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Blog 3 - Observations of an over-cooked freckle
Three weeks? Where has the time gone? My Portuguese is still terrible! It is hot! It is busy! It is very very different. Here are some of my observation’s about life here so far…..
The Fire Station
On Monday I was a guest of Silveiro, at Navirai Fire Station. I can’t remember his exact title, but he is high up at the station. Silveiro wanted to show me around and practice his English. He is a wonderful man, always talking and always smiling and keen to know more about the world. The Fire Stations in Brazil are run by the Military. Everyone I met was so welcoming to me. English people are very rare in these parts, or more like non-existent, so I seem to be an opportunity to ask lots of questions about England! In the administration area you had four great men. They really were a genuinely good bunch who offered me a cup of coffee and wanted to know all about our green and pleasant land. Brazilians have a lot of respect for England, for what they see as an established and stable culture!!!!? One of them had seen Billy Elliott the film and thought it was funny I was called Elliott too. They wanted to know about politics, the class system, wages, the fire service, opportunity, the Queen… everything. They all told me they had wives who were pregnant or had just had a child! I became very worried about the coffee! Was there something special in that drink? The best mistake of the day belonged to Silveiro. His wonderful wife Zilda also works at the fire station. She is lively and easy to be around. Silveiro introduced me to another man who worked with his wife. He wanted to say that this man did the same job as his wife. Instead he said this man ‘likes his wife’. It’s one of those times when you shouldn’t laugh but you do! I had to explain to Silveiro who laughed too. After overcoming this worrying thought came a bigger shock… the Fire Engines. One of the Engines they use is from 1973. That means it is 37 years old! The other two engines were not much better. When I heard the distance they must cover and the wages of a Fireman I realised that we place far greater store in our own service and are very fortunate to have an outstanding and up to date Fire Service. For me Firefighters are often unsung heroes who deserve more recognition for the danger they put themselves in every day. Here, I am not sure how much respect they receive? But, financially the service is in need of a major refurbishment!...... Saying all this, I must repeat that I had a spectacular day with some wonderfully warm, open and friendly Brazilians.
These two words have never been my favourite. They stood for pain, embarrassment and hopelessness. So what have I gone and done? I have joined the gym and in these early stages there is hope! When Eduardo first suggested the idea I think I went into a vegetable like state? But he never stopped asking and in a moment of weakness, knowing the restoration and loving care and attention this body needs, I said 'yes!.’ Two days later and I was there at the gym door. It is basically a shell of a building, full to the brim with exercise and weight equipment. As I signed my life away for £20 a month, I dreaded the stages that would follow the completion of my name. With a smile I was walked among the tanned and trim masses to Fabio. Muscled, toned, tanned, white teeth and not a word of English. If I could have run, I would have, but I was ensnared in the Brazilian-Gym-Spiders lair. I was led with a piece of paper by Fabio and a smiling Eduardo. Eduardo talked briefly with Fabio, smiled cruelly and left. I felt like a four year old deserted by their parent on the first day at school. Surely I could not survive the next hour and a half. This is it, life over?........... I jump forward two days. I have now spent nearly three hours in Fabio’s company. He does not make me feel the slightest bit self-conscious. In fact, from somewhere he has found the key to me? I feel he genuinely looks after me but not to the stage where I am swamped. He set the targets at the right level. I begin to forget my insecurities. I already feel well known at the gym. I am the white freckle with the silver head and chin. There are already three people who smile, try to talk, acknowledge and encourage. As I dared to bring my head up I noticed this gym is actually full of people of all ages and shapes and sizes. It has genuine warmth to it! I don’t get it? This isn’t how a place of torture should feel! Perhaps in this ‘gym’ there is hope? We shall see!
A hundred years ago many poor Japanese farmers moved to Brazil. They were the field workers, the labourers, the low paid. When we think of Brazil we do not think of Japanese people. But this culture is made up of so many nationalities: Portuguese, African, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. I have met a number of Japanese people since I arrived here. Much has changed since their arrival. The Japanese I have met have been the doctor, the nurse, the ballet teacher, the language school owner, the gym instructor, the salon owner. I really want to learn more about how this group of immigrants has done so well over the time period? Although I can guess at dedication to education, discipline, commitment, positivity and hope. Ingredients that work every time.
As a child at Woodhouse Close Junior School we sang a song about Toucan Joe. This strange black bird, with the most colourful and wonderfully shaped beak. It is a childhood memory that is strong. We listened to the radio broadcast and sang along with the songs. Yesterday Toucan Joe flew over my garden! What a sight! What a feeling! I was back as a child of seven or eight singing about him. But he is even better in real life. I think I am in love and I don’t like birds!? I am waiting for Toucan Joe’s next visit with real anticipation.
At 7.55pm I had two kids and thought this could be a disaster. Ten minutes later I had 15. I am learning that Brazilians are not the best time keepers in the world. Or the English are too focussed on time? So this was it, my debut teaching English as a foreign language? Sat in front of you are 15 young people aged 9 to 14. They look at you blankly as you start in English, but its ok, for once I am Mr Organised with maps and drawings and prompt tools and little cards. Soon we are repeating words like ‘head’ ‘fingers’ ‘stomach’ ‘toes’ ‘arm’…. You get the idea. I get them to draw a person in their new books and mark what is what on the body. We move onto learning our song and I have a printout to read through! How clever am I? Not very, as I see their body language drop a little at the thought of trying to learn the words to this impossible song! Back to the body words! I test them in a competition. They love it! I am now one hour in and need ‘agua.’ Time now to rely on some good old ‘BATH’ games. Billy Billy Bop. Sherriff’s, Opposites and Ha Ha Ha. They go crazy for the games. Ha Ha Ha is hilarious and they fall around in fits of laughter. They get Sherriff’s and Billy Billy Bop very quickly. Opposites also teaches them the language at the same time. We have our photo taken. Two hours have passed by. I am exhausted. Viktor and Viktoria are crowned pupils of the week. I don’t know if they learned anything except that nose could be your shoulder? But I do know they left happy. I drive home nervously but content, with Ana Paula directing me all the way on the wrong side of the road. I have been asked to teach adults too? Can I cope? What about my book? What about my play? What about the gym? For now I must just think about next week! Sleep. No, me and Ana Paula talk till after midnight. Sleep. I can’t. I write my blog. Sleep. No, listen to a little music……. Sleep.
Last night was spent at the church barbeque. I am learning quickly from this young congregation that they are a warm group of people. They welcome everybody. Most can’t speak much English, but they try. I am never out of my comfort zone. They are really wonderful to me and I appreciate it. The food is sensational from the ribs to the beef in mustard. There is a Manioca Souffle. It’s good. There is always lots of fruit and the pork was flippin’ wonderful. I was also offered the local tea. It is served cold and it is drunk through what I can only describe as a ‘Pipe of Peace.’ One person makes it and then offers it to their friends around them. I am willing to try anything once. ‘Pererer’ or something sounding like that is handed to me. Many eyes stare at me. I drink. I take another big drink. The taste hits me. It is foul!!!! I can’t hide my disgust. I reach for a soft drink to get rid of the taste. Oh, what I would do for a cup of instant coffee right now!!! I am the centre of much amusement. I don’t mind though because I have had a wonderful evening in the company of genuinely good, friendly and happy people.
Final two things….. The first is for Laura Newton, who will travel to Brazil in February. There is a man in the church of Japanese origin. A really good man. His first name is Newton! I found this quite bizarre. But then the mix of races and names are a constant surprise to me in a country that I am only beginning to get to know. I can’t wait for Laura and Newton to have their photo taken together.
Secondly the language is so difficult to learn and my progress can only be described as slow. But then this afternoon as I swam in the pool I was joined by a green caterpillar. I carefully dispatched the caterpillar from the pool. He returned. I sent him on his way again. He returned again… and again until I felt his perseverance should be rewarded. I left the pool and let the caterpillar achieve a little victory. This for me is like learning the language. I must persevere! I will not get it right for a while, but I must just keep trying……. And like the caterpillar, it will pay off in the end.
King James I Academy, South Church Road, Bishop Auckland, County Durham DL14 7JZ