When men and women greet here in Peru they hug and the man kisses her on the cheek. I find that weird and slightly uncomfortable. A colleague held her cheek out for me a few days ago for me to kiss, and I hesitated, but to refuse to do so would be rude.
But then again, I shouldn’t be complaining.
I find myself making a kissing sound and leaning forward as if to kiss when women hug me, but not actually making the contact with the cheek. I think some are surprised by this.
Women here also touch a lot more, and honestly, back home if I was touched on the arm and the leg and the shoulder that often I would assume they were interested in me. And so it does make me a little uncomfortable.
Once again, I shouldn’t be complaining. But there were years at one point I lived without anyone touching me aside for the occasional formal handshake. For that reason it can be unhealthy living away from family so long.
I’m treating this as a blessing, to learn to be more comfortable with physical touch, since everyone here clearly doesn’t read too much into it.
I have found myself in a room this week restructuring curriculum requirements for history, geography and economy for four grade levels. This might be easy enough if you were a long-term educator but I was a journalist a year ago, and I find myself having to translate everything from Spanish. While my colleagues, including a translator, support me in this, it takes a long time to complete anything.
I am used to knowing what I am doing and charging forward to complete the task immediately. But I can’t do that when everyone else must discuss what is going on in a language I cannot understand, and then constantly having to explain what we must be doing every time we do something new.
The translator must have heard my tone when we spent an entire day adjusting words and restructuring sentences that had been translated from Spanish by a computer program. “Do you get frustrated easily Mr Burnzy?” she asked.
Yes. When I have no idea what it is I’m supposed to be doing.
A few colleagues and my housemates have made a deal that we would complete lessons to learn English and Spanish. It’s a fair arrangement. In my first lesson I was taught directions to get to places. I was focusing on pronounciation so much that I couldn’t absorb the new words. I’m terrible at memory. At one point I was really discouraged and was doing my best not to express irritability, because I recognised the mood for what it was. Later when someone asked me how the lesson was I was honest. I was frustrated.
One of my weaknesses is getting frustrated quickly. It has caused much damage in my life especially in the childhood and teenage years when I could not control myself. I was the bad tempered freak in the school yard. You know what I mean. Every school has one. I am more controlled now, but it takes a lot of energy not to storm off sometimes. It would be much easier simply to find a way not to be so hard with myself. But so far the only alternative I have is not caring about what I’m doing at all.
And as a journalist frustration only empowered me, but at a cost of making it hard to be around me in my personal life. I suppose that’s why I left it. I guess that’s why I’m here.
I think the turning point for me, the moment I calmed down, was when I took a 10 minute smoko and walked to the community life office to find out who my work secret valentine was going to be. And there was a little girl, the daughter of one of my colleagues, and she waved, and I waved, and she told her mother in Spanish, “he is really tall.”
I lifted my hand to my height, and then to her height, and I smiled, and I said, “and you are really….”
And I laughed and congratulated her for knowing that word in English, and I left, much happier. With all these syllabus examinations and preparation for lesson plan theory, it was easy to forget that I would be working with children and teenagers, and that was the whole point really.