You can read all the posts about Brazil in one place. I have edited them in to a small book. Available on Amazon.
Or what I have learnt about Japan in 4 months..
If you asked me what I knew about Japan before I arrived unfortunately I might have said, .”..don’t they have vending machines selling schoolgirls’ used knickers?” Within in this one misconception lie many layers of ignorance and assumption about Japan, technology and sexuality. It‘s a complex county and I have been here only for a short time but I’m already undoing many of my misconceptions.
There are many vending machines in Japan. They’re everywhere, but the majority of them sell drinks, plastic toys or ice cream. Some of them sell beer. A friend was telling me she questioned why the Japanese teenagers didn’t buy beer from the vending machines, they have no locks or ID checks, on them, “because they are not allowed to drink alcohol until they are 20” was the simple answer. They are not allowed to, so they don’t. This may have been a Japanese adult misconception too. I would imagine Japanese teens are sneaking beers out of the vending machines but I’m not sure.
But I am sure that if you put a beer vending machine in the middle of Lancing (where I used to work) the beer and quite possibly the entire machine would be gone within minutes, and the teens of Lancing would be partying hard.
I blame Bladrunner. Not once since I arrived have I been in a flying car zooming past huge neon billboards with beautiful women advertising exotic products. Instead if you can, imagine my shock at arriving and being given an apartment here:
I expected Gotham City and I got Jane Austen.
My need for neon led me to traipse around Tokyo seeking out ‘Japan’ and missing out the fact that I was right in the middle of the capital city. I was in Japan it just didn’t look like the 1980s vision of the future I had expected.
I have moved away from the countryside now and have a city view with a couple of neon signs visible in the distance. Please remember I had been living for two years in Sao Paulo where billboard advertising was mainly banned in the city.
Now I was in Japan I wanted NEON.
Not only does Sao Paulo have no outdoor advertising, Brazil also has a love of confusing and protracted bureaucracy, from the simplest task to complex visa requirements. My Brazilian Visa took 6 months to obtain, my Japanese one less than 6 weeks.
One night in SP I went out to see a band. To get a drink you had to queue 3 times, first to look at the drinks menu, then a new queue to order a drink, then the 3rd queue to pick up your drink order. Although Japan is thought of as super efficient sometimes Japan and Brazil are not so different. In the Japanese supermarket you put your shopping in your basket and take it to the till. They get a new basket and put your shopping very neatly and carefully in to a new basket as they ring each item through. You then pay and take this new basket to the special bagging area (supplied with additional packing materials) and unpack the shopping again to repack it in to your shopping bags.
In contrast to Brazil however, Japanese efficiency tends to work (Brazilian bureaucracy seems to drift round making you dance but is always presented with a smile). In Japan my train has arrived on time, every day, to the minute, without fail. No leaves on the line or excessive heat on the tracks causing cancellations like good old British Rail (RIP). When I arrived in the country they took my photo at customs (thanks, I looked great after almost 24 hours travelling) and created my resident card on the spot. My Brazilian card arrived just in time, at the end of my two-year visa. Japan is efficient? Yes. Over efficient? Possibly.
Ok, so my first Japanese apartment had a talking bath. It would fill the tub with exactly the right amount of water to the perfect temperature. I miss her voice reminding me to put the plug in. My new apartment has an ordinary tap and the only voices I hear are the ones in my head (you are dirty, you will never be clean…).
I had one Bladerunner moment. I was in an huge electronics shop in Kyoto over excited and overwhelmed by the displays of gadgetry, fingers itching to spend spend send spend. I had that too hot shop feeling when you have six layers on and your coat is too heavy. I couldn’t see the exit and I was starting to get panicked that I was going to spend two months salary on a pair of headphones. There was a female voice with a slow computerised British accent explaining the deals of the day. If the Terminator had blasted the Bose display in search of Replicants I wouldn’t have been shocked.
But I digress; the technology on sale here is fantastic. I’m sure my Epsom printer is capable of world domination once I work out what the hell the instructions are saying. Or maybe the kanji are just another reminder to put the plug in the bath.
But it’s just not quite as high tech as I expected. I noticed a pay phone on the train platform. Low-tech yes, but practical. It was the paper copy of the phone book underneath that disappointed me. Paper? This was not the technology I was expecting. Where were the robot butlers?
Japan has a love for paper. Not just beautiful handmade pages but cold hard cash. I have rarely seen people pay by card. This is a society that generally pays in cash. It’s so safe you can carry your wealth in paper form. Every note is pristine. This is could due to the Japanese government printing extra money to boost the economy or anther example of Japanese efficiency. Either way I have always had two purses. In Brazil it was one real purse, one purse to give to the robbers. Here it is one coin purse and one hermetically sealed note storage device. No more crumpled fivers shoved in a pocket, and Sellotaped and snot stained.
Those who know me well, know among the myriad of ways there are to annoy me, a good one is to call me cute. I am not cute I am a large loud mouthed woman who stomps around arguing unnecessarily. I’m still not entirely sure why I came to the land of cute characters. They are everywhere. I saw a Police van, presumably designed for rounding up rioters or drunks? Cute little police mascot stuck on the side.
I was expecting cute and crazy fashion everywhere. I was expecting kawaii girls. What I see in reality is endless streams of school children dressed in hideous nylon sailor dresses or navy synthetic round collared jackets. Japanese school uniforms look incredibly unconformable, impractical cheap itchy fabrics. But no pink haired crazy girls in cosplay. As I sit on the train in the morning most people look the same there is uniformity in everyday Japanese fashion that you don’t find in the UK. As I travel I realise my beloved Brighton is a place where anything goes and although this is sometimes carte blanche for middle class wankers to live out hippy fantasies it also makes for a more interesting train carriage.
As I attempt to assimilate in to another new culture I realise once again, that what I think I know I don’t know and what I didn’t know is probably a lot more useful.
Japan is fascinating and I am prepared to be surprised.
Not everyone owns a kettle. (Yes, Mother, there are some households where the electric kettle is not the first item unpacked in a move.) This may be obvious to you, it was not to me.
The owning of a kettle and the serving of tea runs though my English identity like blood or HP sauce. I have moved many times and each time the first thing I would do was get the kettle out. I have woken up groggy in unfamiliar homes and negotiated the kitchen, where are the tea bags? Which cupboard are the cups in, have they got milk? And usually managed to make myself a cup of tea. You arrive at my house, in tears, broken hearted, celebrating, confused, inconsolable, joyful, I will make you a cup of tea.
But this is not what happens in Brazil. When I left, I gave my colleagues gifts; Tetley teabags, teapots, cups and saucers, to make English tea. They asked me ‘what is the best way to make tea?’ and I told them, the water has to be boiling, the milk has to be cold. I had been given weak Brazilian chai preto in warm water with hot milk and this is not a good introduction to the healing wonders of a good cup of tea. Maybe I’ll buy a kettle, one of them said. Buy a kettle? You don’t have one? I was shocked, and this was after 2 years in Brazil, I still hadn’t got it, I still didn’t see.
Even, after two years in a new place I had still forgotten that what I experienced as commonplace, in my home, my friends homes, at work, with family, in England, this was not always replicated. Even when we seem so similar, even something as mundane as boiling water. Again, maybe obvious to you. Not to me. The big changes like language, food, customs were obvious, but we seemed to be generally the same. We lived in homes with running water and kitchens and bathrooms, we worked hard, we laughed, shared jokes, drank beer together. It was the smaller things I took for granted, that I thought most people would do the same way. But we don’t always, some things we do differently. Like boil water.
Now I am a foreigner again. In a new place and I am different to the norm. This is even more pronounced in Japan where my physicality sets me apart from most other women. I worried about this before I came and I still worry, sometimes. I worry that being too ‘big’ in almost every possible way is going to start to make me feel small and inadequate. My body is too big for most of the clothes sold here, my feet are too big for most of the shoes, my voice is too loud, my personality is too combative, I’m too abrasive, I’m not cute, I’m not married and I’m not a mother.
But I am a show off and this is what I hope will keep me safe. When I was a teenager I dyed my hair bright fire engine red. I clearly remember complaining to my mum that everyone was making comments about it at school. They are all going on about my hair Mum! That’s the point though isn’t it? She said in that infuriating -knows you too well and cuts through your crap- way, that mothers do so well sometimes.
That was the point and although my hair is now brown, that is still the point. I can manage being the foreigner and being different, because I am generally comfortable being different. I try to fight the fears coercing me to conform. It is inescapable that my passage to ‘otherness’ is eased by the fact that I am white and British. I am in a position of privilege, I recognise that too. Despite our astounding record for attacking other nations (we have attempted to invade all but 22 countries in the world, that’s a 90% record) The British are generally, welcomed and valued by the places I have been. So although I don’t usually believe in luck, I recognise, and am grateful, that the luck of my birth has provided me with a safer passage in to the world.
In Japan, I am aware that I am different but at the moment, I don’t feel too strange. Japanese people seem to ignore me for the most part, but that might be politeness. This studied nonchalance might start to grate after a while. I might want to be noticed, to be seen. I might want my separation to be openly acknowledged rather than silently observed. I might want to increase my volume, enhance my ‘Britishness’ to try and provoke a reaction. I might start writing with a quill, wearing a ruff, adding ‘forsooth’ to my speech. Maybe I’ll invade Luxemburg…
I am not afraid of being different but at times the weight of not conforming can feel heavy. I dislike the thought of being pitied or patronised. I dislike the idea that I could be looked upon as falling short or failing. The lines between what I want and what I think I want can become blurred by the expectations of others. To wake up a foreigner at 40 has helped. To be in a place where I am innately different makes it easier. My identity is already distinct from the norm.
In the end what I have really learnt is, some of us have kettles and some of us don’t but for the most part, we can still get hot water.
I have always loved to read. I was the typical kid, hidden under the covers with a torch, reading until late in to the night. I was such a reading geek that I categorised my books and made them in to a library. Made library cards for every book, arranged them in alphabetical order. Borrowed books from my own library, carefully writing the date for return on the card inside the cover. I loved libraries; I would spend lost hours in the school holidays surrounded by books, sitting in the warm quiet reading room in St Albans library. Snuggled in high backed wooden chairs reading, exploring, studying. That was a safe space, a solace from, a sometimes, chaotic world. I would escape by working hard on self-administered projects, reading and thinking, silent and at peace.
Even now any problem that I face, any worry, any questions I have, I seek the answer in words. The Internet has become my oracle. I can find almost anything I need to know. Painful Achilles flip-flop related injury? I can read about my symptoms and find some stretches to sort it out. Don’t know how to use my printer because the instructions are all in Japanese? Find a manual online. What do the lyrics to that song mean? Who is she? What film was he in? Want to read that book? Watch that? The list could go on and on. Now instead of the soft wooden silence of the library I get lost in the meandering reading paths of the Internet. Begin exploring one topic and it takes you on unexpected routes to another topic, until you find yourself somewhere totally different from where you started.
Reading was my safe haven and one of my super powers, until now. Now I live in a place where I can’t read. I can’t read signs, I can’t read menus, I can’t read labels, I even struggle to read facial expressions, social rules and vocal cues. I am one month living in Japan and I am confused! Not only have I lost my superpower of vocal communication, those charming words I would weave to get my own way, now I can’t even follow the most basic instructions, signposts or ingredients, and it’s excitingly baffling.
I am existing in a wonderful world of mystery and each tiny solution fills me with joy and pride. As I negotiate the subway system, find an ingredient and create a dish, nod and say “Konichiwa” to passers by. And yes, even put the right recycling in the right bag, out on the right day, and it’s collected, I feel braver and prouder than putting the rubbish out ever made me feel before.
So without the ability to read words, and a reduced ability to read faces, I have to rely on a whole new set of skills to make sense of the world around me.
A friend came over from England to visit, and I got to share these mysteries with him. Together we explored the enigmas of Tokyo. But as we wandered the city streets we found ourselves constantly exclaiming, “Now THAT looks like Japan!” at a congestion of neon and bustling streets or a sky rise juxtaposed with a temple. After a while I had to stop myself, what was I doing? I was spending more time looking for the ‘Japan’ I dreamt about that I had stopped looking at the Japan right in front of me. Why was there this need to find the Tokyo I had seen in books or films? The futuristic city from Bladerunner, the fictionalized version, when I had reality right in front of me?
When our other abilities are lost, the reading skills, the talking and charming, instead we search for expected realities, find comfort in seeing what we think we are going to see.
I understand this desire but this is an opportunity, I should be looking for the unexpected, taking pleasure in the surprise, exploring and absorbing. I have seen people arrive to overseas jobs full of expectations about the place they will live in, only to spend two years disappointed in what they find. There aren’t Brazilians samba-ing through the streets everyday, just as there aren’t robot toilets cleaning you up in every bathroom in Japan. We get to experience real life and it is still different and confusing and wonderful.
I know we want the tasty pieces, the morsels that give the fullest flavour. This is Brazil, this is Japan, this is England. But this is no holiday, this is real life and I want to enjoy my gradual absorption in to the world around me. I don’t want the Disney version, the sanitized cliché or the tourist presentation. I want to be here and live here and experience something that is different to my previous 38 years of existence in the UK. So I am working hard at leaving my expectations open, to try and experience the world as it unfolds in front of me, to taste every dish at the table and enjoy every mouthful.
I have been in transition, meandering my way across the globe. Fearlessly traversing the planet, I thought, as I was congratulated on my bravery. However, this courage was as real as the rich darkness of my hair. Fears hidden by naivety like the grey hairs covered up by Clairol Soft Mocha. I am not brave, I am stupid. I don’t think carefully, I blithely assume, I simplistically imagine that all will be well, I childish jump around in excitement without thought for real consequence or outcome. I ask not for sympathy for my ignorant state, in fact I think my ignorance gives me the power to move across the world and inhabit these new spaces. I exist in world of fake reality and it confuses the hell out of me…
So, I have left the fantastic toddler existence of my now beloved Brazil, stopped off for a few weeks in the rebellious teenager of Brighton and arrived in the world of the disapproving adult with a secret fun side, Japan.
I have been considering this extended metaphor of countries as an age. I loved the childlike exuberance of Brazil, that fun colourful world with an edge. Parts of Brazil were so welcoming and generous, like a toddler giving you their last sweet and pulling you by the hand to play in the sea, but turn away for a second you see that same child kicking a cat! Brazil intoxicated me with its playful sharpness. It was fun, it was beautiful but with an edge of uncertainty and danger.
When I arrived in Japan I was immediately aware that this was a place with many rules, that this was a place that was already looking down on me with a critical frown as I made terrible errors, such as placing burnable rubbish in the non-burnable bag. My early impressions of Japan spoke directly to my inner teenage rebel, making me want to giggle in a corner whilst surreptitiously doing something against the rules. I was immediately filled with recycling fear as colleagues told me horror stories of neighbourhood retribution at incorrectly separated recycling or, the horror… bags put out too early, dumped back on your doorstop with livid red labels letting you know you transgressed. Because I am new and I want to be respectful I worked hard on my recycling, spending hours arranging the rubbish, checking and rechecking, right bag, right time. Under my sink are 6 different sorts of recycling carefully separated, and correctly bagged. I creep out in the cover of darkness to put out my bags on the allotted day, still afraid I have made an error. But yesterday as I came home from work I saw my Japanese neighbour putting out their plastics, TWO DAYS EARLY. So what is real? What is the reality of the rules driven world I live in? I need to spend more time here to explore the factual.
When relaxing on the beautiful beaches of Rio we would sometimes play a game, ‘Real or Fake? ‘ Now, I am unashamedly a feminist and this is game which ultimately objectifies women’s bodies, perhaps the reality of my feminism isn’t a strong as I think it is? or perhaps it’s just a fun game to spot bad plastic surgery with your friends on a beach…? I feel like I am playing an extended game of real or fake as I attempt to link my experiences of living abroad together.
I left Brazil and returned to England, the two worlds had never really mixed, no one from the UK had come to Brazil and I hadn’t met up with any of my Brazil friends in my previous visits home. This time I was going to cross the streams. To use the familiar Ghostbusters metaphor, this crossing of the streams, this breaking of the rules could only have two possible outcomes; total disaster or saving humanity. As it turned out my stream crossing resulted in a few beers in the sunshine and people making jokes about collecting thimbles.
I was worrying about what was real and what was fake, the Brazil life still seems so unlikely, even after two years, that I had a suspicion that on return to Brighton I would find out that I had never really left. Perhaps this was a particularly vicious hangover and I had been sleeping and dreamt of a new life across the world, where I was braver, stronger and happier. In one full drama queen moment I suspected that I had almost died and that this was a form of purgatory or coma and that I might wake up back where I started not brave, strong or happy, just the same bored teacher in my castle above the sea. I worried that the friendships which blazed under the Brazilian sunshine, would crumble in the feeble British drizzle. I was in fear that my Brighton rocks, my wonderful long friendships, would disintegrate without me there to maintain them, that I would be replaced, forgotten or that my new life and old life would be incompatible and I would be left, spinster friend, reminiscing about the old days.
As it happened everything stayed strong but me. I squirmed my way through 5 weeks in the UK. Simultaneously loving being home, delighting in the people I loved the most, grabbing hold and pulling away, because I knew that around the corner was one more goodbye.
Because the reality of this life I temporality inhabit, this world where I am now a TCA, a third culture adult, takes hard work. I know others traverse the movements from one life to another with ease but I find it a constant painful wrench. The rewards are huge, the travel, experiences and pleasures I have found in Brazil, and already in Japan, are wonderful. The pride I feel in myself, and that I know others feel in me, make it worth it, but the goodbyes? I don’t think there is anything fake about these. They hurt every time. Every time I am transported to small child standing on the steps of school, saying goodbye to safety and security, stepping in to the unknown of big school. And like school, there is adventure and wonder to be found when you can be brave and let go of your mother’s hand.
I am ready to create new realities, but forgive me if I cling a little to my past too. I am going to fake fearlessness for a while, just until I feel brave enough for real.
I have cried twice since I left the house the morning, weeping as I walked to work. I gazed around me at the Sao Paulo sky, feeling the rain gently fall on my face. The day is so English, grey skies, drizzle, it is almost like I am already home.
I am feeling such a mixture of emotions today, my last day at work in Brazil. I am still overwhelmed by what has happened to my life, still slightly shocked by these wonderful changes. Utterly terrified that I am breaking the spell- that when I finally shut the door and say goodbye, it will all disappear and I will be back to before and will never have left England. I feel such sadness at the ending of this life that has grown over the last two years.
People ask, “What will you miss about Brazil?” I could say many things, Acai (delicious with strawberries and banana) or Guarana (a fizzy drink) or picanha (fantastic cut of meat) or the skies over Sao Paulo I love and have photographed endlessly. But I realised, as they asked, what I will miss most, or rather what I gained most, was connections. Not just connections but the intoxicating and joyful knowledge of the possible.
I moved 5000 miles from all I knew and found that despite fumbling language skills, different cultural references, different childhoods and different worlds; human connection is possible and in a moment the world became smaller and held me tighter.
I found this as a teacher with my pupils, found that despite all the differences between us my ´teacherness´ was now so much a part of me, it shone out of every pore. I supported some older students teaching English in a local school. I know that I looked nothing like the usual teachers who taught the local children. I could barely speak Portuguese, and they were fascinated by my nose stud and tattoo. Despite all these differences they still knew I was the teacher and when I gave them the `teacher stare` as they got too noisy, or encouraged them in my incomprehensible English our interactions were teacher and student, no different to my classrooms in the UK.
I felt it with my colleagues, my wonderful open, enthusiastic, warm colleagues. The fantastic department I worked with. I never would have believed that we could form such a strong bond. A Brit, Brazilians, a South African, a Columbian, a Belgium, an American, an Argentinean, an international group but with a shared passion for helping and supporting children. We connected and the connection is more powerful that I ever could have hoped for. I will miss them and I am eternally grateful for their warm welcome and heartfelt farewells.
And my friends… When I left Brighton I ached for my friends, missed momentous moments, birthday, births. Two years in Sao Paulo and I have found friends for life, friends who filled those gaps and will now leave me with new gaps. I say goodbye to our Brazilian life together with such sadness because these friendships, these connections, have been tied up with a new spirit of adventure, open mindedness, exploration and fun that has shown me a whole part of myself I never knew was there.
Ah yes, me, always at the centre of all my over-analysis. The biggest connection I made was to myself. In England amongst the stress and the hard work and the overwhelming frustration and sadness of my job, I lost sight of many things. Being here has given me back so much, creativity, language, music, energy, travel, courage and pleasure.
I am thankful that on that dark December day in 2010, I pressed enter and sent off the email that changed my direction. My finger hovered over the key and even then I knew that pressing send was the possibility of a whole new world opening before me. I took a chance, pressed send, and since then everything has changed.
So I finish this, my final Brazilian blog, enabled by my experiences here, ready to start to writing about Japan and the new challenges, adventures and connections I hope to find there. A friend described Brazil as my Kindergarten, preparing me for the next stage of my life. Giving me the tools to move to another new country. She was right, I wouldn’t have been ready two years ago. But I’m ready now.
This is to say one final obrigada to every Brazilian connection; it has truly been a most wonderful adventure.
O tempo não pára! Só a saudade é que faz as coisas pararem no tempo…
- Go home, you won’t miss anything interesting, you will probably want to miss what happens and anything really good will be retold in better, elaborated and more exciting detail the next day.
- Nothing really interesting happens when you’re not there anyway.
- Being a drama queen is a young woman’s game. It is relief not to be arguing, crying or kissing a frog. These days I can sit back, happily sipping strong alcohol and watching it all unfold.
- Hangovers are much worse, the only real cure is to drink every day.
- Friends are beginning to get real illnesses and warn you not to be unhealthy. You try not to drink every day.
- Finally give up smoking, miss it like a favourite pair of shoes because I’m still convinced it makes me cool and a bit of my personality is missing without a cigarette in my hand.
- Change is infinitely more possible than you imagine, nothing is stuck, you are not trapped and there is a multi coloured world of wonder to explore if you just get up, walk to the edge and jump.
- Don’t be afraid to be alone. It really isn’t as bad as you imagine and it is infinitely preferable to being stuck with an idiot for the rest of your life.
- Friends matter. Old friends matter. There is no one else like the people who have known you for a long time. People who have seen you fuck up, forgiven you, held your hair when you were sick and will pretend to forget your fashion errors from the 90s.
- You never feel like a grown up, you just get more lines on your face and more grey in your hair.
- All diets work, every single one no matter how ridiculous the instructions. It’s sticking to them that`s the problem.
- Also a problem is that one last delicious full fat meal on a Sunday before the diet starts on a Monday.
- Every Sunday.
- Anyway being too thin makes you look older, a bit of flab keeps you young.
- The world is full of beautiful and wonderful things to see and experience. Find them, look at them. I wish I had invested more time and money seeing waterfalls, mountains, oceans, cities and jungles.
- You won’t always wash your make up off before you sleep, you won’t always go to the gym, you will sometimes eat too much, talk too much, cry too much, laugh in the wrong place and kiss the wrong people.
- If you are not still doing these things at least once a month, you should be.
- A smile is a universal language. No matter what you are able to say or understand, a smile can take you pretty far.
- Pear shape is an offensive term. Everyone’s shape is differently wonderful and bodies have no need for fruit based labels.
- Don’t be afraid of dirt and mess. Life is grubby, enjoy it.
- You can’t control anyone else, what they do, what they say, how they think or how they act. All you can control is your reaction to them.
- Equally, no one can really control you. Refuse to submit, refuse to be manipulated, take your own path, make your own map.
- Whenever you can, replace fear, frustration, and disappointment with love. It brings amazing results.
- Sleep is fantastic but you can mange with less of it than you think.
- Women: if he tells you he is a bastard, chances are he really is a bastard and you won’t change him.
- Men: telling her you are a bastard doesn’t make it ok to act like one.
- Wear an amazing coat, and the rest of life usually falls in to place.
- Banana skins are the most slippery substance in the world.
- I am proud to call myself a feminist. This doesn’t mean I hate men I just don’t enjoy being oppressed by them.
- Have a voice, don’t be afraid to use it. Be loud, be proud. If anyone doesn’t like it fuck them. Refuse to be silenced.
- Your past might create you but it doesn’t define you. The possibilities for reinvention are endless. You just need the right script and costume.
- Being yourself is a lot harder than it sounds but it really is the only way to be.
- Never cut your own fringe.
- Try to avoid regret and guilt these are empty emotions.
- You might regret cutting your own fringe though.
- Embrace imperfection. Life is not symmetry and straight lines.
- Don’t open the door for me because I have a vagina; open it because it’s good manners. Good manners have nothing to do with your genitals.
- Sometimes it is just about the journey. The destination only matters when you get there.
- Everyone looks good in black eyeliner.
- Know when to leave and get going…
One of my more annoying traits is my childlike response to being told what to do. When advised not to do something my immediate response is to do the opposite. Nothing is more likely to bring out the teenager in me than well meaning advice. My usual reply would be “Don’t tell me what to do!” possibly with the addition of a sexual swearword…
As you can imagine this policy is not always the most productive. Well meaning advice is given for a reason, it is well meant and it is often thoughtful, kind and considerate. So to have a blanket refusal to act upon friends gently offered and sensible suggestions has often resulted in poor choices.
However, this does mean I can empathise with 14-year-old boys who refuse to remove their hooded tops in class. Although being an (almost) 40-year-old woman myself perhaps it’s time to grow up and stop rebelling? Strangely, despite my refusal to listen to others, I spend much of my working day telling people what to do and trying to sound like I am not telling them what to do. It is a fine line and one that I sometimes fall off.
This morning I was talking to a friend in England about a meal I had had and as I recounted the dishes a memory returned to me. Before I moved to Brazil I never travelled. I only listened to others stories of their travels and the food they tasted. I had one holiday in 10 years, a singles holiday to Crete; I don’t want to tell you what to do but NEVER GO ON A SINGLES HOLIDAY TO CRETE. It was not fun. There is an underlying air of sadness on singles holidays, which permeates everything. In particular, I remember looking over at the group of singles, as I downed vodka on my balcony to block out the experience. They were looking wistfully at the pool whilst drinking afternoon tea (provided free as part of the single’s package!). In the pool was a beautiful young Greek couple cavorting madly. The expression on the singles faces was doglike, that expression a dog has when you are eating and the dog looks mournfully at your plate like it’s starving. I had to quickly drink more vodka before I threw myself in the pool and attempted to drown myself under the lovemaking couple‘s contortions.
Whenever friends went away, which they seemed to do far more frequently than me I would ask them in detail about their travels and about the food they had. I loved to hear about it but I only lived vicariously through their experiences. I am sure than many of them told me what to do ‘You should go on holiday Luci.’ Or ‘Stop spending all your money on stupid crap you don’t need and go on holiday Luci’ or ‘Stop asking me questions about my holiday Luci I have been talking about it for 3 HOURS!’ I ignored them, because I won’t be told what to do and I continued to holiday in my own flat, avoid singles holidays and ask friends endless questions about what they ate. Till finally I realised that some of the advice was useful, that perhaps spending all my money on crap and never leaving Hove wasn’t the best life plan and I came to Brazil.
Even as I planned to leave, more advice ‘You’ll hate living in a big city’ or ‘You can’t runaway from your problems’ or ‘You’ll need to learn Spanish’ most of this advice was wrong. I love the big city, my problems are far more manageable with 5000 miles between us and I needed to learn Portuguese anyway.
This week, I have been working with another teacher watching his lessons and planning together. We have a tricky group, it is hard or them to follow instructions. As I watched his lesson I could see that the giving of instructions, telling the children what to do was at the heart of everything that could make the lesson work. If they didn’t know what to do they wouldn’t learn, they could feel stupid, they would lose interest and the lesson would be wasted. The art of giving of instructions, of telling someone what to do, has to be clear, make sense and be delivered without being patronising or demanding. Once we know what to do we can be so much more successful.
So, back to me, yes we had been off that very important topic for at least a paragraph. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do and even if I listen to instructions or let people tell me what to do I am still not convinced about the right course. I have an innate mistrust of what people say. Above all else I find it hard to trust my own instincts and judgements. I make mistakes; I have made errors many times. But to come back to a reoccurring theme, errors and mistake can lead you to new adventures and new beauty. I love mistakes in language; they create wonderful perfect descriptive phrases. I need to celebrate mistakes in my choices too.
So, we listen for instructive advice, ignore it, worry over it and dismiss it or follow it. Today it feels like a set of instructions to follow or ignore would give me a clearer idea of what to next, knowing what not to do can be as helpful as knowing what to do.
Please, dear friends, continue to instruct and advise me and I will try to ignore the teenage wail, which erupts at the thought of being told what to do and listen to my inner adult. Or I will ignore you, stamp my foot, make some bad decisions, laugh, cry, avoid singles holidays and see where I end up.
As my time in Sao Paulo draws nearer to its end I see the city transform before me. The once sinister and confusing cacophony metamorphosed in to friendly bars and smiling faces. Light seeps in to the darker places, infusing them with safety and normality. What once seemed so different, so other, is now mine, my own familiar world. No longer inhabited only by strangers, now friends and familiar faces.
On Friday I went out later than usual and on my own, travelling across the city in a taxi. A simple and common enough task in my old Brighton life. In that world I would zigzag the city throughout the night seeking out friends and entertainment until the sun rose and I found my way home. But not here, not in Sao Paulo. It was, in part, a conscious decision. The new lifestyle, the new me. But it was also fear of the unknown. I was afraid of so many things in this wonderful crazy city. Where I was going, how would I get there, would they rob me, shoot me, crash in to me. Danger lurked in every unfamiliar corner.
But on Friday as my taxi zoomed the busy streets and I remembered how I once was so afraid, afraid that it was dangerous to drive, afraid that I would be in an accident, attacked, lost, sold in to slavery, missing, murdered, remembered the doom scenarios constantly filling my gringo mind. Now, as the taxi made its way to a new part of this world I didn’t know, I realised, I was comfortable, and maybe that was why it was time to go.
When I arrived in Brazil almost 2 years ago I relished the unfamiliarity and challenge, I thrived on not understanding the rules or language. Now I contemplate a return to my familiar world in England I feel so sad to let it go. I have become addicted to unfamiliarity, obsessed with not understanding, proud of survival.
In my moments of homesickness I longed for the familiarity of home. The normal tastes of English food, sitting at the bar in a pub, my beloved and beautiful Brighton beach on a windy day, the friends who had known me for more than 10 years, they who had already forgiven me for foolish acts in my 20s and loved me in my 30s. On those days I craved familiarity. Sought to recreate a little piece of England in my flat, eating roast potatoes, drinking tea, British TV blaring, sending messages home, connecting to the familiar.
I have grown to love São Paulo. When I flew in from my last trip to Nicaragua I felt like I was coming home. I was coming home, home to my familiar life. I wasn’t lost or confused, I knew the route the taxi would take, I knew what to do, what to say. But a small piece of me is saddened by the loss of mystery. Of course I will never be a true Paulista, a Brazilian, totally immersed, but I can see how it would be easy to stay, I can see how I could adapt, that this could be home.
So I have decided to leave, I’m still not sure yet where I will end up next. I have been given a very dangerous gift. The gift of choice. I have a whole world to choose from. Safer now in the knowledge that I am able to make a home in amongst unfamiliarity. That I even enjoy the confusion and struggle of the new place.
I want my classroom too, to be a space filled exploration, discovery and unfamiliarity. I don’t want my classes to know what to expect when they enter the room. I want them to be occasionally surprised, shocked, confused and excited by the lessons. And I want this for myself too. I am most afraid of returning to the UK and returning to my old apathy, sunk in to a life of frustration and laziness. The electric shock of unfamiliarity Brazil gave me has bought me back to life. I think I need the unfamiliar to continue to feel alive.