Letters from the chicos

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FRIENDS of mine drove from Brisbane. They brought up a box of stuff that I left behind before I flew to Peru, or in transit from Peru to my new home. And so what I had were memories from the times before, and exhibits of Peru.

There’s a framed cartoon the colleagues of my last job had made for me, from a cartoonist. It’s among the best work I’d seen him do, and in it I’m riding a llama with a box of beer and a bag of English books. I’ve owned it for almost two years, and for the first time, I get to hang it on my own wall.

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There’s a box of letters from my students. Before I left I asked them to write what they learned from me. And I’m glad I did. And then, I’ve kept some of the drawings they did for projects; such as Tupac Amaru II, the last neo-Inca (not the rapper!), and the comics we did of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Some of the letters I’ve pinned up behind my desk, and I’ve had them there two days. Sometimes I look up and I read them during the day, and they make me smile. I’m in a good mood, and I remember the kids I care about, a world away, and I know I made a difference, in my little ways. It’s great that what I did before has found a small connection in what I’m doing now. There’s balance.

Here are some of the pictures, and letters.

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“Sir, I’m gonna miss you. I think that the majority of the school, because you’re special, your accent is so interesting.  I hope happiness for you and enjoy all your trips and travels…one time in a meeting you told us how was your child life and we appreciate it. Thanks to give us a second chance.”

“Australians are so different from Peruvians. Also I learned that Mr Burns is a good boxer.”

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“For problems you tried a many times to help and appreciate that a lot and well it’s time to say “bye”. I guess well if someday I go to Australia and call you for give me a tour. Well, bye cowpoke.”

“Thanks Mrs for teach us about Peruvian presidents…(and) Wu Wo Tu (World War II). When you say it sounds like that. I really hate the times that you say ‘sit properly or ‘why are you talking’ but despite that you are a really good teacher. Thanks.”

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“We learned so much with you as as teacher, we probably doesn’t learn with other teacher like we learned with you, with your dictation and your funny way of talk, and now we know what is happening in the world.

“You are the best teacher of History, Geography, and Economy in English.”

“I really hope that you will be OK and I liked so much your class, I learned a lot of things about politics and also I practice my English because the first day that I knew you I didn’t understand what you were talking, but then yes, and my English, it’s better thank you.”

“I learned that if you find interesting news you are going to memorise it faster.”

In this year I learn a lot of things, but I think that learn to respect others, was the most important. In my opinion the school is our second home, so I can say that you were a great parent.”

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I’ll miss you too.

The final weeks of Peru

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Five months ago I had a decision to make. Well, it wasn’t really a decision, but I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t happy with my life here in Peru. Not really.

I left Australia 17 months ago and I wasn’t afraid to do it, for a better life. I couldn’t be afraid for the same reason to change my own life in Peru.

So I was able to leave my job and to travel for a while, scheduling my airfare to return to Australia at the end of March.

There’s less than two weeks until I return to Australia. I’ve done my travelling. I haven’t been able to blog about it all yet. But now I’m in a weird space, my mind turned to returning home.

  1. I spend my time watching Doctor Who and Marvel movies with my girlfriend. We watched Captain Marvel in gold class last week, eating lemon meringue pie and drinking Corona while we did it. At the moment we’re halfway through Season 4 of Doctor Who. I think we’ll finish the David Tennant era in time.
  2. I just bought Crash Bandicoot N.Sanity and we’re progressing through that twisted and fiddly nightmare of a game. I just discovered Fortnite as well.IMG_20190313_225323_131.jpg
  3. I’m trying to eat more different food, and I’ve been vlogging some of my reviews, such as the one about beef heart. I went to eat ceviche in Huanchaco the other day.

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    My former housemates and I call this place ‘Cheap Hostel’ and we’ve had many a beer here.
  4. I’m creating a scrapbook of my time here and that’s progressing slowly.
  5. I look at my filthy room and know I should be getting rid of stuff and packing. I grow concerned that I won’t have enough room to take everything back. And what about gifts?
  6. My girlfriend Tiffany and I sometimes practice speaking Spanish, usually in the taxis and sometimes in front of her mum. We’re mindful of how little time we have left before we go our different way. Being single again…a new identity and being in Australia….the emptiness…the adjustment… makes me nervous.
  7. Tiffany has a new job starting days after I leave. It’s fantastic, although she moves away from her family for the first time. The problem is she can’t see me off at the Lima airport. We’re both sad about it.
  8. I discovered a place that delivers chicken wings and fries!
  9. I’ve just began and finished watching Umbrella Academy. Now I’m watching a documentary called ‘Explained’ and in each episode it uses famous voiceovers to discuss important issues, like the water crisis, the female orgasm, and whether or not we can increase our life expectancy.

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    I went for a walk near the Plaza de Armas today. I was trying to print stuff for scrapbooking.
  10. That’s been my life for two weeks. It will probably be my life for the next two weeks. I feel sad, but I remember this was my choice, and the best option that I had. Sometimes I think I should do more…go do more things, but I already have!
  11. School has just returned. And I find myself talking about my students again, and wondering what they are learning in history, and whether or not they miss me.

Arriba Hyrule!

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Just before my seven-year-old goddaughter’s birthday, I bought a Nintendo Switch. It’s my second Switch, but my first one is in a box in Australia.

I haven’t played it for 18 months. I haven’t played any video game console since Mario and Rabbids, the night before my flight from Brisbane to Lima, via Auckland and Santiago.

Video games are my hobby, my way to relax and step back from the world. Since living in Peru I’ve never really had my own hobby and I don’t believe Netflix counts. My job was my hobby and I used all my spare time to channel my energy into research. That’s useful until you can’t manage pleasant replies to the people who surround you.

Last year when I was stressed, I played an old game on the internet called Runescape, and it helped for a while, but it wasn’t quite the same because of the limitation on graphics, and because it was the one game.

I’d been toying with buying a Switch for a while but I hadn’t because I’m returning to Australia soon. I have my Switch in Australia. But I’m also in Peru! It felt to me that I shouldn’t need a console while I’m travelling overseas.

Here is the problem. And it’s a mental health problem. For almost 18 months I have lived in a foreign country in a foreign continent, with a foreign language. I have lived. I have worked in a real job. I have immersed myself in it, but I haven’t quite fit into the immersion. Yet in my mentality I still see myself as travelling. I need a safe hobby!

I worried that maybe I would stay in a room playing games, or only remember Peru through playing games, instead of visiting cool places. Yet I’ve seen so much, and in a way, I’m tired. I’ve covered more than 5000 kilometres in the last month, and not by air.

Video consoles are far more expensive here, even taking into account the price exchange. It didn’t seem right to spend so much money on a luxury. I thought that by not buying it, I would show maturity compared to a year ago, when I wasted my first pay check.

Yet I bought the console because for a while I wanted to show it to my girlfriend. I wanted her to see a part of myself. I wanted to share with her my love for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I wanted us to do something together that I enjoyed.

I gave in, finally after more than a month of contemplating it. I thought in the taxi while holding the console box that I would feel a surge of buyers remorse. I didn’t. I was excited. I thought then I would feel it when we set it up, turned on the TV, and saw the load screen. I didn’t. In fact, I’ve found that I can upload for free all the games I’ve bought online more than 18 months ago. I have one account, but two Nintendos. I can share my games across, and my expansion packs for Zelda, which I bought but never used because I moved to Peru. That is a pleasant surprise.

My girlfriend hasn’t played video games before, and it has been a joy, but a test of my patience, to watch her learn how to figure out the basic movements of controls. I’ve fought the urge to just take the controller off her when she doesn’t do things as fast as I’d like, and just let go and relaxed. I’ve watched her learn to ride a virtual horse. Just like in real life,they don’t seem to like her.

She used to throw me the controller when the monsters come out to attack her. Then she killed them when I was in the bathroom. Now she kills the monsters on her own. I am proud.

Legend of Zelda is an immersive world, with its own rules and ways to figure out how to interact with the world around you. And she often has ideas that I wouldn’t have figured out on my own. “Could you throw an apple to catch that horse?” she suggested after the first hour in the game, and my first reaction was “that’s dumb” and I realised, ‘wait. Is it?’ We tried it and it didn’t quite work out.

“Could you shoot fire at that honey to scare away the bees?” she suggested, and I thought, ‘hey, let’s give it a go’, but it also burned away the honey. Yesterday she helped me solve a puzzle involving throwing rocks off a bridge, that I never figured out on my own.

I wish I could play the game for the first time again, but with her I guess I am.

We’ve put the Nintendo on Spanish mode. It’s helping me, although she’s doing a lot of translation. New words I’ve acquired include ‘anciano’ (old man), ‘seta’ (mushroom), and ‘espada’ (sword).

In a Peruvian country club

THERE is a suburb at the far end of the northern Peruvian city of Trujillo. It is the “posh” suburb, the one that is said with a tone of quiet respect, or with bragging, of with a way of defining someone’s measurement of success, when mentioned. This suburb is called ‘El Golf.’

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It is called ‘El Golf’ because it is built around the country club, which is called the ‘Golf y Country Club de Trujillo.’ Businesses from a 10 minute walk away are willing to label itself as ‘El Golf’ in its title, but it’s not until you get close to the club that the streets are clean and open, with the houses more spacious, neat, and tidy from the front. There are plenty of leafy parks in the side streets, and a fair imitation of architecture from the colonial Spanish days that don’t quite seem to be covered elsewhere. The buildings are built with care, unlike in many other places where there appears to be shortcuts in the incomplete works.

 

I never thought I could get into the club itself, but thanks to my girlfriend’s family I was able to do so today. It was nice! There’s a golf course but I couldn’t determine if it was nine holes or 18. There were at least six tennis courts, an indoor volleyball court, an indoor basketball court, a professional Olympic pool, an outdoor recreational pool, and a gym. There was also a karaoke bar, and several restaurants.

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I was awkward when I came through the doors, mainly because I wasn’t a member myself and I felt like I stood out (white man feeling like a minority and prepared to be challenged and turned away. That’s ironic!), and I felt so self-conscious that everyone was staring at me, more than usual. I think they were, but my girlfriend and I had a wonderful conversation with the tennis instructor (in Spanish), and exchanged a few ‘hellos’ with shy youngsters in the pool who were telling each other to talk to me.

The club has copied the westernised (and American) style very well, to the point that it’s authentic. It’s unlike anywhere else I’ve been here in Peru, but it helps me to understand some of my students that might actually belong to the club. It does feel a bit insulated, especially if they live at the club on their holidays.

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The club’s website says, after translation, “Today we are the most exclusive club in the city of Trujillo, but above all we are the second home of more than two thousand families, who come to these facilities to practice sports, share with their friends and spend unforgettable moments like a big family, the Country Club family.”

I’m extremely sunburned tonight.

Making pavlova for Peruvians

Last Christmas I was in the Cordillera Blanca, sitting alone in a travel hostel. I was chewing coca leaves and wearing a beanie that said ‘Huaraz’ on it, while having a group chat to my family over Skype.

I did get a present, a Dragon Ball Z T-shirt from my secret Santa, but that came two weeks later when I returned to my housemates on the coast. I realised that day that it was important to be with people for Christmas, and if I continued to push them away, for no matter the reason, I would be in the same position I was in another thirty years, with a hermit beard and drunk on whisky, yelling at the TV.

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Ho Ho Ho. My brother and I playing with the filters while talking to each other. It’s Christmas morning for him.

For two months, or maybe more, my girlfriend Tiffany’s mum has been preparing Christmas, and checking to see if I will be attending. We did have Christmas at her grandparents and the thing I really noticed this year is the true celebrations, the true moment, happens on Christmas Eve.

We stayed up until midnight eating, and then as all the fireworks crackled and boomed across the city, we had a toast, took turns kissing a baby Jesus, and then opened the presents. This year I did okay! I was given four t-shirts, a coffee mug, a box of Cadbury chocolates, a love letter, and an empty notebook with David Tennant’s Doctor silhouetted on the cover. Most of these gifts came from Tiffany. She also self-published two copies of my novel manuscript and it looks terrific.

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The decorations and the ceremony of gift giving was exactly the same as at home, but the food was subtly different. At home we always pull crackers and then put on the cheesy paper party hats, and laugh at Grandma’s pink one. We read the lamest jokes that are in the crackers, like, “what do you get when you pour hot water in a rabbit hole?”

“A hot cross bunny!”

We will groan and then eat.

 

This isn’t home, but Peru, and I am grateful for being part of a community again. The food is similar, but with more emphasis on turkey than on a glazed ham. There was a rice dish with bacon bits (this is Peru. You can’t set a table without rice), and salads. There was a potato dish I enjoyed which had potato, (Peruvian) corn, and pineapple. There were bread rolls and apple sauce, and wine and beer, and champagne.

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Tiffany and I had baked a Pavlova. We told everyone that it was an Australian cake, to peak their interest, but New Zealanders may object to the ownership. I was worried about how it turned out, given it’s the first one I prepared. It was bloody great but the base may have been a little too thick in comparison to the centre.

Most of the Peruvians were a little apprehensive to try it, preferring to leave more room for their ‘Panatone’, a sort of fruit cake that they are obsessed with.

I would have loved some brandy flavoured custard, but I mentioned it to my work colleagues a few days before, and they asked “what’s custard?”

Oh boy, I thought. But realised I had no idea on how to explain what custard is.

12 hours later, after sleeping on a full stomach of turkey, we returned for leftovers. I had given a hamper (that work gave me) of Peruvian goodies, and all the family decided to raffle off the items into numbers. It was sheer madness. Everyone was so excited. Tiffany’s mum insisted on keeping the container. It would not be part of the raffle. An uncle received a box of oats. I drew a packet of lentils. A 13-year-old girl won a bottle of champagne. She cheered along with her branch of the family.

Pavlova’s Reviews

My Girlfriend’s Mum: The pavlova was really good…slightly burned but I would eat it again. I wouldn’t put bananas in it though…the strawberries were good, the kiwi too but i didn’t like the banana on it. Maybe some other fruit.”

Girlfriend’s Sister: The base tastes like coffee. I don’t like the bananas.

My Girlfriend’s opinion: I really loved it. It wasn’t as sweet as i thought it was gonna be, which is good because it made me want to eat more.
I was surprised it came out that good actually…because, usually, on my first tries, things don’t come out that good 😅
I wanna try making it again…maybe with a thermometer so we know the actual temperature and it comes out even better…and I think the same about the bananas. I think it goes better with a bit more sour fruits. It’s a good combo of sweet and fresh.

A Scorpio’s Reflections on Peruvian Life

  1. It’s been a year since I moved to Peru. Seeing the Facebook memories from November, 2017, is giving me perspective. This helps give me confidence. A year ago in Mancoura, I was wrestling with the pronunciation of ‘Gracias’, ‘aqui’, and ‘pan’. Today, I wrestle with the usage of ‘estaba’ and ‘estare’. 
  2. The dogs here are surprisingly very well behaved.
  3. It was easy a year ago to think about coming to Peru and the adventure and escape that awaited. But at some point I have to return, and I have no way to do so easily. If you sell everything including your car, and leave your job, and go overseas, it seems romantic, but at some point in time you will have to begin again when you return. 
  4. The best cakes I have ever eaten were in Peru. Peruvians know how to eat sweet foods. 
  5. Intention is always misunderstood in a foreign country, no matter what you do and how hard you try. This is the part where loneliness really affects you. 
  6. Manners are important. The worst thing you can do to block yourself from the surrounding Spanish world is to respond with ‘no entiendo’ when people attempt to explain something to you. And people don’t really know how to respond when you cannot speak enough words. 
  7. The same issues of bigotry, hatred, racism, xenophobia, and even nationalistic pride exists on both sides of the world. But even ignorance of the countries surrounding your borders also exist. I couldn’t believe it when a few people asked me if I was Venezuelan. My first reaction was shock. “How could you think I am Venezuelan?” That was bigotry. Then I realised that people really don’t know the countries outside of their borders. Then I realised that I am the same when it comes to countries outside of Australia. I guess I just assumed that in South America everyone was more interconnected. So I started researching on BBC the countries outside of Australia. I began with New Zealand, where I learned there is a river that legally has the same rights as a living person, and then the island nations that made it very clear to me how much the Americans during the Pacific War influenced the emergence and awareness of such places. 
  8. It’s easier to see the faults of a system when you’re the outsider, the stranger. But then you realise those faults exist at home too. 
  9. Today my students asked me questions about where I lived, and somehow I googled myself in class, and showed them either photos of myself, or photos I have taken. Then they saw a Youtube video of me boxing a Pacific Islander 40 kgs above my weight. This man ended up becoming my housemate. Then I showed the students a video of camel racing. They loved it. And that’s when I realised, I have lived a full life. I knew that already. I guess it’s just that I desperately want others to recognise that. For a moment, these kids did. And it made me happy, and made me feel respected, and made me feel that these kids were seeing a new exciting world beyond the one they had been taught about (the United States!). 
  10. The more you learn, and the more you want to learn, and the more enthusiastic you are about what you learn, the more you want to express yourself. I’ve tried to do it on social media but people don’t seem to like it so much. Self-expression is important but if you are learning far more than you are used to in a short space of time, maybe self-expression should be private for a little while until you’ve truly developed.