My world you probably do not know

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1

The paperwork, the marking, the lesson planning, the outside-of-work requirements, the discipline restrictions, the limitations to resources. It all adds up to become a job you aren’t really paid to deal with.

Teaching English overseas seemed like the novelty I needed, a line on my bucket list I wanted to resolve instead of wondering about. I typed on Google about teaching and found a rip-off company dealing with high pressure tactics to get me to commit thousands of dollars for a TEFL course. I was interested in teaching in China but the company didn’t seem to think that was an option for me. It was basically the south east asian countries, or Peru.

I always wanted to learn Spanish.

 

2

 I try to reach out to people in this culture, but all that does is give you the chance to be misunderstood or misinterpreted. I am surrounded by different cultures and I have been in the middle of all this for 10 months. It has weighed me down for a while but I only realised yesterday.

My students are among the best English speakers I know, and so, I think in a way they have become my friends. Or I really want them to like me enough. I realised that today.

I had to go to a school function yesterday where at the end we were asked to dance. And honestly, I didn’t feel like it. I was tired, and sunburned, and embarrassed by the competitive volleyball game I had tried to compete in, and I didn’t feel like dancing even though I was pushed to do so. I wasn’t in the mood to dance surrounded by latinos, my students and their parents.

Today my students asked me three questions:

  1. Why weren’t you wearing a suit? All the other teachers were.
  2. Why weren’t you dancing yesterday?
  3. When were you going to upload that information about the dictator president, Luis Sanchez Cerro, who was assassinated in 1933? I need to study for my exam.

My replies to that were:

  1. I want to be different to everyone else. I want my inner light to shine. No, actually, I didn’t know. Nobody told me we had to wear suits to work today. I was very embarrassed.
  2. In my culture, if you don’t feel like dancing, then you don’t dance.
  3. I’m sorry. I meant to do that this weekend. I will do that tonight. Thank you for reminding me!

My internal reaction to my replies were:

  1. I imagine this student trying to justify why she no longer wears a school uniform or future work uniform by saying “I want my inner light to shine.” Smart one, dumb one.
  2. No reaction.
  3. Oh fuck! I have to do that.

 

Now I assume what you might be thinking. “Relax. Calm down. It will sort itself out.” But the more I try to let things go the worse things seem to be. The ex-pat life, especially in the professional work environment, can really burn you out.

 

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I found this drawing of me in a student’s notebook.

 

3

I am lucky in that I have a girlfriend here. She’s very supportive. Today she wrote “I am only a call away…or a taxi.”

I wonder how I got to be so lucky. I didn’t come here for a girlfriend. In fact, somehow I found myself in a relationship and was even disappointed that I couldn’t explore and use Tinder and take advantage of my strangeness here.

But now that seems like doing so would have wrecked me faster. We met through Tinder underneath the statue at the Plaza de Armas. A bunch of clowns (literally, clowns) were singing me a very belated happy birthday when she arrived. We walked to a pizza restaurant and I soon felt a refreshing feeling. We connected. She was Peruvian, but we connected. We loved or would love the same TV series, music, books. I had been on dates where they understood limited English, and here was this woman who had been been made to practice it since she was four. We understood each other.

Lately, the most normal (happy) I feel is when we’re with each other. We are watching LOST on Netflix. I’ve already seen it four times and she flinches heavily when she is shocked. She doesn’t like watching physical injuries or pain. She almost always predicts correctly what’s going to happen, but now it’s in the third season she is getting confused. She always asks me what’s going to happen next. I don’t tell her, but to throw her off the correct guesses I’ve started lying.

In the room I rent, with my Netflix, and with a Papa John’s pizza we get by delivery on cheap Thursday night deals, I feel at my most normal.

 

4

My waistline was almost 34 inches at the end of my last relationship. Six months later, when going through a modelling phases, I was 32 inches.  That was just before I left Mount Isa, Queensland, 10 months ago. Then at the beginning of the year I was 30 inches, and a couple of weeks ago I realised I had been 28 inches for some time. I had to buy new pants.

When I’m stressed I forget to eat.

After skipping so many meals and when my gums started bleeding too often I knew I needed to eat properly, and eat more vegetables. I bought a lunchbox and packed the fruits, and vegetables, and sandwiches, and biscuits, every day. On Sunday evenings I would cook enough spaghetti to last four days and overload it with about five or six different types of vegetables. I would try to drink more water. I would prepare my oats, yogurt and bananas, and let it soak in the fridge overnight so I could quickly eat it for breakfast.

I feel much better for it. And I was probably saving a little bit of money.

 

5

I’ve always been a writer. It is my identity. It’s literally my reason to exist. I will write a book. It used to be about fame. Now it’s about identity, but I’m not quite sure it’s of anything specific, about actually being fucking understood. When people read ‘me’, it’s like I have been adjusted; revalued; subjectified. Until then there’s a disengagement. Then there’s a respect. They’ve seen my heart. It’s not a bad one.

Lately I have wondered about the book I will write. In my mind it was going to be a work of genius and now I think I will compromise with a self-published version of something that nobody will read.

I barely have a following on social media, which means these days I don’t have the message or voice to appeal to a million readers.

Yet it didn’t matter. I always had a fundamental belief in my words. And soon others felt that too.

A strange thing has happened recently. I have felt insecure about my writing. It’s happening while surrounded by Spanish speakers, by well educated students who know English as a second language. I am conscious of how I say my words, and using conjunctions at the beginning of the sentences. And as it continues I feel my voice is slowly being choked shut, my accent slowing down just so I can be understood barely.

10 years ago I could only write in a notebook. Now I think with the computer keys. Two months ago I ran out of my Microsoft Word subscription. I can’t afford to renew it. I get paid in Soles. The American dollar is worth 3.3 times the Soles.

“That’s it,” I finally thought. “You can’t go on like this. You need your typing fix. You need to vent.” But for some reason, even though I was saying “shut up and take my money” to Microsoft by continuously offering my credit card details, the company continually rejected it. I’m not sure if it was because my new location doesn’t fit in with the company’s knowledge of me.

“Yo Vivo en Peru  ahora.”

 

6

We are only interested in our surroundings. Our surroundings affect us. Your mental horizon stretches to places that directly affect you. We can ignore globalisation if we don’t know what lies on the other end. That’s why we care about Hollywood. That’s why we don’t focus on train crash deaths in India.

Latin America. I didn’t know much about it to be honest. To be honest I still don’t. I only know a portion and it’s called Peru. Within months I have learned that the greatly outnumbered Francisco Pizarro conquered the mighty Incan empire with roughly 200 men in 1532. He brought along four brothers (there was a fourth brother that didn’t carry the ‘Pizarro’ name), and with their help he abducted the Inca Atahualpa, who had just won a civil war against his brother Huascar.

I have learned of Argentine protector Jose de San Martin and Venezuelan liberator Simon Bolivar and their separate pushes to make South America independent from Portugal and Spain.

Chile defeated Peru in the War of the Pacific, and took the resource rich territory to the south, therefore landlocking Bolivia. Countries like Great Britain greatly benefited from this, and a few rich Peruvian families also became rich from the foreign investment. Those rich families controlled all of politics, including Manuel Candamo, who died while president in 1904. Then in order, the Peruvian presidents were Jose Pardo Y Barreda (1904-1908 and from a rich family), and Augusto Leguia (1908-1912 and also from a rich family), who became a dictator for 11 years from 1919, and extended the presidential terms to five years so he could be in legitimate power for longer. I did not check any of these names or dates, and I believe I can list the next eight presidents, or even more (except the short term acting ones) without checking.

I know more Peruvian history than I know Australian history. But every time I get asked by colleagues if I am taking Spanish lessons, or how the Spanish is going, I feel a squirm in the guts. I spend so much time being surrounded by Spanish and a world that is not my own, that I don’t have the mental energy to give any more than I already do.

People here are like that. They live in their world and all they see is a stranger who cannot speak their language. It doesn’t matter that I am learning their history. It’s a lonely feeling. I feel that I can’t talk about anything except work with colleagues, and I find it hard to connect with people without fucking it up or without it feeling awkward. My colleagues make plans to do things together, to have ice-cream or beer, and I feel continuously left out. It feels the same with home, in Australia, where I catch up with everything that is going on on Facebook, because that’s part of my world too. But the longer I go living here, the harder it is to connect with my family and old friends. And maybe they find it harder to connect too.

People are fine to like things or publicly comment on Facebook, but find it harder to message privately one on one. It feels people subconsciously require more of an audience. Does a message really exist if only one other is able to read it?

We broadcast now.

 

7

Last week in Australia it was ‘R U OK Day’ and I didn’t realise. A friend I hadn’t heard of for yonks sent me a message asking how I was, and I was stoked. I replied eagerly checking how he was too. And then about an hour later I learned it was ‘R U OK Day’ and I was deflated. It was like getting a letter as a kid and finding out it was really only an overdue library bill (remember those?).

“That’s not a real letter!” I’d think.

 

8

I’m sure I convey a message that things are great living as an ex-pat in Peru. My most popular blogs are when I visit the places that you have heard of, like Machu Picchu. When I post filtered photos exploring jungles and markets in Cusco and colonial houses in Lima and Incan ruins I seem to get a reaction. Yet there’s more to life living as an expat than seeing the exotic locations. I could have just travelled across South America for six weeks, and maybe in hindsight I should have done that. It would have been easier. The novelty always would have existed day-to-day.

9

I’ve reached the stage where I don’t exactly miss Australia. Sure, I would like Mum to send me some canned beetroot and Tim Tams and even Vegemite. I don’t even like Vegemite. I just want my colleagues and students to taste it. I want another sense as evidence to say “hey! This is where I’m from. This is what I connect to. This is my identity.”

But other than that I don’t miss the land down under. This place has become my home. I walked pass the statue in the Plaza De Armas in Trujillo and it was such a recognised subject in my mind that I wondered what I would do without seeing it once a week.

This place has become mi casa. It’s just I haven’t received a sense of ownership, and I probably never will. That’s fair enough. I’m a guest here, but while this is the case it means I’m second-rate. I just don’t want to lose myself being so.

Yo aprendiendo Espanol

Tratare de escribir este blog en espanol con poca traduccion de Google. 

I will try to write this blog in Spanish with little Google translation.

Mi espanol no es bien. Es malo. 

My Spanish is not good. It is bad.

Quiero escribe mejor. 

I want to write better.

Es dificil.

It is difficult.

Es un problema mi espanol es limitado. 

It is a problem that my Spanish is limited.

Hablar con la gente es complicado. 

Talking to people is tricky.

Yo amor musica. Latino musica es bien. Yo gusta Soda Stereo, Charly Garcia, y Andres Calamaro.

I love music. Latin music is good. I like Soda Stereo, Charly Garcia, and Andres Calamaro.

Yo vivo en Huanchaco.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Photography is to witness and give | Writing is to push and pull

 

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A Quechua youngster brings his brother or friend in the hopes of receiving more Oreos from a stranger (I wasn’t the Oreo giver).

Okay, so the good news is that these thoughts I shared in the last post of returning to Australia were just sickness-thoughts.

Damn that cuy! (hamster).

I woke up this morning and then did a 10 km trek to 4450 metres and saw a glacier overlooking the lake I sat beside. I had a great time. There were no deep and meaningful thoughts, no contemplation of the meaning of life, no meditations about God.

….

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Amy! My housemate roams Huanchaco.

Bullshit.

Okay, as I sat on the ledge of a glacier lake listening to…what? This was silence but for waterfalls fresh from a glacier lake. The wind blew but there were no roars of a plane vibrating in the far distance which we’ve always tried to zone out when we reflect. It was only the sounds of nature, and the sounds of my thoughts were stunned by the silence of the natural world around me.

As I sat on the ledge of a glacier lake contemplating why my favourite author was Roald Dahl (I always enjoyed his children books because he made his neglected child characters believe in magic in times of darkness, but it’s his adult works like his Tales of Madness that fascinate me because his sense of magic is there, but it’s in the behaviour of his characters who react in the most surprising of ways).

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The statue of Jesus overlooking a mass graveyard from an earthquake in the 70s which killed 12,000 people. Not even the churches were spared.

 

As I sat on the ledge of a glacier lake I realised that no matter what, you always carry your mind with you (the sort of thing that sounds philosophical but my Peru-Hermanos,Guy, would shake his head at, for how wanky it actually is. The sort of thing that sounds wise but is over-obvious that it doesn’t need to be written).

Let me start this sentence again for the last time (I’m starting to think I really want you to know I saw a lake near a glacier). As I sat on the ledge of a glacier lake I wondered at my compulsion to write and my need to take photographs. I’m no good at taking photographs but I enjoy it. It’s my way of trying to give to people. By witnessing. By having nothing to do with their moment.

 

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If I put a photo of Lutie in here he might share the blog post again. Last time he did that the stats increased a ridiculous amount.

Yesterday on the bus I went through my camera to delete old photographs from my old life in Mount Isa, Qld. There were so many photographs I had taken in my job as a journalist, and I realised that while I had a part these were not my memories. Yet at the same time they symbolised all the moments I had absorbed, and taken on. There were cricket matches, scenes of family tragedies (plural), a swimwear comp, and numerous fundraisers and political announcements. These photographs were for other people and I was paid to take them, I don’t mind, but it’s finally time. I deleted them one by one.

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Another housemate, Nicola, caught in the moment.

Today on this blog post I share with you 8 photographs I’ve taken recently, which I’ve taken for people (why 8? I was going for 10 but the net is slow and with the length of the writing eight is a nice round number to prevent over cluttering). This is my expression and it’s different to my writing.

I know how I sound by the way. Wanky. Pretentious. Arrogant. Full of himself. Egotistical.

My writing, which I  assume you’re reading and not just overlooking for the sweet pics, is something different. My writing is completely for me. As a child I used it because of the praise I received (“You’re going to be a famous author one day, mate. The ghosts flew a rocket ship to the moon, you say? Brilliant! You are so creative.”), then I used it to escape by channeling into my fantasies, then I used it for dreams of fame (ha ha ha ha, dreaming of writing the fantasy series), then I did it because I dreamed of controlling my readers’ thoughts and emotions, and then because…because…it fulfilled my life’s purpose. Then I got paid for it, and then it sort of just became compulsion. Mainly because I couldn’t express myself in any other way.

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My most loyal reader Adriaan. Another photo of him in my blog is long overdue.

Life makes sense when I write and if one of you in a hundred read this or read what I eventually churn out, and can’t explain your own thoughts and emotions better with one additional word, if you realise suddenly in your dark times that what you’re feeling has been felt before, that you are not alone, that you are not mad or crazy, then…then…well, that’s why I leave myself vulnerable when I write. It’s necessary.

Add in the typical Aussie self degradation: Look at me being noble and shit. Gets on the nose a bit, hey? I feel it is on the nose anyway.

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Two brothers from Ecuador.

I thought about returning to Australia in my sickness haze, but as I walked I realised that no matter what it goes against my life code. I am a writer. I am at the centre of where I need to be. I can’t give up, because after all, what am I going to write about? What am I going to take photographs of?

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I didn’t take this photo. This photo was taken by one of the Quechua boys who came to visit us as we waited by our broken bus. I showed them my photographs and then I let him have a go at it.

Leaving Peru would be a tale of madness, but without the stories to go with it. It would simply be madness.