Archive for the ‘Living in Lima’ Category


Christmas and New Year in foreign climes

January 2, 2009

The festive season is always less exciting when you are older than it was when you were a child, and with my family now spread out across Europe (or no longer alive) I wasn’t to worried about spending Christmas in Peru rather than trying to get back to the UK.   This Christmas was the second I had spent outside of the UK (having been in Spain with Mum and Anna last year) and it was quite a different experience! 

Firstly the decorations – they are everywhere as they are at home, but generally much more tasteful – peoples’ houses look gorgeous with all the white lights and an ocasional nativity.  I saw one inflatable Christmas tree decoration and NO Father Christmas ones.  In fact I barely saw a father Christmas – there was one in Wong (of course) – he doesn’t really feature in the Peruvian Christmas.  Christmas trees are a problem here though.  To say I hate artificial trees is far too mild a term to really cover my feelings.  I loathe their plasticy, uniform, ‘this is what shape a pine tree SHOULD be’, odourless banality.   Of course you can’t get real trees here.  So instead I had a christmas pot plant.  Sandra had bought me some Peruvian baubles as part of my Christmas present and I grabbed a discounted box from Wong on Christmas eve.  I couldn’t find any tinsel anywhere – I may have to import some… and by the time I got round to getting decorations most shops had stopped selling them anyway (the decorations go up in early to mid December here rather than Christmas eve like in my house!) so I didn’t manage to get any lights 😦 .  I still had an Angel that mum had  bought for me from Turkey to go on the top of the ‘tree’ so it wasn’t all bad!  I also have a little Peruvian nativity (another present from Sandra) 


Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree...

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree...

Secondly the temperature – I am from the Northern hemisphere, I am used to Christmas in the winter, short days, long nights, cold weather and at least the possibility of snow at some point during the holiday.  I just couldn’t quite get into the festive spirit as I did my Christmas shopping on Christmas eve in 3/4 length trousers, a t-shirt, sunnys and factor 50 sun lotion.  Somehow it just doesn’t feel right.  Especially weird for me is that they use snowflakes for christmas decorations even though it has never snowed in Lima, ever, and seeing snow when it’s hot is just odd!


Thirdly Christmas itself – I spent Christmas with Marco’s family at his house (but rather irritatingly forgot to take my camera…)  Christmas in Peru is all done and dusted by 3am Christmas morning as it starts on Christmas eve at midnight!  This seemed very odd to me as I was sat in my flat, having wrapped my presents, waiting to be picked up at 9.30 pm (obviously the original time I’d been given was 7.30 pm but this is Peru).  I think we actually left the house about 10.30 and went to Marco’s where his Mum and sisters were busy cooking turkey, some kind of mince, apple sauce, beetroot salad and Turkish rice.  They had some fireworks (bangers), bought off men in the street, (which to me looked incredibly dangerous but they happily allowed he kids to carry them around the house) which they set off after midnight in their front yard, and sparklers which they let the kids have in the house – I am frequently amazed that anyone in Peru reaches adulthood!

At midnight we all said ‘Feliz Navidad’ and then Marco’s mum went through a weird ritual where she took the baby jesus doll out of it’s box, carried it round to everyone (who made a wish, then kissed the doll and then crossed themselves) and then placed the doll in the centre of the nativity scene.  I had a bizzare conversation trying to explain why I wasn’t going to kiss the doll or make any wishes over it, but that yes I did believe in God and I AM a christian and we do have Jesus in the non-Catholic world… in Spanish.  I really wish Marco had given me some advanced warning on that one!  We then drank champagne and opened the presents and then (at around 1am) sat down to eat Christmas dinner.  Watching two children, who were so tired that they could barely keep their eyes open, being forced to eat a full dinner at 1 am seemed a little like child cruelty to me.  Still, it was delicious food!  Unlike home there were no games, no cards, no Trivial Persuit, no Monopoly, no  Cluedo, just talking and eating.


Then I went home to bed and slept until 1pm on Christmas day!  I was amazed at how many bodegas and other shops were open on Christmas day and how many people were out in the park, sat in Starbucks  etc.  it was very strange for me!


New year was a quiet affair – a few of Marco’s friends came round to my appartment (at 1130pm), let some fireworks off from my balcony and had a drink and a chat and played with Sophia.  There were a LOT of fireworks being set off – it seems to be traditional here (but I suppose if you don’t have bonfire night you need an excuse some other time!) and I got a great view of them all from my balcony!  They left at about 3 am and tidied up themselves before they left.  Bonus!

Plans for the start of the year include going on holiday with Kevin and Lorna who come out in 4 days time 🙂  then either trying to book a last minute holiday to the Galapogos islands or somewhere in Latin America, or maybe doing an intensive Spanish course.  I have a lot of coursework to mark and a scheme of work to write too.  At the moment it seems like I have forever to worry about work, but I know that if I don’t try to get at least SOME of it started soon I’ll be doing it at 3 am the day before the marks are due…


The last month of school…

December 21, 2008

In the UK the last month of school is a fairly relaxed affair – kids in 6th form and year 11 are off on study leave and doing exams and the others are all dreaming of what they will do on their holidays.  The reports are all done, work is pretty easy – just the last topics to finish off and gained time to do other bits and pieces in.  Not so in Markham.  ALL the pupils in all the years sit exams in the last month.  These exams are written in school, invigilated by teaching staff, marked in school and count as 50% of their grade for the year.  If pupils fail a subject they have to do holiday work and sit recuperation exams in the holidays.  If they fail a number of subjects in recuperation then they have to resit the whole year.  It is tense to say the least and we have to have the exams marked and reports written for all the kids by the end of the second to last week.  We then come in on the Saturday morning to decide which kids have failed and need holiday work.  We then have to write the holiday work and the recuperation exams (and markschemes) ready for the lasst week.  The last week is on a COMPLETELY different timetabe – you have one or 2 lessons with each class that you teach to go through the end of year exams.  The kids don’t really care – the work ethic here is not ‘where did I go wrong and how can I do better next time’ but rather ‘did I pass the year – phew!’ If they didn’t pass the exam they listen, but only so they can try and beg a few extra marks. It’s quite sad really!  The IB kids also do their ‘Group 4 project’ in 2 days of the last week – the work never seemed to stop!

Also the S3 (year 10) Tambopata trip happens in the last month.  I went for both trips this year and hence had a week less than everyone else to write reports and do marking.  The Tambopata trip is great, but exhausting – you are working from 4am – 10pm (sometimes later if the kids won’t sleep) without a break, including the weekends.  I did actually get a bit of a rest, but only because I got stung by a scorpion while putting my trousers on one morning and had to spend a day in bed, then a day on the sofa.  I was lucky – the last person who got stung by the same species of scorpion had to spend a week in hospital with their whole leg swollen and paralysed – the guide’s quick action helped localise the toxins to my foot so 2 days not walking and one more limping about and I was fine!

Back at school it didn’t feel like Christmas at all – all the kids were focused on their exams.  There were no christmas decorations, no cards, no presents, no games, no videos, no carol concert – it was very weird.  There was however a LOT of stress and grumpiness and a complete lack of communication which was getting very frustrating – there are a lot of new staff in science (including the HOD) and noone really told us what was going on.  The reporting systems in the school are sooooo complicated that we wasted a lot of time getting nothing much done working it out!

Back at the flat I woke up one sunday morning thinking I’d go and read my book on the sofa for a bit only to find myself splashing through the lounge.  I quickly realised that the neighbour upstairs had a broken pipe (or something) and the water was dripping through my light fittings and  ceiling.  Thankfully, once I’d got dressed and gone upstairs to try and explain, she sent the workman she had clearing up her flat down to mine.  The ceiling is still wet though, and starting to go mouldy.  The arquitecht has been and said that it could be another 3 months or so until it is properly dry (this was after he’d drilled a number of holes in the ceiling to let the water out faster!). Delightful!

There were, however, nice things to break up the stress.  The British Ambassador’s Christmas Party was excellent – the house and grounds were gorgeous with fairy lights and candles and the food was delicious.  A nice excuse to wear a skirt (although my legs were still covered in bites from the jungle!) and high heels 🙂  The last 2 days of school had no teaching, they were ‘Commendations assembly’ ‘Speech day’ and ‘Graduation’.  All formal occasions.  I was out by 10 minutes on the length of the headmaster’s speech too, so didn’t win the sweepstake (or the bottle of champagne the head donated when he found out what we were doing!).  We found out who the prefects and house captains would be next year (with some nice surprises) and which kids had won prizes etc.  Graduation is a very American like affair (after all it is only high school) but the kids love it – it starts at 7pm, the kids in LN or UB who have now finished their high school studies process in in caps and gowns with different stripes depending on whether they have passed or achieved merit, honours or distinction.  A lot of this depends on effort and conduct during the time at school and if they have been involved in extra-curricular things.  What is strange is that a lot of people there only applaud for their own child, and after that just have a bit of a chat with the people around them and stop listening.  What is considered impolite here is quite different to the UK!  After the ceremony was a cocktail party and a chance to say congratulations and goodbye to my UB students.  It did seem a bit weird to see them graduating when they hadn’t actually got their IB results yet…  

After the cocktails a number of the staff went out for a celebratory drink in a nice bar in Barranco.  Somehow we ended up in a ‘club’ nearby and wended our merry way home at about 3 am.  Thankfully we didn’t have to be in school until 1230 the next day…

The final day of school involved nothing but the ‘Headmaster’s Christmas Lunch’.  All staff were invited to the headmaster’s house where we found the garden transformed into something similar to a wedding marquee – tables set with lovely christmas decorations and waiters bringing round wine, cocktails and nibbles.  We then had a DELICIOUS buffet meal with turkey and beef, rice (well it is Peru!), and about 300 different vegetables  (that may be an exaggeration…)  I decided to forgo dessert (either lemon or chocolate cake of some sort) for second helpings of the main course – especially the carrots and onions (which were dripping in butter and honey) – Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Saying goodbyes was strange – a lot of staff are leaving this year and many others are going ‘home’ for the 2 month break.  I’m one of the few that are staying here without family  – I hope I don’t get too lonely (although I’m sure Marco won’t let that happen!).  I expect I am about to find out what a traditional Peruvian Christmas is like – apparently it all kicks off at midnight on Christmas eve (when all good English folk are at Midnight mass singing carols…)

All in all it has been a very stressful end to the year, but I now have 2 months off and lots to look forward to!


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…


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).

desk-2.jpg desk-3.jpg

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!


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!



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!



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…


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!).


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.


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!


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…