O Verao Em Natal|
[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 13 most recent journal entries recorded in
|Sunday, September 12th, 2004|
So, Steven has pointed out that this LiveJournal has not been updated in a month. Oops! Well, part of that was due to the fact that the past month has generated some news which we wanted to share in person first. Anyone who reads this has probably heard by now—Daniel and I are engaged. The date and location are far from settled, but we’re thinking about next year, late spring or early summer.
Things are going well here. The weather is really gorgeous now, very little rain, unlike when we first arrived. One perk of having a job that starts at 7:30 in the morning is that I am always awake to see the sunrise, which is incredibly beautiful here. People talk about Greek light being amazing, but if it can beat this I’ll be surprised. The cat still has not had her kittens, even though she is enormous. She continues to be a wonderful friend during the day and a little hellion at night, swatting my nose at all hours so that I’ll wake up and play with her. Work life is good…. Okay, I should say teaching English is great, but both Daniel and I are being introduced to some uniquely Brazilian employment practices. Paydays are uncertain and rate of pay is often not clear. For instance, when I was interviewed at Cultura I was told the average full time teacher makes 1200 reais a month. After I was hired, I was told about the 6 month probation period in which I would only make 100 reais per class per month, which in my case means a little more than half that. Then, I found out about the mandatory 3 hours a week of training. First they told us it was paid, then they changed their mind and decided it wasn’t. Then, even worse, I found out about the mandatory 2 and a half hours of extra tutoring a week. Unpaid. This week, new teachers who are not native speakers of English were told that they would be required to take a class at Cultura to brush up their skills. Unpaid. And to top that off, we’ve also been informed that we, as trainees, will only receive our paychecks a week after everyone else. In Cultura’s defense, all this seems to be the product of their current (not usual) precarious financial situation. But still, it’s made life pretty frustrating for all of us newbies. And I’m counting my blessings that at least I like the work and am getting good experience.
Besides all that drama, life is starting to settle into an enjoyable routine. I teach in the mornings and at night, but I have the middle of the day to eat a leisurely lunch (usually tapioca) and write. Sunday is our only totally free day. It’s usually split between chores (going to the market for the week’s fruit and vegetables, laundry, housecleaning) and a trip to the beach or some part of town we haven’t visited yet. Last week we went to the first of a series of artesanal fairs outside of the historic theatre. There were people selling food, crafts, antiques, and even a travelling library. They had a small stage set up for musical acts and local dance troupes. One of the dance troupes really tested its capacity for staying upright—after a certain point, I’m not sure what I was paying more attention to: 15 teenagers doing an Indian dance or the sides of the stage rocking back and forth! Luckily, it held.
Oh yes, today we had our first restaurant prepared feijoada since arriving in Brazil. After spending most of the meal sifting through bones and v. suspicious looking pieces of meat, I think I’ll stick to the homemade variety from now on.
Hope all is well!
|Sunday, August 15th, 2004|
This letter was written over the course of the last week or so.
Hello Friends and Family,
I am writing this letter at 11pm on a Monday night. Liz is washing her face and getting ready for bed. It is very much past our usual bedtime, as she has gotten in the habit of waking up at 5am to be ready in time to teach her 7:30 am class. She is teaching at the Cultura Inglesa, one of Brasil’s most highly respected language schools, or if you want to read it in portuguese, “escola de idiomas”. It is a nice building on rua Açu, in Petrópolis. I am not exactly sure what Petrópolis means, but it is entirely possible that it is named after a famous neigboorhood in Rio de Janeiro of the same name. Then again, Natal is just about as old as Rio. I will have to look up the word in a portuguese language dictionary. It sounds like it derives from greek, and so it probably won’t require research in the Tupi-Guarani dictionary.
I am teaching at Wizard, one of the largest franchises in the language school franchising business. Things are fairly crazy this semester the language schools in Natal, and for that matter Brazil, have seen a bit of what we would call “restructuring.” Wisdom was one of Wizards leading competitors. I use the past tense perhaps prematurely, but the Brazilian justice department has ordered all of the Wisdom schools to close down. As everything here takes a couple of extra months, Wisdom is for the moment still in business, but their bells have begun to toll. The issue revolves around a small matter of plagiarism, something that Professor Lentz severly warned us about in the opening days of freshman orientation. One of Wizards founding members saw more money in starting his own school with the same method and a similar name. Not only does the name have a similar meaning as Wizard, but it also sounds similar to the untrained ears of a brazilian. Some other predatory practices engaged in by Wisdom, include opening up schools in the same locations as failed Wizards. It will take a little more time however for the justice department to catch up to its decision to close Wisdom. As a result of this legal wrangling in courtrooms in Brasilia for the last 8 years, we see a certain restructuring. All of the Wizard schools that were operating in Natal closed and in there place a number of different small franchises opened. Wizard Brasil (the company that holds the franchise) deemed that they were not running the business well and had a bad influence on the Franchises’good name. The Wizard schools then opened up in the same spaces as the closing Wisdom schools. This is were I am now working. While the method is the same, the didactic material is new, and even the Coordenadora Pedagogica does not know exactly how to use them, beyond reading the instructions they come with and following them. To a T. To add to this confusion, Wizard Brasil has sent their “Consultant” Milton (read Quality Control Agent) to ensure that the new Wizard (old Wisdom) schools start on the right path. I suppose if you want a place to start on the right foot, you cut off any chance for the formation of bad habits.
Friday… Liz added a member to our apartment last night. Her name is Christmas (we are pretty sure that she is a she), because she is white as snow, and we found her in Natal (which is Portuguese for Christmas). One of her eyes is blue, and the other is green. She does not look large enough to have celebrated her first birthday (in human years), but we pretty much agree that the size of her tummy betrays the fact that Christmas just might be bringing presents. She is one of the friendliest cats I have ever met. She was most probably abandoned less than a week ago on Romualdo Galvão, one of Natal’s larger avenues where our buses go by. Liz had seen her for three days straight, in the morning when she left for work, again when she came home for lunch, a third time when she went to her afternoon classes, and a fourth time when she came home for the night. Every time, the cat was in the same 20 meters worth of sidewalk, and often times hung out under the covered bustop, rubbing against peoples legs. At one point, Liz saw the kitty placidly sitting right in front of a gate, the dog on the other side barking loudly. Kitty was lonely, needed a new home and a name. Yesterday, Liz and I left for work at the same time, and I saw kitty for the first time. She looked hungry, tired and dirty. I said that we should sleep on it, that she would still be there tomorrow morning. But on the way home I kept on thinking about the “what if’s”: what if kitty was not there in the morning, what if she got hit by a car, what if one of the neighbors decided to feed her rat poison. Liz had many of the same thoughts. When I got off at the bus stop, kitty was not there. I figured she had her own hiding place for the nights that was not the middle of the sidewalk, but was secretly afraid something terrible had happened to her. As I walked up to the gate of the apartment building Liz was waiting for me. Kitty had just jumped out of her arms, and run under a car. I coaxed her out, and kitty took an elevator ride up to the 9th floor. So Christmas it is. I gave her a bath and she is much cleaner and smelling better. I also went out to the supermarket before it closed and picked up kitty litter and catfood. Christmas was still somewhat desperate for attention last night, which made sleeping hard. She is also going to have to learn that when she sleeps on the bed, her place is at the foot, by our feet, not with her tail swishing in our faces. She also has a habit of rubbing her cheek on our cheeks. Probably she is just claiming us as her new pets. She is stetched very glamourously on the sofa at the moment.
We have heard some horror stories recently about delinquent employers. There is no bi-weekly pay in Brazil, and so you only get paid after a full month of work. Fabricio, one of the teachers that works with Liz, came to Natal in July with his partner. He is dividing his time between teaching at cultura inglesa and working on his mastes degree (it might be a doctorate, but I am not sure). For their first month in Natal, they worked at a bar in Ponta Negra, while pursuing other jobs on the side. At the end of the month, they did not get their paycheck. The manager said something about the bar needing the money to do some construction work and that it was going to be a couple of weeks late. They called again 2 weeks later, and got put off again. The third time they called, the manager asked them to come in for a meeting. They went in and he informed them that they were not going to get paid, that they could tell the police or sue the bar if they wanted. I have not heard the next part of the story, but I do hope they sue. The legal system in brazil can be chaotic at times, but my friend Sergio indicated that when it came to work issues, there was a special court and judge that resolved these cases quickly. The good news is that we know that both Cultura Inglesa, and the franchise owner of Wizard have a history of paying on time.
If you are considering a trip to Brazil, know that we have room for hosting guests ;)
|Wednesday, August 4th, 2004|
|Teacher, I don't understand....
It’s 9pm on a Wednesday night, and I cannot wait to go to bed. This is indeed a strange feeling. Jillian, I know you where you’re coming from—work changes your attitude about healthy bedtimes. My alarm now goes off at 5 in the morning, so 9pm sounds good to me. Besides the new schedule, there’s also the new experiences and challenges that are filling up my days. Teaching! At last, I’m the one giving the homework. Even better, I’m the one thinking up what’s going to happen. We’re not starting with books until next week, so this week was review in any manner we wsai ft. I’ve been devising activities for a variety of levels. I have seven classes which range from early intermediates aged 9 to 11 to the highest levels in the regular course track of the school, which has high school students and adults. For the earlier levels. I end up speaking a fair amount of Portuguese. When I can’t quite get at what I want, the quickest student usually figures it out and translates. Occasionally it even gives them an incentive to speak English. This first week hasn’t been tough so much as it’s been demanding. Literally everything is new to me, from the layout of the schools to their photocopy procedure (it’s like laundry, it gets sent out once a day and delivered at some point later). And, of course, the classroom is a completely unpredictable zone. Especially during the first week, when your class list can go from one student to fifteen in the five minutes before class starts. The other teachers have been really helpful, and it’s more of a relief than I expected to be able to converse in English with new people. The teaching staff is a mix of Brazilians who are fluent speakers (some of them former students of the school) and ex-pats. I love hearing the stories of how they happened to end up in Brazil. I’m liking it here a lot, but it’s still impossible to imagine that I might just never leave…. Yet that is what happened with most of these people. They came here for a visit and for one reason or another never left. Kind of crazy, eh?
Oh yeah, we finally have internet and a phone in our own apartment! I’ll email it out soon. Enjoy the last stretch of summer!
PS I'm pasting this in from word and it's doing a funny type thing... it's supposed to say 'as we saw fit' in line three.
|Saturday, July 31st, 2004|
Classes start Monday and as a result, schools of English must give teachers schedules. By teachers, I mean us. And by schools of English, it turns out that I mean Wizard (a franchise founded by Carlos "Wizard" Martinez who is also a member in good standing of the Mormon church, as we were informed by a couple of friendly missionaries in the supermarket the other day) and Cultura Inglesa. I got a call from them yesterday morning, and their offer of six classes was both exciting and disappointing as they require teachers to comitt fully to their school, and highly discourage employment at any of the other language schools. So I had to turn down the offer from "Whats Up" to teach a class of 5 four to seven year olds. I felt bad backing out at the last minute, but Cultura Inglesa is going to pay 700 reais a month, whereas the stint at What's Up was going to pay 120 reais. While I like to think of myself as not desperate for money... well, I am a little bit if I don't want to tap out my life savings on a six month stint in Natal.
Our apartment is finally starting to look inhabited. A borrowed sofa and coffee table complement our hand-fashioned natural wood (read 1.5 cm thick ply-wood) shelves in the living room and we're still shopping for bolts to assemble the bed frame. We're waiting for the phone people to come and hook us up and hopefully internet will be available in house, on tap soon after that.
Whew... now I just have to get ready for my first class. 7:30 am, Monday morning. End of vacation!
|Wednesday, July 21st, 2004|
|Ah, I missed my flight!
Guess I'll just have to stay :)
Kidding, of course, but not about the staying part. It's way official now: we're here until December. There are still a couple of major kinks to work out, but all in all I think we've got an opportunity that should not be wasted. It will never be easier, socially, professionally, and even financially (hey, did I save my money all those years for nothing?) than it is now. I really want to get the hang of Portuguese, or at least, get better. And the work itself will be a valuable experience. One of the directors at the school I will be teaching at is really inspiring. He has a master's in ESL and loves to throw the textbook aside and be creative with lesson plans. 4-7 year olds, here I come. Daniel has at least 15 hours a week guaranteed at one of the franchise schools, Wizard. We still need a few more hours to have a comfortable budget, but we've picked up enough to pay the rent and live on rice and beans :)
Things have been happening kind of fast in the past couple of weeks, and I'm sorry I haven't updated more. Basically we've alternated between doing resume rounds & document hunting and enjoying a few last days of vacation. The rain was a constant plague last week, but this week has been the most gorgeous weather we've had yet. People here are saying the rainy season is beginning to transition into the windy season, which leads into the really freaking hot season. I'm really grooving on the windy weather, as it's always nice to have a cool breeze when the temperature is above 90. We've had some really lovely cool nights lately, though. I think once it might even have gotten below 70! One of things that is is still hard to imagine about staying is that it will be hot on my birthday. This will be a lifetime first.
We've also just completed our second round of apartment hunting, quite sucessfully if I do say so myself. After trudging through a depressing assortment of mildewed, trash filled apartments with ten locks on the door, we happened upon an clean, affordable one room apartment in a nice building in Sergio's part of town. It has tall windows and-here's the best part- a ninth floor view to see out of them! I am so pumped. We probably won't be able to afford much stuff to put in it, but the place is really nice.
We moved out of our beachside digs and are hanging with Sergio again while we work out the details of the new apartment and look for basic furnishings. Work starts on August 2nd. It looks like there will be an epic document hunt in the near future to get together all the stuff it will take to get me legal. So lots of excitment still to go... I thought I was going to freak out when it got to be time for the plane we were supposed to be on to leave, but I was absorbed in an English lesson and didn't even notice until much after its departure time, when we were riding the bus and chatting with a Canadian who just happened to be studying beginner's Portuguese in the seat in front of us. Which reminds me, Canadians are much cooler than Americans. He's a med student, but he still knows who Alice Munro is.
I'm mostly excited, a little nervous, and totally satisfied with the decision we've made about the next five months or so. Lately, I've been catching myself actually feeling comfortable here, like it's a place where a real life of my very own might take place. I guess signing an apartment lease will do that to you, eh? I know the process of cultural adjustment has its ups and downs, and there are still going to be mornings in which I wake up and wonder what I'm doing here, but for now I'm just going to love it.
Oh, I finally learned another Portuguese word. Here it goes:
office boy, pronounced ofissee boi- means office boy
Ex. Joao is starting out an as an office boy and soon hopes to move up to motorcycle delivery boy, weaving fearlessly in and out of the Natal traffic.
At this rate of language acquisition, I will clearly need to stay in Brazil for the next ten years at least :)
|Saturday, July 10th, 2004|
|should we stay or should we go now???
Hello hello, it's been a busy couple of weeks.
Where to begin? First a little bit of travelogue. Last weekend, Daniel and I took a trip to Baixinha das Franca, a small community in the interior where Daniel volunteered with Amigos two summers ago. Getting there on the bus was an adventure. We started our trip by nearly missing it (literally, it pulled out of the station before we'd even sat down) and managing to grab one of the last seats. For the next many stops, there was no one getting off the bus, only people getting on. So we soon had a new friend, an extremely drunk old man who insisted that Daniel was in his seat. So Daniel sat on my lap and we got to hear a life story told in the roughest Portuguese I've heard yet. All around, he was quite good natured if reeking of cachaca. At 10:30 in the morning. The final stretch of the trip was in one of Baixinha's only cars over three miles of very wet dirt road. There were some lakes I didn't think we were going to pull through, but we did.
After we got to Baixinha I was simultaneously overwhelmed by hospitality and friendliness- Daniel was clearly a big hit- and by the sheer material difference of life there compared to life in places that I have lived. I'd like to say that wore off quickly, and it did in terms of how comfortable I felt, but I couldn't help but be reminded how much I take for granted. We spent the weekend catching up with Daniel's friends, watching Eurocup soccer, and trying to learn forro (a kind of dance that sounds easy and is really hard for an American girl to master... my hips work on the same axis as my shoulders, whereas Brazilian girls seem to have separate motors for each). The very first thing we did, though, was eat, and I really didn't stop eating my whole time there. Three enormous meals and snacks every day! And because I was a guest, I could not get away without trying everything served. Woooh... it sure made up for any deficiencies in my normal diet. Anyway, this was overall the most memorable weekend of my stay so far, and if we do stay we will definitely have to pay a second visit.
Which brings us to the second topic: the choice. Our plane tickets have us slated to leave on July 21st. Cliche alert: it's gone by REALLY quickly. Between now and then, we need to decide if we are leaving or going to stay until December, when any English teaching jobs would require us to commit to. And speaking of those jobs, I've got one. If I take it, I'll be teaching 5-7 year olds. Fun!! That thought is really exciting, and it would be a challenging experience. But it wouldn't quite be enough to pay rent, so I'd need more work, and Daniel too. Then there's the visa issue. But then again, how can I ever turn down a chance to learn a new skill at the same time as being able to drink fresh fruit juice at every meal and eat chicken pizza?
For those of you also keeping journals, thanks for all the updates. Good luck with your camps, Jillian and Steven, and for anybody else reading, hope you are having a great summer :)
|Monday, June 28th, 2004|
|I know what Daniel did two summers ago...
... and soon I will know even more. We spent Saturday afternoon and evening hanging out with this summer's Amigos leaders, who spend the weekends in Natal. The rest of the time they spend going from community to community checking on the volunteers, of which Daniel and Steven were two in the summer of 2002. Meeting them was wonderful for several reasons; I don~t know what was better, the fact that they were mostly female (a relief after three weeks of doing boy stuff with Daniel and Sergio) or the fact that they were all quite accomplished folks more or less our age. There was another girl who had applied for a Fulbright and not gotten it, so we commiserated. Two other girls have English boyfriends and have recently visited England and plan to move there any which way they can. Several were recent college grads, and a couple actually had degrees in Spanish and Portuguese. Hearing how far they had come with the languages was encouraging to me. We spent all afternoon chatting, and I learned a lot about what Daniel~s experience was like two years ago. The day was capped off with a lovely sushi dinner. I know I am supposed to be making Brazilian friends, but it was great to meet some amazing people I could actually converse with.
Most importantly, we got the low down on how to get back to Daniel~s host community and made plans to visit this weekend. I~m excited to finally see the place I sent all those letters to, but I~m going to be extra sure to take mosquito repellent after hearing a few dengue fever horror stories. (Although I~m sure that~s still a picnic compared to what Jillian just went through!)
Also, the resumes are translated and we may begin pounding the streets as soon as tomorrow... scary!
|Saturday, June 26th, 2004|
Hi everybody! Sorry it~s been so long since an update, and sorry that this one will be short b/c of internet cafe clock ticking. Also, likely to be full of errors b;c of this portuguese keyboard.
Anyway, it~s been a rainy week but a good one. Both of us have finished off at least two books. We/ve also gotten a couple of beach trips in, including an attempt to teach me to bodyboard. All I have to say is, harder than it looks! Every time a big wave came my only instinct was to get out of its way, not hop on it.
We~re going to look for work next week and decide if we~/re serious about staying. That means an afternoon of translating resumes, after meeting up with Daniel~s amigos frineds.
|Monday, June 14th, 2004|
|Home sweet home? I hope so!
Okay, we've done it. We spent all afternoon yesterday apartamento shopping with the guidance of the Sunday classifieds, and came up with several good choices. The hard part was deciding between them. Each had several pro's and one big con, but the pro's and the con's were different for each. Ugh. We hemmed and hawed all night and listened to Sergio's two cents about what we should do. Then we woke up this morning and hemmed and hawed some more. Finally, we made a decision. The one we picked was an economical R$ 270 a month and in a relatively safe location (right next to the landlord's house which had the usual huge gate). The downside was it's small (very small w/ a double bed) size and the fact that it received almost no natural light even during the brightest part of the day. But we had made a choice, at last. Fifteen minutes later, however, we started second guessing. The leading second choice was a beautiful, big, breezy and full of light suite in a place called Chale Paulista. It costs about twice as much, but that's still pretty reasonable. The disadvantage for this one was its location. Most of the locals think the neighborhood is pretty sketchy, and Sergio was quick to warn us that we would not like the long walk from the closest bus stop at night. The owner, though, said she had never had a problem and she walked home alone from her job at the beach every night at 11pm. And she also said she'd never heard of a guest having a problem. So it seems that the place is not exactly in the worst part of the neighborhood, it's just right next to it. We had a long lunch at the local por kilo (place where you by prepared food by the 100 grams) and hemmed and hawed some more about whether or not we should change our mind. It was not an easy call.
In the end, as you might guess, we changed our mind. We're currently packing up our stuff and getting ready to head out. The prospect of living in a place that's sunny, open, and that we're actually excited to move into won out. We're betting that good sense and the occasional cab fare will help us avoid trouble. And the fact is, as Sergio would also readily tell us, that trouble really can happen anywhere and it's important to be aware at all times.
Our planned activities for our first evening in the new abode are making spaghetti sauce from tomato paste (a la cooking in Spain) and washing a week's worth of laundry by hand in our lovely outdoor lavanderia.
Pictures shall be forthcoming!
Liz & Dan
|Friday, June 11th, 2004|
Two days ago, I made a discovery that I believe guarantees our happiness is Brasil: MAGNUM BARS. Yes, they have them here too. Apparently only the benighted United States is forced to do without them.
Also, I've decided to share a little bit of the Portuguese immersion experience with you all. Here are a couple of important words to get started with.
"Puxe", prounounced pushy-- means pull, often seen on doors that only open one way
In a sentence:
If you do not pull when the door says puxe, you will look like a stupid American.
"Shopping", pronounced shopping-- means an American style mall
In a sentence:
I'm going to the shopping to buy a bikini.
See? It's not that hard! :)
The past couple of days have been filled with apartment hunting, some beach cruising, and lots of Brazilian television, which I excuse myself for watching because it's a good chance to practice listening to Portuguese. I've run across a lot of the things Daniel used to talk about- novelas, political infomercials, and Fama (a kind of super-duper American Idol meets reality TV). Last night we went out for some amazing pizza. I was skeptical, but chicken and creamy cheese really does taste good. I passed on the banana pizza, though. Maybe next time.
|Wednesday, June 9th, 2004|
|Wednesday: Hot, beautiful, sunny.
Things are going well down here several degrees below the equator. Last night we watched "The Day After Tomorrow" with Sergio (my friend) and his girlfriend Luciana at one of the malls in town. It was a good experience for Liz I think because she could follow the subtitled portuguese. It was a fun watch, and some scenes are unforgettable (americans fleeing to Mexico, the Mexican government closing the border, and only opening it when the President agrees to forgive all debt held by Latin American countries). If anything, the Movie proved that Natal is the right place to be, as it is far enough south to escape the dramatic changes in climates. Sorry Will, L.A. was indeed destroyed by large tornadoes.
We have already accomplished a couple of the necessary first steps: mainly we now have swimwear. And yes, they are small, but will fit right in.
The search for a place to stay continues, and we have some good leads. There seems to be a direct relationship between the rent price and the amount of sunlight that is allowed into the rooms. A good deal = very dark. A little more on the expensive side = sunny, bright and cheerful. So we might have to end up paying about 700 reais (appx $250) for a nice place.
Hope things are all going well,
many hugs, - daniel
|Monday, June 7th, 2004|
After an all night flight, a six or so hour layover, and another 3 hour flight, Daniel and I arrived in Natal yesterday. Even though I was exhausted, we managed to get in some sightseeing in after being picked up by Sergio at the airport. We took a driving tour of Natal and its surrounding beaches, which are numerous and beautiful. Daniel tried to memorize all of the street names on his first trip, but I kind of let it all glide by and sink in at its own pace. After the tour, I took a much needed nap before we headed out to watch Brazil v. Chile. It was a so-so game, but it was fun for me to get a small taste of how seriously Brazilians take their football.
Right now I'm comfortable being in a kind of clueless zone, which is good because I think its going to be awhile before I understand everything that's going on... if ever! As expected, I'm finding all this Portuguese pretty tough to follow. I do okay when Daniel's talking, but as soon as Sergio opens his mouth I'm a goner. Still, this isn't a bad feeling. The constant challenge of deciphering my environment, though it will probably become overwhelming at some points, is exciting and engaging.
There's another sunny day awaiting me, so ciao for now!
|Saturday, June 5th, 2004|
|T minus 20 or so hours
Okay, I'm just testing this out to see how it works. Not much to report. Packing is still in progress, but I've got a visa and a ton of sunscreen, so bring it on Natal.