Monthly Archives: August 2011

The More Things Change…

Now I know why I named this blog “Same Boat, Different Ocean”…it just wasn’t for the reasons I expected! Of course there are many things here in Brazil that are the same as in Canada, but there are more things that are different. Actually, what hasn’t changed is me! Just as in Canada, I have this crazy split life that involves me having friends, work, social activities, and homes in different cities (that includes all of you in other cities, countries, and continents, too!). This week, I had finally gotten over the initial shock of the differences to begin to notice the subtleties of the sameness/differences around me.

In my highest level class, each chapter has a different country theme. The chapters begin with a double-page iconic photo of the country, along with a literary quote to start off the discussion. This week, I taught the chapter on Mexico. I have found the quotation to be quite relevant:

“What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions.  Life is plurality, death is uniformity.” – Octavio Paz

As we discussed in class, there are two readings of this quote. The first (for me) is that, in life, we must continue to grow and change. If you stop evolving, you are as good as dead. This concept fits well with my own philosophy, and is a big part of the reason I came to Brazil. I wanted to grow, I wanted to see and learn new things, and I wanted those things to be very different from what I had previously known. And as I said before, I have the plurality thing down to a science, although it is an aspect of my life with which I can never quite come to terms. I continue to marvel that I have friends all over the world, speaking a myriad of languages, holding differing beliefs, and that I can be in one place and still connect with them on a close, personal level, on the other side of the world. I have to remind myself that this is life, and it is a lifestyle I have chosen again and again because I believe it strengthens me.

The second meaning of the passage, and probably the intended one, is this: in life, people are diverse. They move in different directions, they come together and separate on these ideas (culture, language, religion, etc. as mentioned above), they coexist, and this “motion” is life; it’s what makes the world go ’round. In contrast, death is the great equalizer. We can be as different as possible in life, but death reminds us that we are all the same in the end: human. Without death and the knowledge of this stilless and sameness, there is no life; no motion, no difference, no plurality. We have to accept death as part of life, and learn to celebrate it for this reason – just as the Mexicans do during Día de los Muertos.

Put aside your distaste for the morbidity of this topic for a moment; these are important things to note. This week, I heard of three deaths that affected people who are close to me. The first was Eli’s cousin, a young man who was like a brother to him. He died in a motorcycle accident along with two other people. It was anguish to watch him receive and come to terms with this news, and due to the language barrier it was difficult to be much use in comforting him. (In the end, I sat him down at the computer and we used Google translate to teach each other swear words in our languages, which was a very effective distraction! It also helps emphasize the similarities/differences aspect of life, and takes our minds from the sobriety of death).

Sad as this event was, it was my turn only a few days later to feel the dull pain of death when I learned on cbc.ca of Jack Layton’s death. It was a shock to my system in a few ways: first, he is a prominent and well-loved public figure, and for that I am sad to see him go. Second, it signals the premature end of a ground-breaking era in Canadian politics, and I am concerned about where things will go from here. Finally, but most impactfully, it brought on a homesickness that hadn’t appeared since my arrival. I realized that, while Canadians at home were mourning together and sharing this sadness, it was something I would have to bear alone. How can you explain to Brazilians, who claim all politicians are crooks, such a deep sense of loss from the death of a national political figure? Needless to say, I got pretty choked up upon reading the news and looking at the photos of the body lying in state. Eli knew I was sad, and he, being in the Brazilian military, gave a sombre salute in honour of “my” loss.

I heard of the third death the next day. Priscilla, another teacher and a friend Itacoatiara, told me a friend had passed. Stupid Murphy’s law: you always wait to hear of the third before you can rest easy. I gave her a hug…I didn’t have to feign sympathy.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have celebrated four birthdays since arriving in Brazil. Birthdays are no small thing here: every employee’s birthday is listed on a calendar in reception, and they get a cake, appetizers, rounds of “Happy Birthday” in English and Portuguese, and hugs, kisses and photos all around. Family and friend celebrations are an even bigger deal, especially for children. On Friday I was present for my host-sister Camilla’s Quinze Anos, her fifteenth birthday which is akin to the Sweet Sixteen in North America.

Camilla's Qinze Anos

She and a friend went to a salon to have their hair and makeup done, then came back and dressed to the nines in a dress I wouldn’t wear (too short!) and heels I couldn’t wear if I tried. They looked about 21 when all was said and done. Then the food was arranged on the table for the guests. You can see from the photo there were enough sweets to feed an army. The little round balls are called brigadeiro, made from condensed milk, cocoa powder, and colourful sprinkles, and are delicious.

At around midnight, I went with Adriana (my host-mom) to drop them off at a chic night club about half an hour from home. I didn’t go because I had to work, but I was curious about what kind of trouble a couple of innocent and overdressed fifteen-year-olds would get up to. They arrived home at 5am in one piece.

Last night (Saturday), I went to Maria’s daughter’s third birthday party. This was an even bigger event than Camilla’s relatively modest celebration. There were about 100 people there, brigadeiro overflowing the cake table, a ball pit and trampoline for the kids, and a DJ. The three-year-old Isabella pranced around until past midnight in her Barbie Fairies-themed party dress, and all the kids ran amok without adult interference for the duration of the party. I was on photo duty for Maria, who was running her 4-inch heels off all night; hence I have a LOT of photos of Isabella and her little friends doing their thing. When I left to go to a club with a friend around midnight, the party was finally winding down and parents were dragging their two- and five-year-olds off the dance floor to go home to bed (presumably).

From what I have read from other bloggers, these birthdays are not atypical in Brazil, but the norm. Canadian family and friends, I think you will acknowledge that this is wayyy over the top by our standards! But I refer you to the initial quote: it is this “interplay of differences” that make my experience in Brazil so interesting and enriching. I have been fortunate to have these opportunities to celebrate life and love, and they balance the sad deaths that have recently taken place. Having experienced the spectrum in such a short space of time, I can truly say I have a new life here in my adopted country.

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Filed under friends, goodbyes, Life and death, Life Lessons, quotes, something new

Ping Pong

Swimming at the Itacoatiara school with Eli and Lee

I mean this both literally and figuratively.  First things first: last Sunday, when I got to Itacoatiara, the boys (Lee and Eli) and I played several rounds of ping pong on the outdoor table at the school.  I think I surprised all of us when I was actually kind of good…and they realized I’m competitive by nature, so we made things interesting: whoever lost a round had to do five pushups (situps for me…I really can’t even do a yoga vinyasa properly).  And for the next round, they had to do ten pushups, and so on.  So it got pretty intense, and we kept intentionally miscounting each other’s reps, and eventually we gave up for laughing.  So ping pong is now sort of an inside joke!

The figurative meaning would be me as the ball, and a decent stretch of the Amazon river as the table, with Fisk bearing the paddles.  I’m going to be bouncing back and forth between the two schools for the next 4.5 months.  I’m not complaining; in fact, having been to, taught, and made friends in both places, I really can’t say I’d prefer it another way.  It does mean the flow of my time in each place gets interrupted, and I’d love to have more time to hang out with people on my days off…but I’m kind of greedy, so I want both.

A new aspect for me in Manaus is my homestay family.  When I got back to Manaus on Friday, I went to Fisk long enough to eat some lunch, then I was whisked away by my new family!  There is a girl named Camilla, who is 15, and a boy named Matteus, who is 17, as well as a mother, Adriana, and a father, Marcos.  They have two cats, one of which was fresh from the vet where she’d had major surgery.  The two cats now have to be kept in separate rooms, as the injured one is cranky and the fight like…well, cats!  The family (and now I) live on the 18th floor of a high-rise apartment, which has amazing views of Manaus.  On a clear day you can see the Rio Negro from the balcony, and the night-time panorama is gorgeous.  I think this family is quite well-off, as they have all the latest gadgets and the kids have had a pretty expensive English education at Fisk their whole lives, so I’m getting a whole different perspective on the city with them.  (By the way…they even have showers with a hot water option – muito chique!)

Adriana has made it very clear to me that I should consider the house my own, and I’m free to get food for myself whenever I want, go out, do laundry etc.  In exchange, I am to exclusively speak English with the kids.  Meanwhile, she speaks only Portuguese and isn’t planning on learning English, so I’ll have to practice my Portuguese to communicate with her.  Fortunately she is very easy to understand; the kids told me that, when they went to Panama, everybody understood her Portuguese though she didn’t have a word of Spanish (apparently this wasn’t true for the rest of the family)!  During the two and a half days I’ve spent with them so far, it has been very comfortable.

On Friday, Adriana dropped Camilla and me off at Manauara, the biggest and nicest of the “shoppings” in Manaus.  I told her I was in search of black pants and shoes to wear to work, so with that mission we set out through a bunch of the women’s clothing stores in the four-storey mall.  I didn’t have any luck finding pants, but it was also a struggle to figure out my size here.  They go by European sizes, but I know what my size should be and it wasn’t fitting right.  She introduced me to Bob’s Shakes, which is, as one would expect, a milkshake stand.  We got Ovaltine flavoured shakes, Camilla’s favourite.  Then, we headed to the movie theatre in the mall to meet up with her friend, Diana.  Diana has been studying English, and is going to Canada (Vancouver) in January, so she was eager to meet me.  The three of us went to a movie…and to my surprise, they picked a Brazilian movie out of a lineup of English movies with Portuguese subtitles.  I was a little worried about how I would get through 90 minutes of Portuguese, but it turns out comedy is funny in any language.  I actually followed the plot with no problem, and laughed at most of the jokes!  I’m glad to know I’m at least perceptive enough, if not linguistically equipped, to understand film.  After the movie, Camilla and Diana helped me buy a SIM card for my phone, and then a pair of black flats for work.  They aren’t anything special, but the price was right and they fit, so I’m happy for now.

At around eight, we left the mall and found Adriana in the grocery store (Carrefour) next door.  It was a pretty familiar sight…it looked just like Loblaw’s in Canada.  We went back to the apartment, where we had a late supper and the parents asked me some questions about home.  I had a glass of wine with dinner, and that combined with lack of sleep and a headache meant I went to bed almost immediately after eating at around 11:30.

It was a good thing I slept early, as I had to get up for work at 6:15 the next morning.  My classes start at 7:45 and I should be there at least fifteen minutes early.  Camilla is in my first class, so Adriana was going to drive us…but we left really late!  I ended up getting there closer to eight :S.  Ah well, that’s what happens when you’re dependent on other people.  I swear I was ready on time for once!  Luckily, I was teaching a class I’d already taught earlier in the week, so I was familiar with the material, and as it was the first day, we spent the first half hour doing an icebreaking activity.

My Saturday class schedule is kind of brutal, actually.  I have class solidly from 7:45am through to 3:30pm, which worried me at first because there is no scheduled lunch break.  I found out though that Mary Jane, who is administration at Fisk Parque 10, just orders the staff lunch and we carve out a half hour lunch between the second and third classes.  I spent lunch and the breaks chatting with the English teachers I hadn’t yet met.  They had lots of comments and advice for me about living in Manaus and Brazil, the most important of which was probably the rundown of Brazilian soccer team stereotypes.  I won’t repeat them on here (if you know you know), but it didn’t actually make it easier for me to choose a team.  Everyone keeps saying they’re going to buy me a shirt from their team so I will have to like it!  I think I’m leaning toward Flamengo, the team for which Ronaldinho Gaúcho plays (shhhhh!  Don’t tell anyone, or they’ll yell at me!).

Fisk Parque 10 Family (Manaus)After classes were finished, I hung around the school until 5:30 because we were having a “surprise” birthday party for Lee.  Just like my students (oh and I’d have to say family :P) in Canada, everyone thinks the surprisee has no idea they’re getting a party…even though they do it for everyone.  This is the second Fisk birthday I’ve been to!  Anyway, Lee is now a friend, so I was glad I could be there for it.  Mr. H., the director, came back for the party too as Lee is his right-hand man.  He made a big long speech in Portuguese (which I half understood) for Lee, and then Lee made a big long speech, and it was all very touching (more so if I’d known what they were saying, but you get the gist when people start tearing up).  We sang happy birthday in English and Portuguese, then I added French just for the heck of it (could have added Italian too, but that would have been going too far and my vocal (in)abilities were already revealing themselves).  Then the photos began, and I finally had an excuse to whip out my camera and get some photos for you!

My host family came to pick me up after that, so I had to leave the party quickly.  We returned to the apartment, and I had some time to relax and unwind.  At around 7:30, some of Matteus’ friends showed up.  They invited me to go down to the “playground,” the outdoor activities centre for the apartment complex, to play soccer.  Play futebol with Brazilian teenagers barefoot in a tennis court and get my ass kicked?  Why yes, I think I will!  It was actually very fun, and I didn’t embarrass myself too badly unless you count not knowing the rules of tennis court soccer, especially considering I am older, less fit, and less Brazilian than the rest of them.  Afterwards we all sat down in a circle (everyone’s feet were black from running around), and they all kind of stared at me.  I keep having these moments where I realize these people have never seen a Canadian in their life and they are full of questions.  These kids were too shy to ask, and the ones who knew some English refused to use it.  So Matteus and Camilla acted as translators, and they asked the usual run of questions such as what I eat, what’s the weather like, what music do I listen to, etc.  My favourite question by far was, “What’s the difference between ‘Oh shit’ and ‘bullshit’?” hahahaha

The kids decided to go out to eat after that, but as I was sweaty and tired from teaching all day, I declined to join them.  I finally got a chance to Skype with my family, and then I just relaxed for a couple hours before hitting the sack.  Not very exciting for a Saturday night, but I’d worked a very long day!

On Sunday morning, Camilla slept in, while I woke up early and lounged around on the computer and reading a book.  Then we had breakfast (lots of sugary and fatty bread-type things, sweet coffee, and some fruit).  After breakfast I was relieved to be able to sort through my luggage and unpack some of my stuff.  Camilla had cleared some space in her closet, and I did some laundry. I showed her some of the stuff I’d brought with me, we looked at pictures, and I painted our nails.  It was finally starting to feel like a living situation, and not temporary!

Alas, after lunch it was time to return to Itacoatiara.  Matteus and Marcos took me to the bus station, where I boarded the bus for my four-hour trip back to my weekday life. This time, I brought with me a small suitcase full of things that will stay there, so it, too can feel like a permanent living situation.  As crazy as it sounds, I don’t think I would change this strange split-life; I have friends and “family” in two cities here in Manaus, and I couldn’t choose between them if I wanted to!

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Filed under cheesy metaphors, friends, Itacoatiara, Manaus, something new

How To…

Oh man, there is so much to say I don´t even know where to begin!  I think I´ll write a list of things I´ve learned over the past week, and elaborate as I go.  This will definitely be an ongoing project!

1. Endurance: I had read before that Brazilians don´t snack much, but they weren´t kidding!  We eat three meals a day here.  Breakfast if I´m lucky at 8am, lunch sometime between 12 and 2pm, and dinner at about 10 or later.  If you´re keeping track, that means I´m going about 5-9 hours on just one meal.  And, although in Canada I was proud of having shrunk my appetite down to smaller portions, it means I can barely stomach enough food to fuel me through that amount of time.  So I have to shovel in as much as possible because you never know exactly when the next meal is – or else you fill up on water!  The other thing is that I haven´t had more than 6 hours of sleep a night since I got here.  I just finished six weeks of vacation, so it´s hard to adjust, but getting easier.

2. How to eat:  Basically I am a baby here.  Everyone babysits me: I can´t get anywhere or feed myself without help.  I don´t know what anything is called, or even what´s in it, but I do know when it looks and smells delicious!  Everything I´ve eaten has been good.  They keep asking me what we eat in Canada…honestly it´s the same food (rice, beans, chicken, beef, pasta) but it is made so differently that it´s hard to explain!  Etiquette is also something that takes some getting used to.  People don´t just pick up their burgers and fries with their bare hands; oh, no.  Use a napkin for the burger, and a fork for those fries!  Put your coke in a glass, don´t drink from the bottle!  The worst thing is, most of the people I´ve hung out with have never been outside of Brazil, so they don´t realize why I´m so hesitant to do anything – they don´t know any different.  I, on the other hand, feel awkward leaving my tray at the table in the food court for the mall maids.

3. How to talk:  This is for sure my favourite section.  Even though I work at an English language school, most of the people I talk to have limited or no English.  Lee, the administrative assistant, took me to Itacoatiara (Eeta-qwa-chara), and we spent four hours making small talk with extremely basic words and the aid of a dictionary.  I then met Eli, my roommate and the receptionist, who is on the first English book and has maybe 30 words in English.  Lee struggled to translate for a couple days while he was here, but we all had a really good time together playing ping pong and soccer, swimming, and eating out.  Then Lee left.  Eli and I communicate using a mix of random words in English and Portuguese, charades, onomatopoeia, and Google translate.  It somehow works.  Today, he pointed at the sky and said, “big moon,” and I laughed and told him he meant sun.  Hilarious!  By the way, Eli wants me to call him “Brad Black” because he thinks he is the Black Brad Pitt, and always reminds me that he is “beautiful.”  Do you see what I mean by characters?

4. How to go to the bathroom: I had some indication that bathroom sanitation would be different here, but it´s so hard to get used to different standards of infrastructure.   Especially here in Itacoatiara, the power goes out frequently, and even the water is moody.  Besides that, there is no hot water, and zero pressure.  The toilets are simply not equipped for anything larger than your standard No. 2, and even then, you can´t flush your toilet paper.  You get to deposit it in a smellylittle garbage can along with everyone else´s used paper next to the toilet.  And…this one took me DAYS to figure out…when you do go No. 2, sometimes you have to use a bucket full of water that you pour into the toilet while simultaneously pulling the chain from the overhead tank.  Nobody talks to you about these things, and they´re really hard to ask!  I still don´t know what I´m going to do about tampons, but I´ll cross that bridge when I come to it.  There isn´t any hot water, although that isn´t any problem in the heat (since you asked mom, I haven´t been keeping track of the temperature although it´s definitely in the mid 30s, and no I´m not melting because they´re all addicted to AC down here), but sometimes the water will shut off for half a day for no reason.  So much for 3-5 showers a day, and welcome to Itacoatiara!

5. How to get around: So unless you have a car in Manaus, you can take public transit – but the busses are over-crowded.  Or you can take a taxi.  There are two options: a communal taxi that might pick up more people on the way, or a private taxi.  Maria, who I stayed with in Manaus, has a friend who drives a cab and takes her (us) everywhere.  It´s kind of expensive if you ask me, but that´s what she does.  Even more exciting is here in Ita: people drive motorcycles everywhere!  The ratio of motorcycles to cars is probably 10:1 for the bikes.  And yes, I´ve ridden them lots of times (with no helmet!  Nobody wears a helmet except the moto taxi drivers…but don´t worry mom, they don´t go very fast).  Likely I will learn how to drive a motorcycle while I´m here!

Okay, that´s all I have time for for now.  I should say that the only thing that´s the same is teaching, so no surprises there!  It´s nice to be an expert at something, even though I´m truly a baby in every other sense.

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Filed under Brazil, Uncategorized

Still Kickin´ – and loving it

Hey everyone!

Just wanted to drop a line and say I´m doing well, just in a place with slow internet connection.  I´m still in Itacoatiara until Friday, when I´ll head back to Manaus to teach Saturday.  The bus ride is four hours, so I´ll work on a longer post for then.  You can probably expect new posts from me on Sunday or Monday, and on Friday or Saturday depending on when I have time to upload them.

Anyway, I should tell you that despite some fears about being in a small town, I LOVE Itacoatiara!  It´s so beautiful and peaceful here.  I´ll be living at the school, and my roommate is this hilarious guy who speaks next to no English, equivalent to my nonexistant knowledge of Portuguese.  Today is the first day we´ve been alone together, but it´s going very well.  We talk through Google translate, charades, and onomatopoeia lol.  More updates on that as it happens 😉

My classes are going great.  It´s pretty much like teaching at LSC, but even easier because the teacher´s manual tells you exactly how to do everything!  The students are awesome so far.  As I had hoped, the classroom is where I feel the most comfortable.  I´m really glad I decided to learn how to teach before coming abroad…it would have been waaayy too much to be dropped into teaching as well as a new language, culture, and social setting!

I have met a lot of characters over the last few days, and I´ll tell you about them later.  Everyone has been very welcoming, and I don´t think I´ll have any problems fitting in here.  On the other hand, there has been some drama with the other new intern, an American guy.  Again I will fill you in in more detail later, but basically, nobody thinks he his here for the right reasons.  It´s still up in the air whether he will stick around.  I hope for his sake he figures it out soon!

Okay, I should go – I´m using the reception computer and classes will begin again in 40 minutes.  Looking forward to hearing from you!

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Filed under Uncategorized

August 11 – Bem-Vindo a Manaus!

I’m here!!!  I can hardly believe it.  I don’t think it has fully sunk in yet, and I’m already feeling a little culture shell-shocked.  But I’ll start from where I left off, so you have an idea of where I’m coming from (literally and figuratively).

I had set my alarm this morning for 3:45 am, but somehow I still woke up before it.  I got up, showered, and moved some things around in my luggage, then hauled myself out the door to catch the 4:30 shuttle to the airport.

I missed it by 5 minutes, and it comes hourly.

So the concierge, who had been working the night before, called the driver to request he come back for me.  In the meantime, he kept me awake in the lobby with a steady stream of flirtatious conversation (he’s Cuban…what else?).  The shuttle didn’t end up coming back until 5:30, and by that time there were a dozen more people waiting to be picked up, too.  Of course, the second the van arrived they made a mad dash to the door, and even though I reached it first, I ended up holding the door for everybody else as they stampeded past me (all I wanted was to get my second piece of luggage!), and wouldn’t you know I was the last person in the over-crowded van.  The driver looked like he was going to ask somebody to stay back, but I pleaded my case and he told me to ride up front (HA!).  In the end, I got to my gate around 5:40, so no harm done.

I grabbed some breakfast inside security and meandered down to the gate, where about a hundred other people who looked dead on their feet also waited for the call to board.  Well, we waited and waited, and the time drew closer to the 7:40 takeoff time, and yet no call to board had been made, though the screen still told us the flight was “On Time.”  I took this to mean it was on Brazilian time, so I read my magazine some more and waited.  We eventually got onto the plane and seated for takeoff in a relatively short span of time, leaving just twenty minutes late.

I haven’t mentioned yet that from the first interaction with TAM (the airline), everything was in Portuguese first, and English as an afterthought.  I was already getting nervous, as it took several tries for me to remember that the word for thank you is “obrigado/a” and not “graçias” – which is something I should know!  So when I boarded, I got a little worried about struggling through five hours with a Portuguese-only seatmate.  I guess fate decided I was too wimpy to deal with it at that time, because of the three non-Brazilians on-board, I was seated next to a very English, very American guy from Ohio who had also never been to Brazil before.  We traded stories – his wife of 16 years is Brazilian, though this is his first trip and he doesn’t speak a word of Portuguese – and bits of knowledge and advice for the first little bit.  He said he wasn’t feeling well, and when he went to the bathroom shortly after the seatbelt light came off, he didn’t return for several hours.  I had the row to myself during the hours when everyone was sleeping, which was nice.

He came back in the last hour and a half (apparently he’d found three seats together where he could lie down), and it was nice to have someone to exclaim over the view with.  Unfortunately the clouds from yesterday were both ubiquitous and persistent, so our first glimpses of the Amazon were fleeting and hazy.  Still, as we got closer, what had looked like brown roads turned into serpentine rivers that joined and divided, interspersed with lakes amid a vast canopy of green.  I remarked that I’d never seen so many trees before – which seems like a kind of dumb thing to say, but if you don’t say it out loud you can forget that it’s true.  Getting closer to landing, some roads did differentiate themselves in clay-red; meanwhile, the rivers, whose identity had heretofore been unknown, divulged their granddaddy: the vast and unmistakeable Amazon didn’t just appear, it unveiled its size dramatically as we spiralled toward the city and the airport.  I could also spot a suspension bridge arcing across the expanse.  I tried to take photos, but the window was not very conducive, and the task was distracting from my actual view.  You’ll see anything useful I might have taken.

Upon landing, I didn’t have any problems with Customs, though the luggage carousel was chaos as usual.  After about 20 minutes I located my stuff (everything intact, yay for not having to use that insurance!) and exited the secured area…into a food court.  I pushed my trolley a few feet into the food court, which wasn’t crowded but was permeated with the strangely American scent of grilling burgers, and gazed around to get my bearings.  Luckily I spotted Leilson and his Fisk shirt just a few moments later.  He and another Fisk employee, whose name embarrassingly still eludes me, greeted me and led me towards the car.  Both guys are in their mid-twenties, so we got along pretty well.  We were all hungry, so the guys said they’d take me for a***, a staple beef dish.

It came out that the poor guys had actually turned up at the airport at 12:45 am instead of in the afternoon!  They had waited around for about half an hour before asking an employee, who corrected the error.  Oops!  I feel bad, but I’m also pretty sure I gave the right time – at least twice.  Anyway, they didn’t seem to harbour any ill feelings about it, and we got along great.  The second employee, whom I’ll call V for lack of more accurate nomenclature, speaks quite fluent English despite never having been outside Brazil.  Leilson struggled to keep up by comparison, but managed to follow along the thread of conversation quite well.  Sometime in the middle of lunch, he asked V to translate for him so that he wouldn’t miss any important details: all my needs would be taken care of at Fisk, including all meals and transportation; however, apologizing profusely, he told me the school was short on teachers at the moment, and they needed me to work both at one of the city locations and in Itacuatiara, a city two hours from Manaus.  So I’d be in Itacuatiara from Sunday night until Thursday night (teaching Mon-Thurs), then back in Manaus for a Saturday class, just for this semester.  Although this sounds like it’s going to be inconvenient, I think it won’t be too bad.  I’m pretty used to both commuting and travelling, and I don’t mind having some time to read and lesson plan on the bus.  Also, I’ll get weekends in Manaus, and I have two days off, even if they aren’t in a row.  All in all, the schedule is pretty reasonable.

After lunch, the guys brought me to meet Mary, a Fisk teacher and administrator whose home I’ll be staying in temporarily.  Unfortunately as soon as I got here she had to leave for an appointment.  She told me she’d be back in two hours, so I could shower and rest – which I gladly did.  Her apartment is tiny: just a kitchen, a bedroom with an extra mattress on the floor, and a bathroom, but everything is clean and neat.  When I woke up, it was around 6:30 and I could hear what had to be forró echoing through the street below the second floor bedroom.  Still disoriented from sleep and travel, I slid the metal shutter open, to a fabulously and uniquely Brazilian scene: a sky hazy orange sky with the silhouette of downtown in the distance; below, a man barbequing in the triangular median, a woman selling baked goods from her front step, a dog lazily wandering down the street, and the strangest mix of vehicles you can imagine careening down the narrow road.  The surroundings scream abject poverty from my North American viewpoint, but this is quickly challenged by the guy driving the hip-hop blaring, bright orange Camero convertible directly beneath me.  I feel more out of touch than ever.

Not long after this, Mary came home.  She suggested we head over to the downtown school to meet some of the teachers, and then go to the mall (“shopping” in Brazilian, you know).  We walked to a main road, where we caught a cab (which already had another passenger), then got out and walked to the Centro school.  Unfortunately everyone but the desk staff had already left, so we rested in the air conditioning for a few minutes before running out to catch a bus to the mall.  The bus was also confusing, because you only pay when you get off.  There was also a lot of awkward dodging of other passengers on my part when we tried to get off, due to my not having anything to say to them.  Note to self: learn more polite words!

The mall was a familiar scene, but I was too tired to really want to look around.  We went to an internet café, then got some dinner at the food court (finally got to try out this weighing-your-dinner thing, and it was pricey!).  Mary had a few items to pick up, but we didn’t stay for too long as it closed at 10:00 anyway.  Mary called a friend of hers who happens to drive a cab, and he came and picked us up, saving us a likely crowded and less safe bus ride.

When we got back, I was pretty happy to change into pajamas and crash on the little mattress.  I knew we’d be leaving the house at 7 the next morning, so I wanted to savour every second of sleep I could!

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Filed under Brazil, Excited!, Flights, IICA internship, immigration, insecurities, Manaus, Miami, overcoming fear, something new, travel documents

August 10 – Welcome to Miami

Hello from Miami!  Today is the day I’ve been waiting for: it’s first day of my adventure abroad!  Things are rolling along pretty smoothly so far, although I won’t get to Brazil until tomorrow around 1 pm.  But my journey began when I left my house at about 11:00 this morning.

I haven’t written anything in a while, though not for lack of things to say.  I even started a few posts (you’ll get to read them later, since they aren’t time-sensitive), but in the end I wanted to have real news to report before I posted again.  Unlike many others (cough BreandJamie cough), I felt no rush or stress in the days leading up to my departure; I’d been waiting for too long for there to be any last-minute details to throw me off.  My suitcases have been collecting items in them for weeks now, and as I’ve already reported, all the big things (i.e. flight, travel insurance, domestic details) were taken care of well in advance.  I haven’t had to work for six weeks, although I picked up a supply shift last week.  So I’ve literally just been going to the beach, eating excellent summer meals, and hanging out with my closest friends before we all go our separate ways again.

This morning I woke up early, around 8 am (no hangover, despite the copious amounts of Wild Vines consumed the night before) and cuddled my dog a little longer before gearing up for the day.  I did a load of laundry, showered, chatted with my family, and packed up the last of my toiletries.  Breanna stopped in to say one last goodbye since she couldn’t come to the airport with me, even though I’d just seen her the night before (as she was the responsible party for the oversized bottle of vino).  My mom ran out to get my send-off breakfast: Tim Horton’s breakfast sandwiches and coffee.  I am so under the influence of patriotic advertising, but I’m willing to accept that.  Tim’s sausage breakfast sandwiches are delicious!

Side story: my mom was waylaid on the way into the house from picking up the Tim’s by our new neighbour, my grade 7 teacher Mr. Jones.  Cue “keeping up with the Joneses” joke.  Anyway, Mr. Jones was a pretty epic teacher, given his Royal Canadian Air Force background and general Britishness.  His parting advice to me: “Good luck and watch your back.”  Will do, Mr. Jones.

My dad came back from work to say goodbye, and I hugged everyone including the dogs a last time.  I was also made to pose next to my luggage on the way out the door…not with my camera, so no photo to accompany my departure yet.  We hauled my two pieces of luggage and one carry-on out to the car, and my mom, sister and I set out into the sunny but relatively cool day.

I would say our drive to the airport was uneventful, but that wouldn’t be true.  We had no trouble getting over the bridge, and traffic was average along the I-94 most of the way.  However, none of this accounts for crazy American drivers.  We stuck to the middle lane and tried to go the speed of traffic (not having a speedometer with markings in miles), and three different times, a car from the left lane cut right in front of us to exit on the right lane!  The third time this happened, the car cut us really close and forced an SUV in the right hand lane to slam on the breaks and swerve into the barrier.  It was really close, and our hearts were pumping after that!  I’m pretty sure the SUV driver was fine, but we saw the woman who almost caused a massive accident pull off the highway, cursing as if it wasn’t her fault.  What an asshole.

Luckily, that was the only negative thing that happened all day.  We made it to the airport a solid two hours before my boarding time.  At check-in I had a really nice attendant who told me that, since my itinerary includes international flight within 24 hours, I could check my baggage for free!  Score!  I still had to do some shuffling of weight between my two bags, but managed to get my big suitcase to exactly 50 lbs – double score.  The smaller suitcase was pretty full, so I had to throw a few extra items in my carry-on, which made it pretty heavy, but I didn’t really have to part with anything.  After a few more minutes with my mom and sister, we said goodbye and I went through security and found my gate.

When I boarded the plane about half an hour later, I smiled at the pilot and flight attendant who were greeting the passengers as they came in.  “Going on vacation?”  the pilot asked me. I answered, “No, I’m moving!”   For the first time it seemed like it was true.  In a quick exchange they asked me where and why, and as I moved on into the plane I heard them remark to each other, “Wow, that’s a big change.  It sounds exciting.”  There’s nothing like having strangers recognize your achievements to make them feel real.

I had a window seat booked, but it turned out there was nobody else in my row.  As the plane took off, I felt a rush of emotions that were hard to keep track of.  I was a little scared, a little homesick, a little wistful, and a lot excited.  I let the tears flow for a few minutes while I peered out my sunny window at the shrinking ground, but as we rose above a sea of big, fluffy clouds, I shook off my momentary melancholy and relaxed.  After all, I was partaking in “the miracle of human flight,” to quote Louis C.K.!

The sight below me was pretty amazing, and I wished I hadn’t put my camera in the overhead where I couldn’t get to it with the seatbelt light still on.  Below, shallow Lake Erie was green where the sun touched it, with dark blue patches of shadow from the many clouds; just below eye level were the clouds themselves, a cottony sea of white and blue that billowed and undulated into the distance; and straight ahead, a clear, summer blue sky.

The cloud cover was consistent the whole flight, and when we landed in Miami three hours later it was uncharacteristically overcast and a cool 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  I deboarded, somewhat bemused from my nap and my emotions, and attempted to orient myself for my next move.

Baggage claim was to the left of the gate, while to the immediate right was the Admiral’s Club I’d sourced out before leaving.  So I risked leaving my bags for a few minutes in favour of checking out the AC.  Once again, I had a really friendly attendant.  I explained my situation, and though she didn’t seem to think it would be a convenient option for me, she told me to “be her guest” and just go in anyway.  So I took the opportunity to read through my paperwork to find out where I had to go for the next flight, and then used the nice private bathroom and freshened up a little.  I could definitely have taken advantage of the free beverages and snacks, but I wasn’t really in the mood.  I figured I had better go hunt down my luggage before somebody took it.

Well, my bags were the last pieces to be claimed, babysat by a couple of airline workers.  I rented a cart, hoisted my stuff on top, and set out to find the ticket counter for TAM, my next airline.  It was way on the other side of the airport, and on my way I passed myriad shops and restaurants, realizing I was starving (should have taken advantage of that free food!).  I actually stumbled across the Miami Airport Hotel, which has reception right inside the airport.  It was tempting, since by this time I was in no mood to pull an all-nighter in the airport, so I asked for details.  It would have been $125 plus tax, and all they had was smoking (WTF?  Is this 1992?), so I said I’d come back.  Further down the line, at the very end, I found the TAM counter and negotiated my cart through the red tape maze of the economy line, only to be told I wouldn’t be able to check in until 3am.  So that pretty much sealed the deal that I’d get a hotel, as I wasn’t about to babysit all three pieces of luggage and a purse all night on the non-security clearance side of the airport.

I located information and the courtesy phones, and called a Days Inn that offered free wi-fi and shuttle service.  I went outside to wait for the shuttle…and was immediately devoured by insects.  I think I got about 12 mosquito bites in as many minutes.  Welcome to Miami!  After waiting for the shuttle for almost an hour, the one that came with the Days logo told me they actually went to the Runway Inn.  I said I didn’t care, as long as shuttle service was free and 24 hours, so that’s where I went.

My room was pretty much what you’d expect a $70 room near the Miami airport to be, but it was clean and quiet.  I got a takeout menu from the front desk, ordered a philly steak sub and some cheesecake, and kicked back to watch the flatscreen.  What was playing, you ask?  Nothing less than Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, with no commercials!  I caught Up In The Air (appropriate) on another channel after that.

All in all, it was a pretty successful day of travel.  Even though having my flights 13 hours apart was awkward, it ended up working out since I had so much time to figure everything out.  All this relaxation and winging it, I feel, is very in line with my new Brazilian lifestyle, I expect.  And as usual, the Canadian trademark smile and small-talk goes a long way to getting great service and helpful advice!  I’m very much looking forward to tomorrow’s sequel – hopefully you are, too.

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Filed under Excited!, fear, Flights, goodbyes, Harry Potter, hotels, insecurities, Miami, travel documents