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...

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