Category Archives: friends

Halftime Recap

What I wouldn't give to hear Don Cherry and Ron Maclean hash out the plays and players of my last semester. Also, I realize that hockey has intermissions and not halves...

I can’t possibly recount everything I did last semester in under a thousand words, but I think in order to move forward I’ll need to give some indication of how far I’ve come already. Bear with me as I whiz through the last six months, without giving everything away. I want to revisit some of these events in more detail later, so let’s just use this as a timeline for now.

August

  • I arrived in Manaus on August 11, with absolutely no idea of where I would live, what my schedule would be like, or who exactly had employed me in the first place. Greeted by two administrative staff members at the airport, I was soon told I would be working Saturdays in Manaus, and four days a week in distant, isolated Itacoatiara. I would live at the school in Itacoatiara, and with a host family during the weekends in Manaus. Exhausted from my long journey, I just nodded my consent and allowed myself to be led wherever they would take me. I stayed the first weekend with Maria, a receptionist at one of the schools.
  • That first weekend, my orientation consisted mostly of sitting around at the school, or observing other teachers give introductory classes. I had little instruction on what was expected of me inside the classroom (fortunately I wasn’t new to teaching), and zero instruction on administrative matters. Most of my learning was through observation, not knowing what questions I should ask. I also met a lot of people connected with the school, including the other intern, Allan, who is from the US. I quickly realized that are goals and interests for the year, as well as our comportment, was completely different.
  • I spent my first week in Itacoatiara, and met my new roommate Eli. I started my first week of classes, and got to know the staff and students at the small school, as well as the simple ways of the city. I also learned how to ride (or at least sit on) a motorcycle!

September

  • The first week of September was a mini-holiday for me, as there were two days off in the middle of the week, so I just stayed in Manaus. I got to see some more of the city and surrounding area, but most of the time I was left alone and a little bored. I really like teaching, and I missed my students! Also, everyone else was back at work or school.
  • I began feeling the exhaustion of travelling back and forth all the time. I also had problems registering with the Federal Police, which caused me undue stress. I was able to combat this with some great nights out with friends, but felt that I was lacking the stability of being in one place.
  • I was asked by administration to help organize a fashion show for a big graduation/Halloween party at the end of October. This would include managing a group of up to 40 students, and choreographing and teaching a dance. The time commitment was an extra couple of hours on my already long Saturday, but I couldn’t really say no – my contract stipulates that I should “participate in culture-sharing activities,” so I had a duty to step up!
  • The very last week in September saw a huge change for me and the rest of the school in Itacoatiara. This is at least a blog post in itself, but in short, Eli left the school abruptly, and I was suddenly without a roommate and the immediate support he provided. The very next day, there was a “Welcome” party for the students, one of the chief goals of which was to introduce me as the main attraction to the school. I had a hard time showing a good face after the earlier events of that week, but managed to hold it together – at least externally.

October

  • A lot of the stress factors from September continued into October, and I really felt myself getting worn down. It took another few weeks to get my approval from the Polícia Federal; rehearsals for the fashion show continued for the rest of the month; and I had to learn how to do for myself all the things that Eli had previously done for me in Itacoatiara.
  • Yet another stress-inducer came into my life in the form of Eli’s replacement, the new receptionist for Itacoatiara. This woman would be a daily thorn in my side. It became harder and harder to say that the problems I was having could be contributed to “culture shock” alone.
  • The greater part of my classroom activities for October consisted of preparing for, giving, and returning mid-term tests. I learned a lot – most of it through trial and error – about the paperwork side of my job (the students get report cards? Who knew?!)
  • Finally, the day arrived – the October 29th Fisk Flashback Party, including my pet project, the Gato e Gata runway show. The show went extremely well, the party afterwards was great, and I spent the rest of the night de-stressing by dancing like mad to the retro grooves of Banda Orion.

November

  • Officially halfway through the semester, I felt that I was in pretty good control of my classes. I made schedules to carry them through the end of the term, and teaching became more relaxed and less of a race to cram in curriculum items, as it was just before the first tests.
  • I was still up and down with my culture shock. Problems with the new receptionist started heating up when it became clear she was having troubles with other staff members as well. A plot hatched to get rid of her…the follow-through was deliciously dramatic, but fortunately effective. Again, there will be a blog post devoted to this topic alone!
  • Toward the end of the month (after said horrible receptionist was gone for good), I started feeling more settled and in control. I took the opportunity to make plans for my upcoming vacation in January, and spent a good amount of personal time playing travel agent (as you may know, planning things is one of my favourite pastimes!)

December

  • On December 1st, Fisk hosted yet another party for me in Itacoatiara, this time to say goodbye. It had been confirmed that I would work only in Manaus for the second semester, as my schedule had been too hard to maintain with sanity (as was clear to anyone with any sensitivity who knew me). Despite everything, in the end I was quite sad to see my time there wind down. I had made some great friends and truly enjoyed my classes.
  • In my final two weeks, it really felt like everything had fallen into place right at the last minute. We finally got a capable receptionist whom everyone liked, and who turned into my very first Portuguese-only friend. My confidence in my linguistic abilities soared, and my social calendar filled up with “just one more night out.” My classes took their tests in due time, and I finished up my duties with some regret at saying goodbye to that place. At the same time, I was incredibly excited to go home to friends, family, and the comforts of North America.
  • I flew out of Manaus on December 18th, and arrived in Toronto on the 19th. I spent two days there staying at my sister’s, visiting friends, and soaking up my favourite Canadian city. Then I went back to my hometown for a little more than a week of blissful Christmas feasting, lounging, socializing, and generally doing everything and nothing – all the things I had missed the most about home.
  • On December 29th, I flew from Toronto to Rio, to start my fabulous vacation!

And that I will leave for subsequent blog posts, as there are far too many places and ideas to sort out in just a few bullet points J If you have any questions about events or their order, leave a comment and I will follow up, maybe with another post. All this is just to give a general idea of last semester, so there is definitely more to come!

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Filed under Brazil, friends, looking back

In and Around Manaus: Forró 101

This week I have been off of work for the first time since I got here. It has been really nice to sleep in, but mostly it was nice to stay in one city for more than four days at a time. I have been here in Manaus since last Friday, and will stay until Sunday when I go back to Itacoatiara.

Other than sleep, the main benefit of being in one place for so long is that I actually got to do some touristy things, and more importantly, began to gain an understanding of where things in relation to each other. I am the kind of person who needs to be spatially oriented, and I also really like understanding the history and culture of a place. Besides being type A and just liking that stuff generally, it’s also a big part of how I learn; I need to be able to see the big picture to understand and appreciate the finer points at close range. This week, I got the full perspective on geographic, cultural, historical, musical, and natural aspects of Manaus.

As I mentioned before, I had my first real taste of Brazilian dance music last weekend when I went to a Forró party (pronounced foh-HO). I’m going to have to give a bit of a background here, so bear with me. I heard forró music for the first time on my first night here, and I thought it sounded lively and upbeat for dancing, if a little repetitive. Maria asked me if I liked it, and I said sure, because it was my first night and of course I was going to say that, but she just laughed. This became a trend: anytime forró came up, the person would ask me if I liked it, then stare at me intently until I responded. They would then either tell me they hated it, or they would just laugh. So I was never sure if I was allowed to like forró, and the style of music isn’t something I am used to, so I decided to reserve my opinion until I’d seen some dancing action. I had also been warned by Paul (the Irishman) to beware the forró party, as they can seem tame enough at first with the vigourous dancing, but then you notice that the dance floor more closely resembles a porno and it’s not so innocent anymore. Of course this was both horrifying and fascinating, and I knew it was an aspect of the culture I had to see to…believe.

The International Gang had made plans to go out last weekend, and Albert in particular had requested we try out the forró. So against the better judgement and taste of Paul and Vinicius, and with a club recommendation from a teacher and self-proclaimed “forrozeira,” we headed out in search of this club. Now, everything in Manaus is far, even if it’s close. The roads are all twisty and full of boulevards and one ways, so it usually takes 20+ minutes to go anywhere. It takes about half an hour from my house to get to Ponta Negra, the really posh, beautiful area where all the good bars are. Well…we drove and drove, we got to Ponta Negra and passed the pre-drink gas station party lined with motorcycles, we passed through the well-lit streets, and we found ourselves on a road to the middle of nowhere. The boys always joke that, if Vinicius’s car runs out of gas, I have to get out and push (it’s frequently on empty) – but even the boys were hoping we didn’t break down along this road. Nevertheless, we didn’t break down, and we knew we were getting closer to our destination when traffic started picking up. And just after the speed bump the size of a raised boulevard, we turned down a road full of cars and came to our destination: Kabanas!

The parking lot was filling up fast, and we were directed into a spot. When we got inside ($40 cover for the guys, but only $20 for the ladies), some promoters handed us fan-shaped flyers which were actually a life-saver. The club area itself is pretty huge, and I was worried about losing the guys, but fortunately it wasn’t extremely crowded when we arrived and we were able to stake out a spot. Then I was able to make a first impression of the raison d’être, the forró! There was a live band playing at the front of the club, with professional dancers onstage.

The end of the night, with the fan

The pros were really impressive, but even more so were the dozens of couples around me dancing just as fast. But it didn’t look like something I couldn’t handle, and I was eager to try – well, maybe with the exception of the extreme pelvic thrusting that some of the dancers thought was an integral move. So, after grabbing some beers (um, they were R$2.50. Whaaa?), Cristina grabbed me and taught me the basics…and soon we were whirling around, dancing faster and faster, and making our high-heeled feet work overtime! It was great, because I never get to partner dance like that.

My dance partner and me

Cristina was a really good teacher, but I didn’t get the chance to dance with anyone else so I don’t know how I’d fare with one of those guys (they are so good, you don’t actually have to know how to dance if you can follow a lead). I guess that’s an adventure for another day.

The other source of entertainment was Albert. We all waited patiently for him to try out his new skillz (from the forró dance class he’d taken the previous day), and it didn’t take long for him to approach a group of girls nearby. The only problem was, on closer inspection they appeared to be about 16 or 17! Ohh Brazilian clubs. Anyway, it was still funny to see him bobbing around, trying to avoid stepping on their feet, and the girls swooning simply because he has blond hair and blue eyes. After a while the band finished their set, and the club played hip hop during the intermission (which actually got Paul dancing…who knew?). By the time the band returned to the stage, Paul and Vinicius had decided they’d had enough forró for the night and Cristina’s and my feet were pretty sore, so we dragged Albert away from the jailbait and headed back to the car. By the time we got back to the city it was 2am, and I realized I’d been up since 6:30 for work, so I asked to be dropped off. Apparently the boys went out to Porão do Alemão, a rock club that I’d been to the week before, and stayed out until 5:30. If I missed some hijinks, it was definitely worth it to shuck off the heels and get some sleep.

In fact, I got a lot of sleep for the next couple of days, and my next adventure didn’t happen until Tuesday…but that will be the next post. The final verdict on Forró?  It’s a lot of fun, but not an every weekend thing.  And if you’re going to go, take a nap because it lasts all night, and wear heels you can dance in!

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Filed under friends, funny, Manaus, nights out, something new

My Brazilian Family(s)

Here in Brazil, I am being fully inducted into the culture through familial naturalization. I have a host family in Manaus which has all but adopted me and treats me as a daughter; but I also have a number of friends and co-workers with whom I’ve formed close, personal bonds in a very short span of time. True to Brazilian form, blood runs thick around here, although it doesn’t discriminate with genetics. Love, concern, trust, bickering, protectiveness: these are all present in my relationships.

For starters, my family in Itacoatiara has nothing to do with bloodlines. It doesn’t even run in chronological order, and the familial roles change on an hourly basis. In my classroom, I am the head of the family; I have to herd my students in the right direction, discipline them if they get out of line, and reward them with praise when they do well. Most of my students are teenagers, so I can see it in their eyes when they aren’t impressed with me confiscating their cell phones or reprimanding them for whispering (loudly) to each other in Portuguese when I’m trying to explain a grammar point. But I know they love me, even if I am tough on them sometimes – they know it’s for their own good!

Outside the classroom, sometimes I’m the child. As I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of things I can’t do for myself. More realistically, I could do these things if I had to, but there are a few reasons why I don’t. First of all, as a lone, foreign female, I’m a target here for danger. This is something I know intellectually, but find hard to consider when I don’t see any immediate threats walking down the street at 10pm with friends. The other reason I don’t have to do things for myself is that Fisk organizes and pays for almost everything. This includes meals, residence, transportation, and even social events. Fisk is like Big Brother; it always has something in mind for me, regardless of whether I know about it or want to do it.

After Big Brother Fisk comes Fisk administration, the people who do all the dirty work that I’m not allowed to. In Itacoatiara, this is Eli.

A horrible photo of us, but that's what I have

He has to order my meals (I just get asked, “chicken or beef?” and then it arrives 20 minutes later), coordinate my travel with Manaus admin, and buy my bus tickets. He’s always worried something will happen to me – mostly because it’s his job to make sure I’m safe. The other day, I was with a bunch of friends at the school, and he came up and demanded my passport information “agora!” (now!). Everyone started laughing that he was my father, because I dejectedly went to my room to get it, but I knew he just needed it immediately because he had to catch a ride with someone else to get to the bus station, and it was late. Sometimes he yells at my friends who drive me around on their motorcycles because he thinks they aren’t good drivers…but again, I know this is because he recently had a death in the family from a motorcycle accident.

On the flip side, and more commonly, Eli and I are more like siblings. We look out for each other, we know when the other is upset or stressed or missing home, and we cheer each other up. Eliveuto is also away from home (he was transferred to Itacoatiara from Manaus just a month before me to fill a vacant spot), and I think he’s having a harder time with it than I am. I deal with homesickness too, but those times when I know he’s sad I feel like the big sister because I’m older and have more experience with being away from home.

One of my students, Karla, is a particular friend. She is only sixteen, but she likes to hang around the “older kids.” Some of our other friends have started calling her “Karla Maharaj” because she’s always around me!

Karla, on the right

It cracks me up. Hear that, Aleeta? You aren’t the baby anymore! Anyway, it’s nice to have her around. She speaks English pretty well (she’s in one of my advanced classes), except when she’s tired, and then she doesn’t understand a thing I say! Actually, Karla “babysat” me once when Eliveuto had to go back to Manaus. A., the coordinator, didn’t want me staying in the school alone so he asked her to come stay with me. She had to bring her mother into the school so A. could introduce me and prove she wasn’t making it up. Poor Karla!

My other “sisters” in Itacoatiara, or more accurately my girlfriends, are Priscila and Nancy. They both work at Fisk so they speak English quite well. Pri spent five months in Canada in a small town near Red Deer, Alberta when she was in grade 10, so it’s nice to be able to talk to someone who understands my comparisons with home.

All my girls: Pri on the left, Nancy and baby Sofia, and Karla

She understands when I say I want a “grande” coffee I’m talking Starbucks size, not the whole Dixie cup instead of half. She’s nineteen but very mature for her age. Nancy is in my class with Karla. She’s twenty, but she’s married and has a baby girl named Sofia. Cutest baby ever! These three ladies are my female gang in Itacoatiara.

A "family-sized" pizza for our conversation dinner: Hudy, Pri, and Pedro

This post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of my “assistant,” Pedro. Pedro is officially in the class with Nancy and Karla, but he is taking full advantage of my being here and sits in on two or three other classes as well – which means I see him at least once a day. I love Pedro: the guy always comes in with a smile, whether it’s 8 am or 9 pm. He’s good-humoured and helpful in the lower level classes, and is very dedicated to learning the language, despite maintaining a busy full course load in Chemistry. He told me he may have a big job opportunity in the near future which would require him to do an English exam, so I’ll help him as much as I can with that. He was also the one responsible for suggesting an extra conversation class for our advanced class, which has turned into very fun dinners every Thursday night (we talk about all kinds of things…Brazilians are not very academic outside of class, if you know what I mean).

Ary at the entrance to the school

A. is the coordinator for Fisk Itacoatiara, and he is very much like a parent to all the kids who grow up attending English classes. He knows everybody by name, greets the kids with a kiss and a hug, teases girls about their boyfriends, and is generally very jovial and committed to his job. He is my Portuguese teacher, and I have no complaints about spending three hours a week in his company. He speaks excellent English, due to a lot of effort on his part: he works all day in English, then goes home and reads English books and watches English TV. He told me sometimes he forgets Portuguese because he barely ever uses it!

I think that sums up the main characters in Itacoatiara. I will have to do another post to talk about my students (the ones that I’m not friends with). On to Manaus.

I’ve given an overview of my host family, but this week I’ve had more time to spend with Camilla and her father Marcos. I sleep in Camilla’s room when I’m here, so we are like sisters in that regard anyway, but this past Saturday I really got to see her in action when we went to the mall. Oh my goodness, I had forgotten what it’s like to be fifteen! I have two younger sisters, but for Kel it’s been a while since she was that age, and when Aleeta was fifteen I was away at university. Camilla and her friends were so funny though, I could barely keep up with them.

Camilla (right) and her friend Melissa at her Quize Anos

When I got to the mall they were in a movie, so I did my own thing for a bit before meeting up with them. There were four of them, but the group somehow just kept growing…and it took forever to decide to go anywhere, but once we did it was a mad dash up escalators and through crowded corridors – and then we’d get to the opposite end of the mall and they’d change their mind. And even though I have come to understand quite a bit of Portuguese, there is no way my brain can keep up with their tongues. I know I was the exact same when I was that age, but thinking back that far is frightening (god, I am old now haha).

Marcos, my host father, took Camilla and her friend Ana Clara and I out for churrasco on Friday night. He scolded me for not calling him on Monday like I said I was going to (although I have a chip (SIM card), it’s been on the fritz and only sometimes allows me to make a call). He said he knows I’m twenty-four, but he considers me a daughter now and he will worry about me like he worries about Camilla. The next day he gave me a new chip with minutes and texts and told me to keep in touch. Lesson learned!

(Sidenote: the second we set foot in the Churrascaria, the waiters figured out I was Canadian and got really excited. They then proceeded to foist every kind of meat on me (yes it’s their job, but when they tell you “It’s good! Try this!” you have to accept), attempted to educate me on the different cuts of meat and where they come from on the cow with a diagram, and brought me special servings of sushi just for my enjoyment. It was cute, but man was I full afterwards!)

Now comes the part where I tell you about my crazy international gang. These guys are my brothers in the truest sense: they honestly forget I am a girl 99% of the time. Vinicius is a Fisk employee, and a Brazilian. He picks me up at the bus station when I get back from Itacoatiara on Fridays, and he has been put in charge of taking the other intern and I to the federal police to register. He also picked me up from the airport with Leilson, so he is literally the first person I met in Brazil. Vinicius’s best friend is Paul, an Irishman who moved here with his Brazilian wife about 16 months ago, and who works at Fisk. Paul is soooo Irish.  He curses all the time, he bitches and moans about being in Brazil because he’s

Cristina and her fiance Vinicius, Paul, and Albert at the Forro club

homesick, he has an awesome accent, etc. Most of the time when the three of us are in the car together, I just sit back and listen to them rag on each other and cry with laughter. Our fourth gang member is Albert, the American intern. Albert is a hard character to pin down; he wasn’t very well-liked at Fisk initially, because he has a very dry personality and a slow, southern accent to go with it. But, as he’s spent more time with the three of us, he’s starting to loosen up and gain a sense of humour – or at least, project it outwardly. On Friday he told us that, since we were going to check out a forró club, he had taken the initiative to book a dance class! Ohhh the boys ate that one up. So when we went out on Saturday night we all just waited, cameras ready, for him to do his thing. What a guy, he has two left feet and a broom down his back.

I’ve posted some photos already of my Fisk Parque 10 family, so I won’t go into detail about that today. Hopefully you enjoyed meeting the “characters” in my life, and real family, I hope you aren’t offended that I’ve been adopted here, as well! After all, family is culture in Brazil.

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Filed under community, family, friends, Itacoatiara, Manaus

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

Aimless in Toronto

A stereotypical Toronto photo...not mine, clearly

…Which is my current location. I’ve been chilling in T-dot for about 3 days now. You may recall a few posts back that I mentioned I didn’t know what would come next once I was done. Well, shortly after writing that, I got the bright idea to call up my old boss at the language school where I worked last summer and see if I could do some supply teaching. They’re always really busy in July. So I emailed him that night, and he emailed me back early the next morning to say sure, there would most likely be work for me. Hooray! I was super pumped about that prospect. I know, I know…a three day weekend isn’t exactly summer vacation, but I don’t take well to idleness. Or rather, I take to it too well – and then I just never get around to doing anything, ever again. I was also really excited to get to spend some time with my former co-workers, who have turned into great friends. And on top of everything there is always a good possibility of meeting some cool Brazilians (after all, it was working at this school with Brazilians that gave me the idea to go there in the first place).

The idea was bright and everything, and I thought I’d had things so well planned out. I would stay at my sister’s place, work during the day like everyone else I know in TO, then hang out with my various groups of friends in the evenings. If I didn’t have work I would read, blog, or learn some Portuguese (as I’d mentioned before). Well, here I am on Wednesday night, and no call from the boss to work. Which is strange because I have it on excellent authority (friends who still teach at the school) that enrolment is high and experienced staff is few. So that means that I’ve spent the last three days trying to sleep in (no such luck – sister and her boyfriend are babysitting a very needy cat [read: I am babysitting a needy cat]), shopping (I’d already bought everything I need for Brazil, and now I have no source of income), and reading in random locations across the city.

Future Bakery, a pastry shop/pub that's open until 1am every night - a student's dream!

The reading part forces me to be very creative, since I don’t want to just sit around in my sister’s basement apartment. So far I have nursed iced coffee on the patios of two Starbucks and one famous bakery, and read approximately 75 pages of Tina Fey’s autobiography Bossypants without buying it by hiding out in the corners of different bookstores for prolonged periods. I intend to finish the book – without buying it – before I leave Toronto.

This could be me at any Indigo location across the GTA

In theory, I’m doing everything you’re supposed to do on vacation. I’m reading, visiting friends, I’m eating well (I got groceries on Monday), I’m getting lots of exercise on my lengthy and unnecessary walks through the city, and I’m sleeping in (ish). Things should be great! But I am SO BORED. And antsy. And feeling not a little guilty that I just gave up an amazing job for seemingly nothing! Also, I know my disposable income (i.e. the money not allocated to travel) will run out very soon, and then I’ll either have to stop doing anything fun or leave for Brazil on my own. I really don’t know which is scarier (you probably don’t live in my hometown, so you wouldn’t understand. Or you do, so you know what I mean). Basically I thought I’d feel cool and carefree in Toronto, but instead I feel like a homeless, couch-surfing cat lady who loiters overlong in coffee shops and bookstores and makes other customers uncomfortable. At least I’m not talking to myself yet (or am I? What is a blog, after all?).

Anyway, I sent a long and hopefully evocative email to the internship people just before writing this, so hopefully they take pity on me and something gets done about this interminable snail mail limbo in which I’ve been mired for the past six weeks. I’ll try to write something less whiny and more entertaining and substantial in the near future. Until then, wish me luck!

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It Takes a Village

I haven’t written anything in a while because things have been a little crazy around here. After months of packing, moving, settling into a rental, then packing and moving again, my family has finally moved into the house my parents and grandma had built. Right now, there are five of us living here (parents and grandma, my youngest sister and me) plus two small dogs (Cooper is ours, Sadie is my grandma’s). Of course, we all know each other well, and most of us have lived with some or all of the others at some point, but it’s the first time we’ve all been under one roof; we’re all waiting for the dust to settle to see what it’s really like.

A little history on my family: we moved into the house on Camelot when I was just five, and lived there for almost nineteen years. In that time, my sisters and I graduated from elementary and then high school, we hosted eighteen Christmas brunches, and witnessed the entire lifespan of our first dog, Charlie. My grandma moved into her house, just a five minute walk away, after my grandpa died. She’s been there for about fifteen years, and has managed quite well for herself. However, a few years ago she began a fight with cancer. She beat it, but the treatment has left her weakened and with a permanent kidney disease that requires her to have dialysis three times a week. She’s getting older, and it became evident that things wouldn’t be able to continue on the same way indefinitely.

Once my parents conceived of the idea of living with my grandma, it was a no-brainer that that was what must be done. Rather than forcing an awkward, stifling living arrangement, they decided to build a house to suit everyone’s needs and maintain their independence. Thus, we now reside in a three-bedroom, three bath bungalow, with a finished basement that includes a separate kitchen, dining, and living room for my parents’ use. I would post pictures, but it’s still too cluttered with boxes and homeless furniture for that.

It must be said that, despite four able-bodied individuals and one stubborn one, plus months between moving dates, there is no way we could have made it through this major overhaul by ourselves. The first time we had to move, from my childhood home to a two-month rental house up the street, we had the help of three of my dad’s brothers, my mom’s best friend, some other friends of my dad, and a couple of neighbours. Everyone pitched in to tow boxes and furniture into the U-Haul and then into the basement storage. We managed to pull off that move in less than 24 hours, including celebratory pizza and beers, and my uncles made the three hour drive back home in daylight.

The second move was even more impressive, in a way, as it involved moving my grandma from her house one day, then moving us from the rental the next. Did I mention that the moving date was during the week, and my sister and I both had to work? Well, once again friends and family stepped up to the plate. I can’t tell you how impressed I was to finally make it to the house on the day of my grandma’s move, to find two old (and I mean that in both senses) friends of my grandma’s had been slaving away in 30+ degree heat, putting things together, cleaning, and making themselves generally useful. Never mind that one is still recovering from her own rigorous cancer battle – she and my grandma were quite the sight, all wiry and breakable, determinedly sifting through boxes.

On the second day, I woke up at 5:30 am to finish packing up my room before heading to work. It was another scorcher when I left work at about 4, and I reluctantly drove toward the new house and what I knew would be another long day of hauling and scrubbing. But my trepidation was put to shame when I arrived to see Foti, a long-time neighbour of the Camelot house, sweating through his shirt as he and my dad unloaded heavy boxes of my books into our new garage. An hour later we were joined again by my mom’s friend Ginny, who had spent the entire day at work but still dedicated her evening to vacuuming and packing up the last of our belongings from the rental and moving them in her own car to the new place. Finally, at 11:30 pm, my mom, dad, Foti, Ginny, and I locked up the rental once and for all and, swatting away the June bugs and mosquitos, made the final trip to the new place. I collapsed into my mattress a few minutes later, although I could hear my parents still moving around upstairs. I don’t know how they did it; especially considering that my mom drove my grandma to the hospital for dialysis at 6 am. On top of it all, it was my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, and I don’t think either of them took the time to give it a second thought.

When I began this post, I knew I wanted to talk about the idea of community: the concept of people working together towards a common goal. I think though, that it’s necessary to point out that although the goal – moving us – was shared, it only benefited a few of the people involved. Why did so many people take the time and energy and patience to help us move? I still can’t really fathom why, but I am so grateful that they did. It was pure, selfless, untempered goodwill on the parts of Ginny, Foti, Ken and Caroline, my uncles, and the many others who lent a hand. It’s such a simple concept, and one that we’ve been taught our whole lives, in kindergarten and Girl Guides, on soccer teams, and even in university orientation; but being on the receiving end, I feel wholly unworthy of such kindness. I wonder if I am as selfless, as willing to overlook what’s in it for me. But this is community: the understanding that, when someone needs to get something done, you step in and help them do it; and when you need help, they will be there in turn. I love my independence, but sometimes I need to be reminded that I’m not just one individual, and that, if I want community, I have a responsibility to give, as well as to take.

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Filed under cheesy metaphors, community, friends