Archives for the month of: October, 2012

My first Brazilian home

I made an ignoble exit from my last home. My last look back was at a dirty duvet dangling from the balcony beneath mine, we had tried (and failed) to throw it down from the window. The contents of my kitchen were scattered on the pavement outside, waiting to be picked over by passersby. I was carrying two suitcases, packed so fast I could barely remember what was in them. And when I arrived in Brazil, what I had chosen to bring and I why I had chosen it, was a mystery to me.

Truth is I had run out of time. Time ticked away as the contents of my flat disappeared around me, like the sand trickling out of a timer, I ran out of time. Around me, the furniture was collected by friends and recycling companies, the books half packed in boxes were taken by removal men. Memories stored in another carton, cried over as I read about unrequited love, broken hearts and forgotten friends. The possessions that created my home dripped away, until it was just us left sat in an empty flat tangled up in the dirty duvet preparing for me to leave to make a new home.

There were many things it was hard to leave behind, but I when I arrived, surprisingly, I mourned the plates most. Crying over the crockery. Sobbing over the spoons I had discarded. Dreaming of the green tiled table, a Brighton boot sale bargain, also left behind, taken by a stranger to make their home. I arrived in Brazil to an empty flat. Only a bed, me, two suitcases and a trail of possessions strewn behind me across Brighton. My home, 5000 miles away.

I keep going to use a large yellow plastic bowl that I had in the UK, for some reason it is this item that my brain has decided must be in Brazil with me. A yellow plastic bowl bought from the Pound Shop. More than once I have gone to the cupboard to find this bowl only to remember, I didn’t bring it, it´s not here, someone else has it. Would a plastic yellow bowl feel like home?

So where do you start? How to create a home? What to buy to make a home? I thought about this as I negotiated with the school about how to support the new staff arriving this year. What would I want to make me feel at home? What did I wish had been in that empty flat? What makes me feel at home now?

After the shock of arrival had worn off, I was surprised how quickly I got over the loss and leaving of my possessions. I bought new plates, drank from my new mugs. What made my home, I realised, were connections. It might be different for other people but the priority for me was to connect. The first thing I wanted was an internet connection. Luddites may deride my reliance on technology, but for me it´s not the ability to play Angry Birds that was important but to connect to home, friends and family.

My darling mother struggles with technology, clinging to old ways of staying in touch, just about handling sending texts or Skyping (although I’m pretty sure she believes Mr Skype monitors our calls and cuts us off when he gets bored of our conversation). I nag her to use the internet more because I feel I have been able to have such a regular and wonderful connection with my friends, to share so much of this new life, it’s almost as good as having them with me. But for Mother, labouring over opening emails and phone calls, much of this new life is a mystery. When she does hear about it, it comes in such great waves I think it’s overwhelming; Bolivia, Argentina, Rio, Brazil…

My home is created by the network of love and care that cocoons me from the important people in my life. I needed this Internet connection to the ones I left behind, but over my time here, new magic has happened. Through Twitter I also gained a network of strangers who became supportive friends (I’ve met some of them in real life too now). In Brazil I developed a social world that has entertained me, helped me, made me laugh, hugged me when I cried and took me on amazing journeys. I also travelled alone and met new friends from around the world, and again the Internet helped me hold on to these people and I have plans to meet and travel with them again.

My home is not about cups or plates, or even that safely stored box of letters, cards, photos and memories in the UK. My home is made by people. So now, my friends laugh at me because as soon as I arrive anywhere I seek out the Wi-Fi and make sure I’m connected. I need a connection with the people I know to make my home. I share my new adventures with my old friends (and I know it must get boring and annoying ‘Luci is on holiday AGAIN!’) but I need to share it to make it real. Most of the time I’m still so shocked that I am here, that I was able to tumble out of that flat in Brighton with the dirty duvets and tables and plates. Still shocked that I wasn’t left behind too, in crumpled heap on the streets of Brighton, hoping to be collected by passersby. I have to share it; it is just me pinching myself to make sure this is really happening.

I didn’t need that Brighton flat full of things to prop me up as much as I thought. And although I still love shopping and buying and spending and I have created a new wall of possessions that I occasionally use to hide behind and fortify my castle. In leaving most of it behind I was able to focus on the real things that make my home, my connections to the people around me. Even though I see myself a solitary being at times, I have been able to recognise the importance of my connections. I appreciate you; I need you, thank you all. Without you I’d be homeless.

Iguazu Falls

To get in to my apartment building you need to be buzzed through two electronic gates. In 24-hour attendance at these gates are a series of lovely Porterios, who let me in, any time of day or night, and smile at my terrible Portuguese. When I first arrived I couldn’t decide if these gates meant that my building was really safe or really dangerous. It was so different to my Brighton flats, with their broken intercoms and stairs to climb. One friend in Brighton still throws the keys down to every guest that arrives. No electric gates or Porterios there.

I needed to ask the Porterios a question; down I went fully prepared in halting Portuguese to see him in his little gatehouse. There was a woman there and she helped to remind me that although there may be gates and guards and sunshine and samba I can still find familiarity in my Brazilian life.

I didn’t know this woman, I had never met her before but somehow I felt like I had. Maybe you have met her too?

She is short and round, in her 50s, her hair is dyed a shade of reddish-orange. The exact shade of rich Brazilian mud. She is sucking on a sweet, a mint I would guess, and chatting animatedly to the guard. She has a few over stuffed bags slung over her arms. She uses lots of gestures as she talks, patting the Porterio on the arm and waving her hands around. As she talked the guard nodded and continued with his work, not paying her much attention, he didn’t really have a chance to speak. She was laughing, gossiping and sharing.

As I approached with my well-rehearsed question she turned to me, fascinated, immediately launching in to a torrent of Portuguese, touching my arm, laughing and asking me questions. She accompanied me back to the lift, constantly checking and chatting despite my mumbled “nao fala”. I feel sure she was finding me a husband, saying I looked peaky, asking me about England, offering me dinner and generally (s)mothering me. I couldn’t understand a work of her sweet sucking sounds but I understood her because I have met these lovely brassy gossipy maternal women before. I am well on my way to becoming one myself, a different shade of hair dye, a couple more shopping bags and I’ll be spitting on a tissue to wipe a mark off your cheek.

By moving away I start to see the universal human archetypes that transcend culture or borders. The brassy woman and also her counterpart, the interfering old man. I was waiting to pay in the supermarket, trying to practice the art of patience. An older man was ahead of me, chatting to the cashier. Once again I have no clue what he is saying but once again I could read the type. Older man, bit of an eye for the ladies, fancies himself as a charmer. The girl at the register rolled her eyes at me and I smiled. The man carried on chatting and flirting with the young woman. Then he saw me, an older woman, not so pretty, smirking at him, probably another universal archetype of ‘disapproving woman’ unimpressed by his antics. He decided to wind me up ‘when’s the baby due?’ He asked laughing and prodding me in my flabby belly. I didn’t need to be fluent to know he was being rude. ‘Oi!’ I laughed and batted him away. I had found another archetype ‘The Rude Old Man’. I took my offence at his comment home and laughingly shared it with twitter.

In school I see more universals. I was worried before I came here that despite 13 years as a teacher, I wouldn’t understand these privileged international pupils. Their childhoods so different to mine, their lives so different to anything I had experienced, how would I connect?

But with teenagers too some things remain constant. Eleven-year-old girls fall out, argue and try to hurt each other with ever-changing friendship groups. Sixteen-year-old boys think they know everything and try to asset their emerging masculinity whilst retreating back to scared little boys at a moments notice. Fifteen-year-old girls think they are too fat or too stupid to find a boyfriend despite being beautiful, intelligent and perfect.

In adults these universals remain too. A group of teachers from my school; Brits, Brazilians, teachers, Porterios, maintenance staff, played football against a group of Argentinians. After the game, beers and BBQ. Despite being from different countries, incomes or experiences what did they end up doing? Pushing each other around in a trolley to see how fast and how far it would go before they fell out. Exactly what my student mates did in Northampton in 1994.

So by moving away we can be reminded of the connectedness of human beings. In the last few days I travelled to one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen; Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian/Argentine border. We went on an exhilarating boat ride, speeding across the water, under the falls, sprayed by the wonderful waterfalls, screaming like kids. As we zoomed around the river grinning at each other, a boat full of strangers, sharing the moment, absolutely connected. In that moment as we shouted and waved at the other boats on the river smiling at everyone, no language, no cultures, no clashes. Everyone was linked together by the experience of being surrounded by that awesome sight. Revelling in the moment, being part of it, joined together as human beings, a universal connection of being together in this beautiful world. Surrounded by the best the earth can bring, alive with beating hearts.

Or maybe it was just dam good fun?

Either way, I tried to savour the moment, to pause and take it in. To recognise how far I had come. But in that moment I was not far from home, I was exactly there, in that place, not surrounded by strangers but friends I didn’t know. Joined together in appreciation, joined together. And so, as I crave familiarity, I try to see the familiar in the strange because then I am not so far away.

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