Sunday, August 26, 2012

Career Paths

I always have felt like I haven't achieved career success in my life after college.  I don't have a fancy title, nor did I in the United States. No corner office, no assistants. I wrestle with the idea that at my age.. I should be this or doing that. I don't really have a career path, yet the term came up this week for my Upper English students. We began a new unit on the theme of work. One of their vocabulary terms was "career path."  This was a pretty new concept for most of the students in both sessions, so I explained what I thought a career path was - thank you professional development classes.  I felt like I was in an undergraduate business course.  I drew a diagonal line on the chalkboard with ticks at 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years. I explained that when you have a plan, it helps you focus on your goals or steps to achieve your dreams, rather than just float along.  A career path or plan helps you gain control of your future, or so I explained.  Yet, I don't have a career path, nor have I had a solid one since way back in college. I always had planned to work at an ad agency after college to be a copywriter. Yet, in my junior or senior year, I realized I didn't want to work at an agency, working 80-hour weeks on a campaign for mustard.  But, I wasn't going to change majors then.  In hindsight, I've had a lot of experiences and been able to use my communications education and interests in a variety of settings.

I challenged the students as homework to do their own career paths towards their dream job.

After class, one of my students approached me and told me he hated doing these kinds of activities. He said he didn't worry too much about the future, he kept himself open to opportunities rather than be too focused on a plan that might prevent him from seeing something else.  There was more to life than work he explained.

We in America get so focused on our careers sometimes we forget to enjoy where we are at now.  Sometimes we get caught in the "I should be here" game that we forget it's not a race.  Is it more important if we were a bigwig or if we had a big heart?

Maybe I'll never been known to anyone outside a handful of people, but what really matters is that those people (hopefully) remember that I tried to treat them with respect and kindness.

Maybe instead of  worrying or being depressed about where my life is and the lack of "success" I have, I should be grateful for the opportunities I have had to do many different and exciting things. I may never have an important job title or be power player, but who says I have to do so?

 After I'm done in Peru, I don't know what I will do. Teach? Get a doctorate? Return to higher education? Write a novel? I don't know and maybe that's okay.

Feliz Cumpleanos (Monday)

On Monday morning, I went to work like usual.  Fellow colleagues wished me a happy birthday.  They had made me a little poster with Snoopy on it as well! I figured the birthday festivities were over.

One of my students wished me happy birthday before class. I wondered how he knew. He said a friend told him. He wouldn't tell me what friend but things in Piura get around!

However, my 11 am Intermediate II class was a bit restless. We had concluded a series of activities, and I was about to launch into the next batch, when they resisted. I could sense they were bored,so I said great, let's take a break. Then, some of the students proceeded to bring out bags of snacks and goodies, plus a card for me that they'd passed around to sign for me! It also was another girl's birthday too! I was so surprised. Some of the students presented me with goodies and the card. I was really surprised and touched.

Later that night, I went to the church party organized for me. They all were waiting for me. I'm glad I prepared a speech. We ate dinner and then the dancing started. I tried to learn two salsa steps but to no great end. I ended up dancing anyway and had a good evening! The cake part was funny, I didn't know what they were asking me to do, but it ended up that I was supposed to take a bite of the cake. I did and then it was "smushed" in my face.  Hah hah.

Monday night, one student in my Upper English class asked me when my birthday was. I told her it was the day before. On Tuesday, she brought me a gift!

I was really touched by how welcoming, genuine, and  kind (some!) of my students and ward members have been for me to actually make this effort for me. Plus my colleagues are all nice to me. This has been an easy part of the transition, thanks to the people.  It's a great lesson for me to make sure I also reach out and care for the people around me - here in Piura and at home.

Estoy Aqui

In my efforts to try to learn more Spanish, I thought I'd start listening to Spanish music.  I stumbled upon an artist and I can't tell you who he was now, but one line in the song stood out to me - Estoy Aqui.  I'm here.

The song was a love song and it at first made me think about how I wished I had someone (as in a significant other) in my life to turn to when everything was falling apart. To hear the words, "I'm here" whispered in my ear when I was at rock bottom seemed magically impossible. Perhaps I won't experience this in my life, but my mind quickly turned to who else would say "Estoy Aqui."   I realized that God and His Son, Jesus Christ are always here for us.  No matter where we are in the world - Peru or Paris or Panguitch - the Lord and His Son know each of us and knows what we are doing. I don't know how they know where   one lonely, awkward American woman who doesn't speak Spanish in Northwestern Peru is... but they do. I have been blessed by their care and guidance.

Honestly, being here is one of the hardest things I've ever done - in a different way than my other challenges. It's hard because I am stripped of all my self-reliance. I am stripped off all my pride in my intellect.  I have to (and must) ask and rely on others to help me and show me the way to survive here.  Sometimes I wonder.  Why did I chose to come here? Did I make a mistake? Why don't I know Spanish better? It is so humbling to be the one in a crowd that can't speak and is made mute by my lack of ability.  For someone who is so expressive with language, not being able to speak is incredibly challenging.  I attend church services and sit and wonder why I bother. How presumptuous of me to expect these people to attend to me or help me. I have to stand on my own two feet.  I'm an adult.  It is actually easier for me to sell 99% of my things, quit my job, take a job in a field I've never done before... than to approach someone and ask for help or to fix something (like the water heater).  But yet, here I am. The people have been generous and kind.

Teaching is hard. I knew that. But it's hard when you have unmotivated students, it's hard when you aren't making progress, it's hard when you don't feel they even care. Or, when you assign homework, and only 5 do the project, out of 25.

Yet, I keep returning to the phrase - Estoy Aqui.  No matter where we are, or what time it is, God and His Son are there for each of us.  We don't need Skype or web cams, just our hearts.  In tears or in gratitude, we can converse with God for as long or as often as we need.

I had a really rough time in church today. I wanted to leave, but I stayed. Then in Sunday School, I was asked to read a verse in the Book of Mormon (in Spanish).

Alma 44:4

Now ye see that this is the true faith of God; yea, ye see that God will support, and keep, and preserve us, so long as we areafaithful unto him, and unto our faith, and our religion.

This scripture spoke loud to my hurting heart.  It was no coincidence I was asked to read that scripture. I must remain faithful to the gospel I profess is true.  God says "Estoy Aqui." He means it. When we turn to Him, we can be healed, protected, preserved and supported. Maybe we won't get the answer or blessing we hope for, but we will be supported through our daily lives.  
Last Sunday, I was asked to read this scripture (in Alma 40:12)
 12 And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of ahappiness, which is calledbparadise, a state of rest, a state of cpeace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.
Again, this touched me.  What a delightful blessing and promise. One day, all of our pain, suffering, hurt and sorrow will be removed, and we will have peace. If we remain strong, even when it's too hard to be strong,  we will receive relief and rest one day.  We just have to keep going.   
Today, I turned on the Mormon Channel radio station and a few songs later, I heard my favorite hymn - "I Believe in Christ."  My favorite lyric pierced my soul and tears flowed. 
I believe in come what may. 

No matter what happens while I am here in Peru or anywhere else in the future,  I believe in Christ, so come what may, no matter how dark, destructive or debilitating the future may be,  I know that the Lord and Christ will always say "Estamos Aqui."   

Epic Ecuador

It is said that when opportunity presents itself that you should take it.  This was my mindset when on the second Sunday I went to church, courtesy of the young English speaking ward member who served as a translator, I heard about an upcoming ward temple trip. The closet temple to Piura actually is in Guayaqill, Ecuador (some 700 miles north). I enthusiastically signed up to go. This was my opportunity to go to the temple with a group, instead of alone!

I didn't hear anything about the trip until the 12th of August. As luck would have it, the trip was set for the upcoming weekend. I had planned to have a karaoke night to celebrate my birthday with my colleagues.  I didn't want to cancel either activity, but I did not want to miss out on a trip to the temple. I worried that if I cancelled on the karaoke night, that people would be upset.  Yet, the organizer was fine with the change and understood my situation.  As the week dragged on, I still didn't have many details for the trip.  After the week from hell, I was emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted. I didn't even want to go on the trip. A nice, long weekend of relaxing sounded much better as I trudged home.  Then I got a phone call. "Where are you, are you coming to the temple?"  I said yes and raced home. I grabbed my bag that I had packed. Why didn't I listen to the prompting and take it with me to school? Why didn't I just call my contact and verify everything? I let class out early that night anyway. I usually have class until 8:30 at night, and the bus was packed to go at 8:30.   I prayed that I'd be able to make the bus before they left me.  I got a taxi and it seemed I had the most considerate driver in town- slowing down to make sure he didn't take corners fast or speed bumps too fast for me. At that point, after a series of hurried phone calls, I should have said, "hasta pronto Senor!  He knew right where to take me thank goodness. I gave him his 5 soles and hopped out of the taxi. I hopped on the bus and away we went. I made it. I made the bus and was on my way to Ecuador and to the temple.

We left Piura at about 9:15 pm.  Onward and upward to Ecuador.  The bus could have been heading to Wendover, Utah with the flashy seat fabric, lights and setup. After watching the hilariously stupid movie "Bloodsport," I fell into a fitful sleep.  At some unholy hour in the night or maybe the morning, we arrived bleary-eyed at the border. Everyone filed out into an office to stand in line, fill out forms, and hope to not be hassled at the border.  I didn't know what was really going on. I had my passport, but it turns out I also needed another document -the Andean Immigration Card I got at the airport. I had given that to the university so I could get my visa extended.  So, after some discussion, the immigration person determined I had to pay $5 US to get another one. So I filled out the card again and paid the $5 (which he put into his wallet) and he put the card into a drawer.  Then when I got to the Ecuador side, I had to fill out another card. At least this time, it didn't cost me anything else.

Back onto the bus we went. This time, my seat mate changed, and a young woman from the ward sat next to me to learn some English. She already knew much of the basics, and she helped me with Spanish too. It must have been in the early morning and finally we both drifted off to sleep. When I woke up, the sky was overcast and the fields were full of banana trees. It was like a jungle, exotic and green, not like the sandy desert of Piura.  I went back to sleep and watched the small towns, and farm land pass by as the sun peaked through the high clouds.  People were slowly rising and getting a start to their Saturday morning.

Finally at about 8 am or so, we arrived in Guayaquil. It seemed like a nice city.  We got to the bus terminal, and shuffled off.  The bathroom was a popular first stop, and of course, like in any country, anywhere in teh world, there was a line for the women's bathroom.  Also, there was no toilet paper.

Rule #2 of traveling. Take your own TP, wet wipes, anything. You never know what you're going to get (or not get!).  Rule #1 is always take a towel (Thanks HGTG).

After we reassembled in the taxi area, we tried to figure out how to get the group to the temple. I didn't really  have any part of that, just stood and tried to stay out of the way.  Finally, some of us got into a truck with a camper shell on it. There were two benches, so we squished everybody in.  I was on the end so I could look out the back.  There was no door or window, so I nearly fell out a few times.  Well, not really but it felt like I could on some of the corners.  Guayaquil was clean and pretty well-kept, at least the parts I saw.  We all arrived at the temple. Everyone rushed to a building next door. It was a hostel or hotel of sorts for travelers. The trip was roughly 12 hours.  After a quick shower and change of clothes, I tried to figure out the schedule.  There were no headsets, so I had to do a session in Spanish. Luckily, I felt prepared from my (nearly) weekly temple attendance in Utah so I could follow along fairly well.  Let's just say the last part was the hardest.

But, after a week that I had, I was so thankful to serve in the temple. All of the frustrations, angry, anxiety, fear and doubt melted away. It was a very special and spiritual experience. The Lord knows all of His people no matter where they are in the world. I felt the healing balm of Christ on my heart.

Afterwards, we changed and headed back to the bus terminal. We stuffed ourselves into several taxis (no trucks this time), and went back to the bus terminal. The bus terminal was also a mall, so I thought I'd just go get a bite to eat, but I ended up shopping. I got some new sandals for $5! Good deal. Shoes in Peru are expensive - even at Payless! The bus this time was smaller and not as flashy.  Off we went. We had several stops to pick people up and a mandatory "off the bus" stop somewhere on the way that required a walk-through the snack bar.  At immigration, I had a problem because I didn't have that Andean Immigration card again. The guy kept it leaving Peru. So, I had to fill it out again to enter Peru. At least this time it was free.

Is it me, or does the trip home always seem longer than the trip to a place? Maybe it's because we're anxious to get home, get changed and get into bed (or the shower). It seemed like it took forever to get to Piura. We had to stop for a security check and we all had to show our documentation. I wonder what would happen if  that happened in the US. Say you were riding the Greyhound  to LA and had to stop outside Barstow for a document check?

Finally, after a long, long 12 hour bus ride, we made it back to the bus terminal in Piura, got a cab, and I finally and happily made it to my room.  It was a very fast trip but one that was very well worth it.

Feliz Cumpleanos (Sunday)

After a certain age, birthdays seem to lose their luster. It's just another social construct used to gauge yourself against your peers. It just seems like  another year older and deeper in debt as the song goes. 

I fully expected this birthday to pass unnoticed as I was a newcomer in this dusty desert town.  My colleagues knew it was my birthday thanks to a department chart posted on a cork board of announcements and keys to the teachers only bathrooms. 

This year, my birthday kicked off on the tail end of a quick trip to Ecuador. After being hassled at the border back into Peru, I realized I'd never planned to spend my birthday in an immigration office in the dark, early morning hours of the dawning day. 

After arriving home, I debated heavily on whether I would attend church services. It was already well after 9 a.m. when I walked into the door of my rented room.  I'd already missed sacrament, and I would just have Sunday School and Relief Society to attend.  

On the side against going to church, the argument was strong and I'll admit pretty rational:
"It doesn't matter if you go to church today or not. Nobody expects you to show up after the temple trip. Nobody even will notice or care if you're there or not. I mean you're just a burden to the ward since you can't even understand anything that is going on there. Just stay home and sleep."  

The argument for going to church wasn't as rational to my mind but stronger in my heart.  For some reason, I dumped my bag out onto my bed, as I rushed to freshen up.  I  ran a comb through my 2-day dirty hair, thankful that it was long enough for a hair clip. I splashed my face with some soap and water, put on a bit of foundation and mascara and brushed my teeth.  After pulling on a top and skirt, I ran out the door.  

As I was hustling towards the church building, the inner dialogue kept going.  I could easily turn around and go home. No one would be the wiser.  I hate walking in late to things in any situation.  Why would I walk in so obviously late to church? The siren song of sleep kept playing in my mind. Yet, my feet kept propelling me towards the building. I must do what I believe is right, even when it's too hard for me alone. 

With 15 minutes left of sacrament, I slipped into the chapel and took a seat. After the meeting was over, a ward member turned and said "Hey's it your birthday today isn't?"  I was surprised. How did she know? Maybe they read my records into the ward. Though, I shouldn't be surprised.  As I'm discovering in Piura, everyone knows everybody and everything.  

Yet, I was greeted with a steady of  hugs, handshakes and well wishes were regular and genuine. In Sunday School, the class wished me a happy birthday and from the conversations, I came to understand they wanted to have a party for me the next day, in conjunction with another girl's birthday celebration, and for another girl leaving for college in the United States.  I felt really touched and surprised they'd include me in the festivities. I was just pleased they told me happy birthday. 

In Relief Society, the women wished me happy birthday as well. At the end of the meeting, I was presented with the beautiful flowers that decorated the chapel.  I also was invited to lunch at a sister's home with the sister missionaries.  I got more well wishes.  As I headed home, I was filled with a sweet spirit.  I was not alone.  When I turned on my phone, I had text messages from my colleagues as well. Later, lunch was very nice and the sister missionaries presented me a Spanish Book of Mormon so I could study it and the language.  Later than night, my father actually called me and it worked on my cell phone! He actually said he could hear me better in Peru than when I lived in Utah and he called me from Arizona!

All in all, it was a lovely birthday, especially with the e-cards, emails and Facebook messages. Today, I felt that the distance between hearts wasn't as far as the map or language might indicate. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Brick Wall

Ever have one of those continuous bad days, you know, the kind where everything that can go wrong does... and even then some?  Last week seemed like a series of unfortunate events to borrow from Lemony Snicket.    It seemed like everything I tried to accomplish was thwarted by the uncaring universe of achievement.

Problem #1: My airfare reimbursement check

I was reimbursed for my flight down to Piura. That's very generous and I am happy I received it. However, it was in American dollars.  I need to get this check to the United States. I was told different ways to do it. I got the check on Friday. I first was told I could go to the bank and have it cashed and then transferred to my credit union. I didn't have my passport with me, so I thought I'd wait until (now last) week. Drat - totally my fault.  A friend suggested that I try mobile banking with my credit union. But, I don't have an Android phone or an iPod/iPhone.  My colleague does, so I asked her to download the app and I tried the picture taking thing.  It didn't work at all.  I contacted customer service and got several non-answers to my questions. So I gave up on that route.

So, at lunch, I go merrily down to the bank, and I prepared. I wrote down in Spanish what I wanted to do.  After trying to figure out the line system (there were numbers, but the system didn't make sense), I went up to a representative at the door and asked if I needed a number. I showed the written note to him. However, the customer service representative took the check (I did go with him!) and spoke to a supervisor.  He came back and said it wasn't possible to cash it or do anything with it.  By this point, I wanted to cry.  I literally did leave with tears in my eye.

So, I went back to the university and explained my situation to the center's administrator.  He called a person he knew at the bank and found out a completely different story. Basically, I need to find somebody with an account there that can accept American dollars and have them deposit the money into their account and then transfer it out to my account.  Oh great. Just want I want to do - go around begging people to transfer money for me and deal with that hassle.

So, I thought okay,  I am going to try Money Gram.  On Friday, my co-worker and I went downtown to where she knew Money Gram was.  We go into the store (that sells electronics and motorcycles), and head back to the cashier.  My colleague asked a woman sitting at a desk if they did Money Gram. She nodded and pointed to the caja (cashier) window. I approach the clerk and ask about Money Gram. Of course I didn't understand her, so my colleague jumped in and found out the location moved. The cashier was very snotty and we wondered why the first woman (about 20 feet away) didn't tell us first that Money Gram was gone.

So we got the run-around and finally, after walking through some sketchy parts of town, found the location. However, I couldn't cash my check, thus I couldn't send a wire.  Next, we tried to find an exchange place (better rates than the bank). However, they wouldn't cash a check.  By this point, I'm done. Done. Done. Done.  I am starving and I say forget it.  So, as of Wednesday, August 22nd, I still have this check and I don't know what to do with it.

Problem #2 - ATMs
As part of my temple trip, I needed to pay s/70 soles (roughly $27) for the bus ride. I hadn't heard any details about paying, times, or locations to meet really - other than it was the 17th -19th.  When I was at the bank, I tried to pull out cash to have on hand. However, the ATM didn't work. Of course not. So I went next door to the store. The bank ATM didn't work. The other bank's ATM didn't work for anyone. I was able to use the coin machine to get out s/5 coins (about $3).  I needed a few groceries so I used my debit card - no problem - except the cashier asked me a bunch of questions that I didn't know.  I just smiled and nodded and it seemed to work.  So after all that, I walk home.  I ran into the bishop and his wife. They told me they needed the money for the trip that night.  I was planning on seeing some of the ward members after class anyway,so I was okay.  Then about 4 pm, I got a panicked phone call from the 1st counselor saying I think that somebody was coming to go with me to the bank to get the money. I explained I had class at 5 pm and we'd have to hurry. Then, as I waited nervously for the person that I thought was coming, I got a call back. I was informed to give the money and give it to the ward member that night.  So, there's an ATM on the main gate of the school. I hustle over there before class, and yep - you guessed it. It didn't work. After class, I tried it again. It didn't work again.  My friends and I went to karaoke (another blog entry for sure) and there were two different bank companies with ATMs. I tried ScotiaBank, and it worked perfectly. I got soles and dollars (for Ecuador). Good grief. I was able to give the money to the ward member to pay for my trip.

Problem #3 Cell Phone

When I got to Piura, one of the teachers helped me get a cell phone. I don't know what kind of prepaid plan I got or anything. Nobody seems to really know what the cell phone story is around here that I ask. I knew I had run out of minutes because I couldn't send texts or get calls.  But, trying to figure out how to recharge my phone or what plan to get was impossible. While my colleague and I were downtown, we tried a store that said "Claro aqui." Yes! We go inside the drugstore and were told... "We can't recharge your phone here."  We go to another Claro store. They don't do recharging.  We stopped at a newspaper stand. Yes, the woman does have recharge cards. I was advised not to do it that way. I didn't even know what to say or how to ask for the phone recharge. Finally, it got too confusing and I was too angry and stressed from the check mess that I just left. My colleague finally took me to a neighborhood store in our area that she used. The owner recharged the phone and it works.  Whatever I had set up before, wouldn't let me call anyone. Plus, it costs more to call another carrier- or so I think. Who knows!

Problem #4 Post Office
I decided to go to the Post Office to buy stamps. My colleague went with me to eat lunch and hang out. We get to the post office. It was open ( I was told it wouldn't be). Crap. I didn't know how to ask for stamps.  I look at a picture on the wall. It has an arrow to a picture of stamps and it says "postales." Okay, that must be it.  We go to the first desk. No, not the right one. The 2nd desk. Nope. Finally, we get to the 3rd desk. Of course, just like in the USA, there's one worker and a line. We stand in line for 15-minutes. My colleague finally goes up and asks if we can buy "postales" there. The worker says no but we were told were we could buy them. So he and I go on a wild goose chase to many stores with no luck. My colleague just starts asking random shopkeepers where we can go. Finally, we end up at the City building.  They tell us to go to the tourism office. We got a bunch of nice postcards and brochures, but the clerk sends us back to Serra Post.  We get in line again and finally realize the word we wanted was "estampillas." So this stupid adventure was my own fault.  So, lesson learned. Always be prepared with what you're looking for in another language. Don't assume you know the right words.  When trying to do something, look up the words first.  So we get back to Serra Post and then I find I can't even buy stamps! I have to bring the letters and postcards to the office to send!  Then, all of our lunch options were ruined too.  We finally ended up at a fast food joint. I guzzled my Inca Cola and chicken sandwich like no tomorrow.

On Friday, when my other colleague and I were downtown, I was successful in mailing a few things! One minor success.

So this week, my hot water heater stopped working along with the cable reception. Also, the classroom technology repeatedly fails when I try to introduce multimedia.  The non-stop domino effect of frustrated plans and hopes ... welcome to my life- nothing changes when you move to another hemisphere.

RIP Pepe!

It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that Pepe the Peruvian Pony was lost in Ecuador. May he find the banana tree fields better stomping ground for his travels than the arid desert of Piura, Peru.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

When is the Semester Over?

Hats off to my K-12 teacher friends who day in and day out hit the trenches of teaching.  I knew teaching was tough but after one week of teaching every day,  I have new found admiration and respect for you.  Typically at a college level, a teacher might teach three times a week, but here the visiting teachers (i.e., Americans) get to teach every day.  Maybe it's not a full straight eight-hours, but for this novice teacher, I was worn out on the first day. 

Like many novice teachers, I planned all sorts of activities and multimedia enrichment for the week for my classes.  Then I got the text books and the program syllabus, which didn't quite match what I was given originally.  I started with very detailed, typed lesson plans for each day, with objectives and assessments.  Yet, by day 2, I realized that was overkill.  I was quickly going to learn that you can't count on technology or spend too much time going overboard with lesson plans.  Plus, the curriculum is British, so I have to explain the difference between American and British English - not that one is better than the other - just that they're different. 

One of the things I have to adapt to while at the university is their scheduling.  Since my classes are every day and space is at a premium, I am in a different room every day for each class.  Sound confusing? It is!  Since I am in a different classroom, different schools (i.e., the school of communications, or engineering) have control of the multimedia equipment (projector remotes, a/v cables, workstation keys).  So, I have to cross-reference what room I am in for that session on that day with what school has the equipment if I plan to use any a/v that session. Each school has a different requirement for getting the cartucharas (literally pencil case). One school's office has a sign-out sheet. Others just hand it to me.  After class, I have to return it. If they're not there or it's 8:30 at night, I have to find a building custodian or a drop-box, depending on the school.  

I didn't get any classroom technology training either and like in the US, every building has a different setup. There's no white boards either, just chalkboards and chalk (which you have to bring yourself).  On Monday morning, the Centro de Idiomas' box of chalk was filled with fresh and bright full sticks of chalk. By Friday, all that was left was neon green and purple.  Sometimes,  if you're lucky, you'll find a left over piece of chalk in the classroom that another professor left behind. 

Monday: The first day of second term. My first class was at 11 am - Intermediate II. I was very nervous but I was in my dress suit, heels, and pearls. I went to class to set up before hand, but there was a class already in there.  The professor helped me set up the computer, but the prezi didn't download right. So, I thought I'd just go to the live one online, but the computer didn't have Adobe Flash. So, no fancy presentation.  Rule #1 of teaching = never count on technology! I learned this over and over and over during the week. If the computer worked, then the projector didn't. If the projector did work and the computer did, the sound wouldn't work. 

Like in the United States, nobody talked before class started and nobody talked to each other.  
I went over the rules and we did get to know you activities. You would have thought I asked my classes to jump into a pit of acid the way they reacted.

The students for the most part are respectful and good.  Though, perhaps it is normal, but I felt like I connected more with my first two classes than the 7 pm class.  I feel like I'm a parent and I don't really like one of my kids as much as the others.  But, the 7 pm class is slowly starting to warm up.  Some activities that work in one class don't work in the other.  The students are mostly your typical college-aged student, but I have some working adults in my classes.  

Another interesting scheduling quirk is that students can have overlapping schedules. They might have a M/W/F class during my English class.  In the states, if you had a class conflict, you had to pick which class to take.  Here, they can miss 12 classes without penalty.  Then, they can miss 6 with an excused note if they make up the class in a different session.  But after 19 classes, they might be dropped from the course.  So, trying to figure out names and attendance, and who is late is proving to be a challenge.  I'm also trying to remember names which is hard when students switch classes around like some people switch socks. 

On Friday, in my Intermediate II class, I had a surprise evaluation. I had planned to play some videos (more for fun) because it was Friday and our unit's theme was Ireland... yes, I was going to play U2... but I scratched that.  I think tomorrow I will have my review. 

I hope I am helping the students. The curriculum is scant with in-depth information.  If I'm explaining question tags, I have to supplement my knowledge with internet searching.  Thank goodness for the internet.  I knew teaching was a tough job, but my respect for the good teachers I know has grown just in one week.  Can I make until November? 

Moves Like Jagger

Peruvian people love many things, but perhaps if they were hard-pressed, they'd narrow their favorites to dancing and socializing.  After meeting some of the local LDS young single adults last week, I was invited to a birthday party for one of the girls.  I wasn't sure how I was going to get there after my class on Friday, but arrangements were made to have some of the members meet me at the university after my class.  Or so I thought at that point. Phone numbers were exchanged and the soon-to-be birthday girl (who spoke English and studies at BYU) assured me I was welcome after I confessed I didn't want to invite myself to her party.

After a long week of teaching, Friday finally came around. The woman who was supposed to meet me called me but I was in class. I hemmed and hawed about whether to go or not.  I was tired, a nice quiet evening on the computer sounded fine to me. Parties where I don't really know people are frightening enough, but a whole party where I could literally only talk to a handful of people, why on God's green earth would I do that to myself?

Cell phones work differently here and because she was on a different network or I didn't have a good prepaid phone plan, I couldn't call her back. However, texting works fine.  I finally decided I should go, I felt like a flake if I didn't attend.  So, we sent a few texts back in forth - in my poor written Spanish and her English.  I actually finally had one of my students send her a text for me.  We agreed to meet at the main gate of the university at 8:45.  After class, I hustled to turn in my cartuchara (multimedia case) and race to the  main gate. I met three people from the ward and they hailed a taxi.  We arrived at the house and I nervously went in with the group.  I have to confess, greetings can be awkward - speaking of adaptation and accommodation - do I adapt to the kiss on the cheek with men and women - or just let them accommodation me as an American and shake their hand?  Mostly with women, it's been a  kiss on the cheek and hug - and so far with men, it's been either way.  I play off what the other person does.

So here I was, in a house full of people I had just met, but everyone was very friendly and nice to me.  Here I was worried we were late - the party was supposed to start at 8, but we got there after 9 and it hadn't really started.  I worked on my Spanish and other guests worked on their English.

Then the music and dancing started.  Man, these kids could move.  I enjoyed watching people dance. They made it look so natural as they swayed and shook to cumbia, merengue, and salsa music.  LDS Church dances had nothing on this party. Guys actually asked girls to dance!  Yet, just like in the US,  when a slower song came on,  everyone scurried to their chairs and emptied the dance floor - but only for a few minutes before it filled up again.

A few guests teased me that I should dance.  The birthday girl said I should dance, so I promised her the next dance I would.  I do confess, I like dancing, I just don't feel I'm good at it - let alone trying Latin dancing in Peru!

Suddenly, the strains of "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 started pumping out of the speakers and the group started chanting "Emily! Emily! Emily!"  Yes... me. No other Emily was there but blonde and white me.

So, I hit the floor and I shook my groove thing and danced. People were watching what I was doing and some copied me. Uh oh.  They even told me I was a good dancer! Me? Double uh oh.  While I didn't take a spin on the dance floor during the Latin music,  when something with a beat I was familiar with  came on on- like American oldies, hip-hop, or dance songs- I ventured on the floor.  I got into dancing and just had fun. If people thought I was a fool, they probably thought I was just doing what all the other Americans do... hah hah sorry to my country for misleading the young adults of Piura!

Also, I was actually was asked to dance a couple of times - something that never happens in the US.  Hey, even if it was a pity dance,    it was more action that I got in the states at a dance.  

The party wasn't over, but finally at 1 am, my friend and I went home.  I don't know how much longer the socializing went but I am glad I went, even if  somewhere Mick Jagger was feeling ill because of my moves.


Anytime you travel to a new place, adaptation is paramount to your success.  Even if you're just traveling to another city for a vacation or moving for a long-term commitment, things won't be exactly the same as "back home."  And... for the most part, that should be a good thing.  It helps expand your worldview.  Just because "that's the way things are done" at home... doesn't make them right or better - just different.

I believe that it is my responsibility to adapt to the local culture - if that's Las Vegas or Beijing.  Yet, there is something comforting to have some accommodation when I find it.  It helps me face the daily battle of how to do things the way I've known and figuring out how I accomplish those same tasks now.  I still haven't figured the post office out yet, so sorry if you were expecting a letter from me.

For me in Peru, adapting to the way of life here is a daily decision and sometimes challenge. I am attempting and not begrudgingly either, to get used to the siesta schedule.  From 12:30 until roughly 4:30, I have siesta time... for naps, errands, etc...  In the states,  my normal routine was get up, go to work hopefully by 9 am, eat lunch at my desk, and leave at 5 pm.  Here, I go to the university at 8 am and stay until 12:30 am.  I come back about 4:30 pm and teach until 8:30 pm.  It's about a 15-minute walk to campus, so by the time I get back to my room, it's 9 pm at night.

So,this means adjusting my normal meal routine towards a bigger lunch and a light snack for dinner.  I'm trying to use my time wisely during the afternoon break as well. Adapting my routine to my new schedule is something I'm actively working on and probably will be for a few more weeks.  I want to maximize my time here for my benefit as well as the benefit of the people I work with and teach.

Adaptation invites creative problem solving.  For example, I am renting a room in a boarding house of sorts. I don't have a kitchen, and until last Saturday, I didn't have access to a fridge.  Because of that, meal times have been creative. Actually, for the benefit of my health, I've been eating a lot of fruit and vegetables. I can't tell you how delicious a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was this last week! It almost tasted like manna from heaven.

I've also had to adapt to how I shop for groceries. In the states, I usually went to the grocery store twice a month, maybe more if I was preparing something special for a party or dinner.  Here, since I don't have a car, I have to shop a few times a week, because I am limited to what I can manage on my own in a taxi or moto.  Plus, because the cost of imported American brands are much higher, I've had to either choose to adapt to a local brand or pay more for a familiar comfort of Nature Valley or Pantene.  I chose the cheaper conditioner and  so far I like it.

I also haven't had access to a washer or dryer - most people just hang their clothes on the line on their roof.  I've really realized that maybe my clothes aren't as dirty as I might think in the US.   I did manage to hand-wash a few things in the "laundry area" on the roof last Saturday.  I bought some clothespins and put the clothes on the line, just like the old days in Rainbow Valley before we had a dryer.   It brings me back to the days of life before I had ready access to a washer and dryer.  How dirty was something? Did it really need to be dry-cleaned?

Perhaps one of the most creative things I think I've come up with in this subject area is about hot water.  Normally, we have a sink with hot water to wash dishes. I don't have a kitchen nor does my bathroom sink get hot water.  So, to wash dishes, underthings, or the floor, I've come up with an elegant solution.  As I mentioned, I have a device in the shower that heats water.  I realized I could wash my dishes ( one plate and a 4-piece silverware set) in the shower! I could also soak my underthings in the shower before washing them in the sink, and rinse the mop off in the shower too! Brilliant, no?

Yet,  even with all this preachy talk about adaptation, doesn't mean I am always going to enjoy it.  I have no choice but to adapt to powdered laundry soap because that's all there is - but I will always prefer liquid laundry soap. I just think it's better - especially when your sink is your washer. *

The shower

The shower head. Notice the electrical switch in the upper left.

*There are laundry services... supposedly.. and dry cleaners... but we're supposed to get a washer soon*

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

More Piura

Oh, Humanity

Being in Peru for these last couple of weeks cements my burgeoning and deepening belief that material possessions don't make you happy - relationships do.  Do I miss my nice flat-screen TV or my couches? Maybe a little, but they can be replaced.  What do I miss (besides foundation in my color)? I miss my friends and family. These peope are irreplaceable.  Memories are my treasures - not the iPod, sporty sedan (though I miss Blaze!), or fancy computer.  Here, where in the "American" view, people have so little, they are happy- because they understand that relationships are most important on their time on this planet.

Behind our skin tone, eye shape, or hair color is an innate humanity - a desire to be connected, for community, and humanity. 

My experiences thus far have been a lesson in humanity.  Thankfully, my colleagues, both American and Peruvian, have been extremely helpful and accommodating as I get my feet wet here. Some want me to be more Peruvian that I know how to be yet, but most are helpful as I try to speak and pronounce Spanish.  Yet, my inexperience in navigating daily life, coupled with my fear of speaking the language, has prevented me from doing certain things, like order a taxi, buying food, or asking for help.  However, this is fading, I hope. People in general are friendly and helpful. I hate asking for help or assistance even in the states, or among friends, or colleagues, so I have to be humble and ask for help.  How grateful I am that I got to meet two teachers from Piura before I left. 

On Friday, the center hosted an all-teacher training. All the teachers and staff attended the meeting.  The guest speaker was from the Instituto de Ciencias para la Familia, or the Institute of Family Sciences. I didn't get a lot of what the speaker said, but it was about the importance of family and relationships.  Thanks Senor! I felt like I was at an FHE  back in Utah.  I come to another continent and country and hear the same thing.  Hah.  

Anyway, one point that I did like (or more like... one point that I think understood), was about the difference between YO (I or me) y TU (you) and NOSOTROS (WE).  

How many of our relationships are based on the idea of  you and me, instead of we? Selfishness plays a destructive role in relationships of all kinds -from colleagues, to friends, to significant others. I've seen selfishness take root even among my relationships.  The professor showed the opening montage of "Up."  No dialogue, yet, I wasn't the only one with a bit of a misty eye in the meeting - because beyond our differences lie our commonalities.  As an aside, I hope that I may find a relationship as sweet as Carl and Ellie's was. 

As I sat there in the air-conditioned auditorium, listening to the speaker talk, I looked around the room. I looked at all the men and women, who weren't so different than I was.  Beyond being the same because we were all  teachers, we all wanted to be happy. We all wanted to be loved and appreciated by the people in our lives.  

On Sunday, I went to church again.  I saw there on a bench for a few moments, feeling out-of-place. However, a member of the congregation, approached me and helped translate the service for me. His sister also assisted with translating and welcoming me.  Other people again took me under their wing to help me feel comfortable and fit in, as an interloper in their world.

As classes have started, fellow teachers and colleagues have helped me get my feet wet with the system.  The students have been helpful so far as I try to figure out how to be a teacher. Family and friends back home are rooting and praying for me. I am blessed by the people in my life here as I meet them in Piura and around the world that I've known before my journey here. 

Oh humanity indeed.  We need more of it, more decency, more understanding, and more compassion for each other. Aren't we all trying to figure this fight called life out?   Do we need more trinkets or do we need more time with each other?  

Noises Off

The first day I arrived in Piura, the language center administrator warned me that I would have to get used to the noise.  "Noise?"  I smugly thought, "I can handle city noise, I've traveled, no problem, I'll get used to it."  

However, when it feels like the Pan-American Highway runs through the middle of your room, a few weeks is not enough time.  The constant cacophony of city life screeches, bellows, and barks in my ears as I navigate daily life here.  On the street, or in my room,  persistent city noise is a constant. 

Taxis and motos honk a quick  one or two-beat tone to lure your business.  Honking at other cars, people, dogs, or just for fun is part of the sport of buses, motos, taxis, or private cars. Perhaps they're just being friendly and greeting each other.  But, please, I could do without the manners, if that's the case. Yet, after riding in taxis and motos, most of the honking is in anger at the other drivers who decide to make their own road rules. Mufflers, for the most part, seem to be fashion accessories on most motorized vehicles. Vehicle brakes frequently squeak right outside my window.  Trucks rumble down this supposed quiet street,  revving their engines as the driver shifts gears on manual transmissions that hum like vacuum cleaners. 

Buildings aren't insulated, just brick and stucco (if you're lucky). There are no human mysteries when your building has no insulation.Windows don't offer much solace either. Without central air conditioning, windows are left open or else you might suffocate. I can only imagine what summer will be like when it arrives in full glory. When your windows face the street, they don't offer much in a sound barrier. Add in the construction noise of concrete mixers, hammering, sawing, and other handicraft noise, and I feel like I'm live in the middle of  "Extreme Home Makeover," if they were in my room with me. 

Every dog bark, baby cry, next door neighbor's laugh or yell is heard in perfect clarity. Perhaps Bose could learn a few things.  People that live my building seem to feel it was their national duty to slam the front door as they come and go from their activities.  Dogs pace across their tile floors above me with their click clack of their nails sounding like a host of rogue cockroaches scurrying across the floor.  Street vendors on Saturday and Sunday morning parade up and down the street, announcing the sale of their wares like medieval minstrels.  Neighborhood guards patrol the streets 24/7, blowing their whistles every few minutes.  As of yet, I haven't figured out the rhyme or reason for the whistles. Each guard in each street seems to have a slight variation of the tune.  

Perhaps Peruvians, or in this case, Piuranos, have a high noise tolerance.  My post is not to degrade or insult the people, just remarking on my observations.  Sure, big American or other world cities are loud, obnoxious, and over-the-top.  Yet, to my unfamiliar ear, Piura's city noise is loud. Yet, perhaps it is true, you really get accustomed to where you are.   However, I can't help but think of the line of a hymn, "where can I turn for peace?"  Maybe Bose is where I can turn for that sweet sound of silence.  Maybe when I come back to the United States, I will be freaked out because it is too quiet. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Photo Links

I haven't figured out how to link a whole album or combine albums... but here are three links for the pictures I've taken in Piura so far!

Without Further Adieu... Pepe and Sexy Rexy!

For those that don't know the whole story of Pepe the Peruvian Pony and his faithful friend, Sexy Rexy, please read on.

In a city now far, far away (Midvale, Utah), two sisters, Mandy and Anne, delighted me with a box of travel treats.  One of them was the very stylish and hot-to-trot pony, who we named Pepe.  He would have to accompany me on my journey.

For reasons that won't make sense here, a dear fringe friend, Wendi, gave me a very posh t-rex figurine, named Sexy Rexy, complete with a purple boa and purple-painted nails! But, she didn't leave herself out, or our other fringe friend Courtney. Wendi and Courtney have their very own Sexy Rexy.  I couldn't leave Sexy Rexy home alone, and Pepe did need a companion.

So they have come with me to Peru and have seen a lot in their short sojurn here in Piura.  Make sure to keep an eye out for where they might go next!

A Week Goes By...

Yes, I know I'm ending a sentence in a prepositional phrase... but it's for effect, and it's a blog title.

I have been in Peru officially (not counting the airport late Monday night) since Tuesday, July 24th.

What can I say in a few short sentences about my experience here in Piura thus far?  It has been humbling, eye-opening, and challenging. However, my colleagues I have met at the Universidad de Piura have been more that welcoming and helpful.  Piura is a city of contrasts. Men will walk by in full 3-piece suits as you see a construction worker riding a donkey pulling a cart of supplies.   It has been challenging to figure out how things are done  (slowly)... while decoding the rules, mores and cultural norms of things we take for granted such as how to get  to the grocery store,  how to get around town sans a car, or where to buy a cell phone.  Each day, I'm humbled to be the outsider, trying to function in day-to-day life, negotiating a new culture and a new language. My feeble and shy attempts to speak in Spanish have been generally greeted with appreciation and education.  Saying "I'm sorry" has been a great way to soften my choppy and textbook   verb conjugations.  And, when I ask, people have been delighted to answer my questions on how to say something in Spanish.  I also find that my textbook Spanish isn't quite the same here. No adios here.  They say ciao!

Have I experienced culture shock? Yes, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't.  As someone that hates asking for help, I    know I have to just let go and ask for it. I would still be taking cold showers if I didn't ask the landlord how to turn on the hot water ... (a separate electrical switch in the shower you have to turn on).  I would be very limited to my two feet if I wasn't shown the taxi system, or how to manage ordering a meal in a restaurant (you seat yourself -unless it's Chili's).  If I wasn't able to observe how to buy produce at Tottus ( like Walmart), I'd be eating the Kraps brand crackers for every meal.  For the record, you have to take your produce to a station where a clerk weighs it and gives it a UPC code, then you take it to the main cashier. The same is true for any self-serve bread product from the panderia. I wasn't allowed to buy two croissants because I didn't do that.

Thankfully, there is a constant in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  When I attended services last Sunday, I understood maybe 10% of what was said. However, there is a pattern and I knew what to expect, even if the language wasn't my most familiar. The church is definitely true no matter where you are.

Nobody has seemed very shocked or surprised to see me around town, school, or church. Okay, maybe they were a bit more surprised to see me at church, but they were very nice.  I haven't had any safety problems.  One thing here, is everyone's homes are behind gates and locks, but people are out late.  Plus, each neighborhood has a block guardian.  One of the job responsibilities must be blowing a whistle every 5 minutes... it's VERY aggravating.

Lastly, the people - they have been friendly, welcoming and kind. My colleagues have taken me to get a cell phone, food, dinner, shopping, and getting set up.  My American counterpart has shown me how to use the washer (though I haven't used it yet because I discovered today I bought floor cleaner - not laundry soap!)
However, the kissing on the cheek is a bit uncomfortable for me - I already have space issues and then add this (to me) intimate gesture of an embrace and a kiss, has been something I'm adjusting to doing when meeting people.

The cost of living is very cheap here, but somethings are outrageously priced - like electronics, shoes, and clothes. The department stores sell Maybelline makeup that you'd find at Big Lots like it was MAC.  No problems with any food yet - at least until I ate at Chili's for lunch yesterday.  It figures "American" food makes me sick.  That happened to me in China too!

I've had a craving for pancakes, mac and cheese, and tacos. Not all together, but at least my craving for granola bars was satisfied at the local gas station, when I found Nature Valley fruit and nut bars!

Classes start on Monday.  I'm excited but nervous.  This is a new experience for me and I hope I am successful.  Not being a professional teacher before, I am nervous about my lesson plans.

I also hope that this mild cold goes away so I stop coughing.  I also hope I can find peanut butter.  Think of me when you've fixed yourself a nice PB&J.