Archives for category: Language

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  1. Pretty much everything you think you know for certain, you don’t.
  2. Plan pee breaks, know where the nearest toilet is…at all times.
  3. My waist is becoming a distant memory.
  4. The amount of fucks I give is rapidly declining; at the same rate my waistline is expanding.
  5. Never deny yourself pleasure. Eat. Drink. Being skinny does not feel as good as real Italian pizza tastes, or fresh sushi, bacon sandwiches, picanha with soy and wasabi. Devour everything.
  6. The internet is dangerous for bored husbands with mobile phones and penis in hand…
  7. Dick pics are rarely enticing.
  8. Don’t try and change people. Everyone tells their own tale, we craft our own narratives, become characters in our own stories. If their reality is different to your version, let them keep it.
  9. Never stop being a kid. Once in a while sing, play, build nests and forts, jump around and laugh until you cry.
  10. My teeth are divorcing, the distance between them is so great, whole sirloin steaks can be found in the crevices. Toothpicks loiter in all my handbags
  11. When you have heard all their stories, if you are not making any new ones…it’s time to move on.
  12. You are as beautiful, sexy, alluring or desirable as you want to be, this does not come from outside. Radiate you, give a giant fuck off to anyone who doesn’t get it.
  13. You can move across the world, twice, and still find kindred spirits, good hearts and wise women.
  14. An early night in your own bed is a moment of pure pleasure.
  15. ‘Just stick it anywhere’ is not a romantic phrase to hear in a tender shared moment.
  16. Never, never, Google your symptoms. Inevitably it will say cancer, then you will have to spend the next hour panicking and further couple of hours reassuring yourself you are not dying.
  17. Your friends will have children who are adults, how is this possible when we all still need to grow up?
  18. Dating is not a game, it’s a procedure.
  19. You have definitely heard it all before.
  20. People may say you are an inspiration or a role model. You remember the time you slipped over in your own vomit after too much red wine and keep quiet…
  21. Travel is wonderful exhilarating and exciting but you can afford comfort over authenticity.
  22. Do not be afraid to be seen, be judged, be stupid, fuck up, fall over, all you need to do is get up and smile.
  23. Sing. Loudly.
  24. Inhabit the body you have, not the body you think you should have. Touch the sides.
  25. No more waiting, the time is now.
  26. There are people in your life who have grown older alongside you, and these are precious gems.
  27. You will experience loss and you can survive it.
  28. The excesses of youth do catch up with you, recovery times are increased, at times I feel like my body is angry with me, I am ever grateful it never gave up on me, despite the abuses.
  29. There are some people you have to let go.
  30. And some that go but stay with you forever
  31. Manage your expectations, be content with the reality of people and not the projection of what you wish they could be.
  32. You will know the meaning of perimenopausal and start to look out for ‘changes’.
  33. Don’t blame others for the consequences of your choices, own it, overcome it and hope to choose better next time.
  34. Vigorous dancing, especially jumping, can result in a little leakage…
  35. Don’t let this stop you jumping and dancing, a life without leaping is a life half lived.
  36. Fear is fading fast, I am no longer as afraid, it is not courage, it’s survival.
  37. There is still so much wonderful music you haven’t heard.
  38. Create, create, create and surround yourself with creative people, this is the real life force.
  39. Avoid people who want to change you.
  40. Avoid people who want more than you can give.
  41. Spend time with people who know and love you exactly as you are.
  42. Birthdays matter less but always take the opportunity to celebrate.
  43. Age ain’t nothing but a number baby
A shamed samurai actor posing for photos in a Kyoto film studio

A shamed samurai actor posing for photos in a Kyoto film studio

My good friend Vicky and I often suffered from, ‘Booze Guilt’. We would wake drenched in shame the morning after a night out on the drink. After a few hours of throwing dirty doubles down our necks, ranting about work and men, cackling with laughter at ridiculous jokes, we would fall home to troubled sleep. Texting each other in the morning filled with fear of broken friendships or foolish behavior; “Sorry if I was a twat last night”, “No I was a twat I was so annoying”. Self-loathing messages zooming back and forth between our mobile phones. The demon drink getting in to our brains and distorting the night’s events. Unnecessary fear and shame making us doubt ourselves.

Shame and fear. Empty emotions.

But fear and shame allowed me to make that final journey to leave the UK. Shame allowed me to leave. Not bravery, not courage, simply shame.

I sat on the shuttle bus at Charles de Gaulle airport waiting for my connection to Sao Paulo and it finally hit me, The Fear. What was I doing? Why was I leaving? I couldn’t do this. I needed to go home. I didn’t want to live in Brazil. The only thing that stopped me from getting a flight directly back to Brighton was shame. I would be ashamed to have not even made it to Brazil, this great adventure I had boasted about for months. I couldn’t scuttle back home, tail between my legs, failed, the adventure a failure. So rather than face the shame I got on the plane.

Absolutely the right decision. The two years in Brazil were life changing.

And now I am here in the land of incomprehensible shame, Japan. This place with shame ingrained in the culture. Haji (shame) is said to form the core of Japanese culture. Japanese culture is described as “shame culture ” in contrast to Western “guilt culture”. A place where shame can lead to suicide, where you must not stand out, must not make mistakes and must be ashamed if you do. They trace this back to the samurai era, and the concept of seppuku or hara-kiri, to cut one’s own belly with a sword, to suffer for shame. In this era, it was better to die than bring shame on oneself. Killing yourself for shame was an honorable act.

Even now the Japanese students I have taught struggle with being wrong, preferring to be silent than make an error in their spoken English. I am told that Japanese people won’t speak their mind that “… no doesn’t always mean no and yes doesn’t always mean yes”. There is a shame in being definite and a fear in being wrong.

I have had my own struggles with shame recently. I am planning a trip to The Great Wall of China and determined to stride powerfully up the steps and along the wall I am trying to exercise. I am overweight and unfit but the biggest hurdle I had to cross to start the journey to getting stronger was my own shame. The real pain didn’t come from the lunges or squats I was doing but the burning, searing pain of feeling so inadequate and judged and useless and embarrassed. It took extreme willpower to stay in the gym and continue for the first few days.

I am lucky there is a space at work where I can exercise easily and I have supportive new friends who eased me in to exercise, gently encouraged and motivated me. I feel humbled that once again I have travelled across the globe to find strength and care in a new group of people. So, once again my shame has given me the most amazing gifts.

And as I struggle home on the train, limbs aching, barely able to place one foot in front of the other, so tired I have forgotten my own name, I hear a beep and the messages came in on my phone from these new friends, encouraging and kind. Being the DQ (Drama Queen) that I am, I start to well up, crying in public, shaming the Japanese commuters with my overflow of foreign emotions.

Shame keeps pushing me to new experiences and in each one I find a wealth of new connections which continue to fill me with joy. The further I travel the more I realize that the world is filled with good people and I am so grateful to be able to fill my life with such wonderful people. So to my beloved Brightonion, Brazilian and now Japanese connections, thank you from the bottom of my heart, you help more than you know.

 

If rage were a drink...

If rage were a drink…

I could map my journey through life as the distance between an angry young woman to a seething old lady. Along the way I have moments of intense rage giddy euphoria, frustration, elation, confusion, bleak black dogs, searing highs and piercing lows. You can chart some of these mood swings with the changing of the tides and passage of the moon but in general, I think, they are manifestations of a soul on fire.

I am proud to be a passionate person. I intend to remain passionate for a long as I can, embracing my raging fist shaking nature, continuing to fight and battle and believe that I can make a difference because, who wouldn’t?

Why wouldn’t you want to try and make the world even just a tiny bit better, to make things a little more fair, just, smooth, happy beautiful, funny or loving.  I want to always be enthusiastic about people, places, ideas, music, art, stories, words, creation, EDUCATION.

I feel so lucky to be part of education, but I wasn’t always this way. In those early days of teaching sometimes it just seemed such a thankless task. Every morning as I travelled nearer to the school I would start to feel a little sick, and the nerves and stress and fear and frustration would grow. And I would count down the days until I could have a week away from the classroom and the constant falling short, of never quite being good enough. Because if you didn’t know, most teachers exist in a fog of guilt, always thinking that they could do more, that they don’t do enough, that they did it wrong. Almost without fail when I have worked in colleague’s classrooms they would stop me on the way out to tell me what went wrong, what they missed, what they could have done better. Because we know, we really do know that we have been entrusted with a precious gift and that we owe those young people and their parents the best, but after a while the pressure of that gift weighs heavy on them, weighs them down and you see them droop or drift, survive or fall.

I was lucky. I am brave/foolhardy and in my moments of falter I would CHANGE, move to another speciality, move to another country, move to another school and I believe this has kept me strong. Plus I had my rage, my passionate burning rage and belief that I could be a voice for those without one, that I could use this loud abrasive, assertive, big voice, big body and big personality for good rather than evil.

My rage has propelled me across the world to Brazil and now Japan and here in this quiet country of bows and nods and formalities of language I can’t even begin to understand my rage continues to energise me. The more that silence is expected the louder I get, the more they think I will shut up the more I want to shout.

My now beloved Americans, with their eccentricities of language were tying me in loops when I arrived. I didn’t understand the smiles and compliments delivered with dead eyes. This along with the Japanese habit of having meetings to discuss decisions already made, being agreed as if they were being made in that exact moment. I didn’t know where to place my British pragmatism.

Now I am literally translated by my American colleague, I send him my emails scribbled in fiery fury, metaphorically scratched out in my own blood and he gently changes a few words and points out passages that will alienate and antagonise. He prepares me for meetings, acting as my language coach, I rewrite my questions and answers in advance following advice trying to make sure I get it right.

I am afraid of losing my passion and fire. I am enjoying my ‘American Language’ training, I like learning new skills. BUT I must never forget that sometimes I might choose to antagonise and challenge. Sometimes I don’t want to get more with sweetness and sugar, sometimes I want to squeeze lemon in their eyes, rub salt in their wounds, drink tequila and dance with the devil.

My First Thanksgiving Dinner, benefits of American friends

My First Thanksgiving Dinner, benefits of American friends

I am in a whirlwind of confusion, I don’t understand. I am constantly coming up against words I don’t know, gestures that confuse me and actions I find alien.

Japan? That’s fine, I expected to find that confusing. No, this is my fellow English speakers, my American compatriots.  I had no idea I would be this difficult to comprehend!

Despite my expectations of a shared language, interchanging of popular culture, shared history, we constantly misunderstand each other. My Japanese vocabulary is limited but my American glossary grows by the day.

Lets start with some simple examples;

  • To me a cup of tea and a biscuit means Yorkshires finest black (I never realised tea came in other colours till I moved) tea with cold milk and a hobnob. My colleagues would expect a kind of scone or bread roll along with some herbal concoction or no milk and lemon.
  • Bombed means something failed not that it cost a lot of money (a bomb).
  • Soccer? No. Football.
  • A jelly sandwich? A jam sandwich.
  • They don’t offer me a lift, they offer me a ride. In English a ride could be a shag (a sexual encounter). If you gave me a lift in America you would pick me up and carry me (pick up and chat up might also mean the same thing in American English and this could lead to more problems in misuse). I just tend to get the bus, less potential for misunderstandings…
  • Oh and a lift is also an elevator.
  • A rubber is only used for erasing in the UK in the US it protects you from much, much more…
  • Then there is favour, favor, color, colour, zed and zee…

So gradually my timetable has become my schedule, my lessons morph in to periods. I request my students to ‘turn in homework’ instead of handing it in and I slowly begin to understand.

But I am fascinated by my American colleagues. They’re actually real? America is real? I had seen it so many times in movies (movies, not films) and TV shows (not programmes) that I started to think of it as a fantasyland like Narnia or Hogwarts. But here they are right in front of me with accents I had heard all my life but never really experienced and as I listened more carefully they started to become my friends.

I was wary at first, struggling to connect. Working under the (mis) assumption that our shared language and similar cultural references would bind us closer. I assumed it would be easier to connect with Americans than to Columbians or Brazilians, and these Latin American nationalities had previously become my good friends. Perhaps it was here that the disconnect occurred? At first, we were not bound together by these things but almost pushed father apart. My assumptions around understanding ‘American culture’ confounded me. We thought so very differently about things, especially education, and where I expected to find links I often found conflict.

But as my language has modified so have I. Travelling and working abroad gives you an insight in to the world and sticks a rocket into your assumptions and explodes preconceptions. What am I learning the longer I stay away from the UK? That nothing is as I expect, nothing is what I think, that I must be open and ready to embrace every single different kind of person I meet.

Not literally, although I have bought some Brazilian exuberance and hugs to Japan.

So, despite me using being British as an excuse for bad behaviour, happily invoking shallow cultural stereotypes as alibis (Brits like to drink therefore I will order another beer, Brits are unfriendly that’s why I’m not happy today, Brits are intelligent so I must be too.) I am aware that my own expectations of others are getting in the way of reality.

I am going to try to be more open, to have less expectations, to enjoy my new American friends. To work at saying allowance instead of pocket money, to celebrate thanksgiving, to embrace every single different person I meet (thanks to tactile Brazil). Because this experience, this opportunity to get to know so many different types of people, it’s a privilege I don’t want to squander.

You can read all the posts about Brazil in one place. I have edited them in to a small book. Available on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Saved-City-Lucinda-Willis/dp/149433495X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1386657746&sr=8-2&keywords=saved+by+the+city

Or what I have learnt about Japan in 4 months..

4photo1.    Vending Machines

If you asked me what I knew about Japan before I arrived unfortunately I might have said, .”..don’t they have vending machines selling schoolgirls’ used knickers?”  Within in this one misconception lie many layers of ignorance and assumption about Japan, technology and sexuality. It‘s a complex county and I have been here only for a short time but I’m already undoing many of my misconceptions.

There are many vending machines in Japan. They’re everywhere, but the majority of them sell drinks, plastic toys or ice cream. Some of them sell beer. A friend was telling me she questioned why the Japanese teenagers didn’t buy beer from the vending machines, they have no locks or ID checks, on them, “because they are not allowed to drink alcohol until they are 20” was the simple answer. They are not allowed to, so they don’t. This may have been a Japanese adult misconception too. I would imagine Japanese teens are sneaking beers out of the vending machines but I’m not sure.

But I am sure that if you put a beer vending machine in the middle of Lancing (where I used to work) the beer and quite possibly the entire machine would be gone within minutes, and the teens of Lancing would be partying hard.

2.   Neon

I blame Bladrunner. Not once since I arrived have I been in a flying car zooming past huge neon billboards with beautiful women advertising exotic products. Instead if you can, imagine my shock at arriving and being given an apartment here:

I expected Gotham City and I got Jane Austen.

My need for neon led me to traipse around Tokyo seeking out ‘Japan’ and missing out the fact that I was right in the middle of the capital city. I was in Japan it just didn’t look like the 1980s  vision of the future I had expected.

I have moved away from the countryside now and have a city view with a couple of neon signs visible in the distance. Please remember I had been living for two years in Sao Paulo where billboard advertising was mainly banned in the city.

http://www.amusingplanet.com/2013/07/sao-paulo-city-with-no-outdoor.html

Now I was in Japan I wanted NEON.

3.   Efficiency

Not only does Sao Paulo have no outdoor advertising, Brazil also has a love of confusing and protracted bureaucracy, from the simplest task to complex visa requirements. My Brazilian Visa took 6 months to obtain, my Japanese one less than 6 weeks.

One night in SP I went out to see a band. To get a drink you had to queue 3 times, first to look at the drinks menu, then a new queue to order a drink, then the 3rd queue to pick up your drink order. Although Japan is thought of as  super efficient sometimes Japan and Brazil are not so different. In the Japanese supermarket you put your shopping in your basket and take it to the till. They get a new basket and put your shopping very neatly and carefully in to a new basket as they ring each item through. You then pay and take this new basket to the special bagging area (supplied with additional packing materials) and unpack the shopping again to repack it in to your shopping bags.

In contrast to Brazil however, Japanese efficiency tends to work (Brazilian bureaucracy seems to drift round making you dance but is always presented with a smile). In Japan my train has arrived on time, every day, to the minute, without fail. No leaves on the line or excessive heat on the tracks causing cancellations like good old British Rail (RIP). When I arrived in the country they took my photo at customs (thanks, I looked great after almost 24 hours travelling) and created my resident card on the spot. My Brazilian card arrived just in time, at the end of my two-year visa. Japan is efficient? Yes. Over efficient? Possibly.

4.   Technology

Ok, so my first Japanese apartment had a talking bath. It would fill the tub with exactly the right amount of water to the perfect temperature. I miss her voice reminding me to put the plug in. My new apartment has an ordinary tap and the only voices I hear are the ones in my head (you are dirty, you will never be clean…).

I  had one Bladerunner moment. I was in an huge electronics shop in Kyoto over excited and overwhelmed by the displays of gadgetry, fingers itching to spend spend send spend. I had that too hot shop feeling when you have six layers on and your coat is too heavy. I couldn’t see the exit and I was starting to get panicked that I was going to spend two months salary on a pair of headphones. There was a female voice with a slow computerised British accent explaining the deals of the day. If the Terminator had blasted the Bose display in search of Replicants I wouldn’t have been shocked.

But I digress; the technology on sale here is fantastic. I’m sure my Epsom printer is capable of world domination once I work out what the hell the instructions are saying. Or maybe the kanji are just another reminder to put the plug in the bath.

But it’s just not quite as high tech as I expected. I noticed a pay phone on the train platform. Low-tech yes, but practical. It was the paper copy of the phone book underneath that disappointed me. Paper? This was not the technology I was expecting. Where were the robot butlers?

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Japan has a love for paper. Not just beautiful handmade pages but cold hard cash.  I have rarely seen people pay by card. This is a society that generally pays in cash. It’s so safe you can carry your wealth in paper form.  Every note is pristine. This is could due to the Japanese government printing extra money to boost the economy or anther example of Japanese efficiency. Either way I have always had two purses. In Brazil it was one real purse, one purse to give to the robbers. Here it is one coin purse and one hermetically sealed note storage device. No more crumpled fivers shoved in a pocket, and Sellotaped and snot stained.

5.   Kawaii

Those who know me well, know among the myriad of ways there are to annoy me, a good one is to call me cute. I am not cute I am a large loud mouthed woman who stomps around arguing unnecessarily. I’m still not entirely sure why I came to the land of cute characters. They are everywhere. I saw a Police van, presumably designed for rounding up rioters or drunks? Cute little police mascot stuck on the side.

I was expecting cute and crazy fashion everywhere. I was expecting kawaii girls. What I see in reality is endless streams of school children dressed in hideous nylon sailor dresses or navy synthetic round collared jackets. Japanese school uniforms look incredibly unconformable, impractical cheap itchy fabrics. But no pink haired crazy girls in cosplay. As I sit on the train in the morning most people look the same there is uniformity in everyday Japanese fashion that you don’t find in the UK. As I travel I realise my beloved Brighton is a place where anything goes and although this is sometimes carte blanche for middle class wankers to live out hippy fantasies it also makes for a more interesting train carriage.

As I attempt to assimilate in to another new culture I realise once again, that what I think I know I don’t know and what I didn’t know is probably a lot more useful.

Japan is fascinating and I am prepared to be surprised.

'This is Japan!' Shibuya Crossing Tokyo

‘This is Japan!’ Shibuya Crossing Tokyo

I have always loved to read. I was the typical kid, hidden under the covers with a torch, reading until late in to the night. I was such a reading geek that I categorised my books and made them in to a library. Made library cards for every book, arranged them in alphabetical order. Borrowed books from my own library, carefully writing the date for return on the card inside the cover. I loved libraries; I would spend lost hours in the school holidays surrounded by books, sitting in the warm quiet reading room in St Albans library. Snuggled in high backed wooden chairs reading, exploring, studying. That was a safe space, a solace from, a sometimes, chaotic world. I would escape by working hard on self-administered projects, reading and thinking, silent and at peace.

Even now any problem that I face, any worry, any questions I have, I seek the answer in words. The Internet has become my oracle. I can find almost anything I need to know. Painful Achilles flip-flop related injury? I can read about my symptoms and find some stretches to sort it out. Don’t know how to use my printer because the instructions are all in Japanese? Find a manual online.  What do the lyrics to that song mean? Who is she? What film was he in? Want to read that book? Watch that? The list could go on and on. Now instead of the soft wooden silence of the library I get lost in the meandering reading paths of the Internet. Begin exploring one topic and it takes you on unexpected routes to another topic, until you find yourself somewhere totally different from where you started.

Reading was my safe haven and one of my super powers, until now. Now I live in a place where I can’t read. I can’t read signs, I can’t read menus, I can’t read labels, I even struggle to read facial expressions, social rules and vocal cues. I am one month living in Japan and I am confused! Not only have I lost my superpower of vocal communication, those charming words I would weave to get my own way, now I can’t even follow the most basic instructions, signposts or ingredients, and it’s excitingly baffling.

I am existing in a wonderful world of mystery and each tiny solution fills me with joy and pride. As I negotiate the subway system, find an ingredient and create a dish, nod and say “Konichiwa” to passers by. And yes, even put the right recycling in the right bag, out on the right day, and it’s collected, I feel braver and prouder than putting the rubbish out ever made me feel before.

So without the ability to read words, and a reduced ability to read faces, I have to rely on a whole new set of skills to make sense of the world around me.

A friend came over from England to visit, and I got to share these mysteries with him. Together we explored the enigmas of Tokyo. But as we wandered the city streets we found ourselves constantly exclaiming, “Now THAT looks like Japan!” at a congestion of neon and bustling streets or a sky rise juxtaposed with a temple. After a while I had to stop myself, what was I doing? I was spending more time looking for the ‘Japan’ I dreamt about that I had stopped looking at the Japan right in front of me. Why was there this need to find the Tokyo I had seen in books or films? The futuristic city from Bladerunner, the fictionalized version, when I had reality right in front of me?

When our other abilities are lost, the reading skills, the talking and charming, instead we search for expected realities, find comfort in seeing what we think we are going to see.

I understand this desire but this is an opportunity, I should be looking for the unexpected, taking pleasure in the surprise, exploring and absorbing. I have seen people arrive to overseas jobs full of expectations about the place they will live in, only to spend two years disappointed in what they find. There aren’t Brazilians samba-ing through the streets everyday, just as there aren’t robot toilets cleaning you up in every bathroom in Japan. We get to experience real life and it is still different and confusing and wonderful.

I know we want the tasty pieces, the morsels that give the fullest flavour. This is Brazil, this is Japan, this is England. But this is no holiday, this is real life and I want to enjoy my gradual absorption in to the world around me.  I don’t want the Disney version, the sanitized cliché or the tourist presentation. I want to be here and live here and experience something that is different to my previous 38 years of existence in the UK. So I am working hard at leaving my expectations open, to try and experience the world as it unfolds in front of me, to taste every dish at the table and enjoy every mouthful.

 

Graffiti outside Pablo Neruda's house in Santiago. A man who would not be told what to do.

Graffiti outside Pablo Neruda’s house in Santiago. A man who would not be told what to do.

One of my more annoying traits is my childlike response to being told what to do. When advised not to do something my immediate response is to do the opposite. Nothing is more likely to bring out the teenager in me than well meaning advice. My usual reply would be “Don’t tell me what to do!” possibly with the addition of a sexual swearword…

As you can imagine this policy is not always the most productive. Well meaning advice is given for a reason, it is well meant and it is often thoughtful, kind and considerate. So to have a blanket refusal to act upon friends gently offered and sensible suggestions has often resulted in poor choices.

However, this does mean I can empathise with 14-year-old boys who refuse to remove their hooded tops in class. Although being an (almost) 40-year-old woman myself perhaps it’s time to grow up and stop rebelling? Strangely, despite my refusal to listen to others, I spend much of my working day telling people what to do and trying to sound like I am not telling them what to do. It is a fine line and one that I sometimes fall off.

This morning I was talking to a friend in England about a meal I had had and as I recounted the dishes a memory returned to me. Before I moved to Brazil I never travelled. I only listened to others stories of their travels and the food they tasted. I had one holiday in 10 years, a singles holiday to Crete; I don’t want to tell you what to do but NEVER GO ON A SINGLES HOLIDAY TO CRETE. It was not fun. There is an underlying air of sadness on singles holidays, which permeates everything. In particular, I remember looking over at the group of singles, as I downed vodka on my balcony to block out the experience. They were looking wistfully at the pool whilst drinking afternoon tea (provided free as part of the single’s package!). In the pool was a beautiful young Greek couple cavorting madly. The expression on the singles faces was doglike, that expression a dog has when you are eating and the dog looks mournfully at your plate like it’s starving. I had to quickly drink more vodka before I threw myself in the pool and attempted to drown myself under the lovemaking couple‘s contortions.

Whenever friends went away, which they seemed to do far more frequently than me I would ask them in detail about their travels and about the food they had. I loved to hear about it but I only lived vicariously through their experiences. I am sure than many of them told me what to do ‘You should go on holiday Luci.’ Or ‘Stop spending all your money on stupid crap you don’t need and go on holiday Luci’ or ‘Stop asking me questions about my holiday Luci I have been talking about it for 3 HOURS!’ I ignored them, because I won’t be told what to do and I continued to holiday in my own flat, avoid singles holidays and ask friends endless questions about what they ate. Till finally I realised that some of the advice was useful, that perhaps spending all my money on crap and never leaving Hove wasn’t the best life plan and I came to Brazil.

Even as I planned to leave, more advice ‘You’ll hate living in a big city’ or ‘You can’t runaway from your problems’ or ‘You’ll need to learn Spanish’ most of this advice was wrong. I love the big city, my problems are far more manageable with 5000 miles between us and I needed to learn Portuguese anyway.

This week, I have been working with another teacher watching his lessons and planning together. We have a tricky group, it is hard or them to follow instructions. As I watched his lesson I could see that the giving of instructions, telling the children what to do was at the heart of everything that could make the lesson work. If they didn’t know what to do they wouldn’t learn, they could feel stupid, they would lose interest and the lesson would be wasted. The art of giving of instructions, of telling someone what to do, has to be clear, make sense and be delivered without being patronising or demanding. Once we know what to do we can be so much more successful.

So, back to me, yes we had been off that very important topic for at least a paragraph. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do and even if I listen to instructions or let people tell me what to do I am still not convinced about the right course. I have an innate mistrust of what people say. Above all else I find it hard to trust my own instincts and judgements. I make mistakes; I have made errors many times. But to come back to a reoccurring theme, errors and mistake can lead you to new adventures and new beauty. I love mistakes in language; they create wonderful perfect descriptive phrases. I need to celebrate mistakes in my choices too.

So, we listen for instructive advice, ignore it, worry over it and dismiss it or follow it. Today it feels like a set of instructions to follow or ignore would give me a clearer idea of what to next, knowing what not to do can be as helpful as knowing what to do.

Please, dear friends, continue to instruct and advise me and I will try to ignore the teenage wail, which erupts at the thought of being told what to do and listen to my inner adult. Or I will ignore you, stamp my foot, make some bad decisions, laugh, cry, avoid singles holidays and see where I end up.

One of the familiar sights of Brighton beach

One of the familiar sights of Brighton beach

As my time in Sao Paulo draws nearer to its end I see the city transform before me. The once sinister and confusing cacophony metamorphosed in to friendly bars and smiling faces. Light seeps in to the darker places, infusing them with safety and normality. What once seemed so different, so other, is now mine, my own familiar world. No longer inhabited only by strangers, now friends and familiar faces.

On Friday I went out later than usual and on my own, travelling across the city in a taxi. A simple and common enough task in my old Brighton life. In that world I would zigzag the city throughout the night seeking out friends and entertainment until the sun rose and I found my way home. But not here, not in Sao Paulo. It was, in part, a conscious decision. The new lifestyle, the new me. But it was also fear of the unknown. I was afraid of so many things in this wonderful crazy city. Where I was going, how would I get there, would they rob me, shoot me, crash in to me. Danger lurked in every unfamiliar corner.

But on Friday as my taxi zoomed the busy streets and I remembered how I once was so afraid, afraid  that it was dangerous to drive, afraid that I would be in an accident, attacked, lost, sold in to slavery, missing, murdered, remembered the doom scenarios constantly filling my gringo mind. Now, as the taxi made its way to a new part of this world I didn’t know, I realised, I was comfortable, and maybe that was why it was time to go.

When I arrived in Brazil almost 2 years ago I relished the unfamiliarity and challenge, I thrived on not understanding the rules or language. Now I contemplate a return to my familiar world in England I feel so sad to let it go. I have become addicted to unfamiliarity, obsessed with not understanding, proud of survival.

In my moments of homesickness I longed for the familiarity of home. The normal tastes of English food, sitting at the bar in a pub, my beloved and beautiful Brighton beach on a windy day, the friends who had known me for more than 10 years, they who had already forgiven me for foolish acts in my 20s and loved me in my 30s. On those days I craved familiarity. Sought to recreate a little piece of England in my flat, eating roast potatoes, drinking tea, British TV blaring, sending messages home, connecting to the familiar.

I have grown to love São Paulo. When I flew in from my last trip to Nicaragua I felt like I was coming home. I was coming home, home to my familiar life. I wasn’t lost or confused, I knew the route the taxi would take, I knew what to do, what to say. But a small piece of me is saddened by the loss of mystery. Of course I will never be a true Paulista, a Brazilian, totally immersed, but I can see how it would be easy to stay, I can see how I could adapt, that this could be home.

So I have decided to leave, I’m still not sure yet where I will end up next. I have been given a very dangerous gift. The gift of choice. I have a whole world to choose from. Safer now in the knowledge that I am able to make a home in amongst unfamiliarity. That I even enjoy the confusion and struggle of the new place.

I want my classroom too, to be a space filled exploration, discovery and unfamiliarity. I don’t want my classes to know what to expect when they enter the room. I want them to be occasionally surprised, shocked, confused and excited by the lessons. And I want this for myself too. I am most afraid of returning to the UK and returning to my old apathy, sunk in to a life of frustration and laziness. The electric shock of unfamiliarity Brazil gave me has bought me back to life. I think I need the unfamiliar to continue to feel alive.

My favorite Brazilian flavour

My favorite Brazilian flavour

I have a question, when you ask for the bill across a crowded restaurant what do you do? Do you mine an action to indicate to staff that you have finished and want to pay? What is this action? I have spent 15 years miming an elaborate version of my signature, signing my name with a grandiose gesture. I recently discovered that not everyone mimes signing their name, in fact many other people are adding up the bill in their mime, or mime the action of the staff writing out the bill. This has generated drunken debate and discussion, as we argue, should it be adding the bill or signing? There seems to be a gender divide, males preferring the adding gesture and females the flourish of their name. This is very revealing of the differences between men and women…

Whatever you are miming, a symbolically phallic column of numbers or a soft undulating signature, the understanding is still same, I have finished and I want to pay. People understand. There is a universal communication.

After 16 months in Brazil I have become skilled at communicating without much language. In my previous existence I was a language ninja, using it to weave webs, taking pleasure in its vowels and consonants. Drawing people in, telling stories, listening to stories, sharing stories, laughing. Endlessly debating, bantering, charming and talking, talking, talking. Now I smile, I touch your arm and search my brain for the memory of a single word to reply with. Am I still English in these smiles and gestures? Do I continue to signify my nationality in these movements, the way I signify my gender in the dancing signature I mime to the waiter? My ‘otherness’ is apparent in Brazil. I stand out as not Brazilian. Maybe American, maybe European. I feel reduced by this sometimes, becoming a place instead of a person not I’m not just British, I’m Luci. A friend of mine confuses people here by stating he is not from England, he is from Liverpool, resulting in a Colombian colleague confusedly consulting a map. I am drawn to my gringo friends, not because I don’t like the other nationalities surrounding me but with them I communicate with ease, with word play and shared cultural references. But even amongst the Europeans there is difference, my Spanish and Belgium friends describing themselves as being ‘mainland’ to my ‘island’ mentality. I am forced to unpick my edges and look at how I am constructed and hope to find there is enough of a commonality to connect me to most people I meet.

How far is the ability to communicate effectively a product of our culture or personal history? If we all spoke the same language would we still misunderstand one another? My school is international but the language of instruction is English. English, the language of imperialism, the language of colonalization. They mainly speak English or Portuguese, imposed languages from Europe on this beautiful Latin American country. And when I tell one of my pupils, stop speaking Portuguese, you have to speak English, and he is actually from Lebanon and tells the class the loudest noise he ever heard was a bomb exploding, then the plethora of communications and experience that exist in my classroom are bought sharply in to focus. I am uncomfortable controlling language, no pleasure for me in finding a misused apostrophe or a grammatical gaff. I revel in mistakes, contradictions and language rule breaks. I care only for communication, understanding and connection

I am surrounded by second, third, fourth, fifth language users and they use the English language better than me, taking familiar phrases and energising them with fresh life, and making me laugh in the delighted newness of a familiar word. One colleague described another’s ‘purity’ in his approach to teaching, another using ‘snooked’ to describe taking something in a sneaky way. My friend who loves people and asks them questions about life, love, family and friends was described as ‘luring’ someone out. Someone saying swimming trousers rather than swimming trunks, making me laugh at the perfect symmetry of the unfamiliar combination.

I am in this rich linguistic world, surrounded by professional language users, adults and children. Their skill amazes and humbles me as they switch between languages, cultures and communications. I feel as though I am standing in the centre of this whirlwind of words, most of them buffering me around from here to there, constantly turning my head to catch what is said, to understand. In amongst all this, there is usually a smile on my face, because I get to be here, to hear here, to hear all this and every time I say Tudo Bem? And get an answer and I’m a tiny part of another place, I feel pride.

I was blown here on the jet stream of a thousand conversations, woke up in my Brazilian castle on top of the world. In 6 months I will be saying t’chau t’chau to my temporary adopted home, and goodbye to all the warm wonderful people I have met. This makes me sad but the gifts they have given me in every tiny communication, in every gesture word or deed, these are gifts for life.

When I see the Brazilian finger wave, the gesture I love, which seems to mean, ‘no no, no way’ or someone slap the palms of their hands on the back of each other to say ‘no thanks, I don’t want that.’ When I see someone in swimming trousers and laugh at the words, or when I hear the lilting melody of Brazilian Portuguese with its x and chi. When I lift my imaginary pen to mime signing the bill. I will take you with me wherever I go, I will continue to try to understand.

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