One year in Peru and I’m still learning

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The many faces of Burnzy. This is 1) Halloween Burnzy.

I almost refused to wear a Halloween costume to school today. I hadn’t saved any money from my last pay check, and I spend all my money on living, and really, in the end, shouldn’t I just focus my energy on what is important? Shouldn’t I care more about teaching my students and preparing for it?

I reconsidered and thought that even with no money I could still leave my rented room and walk to the costume store with my girlfriend and at least find out how much it would cost to get a costume. And, as it turns out, there was an entire building in this town devoted to Halloween costumes. Three stories of stores filled with rented costumes of pirates and princesses and supergirls and Mad Hatters and Freddy Kruegars.

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2) Gringo Burnzy.

I decided to wear my signature costume; The Joker. Everyone was as in as mad a rush to get their costume as it would be to grab the last item in a boxing day sale. The fire hazard of the windowless room in the third floor corner was crammed with clothes and people and I needed to leave, desperate for air.

I am glad I changed my mind. Because today at school I had a lot of fun. I had one successful class of teaching (against all odds) before the Halloween dance contest was held. One of my students, who I struggle to connect with despite my efforts, is obsessed with comics, and likes clowns. When he saw me he was shaking with happiness and had the biggest smile on his face. I walked away with warm tears bubbling in my heart not knowing how to express myself, but the costume was worth it for this moment alone.

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3) Backpacker Burnzy. Not to be confused with ‘Gringo Burnzy.’

I watched all my colleagues and even students’ guards drop all day, not just with me but with the other costumes. I saw a teacher I was scared of, who I assumed disliked me, laugh when I smiled because she was dressed as a bunny rabbit.

I believe Oscar Wilde said “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” I think that if you wear a mask, people treat you like a stranger. Wear a costume and people will treat you like a character they might already know, and love, or love to hate.

 

This week I have felt really down, and quite frankly, perhaps for the first time, I might understand the meaning of the word ‘depressed’. It wasn’t just a flat feeling, but like a physical feeling, as if a heavy steel capped boot was stomping on my chest and pressing down, and squeezing, and continuously pushing. The more my body found space to relieve itself from the pressure, the more area the pressure took up. All I could think of was this pain.

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4) Shakespeare Burnzy. Performing the ‘to be or not to be’ scene at school. I think it might be a real skull.

The pressure in my body is a pressure of the external circumstance as an ex-pat. As an ex-pat I have felt that I haven’t been able to express myself properly. Life and the people in Australia become distant and in many ways through language barrier, among other things, kept me distant from those around me too.

In two days it will be one year since I arrived in Peru. There has been ups and downs, challenges like you wouldn’t believe, frustration and pain and misery and so much gaining of knowledge. It’s been a life, not a holiday, and one where presumptions and assumptions and stereotypes and ego have had to break, or bend, or be questioned, or tested.

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5) Jungle Burnzy.

This moment today alone has almost made the year worth it. I created an expression of joy in someone by being myself (by being someone else).

In the last week I have reflected on what to write for this anniversary post. And I was going to write about the mistakes I made this year, or what I would do all over if I had the time again. It just felt so negative though, and needlessly hard on myself. But what I wish I had done is something that maybe I am still beginning to learn. Education and teaching is important, but at some point in the year I immersed myself too much in teaching. I focused all my energy into a job and relationships that doesn’t necessary give back as much as you put into it, not because these are necessarily horrible, but because we and others only have so much to give.

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6) Snow Burnzy.

I caught myself ranting at students last week, who have one last term before graduation, ‘I’m sorry I take your education seriously. Too seriously at times, maybe.’

I could have refocused my energy so that I was a pleasure to be around, fun to be with, a colleague and a teacher to enjoy having. So I have to end this blog on this point, spoken by the great Heath Ledger.

‘Why So Serious?’

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7) Beach Burnzy

 

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.”

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….