One year in Peru and I’m still learning

Manuel and joker.jpg
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.

20180728_163044.jpg
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.

20180727_083954.jpg
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.

IMG-20180424-WA0000.jpg
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.

DSC_5861
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.

DSC_4086
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?’

img_1637
7) Beach Burnzy

 

A teacher’s day in Peru

7.00am: I spent my first night in my new place in the northern Peruvian city of Trujillo. I do not know where my new place is in the city, so my landlord walks me to my school. It takes only 10 minutes. What complicates matters is I know limited Spanish, while he doesn’t know English.

I arrive at school just in time to hear loud clangs of cowbells. “Happy teacher’s day!” the school’s psychologists shout as I walk through the gates. I really need a coffee.

New Spanish word acquired: Cruzar 

7.30-8am: I have made myself a coffee (with instant which I’ve stashed in my locker for such emergencies. The school has a ‘House’ system named after American presidents. I am in Kennedy House.

Team Kennedy has organised greeting students at the gates with a banner, gifts for our primary school mates, and our mascot ‘Sully’ from Monsters Inc. It takes me ages to realise who is in the mascot suit and I don’t really want to know.

IMG_20180705_094255_867-1.jpg

New Spanish word acquired: Mascota

8am-10.55am: Today is an unusual day, in that it is the first day of exams. This means regular classes are cancelled while the exams are on. Teachers are scheduled to supervise the exams. I do not have to teach or supervise during the math exam. I ensure my paperwork is complete, and I also mark students’ notebooks.

10.55am-12.15pm: The siesta is over. I now have to supervise grade 10 in their business exam. Students either arrive late to class, ignore my instructions to sit down and put their books away, or ask to use the bathroom.

“Why didn’t you do it in the break?” I ask.  I order students to sit before returning to my strike-candy score system. If students have five strikes we practice dictation exercises, and if they have five candy points at the end of class then I give them candy from my candy jar.

Students quickly get to their seats after one girl rolls her eyes and puts a finger to her head. “Bang”, she whispers.

Students finally settle down but they need help from the business teacher, who undoubtedly is working her way through all the classes. Finally she arrives and I bribe her with candy so she can see our class first.

It turns out I am mentioned in the exam. “Mr. Burns wants to stay in Peru forever! But he is a little confused because the banking system is different in Australia. Where should he put his money? A bank or a caja?”

Students find this funny.

When one student hands me her completed exam, I ask, “did you give me good advice?”

“Yes.”

“Am I going to be broke? Or am I going to be rich?”

“Probably broke.”

Another student asks, “are you really going to stay in Peru?”

“…..sure.”

“Will you be teaching here again next year?”

I use the time to receive some important feedback. “That depends,” I say seriously. “Would you like me to return next year.”

“Yes,” she said looking at the candy jar next to me. “If that comes back.”

New Spanish word acquired: Caja

12.15pm-2pm: I have a break for a while because Thursday is normally my quietest days. I use this time to plan what my lessons are going to be like during exam week. Teaching will prove tricky. I won’t teach all classes, and it’s not appropriate to teach heavy or new content between exams. I consider roleplaying exercises for some classes.

It’s teacher’s day the next day but we will have that time off. Instead, we will be celebrating with designated classes from 2pm. One of my students finds me and she gives me a box of chocolates as a gift.

2pm: I arrive to my designated class where cakes and biscuits are being prepared by students and some of their mothers. I take a seat and as food is being passed around, students give us some speeches. Many students that give a speech don’t address me because they prefer to speak in Spanish, but those that I do understand are lovely and encouraging.

“When you first arrived we thought, ‘oh no, another native speaker, we aren’t going to understand a thing’,” one student said. “But instead, we have learned so much, even when you think we are really bored. And you try to make the classes dynamic and interesting.”

Spanish words acquired: The difference between torta and keke

3pm: Teachers gather for their own assembly once the students leave. We collect awards and certificates  and have a glass of wine while we wait. My friends and colleagues stand one at a time to receive their awards.

20180705_170601.jpg

5pm: Everyone has left for the day. I mark the notebooks from students and return the books to the classrooms so students can find them first thing on Monday. I am extremely happy with one student’s response to ‘was dropping the atomic bomb on Japan justified? Why or why not?” Most students didn’t bother completing that question for homework. This student receives a gold star from my sticker collection. I rarely give those ones out. I tidy my locker and then I walk home with my laptop and my passport. At some point I am lost but I don’t stop for my phone. I feel rather vulnerable in these new streets during this time of the day. But eventually I find my door. My landlords give me a coffee and some bread and cheese, and we talk in Spanish (as best as I can). I go to my room and fall asleep before 7.30pm.

Spanish word acquired:  Caminar