I’ve made it to Arequipa!

That’s a volcano in the background–Misti.
The climate of Arequipa is predominantly dry in winter, autumn and spring with a climate of a cool desert. There are sweaters and moisturizer in my future. Arequipa has 300 days of sunshine a year on average, but temperatures do not exceed 25 °C (77 °F) and rarely drop below 5 °C (41 °F). The wet season lasts from December to March, marked by clouds in the afternoon and low rainfall. It is now the end of winter. Winter is June and July in Peru. Remember this is the opposite side of the earth, so the seasons are reversed. The weather now is a little cooler and the low temperature drops to an average of 6 °C (43 °F). The average relative humidity is only 46% and can drop to 20%.

July 26th, 2017

I arrived in Arequipa this morning, but it was such a bad trip here, that I didn’t get much done today except find my new digs, unpack and catch up on sleep.

As with most long distance, cheap travel—it was frankly horrible getting here. All in all, it was about 27 hours, 3 flights, delays, and long lay overs–including overnight in the Lima Airport. It’s official. I’m now too old to try to sleep on the floor of an airport. My suitcase is completely trashed and a few small items are “missing.” The most important ones are my Imodium (I never travel without it) AND I’ve lost both my professional yo-yos! But at least I’m in one piece, if cranky and sore. Short Version: NEVER fly with Spirit Airlines. Never.

The school says they sent someone to pick me up at the airport, but no one was there. After the entire arrivals area cleared out, I gave up waiting. I hired a taxi (20 Peruvian soles, about $7US) and found my way to my boarding house. Luckily, Trista (Leo’s American girlfriend) was there to let me in. If she hadn’t been, I don’t know what I would have done. I didn’t have phone service or internet. I didn’t know where the school was and couldn’t go hunting with all my luggage in tow.

I started my mountain climbing exercises immediately–My room is on the 5th floor. That’s 10 flights of stairs. No, of course there isn’t an elevator. The room is pretty spartan, but at least it has a private bath for a change and a respectable number of electrical plug ins (all on the European system).  I have a lovely, shared balcony and a messy kitchen-in-progress–basically, there’s a sink. I’ll be using the one on the 4th floor until the one on the 5th is finished. IF I can ever figure out how to open the door.

I’ve got an 11am teachers meeting at the school tomorrow and orientation August 1. That’s assuming I can find the school tomorrow. (Why does no one ever give you a map?) I’ll try to get a new SIM card and phone number in the meantime. And I’m going to check out the downtown, walking distance from here.

Left side view from the balcony. That overpass blocks the view of Misti Volcano. It was built about five years ago and sort of ruins the view.
I’m in a small “urbanization” unit called Paisajista Chilina. It’s really a gated community, though it looks fairly easy to get into without the one guard noticing. Gated communities seem fairly common and most homes have either large fences or at the very least bars on ground floor windows and doors.
Center view from the 5th floor balcony. Just left of center in the photo is a small, colorful building, green and yellow, with a corner store (tienda) on the ground floor. The owners were very kind and patient, but didn’t understand my Spanish at all. I did a lot of pointing to buy things.
View from the right side of my balcony–fifth floor. At the moment, I’m the only one living on this floor, but there are three other rooms available.

My initial impression of the city is that it’s very dry, fairly poor, and that Peruvian Spanish sounds completely different to me from Mexican Spanish. AAAhhhhgggg! How will I ever learn this language?

This is my shower. There’s no central hot water heater–for example, sinks only give cold water. So that contraption embedded in the shower head (with a few electrical wires showing) is an on demand heater. The switch is to the left–which you have to turn on while standing in the shower. Unfortunately, it seems that when the water heater is on ONLY hot water comes out. I run the risk of both being burned and electrocuted. Yes, my life is always interesting.

July 27th, 2017

I’ve managed to meet Juanita and her boyfriend Santiago here at the boarding house. I guess Peruvian men must be something special because the only two women I’ve met here so far are young Americans who have fallen for Peruvian men. Both are extending their stay here in country. Unfortunately, Juanita and Santi are moving out in a few days. Also, as they move out, the stove and refrigerator on the fourth floor are to be moved to the fifth-floor balcony. I hope the few kitchen appliances, plates, cups, flatware, pots and pans will also be moved. I’m fairly certain that there will be at least a few days with no kitchen, however. Not excited about this as it’s clear from everyone that Leo, the owner, doesn’t get things done as quickly as promised. Even with a kitchen, it’s not going to be much to cook with. Only one burner works on the stove. The oven works, but never comes to a high temperature. There’s no microwave. But there is a coffee pot, electric kettle and a wine opener.

This is the front of the main branch of the school. There’s a second branch, but it seems to be very close by.

I’ve found the small neighborhood grocery and managed to buy a few things, but our Spanish isn’t compatible. Apparently, my Mexican accent is so strong they don’t understand what I was saying. I asked for tuna with no luck (Tienes atun? Pescado en lata? Do you have tuna? Fish in a can?). Similarly, with eggs (Puedo tener un doce huevos? Can I have 12 eggs?). I finally pointed to them, but they asked if I wanted ten, and I just agreed. I don’t remember the word for toilet paper, so I just said papel de bano five times until they got it. I believe the only words they understood in under three attempts were “coffee” and “all” (café y todos). This is going to be difficult.

It’s very dry here, sunny but cool. Overnight I added a third blanket to my bed. My room is on the top floor and exposed to the elements, so very cold at night. I’m lucky we are moving into summer here and not winter.

Arequipa is the capital and largest city of the Arequipa Region. It is Peru’s second most populous city with 861,145 inhabitants, as well as its second most populous metropolitan area as of 2016 (after Lima). It was even briefly the capital city of Peru from 1835 to 1883.

With Juanita’s help, I found the main branch of the school and met Lillian and Emma, who seem to run things. I then sat through the monthly teacher’s meeting. The very fact that they have a teacher’s meeting tells me I’m in a better school than I’ve been in before. Teachers were recognized for things they did well, new teachers were introduced. They even have a Teacher of the Month. There was actually a short, understandable teacher training session. This bodes well. There’s an orientation for new teachers on Tuesday, August 1 at 9am and classes begin on Wednesday. I should even know my class schedule later today and I have on line access to the books. Naturally, the teacher I liked the best, Ben, is leaving next month. Isn’t that always the way?

Along one side of the street from my apartment to the school, is a long, narrow park. It has lots of benches and statues. The city is built in “steps” since this is a mountainous area. To the right side of this park, the ground drops to another step–a country club called the International Club. It has tennis courts and lots of activities, but I’m not rich enough to become a member.
I’m actually living in the neighborhood of Yanahuara , located 2 kilometres (1 mile) from the city center. It is supposedly famous for its churches built in Andalusian style alleys.

With Juanita’s instructions, I found the Metro Store—Two floors, half grocery and half household items. I bought several things I need (pretty much all I could carry) and am set for the next few days. I also found a store that should have been able to help me with phone service. I asked for a SIM card (tarjeta de SIM de telefono), but they said they couldn’t do it until Monday (No hoy. Lunes. Not today. Monday.). I suppose they are out of SIM cards? Or they don’t want to work with a gringa?

It took me until almost 3p to make it back to the boarding house with my purchases and climb the formidable stairs with my numerous bags. I’d planned to go out again, but find I’m still very tired. Not sure if it’s the travel or the slightly higher altitude. Maybe I’ll check out downtown tomorrow.

…And the park even had lamas grazing in it. Maybe that’s done instead of mowing? Coming into town from the airport, my taxi was stopped by a small herd of sheep and again by three cows and a mule crossing the street.

A Spanish Christmas bonus!

The three kings

I’ve had a three week break from teaching classes and have focused most of the time on improving my Spanish. New classes start next week and I hope my time has been well spent. Yesterday, I got this email from Synergy Spanish, one of the programs I’m using to learn both the language and the culture. I thought you might enjoy an excerpt from it:

Continue reading “A Spanish Christmas bonus!” »

What does it take to be functional in a language?

that's the adventureThere’s a classic language joke that I share with my upper level English students.

What do you call someone who speaks three languages?  Answer: Tri-lingual.

What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Answer: Bi-lingual.

What do you call someone who speaks just one language?

                 Answer: a US American.

As a rule, Americans speak English, only, and are often very poor at grammar.

Full disclosure: I did take a language in school: Latin. It’s helped me with grammar and root words, but not with speaking. I wish I’d learned languages when I was younger, when it was easier for my brain to wrap around new vocabulary and my tongue to easily twist to new sounds. But I’m not going to learn any younger.

Mexico is my 5th consecutive foreign country to take up residence in (for those who are counting, there’s Vietnam, Turkey, Spain and Russia). In each, I’ve made an attempt (relative to my length of stay) to learn the language. In most countries I’ve taught English as a way to support myself. Spanish, however, is the first language I’ve set a real goal to become functional in. Notice I didn’t say fluent. That’s too much for me to imagine right now. I can envision learning the language well enough to function on a day-to-day basis.

So here’s what I’ve learned: It’s pretty amazing what you can do with just 55 words in a language. Honest. I start with 30 nouns (choose things you use every day. I start with food words & objects I use at work), 5 adjectives (pretty, happy, good, bad, sad), 5 verbs in simple present tense (want, need, say, walk, do), 4 adverbs (more, slowly, fast, not) and, MOST IMPORTANT, a handful of polite words (please, thanks, hello, goodbye, I’m sorry, excuse me.). You can get by in simple transactions like buying groceries or just walking around. Obviously, you will do a lot of pantomime and pointing. You’ll certainly look pretty silly most of the time. Get over yourself. You’ll still have to order food off a picture menu or point at street food, but you won’t starve. You’ll almost certainly be clueless as to what people are saying around you. Yes, they could be saying that you’re a stupid foreigner. You are. Get over that, too.

The next words to know are some simple phrases like, “I don’t speak very well.” “Please speak slowly.” “I don’t understand.” “I don’t know.” “What is that?” “How much does this cost?” and “Where is the bathroom/store/bank/pharmacy/hospital/post office?” PRACTICE THESE UNTIL THEY FALL OFF YOUR TONGUE EASILY. You will use them a lot.

But it gets better quickly. If you can learn the sentences above and double your vocabulary to just 100 words, you can now probably order in a restaurant without pictures, buy easy access items in a store, and ask very simple directions. And whether you realize it or not, you’ve been introduced to the structure of the grammar. Look at the sentences you memorized. Is the verb in the middle (like Spanish) or at the end (like Turkish). Does the structure of a sentence change when you ask a question (like English) or can you just add a question mark (like Spanish). At the end of a sentence, does your voice go up (like Turkish, English or Spanish) or would that change the word (as in tonal languages like Vietnamese)? Do the adjectives come before the noun (like Spanish) or after (like English). Are the words pronounced as they are spelled (which is true in most languages) or not (English). You’re learning, even though you may not know it.

I believe that if you can stick with it and up your total vocabulary to 1000 of the right words, you can be functional. Those words need to include simple present and simple past verbs, time words (today, tomorrow, next week, yesterday, year..), plus you’ll need to know numbers, days of the week, months of the year and direction words (left, right and straight). You’ll need the question words (who, what, when, where, why, how) and pronouns (he, she, it, we, they, you, this, that). With these words, you can function. You probably can’t negotiate a better home loan, discuss the finer points of poetry or defend yourself in court, but you can do most everyday things. With just 1000 words you can go about your business with little difficulty.

So that’s my current goal in Spanish: to be functional. It would be nice to be fluent, but I just can’t see that far yet. I hope, if I work hard enough, that I can be functional at the end of a year here. I take two classes a week and sit in on two classes that are a level above me. I’m a third of the way through a beginner’s book. There are three books and I expect to complete them in that time. I am also working through DuoLingo’s website, though at a very slow pace. I practice on my students and in the street daily.

And it’s working, though slowly. Every week, I can understand more of what my Spanish speaking students and co-workers say. Every day, I learn new words. With each conversation, I can remember one or two new words that I need to use to better communicate. It’s slow. It’s tough, but I’m learning.

I’m sure my life looks messy and disorganized from the outside. It is certainly less stable and predictable than when I had a condo and a cubical job. But I do have goals and a bit of a plan. Just a bit.

Learning Spanish, eating Mexican

Breakfast started with a gordita. No, this isn't Taco Bell. This is two corn tortillas filled with one of a dozen choices. This one is nopales, a type of cactus,
Breakfast started with a gordita. No, this isn’t Taco Bell, folks! This is two corn tortillas stuffed with one of a dozen choices of fillings. This one is stuffed with nopales, a type of cactus,

8/10/2016

Two great things that happened today:

1). Even with the light pollution of the city, I saw a falling star! It’s the Perseids meteor shower and this is supposed to be the best one for a decade. Tomorrow night is the height of the shower.

2). I realized I could understand most of the Spanish lyrics of a song playing on the radio of a car that was stopped at the light as I walked past. Progress!

This is one of the restaurants I'm trying this week. It's sort of upscale for a breakfast place--not the "comida económica" of my neighborhood. Here, a breakfast comes with coffee, usually for about 50 pesos ($2.75US). The name is a tad unfortunate, but they serve fresh fruit drinks.
This is one of the restaurants I’m trying this week. It’s sort of upscale for a breakfast place–not the “comida económica” of my neighborhood. Here, a breakfast comes with coffee, usually for about 50 pesos ($2.75US). The name is a tad unfortunate, but they serve fresh fruit drinks.
And here are the specials at Fruty Fiesta! Desayunos--breakfasts Huevos al Gusto (eggs the way you want them) Jamon--ham; Chorizo--a typical Mexican sausage; a la mexicana--Mexican omelet; Salcicha--a sausage I've not tried yet; Rancheros--Ranch style. Chilaquiles--fried tortilla strips typically topped with a spicy tomato sauce and cheese. Cafe--coffee Comida Corrida--fast food Sopa del Dia--soup of the day Arroz--rice Milanesa de Res--a beef cutlet, Milanese style Milaneza de pollo--same as above, with chicken Guisando del Dia--stew of the day Vaso de agua fresca--a glass of one of the various fresh fruit smoothies/juices.
And here are the specials at Fruty Fiesta!
Desayunos–breakfasts
Huevos al Gusto (eggs the way you like them)
Jamon–ham; Chorizo–a typical Mexican sausage; a la mexicana–Mexican omelet; Salcicha–a sausage I’ve not tried yet; Rancheros–Ranch style.
Chilaquiles–fried tortilla strips typically topped with a spicy tomato sauce and cheese.
Cafe–coffee
Comida Corrida–fast food
Sopa del Dia–soup of the day
Arroz–rice
Milanesa de Res–a beef cutlet, Milanese style
Milaneza de pollo–same as above, with chicken
Guisando del Dia–stew of the day
Vaso de agua fresca–a glass of one of the various fresh fruit smoothies/juices.
Breakfast! (Desayuno!). Cafe con leche (coffee with milk), salsa verde (green sauce), frijoles con queso (refried beans with cheese), and huevos a la mexicana (eggs in the Mexican style--notice the red tomatoes, green chiles and white cheese. It's the colors of the Mexican flag). On the right side of my plate is the remains of the gordita. The meal is served with a cloth covered container of hot corn tortillas, which you can just see on the right edge of the photo.
Breakfast! (Desayuno!). Cafe con leche (coffee with milk), salsa verde (green sauce), frijoles con queso (refried beans with cheese), and huevos a la mexicana (eggs in the Mexican style–notice the red tomatoes, green chiles and white cheese, the colors of the Mexican flag). On the right side of my plate is the remains of the gordita. The meal is served with a cloth covered container of hot corn tortillas, which you can just see on the right edge of the photo.
Notice the bowls of different items? Most restaurants have a kitchen in the back, but bowls of different tortilla or torta (sandwich) fillings in the front.
This is at the front of the restaurant. Notice the bowls of different items? Most restaurants have a kitchen in the back, but bowls of different tortilla or torta (sandwich) fillings in the front.
This is how the gorditas are made, right in the front of the restaurant. Earlier, she was heating baskets of fresh corn tortillas for each table.
This is how the gorditas are made, right in the front of the restaurant. Earlier, she was heating baskets of fresh corn tortillas for each table.

8/11/2016

I’ve gotten into a routine here in Mexico. I wake up about 8am, check and answer emails and social media while drinking my first cup of coffee. I’ve got a hot pot in my room, which I bought here, and a filtering water pitcher that I brought from Russia. Maybe I have a second cup of coffee while doing 2 quizzes on DuoLingo. Then I stretch and do some abdominal exercises—nothing fancy. It’s a 15 minute routine. I grab breakfast in the kitchen—usually something simple that requires little or no cooking, but I try to include protein.

Then I study from my Spanish notebook and text and prepare for my first two classes—trying not to spend too much time at it. I stick to the school’s materials and only add something if I really need to.

After that, I’m free to do my daily chores, explore the city, work on my blog, stream Netflix or go for a walk. At 3pm I got to Spanish class. My Spanish classes are now only 2 days a week (not happy about the change since it was originally 5 days a week), on Mondays and Wednesdays. However, I sit in on Orlando’s classes on Tuesday and Thursday. He’s a full level ahead of me. I don’t get everything, of course, but I try to get the broad strokes of the grammar, and focus on new vocabulary and listening.

At 4p I teach my first two classes—Levels 23 and 8. I prepare for the second set of classes—Levels 16 and 11–during my one hour evening break. If I have time, I review Spanish vocabulary again. Classes are over at 9pm, and I take the bus just over half of the 2 mile walk home.

My schedule may be completely different in the next 4-week session.

I walked by this several times before I went in. To me, gaspachos is a cold Spanish soup. Not in Mexico! Here it's a mixed fruit and vegetable cup, with candy or dried fruit toppings, a spicy sauce.
I walked by this place several times before I went in. To me, gaspachos is a cold Spanish soup. Not in Mexico! Here it’s a mixed fruit and vegetable cup, with candy or dried fruit toppings, and a spicy sauce.
I had the small (vaso chico--child's glass). 30 pesos is about $1.65US. It was actually a huge amount. I've seriously never seen anyone pack down fruit and vegetables like this woman did--well worth the price.
I had the small (vaso chico–child’s glass). 30 pesos is about $1.65US. It was actually a huge amount. I’ve seriously never seen anyone pack down fruit and vegetables like this woman did–well worth the price.
This is the gaspachos--apple, green melon, watermelon, cucumber, shredded carrot, mango, jicama, pineapple and probably more that I forgot. I topped it with a few gunny bears (my guilty pleasure), a ball of tamarind, and some dried cherries. Then they pour a sweet pepper sauce on top and sprinkle a few chili flakes. It was a whole meal. Tasty.
This is the gaspachos–apple, green melon, watermelon, cucumber, shredded carrot, mango, jicama, pineapple and probably more that I forgot. I topped it with a few gummy bears (my guilty pleasure), a ball of tamarind, and some dried cherries. Then they pour a sweet pepper sauce on top and sprinkle with a few chili flakes. It was a whole meal. Tasty, but a mess to eat.

I’ve mostly figured out the routine here at the flat so that I can get a shower when there’s hot water. I’m simply not cooking much in the kitchen and if I can find paper plates (not Styrofoam) I’ll use those instead of pre-washing my dishes before use. I don’t cook much—mostly warm up ready-made enchiladas or cook an omelet. The couple in room #2, next to mine, moved out, so I “borrowed” a set of sheets (they had at least four), a chair (I left one chair and a desk) and a wastebasket from their room to use in mine. That will save me some money, since I didn’t want to invest in a temporary room.  No luck finding another place to live, though. I’ve asked around and heard a few promises, but nothing has come of it. I’m making myself comfortable here for as long as needed, but without spending much money on the situation. Payday is Monday for the first half of the month. I’ll need all of it to make the rent.

Among my chores today was sending my mother’s birthday present. Mexican mail service leaves something to be desired, so I tried to send it FedEx through Office Depot. Their sign indicates they have this service. Except they don’t. They will have a different international shipping service in 2 or 3 weeks (Translation: probably before the end of the year.) A nice man at the store gave me directions to another shipper. First he said to walk two blocks (which turned out to be 5 blocks. This happens so often that I always as for the street name, “Cual calle?”) and make a right. I had to open the package to prove to the woman behind the counter that I wasn’t shipping something illegal. The whole thing, with walking and going to two places, took 2 hours. But the good news is that I was able to do the transaction mostly in Spanish and only had to resort to Google Translate a couple times.

Every day I get an opportunity to practice my Spanish. Tonight, I took the bus coming home from class. An older man sat down beside me. He looked to be a farmer who had spent many hours in the sun. One arm wasn’t working and he had a crutch. He began talking to me and I told him, in Spanish, that I only spoke a little Spanish, that I spoke English. He was undeterred. I had an awful time understanding him—partly because of my poor skills with the language and partly because he had only two or three teeth, so his pronunciation was poor. I had to say several times, “Lo siento. No entiendo.” (I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”) Eventually, I understood he was asking if I lived in the center of the city. “No, vivo antes del Centro” (“No, I live before the center” meaning I would get off the bus before we got to the center city neighborhood). Then I heard the question, “Casada?” (Married?) Oh dear! I just learned that word this week and here it is! Well, I figured I could out run him if there was a problem, so I answered honestly. “No estoy casada.” I was so glad when my bus stop arrived.

Also, I found this YouTube video about Gapachos in Mexico. Enjoy

Stupid foreigners, unite

I am trying to learn Spanish. I am not doing so well, but as I tell my students, learning a language is a series of failures. If you don’t make a mistake, you are simply not trying hard enough. Clearly, I’m trying.

I was trying to ask my students the question, “When is your birthday?” (¿Cuando es tu cumpleaños?) But my pronunciation isn’t very good. Instead of “año,” the  Spanish word for year, I said “ano” which is a completely different word.

Go ahead. Look it up on Google Translate. I’ll wait.

Is this not proof that I’m trying really hard? Even if I’m failing monumentally?