Archives for category: Uncategorized

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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
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 and I can feel myself take on a foreigner version of the Japanese female submissive persona to excuse my mistakes and confusion. From the little I have seen Japanese women are not as they first appear, underneath the geisha image of servitude hides a steely strength. Don’t underestimate Japanese women; they are not as feeble as they may first appear. Perhaps I need to embrace some of this poise and humility 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.

My interview with Tweeter’s Tales

http://www.tweeterstales.co.uk/2014/05/episode-3-nostalgiavokova/

Lots of people dream of escaping the UK and building a life in sun. They chase the adventure, the culture, a fantasy of ‘living on holiday’ and taking some time out when they’re young.

But what if you aren’t young? What if you’ve got a life, career and friends here and don’t tend to go much outside of your comfort zone? What if you rarely even leave the town where you live? Would you give it all up for a new life in Brazil where you know no-one and don’t speak the language? Would you do it you were a single woman in your late 30s?

That’s exactly what Luci Willis did. She’s already spent two years in Sao Paulo and spoke to us from the even bigger culture shock of Japan about the rollercoaster she boarded when life in Brighton seemed to have got stuck in a rut…

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.

 

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.

Diana Thimble

Diana Thimble

I have been in transition, meandering my way across the globe. Fearlessly traversing the planet, I thought, as I was congratulated on my bravery. However, this courage was as real as the rich darkness of my hair. Fears hidden by naivety like the grey hairs covered up by Clairol Soft Mocha. I am not brave, I am stupid. I don’t think carefully, I blithely assume, I simplistically imagine that all will be well, I childish jump around in excitement without thought for real consequence or outcome. I ask not for sympathy for my ignorant state, in fact I think my ignorance gives me the power to move across the world and inhabit these new spaces. I exist in world of fake reality and it confuses the hell out of me…

So, I have left the fantastic toddler existence of my now beloved Brazil, stopped off for a few weeks in the rebellious teenager of Brighton and arrived in the world of the disapproving adult with a secret fun side, Japan.

I have been considering this extended metaphor of countries as an age. I loved the childlike exuberance of Brazil, that fun colourful world with an edge. Parts of Brazil were so welcoming and generous, like a toddler giving you their last sweet and pulling you by the hand to play in the sea, but turn away for a second you see that same child kicking a cat! Brazil intoxicated me with its playful sharpness. It was fun, it was beautiful but with an edge of uncertainty and danger.

When I arrived in Japan I was immediately aware that this was a place with many rules, that this was a place that was already looking down on me with a critical frown as I made terrible errors, such as placing burnable rubbish in the non-burnable bag. My early impressions of Japan spoke directly to my inner teenage rebel, making me want to giggle in a corner whilst surreptitiously doing something against the rules. I was immediately filled with recycling fear as colleagues told me horror stories of neighbourhood retribution at incorrectly separated recycling or, the horror… bags put out too early, dumped back on your doorstop with livid red labels letting you know you transgressed. Because I am new and I want to be respectful I worked hard on my recycling, spending hours arranging the rubbish, checking and rechecking, right bag, right time. Under my sink are 6 different sorts of recycling carefully separated, and correctly bagged. I creep out in the cover of darkness to put out my bags on the allotted day, still afraid I have made an error. But yesterday as I came home from work I saw my Japanese neighbour putting out their plastics, TWO DAYS EARLY. So what is real? What is the reality of the rules driven world I live in? I need to spend more time here to explore the factual.

When relaxing on the beautiful beaches of Rio we would sometimes play a game, ‘Real or Fake? ‘ Now, I am unashamedly a feminist and this is game which ultimately objectifies women’s bodies, perhaps the reality of my feminism isn’t a strong as I think it is? or perhaps it’s just a fun game to spot bad plastic surgery with your friends on a beach…? I feel like I am playing an extended game of real or fake as I attempt to link my experiences of living abroad together.

I left Brazil and returned to England, the two worlds had never really mixed, no one from the UK had come to Brazil and I hadn’t met up with any of my Brazil friends in my previous visits home. This time I was going to cross the streams. To use the familiar Ghostbusters metaphor, this crossing of the streams, this breaking of the rules could only have two possible outcomes; total disaster or saving humanity. As it turned out my stream crossing resulted in a few beers in the sunshine and people making jokes about collecting thimbles.

I was worrying about what was real and what was fake, the Brazil life still seems so unlikely, even after two years, that I had a suspicion that on return to Brighton I would find out that I had never really left. Perhaps this was a particularly vicious hangover and I had been sleeping and dreamt of a new life across the world, where I was braver, stronger and happier. In one full drama queen moment I suspected that I had almost died and that this was a form of purgatory or coma and that I might wake up back where I started not brave, strong or happy, just the same bored teacher in my castle above the sea. I worried that the friendships which blazed under the Brazilian sunshine, would crumble in the feeble British drizzle. I was in fear that my Brighton rocks, my wonderful long friendships, would disintegrate without me there to maintain them, that I would be replaced, forgotten or that my new life and old life would be incompatible and I would be left, spinster friend, reminiscing about the old days.

As it happened everything stayed strong but me. I squirmed my way through 5 weeks in the UK.  Simultaneously loving being home, delighting in the people I loved the most, grabbing hold and pulling away, because I knew that around the corner was one more goodbye.

Because the reality of this life I temporality inhabit, this world where I am now a TCA, a third culture adult, takes hard work. I know others traverse the movements from one life to another with ease but I find it a constant painful wrench. The rewards are huge, the travel, experiences and pleasures I have found in Brazil, and already in Japan, are wonderful. The pride I feel in myself, and that I know others feel in me, make it worth it, but the goodbyes? I don’t think there is anything fake about these. They hurt every time. Every time I am transported to small child standing on the steps of school, saying goodbye to safety and security, stepping in to the unknown of big school. And like school, there is adventure and wonder to be found when you can be brave and let go of your mother’s hand.

I am ready to create new realities, but forgive me if I cling a little to my past too. I am going to fake fearlessness for a while, just until I feel brave enough for real.

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…

20130504-194425.jpg

I already own too many owl related items. I have no particular affinity to owls, I don’t even really like owls but the story of how I came to own these owlish items is a good argument for believing in the concept of karma and the dangers of social networking.

A colleague and Facebook friend was telling me the story of why she had also ended up with a collection of owl memorabilia. It is a familiar enough tale, the boyfriend’s grandmother buys you an owl ornament, and you are too effusive in your thanks and from that moment on, constant owl related gifts. Every birthday and Christmas, “We know you love owls so we bought you this owl oven glove/ owl key ring/ owl socks/ owl pencil sharpener etc etc.”

Even after she moved to Brazil the owl goods continued to arrive, winging their way through the crazy Brazilian postal service and import tax to arrive at her door. She was packing to leave as she told me this story, struggling to decide if she should spend money transporting the owl collection back to the UK.

And here is where I step in, foolishly laughing my arse off enjoying the familiar story of the over enthusiastic response bringing an avalanche of unwanted gifts from family members. The people who are confused about what to buy you so they hook on to the one thing you said you liked once and continue you to buy it for you for 20 years. My family gave me gifts like purple lace gloves or black nail varnish even as I hit 30. This doubly offended me, I wasn’t even a Goth when was I was 18, I never wore purple lace gloves or black nail varnish but somehow remained the perpetual teenage rebel in their eyes.

OK, maybe I did wear lace gloves once but it was the 80s… Anyway back to the owls.

I found the story so funny that I thought it would be hysterical to post owl pictures on her Facebook page, in the hope that I could cement her family’s purchasing beliefs about her owl fetish. This interchange of owls was funny until something else started to happen.

Seeing the owls on my Facebook timeline people began to think that I liked owls! The owl legacy I had tried to palm off on to my friend was coming back to bite me on the arse. People started to post owl pictures to my own Facebook page. Then they started to get me owl gifts. One of the most terrifying of all was the owl painting a friend gave me. Although knowing him, I am sure that he was fully aware of the escalating owl frenzy and was taking the piss. I got owl earrings, at least two pairs, owl bags and purses, owl ornaments and more. Karma.

I have been in Brazil for two years, I arrived with one suitcase and one bag to an empty space which has filled quickly with the possessions which make my home. Forgive the obvious metaphor but there were not only empty spaces in my apartment but many more inside me and Brazil has filled then better than I could have ever imagined.

It is my time to pack again, I have moved many many times in my life. Despite not travelling far I would move house often, rarely staying anywhere for too long. I have never really been fixed to one place; I grew up in two homes moving constantly back and forth. I find it hard to put down lasting roots, but it also has made it easy to embrace change.

As I consider what to take with me on my next move (I’m off to Japan by the way) I remember previous times I packed, my mother helping me. We would pull the hidden boxes out from the top of the wardrobe.”I probably need to throw most of this away I would say and inside the box would be birthday gifts my dear mother had given me over the years. One of them was even an owl, Oscar the owl, presented to me by dearest mother for my performance in the school play.

So what of our possessions, our wall of protection from the world, our short hand of presentation. This is me, this is what I like, this is who I am. What do I select and discard as I pack once again to move on? As I chose what is important to me, what best represents me as I embark on another new adventure.

I don’t think I will bring the owls.

This is my favourite owl joke.

Q: Which is the most popular owl?

A: Teat.

…Teat owl

…Tea towel

…Sorry.

20130504-194523.jpg

I’m angry. Actually, I am also frustrated and despairing. I am struggling to find the language to express the feelings that I have about what I have been reading. And it is mainly due to the use of language.

What has made me mad? Mainly that abhorrent, destructive, misinformed egotistical, vile muck spreader Gove and his insidious use of linguistic propaganda which is slowly but surely dismantling the education system I was taught in, and worked in, for 38 years.

He makes an incongruous enough comment on the school snow closures:

‘…while the decision on whether or not to remain open or closed is a matter for the headteacher, everything can and should be done in order to ensure that all children get access to a good education.’

Everything can and should be done to ensure that all children get access to a good education… excuse me for one moment as I take a breath at the enormous fucking audacity of that comment.

For a start, why is there an assumption that this is not already happening? Why is there an assumption that schools and teachers see a flake of snow, shut and lock the gates and fuck off home immediately? I am not in the UK at the moment but I was two years ago when we had snow. Was everything done to ensure the school opened? Let me see, teaching staff that lived nearby (including the head teacher who did not live nearby and travelled for a few hours in the snow to get there) went to school on a Sunday to dig the school and nearby roads out to ensure the school could open. On the Monday when the school opened some roads were still inaccessible so staff walked in the snow for 2-3 hours to get in to work. Yes EVERYTHING was done to try and open the school. Did all the parents choose to send their children across the city in treacherous conditions? No, not all of them. Should we have opened the school for the few children who could get in? We couldn’t really teach them, as with more than half the class missing work would have to repeated again once all students were there, no we had to look after them while their parents went to work. Is the purpose of school, to be available to take children off their parent’s hands during the day or as Gove puts it, is it to provide access to education? So why must we ensure schools are open despite most of the pupils not being there? What is the role of the school in the community?

Don’t get me wrong I believe in community and in particular I believe schools should serve a community. I believe schools should be for the children of the local area, and not, as in my local authority, lotteries of placements, meaning children travel the city to get to the ‘best’ school. Leaving an inequality, a lack of community and ‘failing’ schools filled with challenging children other schools reject so they won’t damage their league table results. In my ideal world yes, I think we should open the school, and as a community support each other parents, teachers, everyone. True community schools would do this instinctively. Unfortunately, in my experience, the government and local authorities set up systems, which discourage this type of network, placing schools in competition, and creating ghettos.

What I also find offensive is the still implied ‘vocation’ of teaching, that we teachers are somehow gifted this job, that we are ungrateful for this opportunity. That somehow we didn’t have to work to get here, that we are lazy shirkers, that this profession is not recognised or respected by the current government and subsequently the media and consequently some of our community.

Teachers’ work hard, they are not lazy, they believe passionately in the education of your children and do everything, EVERYTHING possible to ensure they have the best, the very best education they can provide. And they do this up against an unbelievable wall of apathy, abuse, negativity and misinformation.

I work abroad now in an international school. I am taking a break from the UK, I will go back but it was a punishing existence in the field I worked in. I spent 15 years dealing with damaged children and damaged families. I watched over the last few years as their support services were whittled away. I know things are worse still, my wonderful colleagues who battle on, tell me they are. But I got to see the other side by coming here. Here, where there is an automatic assumption that the teacher is doing their best. It sounds so simple but it makes a massive difference. Here, where the children are generally compliant. Here, where education is valued for the life changing opportunities it brings.

I was talking to a Brazilian colleague about the daily battle I used to have to get the pupils to take off their hooded tops in class. “But why didn’t they take them off?’ she asked confused. No child in my current school would refuse to remove a piece of non-uniform; she had no conception of having to do this. And I remembered how daily, hourly, every few minutes battles would take place in school over the smallest to the biggest issues.

I believe that these battles were caused by comments such a Gove’s about the school closures for snow. These seemingly harmless words infiltrate our minds like disease. Every negative comment about teachers and education that seeps out finds its way to the classroom. Our wonderful education system, and believe me it is wonderful, the Brazilian families would be immensely grateful for a free education system of that standard, should be celebrated not denigrated.

So, I am angry. Angry and sad, to watch something that I believed in be slowly ripped apart. I return to UK teaching in August, fired up by what I have seen across the ocean. I urge you teachers, believe in what you do, you do great things and the rest of the world has respect for the British education system even if Britain doesn’t. And if you are not a teacher, believe me please, these people work their arses off every day, they are not lazy, cheating, bullying, strikers, constantly looking for the easy option. All the teachers I have worked with want the best for your children, I promise you, everything that can and should be done is being done. If it is not being done right then we need to stop blaming and assuming and start asking for what we really want. A properly funded, autonomous community education system staffed by educated and respected professionals who are allowed to get on with what they love to do, teach.

Gove quote from  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21122453

Brighton and Hove

Brighton and Hove

I have come to embody a very different mentality. Perhaps I presented a version of myself for so long I started to believe in it? Perhaps I was never quite as stuck as I thought I was? Luckily one day, I took a chance to change and I arrived in Brazil. Being here has given me many opportunities, but one of the biggest changes has been having the time and the money to travel. I still find it hard to believe I am really in the places I am visiting. There is a constant sense of unreality about walking down these South American streets. It is like I am in a Disney created ‘Latin America Ride’ except this ride is interspersed with reality checks; instead of animated singing puppets I see a hungry man eating rice and beans off the pavement. I still cannot think of myself as someone who travels. I have a borrowed rucksack, it sits awkwardly in my flat and seems as out of place as the guidebooks, photos and souvenirs on my bookshelf.

Did I move too fast, change too quick? Is half my mind still tucked up on my sofa in Brighton watching TV and dreaming of escape? Travel brings me joy but I`m not sure if it is the chance to look at this beauty, these amazing, wonderful sights and experiences, or is it more simply just the act of being there? I can`t decide if looking at these remarkable things is as important as the feeling of: I managed this, I did this, and I am here. For me travel is rooted in the sense of freedom and confidence it brings and this is as important as the place. I don`t want to be the person who ticks off a list; seen that, tick, been there, tick, tick, tick. I want to relish each opportunity afforded to me. When I think about leaving Sao Paulo and I look from the rooftop pool across the magical city to the view of the mountains in the distance and the sun is shining down and I think I must be crazy to leave all this behind… I have to check myself. At least I had this, at least I was here, at least I got to experience this.

In a few days I travel to Costa Rica, another wonderful opportunity. To see a friend I met in Bolivia, who lived in Australia and now I am meeting her in Central America. If this seems normal to you, I assure you it is not to me. Look at the map in the picture at the start of this post, not so long ago I wouldn`t travel from Hove to Brighton. A good friend moved to London for two years and I visited her once. The journey from London to Brighton is a 40 minute train journey. The distance and time is shorter than the average Paulista´s journey to work. And yet it seemed too far to me. My horizons were small and they have been expanded beyond my wildest dreams.

And in my school and my classroom, a plethora of languages and experiences. I spent a lesson yesterday exploring and sharing Google maps with four students. They shared with me their worlds in Japan, Belgium, Argentina and Brazil. I got to show then Brighton too, our worlds bought closer and connected by these comparisons.

I struggle to explain how privileged I feel to have the opportunities I suddenly have. I struggle to express the changes that have occurred in my life and in me. I find it difficult to express my gratitude for and pride in, this achievement. I know I am rewarded by the things I get to do, I know I will take pleasure in every moment. I advocate change to others; I tell them how it helped me. I encourage my students to appreciate the experiences they have, to relish the interactions, to share and celebrate languages, cultures, similarities and differences.

As the memories of the sights and smells fade, I think something else will remain with me; a connection with people. The knowledge that my horizons can be so much wider than I thought, that you can communicate and connect with people and make a home in a different place. ‘We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.’ Anais Nin.

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