

“Lo Siento. Gringo idiota!”

There was silence. Then the taxi driver laughed loud. There was a sparkle in his eyes and when we arrived at the hotel, and paid the man, the driver shook my hand and said, Buenas Tardes, Christopher.” And even though I had paid him a lot more than we probably should have, there was a glow in my heart. The sort of glow that comes from teasing yourself to make the world a better place, probably.

Another point I wish to make is that I’m starting to wonder if this blog  should be called ‘awkward conversations with Burnzy (and some of them in Spanish!).

Nah, but seriously. If it was a cooking blog, I’d call it ‘Cooking with Burns’. (Get it? Because my last name is Burns and I suck at cooking). And if it was a dating/sex advice blog, it would be ‘a night in Burns.’ So, we’ll try out ‘awkward conversations with Burnzy (and a little more action please).

 

La Playa

DSC_3503.JPGMy feet are in the sand as I stare out to the horizon in the early morning. There is an oil rig in the distance just where my eyes might gaze into nothingness. I see the flames above the water. Fire in the sky.

On the land to my right is a lighthouse on a hill. It’s striped like a pedestrian crossing and it stands out in the colours of brown of the land, and the faded whitewashed blues and shades of the ocean and the sand.

This is ‘La Playa.’

This is the beach.

Smoke carries a faint smell. Animals wander with a strange sense of purpose. Horses trot along dusty lanes and dogs jog past with grins and a odd lack of guilt I associate with liberated pets. When they stop to stare at the landscape they pretend I don’t exist. An occasional person jogs along the shore or stands in the water like I do. Like anywhere La Playa is the place to be in the morning. It carries no  morning rush but that of the waves.

If La Playa was sentient it would have witnessed much of my experience here. It has played a part in everything in Zorritos just by sight and sound.

I stand there with my feet in the water which tries to grip me, pull the sand away, and take me with it. I am free. Then I get back to doing my push-ups.

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When I return to the villa I have a breakthrough with the Spanish language and it comes from my host, Flavio. As I practice my language with two dogs on the lawn, he tries to explain in Spanish what I’m doing wrong. “No,” he said. “Espanol, Inglish, different.” He pointed at his throat. “Inglish.” Then he pointed at his mouth and grimaced as he said “gracias”.

“Espanol, boca (mouth).”

And when I finally understood what he said, the r came out a bit better when I forced the words through my lips quickly rather than by making the noises in my throat.

I share the villa with three others. Amy, Barbara, and Guy. They joined me and Flavio brought our fried eggs one by one. “I read your blog this morning,” Amy said in her strong Canadian accent (on that note undoubtedly two Canadians and a Kiwi think my Aussie drawl is heavy). “It was good.”

I do not like egg but I forced myself to eat some. As I was halfway through I had enough. “Do you want it?” I asked Guy, and Barbra said, “no, you’re nearly there, eat it”.

“But I’m up to the..ergh…yellow part.”

“That’s the best bit!”

And they gave me El Diablo sauce and I put some on the rest of the egg and I forced it down, while the waves crashed in the distances. Dogs barked. The spicy sauce helped as I focused on the burn on my tongue rather than on taste.

It was the first full cooked egg I’ve eaten in my life. I told the others.

“Are you going to put this in your blog?” they teased. “You should!”

So I did.

 

 

 

El Gringo Idiota

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The highway that passes through Zorritos. 

It’s 5am in the morning, the waves crash on the beach to my right as I lay on my bed, and the race that stops my nation has come and gone while I was sleeping.

Fortunately, the mosquitoes seem to be somewhere else but it may be that the glow of the laptop will tempt their return. It is a worry. The mozzies seem to like me more than the others, and given that I  am currently in a mild malaria and a dengue zone, a dice rolls every time another itchy dot shows on my skin.

I have repellant and I’m using it more, but I would say that the type I have is most effective within two hours.

So I currently stay in Zorritos, a small village along the highway. As my Kiwi neighbour Guy, who does the same course I do, points out in my last blog I described Peru as a ‘small fishing village’. I was obviously referring to Zorritos.

It’s a small place, and tourists are almost unheard of unless the surfers wait for transport on their way further south to the surfing city of Mancoura. It means we do stand out, and we are looked at, but I’m assured this is a safe place, and that this is curiosity and not a sign of bad intentions.

My Spanish is terrible and I do rely on the limited skills of Guy to get me by sometimes. I know “please”, “hello”, “goodbye”, “good morning”, “good afternoon”, “very good”, “gringo”, “apples” “thank you” and “El Robo” (as in the dog steals your breakfast if you’re not careful) and this is usually enough to get me by. I also keep “idiota” in reserve to use soon (as in El Gringo Idiota/ white man is an idiot). Sometimes “how much?” also comes to me, like when I asked for potatoes (in English) at the markets.

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A laneway near my accommodation. This is not the Peruvian flag. This is the Ecuadorian flag as we are close to the border. 

Also doing the English teaching course along with Guy and myself is a Canadian named Barbra, who witnessed this exchange and bailed me out .

Chris: Potatoes! (points at them). Cuánto cuesta? (How much?)

Spanish lady: ?????? ?????? uno kilo. (translator comes to the rescue. “1.50/S.”)

Chris: For what? One? That’s expensive.”

Translator: I don’t know. Ounces?

Chris: Kilo! Si!

Spanish lady: ??????? ?????????

Translator: We are from Canada and Australia.

Chris: (looks at Spanish lady’s daughter sitting nearby bearing witness, and in the driest, roughest Aussie accent…) G’Day mate.

(Everyone laughs. Tension breaks).

Spanish lady: ??????? ???????

Translator: What do you think of it here in Peru?

(Chris stares blankly at Spanish lady for two minutes trying to find a word I can use. Muy Bien (Very Good!) would work but I forget I know this phrase). Perfecto!

So anyway, this is all good fun.