Salsa class

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My Salsa lesson: Tribute

I’ve just received my tax return, and so maybe that’s why I’ve been using my extra money for Latin American experiences.

In 20 minutes I’m leaving the house for a beginner’s salsa lesson, and I’m nervous. Since I woke up this morning I’ve been anxious about it. I guess that’s why I hate making plans. I think about the next appointment even if it’s six hours away.

The lesson will probably be great, but I pre-booked it last night (it was $35 which is a lot for an hour group lesson) because I knew that I’d talk myself out of going. Now, I won’t talk myself out of doing it.

I guess I hate learning when other people are involved. I love learning on my own, at my own pace.

As soon as my last pay arrived into my bank account, I ordered a Lonely Planet guide for Chile. I’d like to go next year. Most nights I write in my journal something different I learned about Chile.

During the week I decided to do a ‘swear jar’ and would put in a dollar for every time I mentioned Peru in the office. I mentioned it a lot, but then my colleagues said I should put in money if I hinted at it, or talked about anything remotely Latin American, or talk about Spanish, or speak in Spanish.

It became oppressive to myself and I decided a few days into it that I should stop. Peru and South America were experiences I had for 18 months, and became such a big part of me that my mindset, my passion, the way I see things, has changed. I’m more heartened and enthusiastic because I have this passion.

I chose this class because I wanted to get out the house, and I looked up a meet-up group. This was their next activity and I thought ‘perfect!’ I always wanted to learn Salsa in Peru but I knew I needed to learn Spanish first.

And I never learned Spanish. So I never learned la salsa.

Right now there’s a Latin dance party happening. The beautiful latina lesson coordinator invited me after my lesson. But I’ve decided not to go.

The lesson was good but my rhythm was off straight away. But I learned by swapping with partners. It was amazing what body language from each person could tell me, and about myself. I froze with the women around my age, but relaxed with the older women, who seemed to enjoy the moment a lot more.

“If you smile and just move you can get away with anything,” one of the women said by the end.

There are free two hour workshops on Sunday evenings. I’ll continue to go to them.

The lesson ran 10 minutes over, and to be honest, I was ready to go. I went into the car feeling dehydrated, foggy in the head, and I knew that I came out feeling anxious. I wasn’t ready for a dance party so soon.

It is possible that my journey right now is to discover my self-worth, without my job, my pay check, my clothes, or the opinions of women.

If so, I feel that to earn confidence requires having one true thing I can enjoy, without worrying about how good I am or how I appear to others. That’s the trouble with dancing. Its appearance based, and to not feel the rhythm or know the steps is to feel foolish.

The awkward conversation of money

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LAST FRIDAY

Time is ticking on my WordPress account and I have to make a decision. Do I renew the subscription for another year? I know the answer, and it probably is ‘yes’.

Good. End of blog post. The end.

Cool. 

(attempts small talk)

Wonderful. Would you like a glass of Inca Kola? 

How are things your end? 

Okay. Well, it’s just that the price exchange is not favourable for Peru. We aren’t talking about a matter of $5 when buying a piece of technology. And when it comes to buying an upgrade to WordPress, you have to pay $120 Australian. That’s close to 300 Soles.

Is 300 Soles worth it? Well, yes, but I have to manage my money.

I never learned to manage my money well. And I’m not talking about while living in Peru. I’m talking about life in general.

My bank created an account for me when I was 10. It taught me with cartoon characters called ‘Dollarmites’ that it was important to save my money rather than to spend it at once. Then, that way, I could buy better things. The things I dreamed of when I was 10 were video games, and bikes, and all things Pokemon.

As an adult, up until last year, I could buy these things every week. I just couldn’t buy the more expensive things. But I didn’t really want them.

In a mining town my pay was good but not like that as a miner. I watched everyone around me take on loans to get houses and nice cars. They took on loans to get these things, but don’t seem to be affected by them. I guess I have a fear of loans. I feel if I cannot afford it, I cannot afford it.

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Some of my grand purchases this year: socks!

When I bought a year’s subscription to my blog last year, I saw it as an investment. I dreamed I would have a greater readership, of course.  I had a month to go until my first job (six weeks until my first pay check) with a lot of time on my hands.

At that stage I would retreat to the mall and hide in the Starbucks. I needed that experience to keep some sanity, to process my surroundings in a safe spot. Even though the flat white didn’t taste like a flat white, it was called a flat white.

Two months later when the remainder of my money wore thin, I received my first pay. And it was fantastic. I blogged about the Converse shoes I bought, and the nice shirt, and the expensive pair of black skinny jeans. The shoes wore out quickly for Converse, and still need repairs, and I rarely wear the shirt, and I live in the black jeans. I spent almost my entire pay at the mall that day when it was supposed to last a month. Within two weeks I realised I needed to buy a new phone, which cost the amount of my entire first pay check.

But since then I have been more careful with my pay. South America hasn’t been cocaine and orgies, booze and one night stands, or travelling every day to a world wonder. It’s been life. Buying food and paying rent, considering paying for a bus ticket or a taxi ride instead.

I’ve learned that everything here in Peru has different prices. There’s always a cheaper option if you’re willing to look for it. There’s always a compromise. I could go to the American style supermarket for my fruit, or go to the local markets or stores for my fruit. And trust me when I say these are REAL MARKETS, not like any market I’ve seen in Australia where the best ones seem to offer the same arts and crafty things.

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Markets. So many markets.

The trouble is that I don’t think blogging, and a reader’s accessibility to it, should be compromised. This have become my journal entry of my experience here, more than anything, and I think I need to do my best to uphold the integrity of it. After all, what am I doing here if I’m not going to write about it?

SUNDAY MORNING

WordPress keeps sending me emails, reminding me that I only have one month, one week, three days,  one day until my subscription and domain ‘Awkward Conversations With Burnzy’ runs out.

For some reason I keep procrastinating the renewal.

Then, I change my mind. Not a lot of people are reading this blog anyway, and certainly not strangers. They will find my blog regardless of whether or not I spend money on it. Really, in the end, my blog has become nothing more than a scrapbook. It’s a journal entry for me.

I don’t need to buy a subscription. I can write on here anyway.

MONDAY MORNING

I wake up on Monday morning and see an alert on my phone. WordPress has thanked me for renewing the subscription. “What?” I think, and check to see whether or not I have read the words right. It’s true. Somehow, my Australian account with a minus deficit has found the funds to pay WordPress.

For a while I think WordPress is fucking with me  is showing the Christmas spirit. Maybe it has a ‘help a promising blogger’ (ha ha ha) Christmas sponsorship (*No offence WP. I’m a big fan. Love your work). 

I think there’s a mistake.

It’s been a Christmas miracle.

And it was a Christmas miracle in a way. Because on or around the same time that WordPress was about to cut me off after my card details bounced on their last attempt to renew, the company I haven’t worked for in 14 months gave me an unexpected payment.

I don’t know if you believe in anyone. The universe. God. American freedom. The Queen of England. David Bowie. Family. Communism. Your head-of-state. Vishnu. But I do believe in something, and I can’t but feel that something is sending me a message.

“Don’t give up. Keep writing. Keep sharing your writing. Someone will read it.”

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.”

Clowns on a first date

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I HAVE a jumble of Spanish in my head and it feels worse every time I try to speak it.

“Porque, tengo, hace, pasado, fui, estuvo.” 

I feel like a bit of a joke at my place of work and everywhere else around me when I do not understand words, or cannot repeat them.

“Cuanto, mejor, vivo, Quiza, talvez.” 

It has been a busy week at work, and I had a two hour Spanish lesson just before a first date. I was frazzled and wondering how I was going to have the energy to make a good impression.

I am not so good with dates. Especially first dates. And especially in this country. But I had to pull myself together. I took a taxi so I could relax a little about not being late, and I waited at the Plaza De Armas underneath a giant and glorious statue.

And as I sat waiting for my date in my flannie shirt (which I wear when I want to make an impression), I saw a group dressed as clowns or with red noses. And one young man in the group locked eyes with me. He pointed at me and suddenly the group had a target. They had a gringo. They walked up to me with loud musical instruments and they spoke to me. And I understood them. And even if I didn’t they spoke clear English for me to fall back on.

And every time I said something to them, especially in Spanish, it was like it was the most exciting thing in the world to them. A bunch of clowns were making me feel special.

“Nombre?”

“Chris!” I said. And they all exclaimed as if it was an exotic name – which here in Peru it seems to be.

“De Donde Eres?” (Where are you from?)

“Yo Soy Australian (I am Australian).” And the clowns exclaimed again as if I had just announced I was a native of Antarctica.

“Would you like to buy a chocolate?” they asked, and it was only a sol so of course I wanted to. They were just at the point of asking me when my birthday was, when my date arrived.

“Mi compleanos es ocho Noviembre,” I said, but I don’t know if I said that right (actually, I had the number after the month the first time but they kindly corrected me).

“Feliz compleanos!” they said, and burst into excited applause as my date sat next to me with a smile to kiss me on the cheek. And then they sang me a happy birthday even though I turn 29 in eight months.

And then after the song they all took turns giving me hugs. And then when they all hugged me, they started again. I had three hugs from some of them by the time they went away.

And somehow this was the perfect way to meet someone new. The tension had broken before we had even spoke, under the shadow of a giant statue in the middle of a Peruvian square with a bunch of musical clowns wishing me a happy birthday – even though it wasn’t my birthday.

Three Peruvian presidents

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Study. I also did some research and mindmapping on Peruvian president Nicolas Pierola.

This morning I did some research on three Peruvian Presidents from the 1960s to the 80s. Two of the presidents led their military and eventually took over from their predecessor.

But as I gain a superficial look at the history of Peru from the 19th century and its independence and until the 80s, I see a pattern. The pattern comes down to the economic exploitation from foreign ownership and control; whether Spanish, English or from the US.

The story of three presidents (Fernando Belaunde, Juan Velasco Alvarado, and Francisco Morales Bermudez) I looked at seems to centre around the control of true economic independence, through the ownership of oil. At the heart of this is the world’s first giant oilfield to the north of Peru, La Brea-Parinas, with the title given by famous revolutionist Simon Bolivar, who is credited for the independence of several Latin American countries.

There are huge gaps in my knowledge (and it all comes from Brittanica.com and the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas) but at some point the U.S controlled company International Petroleum Company owned this oilfield, and gained a favourable deal through an agreement with President Belaunde in the mid 1960s. This caused much anger and inspired Minister for War, Velasco, to use his militarist position, to usurp the position of the civilian president.

Velasco took over as president and placed everything under government control. He nationalized everything for what might be considered true economic independence. In doing so he stripped away the nation’s assets of the International Petroleum Company, including the oilfield, without compensation, and created nationalized company Petroperu.

This decision pissed off the United States and across all industries affected the country’s investments by $600 million, and Peru’s economy. Militant leader Bermudez usurped Velasco, (whoever lives by the sword) who had been affected by ill health and died two years later. Bermudez eventually encouraged foreign investment and focused on a plan to place the government back under civilian control. He announced an election and in 1980 ran against the former civilian president, Belaunde.

The irony is that Belaunde won, but to Bermudez’s credit he stepped back and handed over the power.

 

My favourite five songs in Spanish (so far)

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It’s time to commit, to focus truly on the culture I live in if I wish to be a part of it. A colleague and friend from Colombia, Nox, is as good as I am at speaking English. He claims to dream in his second language.

Nox said rather bluntly to me that I actually need to make an effort learning Spanish. I was taken aback by the bluntness at first, except he was correct. I was only frustrated because I didn’t want to commit. Colleagues had given me a list of Latino American songs I should listen to weeks before, and I didn’t. I never practised my vocabulary. I kept forgetting to use Duolingo.

Music has been my escape. I listen to it at the gym, on the way to work, at lunch, and on the way home, and whenever I walk anywhere. And that’s the trouble. Not only have I isolated myself in public, I am absorbing all the songs I already know and heard a thousand times, in English.

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On my new phone I downloaded the recommended music on Apple Music (I’m so bad with technology that two months ago I hadn’t heard of Apple Music, or comprehended the benefit of listening to music on the phone), and the recommendations are all I have been listening to this week.  I

My favourite song is from the band Kraken, recommended to me by Nox, and when I first heard them I thought “where have you been my entire life? I have spent years listening to bands in English that have your same style but aren’t half as good.”

The song Sobre Esta Tierra (On This Earth) has a paragraph that I absolutely love, which I will quote in Spanish, and then in the Google Translate version:

“Hay hombres 
que dan la vida, por un ideal 
hay otros que son solo herida 
porque son, su propio puñal.”

I understand this to mean (through Google):

“There are men, that give life, for an ideal. There are others who are only hurt because they are, his own dagger.”

I listen to this song constantly, not understanding most of the words, but practising the pronounciation. The more I listen to it the more the sound of each word stands out to my ear. It’s no longer blabber.

That’s number 1, but the other four songs so far would be:

2) De Musica Ligera, by Soda Stereo. (I could have sworn I’ve heard either the band or a cover when I was out drunk one night. I love it.)

3) Flaca, by Andres Calamaro.

4) Nuestros Nombres, by Heroes del Silencio.

5) Casate Conmigo, by Silvestre Dangond and Nicky Jam.

I’m starting to get a taste, or a sample, that there is far more to art in the world than that which can be understood in English, and to truly move beyond my identity (of new clothes, or a new job) then a new language is the key.