Archive for March, 2008

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Palacala

March 29, 2008

At 0330 when the earthquake woke me up I began to wonder whether taking 15 kids on a walk from 2000m up to a waterfall at 2800m, in terrain where there are frequent rockfalls and mudslides when it rains, was really such a good idea. However at 0700 when I arrived at school I’d forgotten that the earthquake had happened – I thought it was just a bad dream! It was only at about 0800, when the kids’ parents started to ring their mobiles to see if we’d felt the second earthquake that we got a little concerned. However after a call to the local police, who said that Palacala was unaffected, we continued in the minibus towards our starting point. Passing a number of fresh rockfalls on the road there did make us all a little uneasy though.

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The falls at Palacala are being developed as a tourist attraction, as such the route is well marked on stones along the way! However by British standards it’s hardly a touristy walk. It is almost entirely uphill to the falls, and although there is a marked path it is not easy going! It’s at a much higher altitude than I’m used to (we got out of the minibus at abot 2000 m and the falls are at about 2800 m) and there are places where you have to scramble rather than walk. There is also a 2 sol (40 p) charge to walk in the area (1 sol for students and school groups – lucky us!)

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The views were spectacular, the surrounding mountains are huge and the tops are lost in mist! We passed a number of small settlements on our way and also bumped into some of the locals (and their donkeys!). We were accompanied on the walk by a friendly black dog (who looked a bit like Skipper in the face, for those of you who remember him). He was a bit mangy – there were a couple of patches of red, bare skin near his tail, but he seemed delighted to join our pack for the day (he tried to get into the minibus when we got back too, which was less helpful).

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The weather for the ascent was lovely, warm and sunny, until we got to just below the falls, then the mist came down (or perhaps we’d walked into it). At first the coolness of it was a welcome change, but then it started to get a little cold. Just as we got to the falls and began to eat lunch it started to rain. Real rain, not like the sort you get in Lima! Followed quite quickly by some impressive rolls of thunder. Most of the kids hadn’t got any waterproofs (neither did I as mine are still in a box in the Port for some reason along with my walking boots…) and so we all got wet and cold quite quickly. Because of this it was a short lunch break before we turned round and headed back. The dog LOVED lunchtime – he was spoiled with tit-bits from everyone’s pack-up.

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The journey back seemed much shorter than the journey up, despite the rain. That is until we got to the ‘alternitive’ route down, that was steeper and less well maintained than the route we’d walked up. This is apparently a lot more typical of tracks when walking in Peru, and was really to show the kids what they could expect fom the next walk, and why they should buy proper walking boots! This was the only part of the walk where I really wished I was walking in my boots and not my trainers. It was VERY slippy – hills in Peru seem mainly to be made of gravel and sand. That is until you slip over, then it magically turns into lumps of jagged granite.

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It was really good to get out of Lima for a bit and see some other parts of Peru. Having something constructive to do, that wasn’t work, made a nice change. I actually think that it’s the first weekend when I haven’t ended up walking to Larco Mar and getting a coffee. When I unpacked my bag I found a good example of Boyle’s law. I had put an empty water bottle, with its lid on, in my bag at the falls. This is what it looked like closer to sea level…

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Teaching in a zoo…

March 24, 2008

As a teacher you sometimes feel like you’ve accidently walked into a zoo and not a classroom. In my case I might have… I thought I’d put up some photos of school and the zoo for those of you who either don’t have Facebook or can’t look at my profile because I don’t want to be your friend…

My room is nice, bright and stays cool for most of the day . I have already got some work up on the walls but, with 7 lessons per class a week I’m already behind with the key word lists – they may need a rethink.

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The zoo is located behind my room. It has a pond with terrapins, many rabbits, 3 scarlet macaws, 2 red masked parakeets, a wild West Peruvian Dove that managed to get into the aviary but can’t get out, 2 tortoises, and a ferret. I have no idea what happened to the gunea pigs that they had the first week I was there. I haven’t dared ask…

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To the side of my classroom is another cage which usually contains 2 squirrel monkeys and a spider monkey named Lucy. The spider monkeys are allowed out sometimes as they don’t go too far and come back eventually. Lucy is only allowed out on a lead as she runs off and goes places she shouldn’t. It is an interesting sight to see a small Markham student being taken for a walk by a wooly black monkey on a lead!

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Another great thing about the school is the staff room. Not only is it a nice place to work or relax, it also has a fairly large kitchen area, with 4 microwaves, a big fridge freezer and sink, plates, mugs, etc (but oddly no teaspoons…). It has a TV with cable, lockers for each memebr of staff, decent toilets with nice showers, and the usual printer (which your laptop is wirelessly networked to), photocopier, guillotine, binding machine etc. As if that wasn’t enough it also has an area, that as of 4pm each evening magically becomes a bar selling beer and wine! At break time and lunch some of the obreros come with trays of coffee, milk, sugar and clean mugs and there is an outside catering man who comes at break with a selection of food including fresh fruit salad (breakfast – so healthy and so nice!), and sandwiches for lunch. He also has a ‘daily special’ lunch thing, which is a pot of food containing lunch. It’s different every day, but usually involves meat/chicken, rice/potatoes/Yukka and veg so I’ve eaten really healthily lately – I’ve even known what some of it is… For the service of bringing me both breakfast and lunch he charges S/ 9.50 (it’s about 6 sol to the pound…) which is worth every centino!

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Better get to bed really – need to be up at 6 as school starts at 0730 and I like to be there at about 0645. There’s always coffee in the pot when I get there too – I really do love this school (even if I will end up with RSI and bad eyes from all the computer use!)

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Vermilion Flycatcher

March 23, 2008

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Pyrocephalus rubinus. The picture shows the male (I haven’t seen a female yet – they’re similar to the males, but have a white throat. There is also a melanic form which I haven’t seen either!). According to my bird book (which is in spanish, so I could be wrong!) they are VERY terratorial and have been known to attack their own reflections! They nest in trees and build cup shaped nests into which they lay 2 – 4 white eggs (which may have brown spots on them). They incubate the eggs for 14 – 23 days. They eat insects which they catch in flight (which you’d expect really if you’d read the name – ‘The Vermilion flycatcher – does exactly what it says in the tin…’).  They are really very pretty and also sing a nice song morning and evening (as you’d expect from a territorial bird I suppose).

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The Desk Saga…

March 23, 2008

I need a computer desk in my room (so that, if for no other reason, I have somewhere to put all the books that are currently on my bedside table and get knocked off everytime my alarm goes off in the morning!). Consequently, last week, I purchased a computer desk from ACE homestore (a lot like B and Q for those in the UK). That in itself involved more Spanish than I really speak as I needed to get the desk I wanted, pay for it, get it put aside for later, then go back and pick it up and get it into the taxi! I managed, just. It is a flat pack desk that requires assembly at home. I have done similar things before so I wasn’t worried…

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Like my dad taught me the first thing I did was get all the pieces out of the box and sorth them. At this point I made my first mistake. Rather than go through the entire list of pieces I did the teacher thing of counting them (18 pieces) and then looking at the instructions (18 pieces).

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I was pleasantly surprised by the tools supplied with the desk – I’ve never had flatpack come with a screwdriver and spanner before, and before long I was happily following the diagrams in the instructions. Each piece of desk had a sticker with a part number on it and the same number used in the diagrams so it was very straightforward to start with. Soon I had the makings of a nice desk! It was at this point I noticed that 2 pieces had the same number stuck to them. On further investigation I found that this was indeed correct, and I was missing part number 18. A small, but pivotal piece. I stopped work at this point and was mildly cross! I tried emailing ACE, but had no reply. Probably because I’d written in English!

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I decided that my best bet was to go back to ACE (which is in Jockey Plazza – a new, large, shopping mall about half an hour’s taxi ride away) at some point with the receipt and the instructions and try to obtain piece number 18. This I did – I have no idea what the woman in the shop kept asking me, but I looked stupid (not difficult) and repeated ‘numero 18 no es en la caja’ until a nice young man took me to the back of the shop and opened one of the boxes to get me piece number 18. I was slightly disappointed with how small and insignificant it looked after all the trouble it had caused me!

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Full of new hope I recommenced work on the desk. It had looked so simple in the shop, but it has obviously been designed by a dim-wit who has never actually put together a single item of flat-pack in his life! 4 holes have been drilled at a place where it is IMPOSSIBLE to get a screw in because they hit the piece above them when you try (never mind being able to get a screwdeiver to them!) and a couple of places were too tight for the screwdriver they supplied to work. On top of that not all of the holes lined up properly so it was very difficult to get the screws in properly. Very soon I felt like throwing the whole lot out of the window, but after some basic tool design on my part (remember that time when you did moments in physics and could’t see the point? All becomes clear now eh?!) and a bit of settling for it being shoddy workmanship in places, I had finished! I’m not sure it was worth the effort really, but it is a LOT better than nothing!

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I have NEVER had so much trouble with flat pack furniture before. Maybe this is what happens when the people that design the furiture have handymen to put them together! I need some bookshelves too. I’m thinking that I’ll be a LOT more choosey about the ones I get this time, and probably won’t be shopping at ACE…

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I went to an ale-house I used to frequent…

March 18, 2008

I went out last night for St Patrick’s… There is one Irish bar in Lima. It is owned by an Englishman and doesn’t serve any Guinness, Murpheys, Irish Whisky or Beamish. I’ve been once before. It’s usually full of Ex pat men drinking lager, and Peruanas trying to pull the Ex pat men. Last time I went I stood out a mile and got chatted up by a Serbian, called AK, who may be wanted for war crimes (someone said it as a joke, but I wasn’t so sure!).

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This time it wasn’t so bad as it was PACKED for St Patrick’s, with a very international crowd. In the spirit of the occasion they were adding green food colouring to the lager… that probably tells you all you need to know about the place, still the atmosphere was good! There were a couple of live bands (one of whom is made up mainly of staff from the school!) who were really good (much to my surprise!) and they played a mix of random covers and some traditional Irish songs.

The drinking competition was won by a very tall, very blonde Swede. He and his friends, who were the tallest people in the pub by MILES then stood right at the front so noone could see properly. Even this didn’t seem to upset anyone and much dancing, singing and jollity ensued.
I wasn’t drinking as I had school today (only wanting coke seemed to be a very difficult concept both for the bar staff, and for the people from school that I’d gone with!), but even so, staying out til 1 am in a sweaty pub has taken its toll – I must be getting old! I felt alright when I got up at 6 am, but by the time I’d done cafeteria duty at lunch time, in the blazing sun, I was feeling a little worse for wear! It didn’t help that I’d forgotten my sun lotion and sun glasses either. By the time I got home I was starting to feel hung over, which seemed a little unfair all things considered.

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However a plate of spaghetti bolognaise and a couple of episodes of Smallville later I’m feeling human again and thinking I probably ought to go to bed soon! Thankfully it’s a 3 day week due to living in a catholic country and it being Maunday Thursday and Good Friday. Tomorrow after school there is a ‘communidad’ event. All the staff at the school pay 0.4% of their wage into the communidad fund which then pays for refreshemtns in the staff room at break and various events throughout the year. Tomorrow it is a barbeque at the Lower school campus. Should be nice to relax for a bit after a hectic start to the term!

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My first week of teaching.

March 10, 2008

I would have written this post on Saturday, but I spent a large part of it asleep and most of the time when I wasn’t asleep eating.  On Sunday I decided to follow the wise words of a Zen cow I got as a birthday card once – it suggested the one should ‘wander aimlessly and eat alot’ I did both on my way home from church.  I also had a very strange conversation with a woman in the inca market about alpaca fleeces (which you apparently can’t get – they always cut them up and make them into rugs of a more sensible shape).  I could have bought a sheep one for 75 Soles (15 pounds) without bargaining.  Alpaca is MUCH softer though, so I am currently in a quandry.  Natural fleece or softer, but slightly more manufactured rug?  Difficult choice, but I don’t need to decide until it gets colder.

 I have now taught right through my timetable once (last Monday didn’t count as it was mainly admin).  It seems OK.  I have bored my lower sixth to death doing a practical on the rate of diffusion into agar blocks and the effect of surface area (hence cells being small).  At least when you watch paint dry you can get high from the smell and don’t have to wear safety specs…

My GCSE kids are nice – I’ve already done activities with them that I wouldn’t have tried with most of my classes in ‘ull!  And weirdest of all they all say goodbye and thankyou at the end of the lesson!  I have had all the homework I have set back in so far too – I’m sure this can’t be normal, but other staff say it is!

The swimming standards were not as much chaos as I thought they’d be – the kids pretty much knew what they were doing, and seemed to naturally want to line up in alphabetical order.  Even the most unathletic kids did 50m and most were quite competitive about it!  The bit that confused me most is that otherwise fast and graceful swimmers took 3 or 4 seconds to turn round at the end of their length – very few of them could do those turning-under-water type turns you see in real races.  I think it’s because they do most of their swimming at the beach over the summer.  Stupidly I forgot to take sun lotion or my nice new Oakley sunglasses so spent a lot of the time squinting and trying to keep in the shade – still I’ll know better for next time.  Other house events that are coming up include a National Anthem singing competition, the proper swimming gala and a music contest.

 The main stumbling block to good lessons is the scarlet Macaw.  I am convinced now that he is being deliberately disruptive, safe in the knowledge that I can’t give him a detention.  I’m sure he watches me in the room, and only starts to squawk if I stand at the front and try and talk to the group.  When I’m walking round, helping pupils etc. he is silent.  As soon as I go near my desk, or pick up the eBeam pen, cacophony!  Driving me mad, but amuses the kids no end.  Maybe I should try bribeing him with fruit…

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First day nerves…

March 3, 2008

Well I survived my first day of organised chaos! I am an S4 tutor this year (equivalent to year 11 in England) and spent most of the day with my new tutor group, trying to learn names (and failing miserably – if you know me from school in Hull you know how bad I am with names!), sorting out lockers, laptops (all the kids at this school get a laptop for school use), photographs, timetable problems (thankfully few!), attending assemblies and teaching my first lesson. I say lesson – it was more like half a lesson as we spent the first half of the lesson handing out textbooks (for all 3 sciences – I will get this group for 7 lessons a week for 6 weeks, then rotate onto another group but I’m their ‘science tutor’ so have to give out all the books and write their reports), and putting the barcode of each book in the computer system.

The kids here are lovely (although I had to send 4 of my tutor group home straight away because their hair was too long or they were wearing the wrong shoes) if a bit excitable and noisy at times – especially the boys! I can see myself falling out with one or two of them if they don’t learn to listen when their classmates are talking! On the whole they seem very focused and motivated – every student in my tutor group is expecting to go to university, and most of them want to study abroad and they know they need good results to do that.

My lab is nice (although the desks are fixed in rows which I don’t like too much) and stays pretty cool for most of the day. The main drawbacks with it are its proximity to the girls toilet, and its proximity to the mini zoo, or more specifically the VERY noisy scarlet macaw (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scarlet_Macaw) that takes great delight in squawking when I’m trying to listen to students. The tortoise that wanders in and tries to eat things (like my dictionary, my trousers, me…) is less of a problem as he only comes in if the door to the zoo is open after school or on the weekends!

Hopefully tomorrow will go as well as today (and at some point I’ll get round to taking some pictures to go up here) and then on Wednesday I have the swimming standards to look forward to – I’ve been put into Guise house (http://www.markham.edu.pe/student.cfm?p=student_houses_guise.html&m=student_houses.html) who won last year after the previous victors had won for about 15 years in a row (although they had been cheating up until last year – they always ran in the inside lane, and the staggers were wrong so they were running a couple of meters a lap less than everyone else…). Guise is blue and has a badge with a flying horse – cool! The swimming standards are the first house event of the term – every student should swim, they get 1 point for getting in the water and swimming 50m, and then up to 2 more points depending on how much faster than last year’s average speed they swim.

I occasionally feel like I’ve wandered into a non-boarding version of Hogwarts, at least I’m not in Slytherin…