Friday, March 30, 2007

Blu-Tac update. Big thanks to Danny and Caz Byrne for sending me Blu-Tac (the shortage of which in Brazil was covered on this blog) and also for sending me curry from Rafi`s

The Mystery of the Noise at Night... Solved. One night last week, at around 4.30am, Rachel and I and Mark (but not Nelson, thankfully) were awoken by some beast growling in the street outside our house. It approached slowly and the noise it made got louder and louder until it felt like an airplane was about to land in our bedroom. We rushed out to the balcony to see what on earth it could be only to catch sight of a small pick up truck rounding the corner at the bottom of our street.

Rach (not one to be woken at 4.30am) muttered Portuguese expletives and went back to bed. I stayed awake and watched the mysterious pick up make a return a few minutes later. To my surprise it was a council van with two guys serenely sitting in the front and a contraption not unlike a machine gun pumping gas onto peoples' houses. This was what was making noise. Why the council should be pumping gas at private homes at that time of night at that volume was beyond us. (It sounds like the hobby of a crazed James Bond villain).
And furthermore, why did none of the other residents wake up or complain? So, before Rach had the chance to call the council to have a rant we asked some of the folks round here what was going on...

Basically, the council are spraying some anti-dengue chemicals. Dengue fever is a nasty illness transmitted through water and this gas can help deter it (somehow!). The council can`t spray during the day in case the gas is sprayed into peoples faces on the street - so they do it at night. Now we know, but it`s still a bitter pill to swallow when you`re already sleep deprived. Just ask Rach.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Flashback to February. I meant to post this a while ago - reviews of two gigs we went to in Recife. More news of Natal next time including the story of the noisy council workers who spray chemicals outside our window at 4.30am...


We’ve been fortunate to see two decent acts performing in Recife recently. In the Green corner representing Brazil, the very talented and highly popular singer/songwriter Marisa Monte who played Recife’s largest indoor arena, the Chevrolet Hall. And in the Red corner representing England, Quentin Nial Cook aka. DJ Norman Cook aka. Fatboy Slim playing a free open air gig as part of his Brazilian tour at Marco Zero in Recife Antigo. So, who came out on top – the best of Brazil or the best of England?

Marisa Monte
Four of us went to this – Mark, Rachel, Amy and I. We drove in as the arena comes with ample parking. Sadly, about half a km away, we got stuck in horrendous traffic and remained stationary for an hour. We eventually parked up on a side street and walked. It turned out that one section of the arena had been rented out to a Christian Convention so parking was at a premium for everyone!

Still, we were pretty confident we would see all of Marisa Monte’s set seeing as Brazilian performers don’t take to the stage until very late (see Caetano blog just before Christmas). Unfortunately, Marisa had come on relatively early and we only caught the last 45 minutes. It was great stuff though – she had a full string section, the stage lighting was amazing and she finished with a lot of her famous songs, including some numbers from her time as a member of the trio ‘Tribalistas’.

Fatboy Slim
On Feb 1st, Mark, Amy and I and a few CELTA graduates piled down to Marco Zero in the old part of Recife to see Fatboy Slim play for free. It is very unusual for Recife to host such a big star – especially for free – so the old area of the city was swarming with some estimated 70,000 people despite it being a Thursday night. There was no way we were going to miss the start of this set as Fatboy Slim didn’t take to the stage until 12.30am. He energetically rattled through some of his songs and a few of his own mixes of the likes of Daft Punk, Gorillaz and Groove Armada.

At around 2am, in full flow, the power cut and the emergency lighting went up. Norman Cook was not impressed and eventually left the stage. We took this as our cue to go home (along with several thousand others), so it was a disappointing end to the night. When we eventually found a free taxi (at around 3am) we could hear the distant noise of the concert cranking into life once more. So the power must have come on and Fatboy will have fired up his decks but by then we were too exhausted to care. Shame really, as it would have been good to hear his big finale.

In conclusion... don’t expect things to be straightforward when going to concerts in Brazil. Expect the unexpected. In terms of MM and FS we missed the start of one and left before the end of the other. Both performers were in fine form when we did see them though so we’ll call it a draw – a fair score for both of 3 out of 5

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The inside of Brazilian hospitals. Well, see last email about "normal life" but it ain`t happened yet. Down in Joao Passoa on Sunday to visit Rachel`s family and Rachel`s Mum fell ill and we spent the rest of the day in a hospital. (She`s doing fine now, by the way). We stayed the night down there and came back up to Natal on Monday cutting it fine for teaching English in the afternoon and evening. And then this week Nelsinho has picked up a fever possibly related to his having new teeth coming through. So, we`ve been off to the Docs again and he isn`t going to play group. Maybe next week things will be normal (!). On the plus side, we have lots to thank God for - family about, good hospitals and health plan (more than can be said for the majority of Brazil`s citizens)...

International Students - you can`t get away from `em. As Alanis Morisette incorrectly sang, "isn`t it ironic?". Having worked with International Students arriving in the UK, I now am working with International Students about to leave to the UK and the USA. In order to study abroad (esp graduate degrees) many universities in the USA, Europe and Australia require Students to have a TOEFL qualification. Basically, it`s a blimmin hard standardised test which shows they have good enough English to survive at uni. What`s more is that the test costs US$150 each time you take it and even if you pass, your qualification is only valid for 2 years. The test itself is 4 hours long and entirely internet based (including speaking where candidates talk into a computer). Anyway, I`m teaching/coaching about a dozen prospective students here, young people all itching to be international students in places just like York... So while you contemplate the benefits of being born into a society immersed in the most widely used language in the world, spare a prayer for Dory (who speaks 3 languages) who takes her test (at the 3rd attempt) this Saturday.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The threat of normality approaches. After what has been an exhausting few weeks we are approaching a state of normality. One suspects that in Brazil and in the Barlow family there is no such thing as "normal" but at least the week has a recognisable routine. My driving license has been translated which means I can take Nelsinho to play group in the morning... we have a wardrobe for our clothes and our suitcases are finally empty... we have a church to go to... I roughly know how to do my job... all our books are in a new bookcase... my arm is better...

But then, Rachel forgot to wear her proper shoes today and came to work in flip-flops... Nelsinho is about to walk which will result in unimaginable chaos... the nearby Catholics are singing vigils all night... there are plans this weekend to maybe do a road trip to visit the family in Joao Passoa... Amy`s friend is over from the UK... what was that about approaching normality?

Things I miss about England #14: Pedestrian crossings. Brazilians, and especially the Natalese, cross roads with no regard to oncoming traffic. We live close to a bus depot and every time we drive past various Lemming-like Brazilians will leap out from behind buses into the path of our speeding car. It`s not always easy to spot them when you`re concentrating so hard on not hitting the cyclist with no lights riding towards you on your side of the road. Anyway, these pedestrians won`t stop, speed up, shout or even acknowledge us. They simply saunter across the road like they own it... Ironically, Brazil does have zebra crossings. It`s just we`ve never seen anyone use them.

Things I love about Brazil #41: Hybrid cars. Our car runs on Petrol and Gas. Gas is far cheaper and better for the environment. We have a cannister in our boot which we have to fill up twice a week. By the steering wheel there is a switch to alternate between the two types of fuel. The downside is that with gas the car has the acceleration of a recently fed tortoise. Still, Brazilians are pointing the way for the future on this issue. Brits are much slower to catch onto new technology, I think.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Ups and Downs... I just sent this email out to a few people.

Anyway, the good news is that I have passed my MA in Conflict, Governance and Development with Distinction! (PhD here I come - only joking! Seriously, only joking!). This summer was CRAZY with the birth of Nelsinho but God has really helped us through it...

The sad news: We have shed a few tears this week as we heard the sad news that Krish Rockley died on Monday. Krish was the wife of Paul, my Supervisor with Friends International and she had been battling brain tumours for several years. She was only in her 40s and leaves two kids under 10 years old. So please pray for this wonderful family. Rachel and I are really gutted by this, as they were very good friends and very inspiritational people. We know she is in a better place free of pain for which we praise God.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Things I miss about England #12: Blu-Tac. Blu-Tac is to teachers what fingers are to pianists... essential pieces of equipment to do the job. In Brazil you can't get Blu-Tac so many English Teachers ask their friends to bring it from the UK in their suitcases when they visit. It is then sparingly used and re-used and saved and salvaged as if it were in actual fact Gold-Tac. You can get White Tac here but it just don't cut the mustard...

Things I love about Brazil #47: Tapioca. We have discovered a local store that specialises in authentic, home made Brazilian foods. It's sort of like a Deli with cheeses, nuts, cakes, meats, local alcohol (which would probably make you blind if you drunk it straight!) and above all Tapioca. Rachel has introduced me to the delights of cooked Tapioca with melted cheese, condensed milk and coconut shavings. It may not sound like it, but this is in actual fact irresistably delicious.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Shoulder update. Shoulder is getting better, is out of a sling and is performing small tasks - thank God. Strangely, a dislocated shoulder has affected my ability to speak Portuguese. I've found that physical ailments that have knocked my confidence (including being ill before) cause me to retreat into myself a bit and reduce my propensity to take risks. Hence, not speaking Portuguese. Rach says that psychologically this has something to do with my Mum being a nurse... don't quite understand but you can email her for more details.

Nelsinho nearly graduating from Baby Uni. N is practicing at great length the three major baby skills he has not mastered - walking, crawling and talking. He's turned into quite a beafcake and is already in hulk-like fashion out-stripping his 9-12 month outfits when he is only 8 months old. He loves his playgroup Primeiro Passos (First Steps) and I reckon he is being challenged by his peers to learn to crawl - thus, all the practicing on our floor in the house when he gets home.

Church in Natal. Natal, being a slightly sleepier and smaller city than Recife, shuts down from about 2pm on Saturday to 5pm on Sunday. Most shops close, and importantly no churches have Sunday morning services! Mark and I tried to go last Sunday to visit Fernando's church. F is a teacher at Cultura who lives a little way out the city. Mark and I set off at 6pm and tried to follow the signs to his town but ended up "Macluring" it out of Natal, through some villages in the middle of nowhere in the pitch black until 1 hour later we made it back to Natal from the opposite side. We had done a huge Uey and wasted a lot of gas. As Mark pointedly asked: "When we were playing football in the playground aged 11, did you expect us, 15 years later, to be driving together at night, lost, through the Brazilian outback?" No, Mev, can't say that I did. So still no church yet but we're working on it.