My flight to Bolivia from The States was uneventful, but long and tiring. I arrived (very) late Tuesday, January 9th, 2018 and was extremely grateful to see Mariela and Jaclyn, from the school, there to greet me. I talked with the director, Maria, by phone, as the ladies drove me to my new apartment. She promised to meet me the next day. However minutes later, she sent a text to Mariela saying I should “rest” and she’d call me. She didn’t call on Wednesday. We walked to the school on Thursday, but she didn’t come in that day. Or Friday. So I’ve not met her yet. Perhaps Monday? Schedules are very fluid here.
Information is fluid as well. My roommate is Jade and she’s 26 and from New Zealand (not 36, from London as promised. I’d only agreed to a roommate because I thought she was older, over thirty). She’s starting her fourth year of teaching here, so it’s difficult to imagine someone got “confused.” There’s a third roommate, Miguel, coming in a day or two. (I had not agreed to a third roommate, especially not a male.)
I’m hopeful that it will workout. In fact, Jade has been amazing–my room was ready, the kitchen stocked, she cooked for me, she helped me get cash, showed me around and she’s given me such a huge amount of information I won’t be able to remember it all. She walked me to the school on Thursday and introduced me to several people, is helping me understand the culture, schedule, paperwork. Her Spanish is amazing. I’m so jealous! Honestly, it would be difficult without her help.
I’ve learned that information/truth has different standards outside the USA. I’m learning to roll with it and pick my battles. So far, there are no deal breakers. It’s not what I expected and not exactly as promised, but so far it’s OK.
We got wifi today! Still working on a phone, though, which could happen Monday. Jade moved into the apartment shortly before me, so not everything is sorted. The apartment is very good: full kitchen (mostly outfitted), a bathroom (mostly to myself), clothes washer and a small “garden” in back. In fact it’s a two-story, 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath house with a detached “maid’s” bedroom and full bath at the back of the house, behind the “garden.” It’s a gated condominium community with pool and (very small) exercise facility (though we still need to be given access to them). Seems very safe. It’s a 15 minute walk to the school I’ll be working at where I’ll teach 4th grade (called year 5, here). Teachers show up January 23, but classes don’t start until February 5, (all a week later than I’d been told). I will probably need to go to the school the week of the 15th, but I’m not sure because I have no information about orientation. In fact, I don’t know if there is an orientation. There are a couple (very small) restaurants and a decent sized grocery nearby, plus fruit and vegetable trucks come by on Saturdays. I’m well outside the city center, but there are buses (that I have to figure out) and taxis are not too pricey. I don’t have a car and doesn’t look like a bicycle would be worth the money–too much traffic.
I’m hopeful it will work out. I’d be more comfortable if I had more information, but experience tells me that these things usually sort themselves out. And, besides, I have an extra week to prepare, since classes start later than I’d been told. I have a copy of most of my textbooks (no Science book, nor teacher’s any manuals), so I’m reading the classroom materials now. Classes start at 7:30a, but end at 1:30p. In the past, teachers have been released shortly after. My contract says I have to stay until 3:30p, so that could be a new standard. If yes, that will be my class prep/grading time. If no, I’ll probably do that at home.
The short version is that I wasn’t enjoying the school here in Arequipa. There were broken promises, which I’ve discussed. I had a 33 teaching hour work load, 15-20 additional hours of preparation, the worst classroom in the school (for a second month in a row), and a cold that was making me miserable. No amount of discussion seemed to be able to improve the classroom (three of four light bulbs needed replacing, but nothing was ever done) and I’d asked for a lower teaching load (this was promised, but I had the same number of hours on the next schedule). The final straw was an all day Student’s Day event we were required to “volunteer” for. It was even assumed that all teachers would be participating, even serving on at least one soccer/volleyball/basketball team. I’m not interested in sports and have no ability in this area.
Possibly, I should have tried to discuss a more reasonable compromise. That does seem like the adult thing to do. Except 1) I’d had no success with previous communications or promises, 2) I’m not getting paid much for my work anyway and 3) I was so sick I just didn’t care anymore. I turned in my books on the third day of classes and gave up. I slept for most of the next two day, and awoke feeling better and much less stressed. I should have done it earlier. Don’t get me wrong, this school isn’t any worse than most of the others, but I’m just tired of allowing myself to be treated badly. And I simply don’t want to work on a tourist visa with a contract that calls me an “intern.”
In the meantime, I’ve recovered from the cold and am dealing with a large block of uninterrupted time for the first times in years. I’m truly efficient with small blocks of time. I fit the saying, “When you want something done, ask a busy person.” I know how to schedule my time and get things done under pressure. But dealing with a large swath of free hours with no plan each day is new to me. And a little overwhelming. Lazing around for a day or two is probably good for all of us once in awhile, but a month or more and I fear I’ll fall into a deep depression. To combat it, I’ve set myself a daily “to do” list. The major categories are exercise and Spanish study.
The exercise is quite practical. I’m in training for a hike of Nepal in November. I’m already at high altitude (2,335m or 7,661ft) here in Arequipa, though I’ll have to deal with much higher in Nepal. I fly into Kathmandu, which is at 1,400 metres or 4,600 ft. So far, so good. But it’s 18 days, hiking 4-6 hours most days and climbing to Thorung Phedi, 4450m/14600ft. High altitude has been difficult for me in the past and I’ve never experienced anything like what I’m facing. So while I really want to do this, I don’t expect it to be all pleasant. That’s why this week, I’m doing a combination of stretching, strength exercises and walking with a light pack at least 2 hours a day. I’ll increase the walking next week.
I’m also spending more than 2 hours a day studying Spanish. Some is online (I’ve finished the DuoLingo course and am now using Tiny Cards), two different video lessons (one speaking and one listening), vocabulary review on my own, and I’m about to finish a grammar book I started in Mexico. Today, I was able to do some bargaining in Spanish, reducing the price of gifts for friends and family. I also ordered alpaca steak (my first) entirely in Spanish!
Also on the to do list, practicing my ukulele and drawing. I’m really terrible at both, but enjoying myself. In addition, I do some reading and watch Netflix and of course exploring the area. This week, I found a little plaza near me, tasted alpaca steak, located the traditional market, and bought a few gifts. It’s relaxing and I feel productive. Besides, it’s just a month.
The photos are from my walks over the last couple days.
Last weekend, I went on a second, different bus tour of the Arequipa area. This one cut a wider path to the outskirts of the town. One of the last stops was a museum to Peru’s most famous fighter–a bull named Menelik. Yes, that’s right. It wasn’t much of a museum and I learned almost nothing about this famous fighter. There was little information in Spanish and none in English. But it was clear from the response of the visitors that they were pretty excited about this guy. Maybe if you’re from Peru, he needs no introduction?
First, you have to understand that bull fighting in Peru is different than the rest of the world. It’s the bulls that fight each other. There’s no toreador in tight pants, pink socks and a funny hat, a waving a sword at a weakened bull. In fact, no bulls dies. One concedes defeat and the fight is over. Seems much more civilized, to me, having watched 5 bulls die in rapid succession at a fight in Madrid. The 2 hour spectacle has 6 bulls, but I couldn’t stomach the last one.
The museum had the remains of Menelik, but little explanation in any language.
I found this article that explained much more than the museum did. The words in parathesis are mine. “The legend of Menelik is instructive. Perhaps the best-known bull of “all time” was the legendary Menelik, who launched the current resurgence of campina bull-fighting by winning the championship in 1946. Menelik, born in the traditional campina (country, countryside) district of Socabaya, was the offspring of a plow ox and a prize cow. … At age one Menelik was taken to the new irrigation 12 project of Sta. Rita de Siguas, where he was raised “con toros serranos de inverna, donde seria su escuela. [Al dueno] le agradaba ver que pelee guaguito con los toros serranos.” (“With Sierra Serrano bulls, where his school would be. [The owner] was pleased to see that he fought with the Serranos bulls.”)
Menelik gained strength fighting the sierran bulls. …A fair took place in October, 1940, during which a silver cup, donated by Leche Gloria (a popular brand of milk), was awarded for the Best Creole Milk Cow by none other than Manuel Prado, then President of Peru. During the fair a bullfight was held, with Menelik – certain to lose to the then champion Smeling – to be raffled off afterward to the winning ticket. The holder of the winning ticket was a boy whose father had purchased the winning ticket; a ticket of S/. 5.00 had won the boy a bull worth S/. 2,000.00! The boy and his friends tied their belts together to lead the legendary bull back home to Paucarpata.”
I took a free walking tour of Arequipa beginning in the San Lazaro neighborhood. I learned a few things, took too many photos and also got some serious exercise.
I recently found this great description of the city: “Surprisingly, despite a population of nearly 900,000, the city feels less like a metropolis and more like a compact town, one that’s graced by magnificent Spanish Colonial and Moorish architecture, fancied up with baroque, rococo and neoclassical embellishments. Located at roughly 7,500 feet above sea level in a lush valley between the Andes and coastal desert of southwestern Peru, Arequipa was founded in 1540 by those land-grabbing Spanish conquistadors. The city sits at the base of El Misti, a 19,000-foot volcano that’s bookended by slightly higher and lower volcanoes. But it’s the cone-shaped, seasonally snowcapped El Misti that symbolizes the spirit of the town, which was nicknamed the White City for its many buildings constructed from a pearly-hued volcanic stone called sillar.”
The guide then took us up the hill to the Parque Selva Alegre (the Happy Forest Park). According to Wikipedia: “Parque Ecològico Alto Selva Alegre. Located in the eastern part of the city, in Selva Alegre District, next to the Chili River. The park and its surrounding areas occupy an area of 1008 hectares of which 460 hectares covering only the ecological park. A part of the park is located in the buffer zone of the National Reserve of Salinas Aguada Blanca.”
There were also a few animals, mostly monkeys, in small, sad cages. I felt sorry for them. The guide assured us they had been rescued and would be returned to their native habitat. I hope so.
Next we got to see the animals!
We then went down two floors to meet the owner of the restaurant on the building. The restaurant, Sonoccolloy, claims to be the only establishment of its kind, serving Inka cuisine–including alpaca, duck and cuy (guinea pig).
And now it was time to walk home, almost 2 miles more!
I’ve officially tried the top two dishes in Peru: ceviche (fish “cooked” in lemon or lime juice. Also spelled cebiche here since the v and b sounds are the same and, hence, interchangeable) and lomo saltado (stir fried beef with french fries). I like them both and I can buy them at the grocery’s prepared foods section. Other delicacies I can buy there include Rocoto Relleno (Stuffed Spicy Peppers), Pollo a la Brasa (Roasted Chicken) and Causa (a type of Potato Casserole). Remember this is the land of potatoes, so they are served with everything (much as when I was growing up!).
I don’t really eat out that often. I buy prepared foods at the grocery and rely on fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, tuna and crackers in my room. I’ve got access to an extremely ill-equipped kitchen (for example, we have 2 forks, 2 plates, one glass and about 2 dozen coffee mugs), so I mostly use the fridge for yogurt, take out food, cheese and hard boiled eggs (which I boil in my electric kettle). I only got out to eat about once a week or less. Remember, I’m a poor teacher trying to live within my means! But even a trip to the grocery or a walk down the street in Arequipa can be a cultural experience. These are just a few food related photos I’ve not posted.