I’m allergic to bullies

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.

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

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.

A walk around the neighborhood

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?

Santa Cruz Viejo

This statue is one of the symbols of Santa Cruz. It’s called Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer).

Today Jade took me to the old center of the city, Santa Cruz Viejo–Old Santa Cruz. We try to do an excursion each day since we aren’t working yet and get some shopping/chores done, too. Today, we got a problem with my phone fixed (fingers crossed) and Jade got new glasses. We also walked the Plaza 24 de Septiembre, the center of the old town.

Located in the center of the “Casco Viejo” (old sector of the city), the Plaza 24 de Septiembre received its name in honor of the anniversary of the uprising that led to Santa Cruz´s independence from Spain. In the center of the plaza stands the statue of Ignacio Warnes, a local hero of the Independence War initiated in 1810.
The plaza was still decorated for Christmas.
Bordering the Plaza 24 de Septiembre is the Cathedral, el Club Social, the Municipal Cultural Center, and other buildings that maintain their colonial architecture and are considered part of the “historic patrimony” of Santa Cruz, a phrase that means cultural heritage. There’s not many old Spanish buildings left, however. Most were torn down before preserving the cultural heritage became important.
Cathedral Basilica of St. Lawrence. It’s possible to go to the top of one of the towers, but I wimped out. The humidity is 100% and temps were above 85F on this sunny afternoon. I’m getting lazy in my old age! Santa Cruz de la Sierra Cathedral, is the main Catholic church in the city.

I’ve found some day tours I want to take of the Santa Cruz area, but all are private tours. The price is the same for 1 person as for 5. There are some new teachers starting this year that I’ve not met yet. I’ll see if any of them want to split the cost of some tours. I’m particularly interested in the half-day, city tour to start with. Since we don’t work weekends, we can probably go on Saturdays. There are a couple of jungle/wildlife refuges in the area and there’s a tour of the Jesuit missions I’m interested in, too. Teachers report to the school next week, so I hope to meet some new friends.

Jade took me to a really great vegetarian restaurant. The food was great and prices reasonable. I ordered the Achojcha rellena (a stuffed vine fruit, similar to a gourd, common to the area). The cost was 22Bs (Bolivianos. Roughly 7Bs = 1US Dollar)
Here’s my meal. At the top is the Achojcha relleno. It’s stuffed with vegetables and tofu. Going clockwise: steamed broccoli; a tomato slice with mayo on top of shredded beets, lettuce & radish; steamed green beans and shredded carrots topped with sprouts; quinoa with veggies; and steamed squash (similar to pumpkin).
The drink is acerola juice. It tastes like a sweet and tart carrot juice. Tasty and very healthy.
More info on Achojcha
More info on Acerola
Another square in the downtown. This one has an artisans’ market on Sundays.
This is in my apartment. There’s been a LOT of rain. It’s a bad design for the condos, but the half-bath is located below street level and floods when rains are heavy. There was easily a foot of standing water for 2 days. All the two-story, floor plans in this condo association are the same, so I suspect everyone had the same issue. This room has flooded twice since I arrived a week ago. Based on the smell of the water, I’m never using that bathroom.