Finding a more permanent place to live

I’m told there is some really great hiking just outside the city. Some of the foothills are accessible by bus. Once I get settled, I’m going to talk Kathrine into taking me.

2/7/2018 Wednesday

Orientation this morning with Alejandro went well. He used the Beginning book as an example, but it looks like a pretty well written program—good vocabulary at the end of each section, lots of workbook style activities. No separate teacher’s manual, but most of the time, they don’t add much anyway. There are three program styles: Super intensive (4hrs a day, 4 days a week), Intensive (2 hours a day, 4 days a week) and Not Intensive (4 hours each Saturday). There are 15 levels. If you complete all 15, you’re at a B1 speaking level (on the British scale). Plus the school has 5 more conversation classes available to get a student to C1. I’ll be teaching Review 3 on Saturday, which looks like something I can handle. I’ve read the first two sections so far, and my job is to finish section 2 on Saturday.

We didn’t quite finish the orientation this morning, so I’ll come again tomorrow at 11am, before the noon teachers’ meeting. I did get to meet Katherine, an east coast Canadian who has been here 3 years. I’m taking over the Review 3 class from her and she showed me what she covered and gave me an idea of what needed to be done to finish the unit. I really like her and hope we can be great friends. She even likes to hike. We had coffee and a short conversation, but she’s funny and great to be around. I’ve also met Anna, from Kentucky, who was very helpful. She exchanged emails with me before I came.

A rainy morning in Ibague

When I got home, I tried to talk to Hector again about the rent. I had great difficulty, partially because someone is always around. While nice, this place costs half my salary. It became clear that he thought this was a permanent arrangement. It’s not. I can’t afford it. I thought that was clear yesterday, but I guess not. Maybe he looks at me and sees “una americana rica” who doesn’t care about money. Not so. I don’t want to pay for a full month because I’ll probably not stay that long. I won’t see the money back if I pay.

Also, I’m simply not that comfortable here. Hector has people over all the time. Many are pretty young boys. Two came from his bedroom and were wearing pajamas. I don’t really need to know the details, just leave it at he has a lot of people over. AND he has to come to my door with all of them (or, I suspect, show off my room if I’m not here). I can’t lock my bedroom door, so I feel exposed. This is still just a shared house and it’s Hector’s house, not mine. It’s expensive for the lack of privacy. Someone stayed over last night and was walking around after midnight. There was some loud music. I had a difficult time sleeping.

And the amenities aren’t exactly posh: The shower, kitchen and laundry have no hot water. There’s no air conditioning. These are common conditions in Colombia, but I’m paying a premium. Windows need to be open all the time. We are on a very busy corner, so the traffic noise is substantial. And there’s not even screens on the windows. For the same price, I could find an apartment alone.

And one more thing made me really uncomfortable. I got admonished for not making my bed this morning. I’m trying to talk money, and he forces me to watch a 5-minute video on why you should make your bed. He made me watch the beginning three times, I assume to make a point. It’s none of his business whether or not I make my bed!

I really like how the number system is. I’m told it’s quite new and not everyone is on board, but to me it is clear. Most corners are marked with the carrera (avenue, north and south) and calle (street, east and west).
Buildings are marked like this. This particular building is on carrera 7. It’s building #3 from calle 40. Once you figure out the system, it’s easy.

I tried last night, then again twice this morning (between appointments at the school), to talk to Hector about money. He conveniently doesn’t understand when he doesn’t want to. When I came back from meeting Katherine, I insisted that we talk. He finally called Astrid at the school to interpret. She was a great help. Yes, he thought this was a permanent situation, despite the conversation yesterday in front of Astrid where we all agreed it was temporary. He offered to drop the monthly rent if I wanted to stay. I really don’t. So we agreed to a weekly rate and I paid for just one week. He says he will help me find something more economical. From what the other teachers have said, he may not be the world’s best landlord, so I’ll also keep looking on my own, too. Hope something works out soon.

What still surprises me is how very uncomfortable I am with discussing money—in any language. It really upset me, though the conversation went well. Imagine how it would have been if it had gone badly? I actually had to lie down after we talked. You’d think I’d be more comfortable by this age.

Exercise park near the school. It’s on quite a slope.
There are birds here I’ve never seen before. They are beautiful.
Here’s another in red.

2/8/2018 Thursday

I’m having trouble sleeping. Some of it is the high humidity and lack of air movement. (Does no one own a fan?) Some is the traffic noise. Mostly I’m just not that comfortable here. Hector is nice, but invasive. Last night he fixed spaghetti for is both (which was sweet, though I hadn’t agreed to it and was sort of ordered to the table. It was pretty good food, but he spent the dinner correcting my Spanish and explaining why I should stay here with him and not move out. He also had to  tell me why I shouldn’t walk around in bare feet. I get the bed dirty, he said. Sweep the floors, I thought.

Another whirlwind day. This morning, I found the spaghetti still sitting out on the counter. He tried to get me to take it for lunch today. Not a chance.

Flowering trees, too.

It was raining heavily this morning. Hector was up early, walking around in his boxers. Not my idea of a great morning. I didn’t want to stay cooped up in the house anyway, so went for a walk about 8:00a to orient myself to the neighborhood. I didn’t really have anything to do until 11 when I was finishing my orientation with Alejandro. I walked, had an arepa on the street. Yum! Took a few photos. Nice, leisurely morning.

Areapa con queso y miel. A corn griddle cake, with cheese in the center and topped with honey butter. YUM. This was my breakfast.
And here’s the street vendor who made breakfast for me. Looks like arepas, coffee and fresh fruit or juice are easy to buy on the street.
The man was very nice and helped me with the change to buy the arepa. I’ve just about figured out the paper money, but still learning the coins.

After orientation, there was a teachers’ meeting where I got to meet the other teachers. I really like the group—it was a very welcoming feeling. I think I’m going to fit in here, maybe better than in any other place I’ve been. The teachers are great. I already like Anna and Katherine, but also met Brandon (here with his partner Jason, Canadian), Hannah, Karen and Kelvin.

And Kelvin is about to be my new roommate! Turns out we were looking at the same apartment. It’s a little pricey for one person, so we rented it together. We move in tomorrow.

Kelvin is very handsome, buff, perfect smile, from California, late 20’s or maybe 30, and has great Spanish. The place is semi-furnished—fridge, beds, curtains, but not much more. Not even sure if there’s a sofa. He has lived here in Ibague for over a year and has a lot of kitchen and household items already. I have nothing. I’ve told him that after we move in, we can make a list of what we need, and I’ll be responsible for supplying most of it, since he’s bringing so much to the place already. Today he took me to the mall where I bought pillows and towels—things I know I’ll need right away. I think I’m lucky with how this worked out. If I were 25 years younger, I would swoon over Kelvin. It’s hard to stomach that he probably thinks of me as “that harmless, old woman.” I just hope he doesn’t come to regret living with an old lady.

This is my new building! Fortunately, I only have to walk up one flight of stairs. But the laundry is on the top floor. A few of the rooms don’t have kitchen facilities, so the top floor also has a kitchen, dining table and several refrigerators. The view is pretty nice.

So tonight, I’m going to start packing. Will also try to work on a lesson plan for Saturday morning. Looks like there’s no classes for me this coming week, but the week after there should be.

This place is adorable. It’s called Heladogs. Helado = ice cream. The sign translates as “cake and ice cream place for pets.”

Moving in, in Ibague

My new neighborhood, barrio Cadiz, is built almost on a cliff. The edge has great views of the mountains that almost completely surround Ibague.

2/6/2018 Tuesday

This has been a busy day and I plan to get some extra sleep tonight to deal with it.

I love street food, and this is one that defines Colombian food: Arepas. These thick tortillas are made from corn. They can be served with cheese or butter, or split and filled for sandwiches. Can’t wait to try them. This was mid-morning, so perhaps it’s going to be an easy, street breakfast.

This morning I had an appointment at 10am with Astrid, the manager of the Ibague language center, Native Tongue. My taxi driver took me straight there, too, so I was quite early. Astrid didn’t seem the least bit impressed with me. I’d say she’s done this orientation many times and had too many native English speakers leave after a short stay. I can’t blame her. I’m sure she has a tough job scheduling around all the changes. She doesn’t really do the recruiting, either. That seems to be done in the Canadian office. While it’s nice to have someone else go through the hassle of recruiting, it means she doesn’t get to choose her teachers. She gets the results of the recruiting sent to her. I’m sure things don’t always work out. Let’s hope this works out well for both of us.

Here’s my new school again. This neighborhood has many English schools and a few other languages are taught as well, like French and German.
Inside the school.

Astrid did an initial orientation with me, concerning the benefits and the process to get a work visa. Honestly, the work visa system seems fairly straightforward compared to most countries. It takes about 20 days. There are more benefits than I expected, including decent health care, a bonus for staying the year and some vacation days. The pay isn’t fabulous, but costs are reasonably low here, so I think it will be enough to cover expenses in country. The school has about 500 students, and 15 teachers. Most of the upper levels are taught by native English speakers. There are 15 classroom levels, plus 5 more that stress conversation and preparation for big English exams (a total of 20 levels). Some classes are intensive (four hours a day), some not (4 hours each Saturday). There are also children’s classes, mostly on Fridays. I’ll have Sunday and Monday off. Scheduling sounds confusing and I’m sure it will take me awhile to get the hang of everything.

I’m set up with Alejandro, the trainer, for a thorough orientation in the morning at 7:30. He’ll give me my books for Saturday’s Review 3 class, which I’m teaching. There’s also a teacher’s meeting at noon on Thursday. So I’ll have some time to prepare. Not sure what my week day classes will look like, but everyone works on Saturday mornings.

Next, I met with the school’s real estate agent, Hector. He has a few properties, where he rents shared rooms to teachers. Unfortunately, he has nothing available at the moment. So, he offered me his guestroom in his penthouse until a place opens up! It’s lovely, as the photos show. The 6th floor apartment is only 5 blocks from the school and overlooks Carrera 5 (similar to Fifth Avenue) and the mountains that surround Ibague. The apartment is ringed with balconies. I’ve got a private bath (but still no hot water!), access to a kitchen and laundry, private bedroom with large closet, and a doorman. The best part—there’s an elevator that opens into the living room! No climbing the stairs with my books every day as in Peru! It’s too pricey for a long-term stay, but I’ll enjoy it while I’m here.

This is from one of the balconies of Hector’s home, where I’m renting a room until something opens up. What a nice view. AND a nice breeze too. There’s little air conditioning in Ibague, none in this penthouse. It gets a bit warm for my tastes, but I’ll have to adjust. Maybe that’s what the cold showers are for?
Farther along the balcony
The living room. This man can decorate.

Lots of windows and lovely lighting and flooring.

He took me in his car to the hostel where I quickly packed up my things a day a head of schedule. After a nice lunch, with a lovely young couple who seemed to need his assistance in some way I couldn’t determine, I moved in. Phew! That’s a lot before 1pm.

AND I’ll be forced to learn a lot of Spanish. Though Hector is a US citizen and lived 30 years in the DC area, he speaks very little English. He understands almost everything, but he’ll force me to speak in Spanish. I’m sure it’s what I need. He does EVERYTHING quickly–especially speaking. This won’t be easy.

The photos were all taken today.

This is Carrera 5, much like Fifth Avenue. It’s a wide boulevard, and a main road for traffic. It’s a bit loud at times, particularly with all the windows open, but at least I’m above everything. Don’t you love the mountains? There has been rain in the mountains since I arrived, but only a little here inside the city.
This is the view from my window. Notice the blue roof at the bottom of the photo…..
….On the roof is a child’s doll. You just know there’s a story there. Probably not a good one, either.
Hector has lovely art. He seems to like Picasso, Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe. He moved several items from the room he rented to me, and it’s all piled on the couch for the moment. This evening, he’s hired a couple women to help him organize everything. It will be perfect before I got to sleep.
I don’t even know what this painting is about, but I like it.

Here’s the building from the outside. You can just see the top floor, where Hector lives. And there’s also a small market on the ground floor for basic items. I may end up eating on the street a lot here, as I did in Mexico. I could probably live on fresh fruit and arepas.
This is the side street, that takes me to the school.
Why is there always a KFC? It must be the most popular American fast food chain in the world. I see more of them than McDonald’s.
I thought I’d seen some Mennonites at the airport. This looks like a Mennonite Church. It’s right across the street.

A free month in Peru!

Yes, that’s Misti Volcano, but two things have changed. First, no snow. It’s really warmed up here and I’ve had to take two of the three blankets off my bed. The second is the clouds. In the entire time I’ve been here there have been none, but last night these clouds rolled in. Feels like rain, which would also be a first. (By evening the clouds rolled out with no rain)

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.

Though there are fewer flowers here in Arequipa than in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, they are still welcome. It’s so dry here that watering is required all winter and spring. It’s not rained even once in the time I’ve been here.

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.”

Always a problem–gaping holes in the sidewalk. Always watch your step.

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.

There’s a piqueria–traditional Peruvian restaurant–just up the hill from my apartment. Lunch is the big meal of the day here, so I usually get something off the “menu”–the daily specials. It’s 8 soles (about $2.30US) for a huge portion of soup (always with some meat, vegetables and a single, large boiled potato) and an entree (showed here is fettuccine with a simple sauce and a chicken leg and thigh). The soup is a meal alone, so for the price I get two meals. Hard to beat.
Two workers eating at the piqueria up the hill from me. The soup is a first course and it’s also served with a drink. When I asked what it was, I was told “agua” but it was clearly more–perhaps a sweetened tea.
Here’s the proprietor. I’m not sure if the place even has a name. There’s only a handful of tables, but it’s popular at lunchtime, which begins at noon. I learned the hard way not to come earlier.

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.

These are a special style of empanadas, considered Bolivian. They are called Salteña. These held meat (Saltena de Carne), but can contain vegetables or potatoes and cheese. They are a common street food here. Though Bolivian, they are named after the Argentinian city of Salta.                              
According to this website: “Salteñas have two main features that differentiate them from most empanadas. The repulgue, or the “braided” seam that seals the empanada closed, is placed on top, and the empanadas are baked in an upright position, rather than on their side. The filling is also different – it’s much juicier with lots of stewing liquid accompanying the meat and vegetables. This is accomplished by adding gelatin to the filling while it is still hot, then chilling the mixture in the refrigerator until it thickens. The gelatin-thickened filling is easier to handle when shaping the salteñas. As the salteñas bake, the gelatin melts and the broth becomes liquid again. It’s a nice trick that keeps the salteñas from getting soggy!”

I bought two for about 5 soles (less than $2US) and ate them on the way home. Empanadas are a bit more common, though I’m not sure I can tell the difference by taste. I can attest to the filling being more stew like–I was wearing part of it after the first bite.

These were popular in Mexico and Paula and I ate too many of them. My last 6 weeks in Mexico were depressing and I did a bit of comfort eating to make up for it. I’m still losing the pounds. Paula, however, dropped several pounds, so I may have eaten more of these than she did. Or maybe it was the street tacos?

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!

Moco de gorila translates as gorilla mucus or gorilla snot. It seems to be a hair gel, but I can’t imagine why anyone would buy a product with a horrible name like this.
Adventures at the grocery! To an English speaker, this is a truly terrible name for candy. Google translates it as “thick” but it’s probably more like “chewy.”

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.

Even inside this city of almost a million people, there’s some farmland.
These cows seem out of place, but happy, among the city buildings.
This is the entrance to a small plaza, new to me and not too far from the Yanahuara Plaza. It seems quite old.
The plaza inside the archway.
Adobo is a stewed and very flavorful meat dish. The cooking marinade differs from chef to chef, but what surprises me is that this is a breakfast dish. It seems very heavy to me! I’m told that if you don’t arrive before 9am, preferably 8am, no decent restaurant will have any left.
There’s always a church in these old squares.
I couldn’t find a date, but the entrance is lovely.
Church, inside
There were two huge old trees in front of the church.

August in Arequipa

I never tire of this site as I cross the Chili River on the Puente Grau. The mountains int he background are the Chachani range.

8/4/2017

Still evaluating the school, but I continue to be disappointed in how LATE information comes. Honestly, if you’re going to cancel a class, give me 24 hours’ notice, or pay me. I’ve probably already spent time preparing a lesson plan, so it’s only fair. If you’re going to open a new class, give me time to prepare a lesson plan. 16-18 hours before–just as I’m beginning to teach a 4-6hr block of classes–really isn’t fair. The Saturday 9am classes were announced at 7pm Friday. I worked until  9pm. I’ve been feeling uneasy about the school from the first day, but it seems to me that timely communication shows respect for my time and demonstrates your commitment to having teachers come to class prepared. I’m not seeing that.

Also, we are having intermittent email connectivity here at the boarding house. If the school sends information by email late is doubly bad because I may not get it before the event. The internet at the school isn’t anymore reliable.

I’ve been told the last two days that they will put new bulbs in my light fixtures. Three of four are burned out and the room is DARK. Today, they decided it was easier to make me move my classroom than fix the problem. (I later found out that this is a long term problem. Jeeze folks! Change the bulbs, add additional light or don’t schedule classes in this room at night!)

Maybe all private schools like this. <SIGH>

Ok, Let’s try to focus on the positive……..soon. Very soon.

The temple of Saint Augustine, located in the old town, near the Plaza de Armas.
The temple of Saint Augustine

8/5/2017

When you work 6 days a week, you spend your Sundays cleaning, shopping and preparing for the week. It really sucks the joy out of your day. I could have (should have) been more productive after my classes ended at noon Saturday (yesterday), but honestly, my feet HURT! Lots of walking on cobblestones. Six straight hours of classes, standing on tile, and the “rule” is that you can’t sit down. That’ll teach me to gain weight!

I’m really struggling in Spanish class—I understand the written material—on the board and in the handout we got Friday. But I simply suck at listening. The teacher talks fast and uses vocabulary I just don’t know yet. I’ll stick it out for the month, but I’m not sure if this will help or not. Total immersion sounds so good, but it may not work if you’re…<ahem>…“past a certain age.”

I find that I’m just not “getting over” my distrust of the school, particularly manager, Lilian. I’m getting quite testy about being lied to by schools. This is my 6th school, not my first, so I’ve lost my “sense of adventure” and naiveté. I’ve tried to talk with her in her office, but she always acts stressed and busy and seems to just want me out of her office. I’m sure she is busy. It’s a big school and since teachers don’t stay long, she’s constantly recruiting. BUT, my issues are important too. An adult conversation in person is not working. Emails aren’t fairing better, however. She always answers them, which is something, but she never answers fully. She dashes off the least amount of information and is done with the problem.

Classes can start up to 5 days late, but the end date stays the same. I can understand making up 2 days, but 5 seems like too much to try to cover in the reduced time. (And this month we have a holiday, so that adds another day.) Lillian and Emma say I should “make up” the classes–find a time my students will come to class, outside their regular hours, and schedule classes to teach them the materials they missed. Most students aren’t able to come at another time to make up sessions. Heck, I have a hard enough time getting them to show up to regular classes on time! I have little time to do this, as well. And if I hold make up classes and only half the students attend, I’m setting the other half up to fail.

On Saturdays I have a Speaking and Writing class. There’s no text. You have to find topics for them to read, based on what they vote for. Classes take about 1 hour of preparation for each hour in class. There is very little in the share folder to help you prepare. I’m not paid well for my in class time. I’m not paid at all for prep time. Saturday class is six 15yos. It’s really hard to like a 15yo that isn’t yours. These are no exception. I’ll be glad when the class is over. I just hope I don’t lose my mind.

In short, I’m angry with the school. It’s an exercise in futility to continue to try to work with someone you know will lie to you or just dismisses you. So I’m toying with the idea of working the August and September sessions, then taking the first three week in October (before my visa runs out) and touring Peru. Of course, if I leave early, I have to make a plan for after that. Wonder what I’d do? I don’t know yet. But in the meantime, I’m going to try to do a better job of enjoying myself. I’m going to book tours for Sundays and spend less time on lesson planning.

The is the sidewalk along the edge of a park. It is seriously dry here. While it sounds nice to say “300+ sunny days a year” what that means is, this is a dessert. To keep the park green, water is diverted into the channel along the side of the park, flooding the grass. The park workers flood each section about once a week.
Here’s a flooded section of the park. The water won’t stand long. These plants need a drink.

8/6/2017

I wasn’t raised with wifi but I sure have come to count on it. The struggles here with internet access seem to be getting worse. I don’t know if it is the internet provider, the ancient router, or if something is happening downstairs to cause this. I only know that until the workers were painting and cleaning downstairs, I didn’t have any trouble. Now, it’s constant. I no longer can access the fourth floor, because Leo and Trista just moved to that floor, so I can’t reset it myself. I have to knock on their door or text them. But that only works if they are home, which they aren’t during the day, as I am. I really don’t want to move to a new flat over this, but I need internet. I depend heavily on it to prepare lesson plans, communicate, keep up with my blog, get directions and plan for travel. Not to mention, entertainment.

Another frustration, as well. I tried booking day tours for my free Sundays last night (when the internet was working). I couldn’t. It took me awhile to figure out what the issue was. They are mostly private tours and they won’t book a single person. Maybe I can find another person to tour with me? Maybe if I go in person to some of the tour agencies in Plaza de Armas, I can find a tour to join?

I’m really relaxing into the idea of just working 2 only months here. I’m a little ashamed of myself for how much I’m enjoying the idea of telling the school I’m leaving. It’s pretty childish of me and this is just a stupid fantasy. I’d never tell them off. This school is no worse than any other I’ve worked at. But that doesn’t mean I have to stay.

One of the parks at the foot of the Puente Grau had a market this week.
Inside the market set up in the park. I bought some sweets, but had a little stomach upset the next day–the price of the adventurer. Notice how the dog just wanders through. There are many wild dogs, but so far, none have been a problem for me.

8/7/2017

It’s not even 1pm and my day is looking very successful! All my lesson plans are ready—and I got my planning down to about 2hs for 6 hours of class. That’s probably still too much for the amount I’m paid, but I’m never going to come to class unprepared. Then I headed out of my apartment, first printing my school materials, then off to Plaza de Armas. I found a cash machine. Leo “neglected” to mention the damage deposit to the room, though I asked about it twice. Paying it means I’m low on cash, since I’ve not gotten my first paycheck yet. (Nice guy, but a bad communicator) Next, I found a tour agency and booked two half day tours. One is a Saturday after my classes, a Hop on/Hop off bus tour (for two weeks from now). The other is a Sunday morning horse ride in the dry lands around the city. Should be interesting. And I even have social plans for the weekend! This Friday night, Amy has organized a small group to go get a beer after work. Saturday evening, the owners Chris and Sandy have invited everyone over to their house for a BBQ. I almost feel I have a social life!

This is a huge protest about low wages for teachers. It was supported by groups of doctors and nurses as well. More than a thousand marched and it was loud! Many of the signs said, “We are not terrorists!” There were many police surrounding the event and I moved away, just in case violence broke out.

8/10/2017

Emma unexpectedly dropped in on my class today. She gave me a good review of my class and seemed pleased at my teaching. I told her I didn’t think I’d stay at the school for the 6 months I’d originally planned. Her first response was that I “should take that up with Lilian.” I found this both disappointing and reassuring.  There are only two senior staff members. She’s one of them. Getting “blown off” is a major frustration here.

I’m done.

SO: I’ve made up my mind to teaching only two months at ELC, instead of 6. I was always uncomfortable about working on a tourist visa and it’s clear that you won’t get a work visa here. The school said it has an “agreement” with the local police department about foreign English speaking teachers working on a tourist visa. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it isn’t. But up to this point I still don’t have a contract and I’ve worked over a week. In fact, I’ve not even seen a copy of it so I could read it over. (Eventually I did get to see a contract. They don’t even call us teachers, but “interns.” We are NOT working, according to the contract. We are learning. No. Just NO.) And tourist visas are precarious for another reason. I’ve only got a 90 visa to stay in Peru. In order to stay, I have to make a 6-hour bus ride to Chile, probably overnight, cross the border. Stand in line. Hope that the border agent will give me enough time on a visa to complete my time here. And then I have to wait for another bus and travel 6 more hours back to Arequipa. It sounds exhausting, not to mention the monetary cost, or the fact that I can’t get the school to tell me the session schedule so that I can schedule it between sessions!

It’s only worth this kind of trouble for a school that’s lived up to their promises and gives me reasonable assistance and information in a timely manner. This one hasn’t. If you’re interested, here are the reasons. If not, just skip ahead. It’s all negative stuff.

  • The school didn’t pick me up at the airport as promised. Didn’t get an apology, either. When I asked, the response from Lilian was, “I’m really busy and I don’t feel well.” Let’s diplomatically say that this did not make me feel welcome.
  • During my Skype interview, I asked if she would help me if I needed assistance. I asked, for example, if they’d help if I had trouble getting a SIM card. Lilian said that, yes, she would come with me or send someone with me if this occurred. It did. I asked. She didn’t.
  • During my interview, Lilian said that there was little lesson planning time because they have “complete” lesson plans. While there are good outlines, they aren’t complete. The outlines tell you what pages to cover and suggest textbook exercises for the central topic part of the class—roughly 25 minutes of a two hour class. The rest is activities and those aren’t planned. In most cases there isn’t even a suggestion of what to do. There are some activities on the Google Share Drive that you can dig through, but not nearly enough. You’ll have to search, invent and borrow. That takes time. I have a lot of existing activities and I am still spending an hour preparing for each 2-hour class. And that’s all unpaid, BTW.
  • I made two small requests of Lilian that I felt were easy ones. She didn’t follow through. First, since our schedule was coming much later than we’d been promised, I asked Lilian if she could tell me the current classes she had for me on the schedule for (understanding that these could change). She said yes and that those classes were unlikely to change. The schedule was open in her computer and she could have read it to me, but said she’d email it. I felt that she just wanted me out of her office. I left. She didn’t email the information. Second, I emailed a request for the upcoming class session dates for the next few months, so that I could plan events between sessions. I used as an example that I’d need to do a border run before my visa expired around October 24th. She only sent the October session dates, not even the date I’d have to be back to begin the November session. If you want me to work for you, tell me WHEN.
  • We were only given our teaching materials at 5pm the day before classes started. First classes are at 7am. It’s hard to believe the school cares about lesson planning if they won’t give you the tools in a timely manner.
  • Schedules and schedule changes come LATE. The “open” schedule was emailed less than 11 hours classes started on Wednesday! We’d gotten a tentative schedule the Sunday evening before. But the night before the session started, I found out that of the 33 hours I “thought” I was working, only 20 hours of classes had enough students to hold the class. Eventually, they did open up, but, again, with little notice. For example, my 9am Saturday class opened up at 7pm Friday, the night before. And since I was teaching until 9pm and the school’s internet wasn’t working, I didn’t know until I got home at 9:30p. The wifi at my boarding house has been intermittent, too, so it’s possible I could have missed the notice altogether.
  • I complained that there isn’t enough light in my classroom. Three of four bulbs are burned out. Instead of replacing the lightbulbs, I have to move my classroom. Today, I find out it’s been this way for months.
  • I’ve been here two weeks. I arrived a week before classes, so I could settle in (after paying for the flight myself and spending 27 hours in transit). I rented a flat and paid a damage deposit. I also attended a teacher’s meeting and new teacher orientation (both without pay). In short, I’ve invested a lot of time/money/energy into this job. Now I’ve been working over a week and still don’t have a contract. I haven’t even seen a copy, though I asked for one before I came.
  • In orientation, we were warned, strongly, to check-in using the finger print system or we wouldn’t be paid. However, the system wasn’t shown to us. Turns out it doesn’t work. We were also told there was a “break schedule.” There isn’t. I seriously wonder if I’ll be paid the actual hours I worked.
  • Another mitigating circumstances: I’ll have to move from this boarding house before the rainy season since my room clearly floods during heavy downpour. I can see that the bottom of the drywall has been wet and all the trim removed. The owner confirmed my suspicions. Yet, nothing has been done to change it.
This is the craft beer bar we had a drink at. The staff spoke some English and the owner is from Portland. Nice place. A tad pricey on a teacher’s salary, but charming.
There’s very little street food here, which I really miss. There are these small, portable stalls that have candy, magazines and snacks. Everything is sold by the piece, so you can buy one stick of gum, for example.

8/12/2015

Amy invited a few of us out for a beer last night and I’m glad I went. There’s a good group of teachers here and we went to a craft brew spot with local beers. I had a really great time, though I was pretty short on sleep this morning for my class. Turns out she could sleep in. She told the school she didn’t want to work Saturdays. I seriously should have tried that! Saturday is my least favorite class: a room of six 15-year-olds. I spend half of the class time policing them. They like to kick, punch, call each other names, speak in Spanish and use their phones instead of listen. I will not miss these kids.

As I write this, there’s a karaoke singer whose voice is wafting over the valley. I can barely hear the music, but I can certainly hear him. He should not give up his day job. There is not enough beer to make him sound good!

Later: I’m just back from a cookout at the owner’s home. It was a nice event, though I didn’t stay long. Great burgers and guacamole! It was hard finding the place and I had to use my Spanish skills on the street to ask directions. (Again, would it be so difficult for the school to give some information, like WHERE the place was?) I’m lucky than Juanita and her boyfriend saw me from their taxi and rescued me.

Amy and I decided to check out the nearby park, Selva Alegre, the happy forest. It’s a large park, but was closing when we arrived around 5pm. The nice guard at the gate told us we could run in for a few minutes while he waited for the other visitor to leave. There’s a large duck pond where you can rent boats, a children’s play areas, lots of flowers and the sidewalk is quite decorative. It was too dark to take photos by then and we just had a few minutes to explore.

Walking back, we took a new route. We found a place that rents bicycles and organizes tours. I’m quite envious of Amy’s superior Spanish skills as she asked questions! We also found some much more reasonably priced stores for buying Peruvian gifts. The stores I’ve seen near Plaza de Armas are too expensive. I got a bag for my upcoming tour of Peru, and I’ve got my eye on a scarf. We ran into another teacher who just happened to be standing outside the hostel she lives and works at. She showed us around. It looks like a good place to book adventure tours and the bar had reasonably priced drinks, too. We also found the Plaza San Francisco, so far, my favorite plaza. (That was the name of my favorite plaza in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, too) I finally left Amy in the downtown area and walked home, even though it was only 8pm by the time I got back to my room. My feet were done for the day! Amy got to sleep late this morning and rest. I got up early (short a couple hours of sleep), taught a 3-hour class, did some grocery shopping, washed clothes (by hand, we have no washer), then walked to the cookout. I think it’s all the standing on tile floors and walking on cobblestones.

(Another day while I walked through the plaza, I was looking at some lovely jewelry. The owner tried to offer me a piece. I said that it was beautiful, but I didn’t need anything (“Es muy hermosa, pero no necesito nada, gracias.”). He then offered me an older gentleman. Do you need a man? (“Necesitas un hombre?”) I faked a swoon and smiled.

Humita is a Native American dish from pre-Hispanic times, and a traditional food in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru, although their origin is unclear. It consists of masa harina and corn, slowly steamed or boiled in a pot of water. They look like tamales, but the corn husks are removed when they are sold to you.
Watercolor artists at the Plaza de Armas. Beautiful, but another reason it’s almost impossible to use the sidewalk.
A vegetable market off Avenida Ejercito.
more of he vegetable market. I bought nothing, though the produce looked really good. They sold in bulk and the smallest quality was a kilo.

Working on new adventures

This is the second branch of the school I work at. It’s actually quite near the main branch. The school has a LOT of students and classes, so it’s really thriving. Hence, they need native English speaking teachers constantly. Unfortunately, in my interview, the manager just told me what she felt I wanted to hear. “Sure, getting a work visa is possible. Of course we’ll pick you up at the airport. Certainly, we have complete lesson plans….” Not true.

I was only able to get a 90-day visa for Peru and the school isn’t going to help me get a work visa. I hate teaching on a tourist visa. The school had implied it would help me get one, but I should not have fallen for that. To stay, I’d have to make a border run to renew my visa and hope I can get another 90 days. Frankly, the school just isn’t worth the trouble. They are no worse than any other, but no better, either. Peru is amazing. I love Arequipa. My students are great–but I’m just not going to go to that much trouble for a school that won’t even tell me the dates of the upcoming sessions! AND there’s no guarantee I can even get another visa, or one for long enough. While most tourists are allowed back in, if the border guides decide to suddenly follow the letter of the law, I can’t return. One day, the country will crack down, my luck will run out, and I could get stuck in Chile without my stuff and no way to get back. I’m not doing it.

So here’s my new plan:

  • I’ll teach here in Arequipa, Peru until the end of September.
  • October 2-16 I have a tour of Peru, that includes Machu Picchu.
  • October 18-19 I’ll fly to Huntsville, AL
  • I’ll stay with my dear friend Jeannie until November 4, then fly out of Huntsville
  • I’m doing a hike of Nepal–the Annapurna circuit.
  • I’ll arrive back in the states at the Indianapolis Airport where (I hope) one of my brothers will agree to pick me up. I will miss Thanksgiving, but be able to spend some time with my family for a week or two after.
  • Still working on Christmas plans.
  • I have a lead on a job in Ecuador for the first of the year. Still working on this, too.

My life is messy, but it’s not boring!

Why is it every time I go to the Plaza de Armas, there’s a protest? AGAIN the church and museum were closed. I’ve attempted to come here 4+ times! But this protest was about low wages and benefits for teachers, nurses and doctors. At least it’s a cause near to my heart. This was just the start of the protest. There were more than a thousand people marching.
One of many statues on the boulevard of Avenida Ejercito (Army Avenue).