Note from the editor (that’s me): From now on this blog uses Mumsnet style abbreviations to refer to my dear daughter (‘DD’) and dear partner (‘DP’) to protect them and their current and future careers against my big online mouth. This is a necessary measure taken as a response to a surging popularity among the two family members and five or so spammers who occasionally visit this site.
“Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.”
Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne
For me ‘another way’ meant dumping our clutter at a Cancer Research shop and cramming the rest into nine bags and a box for the bicycle. I wasn’t so much worried about moving to Peru as such, as I was about having only one way tickets; having different family names in our passports; and no document whatsoever that would show her completely absent biological father was in agreement with our emigration. However, after the 20 hour flight, my fears of long questioning evaporated as soon as the officials gestured“adelante” through a dedicated fast-track for families with young children. Being 6 years old at the Lima airport is a bit like being an EU citizen at Gatwick.
One of the first things I’ve realised, is the difference between ‘immigrants’ and ‘expats’. Where DP was an immigrant in the UK; me and my daughter are expats in Lima. He would still be an immigrant if he took his PhD to an investment bank. I’m still an expat even if I’m sipping down DP’s salary at Starbucks on a Tuesday afternoon. It’s the difference between ‘you are a cleaner’ versus ‘you have a cleaner’ (wohoo, I have a cleaner!). It’s the difference between making pancakes (me) or crêpes (him). Yet, apart from my good taste for chocolate, my consumerism, I don’t know what it is I’m contributing to the Peruvian economy. I’m trying to see if any of the local election banners promise “serious measures to tackle expatriation”.
So while I’m waiting for an expat task force crackdown at Starbucks, the Mission One for our new little family is to find a school for DD. Education is insanely expensive in Peru – by expat standards, let alone for the average Peruvian. In the event capitalism has worked out for the undeserving (single mothers? black people? indigenous people? atheists?), the other school admission requirements – which include a parental psychiatric test; references from two existing school parents; a family photograph that “includes the entire family” (particularly difficult since our only family dog is a mongrel) – will guard the country’s elite from mixing with mortals. Yet, I dare argue, access to a private swimming pool and personal psychologist aside, basic levels of literacy and numeracy are fairly mediocre compared to what one gets for the price of a school meal in London.
Being the economist that he is, DP thinks human capital investment should be treated as any physical asset. Will $10,000 enrolment fee + 10* $1,000/monthly fee over ten years plus inflation and family fun day entrance fee supplemented with home tuition and ballet classes etc give a better return than handing a publicly educated 19-year-old $100,000 to invest however she wants to? (I am happy to volunteer in the control group if anyone is interested in administering a study and doesn’t mind a participant who falls outside the age criteria by a couple of years.)
I have to remind myself that we didn’t move to Peru for the quality of its British education or its corporate prospects for me. We moved because there’s more to life than exam results and career, and the next time I’m bothered by such deep thoughts, I don’t want to be in hospital bed recovering from a spine surgery.
So I’m writing this sitting on the beach watching DD on the surf board. Every time she disappears into the waves my heart nearly stops and I nearly drop my new Mac which makes my heart stop again. I refuse to think whether the instructor is qualified, CRB checked, health and safety trained or what he knows about pedagogy. I just concentrate on waving at DD as she approaches the shore, standing on the board on her own for the first time.