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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.