Tuesday, May 05, 2009

How I got to and back from CELPE-Bras: a mini-Adventure. Last post, I mentioned a bit about the CELPE-Bras test I took. Getting the paperwork sorted and getting to and from the test were not entirely straightforward processes. I couldn't do the test in Natal - the nearest federal university was in Paraiba, in the next state, in Joao Pessoa. Being a 3 hour drive away, I had to take a day off work drive down the night before, stay with Rach's family so I could be on campus for the insanely early start of 7.30 am.

The drive down took a long time. I had my Portuguese CDs blaring out dialogues through the stereo and when we stopped for half an hour because of road works I could even get my grammar book out and revise the 2nd and 3rd conditionals while we waited. At one point a whole village had come out to oggle us in our cars while we waited - I couldn't even see a reason for the stoppage: my best guess was that a tree had fallen across the tarmac. They are widening the road between Natal and Joao Pessoa but it seems to be a case of things getting worse before the get better for now, with traffic being fed through one lane at points on the route (Things I miss about England #97: motorways). We're into Natal's rainy season now (or winter as they call it) and so visibility was quite low in places slowing the traffic down further. I enjoy the drive though, not least because for stretches of it you feel like you're driving through the middle of nowhere (Things I love about Brazil #97: The Outback) and, even though the ride might not be as picturesque as the TILAB #40, it gave me plenty of chance to exercise the TILAB #'s 51 and 52.

Although they don't have Welcome Break service stations here (Things I miss about England #96: road-side services) they do have grilled corn for sale by the side of the road (Things I love about Brazil #12: grilled corn on the cob sold by the side of the road). As it was coming towards evening the enterprising lady with her corn sold me three cobs for 2R so I could clear out her box. A sure bargain although it was quite hard to work my way through 3 corn on the cobs. My jaw muscles ached the next day too - those husks were husky.

I stayed the night with Tia Claudia, Rachel's aunt on her farm with her family and horses, dogs, fish and othr critters. I love being out there - it's so peaceful and quite a contrast to the beach-centric side of Brazilian life. Having said that, the wet weather caused a surge of mozzies (Things I love about England #13: not so many mozzies) which had me slapping my ankles every 5 seconds as I tried to cram for the test. Also, I panicked at one stage as I realised I had forgotten to bring any tea with me. I'm partial to a cuppa and while in Brazil often have a longing for TIMAE #'s 8 with 16. Despite a couple of years of being cold turkey on tea, Rach and I are now back on the habit and if we don't get our early morning fix of PG tips it can leave us with some nasty migraines by lunchtime (Things I miss about England #15: readily available tea). I was not looking forward to having splitting headaches through my written paper so, mercifully, Tia Claudia found a box of Twining's Blackcurrent tea which made a nice brew and seemed to have done the trick.

Early the next morning Elyn (Rach's cousin) drove me onto the University Campus. I arrived before 7am to see sleepy students and professors overloaded with folders trudging in. The early start to the day suits me though and the sunshine at the time of the morning is glorious (Things I love about (the north east of) Brazil #55: All-year morning sunshine). I enjoyed being back on campus. I felt a strange longing for Heslington and the university of York. Perhaps there is some sort of essence of campus which doesn't change across the world: the pro-marijana posters, the students sitting around picnic tables, grafitti in the toilets, pokey offices belonging to eccentric lecturers whose doors are plastered with flyers for this and that conference, the prevalance of cats... Wait a minute? Cats. This was definitely a novelty for me. Whereas we had ducks in York, Paraiba university has loads of cats around the place. I guess they keep the vermin down. Anyway, I like cats and I appreciated them being there - it gave the whole campus a very homely feel (Things I love about Brazil #94: cats on campus).

After my written paper it was lunch time so I went for a walk to find a supermarket to get some lunch. By the time I got there and back I had probably only been walking for half an hour but I was as hot as a pig on a spit. Now, I'm a fan of the hot weather hear as much as the next man but in the middle of the day it can get unbareable (Things I miss about England #81: not needing 3 cold showers a day to stay fresh). So, a rather sticky me took the oral test in the afternoon, then I drove off to find Rach's family. Rach had driven down with the kids so they could see their cousins Mel and Johnny in JP. She came with her folks in another car and again I found myself thinking how great it was that child safety laws were slightly less stringent than in the UK (Things I love about Brazil #83: kids don't have to use car seats up to the age of 11!) so that they could all fit in one vehicle with the kids sitting on laps. I'm all for child safety, don't get me wrong, but I think the UK laws need to be rolled back a bit in favour of letting parents take their own common sense decisions on this (hear, hear!).

We all met up for a great meal at Mangai, our favourite restaurant for regional food and then piled back to Rachel's Uncle's house for the night. Unfortunately, there were several city-wide power cuts which made for an interesting drive home (no traffic lights working) and a pretty broken night as we tried to keep the kids cool without air conditioner (Things I miss about England #25: less power cuts). The next day we visited several of Rach's relatives and made our way back together. But, all in all, the whole couple of days were excellent and worth doing - mainly because, when all's been said and done, I've really enjoyed learning the language of my wife and her family (Things I love about Brazil #7: Portuguese).


Claudia said...

Dave, it is amazing!! Você escreve bem demais! Me senti parte de um best seller!! incrivel como você consegue descrever atividades simples como se fossem tão especiais, e contar sua experiencia aqui no Brasil com detalhes inusitados transforma esse blog num livro muito gostoso de ler.
Fico feliz que o chá ajudou.
Tia Claudia Gueiros

Jim said...

Hey Dave... great story!!
I am thinking about coming to Brazil to take the CELPE-Bras in April of this year.... I would love to be able to chat a bit about it with you, if you wouldn't mind. I'm a bit nervous about the whole thing in general. Thanks!! God bless...