Archive for June, 2010

The peaceful winter pace of sleepy Huanchaco has been shaken over the last few days with the Fiesta de San Pedro. A tuneful and ear-pounding range of practising marching bands have been stomping around town before convening in the local sports ground for a brass-off until the early hours, which has actually been quite entertaining. I’ve even had the benefit of an almost personal serenade outside the bedroom window of my new house which sits opposite the Immiculate Virgin of Rosario school from one particular troupe. I’m sure its standard practise amongst marching bands, but it tickles me to see the sheet music for each row of musicians pinned by clothes peg to the shirt of the musician in front.

Fiesta de San Pedro

Events built to an impressive climax on Saturday with the beach-side arrival by boat of the Image of San Pedro himself. Tourists and Peruvians alike flocked around the pier to watch a large reed boat decorated with strings of red bunting and a Peruvian flag at the prow arrive escorted by local fishermen riding their Caballitos de Totora, traditional curved vessels crafted from the same type of woven reeds. Lifted on the broad shoulders of locals and shuffled up onto the sand, the boat was soon surrounded by a throng of people as the chaotic mix of armed local police, sweet sellers, pickpockets, confused surfers and self important Peruvian television crews crashed into one another in the good mannered nature of Latin American crowds. I was almost inevitably plucked from my vantage point by one particular local TV channel and duly grilled about how long I’d been in Peru, what I thought of the country and if the festival was any good. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to see this appearance on television, but it was a definite improvement on my last big media adventure dressed as a woman on national Mexican TV, both in terms of my Spanish under pressure and my lack of cross-dressing presented to an audience of thousands.

Fiesta de San Pedro

It’s delightful to see these traditions presented to such an attentive audience, both from the point of view of building awareness of cultural identity, and also from fostering and strengthening the sense of cultural identity amongst the local population itself. Every Huanchaquero managed to slip into the conversation some mention with muted pride about the event to me when I chatted to them after the event.


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Continuing the theme that seems to be predominant for this month, the next couple of months promise to be pretty tight on the purse-strings. Luckily I’ve been offered the option of house-sitting for the lovely couple who run a beach-front surf hostel and house themselves elsewhere across town while they fly back to Finland for a while to show their Peruvian-born new babbie to the family. Aside from keeping the living overheads firmly down, it’s also a great house; a three-storey oddity that stretches from flower bushes skyward in a steadily increasing state of dilapidation. I can’t imagine what inhabits the 3rd floor at night, but I’m sure as hell not going to go upstairs to find out.

Life responsibilities, July

One other perk of the deal is the house dog that I’m currently charged with taking care of, Tomasa. She’s perfected the art of looking up at you in an ‘I didn’t do it’ way (especially after a nose hair-curling bout of flatulence) and is a great companion when I’m trotting about town or hanging out in the house. As far as experiences go, this is a very big tick in the box for owning a house by the sea that contains a dog at some point in my fairly grey future.

Life responsibilities, July

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It’s been a while since my friend passed me a dodgy copy of the 2007 Sean Penn directorial offering, “Into The Wild”, but I finally got around to watching it. Twice. The film is tragic tale based on a true story about a headstrong independent college graduate who decides to cut all ties with society and make his penniless way around the states ending in Alaska. A gorgeous mix of landscape photography and character study, it’s enough to make you want to cut your credit cards in half and head for the open road, even if the ending will have you swallowing pretty hard.

I’ve also just come upon the soundtrack, undoubtedly the best work of Eddy ‘Pearl Jam’ Vedder’s career. Just listening to it while I’m typing brings memories of those glorious swooping camera shots of breathtaking American panoramas and you can almost feel the cold wind in your hair as the fresh air seeps into your pores.   Check out the track “Rise” if you want to feel your feet itch while imagining riding the rails across wide, empty landscapes.

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Happy Mexicans = My Goal

Once upon a time…

It’s now been almost a year and a half since I cut ties with the homeland and boarded a plane headed for Mexico City.  Much has befallen me since then, from the spine tinglingly good to the though provoking to the black and ‘orrible, but I wouldn’t change any of it for all the tea in Blighty.

However, I have to be thankful for the first few shaky steps I made on arrival; getting indispensible training to teach English, making my first real assault on the Spanish language and slowly but surely finding my place and being accepted into a little Mexican community.  I’ve had the benefit of a year of hindsight and I have to say that it was about as good a start as I could have hoped for.

The thing was, this course was bloody hard to find.  I spent months scouring the internet and getting very confused by all manner of TEFL training courses and job options, all of which came to precisely bugger all.  My breakthrough came via my Bristolian Spanish teacher’s friend (!) who was teaching at the Dunham Institute in the small town of Chiapa de Corzo, the very place I ended up training to teach English and working.  A shining testimonial from her and a look at the Institute’s website was all I needed to pick my point of entry into Latin America and book my flights!

Meanwhile, back in the present day…

A couple of months ago the Director of the institute, who I’d been helping to redesign their slightly scatty website, (much better now) dropped me an email saying that for reasons unfathomable the number of TEFL students studying at Dunham had dropped off dramatically; the lovely little language institute that had welcomed me into Mexico was going unused.  Out of ideas, she asked me to help drum up some business and given my experiences training and living in Chiapa de Corzo I had no problems obliging.

Searching hard to find a hidden treat is good up to a certain point, but I know that there are  people out there looking for places like the Institute, missing out on what is on offer.  So, I’m asking you to get the message to the right people about the Dunham Institute!

I don’t want this to be one of those “send this on to 10 of your friends” efforts; this isn’t about trying to email-blast as many people as possible, but thinking about who would really benefit from knowing about the Dunham Institute, and telling them!  With this in mind, are you in any of the following situations?  It’s a great chance to play matchmaker and make your mate and a bunch of Mexican schoolkids very happy!

1) You know someone who wants to travel abroad

Are they considering Latin America as an option?  Would they be interested in using English teaching to earn and work as they travel?  Send ’em to the Dunham Institute website to have a look!

2) Someone you know wants to volunteer abroad

Are they interested in teaching English on a voluntary basis?  The Institute runs an 8 week program to train volunteers to TEFL standard before placing them in state school classes to teach local kids.  If getting trained in a skill and using it as a volunteer sounds good…yup, send ’em to the Dunham Institute website!

3) Someone you know works with a TEFL student recruitment company, or manages volunteers

I’d love to speak to them about working with Dunham; get them to send me an email.

4)  You have a website or knows someone with a website that would like to link to the Institute

Great stuff!  Pop the link up and drop me an email to let me know, or get your contact to send me an email.

5)  You’d like to help promoting the Institute’s website by clicking on things…

I’ve posted a few entries on Yahoo Answers about TEFL and volunteering, which I’d be most grateful to receive votes on.  If you have a spare minute and are a “level 2” on the YahooAnswers system (i.e. you’ve already been using it), click on any of the links below to cast your vote on your favourite answer to the questions that don’t have any votes yet.  In case you aren’t sure, its teacherjon” that needs your clicks…do it soon, because the voting closes on the questions within a few hours in some cases!  Please note that if you aren’t level 2, the system doesn’t give you enough privileges to vote, boooo

Can I volunteer abroad for cheap?

Where can I find free or cheap study abroad or volunteer programs…

Are there any volunteering abroad things on this summer?

Should I take TEFL or TESOL?

What’s a good ESL or TESOL certification course that I could take?

6) You have some wisdom to impart about how to get more students to the Institute

I’m not pretending to be a big cigar smoking expert about all of this; I’ve got a few plates spinning in my marketing mix, but you’re all a bunch of very intelligent, free-thinking and beautiful people.  If you’ve got an idea about how I could boost those numbers based on your experience, connections or tea leaf readings, send me an email; I love advice!  This list needs more than 7 numbers…

7) Just putting it out there, but…maybe you want to be a TEFL teacher!

I can’t recommend the course highly enough, and if you want a good introduction to Latin America I’d be happy to help you get set up at the Institute.  Find out more about the programs that Joanna runs here.

I hope there’s something above that fits the bill for you so that someone out there can get organised, kick starting their TEFL teaching or getting stuck into some volunteering and getting the best out of the community in Chiapa de Corzo.

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Faking it

I’m really enjoying the joint photo blog project that I’m doing with Dad, Digital Photography by Mistake.  In a nutshell, I put what I consider to be my best snaps up on the photo blog and Dad (who is a bit of a photo veteran) leaves me suggestions about how I could improve them.  I’m learning a lot about composition and how to communicate a message through a photograph, and I’ve even started to notice that I’m paying a lot more attention when looking at other people’s photos too.

My latest addition was a spooky-looking shot of an abandoned playpark in Huanchaco; I decided to go for a walk with a camera early in the morning and, coming across the ex-playpark, fired off a few shots in colour before switching to black and white, something I’d never really tried before.  I was pleased with the shot that resulted, shown below, with the striking shapes offset against the texture of of the sky, taken from an angle that gave the whole structure an imposing look.

Huanchaco's Coney Island

I showed the photo to Dad during a skype call and he gave me some great advice which you can see in his comments on the blog post.  After explaining how I could use photoshop to remove and tweak a couple of elements to make the picture a bit clearer, he decided to have a play with it himself.  I recieved the photo below a couple of days later, and I have to say that the picture seems better for a bit of photoshop treatment.  There’s just some things that you can’t block out of a shot without a bit of technical wizardry…

Spot the difference...

What do you think?

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