To celebrate the one-year anniversary of my blog Teaching English in a Foreign Land, I’ve decided to start a monthly post with excerpts from my book. Sales have been great so far; It reached the Kindle top 5 best seller list in the Latin America section on Amazon, and the best selling travel book on Lulu the month that it came out. Thanks to everyone who bought it!
If you still haven’t bought a copy then you can get one on kindle (free borrowing for kindle prime members), or on paperback on lulu.com.
Anyway, here’s the first excerpt from Teaching in a Foreign Land. I thought I’d start at the beginning. It took me a while to work out where I was going to start, but this was the moment when I realised how important my journey was to me, and how much I didn’t want to return to England.
1 Ecuador: The Fear of Returning
His dark hand frisked over my groin, centimetres from my money belt and everything I had. His other pressed hard on my upper chest; pinning me against a wall.
“No tengo nada, no tengo nada,” I said, lying that I had nothing. I had to; I’d been foolish. On my first night in Quito, while looking for a bar in La Mariscal area, I was lost. I had my money, cash cards, and passport hidden in my money belt under my trousers.
My heart raced, not because he could injure me; I could cope with a beating. I feared something worse.
He towered over and ranted in Spanish. His breath stunk of alcohol.
“Momento, momento,” I said, raising my arms in defence and gazing into his white hungry eyes. He eased off. I fumbled in my pockets and pulled out a dollar coin.
“Lo siento,” I said, apologizing. He grunted, huffed, and pushed me back against the wall. I thought back to my life in England. I’d rather take a few punches than return.
“Por favor, no tengo nada,” I said, my voice getting desperate. The man let go and glanced around. We were on a side road off the main avenue. Bar lights flickered in the distance but no one else was about. He was safe. He raised an arm to strike. I hunched away.
“Momento, momento,” I said, trying to stall him. His face tensed and body trembled. What if he had a knife or a gun? Voices in my head told me not to be stubborn. Even if I got through a battering, he’d find my money belt. I moved my hand towards it, about to surrender, when his hand came down. He patted me on the shoulder, shrugged as if apologizing, and paced round the corner.
I froze. I’d survived. I darted to the nearest pub, sat by the bar, and ordered a beer. My hand shook as I took a swig. An unknown tension filled my heart and stayed with me for my entire journey around the world.The next morning the incident really hit me. I was already low after getting rejected from tons of language academies while in Mexico. I’d done a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course in London and left for South America without any job prospects. I’d never been away on my own and was still only twenty-three. I’d spent August and September trying to find my first teaching job, but without experience or being able to commit for at least a year, no one wanted to know. My savings were running out so I’d come down to Ecuador, desperate to find a job.
The attempted mugging threw me. I’d not had any problems with locals in Mexico and had presumed Quito safe. La Mariscal area seemed fine during the day; hostels, bars, and internet cafes dotted the tourist area, and travellers, mostly wearing hiking gear, roamed about carefree.
However, when the chilly night came, the streets became deserted. After the mugging I stayed safe in the hostel bar, where I met Yan, a giant Danish man travelling across South America on his red motorbike. It was while talking to him when I realised living in Quito was going to be complicated.
“It’s more dangerous than people think,” Yan said in his hoarse voice. He sounded as if he’d been inhaling motorbike fumes all day. “Last night I had to defend myself with this.” He whipped out a butterfly knife and the blade glistened as he waved it in front of his face. The weapon looked tiny in his ogre hand.
“What, did you stab someone?”
“No, it wasn’t necessary, in the end.” He snapped the knife closed and rested it on the bar. “He was only a kid, about fifteen. He tried to steal my wallet but I grabbed his hand like this.” He pulled my hand and twisted me round on the bar.
“Okay, Okay, I get the picture.”
“Then I pulled out my knife,” he whispered. “And he ran.”
“I’m sure. Can you let go now?” He was pushing my arm further up my back.
“Oh, sorry,” he said, releasing me.
We sat on the bar stools and sipped beer in silence. Yan seemed tense. He was just as tall as my mugger had been, but his hair, tied up in a ponytail with a green rubber band, was long and greasy.
“Have you had many problems in Quito then?” I asked.
“I have lived here for one month, three times they try to mug me, once with a knife, but I am lucky.”
“Yes, sometimes they can be angry; if you don’t have money, they beat you and leave you lying in the street. There is much poverty here and the police are arseholes! They give no shit. You was lucky last night my friend, maybe best that you leave Quito if you can’t handle the danger.” He ordered two more beers and some salty crisps.
“I considered leaving. Last night scared the shit out of me, but I’m determined to stay and accomplish what I’ve come to do.”
“Find a job teaching English.”
Yan was fortunate because a Dutch motorbike magazine was sponsoring him to travel round South America while taking photos and writing about his journey. He’d already been through Africa. He showed a photo of him next to his red bike on a wooden raft crossing a muddy river. Young smiling black kids surrounded him and waved.
“That was in Congo,” he said. ‘It was always my dream to travel and work abroad, if you are keen on being a teacher, then stay and just be careful.”
Like it? Get a copy!
Keep your eye out for next month’s excerpt where you’ll meet The Lord, one of the crazy English teachers I met on my travels.