Finding a more permanent place to live

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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.”
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Moving in, in Ibague

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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.
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Welcome to Colombia

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It threatened to rain all day, but didn’t. Still, with the high humidity, my hand-washed clothes didn’t get completely dry.

02/05/2018

I arrived here yesterday, after three overnight flights from Santa Cruz, Bolivia. With my tiny grasp of Spanish, I was able—just barely—to function. In Bogota, Colombia, I changed US dollars for Colombian pesos, which turned out to be good since there was nowhere to do that at the much smaller Ibaque airport when I landed.  The final flight to Ibague was on an old prop plane. When it was delayed I was a tad concerned, but I finally made it only an hour and a half late. I’d had little sleep but by anyone’s standards, I’m now traveling light. Because of airline weight restrictions, I had to divest of some of my things. I’m down to a single, large suitcase (about 20kg, 44 pounds), a soft-sided hand carrying bag (6kg, 13.2 pounds) and the blue backpack I use to carry my books for school, which had all my electronics. Buying a second checked bag (which was iffy) was about $100US each flight. Shipping the items (just as iffy) would have cost too much, as well. Either option was more than the cost to replace the items, so I passed out things to my Bolivian roommates. Let’s hope they enjoy them. I ditched some clothing, my ukulele, a couple pair of shoes, and almost all books/notebooks.

Here’s the front of my hostel. It’s locked up tight all the time, so you have to ring the bell to get the attendant to let you inside.
The living area of my hostel. All the furniture is made from shipping pallets and they have a resident cat. It’s a small place. I count only about 6 rooms, but there’s a decent bathroom and kitchen (except for the lack of hot water) and they serve a simple breakfast of granola, milk, coffee and fruit. Pretty good for the equivalent of $9US a day.

Once in Ibague (pronounced ee bah GAY), I got a taxi to the hostel. I’m pretty sure the driver over-charged me. There was a fee for my luggage, which is a first. But at least we did agree to the price before I left the airport, so it’s not quite so bad. This is the first country in a long time where the taxis are metered. I like that. I hate haggling in any language.

It was about 2pm when I got checked into the hostel. The operator was very sweet, but spoke no English. I just barely had enough Spanish to make the transaction, mostly because I already had a reservation. Glad I’d gone to the trouble of getting a sufficient amount of local currency in Bogota. The hostel doesn’t take credit cards as the booking online indicated. A quick shower (no hot water here!!), and I fell into a deep sleep. In fact, I woke only a few times before 6:30am today.

I had an amazing dream, but can’t seem to touch it now. There may have been several dreams. All I can remember is that the information was very important. I kept telling myself that I needed to write it all down. It was something very detailed. There were steps and sections to record. But now I can’t even remember what it was about. How does that happen? I feel I’ve lost something that really mattered and the sense of loss has followed me all day.

Here at the hostel is an Italian man—sun-bleached dreads, clearly well-traveled, 20-something. He seems friendly. Never leaves the hostel, however. Tomorrow, he’s going to a nearby town to celebrate Carnival–a huge celebration, second only to Rio, he says. A couple from France left this morning after breakfast. There’s another Spanish speaking man who was dressed in a tie this morning, so I’d guess he was here for work, or looking for a job. I was able to hand wash the clothes I wore for too many hours yesterday. It’s humid today, so they are still drying as I type this.

There’s not a lot of street art in this area, but some.

Today has been productive. I walked to the school (which is closed today) and most of my photos are just from walking around. Google Maps isn’t perfect. It got me close and then, after asking several people, I found the place. Two old men argued for 3-4 minutes about where the school was, then decided that I needed to take a taxi because it was not nearby. It was. I suspect they just didn’t want to admit that they didn’t know where it was. I spent 3 hours getting there. It was only 4km away, but I don’t know how to get around here. First, I went the wrong direction, which wasted almost an hour. I also made several stops for things I needed and saw along the way. I got a SIM card for the phone, which is really important. I now have another new phone number. I bought red tennis shoes that I’ve been looking to find for quite some time. I found a large supermarket where I got water and tea and a small towel. At a pharmacy, I found toothpaste. This city is in the foothills of mountains, so most of the walk was downhill until the last half km. Then it was straight up. I got my workout! Anyway, I started to walk back, but after 1km, I grabbed a taxi the rest of the way. Then went to the supermarket for basics for sandwiches and water. That’s what I’ll eat for now. Easier. The hostel provides a simple breakfast and I brought my precious French press and travel mug for additional coffee in the morning.

Pare is “stop.”

It’s going to take me a bit to figure out the money here. First, everything is in such huge amounts. The smallest bill is one thousand pesos. And they are changing from old to new currency, so you have to pay attention. One US dollar = 2841.00 Colombian pesos. That’s going to take a minute to remember. But so far, I’ve determined that a bottle of water is about 2,000 pesos. I spent about 14,000 pesos on ham and cheese for sandwiches. The loaf of whole wheat bread was 3,700 pesos. So, prices seem pretty normal to inexpensive. Let’s hope my new salary covers the basics of rent, food and basic transportation.

Being in the bowl between mountains means that this city isn’t flat. Lots of ups and downs. Lots of stairs. I’ll have to stay in shape.

Tomorrow, I will take a taxi to the new school and meet the manager. She has a possible place for me to live—a shared house with other teachers, very near the school. I hope that works out and I can move in the next day. The hostel here is busy and I don’t want to have to move to another temporary quarters. I have orientation Wednesday or Thursday this week. I teach my first class on Saturday. The school is closed Sundays and Mondays, so I get two days off a week—a luxury compared to most of the schools I’ve worked at.

Outside the hostel door. You can see the fog over the mountains in the distance. There are calles (streets, that run east and west) and carreras (avenues, that run north and south). I’ve not quite figured out the house numbers yet, but businesses and streets are fairly well marked.

Here’s some info on my new hometown:

Ibague, Colombia: “Musical City of Colombia,” Ibague is 200 km South-West of Bogotá, in the state of Tolima (called a “department”), with roughly 600,000 inhabitants and has most modern amenities. The city is situated in a valley surrounded by tropical mountains and has a climate that is near perfect. The city is one access point to Los Nevados National Park.

Climate: 28-30C daytime (82-87F) to 18-19C at night (64-67F). Rainy season is April-May, and again in October, with an average of 9 inches per rainy month. Expect 3-4 inches in each of the other months. Relative humidity is 77%, very stable across the year.

Elevation:  1,285 m (4,216 ft).  Ibagué is located in the Colombian Andean region, in the center of the department of Tolima, surrounded by mountains on all sides with the exception of a plateau which extends to the east. It has two active volcanoes in its immediate vicinity: the Nevado del Tolima, 28 km (17 mi) NW of the city, and the Cerro Machín (dormant for 800yrs), 17 km (11 mi) west of the city center but still within the Municipality of Ibagué. In the event of an eruption, the city of Ibagué would not be affected despite its proximity to the volcano.

So that’s my new home. Let’s hope it’s an improvement from the last situation.

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I’m allergic to bullies

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1/30/2018 Tuesday

Based on my situation here in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, it should be no surprise to learn that I’ve been sending out my resume to other schools. Things are looking dicey here, and I wanted an alternative. I’ve already turned down a position in Costa Rica (because I couldn’t have a private bedroom and I’d share a kitchen and bath with 10 other people! No. Just, no.). The two schools I had offers from when I accepted the position here, have filled their positions, including the one in Ecuador, which I really was excited about. Both put me on a waitlist. A few other postings looked OK, but not amazing.

Monday, a good offer came from Ibague, Colombia. I checked out the town. Read teacher reviews of the school, Native Tongue (two out of three reviews were stellar). I exchanged very positive emails with a current teacher (she’s been there 3.5 years!). It’s hard to conduct due diligence, but it looked like a strong possibility. I told the school in Colombia that I was very interested, but currently working with a school here in Bolivia and needed to talk with them about releasing me. Nothing firm. Besides, I wanted to sleep on it. Don’t want to jump from the frying pan to the fire.

If I left–and it was still an IF at this point–I was willing to stay at Cambridge College here in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, up to four weeks, until a new teacher was found. That seemed like a reasonable position and I do try to be reasonable. I had not told anyone, not even my roommates, about the job offer. I didn’t want them to be culpable or to divide their loyalties between me and the school. In short, I was deciding how to handle the situation. I even had a few second thoughts, since moving to a new country is such an ordeal and I’ve already done/spent so much to get here. I found that a former British teacher had left over the weekend, sending a scathing email about how he was treated, particularly roasting the director. That did sound like fun. “Since you forced me to pack up all my stuff, I took the opportunity to leave.”  But this was just a thought. I hadn’t actually committed to anything. I didn’t yet have a plan. I’d not done anything I couldn’t un-do.

I went to school on Tuesday and sat through another very important meeting, all in Spanish, though with some translation. I’m always concerned that I’ve missed important details in translation, but I’m doing the best I can. Then I went to work on the classroom. Parents are coming tomorrow (Wednesday) and so most of the decorations need to be done. Things need to be clean. Spaces for the kid’s supplies have to be ready. Lockers needed labels. And I was pretty sure there were a dozen other things I didn’t know about since I had almost no direction or information.

All the while, I’m thinking, “Am I going to be here for all of this? Do I want to be?”

I got a text in the afternoon saying that I needed to sign my contract. I asked for the contract to be forwarded to me so I could read it first. What an uproar! I was accused of refusing to sign my contract! I went to see the lawyer and she agreed that I could look the contract over. The contract is in Spanish, but she had provided a translation. I could take both copies home. However, if I was going to sign, I should bring back the Spanish one tomorrow. Very reasonable. But half an hour later I was called to go see Maria Rene, the director, about “refusing” to sign my contract. When I went to the office, it was actually Rodrigo who talked to me, since Maria Rene was “so busy.” This was better and easier for me. He’s my coordinator’s boss. So far, he’s appeared diplomatic and reasonable. I don’t have any idea how much actual power he wields, but no one is above Director Maria Rene.

Why had I refused to sign my contract? I explained that I wanted to read the contract before signing it. I had not refused. Then I heard that “trust” word again. Shouldn’t I just trust the school?

No, I should not!

Now, I was done. I took a deep, calming breath. I folded my hands in my lap. I looked him in the eye. I explained that I didn’t feel I could succeed here. I didn’t like being bullied. Promises hadn’t been kept, so my expectation was that this would continue. It took a royal decree just to get simple classroom supplies. Giving me informational meetings in Spanish was a sure way to make sure I didn’t understand and didn’t do my job well. Expecting me to sign a contract I hadn’t read, in a language I only barely knew, was unreasonable. And jerking me around with this on-again-off-again move was the final straw. I was done.

I was a bit proud of myself because I was clear and reasonably calm. I wasn’t eloquent, but you can’t have everything under stress.

He was calm, too. He wanted to know what it would take to get me to stay. It seems people threaten to quit or get fired all the time here. It’s a negotiation tactic. But I didn’t want to negotiate. I was done trying to work through this. I was quitting. I’d tried to do everything asked of me up to that day, but had not gotten the same from the school. He didn’t ask about me staying on until they could find a replacement. I didn’t offer.

But of course, it wasn’t over. Twenty minutes later, I was called to see Maria Rene. She opened by calling me “crazy and unreasonable.” She said at least three times, “What is wrong with you?” She was done with me. She’d treated me “so well” and now I was “insulting” her by saying I was leaving. She also said repeatedly that I needed to “see a psychiatrist.” She called me a “baby.”

I said she was entitled to her opinion. I also resolved, internally, that if she was going to resort to name calling, I wasn’t coming back. Fortunately, I’d anticipated this and had all my materials in my backpack.

Then Maria Rene tried a different tact. I could stay in the apartment with Miguel and she’d move Veronica (another new teacher I’ve not met) in with us to share the rent. Jade could move. I didn’t have to move. There! Everything was OK, right? No. She was not right. I hadn’t come here to negotiate. I’d tried that the day before but she wouldn’t work with me.

She said she didn’t understand. I’d agreed to move and I wanted to move.

What?

No, Jade wants to move. I don’t want to move, but would if she’d put it off until the place was actually ready for occupancy and I had at least another week to organize.

Then she said she hadn’t even met with me the day before.

Really? THAT’s how you’re going to play this? No. We met yesterday. I said I didn’t want to move. You said I had to move. I asked for an additional week and for the place to be finished first. You said no.

She was sure I hadn’t asked for that, but even if I had, I wasn’t being forced to move.

Seriously? How am I supposed to interpret an phrase like, “This is how it’s going to be?”

THEN she said that I HAD to stay teaching at the school until she found another teacher to replace me. I said I didn’t have to stay. I didn’t have a contract. And since I was “crazy and needed a psychiatrist,” I was sure she didn’t want me around the children, anyway. She said she hadn’t meant it. I said she shouldn’t have said it, then.

She insisted several times that I had to stay. I said that I’d come here on good faith. I’d turned down other jobs, paid for a flight here and come when requested. But that the situation wasn’t as I’d been promised. I’d been bullied and lied to and ignored. I was done. If she didn’t keep her promises she couldn’t expect me to.

“I didn’t MAKE any promises to you. I NEVER make promises. That way I can’t be caught in a lie.”

OMG. There’s no response to that. You can’t trust a person who thinks like that. You can’t reason with them. And if you don’t have to, you shouldn’t work for them. I don’t have to. I got up to leave. “I get it. I can’t believe anything you tell me.”

“You can’t leave! I haven’t dismissed you, yet!”

“I don’t work for you anymore. I don’t have to stay.”

“What are you expect from the school?”

“Nothing. I’ve gotten nothing, so I’ve learned to expect nothing.”

“Don’t you want to be paid? Don’t you want your airfare reimbursement? You’ll have to pay Jade, you know.”

“I’ll work it out rent with Jade, but since you don’t pay my rent, that’s not your concern. And you’re not going to reimburse my airfare anyway. Or pay me.” She agreed that I wasn’t going to get any money from her!

“Great! We agree. We have nothing left to discuss.” I walked out of her office while she continued yelling. The reception area was packed and all eyes were on me as I exited the door. I like to think at least a few people were proud of me, but that’s probably projecting.

Went home and drank a couple strong Rum and Cokes to calm my nerves. Then accepted the job in Ibague, Colombia and booked airfare.

How many times have I said, “let’s hope this is a better school?” Too many times, I think. Too many.

When you tell the Universe you are bored and want an adventure, this is what happens. THIS is what an adventure looks like.

2/1/2018 Thursday

The saga at Cambridge College continues and I’m glad to be out of it.

The start date for the first day of classes has now been moved back a week. The official reason is that there are electrical issues. The unofficial reason may have something to do with being short 5 teachers. In addition to David (British guy, who worked here last year and I met briefly as I waited an hour for Marie Rene to see me my first time), two Spanish teachers were here a couple days and said they had “personal reasons” for quitting. I take it I’m the 5th employee to walk out this January alone (or maybe the 6th, accounts vary). One or two teachers who were coming from outside the country have simply stopped communicating with the school. They are much smarter than I am and saved themselves a lot of trouble.

I know it sounds cruel, but I’m relieved to hear other employees are quitting. I was worried that I was the only person to recognize crazy. Or maybe that I was the crazy one. (Still a distinct possibility, however)

And the move to the new condo is entirely up in the air. Again. They want Jade to sign the contract for this apartment (condo Versalles), but move into the new one (Condo Norte). Don’t ask me how anyone has been living in this apartment for two months with no contract. That has never been clear to me, but things ARE done differently here. If she moves under these terms, she’ll be responsible for a living space she doesn’t even have a key to. I suggested that this was an untenable position. In other words: DON’T. The school wants to sign the contract for the new apartment—which will give them a lot more control. (Maria Rene likes control.) Perhaps they should sign the contract for Versalles, too? (Not that anyone’s asked my opinion.) So, someone is probably moving Saturday. Maybe it’s Jade. Maybe it’s Miguel. Or maybe both. Maybe furniture is moving from here to there. Or not. Perhaps, new, additional furniture is/will be on order for one or both of the apartments. Possibly the kitchen items need to sorted and split between the two apartments. Or not. But it’s definitively happening Saturday.

Or not.

Yeah, I’m glad to be out of it.

+++++++++++++++

In all the confusion, I almost forgot to write about the funniest thing that happened since I got here.

It took a few days, but things were beginning to really gel with my assistant, Alessandra. She’s got great ideas for decorating and has given me a lot of “insider” information. She’s probably at an upper-intermediate level of English, so she can communicate well on school related subjects, but may not know much slang. Or four-letter-words.

Monday, she turned to me and asked, “What does ‘f@cking’ mean?”

I could not stop from laughing, but I told her.

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Yesterday I contacted some tour companies, asking about booking a day tour of the city of Santa Cruz either today (Thursday) or Friday. Turns out it’s raining and they “don’t work in the rain.”

This is just never going to be a country in my top 10.

2/2/2018 Friday

Guess what? With all the rain, the workers didn’t show up to finish the new condo. The move has been put off. This time they’ve decided to wait until it’s actually complete before they move anyone in. What a great idea Let’s see: The move can’t happen because it was rushed. The school is opening (at least) a week late. They are short teachers and remodeling simply isn’t ready. This is lack of planning! The director can’t just order things at the last minute and think they will happen.

Oh, and the rain really is serious here. It rained all day yesterday, often coming down in sheets. The streets were flooded, some more than knee deep. the downstairs bathroom has a foot of water. No wonder the tour company didn’t work.

Meanwhile, I’ve been packing. I bought a few things for the kitchen, but will have to leave them all behind. I’ve got some serious restrictions on suitcase weight and the airline didn’t get back with me about booking a second carry on bag. It’s not looking good.

2/3/2018 Saturday

Last day in Bolivia. I repacked everything. I have three flights overnight to get to my destination and each may or may not allow a second checked bag. I have to wait until boarding each flight to be sure. AND each will charge me for the second checked bag. Too risky. Too pricey. I investigated shipping my second bag, but the cost would be more than the items are worth (and I’ve not had great luck with shipping outside the US, anyway).

So I divested myself of enough possessions to only have a single, 20kg (44 pounds), one carry on (6kg) and a day pack (with my electronics) as my personal item. I’m gonna miss my ukulele, though.

By almost anyone’s standards, I’m traveling light.

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A walk around the neighborhood

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This is the front entrance to my gated community here in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. It’s quite secure with walls, guards, a pool, a gym (that seems to be locked so no one can go in) and groundskeepers. Based on conversations, this is how people live if they have money. I find it interesting that the condo rental price and even my salary is in US dollars, though people pay in Bolivianos. Some contracts are re-written annually, not so much to change the terms of the contract but to change the agreed upon exchange rate. The reason is that the amount seems less in dollars. This must be very confusing for folks who come from other countries.
The rent for my room in the shared apartment is $190US (1,344Bs), plus my third of the utilities, which comes to less than $50US. Of course, my salary is only $1,200US (minus taxes, it probably comes to about $1,100).
Of course, at this rate, I won’t last to my first paycheck.

These photos are from Sunday, January 28th. It was quite hot, but I took the opportunity to walk around a bit since it wasn’t raining. Didn’t get too far, though, because I had clothes drying on the line outside. You can see the ominous clouds in some photos.

Just outside the gate of the condominium community (called an urbanización, here), is a small market. It’s got more than your average convenience store back home, and the prices are higher than at a supermarket. It’s very convenient, though. The store is two floors. The third floor seems to be living quarters which can be accessed through the condo or outside.

I was feeling pretty depressed when I took these photos. It had occurred to me just how disorganized and dictatorial the school was. I still didn’t have all my textbooks. I’d just found out that the parents were coming for three days this week and we’d be required to check in each student and their TWO PAGES of supplies, all of which I’d have to mark with the student’s name and make room to store. Surprise! I had requested simple classroom supplies three times and hadn’t gotten them. It was taking an act of congress to get an eraser! I needed to write lesson plans, but couldn’t get a format or even a sample of a previous lesson plan from my coordinator. I was very worried about what I was missing from the meetings that I was forced to attend, but couldn’t understand because they were in Spanish. And it didn’t help that the time of these meetings was constantly being changed and started late. (The 11am meeting with the school psychologist last week started 48 minutes late, with no explanation or excuse. Not only were all the teachers forced to sit and wait for her, but she didn’t get to my students issues until last, at 1:15pm. My shift ended at 1p.) The wifi at the school is almost nonexistent, though communications are all by email or WhatsApp (which takes phone data that I have to pay for). You have to download and send everything from home, after school hours.

Outside the walls of the condo, it’s rural. This road is paved, but not all in my area are. The photo doesn’t show it, but there’s three strands of electric fence and some small spikes on the walls surrounding the condo compound. This road has flooded at least twice during my short duration. It’s the height of summer and the rainy season, so it rains almost every day. Most days, the sun comes out for a couple hours, mid-day, enough time to make sure it’s always with a relative humidity of 100%. The temperature is in the upper 80’sF (about 30C) most afternoons.

Though frustrating, I felt I could deal with the disorganization. Working under a bully was another story.

With all the rain, deep drainage ditches are necessary. Without them, roads flood. This one is along one side of the condo (you can see the back of the beige market building on the right). During heavy rains, the road still floods, though.

Monday, I tried to talk to the director. The one thing that’s gone well with the move to Bolivia is the apartment and the roommates. Now, I’m being told that I have no choice but to move. I’m getting the information second and third hand, since communications are all coming to Jade, not me. The word is that I have to move the weekend before classes start. That timing is terrible!

I HATE being forced to move with no reason, no discussion, no direct communication and no concern for my needs. It would be different if the school was paying for housing, but they aren’t.

With the rain and heat, the flowers are really beautiful.
And there are a lot of insects, too. I like the butterflies. The cockroaches are not so welcome, but just as large.

So Monday, I tried to get straight answers and more reasonable timing. Silly me for thinking that was even a possibility! Maria Rene, the director and owner, called me to her office. Before I could voice any concerns, she said I was “negative” and needed to “trust” her. I was a “problem” here at the school because I couldn’t just trust that they would take care of me. It was all going to be OK, she said. Just trust in her and trust in the school.

I tried to say that I judged her and the school based on my experience, which had told me that trust was not the right response. “Best indication of future performance is past performance.” I don’t think she heard me. I tried to tell her that forcing me to move the weekend before classes started was unnecessarily disruptive, particularly when I didn’t want to move. It was bad for the students, the school and me. Besides, the owner had said things wouldn’t be ready for two weeks or more. I’d just seen the place. The kitchen and many of the walls weren’t ready. There were no appliances. No one had checked to see if the A/C worked. There was no furniture. Why force a move in one week, when things weren’t complete? Couldn’t we put the move off one week so that things were ready and better planning for furniture and utilities could be arranged? She pretended I’d not even spoken. She kept talking about how wonderful the new apartment was. She said she’d call the owner and force her to make everything right on time. She didn’t care what I thought.

Then she took my hands, looked me in the eyes and said that the move would be “no problem at all.” It would “only take one hour” and I wouldn’t have to do a thing. I wouldn’t even have to touch my belongings.

Bullshit. “We both know that’s not true.”

“It is! Trust me!”

Why argue with delusional people?

This is the road to the school from the condo. We call this Jurassic Park Road. No idea what it’s really called as it doesn’t seem to have a name. It washes out frequently. It’s recently had all the ruts filled, so this is GOOD condition.
At the top of this hill is the school. This road is mostly sand and broken pieces of brick. I don’t think I’d attempt this on a rainy day without a tractor. I bet tires don’t last long here. Or shocks. Or transmissions.
This is the entrance to the new condo that I’m being told I “have” to move to. Honestly, the place is nice, or it will be if it gets finished. It’s also slightly closer to the school. But it’s farther from the market and I lose the pool, so it’s not that much of an improvement. It’s just a disruption at a terrible time. But the move seems less solid by the hour. As of Tuesday morning this week, I might move, Jade might move OR Miguel might move. Or all of us. Or some combination of us. But its going to happen on Saturday. Or not. And none of us has a choice of where we go or the timing. The information changes a couple times a day, so there’s no way to plan. And the information isn’t even coming to me, it’s all being filtered through Jade. Since the school isn’t PAYING our rent, this seems unreasonable. It’s just one more way that the school makes it impossible for their employees to excel.

How can I possibly do well here?

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