My first few days in Arequipa, including my first classes

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It’s a Catholic country, so you expect to see religious statues and murals. This one is outside a religious school.

7/28/2017

So far, so good. The school’s teacher meeting yesterday was informative–and I find it pretty great that they actually HAVE meetings and try to do a small amount of training for teachers. It bodes well! It’s a 10-15 minute walk from my house and the second location is 15-20minutes. As per usual, the teachers are all 20-somethings, so they probably won’t want to hang out with me, but maybe I’ll luck out. There are a lot of teachers–maybe 2 dozen or more! This is clearly a bigger school than I’ve worked at since Turkey.

Have not found a gym, but with all the hills, and the 9 flights of stairs (I’m on the 5th floor!) I’ll have to climb a few times a day, I may not need one. I may just have to figure out something for core strength and upper arms. Of course, the hard part is making myself DO them.

Just got back from 4 hours of walking in the city. (I’ve already posted these photos) I’m learning my way around, finding the things I need.

The boarding house is just functional–the biggest draw is the private bath. I have plenty of closet/drawer space, but not a single side table. I’ve already thrown a scarf over my suitcase (which I still have to replace) to serve as a bedside table and will probably find a sturdy cardboard box for another. I think the place will be OK, mostly because I have low standards and think that forcing myself to climb stairs a few times a day will be good for me. (Not fun, but good for my health) One drawback: By August 1, I’ll be the only teacher living here. Others have come but moved on. I hope I won’t have to do the same for such a short time–and it would have been nice to hook up with some other teachers for friends. To mitigate the situation, I paid a month’s rent, but haven’t paid a damage deposit because 1) The owner didn’t tell me there was one, even though I asked twice. 2) The kitchen isn’t as he’d promised. I’d been told that the “new” kitchen (on my floor) would be done before I arrived. It’s not even been started–not that I’m surprised. And it won’t be new, either. August 1, Leo says the stove and fridge on the fourth level will be moved to my level. There’s just a sink on the 5th so far. He promises it will all be functional by August 8th. But a week with no kitchen? And that is of course assuming it will only be a week–things don’t happen on schedule here. This doesn’t sound positive. I asked if at least the fridge could be working. He said he “thought so.”  I won’t cook much anyway because it’s clear that others have lower cleanliness standards than I I do. When I cook, I usually heating up prepared food, boiling eggs or making a stir-fry. The kitchen here is very basic–only one burner on the stove works, an oven that won’t reach high temperatures, no microwave and the barest of essentials in terms of mis-matched flatware, pots and pans, dishes, cups and glasses. Perhaps some of the other residents have items in their room, but there really isn’t much to speak of if you want to cook. But there’s a small coffee pot (with the same coffee in it since I arrived), an ancient electric kettle and a wine opener. I guess that’s something.

The view of Misti, from the highest point in the city of Arequipa.

I grocery shopped yesterday. But today I found some home basics to help me get organized. I bought my own coffee mug today–for traveling to school and back. I also found an inexpensive and lightweight “hot pot” type water heater. I think it will do for instant coffee and tea in my room. Also, clothespins. I mostly keep fresh fruit, nuts, tuna, wine, whole grain breads/crackers in my room, but I do need a fridge for cheese, hard boiled eggs, veggies and meat. There are far fewer restaurants near my house than I had in Mexico and NO street food at all. Surprising!

I’ve taken a shower after my long walkabout. I’m now resting, since I’m having my “I’ve over-done it” diarrhea. It’s inevitable in every trip. Nothing serious. But I’m probably down for the day. Or not. We will see.

People are always saying I’m so tough. Well, don’t be so sure! Today, in the shower, I noticed a half dozen bruises on my legs and arms, the result of traveling. I was very sore in all my joints for the first two days. I still feel a little beat up, in fact. I think it’s official–I’m too old for very low cost travel! Besides, I ended up having to pay extra for my checked luggage, not once but THREE times, since they considered all my flights “separate.” So I really didn’t save as much money as I’d hoped. And they weren’t nice at all. You couldn’t even get a glass of water without paying. The planes were 6 seats across and there were only 2 bathrooms. I’m surprised we didn’t have to pay to go! Never again! MY ADVICE: NEVER FLY SPIRIT. NEVER.

The Yuanahuara church, which I ended up seeing again the next day on my day tour. Then it wasn’t open….
….but this day there was a wedding! It’s a bad photo, but a lovely church. Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Yanahuara.

The weather is amazing–highs rarely get over 72F and lows rarely drop below 40F. We are coming into Spring, too.  But dry. Current relative humidity is 19%.

The Spanish here doesn’t sound the same at all, but some fellow teachers told me not to worry about “vosotros.” While they do use “usted” that’s about as formal as they get. (In Mexico, everyone said “tu.”) If you go to Spain, though, you’ll have to learn it.”

7/30/2017

From the looks of the 4th floor this morning, the roomies—Santi and Juanita–moved out overnight. I had seen them packing and knew they were leaving, but they still had a couple days before they had to be gone. Maybe that will stop the jam sessions? Santi is part of a band and they used the 4th floor (just below me) as a practice area. Good music; too loud. The good news is that they actually cleaned (some) before they left! Even did the dishes, though based on what I saw, they need more soap and more hot water. It has made it possible to do a rough count of the kitchen items. Only 2 forks, 2 plates and 1 glass. Lots of mugs, though. Just one burner works on the stove, there’s no microwave and the oven won’t get to high heat. Not going to do any fancy cooking here! I have been snooping around the empty bedrooms and baths. I notice one room is piled high with stuff—including kitchenware like plates, pots, pans and flatware. Once the kitchen is moved up to my floor, I may see if I can confiscate some of those items and move them to the kitchen.

There may only be one other tenant here, except for Leo (owner) and Trista (his US girlfriend). But I’m not really sure since I’ve yet to see another person. The place needs a lot of work if they want more tenants—like the shared bath on my floor has no shower. (There were workers here for the next 4 days–very messy, but they got both public baths mostly working and set up three rooms). I become more grateful for my private bath each day! And they need a housekeeper to clean the public areas at least once a week. Now, they depend on the tenants, which is a very bad plan–and since there’s no broom or mop or cleaning rags–impossible. This isn’t a long term stay, so I’ll probably make it work. At least it’s safe and I can keep my area clean. Still, all the other teachers have moved out–most to a place called “Soul House.” It was listed as one of the places I could board, but they didn’t respond to my request for weeks–until I’d already made arrangements to live here.

This is the Plaza de Yanahuara, just up the mountain from my boarding house. You can see the arches of the mirador (look out point). I love the palm trees, though they are not native.
The plaza is also lined with cactus, taller than my head.

Being on the fifth floor is daunting–9 flights of steps!!!–but I’ve decided to trade that for a gym membership. I’ll be doing a LOT of hill walking here just to get around. I’ll figure out some upper body exercise I can do in the room and save the $$$ from a gym membership. There are two branches at this school. One is 3/4 of a mile away and the other a mile. The “good” grocery is a mile and a half. Downtown is 2 miles.

Today, I have a city tour starting at 2pm, starting in the town square. I should learn a lot. Yesterday I walked to the highest point of the city–I’m getting in a long walk each day before school starts–at least 2 hours. One day was over 4. And it’s not so much hills as mountains! Today, I’m likely to get in a lot of miles on the tour. Plus it’s almost 2 miles just to the meeting point. There are lots of taxis and they are probably cheap, but I need the exercise. Feeling stronger each day–I was quite beat up from the trip here.

So, I’m beginning to think I’m a bad tourist for most countries. I went to Japan, 4 days later a huge earthquake/tsunami. Egypt visit, within 2 months the Arab Spring starts. I was in Russia, now the diplomats need to leave. Turkey, Erdogan pretty much takes over as dictator. Wonder what will happen to Mexico? A wall, maybe?

7/31/2017

I took a city tour yesterday. The guide was young and inexperienced. She clearly wasn’t as prepared as she should have been so two of the churches was closed (I had already seen both, but she didn’t know that) and the Monastery was jam packed. She didn’t have money to get in and didn’t know how to bypass the line. It took 4-5 phone calls to her boss. Sweet kid, though. She’ll learn, but she needs to work on her English. It turned out to be a private tour, just for me. That was special. So many cobblestone streets—my feet kept me awake early in the night.

Tomorrow is orientation at the school. So far, the school seems fair, better than the others, but that’s a pretty low bar. On the plus side, they do a training/information meeting monthly and teachers have an orientation. They also have lesson plans for each day already made up. (it turned out to be a “scaffold plan–so maybe half the lesson plan is done for you.) On the negative side, they didn’t pick me up at the airport and we just got the schedule very late last night for classes that begin in a day and a half. I have all evening classes—6 straight hours—at the main branch. That’s three, 2-hour classes from 4-9p. Also, Spanish class on M-W-F at 3pm. And kids’ classes on Saturday, 2.5 hours. It’s an enviable schedule—not a split shift, enough hours to cover my expenses and maybe enough to save a bit. And I have mornings off.

I have dinner plans with three other new teachers. We are trying Chicha, a restaurant suggested to me yesterday by my tour guide. (We ended up going to Arthur’s instead) Should be a good chance to try some new food.

The drink is a pisco sour–THE Peruvian drink. The meal is ceviche (fish “cooked” with lime juice) with onions and sweet potato and roasted corn.
A poplular drink, Chicha morada is a sweet Peruvian beverage made from purple corn, a variant of Zea mays native to the Mesoamerica, and spices. Non-alcoholic, it is a type of chicha usually made by boiling the corn with pineapple, cinnamon, clove and sugar. Que delicioso!
A bad photo, but this is practically the national dish of Peru, lomo saltado. It’s a stir fry, influenced by Chinese cuisine, that typically combines marinated strips of sirloin with onions, tomatoes, french fries, and other ingredients.

Two young men just moved in: Jamal (who I met at the teacher’s meeting) and Jim (who was probably there, too, but I don’t remember). Both have been living at the “TEFL House” which is just a few minutes from here, I guess. They’ve just completed their TEFL course. But things here are not really organized for them. The kitchen hasn’t been moved from the 4th to the 5th (that starts tomorrow) and—worst of all—their shared bathroom doesn’t appear to be functional. No shower. I just hope the sink and toilet works. They can use the one on 4th, but it is completely filthy. I can’t believe anyone took a shower there before. Not me! And Leo doesn’t even have keys for them. They had to borrow mine for the 4th floor.

Just invited Jim and Jamal to the dinner tonight. Jim (who mentioned he was traveling the world “one drug at a time”) said he has plans with his church tonight. Jamal (who mentioned he was more of a “weed guy”) may come, but wanted to make sure he was done by 9:30. Other plans? Early to bed? In the end, he chose marijuana. He was smoking heavily and I was glad when he said he was “too high” to come to dinner. I don’t need to babysit.

I always try local foods, but for the UN-adventurous, start with the sweets, like these. It’s a “cone” of pastry filled with sweet caramel. According to Google (so you know it’s true!) the word “manjar” translates as “delicacy.”
And this is what they look like close up.

8/1/2017

It’s one of those good news/bad news sort of days.

Good news:

  • Had a great dinner with new teachers last night. We went to the restaurant, Arthur’s, where they also teach cooking classes. I may take a few! The food and the company was great, though I stayed out later than I should have. Attending: Alina (birthday girl), Drew, Amy and Rebecca.
  • I really like the location of Alina and Drew’s boarding house—on the other side of the bridge from the school, but close. And they are near Plaza de Armas, but not right in the middle of it. They have much better restaurant choices, too. Though the location isn’t ideal, I like my room and private bath better than theirs.
  • Orientation at 9am went well. It was almost three hours, a bit long, but very full of information. The school is pretty organized. I was promised existing lesson plans, but that’s not the truth. They do have lesson plan templates, which is a good start—telling you what pages you need to cover and recommending exercises in the book. I’ll need to add a lot of activities. I’ve checked the share drive and don’t see nearly enough there, so it’s good that I have done this before.
  • Showed Amy the rooms here at my boarding house. She is in a hostel at the moment, and that’s not a great long-term living situation. She is concerned about the price, 500/soles for a room with a shared bath, but she’s looking at her options. (She found a room somewhere else with no kitchen, but a private bath)
  • The kitchen mostly got moved today. The gas stove appears to have four working burners (only one worked before). The fridge is a bit small for three (soon to be four) people to share. And it’s only three sides and a roof, so dust will be a huge issue.
  • I managed to get a SIM card for my phone and now have a working Peruvian number. Big Progress! (Note to self: it is called a “chip” in Peru. Pronounced CHEEP) I had to go to four separate places, stand in line a lot, but finally got it.

Bad News: 

  • Someone stole my empanadas out of the fridge today. I suspect one of my two, new roommates. This does not bode well.
  • Jamal, one of the new roommates, is a heavy pot smoker and I hate the smell of it. (As an aside, in orientation, he showed up 20 minutes late and he was almost completely unable to read two English sentences, out loud. I wonder what kind of teacher he will make? Or maybe I don’t wonder.)
  • The new kitchen is already dirty, filthy actually. Looks like I can only cook if I’m willing to clean up first. It’s clear that Jamal left the mess. I suddenly don’t feel sorry that the shower is still not fixed, nor that it’s only cold water.
  • At 5pm I walked back to the school and got my teaching materials. That’s less than 24 hours before my first class, which indicates they expect little class planning. I spent the next 3 hours working on the first three days of lesson plans for my 4pm class. Shortly after 8pm we were sent the “open” class list—which indicates that the schedule I was given Sunday night was tentative. QUITE tentative. My 4pm class doesn’t have enough students, so it won’t start tomorrow. In fact, it may not happen at all. Basically, the work I did was a waste of my time. And I still have two, 2-hour classes to prepare for tomorrow.
  • It appears I don’t have the book for the Saturday kids class. (It turned out there is no book. Oh joy.) Of course, at this moment, that class ALSO doesn’t have enough students, so it could be a moot point.
  • If neither of these classes make, I go from 33 teaching hours a week (a tad more than I want) to 20 (less than I need to pay rent/food). I guess we will see how this goes. It’s a good thing I have money back home.
  • After reviewing the entry visa on my passport today with the staff at school (I just couldn’t figure out how to read it without assistance) it turns out that I was only given 90 days in Peru. When asked how long I wanted to be in Peru by the woman at custom, I said that I wanted to stay 6 mouths, she smiled and said “OK” and stamped and scribbled in my passport. I thought “OK” meant I had that time. Probably she gives everyone 90 days. But, I’d planned to stay here 6 months. That means a border run–which is expensive. It’s suggested that I take an overnight bus to Chile. Clearly, I need more details and will have to work out a time to take care of this. Life is messy. And, frankly, I’ll have to see if it’s worth it to me to stay longer.
Plaza de Armas, the central fountain.
Surrounded by the Cathedral and various portals, the Plaza de Armas has a beautiful bronze fountain of three plates crowned with the figure of a soldier of the sixteenth century. The figure is locally called the “Tuturutu“, and considered a symbol of the city.

8/3/2017

I survived the first day of classes. As usual, the entire day was all about preparing for and delivering classes. Didn’t really do much else. But I had to make my lesson plans for four hours of class, figure out how to use the copier, printer and CD player. Even finding my classroom took time—it’s in another building! But I think it was pretty successful and I believe I’m building a good rapport with my new students. At least, I’m off to a good start. My thoughts:

  • The existing lesson plans are really “scaffolds.” They do an excellent job of portioning out the pages per day and suggesting exercises to do. But half the class is exercises and you have to figure those out. I found I couldn’t deliver the “lesson” portion in the 20 minutes, so prepared too much material. I love the overall layout for class pacing: prepare board, warm up, presentation, practice…… I’ve followed it instinctively without their plan. BUT, yesterday I couldn’t cover each part in the time period. Yes, it would help if students showed up on time (or, heaven forbid, EARLY). Probably it will be better on subsequent days? However, it’s always better to be over-prepared than under. And I may use some of yesterday’s skipped material in today’s class to make planning easier.
  • I had both of my 2-hour classes last night. My first group is mostly young, 20yo or less, taking the Progressive 3 level. They are very verbal, strong speakers. The second group is an Advanced 3 group—very nearly completing the 21-month course. They are generally older, less verbal in English and some seem to be placed above their abilities.
  • All the students are polite. Most were paying attention–only one person with his head in his cell phone. I called on him a LOT. LOL! They seemed surprised that I would occasionally hand out candy—most notably for correcting ME when I’m wrong. Honest, I want to encourage questioning dialogue when something doesn’t make sense. I’m not perfect, particularly with spelling! Good questions means they understand.
  • While this is the most organized school I’ve taught at yet, I’m still evaluating it. I know I hold a grudge, but they didn’t pick me up at the airport as promised, and didn’t even apologize for it. I’ve talked with two others who were picked up, but only after waiting 2 hours and calling the school. I was also promised help with getting a SIM card for my phone. No dice. I asked a very small request–send me my current schedule, even if it will change. I was promised it. I didn’t get it. Obviously, these are situations that I can, and DID, manage myself, but, to me, it’s an indication that I can’t count on their promises–and so far it’s entirely the promises of the manager. It doesn’t help that my schedule dropped from 33 to 20 hours per week 11 hours before classes started at 7am. I may not be able to cover my daily living expenses on this—and there’s no possibility of covering my travel expenses and insurance. I’ll be dipping into savings again.
  • As it stands, I only have a 90-day visa. To stay, I must do a border run (leave the country and come back) to renew, probably for another 90 days. Most teachers are in the same situation. If I don’t have enough hours, or I can’t trust the manager’s word, it’s not worth the cost of this.
  • I’ve emailed my concerns—in a polite, adult manner—to Lilian, the manager. She basically replied with two things: 1). “Kids classes (3 hrs a week) ALWAYS make.” She just doesn’t post them until the day before. This strikes me, at worst, as dishonest or, a least, a total lack of concern for class prep. 2). “Don’t worry, it will all work out.” She mentioned private classes (which I have found unreliable and mostly a waste of my time). She also said that “when” a class starts late, you can “make up” the class with the students. This seems HIGHLY unlikely to me. Basically, I only have 1-3pm on Tues and Thursday available to make up my 3pm class. Good luck with that, IF the students can come.

In short, I’m pleasantly surprised with the students and materials. I’m still evaluating the school. It may all work out. Based on my history of working with schools, however, it may also crash and burn. I’m considering this another lesson in trusting in my ability to work things out, another opportunity to live in uncertainty and relax into it. I hate this much uncertainty, but this is life. You may think it’s only because I travel so much, but no one can trust completely in their future. Control is an illusion. You do the best you can and what happens is what happens. But mostly, I hate that I have not been able to trust the word of those I work with, but this is also the reality. It’s always better to face reality. And it looks like this is another school that lies to teachers.

I also survived my first day of Spanish class. It’s one hour, three days a week. There’s only three students and the teacher completely speaks in Spanish. Completely! Fortunately for me, she wrote much of the material on the board (not the explanation), and was covering things I mostly already knew. Listening comprehension is my worst skill, so I hope I can keep up. I understood the gist of what she was saying, but had to ask her to slow down and repeat several times. Unfortunately, Spanish just can’t be spoken slowly. AND she speaks in a Peruvian accent, not the Mexican accent I’ve been hearing for the last year. I may have only understood 60% of the words she used. Maybe. It’s just going to be tough, but there is no other way to learn, I fear. I have sufficient vocabulary, but I can barely use it or hear it. I hope soon that I will. Amy didn’t show for class yesterday, but Jayson (who turns out to be married to Lilian, the school manager) speaks VERY well. He doesn’t have any grammar lessons behind him. He’s learned entirely from listening. His speaking and vocabulary are excellent. He just needs some rules. I’m completely intimidated.

Cathedral of Arequipa, Plaza de Armas. When the city was founded on August 15, 1540 in the Chili River valley as “Villa de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora del Valle Hermoso de Arequipa” the city was begun and with it the square.
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Beth

I'm a professional vagabond. I quit my cubical job in January 2014. Since then, I've hiked the Appalachian Trail, The Camino, and taught English in Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, Spain, Mexico and Peru. I'm exploring the world and you can come too!

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