I’m writing this after leaving school for the last time and going for lunch with my co-teachers. So, this post might get a bit sentimental.
Altogether I’ve been here for ten months. I’ve settled in so much that it is going to be an awful wrench when I go. I’ve had a wonderful time here and have made some lifelong friends. I am truly grateful to the power of the Internet that will make it easier for me to stay in touch with them. Continue reading Palmira, hasta luego
It was almost a year to the day after I began my CELTA course that I started putting it to practice, by co-teaching at my new workplace, Institucion Educativa Del Valle in Palmira.
I am here until November and will be working twenty four hours a week in the classroom. I also have an English Club that I will be running with the students and another hour or so each week helping my fellow teachers with their English.
A Typical Day
My working day starts at 6.10am.
I’ll say that again, shall I?
My working day starts at 6.10am. This took a bit of getting used to as well as producing no small amount of incredulity on the part of my friends and family.
So, I usually wake up at 4.30am, stumble through the shower, get dressed and have breakfast. At five thirtyish Fernando, our regular taxi driver, comes to the house and picks up me and Jenny, another teacher on the same Colombia Bilingue project.
We drive across town through the dark streets. Although it is really early there are already people about. There are children going to school, the ever present motorcycle taxis or “Motos” and there is even the odd panaderia opening up. Fernando drops me off at Valle before taking Jenny on to her school, Institucion Educativa Cardenas Mirrinao.
When I arrive the staff room is seldom open so I sit on a bench with a fellow teacher and some students. We mumble greetings at each other in English and Spanish.
Classes officially start at 6.10, but hours are relatively loose here. Usually I’ll get to my first class by about 6.20am and attempt to generate some enthusiasm for learning English amongst the students. Lessons are an hour long.
Break time is from 9.10 to 9.30 and this is the one time of the day when all of the teachers can more or less be guaranteed to be in the staff room.
By mid-morning the day has usually heated up properly with temperatures in the 80s or 90s. Heaven knows what they must be inside the classrooms. By now both teachers and students are flagging a little and ready for lunch. Quite a few students won’t even have had breakfast.
Morning school finishes at 12.30 and there is an immediate changeover of staff and students for afternoon school. I teach a few afternoon classes and so some days I stay in school for another hour. Other days, when my lessons are later in the afternoon, I go home and come back.
Regardless, most days I will leave school and go for lunch at one of Palmira’s two vegetarian restaurants; Mana or Ahimsa. Each of them offer a “bandera” for 6000 pesos. This is a soup, main course with side salad and pudding for the equivalent of about 1.40. After this I wobble back home through the city centre.
Pretty much every day, as soon as I get into the house I realise that my feet are on fire and that I need to get my shoes off before they explode from the pressure. So, I kick my shoes off and then jump into bed for a much deserved siesta.
I wake up an hour or so later and, depending on the day, I might go back to school or have a Spanish lesson with Alba, the teacher who comes to our house, or do some lesson preparation work. Bedtime is early, certainly no later than 10 o’clock, in preparation for another 4.30 start the following morning.
We flew into Palmira in the early morning. As we dropped down beneath the clouds we could see a landscape that was flat, with fields full of sugar cane stretching all around. In the distance mountain ranges circled the plain.
For months I had been warned by all and sundry that I was going to be really hot here, and yet it was disappointingly grey and overcast. Hmmmm.
Leaving the plane and walking along the concourse at the airport I was greeted by the poster below. A salsa circus is in town apparently, this felt a little bit more like it.
Leaving the airport and driving along the highway into town we were stopped by the police, an auspicious start to living in our new city. I wasn’t able to open the window in the taxi and somehow my poorly mumbled Spanish was enough for us to be waved on again. A few miles later, as we entered the Palmira city limits, we slowed down so as not to hit any of the cows that were drifting from verge to road to verge.
Just half an hour after landing it was already heating up and the taxi got increasingly toasty as we sat waiting for a giant locomotive engine to reverse and then move forward along the tracks. It turns out that this was no passenger train, just a freight train that transports the sugar cane.
The city centre was still waking up as we drove through. It is arranged in a grid pattern with cracked pavements and faded facades. The roads were filled with street vendors and seemingly crazed motorcyclists, for whom the one-way system appeared to be largely advisory. It looked scruffy, busy and full of life.
Our hostal was an old colonial house which was large and simple with indoor patios and lots of space. I immediately set about haggling for a single room, agreed a price and settled myself in. I lay back on my bed, looking out at the patio, where another fellow was swinging on the hammock and wondered what to do next.
Two hours later I woke up.
So, on my first day in Palmira I had managed a pre-lunch siesta, which seemed to be in keeping with the place.
Palmira is currently feeling the effects of El Niño. Mostly this means that it is a couple of degrees hotter than usual, which puts the temperature up in the low 90s most days, but also that it doesn’t rain very much.
Our hostal was on La Trinidad, which is a recently pedestrianised area that runs from Palmira’s central square (Parque Bolivar) for about ten blocks along its main shopping street. We walked along it, trying to take in our new home. By now it was a little bit past midday, the sky was clear and the heat was blistering. All around us people hugged the walls of the shops keeping themselves in the shadows.
There were mobile Frappe sellers, a man whose sole enterprise appeared to be laminating documents and a churros stand. My favourite was the tall man wearing a large brimmed straw hat who was sat astride his bicycle. In a basket on the handlebars was a sign that said “Venta De Memorias”. Surely, I thought, only in the land of Magic Realism could you expect to find a Memory Seller.
I was later to work out that he was selling USB sticks, but for now I was happy in my confusion.
After nearly six months of holiday I returned to Bogota on the 10th January to start work. During October and November I’d applied for and got a job from January until November teaching English in a public school in Palmira as part of the Colombia Bilingue program that is being run by the Colombian Ministry of Education.
Having spent six months travelling independently, first with Vicki and then alone, it was a novel experience to be met at the airport and transported to an upmarket hotel for the first weeks of training. Having got used to being on my own, organising my own plans and spending time on my own I was suddenly plunged into sharing a room with four strangers, having a schedule to follow and barely having a moment to myself. Continue reading Back To Bogota, Back To Work