One of my favourite things to do while travelling on my own is to plunge myself into a new city, preferably one that doesn’t collectively speak my language, and try to figure out what to do.
It’s a puzzle and depending on the circumstances, can be more difficult than at other times.
Am I walking in strange streets during a tropical storm?
I don’t know where my hostel is.
I don’t have internet, or my phone is out of battery.
I don’t have a hostel to go to.
It’s getting late at night and I’m still figuring it out.
It’s bloody great. I’ve learned to love the feeling of anxiety, and it really tests me when I think, sometimes, ‘I could be in real trouble here.’
Okay, so the first thing I do is:
1) I take a taxi or a moto to the Plaza De Armas. Everything I could need is there even if it is expensive. There’s always a restaurant, a chemist, a nice photo opportunity, and a place to get coffee and access to Wi Fi.
But just as importantly to do this, is I get a sense of direction and a feel of what the city is like.
2) The next thing I try to do, no matter how hungry I might be, is to find my hostel or hotel and to check-in. I prefer to walk if I can, so that I can get a sense of what a place is like. I’m hyper-alert and sensitive to the looks around me, and these looks from the locals tell me everything I need about the place.
Are people nervous or relaxed? How do they treat their personal belongings? Do they feel safe enough to take out their phones or cameras for photographs? Are the streets clean? Are people content with what they have, or is there a desperation or greed for your money? Do they project a sense that the foreigner owes them something?
3) I usually have a rough idea of the place before I reach my hostel, but depending on the appearance, can be harder on the place than is fair, at first.
The best way to find a hostel is through the app or website ‘Hostel World’ and it rarely fails me. There is a ranking system for each hostel which gives you an idea of what to expect, which takes into account security, cleanliness, staff friendliness, and the value for money.
As I continued my travels in the Amazon, for the first time ever for me, I stopped getting available hostels on the app. I had to resort to ‘Lonely Planet’s’ guide of Peru. This guide made it harder to gauge a hostel compared to the app, but it certainly was an adventure and gave good representation of what price I could expect to pay.
I found one hostel the guide book offered, down along the mud of a riverbank, and I went there and I stared at the shack on stilts. The book described it as rustic. “Nope, no way,” I thought, but then I realised I had nowhere else to go. And the place was actually better looking on the inside.
4) After checking in I will look for a place to eat, and then check my guidebook for any city landmarks or museums if it’s early enough in the day. I’ll wait until the following day to see the sites further out.
If locations are exhausted I might stock up at the local market, or shop or take photos (usually just on my phone at that stage) or drink a beer or two while using social media, or even take clothes to a laundry if I’m going to be around for two days or more.
5) As soon as I have eaten I will try to plan how I can leave to my next destination. I usually know a few days ahead which direction I’ll probably take. For example, in Tarapoto I know I will want to visit Yurimaguas, the river port into the upper Amazon. How do I get there and when do I leave?
The trouble with travelling without knowing the local language is not knowing what is happening as things are going on. You can only sense and adjust to the reaction.
I always hate stopping in Chiclayo (770 km north of Lima). I haven’t been there, really, except for at the bus station. The bus needs to refill and this one took almost 90 minutes and I kept feeling I must have missed the call to get back on.
I thought the bus to Tarapoto would take 24 hours from Trujillo. When we stopped after 21 hours, in the early afternoon, and when everyone left, I had to ask in clumsy Spanish if we were in Tarapoto. We were.
Moto drivers wouldn’t give me time to breathe. They offered a ride but I needed to think up my plan. I finally took a ride to the Plaza De Armas (town centre) and walked from there to my hostel El Mural. For 35 Soles a night I had a private ensuite with a desk, which was good value for what I later received in my travels.
*This blog is the beginning of a collection of journal entries of my three week trip through the north east of Peru.
Blurred from late nights, restlessness, inconsistent yet heavy meals in the limbo after Christmas, I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave the house for New Years Eve.
But the mother of my girlfriend had cooked a roast pork, and I was hungry. So I was lured to the nearby grandparents’ place. I am glad I did, because it was a more sociable time than the New Years Eve before.
There was a lot better food too! There was the pork, some sort of Russian salad, bread, gravy, and rice (of course).
Five minutes before the bell tolled midnight, everyone was handed cute little bags of grapes. “How strange,” I thought, remarking on the ribbon decorating the plastic. So I opened it and began eating.
All the family stared at me and, basically, asked what I was doing. I shouldn’t have been eating the 12 grapes yet.
At midnight on every stroke you have to eat a grape, make a wish, and then eat another. You basically have to shove grapes down your throat to do it in time. I’m not sure the conditions in getting these wishes, and so nobody told me you can’t tell anybody (at least in English), so I wished for health, safety when I travel into the jungle, and happiness, and love, and comfort for my family back home. Damn, I should have asked for a second Nintendo Switch!
The loud banging in the video is from all the fireworks that are going off from the tops of buildings, and in the streets, around us.
And then, if this wasn’t already the strangest thing, everyone grabbed pinches of lentils and shoved them in their pocket or their wallet. It symbolises money.
I’m unsure if this is traditional Spanish colonial tradition, a remnant from times before, or possibly from the family’s Chinese heritage.
The fireworks continued to crack on the streets and above various houses. It seems from my observations that certainly families or households stock up on their fireworks throughout the year and then, at midnight on Christmas Eve and NYE, let them crack.
But over the years these families have competed with each other with the longest lasting, and the best fireworks displays. Their competition has evolved into fucking mind games with each other in an effort to be the last ones burning up a strong display.
At 12.30am there were two houses in different directions clearly mindfucking with each other, because their displays were fairly quiet. Building A on the far end of the park brought out a great display of gold, blue, and green that would have suited any agricultural show back home in Australia. And then they waited. Waited. Waited for the other building close to another side of the rectangular memorial park to make its move.
They waited. They waited. Waited. Then they let off a few more fireworks, to tempt building B. It was fairly ordinary. Then waited, set off a few more fireworks, and kept quiet. It let off a generous display and then when all was quiet for a while, we retreated indoors to drink any alcohol that remained.
15 minutes later they were all fucking going for it, deafening my ears with their final annual showdown.
This might be my last blog post in a while. I’ll be backpacking through the Amazon for the next three weeks. I’m not taking my laptop and I’m unsure how the reception is going to go.
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.’
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
It is said that surfing was invented on the shores of Huanchaco, on the “small horse” reed boats of the fishermen 2500 years ago.
There’s a surfing, hippy, alternative culture there, and it’s not so evident at first until you live in the nearby city of Trujillo for a while. I feel more relaxed in Huanchaco, where the colour of my skin, and the length of my hair, isn’t an oddity, except on one occasion, where I was walking across the road with an icecream. “Gringo! Gringo!” a little boy shouted, his hand pointing through the open car window.
Last Sunday I went surfing with a friend of a friend. We did push-ups on the beach and then went in the water. It was a lovely temperature but the bodysuit helped.
There was something in the constant failure of never quite making it, of never managing to stand properly, that was different to every other hobby I tried. In most circumstances I want to be perfect. I take the speed of learning personally, whether it be speaking Spanish, or dancing, or learning shorthand, but in this instance, when my tutor shouted “stand!” and I hesitated a second too long, and I fell forwards or backwards in the water…well…it didn’t bother me. I didn’t take it personally.
For a while, and then my arms were tired and I had had enough. My tutor kept saying “one more!” after I fell, and like a fool I said “sure! One more!” and after that failed attempted, he would shout “one more” and I would say, “okay, only one more!” And we did that another five times. I kept falling, and I kept trying, because I didn’t really care about the defeat. It was supposed to just be fun. And it was, in a way, if only that anxiety of trying a new experience had never existed.
My arms were tired, in the end, and I wanted a break and a rest in the hopes of returning to the challenge one day soon.
Another friend watching, Adriaan, showed me a neat local restaurant afterwards. I had ceviche (a national dish), and wanted a cold beer to wash it down with. There was a referendum that day though, and on voting days, Peru bans alcohol. Pepsi was fine.
Many years ago, in a small Australian primary school the size of three buildings including the library, the principal made an announcement. “The new Tintin collection is in the library,” she said. The older kids cheered, hissed their approval, and rushed for the comics. I did not know of Tintin but managed to grab a copy that interested me. It was of a picture with Tintin in a cave next to scary looking mummies, and the book was called ‘Prisoners of the Sun.’
I read it happily without realising that it was the sequel of another book called The Seven Crystal Balls, but in it, I learned of the existence of a South American country called Peru. This book had it all! There were strange spitting creatures called Llamas, a secret civilization, gun fights, snowy mountains, anacondas…
Eventually I grew up, became a journalist, and bought a tiny white Diahatsu I nicknamed Snowy. Now, I live in Peru. I suppose, this series has been influential for me.
For months now I have thought about my copy of Prisoners of the Sun waiting somewhere in my grandma’s shed in Western Australia, wanting to read it to see what stereotypes or what history my inspiration revealed long before I was aware of it. And it just so happened that last week, while checking the only nearby bookstore that sells books in English, I found one Tintin comic. It was Prisoners of the Sun. I grabbed it, and began reading.
And so, after a year of being a history teacher in Peru, I feel that I want to review this piece of work for what it is. Is this Tintin book a work of bigotry, of stereotypes and racism, or is it a grand adventure using history and the geography as a plot device?
Well, it is time to pass judgement on my childhood inspiration, Herge.
Prisoners of the Sun: A Review
Tintin’s and Captain Haddock’s friend Professor Calculus has been kidnapped and taken by boat to Peru, after once opening the tomb of an old Incan priest, at the end of The Seven Crystal Balls. The second part of the story begins in the port of Callao, Peru, where the heroes wait for the ship.
They then follow a Quechuan group taking the professor further inland through the key climates (Herge might be unaware that he represents the key three colonial Spanish definitions of Peru’s geography when the plot begins on the coast, moves into the mountains, and then covers the jungle), until they reach the secret city of the existing line of the Inca.
The way that Tintin, Captain Haddock, and their young Peruvian friend (who they rescue from Creole oppressors) escape the wrath of the unnamed Incan emperor at the end seems weak. They will be burnt at the stake using mirrors from the sun ‘Inti’, but are able to choose the day of their death as a courtesy. Tintin chooses the predicted time of a solar eclipse, and banishes Inti until calling on him to return. The Inca and his people are filled with superstitious awe, and let them go, even trusting on their secret of the Inca’s existence.
It’s not the fact that this idea has been overused in fiction, that makes this idea weak. Prisoners of the Sun was published in 1949 and cannot be blamed for copycats using the plot device. It’s just possibly not doing credit to the Incas, who were said to be brilliant astrologers. Unless the fall of knowledge was very far for the neo-Incan race (and this is possible. Much would have been lost in the 16th century between the Incas Manco Capac and the last Inca Tupac Amaru), then the Incas would have predicted a simple solar eclipse which had been mentioned in the very newspaper that Tintin was reading in his cell chamber.
The other odd thing about the book’s story telling narrative is the use of Spanish in the dialogue. Most conversation is in English, which is fair considering that Captain Haddock, Tintin, and police officers do most of the talking. There is some Spanish, but the funny thing is that the further inland into Peru that the heroes journey into, the more English is heard. The Inca himself has an excellent command of English that would be a credit to the typical Lima resident of today. It certainly makes no sense that the boy orange seller Zorrino, who Tintin protects in the highlands, also has a great command of English.
The book is still a credit, and not a large insult, to Peru in general. It definitely pays tribute to Peru’s biodiversity, and recognises the Condor, the Llama, and the creatures of the jungle. It doesn’t recognise Machu Picchu (and perhaps this isn’t a bad thing), but does show the mountains, the snow, the cloud forests, and the decorative colours of the Quechua people. It mentions three places by names (and perhaps features Cusco at the end), which are Callao, the train station at the small town of Santa Clara, and a place in the highlands called Jauga.
The places mentioned might be an interesting choice if one wanted to write about Peru today, and shows a difference in the built-up environment from 1949. Callao is an odd name to begin an adventure in Peru over Lima, but it makes sense choosing the capital’s key port for the opening scene. But after a few hours walk through the countryside Tintin arrives in Santa Clara. After a quick check on Google it appears that there is a Santa Clara Station, and that is surrounded by the Lima inner suburbs.
My Peruvian girlfriend seemed surprised at the name of Jauga, but after a quick check online it appears it is actually called ‘Jauja’, and was historically referred to as Xauxa. It actually has a historical importance I was previously unaware of, and it makes sense why Herge might have chosen it as the last named city in the book before entering the wilderness.
It was originally the Spanish capital when the conquerors arrived in 1532, before their leader Pizarro determined on a more coastal local location. He established a city called ‘Ciudad de los Reyes.’ You might know it as Lima. But Jauja, apparently and according to Wikipedia, was the land of milk and honey. It exists today, sure, but is overshadowed by the more larger region capital, Huancayo.
The Prisoners of the Sun is colourful, creative, and with genuine laugh-out moments between Captain Haddock and his nemesis the Llama. It has traces of post-colonial superiority and some uncomfortable usage of words such as ‘Indian’. Its locations might be out of date, but it rarely uses them, preferring to venture into the natural landscapes that are still of relevance today. It is a different sort of book well worth reading if seeking a European’s point of view and visual representation of the country, and it in itself might actually be of historical value.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
I am thankful that I have the chance to express myself, and to share my stories with you.
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’.
The dogs here are surprisingly very well behaved.
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.
The best cakes I have ever eaten were in Peru. Peruvians know how to eat sweet foods.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.