After returning from my Incan adventure, I was ready to tackle yet again another year of high school in Lima. Not only was it another year, but it was my last one. Brian would be heading to Canada for post-secondary education and I was only three years behind him. I would be stuck doing my Grade 13 back home. I had finished my previous year on a solid footing, including an excellent performance in my English, an accomplishment I was very proud of. My teacher had been Mrs. Barbara Walker, a lovely woman from Minnesota who had applauded my skills and learning curve, especially realizing it was my first time reading and writing in this language. She had recommended me to Advanced English for Grade 10, but for some reason that teacher did not want me in her class. Algebra with Mr. Daniel Brenig was awesome, and I would be in his Geometry class this year. Awesome again. Honours Biology was a result of having done well in Physical Science with Ms. Zalecki and History, my all-time favourite subject-matter was now Peru-Latin American History. The road was paved for a very exciting academic year.
Aside from that, I had also earned my respect guaranteeing my own safety and sense of belonging among my peers. No one messed with me and I didn't get involved elsewhere. Over the summer, I had added to my gang Glen Swanson, a Guatemalan-Canadian kid who had lived in Peru most of his life when I met him. His father was from British Columbia and worked for a Canadian NGO. We found a connection when I came to the school campus during the end-of-year break, bored out of my mind, looking to play some basketball. Basketball seemed to be a very unifying sport at this time in my life. We hung out over the summer at his father's office, quite close to my house, and played games on the office computer. During those visits to his patriarch's workplace, we discovered the wonderful world of E. Wong - the widely popular and only supermarket franchise when we arrived - and the food samples. We used our coins to play arcade games there, especially Cruisin' USA. You could choose from a decent range of vehicles and I preferred the school bus. There you have to race through traffic jams and you have pedals, a steering wheel and a gear shift. It was a great introduction into how not to drive.
Back to school now. My Grade 10 English class was with Ms. Barbara Brough, a Canadian from Odessa, Ontario - if you are not familiar with it, it is a town of 10 houses across the highway from Amherstview, west of Kingston, a real hotspot. In this class, there was a kid everyone referred to as Crack, but named Sebastian Olivares. This kid was born in Peru but grew up in Oaklahoma, USA. There were many questions about how he got his nickname but apparently, the true version, is that he came to soccer practice wearing a fancy kit but was terrible at the sport. Some also said that he used to bend over frequently, exposing his but crack. I, personally, had the pleasure of never seeing his butt crack. In the beginning, I remember he was slightly unpleasant with me but I couldn’t have cared less. He was shorter than my mother who is about 5' 2" so I did not feel threatened. I believe, still to this day that he had always looked up to Glen but as soon as he realized we were friends, he suddenly changed his opinion about me and began hanging out with me. Students of every age seemed to push this kid around, punch him and shove him around as he was small and defenseless. I think I was the only one who never got involved in that, as I was never one to go with the flow. Eventually, he caught on to this and I told him he should stick up for himself. After all, it worked for me even though it was rather unexpected.
Another friend who got thrown into the mix was William Erickson. Erickson and Crack were Glen's roller hockey buddies and eventually became good friends of mine, like Alejandro, Glen and Kensuke. William was a very quiet American kid, even more shy than I was. I couldn't believe it. I would try talking to him when he would sit and join us, but he would look away and not even answer. I couldn't understand if I was cool with him or not for the longest time. There was also Miguel Peschiera who had spent some time in the US and I had Biology with him. I got to know him that year, having become lab partners and working on some projects together. He was a really friendly kid and his family was adorable. I remember once being there for dinner with his parents, his older brother and his younger sister and they were all really chatty and curious about my country and my family. I think his father had a government job or something of the kind, so perhaps they were well schooled in protocol and manners. I almost felt at home but with a Peruvian-American spin. There was also Melor Mokhtar (better known in the inner circle as Mel), the daughter of the Malaysian Ambassador who became one of the best friends I have ever had. She grew up living a similar life to mine so we could relate on many levels. Even more, she was born the day after my birthday. She was my sister from a different continent. Well, she still is. These guys really made Peru for me. Looking back at our lunches on our every-day picnic table, it was a real potpourri of cultures, coming together and having fun. I know to this date these guys would still do anything for me if I ever needed them and I hope they know it is reciprocal.
|Erickson, myself, Alejandro, Glen, Crack and Mel in the middle|
Our out-of-school hangouts are still treasured memories. Generally, we would get together at someone's house on a Friday night - a sacred ritual that no one dared to break - and we would play video games or watch movies all night. This was also a period that saw an introduction to alcohol. It is a taboo subject in North America where society does not seem to have evolved much from the temperance movement, unlike Peru who never stumbled into these dark ages. However, we never did this hiding from our parents or anyone. It was completely normal for teenagers to enjoy a few beers. Beer and Domino's Pizza. Later, we discovered the British pub – I kid you not! I can't recall any time where we got drunk or drank to get drunk. Other kids did in fact use and abuse as a weekend ritual, something that could be easily noticed on Monday mornings. This freedom allowed us to learn to enjoy drinking socially and to understand limits, something I think is lacking in North America. There, people are magically introduced to drinking when they are "independent" as they go off to college and mommy and daddy are no longer around to ground them. If you are raised in responsibility and moderation, you will observe less abuse. Europe leads by example on this. Those who abuse and behave violently often are attempting to bury serious personal issues. We opted for a healthy life, including lots of sports including softball, basketball and soccer.