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!).
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!