Saturday, March 29, 2008

Culture Shock Treatment. I've been feeling a bit down lately and not really known why. I'm no longer that interested in the novelty of being in Natal - instead of wanting to listen to Brazilian music, eat Brazilian food or read Brazilian news, I've found myself increasingly anxious to get hold of the English versions of all of the above. I keep thinking about getting back to the UK even though we've been here over a year and we will still be here over a year. One or two small things haven't gone my way which got me a bit down and, despite a great life here, I've sometimes pined for the smoggy, cold, hectic life of London or York. What's going on?

Even though I pride myelf on being a bit of an international boy, in truth I haven't lived for longer than 6 months in a row outside the UK since I was 8. Nonetheless, I do come from sturdy missionary stock. How did my great grandfather, my grandfather, my parents survive months in the bush with no contact with the outside world? I have quite a few things going my way - I am surrounded by colleagues and family who speak English, we have a nice place to live in a quiet neighbourhood and I am well connected with folks back home. Surely, I can do better than this?

Actually, I sometimes think that my being connected to life in the UK through the internet, friends visiting, phone calls or post is sometimes responsible for increasing my sense of wanting to be back home. Whatever it is, I chatted about it with Rach and realised something I hadn't even thought of: I'm suffering from culture shock. A bit late granted, and probably fairly mild, but it seems to be culture shock.

I saw it in dozens of international students - usually when they were half way through their stay in York (I've been here ages and I have ages to go!), often when they had had a few knocks and when the novelty of life in York had worn out and the lure of Mum's homemade Chinese dumplings was irresistable. Culture Shock is defined in various ways but this interpretation on wikipedia suggests I have passed through the honeymoon period and am now in phase 2 - the negotiation period.

As soon as I recognised I had culture shock I felt a lot better. Now I realise it's something to get through I've been listening to Brazilian radio, eating my beans and speaking my Portuguese with extra gusto.

A truly awesome day. Actually, thanks be to God, I had a really smashing day on Wednesday which has convinced me life in Brazil is managable and actually quite enjoyable. In the morning I had an English class with some of Natal's pastors. It's my most rewarding group as I really endorse their motives for learning and I am impressed with their commitment. We had a great time, we prayed together. They are learning the irregular past verbs in English (*see language note below). Pastor Gerson, a larger than life evangelist/preacher character not wholly unlike Roger Simpson, gets frustrated at his inability to communicate in English and often bursts out with anecdotes or jokes in Portuguese. After one of his stories, in which he recounted a recent trip to Spain, I said that there was nothing in his story he couldn't say in English. So, I stopped my lesson plan, and we worked through his little tale turning all the verbs into past ones. He seemed surprised and thrilled by the end to actually have aquired enough basic English to tell a story. At the end of the hour I spoke with them at length in Portuguese and realised that in comfortable vocabulary areas my Portuguese was close to fluent. They seemed to take this as an encouragement - if their teacher could learn enough Portuguese to get by, then one day they would get English.

At lunch I spoke to my folks on Skype. They are on holiday in the States and speaking to them is always a highlight of the day. After lunch Rachel took Nelson to his first swimming lesson and he loved it. I went across town to teach English to a group of Intermediate level teenagers who have been giving my gyp lately. The classroom we usually use - a big narrow, echoey room with a loud air conditioner - never helped matters, but the air con wasn't working and we were moved to another, smaller room. This changed the dynamic considerably and the rascals more or less fell into line and with a couple of running around games for the kinesthetic learners we were away, English was learned and we had a great time.

But, probably THE highlight of the day came five minutes after the end of the lesson. The language school driver had to take me and two others back across town to the other Cultura Unit. The driver is a certain Sr. Ricardo, an earnest and well-meaning man whose baffling Portuguese (**see below) sometimes confuses Brazilians yet alone gringos like me. He has a natural lust for life which he applies to everything he does including using the car accelerator. Anyway, as I sat in the vehicle and he pulled away, the car sound system was blaring out a jolly tune and Sr. Ricardo informed me that it was him singing on it. Unbeknownst to me Sr. Ricardo is quite the singer/songwriter in his spare time. He composes Christian worship music and he has a pretty good voice. His recordings are lively but, because of costs, most of the instrumentation has been recorded on a synthesizer. As we made the 20 minute journey across town, Sr. Ricardo, eyes popping out of his head in excitement, regailed with me with the story behind every tune and then proceeded to turn the volume way up - both in his singing and on the CD player. He suggested I teach him English so he can write Englsh songs and tour the UK. I honestly think he should! His enthuisasm would win over millions. At one point he introduced a song his wife had written and proceeded to turn on the in-car light to show me that the hairs on his arm were standing on end. I think mine were too. When we stopped at traffic lights, his hands came off the wheel and involuntarily started waving and swaying to the music. His God-given passion for praise was totally infectious and I stepped out of the car at the end of the ride with a huge grin on my face and the sense that I hadn't heard any music so refreshing and uplifting in a long time. It was food for my soul and I walked to my next class buzzing and vowing to get me a copy of Sr. Ricardo's album to a) help me learn Portuguese and b) help me get up in the morning. Bless that man!

* Irregular Schmirregular. If, like me, you learned your English by osmosis, you may never have stopped to think about our often bizarre grammar and conjugation rules. The past tense in English is soooooo much easier than Portuguese when all you have to do is add -ed to verbs such as play, want and walk. But, the irregular ones are pretty irregular as my pastors have been findng out. If bought is the past of buy, why not trought for the past of try? Or, if fought is the past of fight, why not lought for the past of light? Or, if taught is the past of teach, why is brought the past of bring and not breach? Or if eat is ate, why can't I say that yesterday I bate you at tennis but you losed at chess because I chate? Or, if sat is the past of sit, then couldn't fat be the past of fit? As in, she fat in the small space, and so on...

**A footnote in the open diary of how to (and how not to) get by in the Portuguese language. Apart from Sr.Ricardo there is another Brazilian whose Portuguese I find even more baffling. He also works at the language school. He is the janitor, a Sr.Joachim. When he speaks, he reminds me of the Octopus from Pocoyo. You need a black belt in Portuguese to understand him. The day I get his every word will be the day I see some winged pork chops flutter past the window.

This may be longest ever post. If you've got this far you're a saint and I salute your stamina...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A supplementary entry in the open diary of how to (and how not to) get by in the Portuguese language. Adverts are a great way to help with Portuguese learning. From the radio, to the TV, to billboards and magazine spreads, adverts are a helpful linguistic tool mainly because 1) they often involve smart/funny/repetitive language to draw your attention and 2) you know what they are trying to communicate already - namely: this product is good, please buy it.

Two adverts that I have seen recently have caught my attention and caused me to think about the Portuguese language. The first (above) is for a cell phone company. The slogan sinal de qualidade has a double meaning in Portuguese that is lost in a direct translation to English. This is because "sinal" is a very broad word roughly correlating to "signal" or "sign" in English but covering everything from traffic lights, road markings, telephone reception, sign post and brand logo in Portuguese meaning. Thus, sinal de qualidade is saying that VIVO is a brand name of quality AND gives you quality reception when you make a call.

Another advert I've seen recently is for EPSON, makers of computer printers and suchlike. Towards the end of their TV advert they have the word PENSO displayed on the screen which then rearranges itself into the brand name EPSON. PENSO means "I think" which is quite a smart slogan, I guess. It surprises me that a large international company like EPSON have a Portuguese-specific advertising campaign. Lots of other Multi-nationals (Colgate or VISA, for example) often import their adverts from the States with little adaptation to the Brazilian market. I suppose if EPSON wanted to repeat their little trick for the English market they would need to rename their brand KINTHI and then have the letters rearrange themselves to spell "I think". I don't think it's going to happen somehow.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter. We've been away in Joao Pessoa visiting Rachel's family over Easter, possibly our last excursion before the arrival of baby number 2. We had a great few days and enjoyed the luxury of the occasional lie in courtesy of Rachel's folks being on hand in the mornings. Lots of time was spent chatting away to squillions of cousins and Uncles and Aunts etc while Nelson entertained us. But, aside from that two highlights were 1) not losing my life on the dubious theme park big wheel 2) watching Daniel Day Lewis' Oscar winning performance in "There will be blood". I'd recommend it.

Back in Natal and we arrived here early enough for me to mop the entire house (because we had had it fumigated to get rid of the bugs before the baby arrived) and get ourselves up to our little church for a special Easter communion service. It was an apt way to finish off a great few days.

More news tomorrow.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Joy's interpretation of Natal. Joy had a watercolour set and put brush to paper a few times while she was here. Have a look at 12 of the images she produced. I think they're great! Apologies to Joy if these are not cropped in the way you wanted!

UPDATE: Something's wrong with the widget to do the slideshow but you can see it on flickr if you click here.

Nelson's new bed. Nelson has been upgraded from a cot to a bed - a big change in anyone's life, I'm sure. He was very excited about it earlier, but he has taken a long time to settle, unsurprisingly... it may be a long night ahead.

It really is a girl. We had another scan on Friday. Rach is carrying a 2 kilo baby (quite heavy for this time apparently). And the sonographer confirmed - it really, really, really is a girl.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"China in Box" and other amusing uses of English. The Brazilian fast food outlet which delivers noodles to your door, "China in Box" has started marketing on TV. What strikes me as odd is that they seem to be consciously aware that the name of their outlet uses incorrect English. The advert has a Chinese person speaking English saying "China in Box" in a ham accent, as if to reinforce the idea that missing the indefinite article is a problem far-eastern people make when using foreign languages. (Even the grammtically-correct name of "China in a box" is somewhat surreal). The irony, of course, is that most "China in Box" customers will be Brazilians who don't speak English and are unaware of what mistakes Chinese people make speaking English. Ultimately, it is an example of bad English out there in the real world which is bound to come back and bite me, an English teacher, where it most hurts: namely, in the classroom. I'm half expecting my kids to come up with abominal constructions such as "Renato in car" and "Larissa in swimming pool" and "Brazil in cupboard".

Speaking of dodgy English, have I told you the one about the local seafood restaurant who had their entire menu translated into English? Every single item came under the wily eye of some bilingual jobsmith. This included a translation for "Tia Maria" as, you guessed it, "Aunt Mary". It's enough to make you want to knock back a couple shots of... well... Aunt Mary, I suppose.

Lastly, hot-footing it on this hall of infamy, comes my new Intermediate class who took tests this week. To be fair to them, they are a bunch of teenagers who would really prefer not be in an English class (and I would prefer them not to be there) and are finding the jump up to this level quite tough. But, is this really good enough, I ask? I blame the teacher.

Complete the sentences:
The person in charge of a sports team is a c_______ .
Correct answer: captain/coach
Student answer: charger

Maria is on a d_______. She is not eating chocolate or sweets.
Correct answer: diet.
Student answer: delicious
Another student answer: deserts (I think Maria being "on a deserts" [sic] was the reason for the diet, non?)

My mother's new husband is my s_________.
Correct answer: stepfather.
Student answer: sister (WHATTT!!!???? The implications are terrifying!)

The brother of my mother is my u_____.
Correct Answer: uncle.
Student answer: uant. (Eh?)

So, I`ve got my work cut out this term, I can tell you.

Joy has left the building. And it's goodbye to Joy who was with us for 3 weeks. "Titia Doy" as Nelson referred to her, will be sorely missed. Next entry on this blog will feature some of Joy's artwork.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Things I miss about England #77: Teletext. It's faster than logging onto the internet for football results and more reliable than the Cable TV guide for finding out what's on.

Things I love about Brazil #82: Capeoira trousers. So nice to relax in!

More Haiku. A few more haiku poems from my students. The first one sounds like an advert from the tourist board, the second just sounds kinda painful...

Enjoy the heat
Sunbathe and sing
Brazil vacation!

Cold beer by the beach
Hot sunny day through my brain
Quiet and clear sea breeze

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Ode to Natal. To commemorate international poetry day later this week, students of English will be having a go at various poetic forms at Cultura Inglesa. I got some Master level students to write Haiku in celebration of Natal's beaches. If you don't know what Haiku is, it originates from Japan and is very simple. The basic idea is that it is 1) generally about the natural world 2) has only three lines 3) follows a pattern of syllables, the most common of which is 5-7-5 across the three lines. Fancy a go? Why not enter an internet haiku competition here for cash prizes here.

sunset landscape
bright and quiet sea
memories that I lived

pretty sunny day
fresh water through my fingers
delighting the time

feel the breeze
kissing your body
and just dream away

the lap of the sea
makes me fall to my knees
as the breeze touches my ears

coconut sunset
over the palm tree shade
and the day is gone

So, it's thank you to Andreza, Lianne, Valentina and Rafaela for those. And watch this space for more Natal-inspired arts later this week. Joy, who studied art at Newcastle, has been painting her way through her visit here - results will be on this blog first. What a scoop!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Things I miss about England #10: the pub. The pub is such an important institution in England - a warm and generally safe communal gathering area, now free of smoke. And they serve PINTS of beer at pubs, something Brazilians don't do on account of the hot weather allegedly warming the beer before you've drunk it.

Things I love about Brazil #89: Sitting outside on the street on lawn chairs. This particular social trait is more common in Natal than many other Brazilian cities. But, in the cool of the evening, you can stroll around the neighbourhood to find everyone - from grandparents to sleeping babes - propped up on lawn chairs, the awake ones having a natter. It may not be the pub, but I reckon it's the Natalese equivelent. Walking past people sitting on chairs outside houses is how you make yourself known (I imagine if I wanted to join the Natal mafia this would be how I would make a name for myself). One old lady who can always be found passing her rosary beads through her aged fingers occasionally takes it upon herself to barrage with me confusing stories in Portuguese. I take that as a sign of acceptance. Sitting on chairs in the evening is also a sure way to get the latest gossip and nobody is better positioned to do this than the bug-eyed lady with the poodle. I was passing a group of Brazilians huddled in their white plastic seats at the bottom of our road just the other night. I greeted them warmly and walked on. A few yards past I heard one old lady ask, "Quem é?" (Who's he?). And back came the response from the bug-eyed, poodle-owner "É o pãe do galeginho..." (He's the Dad of the little blondie). I chuckled as I walked up our hill. I may not be a somebody in Natal, but I am Nelson's Dad and that's good enough for me.

Three surreal things that happened to me at the supermarket. I did the weekly shop this morning. On my way in, I noticed that we had live acoustic music piped around the shop (surreal thing number 1). It wasn't the first time, but with his tambourine and harmonica to boot Mr. Natal (as likes to be known) was crooning away for the benefit of the happy shoppers. The 8am to 10am slot on a Thursday morning at Nordestão supermarket may not be headlining Glastonbury, but it's a start I suppose.

In the banana aisle I bumped into one of my students, a 20-something Master student called Alexandro. He was a sight - he had a large shopping list in one hand and an open bottle of beer, nearly finished in the other, whilst nudging an overflowing trolley with his elbow (surreal thing number 2). He explained he was in there doing the groceries for his Mum. I felt like asking him if the trauma of it all required the early morning alcohol intake. It seems to be more common in Brazil than in England (where it's just not proper!) to start consuming your purchases before the checkout and then passing the empty packets or bottles through the till. Sometimes I see people pick off a yoghurt from the cooler section and quoff it down on the spot. Even so, I'd never seen someone drinking shop beer at around 9.30am.

Out in the car park and as I was putting my bags in the car, I was accosted by a little lady who kept blowing me kisses (no joke, surreal thing number 3). She had a prepared speech and it seemed to suggest she wanted to sell me a small turtle for my son (she had seen the car seat). I was about to explain that we already had a turtle when she reached into her bag and offered to show me one. I raised my eyebrows, understandably - you mean, you have an aquarium in your handbag? I've seen many-a-thing stored in a lady's handbag but never a bunch of amphibians in a paddling pool. Well, it turns out I had missed the part of her spiel where she said "stuffed-toy" and "used to prop the door open". The item in question was a turtle-shaped, door-stopper. I politely declined at which point she blew me another kiss and told me to "stay with Jesus". I think she had spotted the fish logo on the back of our car and decided that she needed to use the religious angle to promote her product. Very odd, but perhaps it's something to tell the people on the lawn chairs.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The incident of the overfed turtle. Nelson is independent enough to spend chunks of time wandering downstairs by himself. Most of the time, he's pushing cars down ramps or watching Toy Story or something. On Saturday, Nelson was left to his own devices for a while and later on in the morning Rachel discovered one thing he had been up to - feeding the turtle. Nelson, who we let feed Guga a handful of feed once a day, had found the pot of food, untwisted the cap and poured the entire contents of the nearly-full packet into the little turtle's waterbowl. I guess, using the logic that nobody wants small rations of food they really like (for Nelson this would include yoghurt and chocolate milk), the toddler had decided to give his reptillian friend an eat-all-you-can feast. The result: Guga was carrying a 1 inch thick coat of dried shrimp on his shell.

A new class. One of the Cultura teachers has decided to leave and so her groups have been parcelled out to the rest of us. For me, a group of teenagers who are in Intermediate 1. It is probably the youngest group at the lowest level I have taught. Based on today's first lesson, it's quite a challenge.

Sand dune park - trip number 5. We took Joy to Genipabu and once again I went on the sand dune buggy ride with the gringo guest. This time, the driver drove "sem emoção" (without emotion) and took us on an alternative route through the park. The views, as usual, were stunning.