Sunday, August 29, 2004


Busy Days

I've had a busy few days of it. There was a big teacher's conference on Thursday and Friday, which kicked off with some dangerously delicious cocktails on Wednesday evening - a jolly good gossipy time was had by all. I personally only opened my mouth to change feet, but that is only to be expected after a few buckets of Algarrobina (v. yummy drink made with Carob syrup). I turned up the standard (obligatory?) one hour late on Thursday morning with a seriously fuzzy head, only to find the hour and a half opening speech was to be given entirely in Spanish by a fat American woman who appeared to have done no preparation whatsoever for the event. We also received a skeleton itinerary of the conference. Nevertheless, in typical Peruvian organisational standards mode, no-one seemed to have much idea as to what was happening at any given time, until it actually happened. Frankly, the whole conference passed in bit of a blur, except for the more enjoyable breaks/skiving/lunches. The food was excellent, particularly the lunch buffet (rice with duck, tender goat, shrimp, black clams, five kinds of dessert) at the Gran Hotel. However, one would have thought the conference content, not the food, to be of major importance. Not so. I was shocked and disappointed at the quality of some of the presentations, considering these people had been flown in specially. Presenters - please note: colourful projected Powerpoint text chunks and moving clip art do NOT equal a dynamic presentation. You fail - try harder! Equally baffling to my brain is: why is that people feel the need to lecture audiences in an unbelievably boring display of self-indulgent, teacher-centred teaching - the very thing we are trying to avoid. It's always the same... in the past I have attended other sessions about, say, making your classes more student-centred, for example, where the presenter (teacher) drones on at the audience (students) about the topic methodolgy without any attempt to give real, usable demonstrations. Anyway, we got through it. The closing dinner on Friday evening was held at the Jockey Club. We were quite excited, and donned evening wear suitable for the presumably swanky event, at which the American Ambassador to Peru was present. Unfortunately, they failed to tell us it would be held OUTSIDE! It was frickin' freezing - the plated chicken meals were clap cold before they even reached the tables. We shivered through the Ambassador's speech, gulped down some medicinal whiskey, and watched some dance displays before hastily heading out to find a warmer venue. It was a shame, we'd have liked to have stayed. Hoodies and trainers were added to outfits, and then we went out to a couple bars. It was fun. Then, last night (Saturday) we went to a bar/disco 'Samba' for Heidi's good-bye party and Monica's welcome party. I'm knackered today. I'd better pull myself together, I've just been informed of another conference I have to attend on Monday morning!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004


On Telly

Uh-oh. I'm on telly. I haven't seen the ad yet, but people assure me I am first up, in blazing gringa technicolour. I'm not overly bothered about the ad, I am just concerned about the possible repercussion of random people in the street thinking that they know me because they recognise my face. That's the last thing I need. Can't help but be glad I nipped to the loo to put on a spot of lippy before I was filmed, though!

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


Tico Trauma

Am on a bit of a high at the moment... you know the kind when you walk down the street grinning like the Cheshire cat... I just took a 'colectivo' taxi into town by myself for the first time. I always have a real fear of public transportation when abroad, and Peru has the dodgiest transportation system I have seen outside India. I can't help but think I am going to end up somewhere I do not wish to be - or worse - do not recognise. Also, the 'colectivos' of Chiclayo are really not luxury transportation. Here is the procedure for catching one:

1) Walk out to the main road, stand anywhere along it that you like.
2) White vans, enormous old rusty Dodges, and small Japanese made cars called 'Ticos' will sail past bawling their destinations out the window and wildly gesticulating.
3) If one is going to your destination, flag it down and hop in (easier said than done - they are pretty stuffed).
4) Feverently hope the man crushing in next to you in the tiny front seat of the Tico will not touch your bum (much).
5) Tell the driver when you want to get out (all the colectivos follow a basic route).
6) Give the driver 50 centimos (7 pence) and jump out, risking life and limb, at a major intersection downtown.

Monday, August 23, 2004


Let's Not And Say We Did

I am in Ecuador this weekend. It's funny, because it feels just like I haven't left Chiclayo at all. Hmm... hang about, it seems I haven't actually left Chiclayo. My passport has though, it's gone gadding off to steamy Ecuador all on it's lonesome. It's being illegally processed so that I can receive the entry visa that allows me 90 more days in Peru, with a further possibility of three more 30 day renewals, and all this for a bargain bribe of $40! Had a sudden flash of worry then, thinking that someone reading this might inform the immigration officials about my little ploy. But then I realised that of course they are the ones who are doing the said deed, and thus presumably already know. Those trusty folks down at immigration also blatantly know that I am working here without a permit, but they couldn't give a rat's ass. It's Peru, baby!

Friday, August 20, 2004


Jose Pablo

I can hardly dare to believe it. It seems too good to be true... but it appears that I have, at last, vanquished the dreaded mortal enemy. Jose Pablo, the nightmare pubescent student, has been subdued by my superior classroom discipline and teaching methods. Har har! For weeks, he giggled and shrieked like a little girl at the back of the classroom. He corrupted and disturbed those around him, threw papers on the floor, and was totally unable to control his flow of verbal diarrhea. I even had to kick him out of last month's exam, as he couldn't shut up. Moving him, shouting at him, giving him the Chinese burn, nothing seemed to work. His previous teacher, John, the Academic Director ( a large, bearded, American man) assured me that Jose Pablo had been exactly the same for him. I really was at the end of my tether, and didn't want to completely flip out (another teacher reported that John, a normally placid man, had one day screamed: "Jesus F**cking Christ! Will you just SHUT UP!" at him), so I needed a solution fast. I rehearsed a cutting Spanish chastisement at home. Then, I went into the classroom with a strict no B.S. attitude. I told him in no uncertain terms that his behaviour was totally unacceptable, moved him to a segregated seat at the front of the room and gave him a 'three strikes, you're out the door' policy. Now he is (almost) like a different student. Sure, he is still very, very irritating, but I no longer worry for my blood pressure. I have discovered that he simply craves attention at all times, and being seated at the front he now gets that from me, without having to shout and giggle. He is actually very clever, and completes the assignments in a fraction of the time that it takes his peers. I suppose he processes things really quickly, and then searches for any other way to occupy his over-active brain. If I drop something, he is immediately out of his seat to pick it up. He acts as doorman for the tardy students. He is desperate for me to check his work. He constantly adds his voice and opinion to my grammar presentations. He is driving me bonkers, but I must reluctantly admit he does amuse me somewhat. Yesterday, the students were practising passing messages. He wrote:

Dear Danilo (his ex-partner in crime), I am unhappy sitting here. I miss you, it was funny sitting next to you. Please tell Ricardo to go to the pharmacy and buy a toothbrush. From, J.P.

I couldn't help but stifle a smirk; Ricardo does have pretty bad teeth. Anyway, I had better enjoy this while it lasts. Jose Pablo is sure to find a new, enhanced method of totally pissing me off, just in time for next month's cycle.

Thursday, August 19, 2004


Give Us A Smile, Luv

I once read a magazine article that suggested in order to enjoy life more you should look people in the eyes and smile at them, especially strangers on the street. I think that this is a lovely idea, though it probably works better in a small northern town than in London. Even so, you can openly beam at the little old man who sells newspapers, the bus driver, the Australian bartender, or the lively Big Issue seller - all with little fear of repercussion. A smile, cheesy as it sounds, can make you and a stranger feel serious warm fuzzies. Unfortunately, the positive aspects of random smiling and eye contact are not globally applicable. In Japan, were I to smile at someone on the street, they almost certainly wouldn't notice. They would have already been well occupied in studiously avoiding any eye contact with me. This behavior isn't just reserved for hairy gaijin, eye contact is traditionally considered disrespectful and position-challenging in Japanese culture. It's really bizarre when you are conversing with someone who you know to be respectable, honest, and kind - yet they won't look you in the eye for love nor money... my old supervisor, Sayama-sensei, at the Tochigi B.O.E. would be a prime example of this. Nice guy, very shifty look. Here in Peru it's a whole different cup of cha. Everyone on the street wants to look in your eyes, especially if they're blue! Foreigner = money, and you soon learn to AVOID EYE CONTACT unless you want to be constantly hassled, shouted at, whinged at, or stalked. Women take eye contact as an indication you are desperate to purchase their dusty wares; men take a smile as an explicit declaration of your desire for carnal interchange. You can't even glancingly smile at little children either, for fear they will assume you wish to adopt them. I am dying to set my clenched jaw free...

Might never 'appen??

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Token Foreigner On TV

Had a TV camera in my classroom yesterday, which caused rather a lot of excitement and screaming amongst my teenage students. We were filmed for an ICPNA commercial (of course the shot of the token blond and blue-eyed gringa is indispensable!)... so I might be seeing myself on Peruvian TV in the near future (yikes). For some reason, English teaching seems to be particularly rich in random telly opportunities. In Japan I was twice (to my knowledge) on the box, once holding Domo-kun (NHK's kawaii mascot) and saying, somewhat idiotically, "Hello, Japanese children!", and another time I was made to read a passage to advertise Tochigi city's International Festival. People with video cameras always seems to think I'll be more than thrilled to have the chance to be on TV, but actually I could quite easily live without the disruption. It's bizarre the kind of arrogance that TV crews do develop, as they are, I suppose, used to people going ballistic just to be filmed. A weird memory has just now come back to me, regarding this very point. I was once in an Indian restaurant in Sapporo with a large number of foreigners (we were all studying Japanese at the same summer school). Suddenly, a woman sat down at our table and started talking to us in that incredibly pompous and patronising way some people who learn English as a foreign language inexplicably seem to develop. A massive television camera appeared out of nowhere and bright spotlights were focused on our table. The crew started filming, and the woman began asking us questions... obviously a group of gaijin this big was an opportunity to good to be missed... and so we were being interviewed without having been asked permission, or even informed. We were all really annoyed, and felt like animals in a zoo. Accordingly, we all put on our worse behaviour. We spoke only in slangy gangster-type Japanese, developed horrible table manners, refused to look at the camera, and some of the blokes started a food fight. I have no idea what became of that footage... perish the thought!

Monday, August 16, 2004


Everybody In Jeans

I went jeans shopping yesterday with a friend and colleague, Heidi. We are both a similar, and not particularly Peruvian, size - so we decided to brave the experience together. I have been yearning for a new pair for quite some time, and have been feeling a bit left out, as everyone in Peru wears jeans at all times bar none. When I first came to Chiclayo I couldn't really understand why women here adopt jeans as strictly as if they were a uniform. However, after six months of squeezing in and out of the over-packed vans that serve as the public transportation system, tramping along dusty, unpaved roads, standing on gusty street corners imbibing freezing cold beverages on a Friday night... not to mention being openly and pevertedly leered at by every male over eight years of age as I go about these daily activities... it has all become very clear to me. Life in this area is absolutely not conducive to skirts of any type nor length, nor indeed any other clothing less durable than the sacred jeans. Accordingly, all of the city centre clothes shops display less-than-stimulating stocks of jeans, jeans and more jeans. In fact, I seem to recall reading that Peru is one of the top denim-producing countries in the world. Thus, I suppose myself and Heidi could be forgiven that we would both be able to find a satisfactory pair with a minimum of pain and effort. Not so. After extensive research I have come to the conclusion that there are only three main types of jeans for women sold in the shops of Chiclayo:

1. Skin-tight, very, very low-rise ones for girls with 0% body fat and braces

2. Acid-wash/dirty tea coloured ones for people with mullets or earth-toned wardrobes, respectively

3. Tapered, thigh n' hip enhancing versions for women with the fashion sense of a sea cucumber

I now know how so many woman manage to look so bloody unsightly. It isn't their fault - one could more likely allot the blame to the gormless salespeople who breathe down your neck and constantly thrust totally unsuitable models under your nose. Neither of us found anything even remotely suitable, although I will admit to a moment of madness regarding a pair of back-pocketless crack-exposers. But I mentally focused on the image of Trinny and Susannah and the moment soon passed. We did what any red-blooded shopping women in our position would do. Not to be entirely thwarted, we bought tops and necklaces instead.

Thursday, August 12, 2004



Something strange has occured to me: the pronunciation of Spanish is very similar to the pronunciation of Japanese. I have even noticed that children here first learn the vowel sounds, and then learn them in combination with a consonant, in the same way as Japanese children learning hiragana. Because of this, there are many words that sound the same in Spanish and Japanese. Our personal favourite is ´vaca´(Spanish - cow), which is pronounced exactly the same as ´baka´(Japanese - idiot). Tito has been driving around Chiclayo shouting this at inconsiderate drivers since we arrived.

Perhaps this unexpected similarity has caused many a Peruvian in Japan to come a cropper. For example, a Peruvian man asks a Japanese woman to dance. If she agrees, he might ask her for a kiss. "YADA!" might come the reply (Spanish - "Yes, give me it", Japanese -"YUCK!"). So, the Peruvian fancies his chances and slips her the tongue. "DAME!" says she (Spanish - "Give it to me!", Japanese "NO!"). The Peruvian certainly would not understand her violent reaction to his tender advances... especially when she starts passionately shouting "YAMETE!" (Spanish - "Put it in!", Japanese "STOP IT!").

Monday, August 09, 2004


Pyramids of Mud

We were once again well culturally stimulated this weekend; we went to the pyramids of Tucume on Saturday. They aren't far from Chiclayo, so we had a lazy breakfast of chicharron (fried pork) with the family before setting off into the rather overcast day. We had a nice drive out, and as we approached Tucume the sun broke through the clouds, which a nice surprise. Upon arrival we were mobbed by a great unwashed mass of children who wanted to sell us toffees, and play with 'mi perita bonita', Wanpi. They were pretty funny, but left a sweaty, sticky residue which completely covered my side of the car! Yuck! Anyway, the site in Tucume dates to about 1000-1540 AD and in its later years was conquered by the Chimu, and then the Inca Empires, before falling to ruins after the Spanish Conquest. The term 'pyramids' is somewhat misleading - they were never pointed like Egyptian pyramids, but rather had flat tops on which temples were built. They were absolutely massive, apparently 130 million sun dried bricks were needed to build the biggest one, which measures 450 metres long, 100 metres wide and 40 metres high. Unfortunately, being adobe structures they have, naturally, substantially eroded. They look a whole lot like 26 very big piles of, erm, mud. The only reason they are still with us at all is because there is virtually no rain at all in this area (note: looks like El Niño is going to change all that, so now is the time to view Peru's ancient adobe structures!). Mud aside, the museum houses some interesting artifacts and a very nice explanation of cooking and chicha (Peru's maize-based traditional beer equivalent) making procedures at the time. I was also muchly gobsmacked to see a life-size replica model of a Moche medicine man kneeling at his altar... it was exactly the same as the one I saw used by the witches (see June archives). So, with a few nods to Catholicism thrown in for good measure, the modern day witches of Peru follow customs that are thousands of years old. Good on them, I say.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Catholics R Us

Hrmph. What was I saying about having opinions? Here's the situation: I am teaching my wonderful, lively Advanced class and we are having a discussion/debate about what topics they believe are hypothetically suitable/necessary for inclusion in secondary school education. The students are mostly about 14-20 years old, so I was frankly aghast at some of their seemingly uniformly held views:

*Homosexuality should not be discussed in schools because the church does not accept it. One student asked me if I 'accepted' homosexuality. I found that question rather quaint - it's not really up to me, is it, love?

*The concept of Birth Control should be taught as abstinence only. As one boy, bless him, put it: "Men should think of all women as like their mothers, and their mothers didn't have sex with other men before they married their fathers, and so men shouldn't then wish to disgrace other women, who will one day be mothers too".

*Everyone should be a virgin when they get married because then they will have better families.

*Reigion should be taught in all schools. God is their hero, and they would like to learn more about Him. One student said that she had just been confirmed, and believes that every school everywhere should teach Catholicism.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I fully realised: wow, these kids are CATHOLIC. It's not like that's a hidden secret, hell, this country is alledgedly over 90% Catholic... what I mean to say is that even these teens have very, very stereotypically Catholic opinions. It's not that they aren't valid opinions, I just wasn't prepared for the blanket uniformity of them. I know that they are just repeating what they have been told many times at school and church; the concepts that form the foundation of their beliefs. But kids, give your head a shake!

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


I Love Teaching English!

Started back at school again yesterday, for another 18 day cycle. I enjoyed it immensely. I have to say it is SO much easier to teach English to Spanish speakers than to Japanese speakers. This is blindingly obvious, of course, but each day I realise afresh how much progress the Spanish speakers can make in a relatively short time. The thing I am finding in my own studies of Spanish is that all the short, basic words (like egg and house and chair) bear no resemblance to their English counterparts whatsoever. The longer, more complex words, however (like enthusiasm and hypochondriac and circumference) are almost exactly the same. This means that after learning the basics, one can, hypothetically, suddenly skyrocket to near fluency. Hmm. Anyway, I have now started teaching an 'Advanced Listening and Conversation' class, and it seems like it will be great fun. The kids have opinions! They don't care that I have blue eyes! We can debate issues! I love it. It goes without saying that I loved teaching the Japanese kids too, but all too often I had conversations like this:

Junior High School Student: "Herrrrrrooooooo Banessa!"
Me: "Hello Takeshi! How are you?"
JHS Student: "How are you?"
Me: "No, how are YOU?" (pointing at student)
JHS Student: "Eh?"
Me: "Are you HAPPY?" (exaggerated gestures)
JHS Student: "Ore?" ("Me?")
Me: "HAPPY?"
JHS Student: "Eigo wakaranai yo." ("I don't understand English")
Me: "HAPPY?" (threateningly voiced)
JHS Student: "No."
Me: "Bugger off then, you little cretin." (under my breath)

Some students were rather reluctant to speak English. There is, in Japan, still some serious prejudice against learning English. It has traditionally been thought that the ability to speak a foreign language somehow makes a person less Japanese. Damn right it does! Learning any foreign language necessitates learning the culture that expresses itself through that language, making any learner less a citizen of their country, and more a citizen of the world. For the Japanese to learn that their way is not the only way can be terrifying, seeing as they are instilled with a very strong sense that there is only one correct way to do pretty much anything (introduce yourself, pour tea, enter a room) their whole life. Happily, I run into no such reluctance here. Peru, being a Spanish speaking country, somehow seems to have a European air. And Peruvians are generally open-minded to different cultures, being a right hodge-podge themselves. I think the only thing that is morally problematic in teaching English here is that sometimes it feels like you are wafting the freedom and money that English speaking countries can offer under their noses. It doesn't feel exactly fair, because even though I am teaching fairly well-off kids, very few of them will ever be able to afford to leave South America - let alone get a much-sought after visa for another country. Makes you think...

But I do still love teaching English!

Sunday, August 01, 2004


Olmos Made It

Just got back from a really nice excursion, we drove out of Chiclayo into the countryside, a little north and a little west, though directions are not very important as we followed the only paved road heading that way. Driving in the Celica is simply excellent fun in itself - peasants stare open-mouthed as we whiz by their laden mules, teenage boys in villages shout and gesture, little kids tug on their mum's arm to point us out. I used to feel quite embarrassed by all the attention... and rather apologetic too, seeing as few of these little kids living in country pueblos would ever forseeably grow up to own a car, let alone a sexy one. But now I tend to think well, you would too, if you could, wouldn't you? Anyway, after whizzing along for two short hours, accompanied by the outstandingly groovy tunes of Boney M and Aqua, we ended up in a small town called Olmos with a delightful Andes backdrop. It's claim to fame was as the almighty capital of limons - a cross between a lime and a lemon - so there wasn't a great deal kicking off. The town did, however, have a rather pleasant whitewashed hostel (El Remanso) owned by a 78 year old architect who speaks perfect English. He lived in London, Sweden and Poland while he was studying. Oddly, he had also previously lived in Puerto Eten, a town close to Chiclayo, and had been friends with Tito's grandfather. (Having next to no family myself, the endless connections in Peru never fail to tickle me.) Anyhow, we spent a lazy evening there, playing table football and drinking beer. We weren't, unfortunately, at all prepared to go hiking into the forest to look for petroglyphics, as the proprietor suggested (we had no boots, no sunscreen, etc). In the morning we instead choose to drive 10 minutes down the road to an aviary. It had lots of lovely jungle birds, peacocks, and an absolutely enormous Great Dane who wanted very much to be Wanpi's boyfriend. We said no, as she's only three months old. We had a really pleasant wander round in the sun, followed by a yummy lunch at a rustic outdoor restaurant in town. The ceviche was pretty good, although I can't say for sure that was due to the quality of the limons! We were quite anxious to stay another night in the nice little town, but after interrogating the hostel staff, a vendor of ice-cream, the aviary keeper, and the waiter we came to the inescapable conclusion that there were but two tourist attractions in the area... the aviary and the petroglyphics. The limons, I'm afraid I have to say, don't count - no, Olmos didn't quite make it. So, we whizzed the two hours back to Chiclayo, just in time for tea.

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