Thanksgiving in Peru: Love, health, X-Force

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At lunchtime on the afternoon of New Years Eve, I traveled into the mountains of Ancash, on a tour to see some lake in the shadow of a snow capped mountain. 

Maybe that in itself is something to be thankful for, but I will not count it. I stopped at a restaurant as part of the tour and tried out Cuy (guinea pig), and by the time I returned to my hostel, I had food poisoning that either kept me in the shared bathroom, or in my bed for 24 hours. I did not have the strength to leave the building and buy food, tablets, or water. 

When I did force myself to walk to to the chemist, I realised I had forgotten to charge my phone, and I needed it to explain what I needed to the Spanish speaking chemists. 

Health is something jeopardised when you travel through a foreign speaking country, and something to be delayed. Check-ups are intimidating because misunderstandings could have consequences. 

For months I consistently had a reoccurring stomach bug, which would react at the worst times (just before classes). I feared something insidious was working within me, but even then I delayed the doctor’s check-up. I took strong painkillers without a prescription and after a few days I felt dizzy and basically fainted on the floor of the 20 hour bus ride to Ecuador. 

I have lost weight for months, felt dizzy, and usually get sick every three or four weeks. 

For the last few weeks I have been having check-ups, thanks to the support of my girlfriend, who has led to me to the clinic, translated my many appointments at reception, and with the doctor.

I received my detailed results yesterday. I am clear. Nothing, as far as we know, shows poor health. The doctor’s orders is I need to eat more starch and meat. 

In other words: eat more lomo saltado. 

I am thankful for my good health. 

2

 There was a girl I met in March, when I was in a lonely phase at school and at home. I had been in Peru for four months, and I decided that it was a good time to use Tinder. 

Well. Use Tinder a lot. 

A problem was that most of these girls spoke Spanish. So to talk to them, I would copy and paste their messages, go onto Google Translate, translate, understand what they were saying, translate my response, copy it, and send the reply. 

That was okay, I figured. I was forcing myself to learn Spanish. But then when I had conversations with four or five girls, trying to decide who to meet, it was really taking up a lot of time. And then some of them offered their Whatsapp numbers, so half the conversations were on Tinder, and the other half were by app. 

I had never been so popular on Tinder, especially coming from a small and remote mining town where most people knew me. It became an addiction. Between the time I wasn’t translating, or setting up dates, then I was combing through Tinder checking out other girls. “No more swiping right!” I thought. But I just couldn’t help it. Then there would be more matches. 

Then, I wouldn’t bother messaging. I was that arsehole. But still, the messages from the girls came through. It appeared that I had mastered my bio, after years. “Looking for a cute girl with glasses.” Turns out there were a lot of cute latinas with glasses, but it just so happened that out of these girls, one particularly stood out. She spoke perfect English, insisted on going dutch on our dates (which was rare here), and either knew all the same nerdy or Australian things I did, or was interested in them. I think what it was, most of all, was that she always was, and still is, so fascinated with my stories. She has always listened. To every word.

She has been there in my lonely times. Invited me to her place to feed me when I wasn’t eating enough. Gone on trips with me. Tolerated my moments of doubt about our future together, considering at some point I have to return to Australia. Listened to me complain about my work and my students, over and over and over. Brought me food and tablets when I was sick, and made me breakfast of pancakes. She has seen my pile of dirty dishes and cleaned them, despite my protests. 

And she bakes the best brownies.  

“You’re going to meet a small Peruvian girl!” my friends and colleagues back in Australia had told me before I left. “No way!” I said. “I do not want a relationship.”

But I did meet a small Peruvian girl. I am thankful for that. 

3

I used to have this university lecturer in my digital classes. He was nuts. Chaotic. He had this prince charming type hair which made him look young, elegant, and a little nerdy, and he was a smart-arse who stood on tables occasionally. He would interupt his lectures to give advice on how to get free drinks in bars, by making bets. 

I guess if I imagined I would teach it would be like him. I would be a suave chaotic man in his thirties everyone would admire and identify with. I just never imagined I would be a high school teacher, or that I would be teaching Peruvian history and geography. But somehow, that’s what has happened. 

My students have always been very creative. This drawing on an exam paper is actually a great likeness.

I have spent much of my time researching into Peruvian history and I easily know more about it than I know Australian history. While gaining this knowledge and an awareness of South America is something to be appreciative of, and to see a more global insight into concerns of immigration, it’s what the students are teaching me which I am thankful for. Even though sometimes I’m not grateful in the moment.

I find that I am sometimes that cranky teacher that escalates the situation, or reacts too quickly. I am sometimes that teacher who accidentally spits when he speaks. I left Australia to try to find a way to become more humble, and I guess I am getting there. The students are more likely to listen to me if I am tolerant, and patient, and they see that I am being firm but fair. 

I find that I don’t always have to follow the exact plan for the class, and that I need to read the attitude of the room. It’s about getting the most of the students, it’s about persuasion, and it’s about compromise, and letting the students beat me in a game of wits half the time. I’ve been a journalist, I’ve done stand-up comedy for a year, and this is something else. In stand-up open-mic spontaneity is often rewarded, and is encouraged, but in class it can lead to reactions that can harm.

On Monday we stopped talking about ‘decentralization of Peru’ when they asked me about Australia, and where I lived. I Googled myself (I know. In class!) and they spotted a video of me boxing a Pacific Islander in a boxing tent that was on Youtube. We watched it and they cheered and then I showed them a video of camel racing in the Australian desert. I weakly brought it back to ‘decentralization’ by saying the country’s isolation and population density had shaped its culture, but none of us, especially me, bought what I was saying. 

“What did you learn in class?” I said, hoping they might refer to the 25 Peruvian regions. 

“Boxing!” 

“Oh no. What else?” 

“We watched the camels.” 

I was invited to a thanksgiving breakfast one of my classes was hosting in their room this morning. And one of my students handed me the invitation yesterday. We have a secret handshake and our own ‘gang’ called X-Force and although it sounds really silly, it helps us to understand each other. Soon she will outgrow the idea and find it dumb, but for now it helps me as much as her. 

The invitation said, “From X-Force. You are invited to our breakfast for thanksgiving.” And then, in a really sweet way which teases my disciplinary system and my rules, she wrote, “knock on the door please. If you don’t knock on the door, you will get a strike!” (we have a strike/point system). 

And as I sat between the students including next to my fellow X-Forcenese, I practiced speaking Spanish, and watched them play Apps on their phone. I watched one of my students who has recently discovered the love of dancing, grab his phone, set up a dancing app, and connected it to the computer screen and projector. Four students danced and the computer registered their movements simply by how they held their phone, and I watched in shock not realising that advanced technology like this was so accessible. 

They have learned to live in a world like this, without question, and that’s okay. I’m thankful that I can learn from them, but only if I remain humble, and learn to bend, and adapt.

 4

I am thankful that I have the chance to express myself, and to share my stories with you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On dating and honesty on an exotic continent

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What ended up being a meet up for coffee ended up being a late night (on a work night) which included a photo gallery, coffee and cake, and deep and meaningful conversation in the plaza de armas. 

It has been at least 11 days since my last blog. My mind has been occupied with the good and the bad. It has thought of Tinder and dating and women and work and students at school, and of struggles and workaholism, and of what I should be doing in my life right now.

I had been on a lot of dates lately, and mostly with the same girl who makes me feel good. It caught me off guard because I certainly didn’t come to Peru for a relationship. It felt like I had finally figured out Tinder just as I met her, and suddenly not only did I have so many matches, but so many girls actually wanted to talk, and hey! Holy crap. Even meet me.

There was the date with the lawyer who invited me to her house where she fed me and tried to speak in broken English. Then there was the date at the shopping centre with the girl who knew next to no English. I don’t know how I thought that was going to work. I suppose it was because she was a really nice person who wanted to see me.

I went on one date (after the clowns date) which ended up in a nightclub. She knew English with difficulty, but as a travelling violinist in a symphony knew much more German. We went to an expensive hipster coffee bar where after the conversation slowly stopped she blushingly pulled out a piece of paper with questions in English to ask me.

I had arrived at that date wondering what the hell I was doing when I had just met another girl I liked and wanted to spend my time with. I thought about cancelling, but didn’t. And all through the coffee as I liked this girl more and more, with her awkward charm and piece of paper, I thought to myself, ‘you are scum.’

As we walked to eat dinner she asked me ‘so are you single?’ and technically I was. But I told her there was another girl I did like, over Google translator, and explained further I was not after a relationship. But I really wanted her in my life, so I begged that we be friends. The friendship continued eventually to the nightclub where everyone stared at me for being a gringo, and gradually we stole the centre of the floor dancing to regatone.

But late that night I felt whatever it was, wasn’t the same as the girl I met on the clown date. And as I took a taxi home that night I felt alone, and certainly didn’t want to push good people out of my life. When I arrived home at 4.30am I sent a tired message to the first girl and said I certainly wanted to keep seeing her.

I deliberately don’t think about the future because doing so only worries me unnecessarily, where I see problems when I am not equipped with the answers. I can adapt with solutions with time and experience that I cannot predict from the situations that have yet to happen. Mountains are much easier to see than the roads and the rope and the boots and the caves.

But something happened in the days after I sent the tired message. I realised that I couldn’t keep going on heaps of dates with different girls, especially if they ended up being really nice girls. It would only get confusing.

And so, when the girls I spoke to who I did care about wanted more detail on our future or our dating, I had to be honest and not worried about being liked by the most people.

The more honest I was the more powerful I felt. Girls appreciated it and to a degree admired it, having had enough lies and double-standards in their dating lives. I discovered that being honest was the fastest way to get what I really wanted. The obstacles or the confusion cleared, and for the first time in my life it felt like the people I knew moved around me and to what I wanted.

But of course, when girls found out that I was dating someone more regularly than once, they stopped talking to me, even if the conversation ended politely. And there is something really sad in that, that by being honest I lost the pleasure of their intelligence and conversations, but I understood that they had for a long time realised something I was only just discovering – you cannot waste time on the things that do not fit to what you want.

 

Chasing tail? Chase adventure

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ON weekend nights I was getting dressed up, pre-loading on wine and leaving the house late to try getting laid. I would swipe on Tinder but I am extremely fussy, and so, it seems, are the women around me because the matches were few.

And then I just didn’t know what to write besides a ‘hi, how are you?’ so I didn’t even try talking to the matches. I’ve never been successful on Tinder and any dates that have resulted from it don’t really count given that I have already known the women.

This only happened a few nights and it happened because, well, I was trying to escape being myself. I didn’t want to feel anxious about life. I never came to Peru to look for love or romance, but now after three months I started seeing the beauty of Peruvian women properly.

But something was getting in the way. I would always hold back at the important times, as if I didn’t want sex, or a relationship, or a connection, or whatever it was I was chasing. This had been the case my entire life. What was getting in the way? It wasn’t my looks but something to do with my personality, or my behaviour, or my reactions, or my tendency to overshare depressing crap like this, despite it being tempting to blame it on morality.

But using morality for a reason was just a shield, I realised, to hide from the truth, which is that in my heart I’m a scared, insecure man, trying to figure out what I really want as opposed to what I should have, while also being ashamed or too prideful to express it properly.

What was it I wanted? An unobtainable pedestal to preoccupy me? A challenge? A partner? A friend? Stability? Fun?  An ego boost? Connection? Social acceptance?

I wanted magic. A specific moment with someone that matched to me in every way. Our spark would connect us both to a sense of belonging, a feeling that we are perfect just the way we are.  In other words, that perfect person. It’s not exactly something I have confidence finding on Tinder or in a bar anymore. Once, yes. Not after a few years living in outback Qld.

But it took a friend’s blog about Tinder to help me see myself a little clearer. It helped remind me that gentlemen in this world are appreciated and desired, and that the intentions I was chasing, once I did gain enough confidence to properly pursue it, were going to lead me away from becoming that man. And there is no sacrifice in trying to be this man. The reward is great.

The world admires a Superman. They see the glow in the face and trust it, admire it, respect it, react to it.

Last night I went out to try meeting new friends and conversations in Trujillo. There was no agenda but the pursuit for adventure and opportunity. I went with a housemate and a guy she liked to a few bars. By midnight I was restless, listening to the band as the third wheel, but in a bubble from everyone around me.

A few colleagues were at a bar according to Facebook and it looked like they were having such a fun time, that I tried finding out where they were. One thing led to another and I ditched being a third wheel (a bit of a dick move on reflection but I don’t feel too guilty doing what I wanted) and caught up with a friend, from California, who was about to go to sleep.

We went to a cheap bar and stayed there for a while. The main highlight was some guy on the road throwing rocks or ice, or something, at the door. It nearly hit me and we retreated to another door with the rest of the crowd. Police came and arrested him and we stayed on drinking a little while until we moved onto another bar where we met another friend.

The band was incredible, the lead singer was beautiful, and it rocked out to a mix of Peruvian songs and mainstream classics such as AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. We stood at the best table drinking Budweiser on the second floor directly overlooking the stage, and I even danced Salsa as best I could. I watched the crowd beginning to pair up, the laughter, the companionship, the dance moves, the interactions, and I felt empowered, wondering how the same things I was witnessing from home seemed so inspirational to observe here.

I walked my friend back to her place and went inside to wait for my taxi, where her mother was waiting. I was sensitive to the fact that many mothers might disapprove of daughters bringing home a drunk Australian at four in the morning (even if it was in the spirit of safety and friendship, not other agendas) and so I tried to be as polite and charming as I could. But it was a drunk and clumsy charm and could not be credited for the incredible hospitality of this kind woman, who made me a cheese and ham sandwich, and poured me a few glasses of Inca Cola before the taxi arrived.

I arrived at my apartment door at 5.30am shortly after arguing with the taxi driver over the fare, because I clearly am comfortable being an arsehole. I passed out for a while, made a coffee or two, continued reading a historical book about the Spanish Conquest of Peru, before eventually leaving to buy Maccas and washing powder. I’m at the mall now, listening to Avenged Sevenfold outside a Starbucks where the coffee machine doesn’t even work.

 

 

‘If this is a rom-com, kill the director please’

My date last night is further proof of the theory I have about Peru and maybe about life in general. Happiness comes from the unexpected and spontaneous. Nothing great happens from the planned.

Do I sound cynical? Sorry. I’m trying to avoid being negative because when I think about it, I should actually be happy.

I met a girl at a nightclub on Friday night and we decided to meet again late last night. Her expressions like calling me ‘baby’ and phrases such as ‘I love you’ in Spanish made me uneasy. But I thought maybe it was a clingy Peruvian thing.

I left my apartment nervous and excited all dressed up. I was happy. All I wanted was to feel a bit special. I wanted to see myself through someone else’s eyes. I wanted, for a moment, to make someone sparkle.

There was an odd thought I caught myself thinking early on. “How long is it going to be this time before she finds out I’m weird and loses interest? How long until I stuff it up?” But I zoned that out as much as I could.

I was prepared for the cultural differences like the expected assumption I would have to pay for everything. We arrived at a nightclub and we stood at the bar all night drinking and occasionally dancing, but she seemed distracted. When we wanted to talk we used the translator on her phone.

Having an entire conversation with someone written down reveals much about yourself and in this conversation I knew for sure that I project my inadequacies too much.

“I’m sorry I’m a bad dancer.”

“Sorry. I’m a lightweight drinker.”

“I feel embarrassed I can’t speak Spanish.”

And so on and so forth. ‘Wow,’ I thought when I figured this out. ‘That’s got to stop in the future.’

Halfway through the night we looked in each others eyes and I saw something there. Her eyes were beautiful, smoky, angular, but hard. They watched me without any feeling and I thought to myself, ‘she would use you if she had to, and she wouldn’t feel guilty about it because she is cutting herself from feeling. What has she seen? What is she blocking herself from?”

In the taxi on the way home (we were going to our different homes) she complimented me. “I would like to see you again,” she said. “You are such a gentleman.”

And then she asked me something else. She owed some department 100 soles and asked if she could borrow it from me.

“I knew, I knew it was too good to be true,” I thought, and froze her out to stare out the window to avoid looking at her eyes. She kept trying to get me to read the translator. Eventually I did.

“I would not ask again.”

Of course she wouldn’t ask again if she didn’t see me again.

“You must think all gringos are stupid,” I wrote as the taxi arrived at her house. “It’s quite transparent what you are doing. I am a foreigner who is vulnerable.”

As she got out the car she let me read her phone one last time. “I do not think you are silly. Good night.”

“Buenas noches,” I said, still not looking at her. The sound of my voice seemed harsh. The noise of the car door closing was soft.

 

…..

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I’m Burnzy. I like long walks on the beach, reading, writing, photography, and superhero movies.

If my love life could be defined in a song it would be Kill The Director by The Wombats. I dream of one night singing it badly in a karaoke bar drunk on whisky.

“Carrots help us see much better in the dark
Don’t talk to girls, they’ll break your heart
And this is my head and this is my spout
They work together, they can’t figure anything out….If this is a rom com, kill the director please.”

My love life is cursed. It never goes how I plan or hope. But I can’t take it personally. I’m not a lesser person. Sometimes when I try to make myself feel better I think it’s karma. There have been plenty of women that have reached out to me over the years and they are probably the right women, the good people I could have spent my time with, and I never felt right about being with them. I can’t believe I’m quoting Taylor Swift here when I say “boys only want love if it’s torture”. Maybe I do. I guess I’ve been indoctrinated by the media to work hard in return for love.

I’m not going to stop dating. I’ve learned so much and it was still a fun night, and cutting myself from everyone only makes me the loser.