Archive for February, 2008


A tale of two churches.

February 24, 2008

Last weekend I attended the Union Church of Lima ( It was OK – the people were very lovely, friendly and helpful, and a number of people from school (including the head) go there. It seemed very familiar to someone who had come from a low anglican church in England, which was the problem I think! I came away thinking that it wouldn’t be too bad if that’s where I ended up going, but that I’d really prefer something a little livelier and less traditional if it was avaliable. I wasn’t too hopeful – I was thinking I really ought to be grateful that there was a service in English!

Today I went to Flamingo Road Church ( which was a very different experience. The church meets in the auditorium of a cinema and have a live worship band, playing contemporary music, through a good sound system with decent lighting and words on the big screen. The sermon is also projected onto the big sceen. The prayers were more spontaneous and people actually looked like they may be enjoying themselves… all in all a more positive and involving experience of church! I’m sure at some point I’ll get over the typical English prejudice that people preaching with an American accent are only after your money (on which note – using popcorn containers as a collection ‘plate’ is a new one on me!) especially if the sermons continue to be as good as today’s. I think I may have found my new church here…


We’ll weather the weather…

February 24, 2008

I am living in the driest capital city in the world. It averages 0.7cm of rain a YEAR. Hence my surprise yesterday to find myself walking home in the rain looking at a rainbow. It isn’t really what I’d call rain – more a light summer shower (but with nice big fat rain drops). rain viewThe locals seemed to think it was some kind of storm. As I walked across the usually bustling park, keeping my eyes open for joggers and other weird health freaks (no offence meant Erica…), I noticed a complete dearth of activity. Apparently the drizzle was too much for them. In their defence, when it rains here the pavements become a slippery deathtrap – a combination of dust, oil and plant sap I think! What was fun was watching the cars driving about – half of them don’t have working windscreen wipers, and those that do don’t know where they are or how to use them!

It was lovely to see a rainbow. Rainbow over LimaI was just starting to get a bit homesick and wonder what I’d let myself in for – it had been a long week and I’d had to try and take on board LOADS of information about school policy, the department, what I was teaching, the MASSIVE school intranet and use of computers in lessons (the pupils I’ll teach don’t have exercise books – they get given a laptop at the start of year 9 and take that to lessons with them). I was feeling a little intimidated, a little out of my depth and then there, completely unexpectedly, and almost unheard of in Lima, was a reminder of God’s promise that everything will be OK. Just what I needed really! The picture of the rainbow isn’t all that clear, but you can just about make it out if you try…


Whole School Integration

February 20, 2008

This year, for the first time ever (I think) Markham started the year with a Whole School Integration Day.  This involved ALL staff (both teaching and support, including the headmaster and the director of the school) from all 3 sections of the school (Early Years, Lower school and Upper School) appearing shyly, onto the school field at 9am and blinking foolishly at the 5 large, brightly coloured canopies, PA system and band that had appeared as if by magic overnight.  We were then handed t-shirts bearing our team colours and name.  You could spot the reluctants and cynics by the speed with which they donned (or didn’t!) their t-shirts!

 The teams were based on the 5 core values of the school; Respect for oneself and for others, Honesty, Loyalty, Generosity and Tolerance.  I was in the green team – generosity.  The task, we were informed, was to be the ‘Superhero challenge’!  Within the shade of our canopy we found; cold drinks, a load of random materials, cardboard, wire etc, and most importantly further instructions written in Spanish and English.  Harry Hildebrand (the former head of Science and one of the most natural and enthusiastic leaders I’ve ever seen) was instantly and unanimously voted group leader and began to explain the task.

With the help of some professional puppeteers and musicians (that the company runing the day had brought along) we were to write a short (8 min) musical about our superhero.  He/she/it had to be the embodiment of the quality we represented – in our case generosity – and we had to come up with a story, who they were, how they became a superhero, what their superpowers were etc. We thought we had a slight advantage as the head of upper school music was in our group!

 If you had told me 2 weeks ago that I was going to spend this morning helping to write a musical about a green, flying, generous superhero dolphin named Robin, I’m not entirely sure I’d have believed you!  Imagine if you will…

 THE SHOW OPENS [Star Wars Theme tune]

PROLOGUE [in song, to a tune I don’t know]

Robin the dolphin, was just a normal dolphin.  When he was young he never shared with anyone.  Then he grew up, he swam into some toxic waste.  Then he transformed, he grew wings and went to save the world…

Robin the dolphin, superheroe generoso.  Robin the dolphin, will share with you at anytime

Robin the dolphin, has super-echolocation.  If you need something, he knows just where to find you…

Robin our friend, superheroe generoso.  Robin the dolphin, generous with everyone.

SCENE 1 – A LOVELY CALM OCEAN YEARS AGO [backing music ‘under the sea’ from the little Mermaid] (at this point I’m going to improvise slightly as I don’t have the script, but I’ll include the main things…)

Robin [a giant dolphin puppet] is swimming in the sea catching fish.  His dolphin friends come, but he won’t share the fish at all.  He becomes unhappy and alone. He sees a sailing boat in the distance full of happy sailors and can’t understand why they are so happy.

[THUNDER, WAVES, WIND AND GENERAL STORM NOISES…]  During the fierce storm the boat is damged and there is a spill of toxic, possibly radioactive waste, which surrounds Robin and starts to kill him.  The sailors in the boat, selflessly generous to a man, jump into the sea and rescue him at the cost of their own lives.  [STAR WARS THEME TUNE]This inspires Robin to become a better dolphin.  He then realises that the toxic waste has turned him green and given him super powers (including super surfing ability)

MUSIC – Surfin’ USA

If everybody had a river, across the jungle zone,  then everybody’d be surfin’ like Amazonia, You see them wearing their baggies, Huanachi sandals too, A bushy bushy black hairdo, surfin’ Amazon!


As he is swimming about Robin finds a message in a bottle and reads it…

MUSIC – ‘Message in a bottle’ The Police;

Mining Company, Ruining our forest.  Another hungry day, all our food depleted.  No money for schools, if only they would share. Please rescue me, before I fall into despair.  I’ll send an SOS to the world x 2  I hope that Robin gets my.. x2  Message in a bottle x2


Robbie responds to the message, using his new wings he flies through the jungle to save the day

MUSIC – In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the dolphin flies above.  In the jungle the mighty jungle the dolphin spreads his love.  ahh Oooooh  etc.


Robbin, using his super hero persuasion, convinces the mining corporation to clean up its act and even put some of its profits into building schools for the local communities.

MUSIC – Give a little bit, give a little bit of your love to them, Give a little bit, give a little bit of your profits to them.  Clean up your pollution, and build some schools, help their futures.  Give a little bit etc.

 MUSIC – Robin the dolphin reprise


I’m sure you all agree it was a masterpiece…  🙂  Was fun though and I got to meet loads of people and listen to a lot of Spanish that I didn’t fully understand!(if people noticed I was struggling to understand they would appologise and switch to English which was great and some of the conversations were very much half and half which was cool too)  It did show very clearly though the difference between the foreigners who had learned Spanish and those who hadn’t – I want to be in the former group as soon as possible! I’m still not entirely sure why the star wars theme appeared, maybe I’l never know…

For as much as it was fun, I did learn a lot I think, about the way the foreign and local staff interact, about the way the locals think, behave, express themselves etc. I reckon it’ll help a lot with my understanding of the culture here.

Must mention lunch for those of you who teach at SHTC.  Lunch was provided in the cafeteria.  For starter you had a choice of asparagus souflé or tuna causa (a traditional peruvian dish), then main was either chicken with rice and veg, beef with rice and veg, or pasta with veg and a creamy cheese sauce.  Pudding was ice cream or lúcuma (a type of fruit) mousse, and there was also chicha morada or passion fruit juice to drink.  I think you’ll agree, slightly nicher than the usual UK lunch on training days!

One of the really good things is that, although the staff officially came back today, the kids don’t start until a week on Monday, so we have a good week and a bit to sort ourselvs out for the start of term, loads of department time and plenty of opportunity to get hold of other staff as they are all in too!  Looking forward to getting stuck in now!


Mi Casa.

February 18, 2008

Now I’ve settled in a bit I thought I’d write a proper description of my new place and show you some pictures.view from lounge onto balcony As with all houses round here security is paramount, apparently the scale of it isn’t really necessary now, but in the late 80s when the Shining Path were prominent it was.  There are 2 doors to get through to get into the lobby (both with different keys) although the second door is usually open when the security man is in.  To get to the lift you have to walk past the desk of the security man (as he is also the handy man he isn’t always there, but he’s always around somewhere nearby).  The weirdest thing for me is that the lift opens straight into the appartment (with a third key).  In case of fire or earthquake, when you can’t use the lift, there is also a back door (yet another key) that goes onto the stairs. 

The main room in the appartment is lovely – it is the complete width of the appartment and faces the balcony with its view of the park.  I can sit for ages just watching the many different bird going about their business.  I’m starting to get very frustrated that I don’t know what they all are – there is some kind of bird of prey nesting in one of the trees opposite which is cool!  I imagine a ‘birds of Lima’ section of the blog developing shortly.  The loungeBecause the room is entirely glass fronted it is really light and airy and we have the balcony doors open most of the time to try and get a draught through.  The balcony is great too – it only gets direct sunshine in the early morning (which is the only time it’s cool enough to want to be in the sun!) and has a great view of the park.  There’s a BBQ, plants in pots and a nice set of table and chairs out there too!  It’s very relaxing to sit out there eating your tea, watching the birds, or the joggers and other people in the park.

 The kitchen is very modern for Peru (from what I’ve seen in other appartments). It has an island in the centre which has a The kitchen and dining areagas hob and extractor fan along with numerous draws and cupboards, then around te outside are a built in cooker and microwave, stainless steel double sinks and more cupboard space than either of us can reach (which considering the average Peruana is a good 5 inches shorter than me makes you wonder who designed the kitchen really!).  At the back of the kitchen is the door out onto the ‘utility room’ which has another door into the ‘maid’s room’ which, as our maid doesn’t live in, just houses the ironing, and various cleaning bits and bobs.

In the back half of the house is an area that my flatmate uses as an office –View from the balcony A lot of Peruvian houses seem to have this kind of thing – a large ish space between rooms, I’m not entirely sure what it’s for, but most ex-pats seem to use it as a TV/comfy sitting room or play area if they have kids.  Her bedroom is complete with ensuite bathroom and walk in wardrobe (which must be about the same size as my bathroom in Hull), next to that is the spare room (which is still large enough to get a double bed in) and opposite that is ‘my’ bathroom.  Finally, at the back of the house  is my room.

 It’s a nice big room, really light and airy, and has more wardrobe space than I know what to do with (although the idea of buying more clothes has crossed my mind…)My bedroomMy bedroom windowThe view from my bedroom window


Maid in Lima?

February 16, 2008

Living in a really posh appartment overlooking the park has been a bit of a culture shock in itself, but nothing compared to the strangeness of having a maid.  The amount of dust in Lima does mean that if you don’t want black feet within seconds of geting out of the shower you need to clean the floors at least every other day, similarly everything needs dusting a lot, however these are the least of the maid’s duties.  

I knew we had a maid that came in 3 times a week, but I assumed she just came in to clean the floors and dust, so this morning, when I couldn’t find the clean clothes I had hung out to dry earlier in the week, I was plesently surprised to find them ironed and hung up neatly in my wardrobe!  There is still a bit of me that feels like I am betraying my working class roots though.

Still, when you are in a country with such appalling poverty, and you are earning massivly more than the average wage I supose you ought to employ as many people as you can.  If you are middle class Peruvian the maid does EVERYTHING – cleaning, cooking, washing, ironing, takes your dogs for walks, looks after your children etc.  They prefer working for gringos as they don’t have to do as much for their money and they tend to get better bonuses too!  If it gets my ironing and washing up done I’m sure I’ll get used to it!


Building steps…

February 14, 2008

PamplonaYesterday (Tuesday 12th Feb) I went on a ‘trip’ with school.  The school are currently hosting the American (the continent, not the country) Round Square conference ( and an important part of it is the community service project.  The trip was to an area of Lima called Pamplona and the aim of the work was to build a set of steps up the hillside.  The school has previously been involved in work to build a small community kitchen/dining area and medicine store (complete with access steps) for the community.

I was expecting to see people living in poverty – I’d been told that it was a very poor area.  However I wasn’t really prepared for the sheer scale of it – hundreds and hundreds of tiny shacks, perched precariously on terraces that had been built out of the desert rubble (with some of the best dry stone walling I’ve seen outside of Yorkshire!).  The ‘road’ was little more than a single lane dirt track winding its way up the steep slopes.  The houses have electricity (although I’m not sure it’d get past health and safety at home – you could see where they had twisted the wires together to make them longer, or taken a spur off to a new house!) but no running water – the water truck comes up and fills barrels for people(and apparently charges 30 times the price of water in the main part of the city).  The smell going through the centre of the district where the rubbish dump and cattle pens are was stomach turning, however this lessened as you moved out of the bottom of the valley and up the slopes towards the small community of 60 or so houses that we were working with.

When we arrived at the work site we were greeted with smiles (and curiosity from the children) and shown the work that the previous day’s team had completed.  They had concreted half of the set of steps (the bottom half might I add, so we had the harder job – twice as far to lug cement up , and send empty buckets back!).  The importance of the work was emphasised as a number of men and women from the community had taken the day off work to be able to work on the project with us. (A day’s pay is a lot to lose when you’re living hand to mouth!)

The plan was to work for an hour or so and have a break, do another hour then lunch, another hour then a break and then a final hour before going back to school.  We had to line ourselves up alongside the wooden ‘scaffolding’ (which had been constructed earlier in the month and part filled with rubble to reduce the amount of cement needed) and create a human chain to pass cement up the slope and the empty buckets down the slope.

The need for the steps became obvious as soon as we tried to climb the slope to get into position – I needed to use both hands and hold onto the frame to climb up – the slope was just a jumble of sand and rocks and every time you moved your feet you sent a small avalanche of loose dirt sliding down the hillside.  I couldn’t imagine trying to carry children or shopping up to the houses at the top.  By the time I reached the top I was out of breath, covered in dust and absolutely shattered.  Then the hard work started. 

Standing about an arms span apart we formed a human chain and began to pass buckets of cement up to the top, things were going fine until the empty buckets started coming back the other way – you either had to put one down, or let go – not ideal when our footing was so insecure! After an hour we had only completed 3 steps.  The 30 degree heat and blasting sunshine were taking their toll on one or two people too and by lunchtime a couple of the students had gone back to school feeling sick.

We had a break and then while I was getting back to my place I slipped and cut my leg on a large rock.  I didn’t realise I’d drawn blood until we stopped for lunch when the school nurse cleaned it and put a plaster on for me – it’s not every school that takes the school nurse out on trips with them rather than just shoving a first aid kit in the bus!  She also flushed my eye out for me later on when I got something in it (probably sweaty, dusty sun lotion – it stung like mad and made my eyes run so much I couldn’t see.  On the plus side I didn’t get badly sun burned or get sunstroke which is what I was worried about).

After lunch I decided I couldn’t cope with the rough ground anymore, at the risk of sounding like my mother my knee was really starting to hurt, so I positioned myself closer to the bottom of the chain where I could stand on the steps built the previous day.  We also organised ourselves so that while a chain of many people passed buckets of cement from person to person up the slope, the empty buckets were passed down by throwing them along a more spread out chain of about 10 people down the slope.  This increased our work rate quite considerably.  Unfortunately we hadn’t finished the steps when the time came for us to leave.

To thank us for our help the community had prepared a small show for us – firstly 5 of the young girls from the community did a dance for us, followed by 3 of the older women, in traditional costume, who insisted on the menfolk joining in!  The kids were obsessed with the digital cameras – they loved to look at themselves in the pictures once they had been taken and, like small children everywhere, they put their hands behind each other’s heads and pulled funny faces at the camera. 

It was a strange experience being involved in the day.  On one hand the poverty was awful and no-one should have to live like that, but on the other their was a real sense of communitythe people were friendly, open and very positive about their futures and determined to work their way to a better standard of living.  The kids were all happy and all the animals you saw about (LOTS of dogs, a few cats, chickens, ducks, pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs) were healthy and looked after. 

I was glad to get back to the hotel, have a shower and put some clean clothes on.  At the same time I was aware that the people I’d been working alongside all day did not have that option.  The contrast between the dry, dusty, impoverished area I’d been in and the wealthy, lush, spotless suburb of Miraflores was striking.  I was lucky to get the opportunity to go and I’m looking forward to getting involved with more work there if the opportunity presents itself.


A new Home!

February 14, 2008

I have officially checked out of the hotel Ariosto and moved into my new apartment!  I am sharing with a New Zealander named Dianna Basset who is head of lower school.  Unfortunately she is leaving in July so I will have to look for another place then (or possibly get someone else to share here – we’ll see when the time comes!). It’s a fantastic apartment – 3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, lovely fitted kitchen with all the mod cons, huge lounge and balcony overlooking the park and even what are considered to be large maid’s quarters (if you have a maid that lives in). On top of all that, its location is fantastic too – about 5 min walk from school, and a similar distance from shops, banks etc.  My room is large – probably a bit bigger than my front room in Hull – and is complete with built in wardrobes/shelves/drawers that are currently half empty (but not for long I wouldn’t have thought – I’ve already had to buy more hot weather clothes since I’ve been here as I didn’t have enough with me).  I’m paying $500 a month which includes all bills, internet and a maid 3 times a week.  This is a bargain as I’m probably going to have to pay about $700 for a place of my own, plus bills, plus maintenance charge (all apartment blocks have a front desk with security/handyman and cleaners for the communal areas).  I have unpacked, done some washing (what luxury!), done my Spanish homework for tomorrow and got on the internet legitimately without stealing WiFi from anyone – bliss…