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?


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

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