Archives for category: Teaching

lady like in my yukata...

lady like in my yukata…

Or ‘Has Japan finally made me a lady?’

The New Year for teachers occurs at a slightly different time to the usual January celebrations. August and September is our New Year, a time for reflection and anticipation, new beginnings, a time for change. A fresh pencil case, filled with resolutions to mark more regularly, to plan more effectively and to create the perfect classroom display.

I like this time of year. I like the sense of new starts, the possibilities for change.

Yesterday was my Japnaiversary, one year in Japan and also a time for reflection.

A male colleague accused me of not being a good listener and as I replied, “I do listen, but only if people have something useful to say.” I reflected on my listening skills. I know I can be a bad listener, over eager to contribute and share, I can interrupt and talk over people. Like an annoying child trying to get the grown ups attention my voice cuts in over people who are still formulating thoughts and sentences. My tolerance for listening is better with children than adults, like so many things I am far more forgiving of young people than I am of my peers.

Over the past year in Japan I have been advised variously to ‘get more results with sugar than vinegar’, been told more than once I don’t listen and also accused of being patronizing and unprofessional. In darker moments I think that my passionate emotional nature has no place in Japan. That in this space I become a large, rude, boar, trampling over delicate flowers, smashing porcelain ornaments with my oversized opinions. In Brazil I felt embraced by colleagues and friends, we were all passionate people, overflowing with love and care. We drew together as a team and we gained strength from each other. I felt Brazilian, I felt part of that community, my big bum and big voice found a home there. I felt able to contribute to Brazil, my passion carried me forward, through the project we ran with the local school, through the creation of a new department, through friendships built and through the important changes I went through in my time there. That passionate country wonderfully healed me.

Japan is different. Japan is bringing lightness in to my life. Physically I am becoming lighter and stronger and maybe my interactions could also become lighter and stronger? My main sources of communication outside the workplace at the moment are smiles and nods. I can feel myself take on a foreigner version of the stereotype Japanese female submissive persona to excuse my mistakes and confusion. But this is not reality, from what I have seen Japanese women are not as they first appear, beyond our western assumptions and geisha images of servitude lurks strength. I don’t underestimate Japanese women instead perhaps I can embrace some of this poise whilst maintaining my fiery nature?

To a certain extent I have no desire to lose my Brazilian passion, if it means I sometimes talk over people, so be it. Most of my favorite people are as speedy, passionate and sharp as I am and our conversations zoom around losing each other and then reconnecting again.

But as my world grows and my horizons expand I am also connecting with wonderful, intelligent people who run at different speeds. They are sharp, smart, thoughtful and kind. They deserve my full attention. So part of me does need to change. I need to learn to listen.

For a long time this move felt like a temporary change to my life, that I would go ‘back to normal’ once I returned to the UK. But as my sense of what my normal is changes so does the thought of going home. How can I go back? I’m not the same as I was when I left. Two things terrify me about going back. Firstly, that I am so different that I am unhappy back in England and secondly that I end up being exactly the same as before and undo all the hard work of the last three years. So I stay away until the changes become sure and solidify, until I am ready to be different in the same place.

So, I try to hold back some of my over flowing emotions, thoughts and passions, I try to run, lift and jump, I try to choose better and more wisely, I try to be different and yet the same, I am afraid to change and yet so much more terrified of staying exactly the same.

So can Japan make me a lady? I doubt it, but it might make me a better listener.

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

Japanese food, a different texture to my 'normal' experience!

Japanese food, a different texture to my ‘normal’ experience!

Not everyone owns a kettle. (Yes, Mother, there are some households where the electric kettle is not the first item unpacked in a move.) This may be obvious to you, it was not to me.

The owning of a kettle and the serving of tea runs though my English identity like blood or HP sauce. I have moved many times and each time the first thing I would do was get the kettle out. I have woken up groggy in unfamiliar homes and negotiated the kitchen, where are the tea bags? Which cupboard are the cups in, have they got milk? And usually managed to make myself a cup of tea. You arrive at my house, in tears, broken hearted, celebrating, confused, inconsolable, joyful, I will make you a cup of tea.

But this is not what happens in Brazil. When I left, I gave my colleagues gifts; Tetley teabags, teapots, cups and saucers, to make English tea. They asked me ‘what is the best way to make tea?’ and I told them, the water has to be boiling, the milk has to be cold. I had been given weak Brazilian chai preto in warm water with hot milk and this is not a good introduction to the healing wonders of a good cup of tea. Maybe I’ll buy a kettle, one of them said. Buy a kettle? You don’t have one? I was shocked, and this was after 2 years in Brazil, I still hadn’t got it, I still didn’t see.

Even, after two years in a new place I had still forgotten that what I experienced as commonplace, in my home, my friends homes, at work, with family, in England, this was not always replicated. Even when we seem so similar, even something as mundane as boiling water. Again, maybe obvious to you. Not to me. The big changes like language, food, customs were obvious, but we seemed to be generally the same. We lived in homes with running water and kitchens and bathrooms, we worked hard, we laughed, shared jokes,  drank beer together. It was the smaller things I took for granted, that I thought most people would do the same way. But we don’t always, some things we do differently. Like boil water.

Now I am a foreigner again. In a new place and I am different to the norm. This is even more pronounced in Japan where my physicality sets me apart from most other women. I worried about this before I came and I still worry, sometimes. I worry that being too ‘big’ in almost every possible way is going to start to make me feel small and inadequate. My body is too big for most of the clothes sold here, my feet are too big for most of the shoes, my voice is too loud, my personality is too combative, I’m too abrasive, I’m not cute, I’m not married and I’m not a mother.

But I am a show off and this is what I hope will keep me safe. When I was a teenager I dyed my hair bright fire engine red. I clearly remember complaining to my mum that everyone was making comments about it at school. They are all going on about my hair Mum! That’s the point though isn’t it? She said in that infuriating -knows you too well and cuts through your crap- way, that mothers do so well sometimes.

That was the point and although my hair is now brown, that is still the point. I can manage being the foreigner and being different, because I am generally comfortable being different. I try to fight the fears coercing me to conform. It is inescapable that my passage to ‘otherness’ is eased by the fact that I am white and British. I am in a position of privilege, I recognise that too. Despite our astounding record for attacking other nations (we have attempted to invade all but 22 countries in the world, that’s a 90% record) The British are generally, welcomed and valued by the places I have been. So although I don’t usually believe in luck, I recognise, and am grateful, that the luck of my birth has provided me with a safer passage in to the world.

In Japan, I am aware that I am different but at the moment, I don’t feel too strange. Japanese people seem to ignore me for the most part, but that might be politeness. This studied nonchalance might start to grate after a while. I might want to be noticed, to be seen. I might want my separation to be openly acknowledged rather than silently observed. I might want to increase my volume, enhance my ‘Britishness’ to try and provoke a reaction. I might start writing with a quill, wearing a ruff, adding ‘forsooth’ to my speech. Maybe I’ll invade Luxemburg…

I am not afraid of being different but at times the weight of not conforming can feel heavy. I dislike the thought of being pitied or patronised. I dislike the idea that I could be looked upon as falling short or failing. The lines between what I want and what I think I want can become blurred by the expectations of others. To wake up a foreigner at 40 has helped. To be in a place where I am innately different makes it easier. My identity is already distinct from the norm.

In the end what I have really learnt is, some of us have kettles and some of us don’t but for the most part, we can still get hot water.

photo

The sunrise over Sao Paulo from my bedroom window

I have cried twice since I left the house the morning, weeping as I walked to work. I gazed around me at the Sao Paulo sky, feeling the rain gently fall on my face. The day is so English, grey skies, drizzle, it is almost like I am already home.

I am feeling such a mixture of emotions today, my last day at work in Brazil. I am still overwhelmed by what has happened to my life, still slightly shocked by these wonderful changes. Utterly terrified that I am breaking the spell- that when I finally shut the door and say goodbye, it will all disappear and I will be back to before and will never have left England. I feel such sadness at the ending of this life that has grown over the last two years.

Saudé!

People ask, “What will you miss about Brazil?” I could say many things, Acai (delicious with strawberries and banana) or Guarana (a fizzy drink) or picanha (fantastic cut of meat) or the skies over Sao Paulo I love and have photographed endlessly. But I realised, as they asked, what I will miss most, or rather what I gained most, was connections. Not just connections but the intoxicating and joyful knowledge of the possible.

I moved 5000 miles from all I knew and found that despite fumbling language skills, different cultural references, different childhoods and different worlds; human connection is possible and in a moment the world became smaller and held me tighter.

I found this as a teacher with my pupils, found that despite all the differences between us my ´teacherness´ was now so much a part of me, it shone out of every pore. I supported some older students teaching English in a local school. I know that I looked nothing like the usual teachers who taught the local children.  I could barely speak Portuguese, and they were fascinated by my nose stud and tattoo. Despite all these differences they still knew I was the teacher and when I gave them the `teacher stare` as they got too noisy, or encouraged them in my incomprehensible English our interactions were teacher and student, no different to my classrooms in the UK.

Learning English

Learning English

I felt it with my colleagues, my wonderful open, enthusiastic, warm colleagues. The fantastic department I worked with. I never would have believed that we could form such a strong bond. A Brit, Brazilians, a South African, a Columbian, a Belgium, an American, an Argentinean, an international group but with a shared passion for helping and supporting children. We connected and the connection is more powerful that I ever could have hoped for. I will miss them and I am eternally grateful for their warm welcome and heartfelt farewells.

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.

And my friends… When I left Brighton I ached for my friends, missed momentous moments, birthday, births. Two years in Sao Paulo and I have found friends for life, friends who filled those gaps and will now leave me with new gaps. I say goodbye to our Brazilian life together with such sadness because these friendships, these connections, have been tied up with a new spirit of adventure, open mindedness, exploration and fun that has shown me a whole part of myself I never knew was there.

Ah yes, me, always at the centre of all my over-analysis. The biggest connection I made was to myself. In England amongst the stress and the hard work and the overwhelming frustration and sadness of my job, I lost sight of many things. Being here has given me back so much, creativity, language, music, energy, travel, courage and pleasure.

I am thankful that on that dark December day in 2010, I pressed enter and sent off the email that changed my direction. My finger hovered over the key and even then I knew that pressing send was the possibility of a whole new world opening before me. I took a chance, pressed send, and since then everything has changed.

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

So I finish this, my final Brazilian blog, enabled by my experiences here, ready to start to writing about Japan and the new challenges, adventures and connections I hope to find there. A friend described Brazil as my Kindergarten, preparing me for the next stage of my life. Giving me the tools to move to another new country. She was right, I wouldn’t have been ready two years ago. But I’m ready now.

This is to say one final obrigada to every Brazilian connection; it has truly been a most wonderful adventure.

O tempo não pára! Só a saudade é que faz as coisas pararem no tempo…

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.

Can you imagine your perfect beach? I may have spent Christmas on it. I was in Costa Rica, staying in a tiny beachside apartment in Samara. The beach had fine pale sand, you have to avoid the dried horse turds, but sight of the horses running on the beach at dusk is worth the mess. The impacted sand makes it easy to walk across the low tide to the soft undulating waves. People learn to surf here, I watch a young girl riding the low waves in to the beach as I swim. There are no high rises, no real buildings at all. Only tin roofed restaurants. We have an iguana living outside our window. He attempts to get in the bedroom, tapping his claws on the corrugated iron roof, we lock him out and scare him off eventually, he is like the Tico men who attempt flattery on the gullible gringas “Hey Chica, muy guapa!” they are also scared off and kept out…

photo copyPalm trees, banana trees, mango trees line the beach. Noisy birds and geckos everywhere, Costa Rica is alive and moving. This country is beautiful but the Americans and Germans have arrived in droves and the accents jar slightly against the tranquil beauty. These accents are indicating change rolling in. I wonder what Samara will be like in 10 years time when the moneymaking potential of this little paradise is recognised and the new international airport in the north of the country grows to accommodate more and more gringo visitors.

As I travelled in Costa Rica and Nicaragua I became aware of a tension. The desire for ‘realness’ to not be a tourist, whilst simultaneously being one. A need to be the first, to go somewhere undiscovered or unspoilt, to capture a place at exactly the right moment before it became ‘too touristy’ or ‘too westernised’. I struggled with this. I don’t view myself as a traveller, I see myself as a tourist, a western tourist. I try to be respectful. To not trample over other cultures. Only tasting tiny pieces here and there. Not ticking off my list, done, done, done. But the fact remains, I am a tourist. If there is a search for an experience of truth or beauty. I am looking for the beauty, the building the landscape, the waterfall, the mountain. I find the search for truth, for the authentic experience sometimes troubling. We must get the local bus because that is what the locals do. I don’t think the locals would choose the bus, I think they have to get the bus because they can’t afford anything else.

Of course this may be an intellectualising of my own laziness and the ‘truth’ is that I prefer the ‘beauty’ of the taxi ride because it is easier.

I have always loved storytellers, constantly attracted to those who can weave narratives for me. A friend of mine often says ‘never let truth get in the way of a good story’ as his slightly exaggerated versions of events portray us in less than flattering ways. And as I upload my holiday photos to Facebook this comes to my mind.

I look at the story unfolding in those pictures and I see the beauty, and of course the pictures don’t show the whole truth. The catcalls and grabs in the dark street, which make me uncomfortable (but the female Nicas assume me are safe and normal!). The rats in the market. The cockroach and frog I shared the shower with. The beggars, the crazies, the missing limbs, the children around the restaurant, constantly chased off but coming back for more scraps. The homes which are only two walls and a roof, people burning rubbish in the street because no one collects it. The sense of lethargy that pervades when there is (apparently) 70% unemployment.

However truth doesn’t completely override the beauty. I suppose it just means that travel, like life, is made up of a million different shades and hues.

So perhaps in a search for truth or beauty, the most important thing is just that, the search? The ability to look and see and consider.Why am I a teacher? I think fundamentally it is because I am interested in the world and I like to share that interest. I find that everyone I meet or teach has something to tell me or show me. Some topics are more interesting to me than others but everyone has something to share. In being an educator I am seeking to share both truth and beauty. As an English teacher with passion for language I share my love of words and that wonderful moment of connection when you read the words which express something you struggled to articulate. That is the essence of truth and beauty captured in a moment. The same way that when a crowded local bus moves as one to ensure the man that needs to get off can get out. That despite the heat, the dirt, being uncomfortable, and slightly angry that I am even on this dam bus, I see the beauty of connection flit across the moment like words on a page.

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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