Category Archives: goodbyes

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

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

A Canadian “Farewell”

A picture I found of my hometown's fireworks. They really are the best.

So, the school year has come to a close, and with it, so has my time at the YMCA school. My students threw me a beautiful “surprise” party last Monday, complete with all kinds of marvellous homemade food, artistry on my chalkboard, and even an unnecessary but great gift. I handed out report cards and had individual meetings with students on Tuesday; Wednesday was our year-end picnic (more delicious potluck goodies), and the final student goodbye; Thursday was a PD day, and my last day with the teachers. I had quite a bit of work to do to wrap up my job, so pretty much everyone left well before I did. Karen was the last to go, and I was pretty much a sobbing mess by that point, having just begun reading the goodbye card from the Immigrant Services staff. All that was left was to put away the resources I’d been using all year, and clear out my desk into a big box to carry to my car.

Painful as it was, the whole thing wouldn’t have been nearly as pathetic if I didn’t feel like a big fraud for talking about going to Brazil for so long. It totally doesn’t even feel like I’m going – more like I just left a secure job that I loved for absolutely no reason. On the way home I stopped at Shopper’s Drug Mart to pick up the prescription for anti-malaria pills that I probably won’t need, and treated myself to a new shade of nail polish (you know, to help fill the void with pointless consumerism and shallow vanity).

The next day was Canada Day, and I was determined to give myself at least some pretenses of relaxation and holiday enjoyment, so I spent the night at my friend Jamie’s house, and we headed off to the local Canada Day festivities in the park. Despite having slept on her couch the night before, I felt pretty good. Maybe it was getting 8 solid hours of sleep; maybe it was not having the morning sun wake me at 6 am; but maybe it was just having nothing in particular to do for once. I had the car, my bathing suit, and many unscheduled and sun-filled hours ahead of me.

We really did have a great day. Jamie is part of the county’s concert band, which was playing just after the parade finished and before the opening ceremonies began, so we got to watch the parade from the finish line in the gracious shade of the park. Her band – which opened with Coldplay, followed by Lady Gaga, some sleepy neoclassical piece, and then Smoke on the Water, finished patriotically with O Canada. A giant 8’x4′ cake was served directly after, decorated with whipped cream and hundreds of halved strawberries in the shape of the Canadian flag. Epic as it was, it managed to keep up with the long and eager line-up of patriots that formed at its arrival. There was more than enough to go around, so I’m not sure what possessed one oversized woman to share one of her two pieces with her dog – bite by bite.

After the band was done, Jamie and I bummed some money off her parents (we had come unprepared, for shame!) and readied ourselves for the international smorgasbord of vendors before us. First up was the Chinese Association’s booth, and in our quest for a spring roll (we had to buy a whole combo just to get one) I noticed several of my (ex-)students working there. They were happy to see me, and for the third time that week I was treated to a giant plate of home-cooked ethnic food for free! Jamie and I had a hard time eating everything, so we scouted out the parents of our missing third musketeer, Breanna, and donated the proceeds therein.

The beach at the park where the parade finished. Not one of my photos, as I didn't have my camera with me that day, but a nice image.

Jamie and I managed to stuff down a chocolate and peanut-coated ice cream cone before we left the park in favour of a beach near her house. (We would have just used her pool, but it was full of loud, drunken teenagers courtesy of her brother.) We sunned ourselves for the appropriate amount of time, then returned to her (now empty) house to eat a delicious surf-and-turf dinner with her foodie parents (I stuck to the “turf”). There was just enough time to shower and head out to pick up our friend Joe, visiting from out of town, and to drive down to the waterfront to finish the day with some fireworks. My hometown may not be very big, but it puts on an excellent display every year – they really are my favourite fireworks ever.

On Saturday, I actually slept in. That hasn’t happened in a while, as I’ve been too busy even on weekends to sleep later than 9 or so, and besides, the June morning sun just refuses to allow that to happen. I spent the day hiding from the heat and humidity in my basement room, and sorted through all my teaching materials into some semblance of order for whenever I will use them again (I’m not dragging everything to Brazil with me, and besides, it’s all Canada-specific). On Sunday, I went to the beach for a few hours, then headed to Toronto by train…

Continued in next post

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Filed under Canada, community, goodbyes, insecurities, student stories