Archives for posts with tag: Brazil
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.

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?

photo

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.

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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.

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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.

Brazilian commitment

For the month of November 2012 I am trying something very new and very difficult for me, commitment. I am not a committed person I am a fly-by-night, faddy, over enthusiastic, easily bored, wilful female. I usually start fantastically, have a good steady middle and then fade out at the end when I run out of steam or get bored. I have never been married, never owned a property, and barely had a serious boyfriend. I dislike routine. I don`t even like committing to a single brand of toothpaste of shampoo!

I like change, variety and difference. I struggle to make a commitment to most things. I have been fortunate in that the teaching profession allows for diversity in what you do and that I have been able to move around within its parameters. Starting out as an English teacher and ending up teaching History in Brazil. I am committed to teaching but only because it has allowed me to constantly change and grow and develop, if I only I could find a man like that too…

This month I am committed to the new love of my life, writing. One of the most life changing events of the life changing event of moving to a new country has been finding the inspiration and commitment to write. This is my 22nd Blog post; each post is about 800 words that is over 17,000 words written about my experiences here so far. I have penned a poem in Portuguese for a book the Portuguese department have put together (you can read it at the end of this post if you like). I have been writing other bits and pieces of poetry, putting together a documentary for a film course I am doing and trying to write a play. I am not intending to stop being teacher and be a writer but it feels wonderful to be writing and creating.

November is Nanowrimo, National Novel writing Month and so this month I am trying to commit to writing every day. The aim of nanowrimo is to write 1667 words each day, I am well below that target (day 9 and I have about 8000 words) but I have written something everyday. It`s not a novel, it has no narrative, no plot and no real characters. It is a meandering waltz through droplets of ideas, but I don` t care, I am writing.

Often teachers expect a high level of commitment from pupils, they should be committed to their studies, to doing their best. I wrote about motivation before, where does this intrinsic motivation come from. I`ve always loved writing but never committed myself to it before, so what`s changed.? Me. If something has been imposed on me from outside I will fight it, indeed if you said you want to be a writer sit down and write everyday I wouldn’t do it, I’d have got angry with you and told you all the reasons why I didn’t have time, had too much to do, was too tired etc. etc. etc. We can`t expect children, especially teenagers to be any different. Why would they be committed to their homework when they are more likely to be committed to updating face book? We have to support them in finding intrinsic motivation, why would you want to do this, how will it help you?

Brazil has infected me with its intoxicating fever of possibilities, and as I see new things and have new experiences, I feel the freedom that this life brings me and I am less afraid. I am less afraid to fail here and that has helped me to commit. I think the move to a whole new life away from expectations also allows you to try out other aspects of your personality. I just wish I had done it before, in the UK, and not been afraid of looking foolish or giving up. And now after 15 months, I have a decision to make, to commit to Brazil for another two years or finish my adventure and get back to real life. Will I be able to carry my new commitments back with me or will they remain in Brazil? The decision to leave is much harder to make than deciding to come. I want to make a commitment but as always, it fills me with fear and the urge to move on is strong. I am committed to Brazil and my new life her but as Paulo Coelho writes in the quote which opens this blog, you have to choose to commit to what is best for you and once I work that out, I will definitely commit to it….

A Historia da minha Viagem

A cidade,

Um estranho.

Saudade.

 

Saudação.

Saúde!

Saudável.

A cidade me salvou.

 

 

My first Brazilian home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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