Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Look at the Fish

ON the way up the mountain, as the four of us rounded the bottom hump of an S curve and watched the valley deepen, I saw a betrayed friend retaliate. The sky was perfect; it and the earth seemed to be holding hands off in the distance, and the trees looked like curtains blown back a little here and there by the wind to show a house, a peek at a lake, and then a little girl in pink with her right hand held high and her left shoulder dipped toward the ground. Her dress stood out against the white poofs of stuffed animal innards spread about as if the mighty jaws of a beast had gripped the jugular of and thrashed a once loved “Beebo,” or “Elvis, Jr.” vigorously side to side in a triumphant assertion of “No.”

This little girl, maybe seven-years-old, held the husk of “Beebo” in her right hand, her brows inched toward each other, her jaw locked, her nostrils flared. What had, upon cresting the curve, looked like a peaceful snapshot of childhood life atop a mountain in the Brasilian countryside: a white cockerdoodle resting on his belly, paws extended comfortably in front of him, a farm house against the backdrop of blue sky and cumulous clouds, a little girl playing in the yard, turned out to be more a scene of vehemently violent vengeance enacted by a daughter scorned. A moment before the trees returned to obscure my view Beebo, in a flash, fell toward the cockerdoodle’s crown, and for his part, the cockerdoodle blinked and shook his head as one who has been hit with a pillow would. The little girl put her hands on her hips and we turned another curve.

My trip has been full of moments like this one with the girl and her dog. Things seemed like one thing, maybe the way I expected to see them or the way they often are at home, and then when I kept looking, I’d see that the scenario was a bizarro world version of what I’d envisioned. I’m reminded of an article I read at Columbia College about a novice scientist in a lab who had to keep looking at and taking notes on the same fish for weeks. Initially, he argued that nothing had changed, that he had understood everything upon first inspection. But the longer he spent in the lab looking for patterns the more he saw what he had missed.

I’ve talked to all of my immediate family, and all of them have asked me the same questions: did you get what you wanted? did you learn? Initially, I don’t know how to respond other than to say, yes. It isn’t that I don’t know what to say because the truth isn’t obvious to me, it's because the truth is overwhelming—I’ve learned more than I can say. Did I get what I wanted? Yes, I think so. I got to see a new place and a new people. I got to learn some of a language. I got to run a writing program and develop a curriculum. I worked with a population that is important to me. I successfully completed a difficult adventure. I wrote (though I did not finish a draft of a book), and I revised. I thought about how I want to spend the next 5 years of my life, and I am physically healthier. I spent some time with the ocean and some with the mountains. As a bonus, I got to be really quiet for months. I’m not an extrovert, I like solitude and silence; I feel nourished by those things, so I feel lucky to have had the onus of listening way more than I talk.

Funnily enough, that’s how language acquisition works, too. Kids and adults alike learn more than they can say. When I think I’ve understood a conversation, I stop and notice the slang, the idiomatic expressions and those things transform the conversation entirely. While I stare blankly and process I get to see an entirely reconstructed version of the same story.

A while ago I talked about this new solitude that I’ve developed since I came here. This solitude amplifies the stories I hear from other people, and it prunes small talk. It takes work to speak and to listen so I don’t say anything extra.

Since the people I see everyday don’t speak English, I can’t go to them to discuss ideas (not complex ideas) because I simply don’t have the words to do it in Portuguese. As a result I don’t have anyone to bounce them off of—I have to decide all by myself. I

I wanted to write about living with host family and how that has made me think about: being an adult child, what a 40-year-marriage looks like, taking care of one’s parents, losing a parent, and having a home in the same city for all of your life.

I haven’t lived at home for 8 years, and living with this family (an adult son and his 70s-ish parents) coupled with talking to some of my friends about how our parents are graying, slowing down, becoming grandparents, getting sick…dying has made me think more about my family. There is an amazing British comedy called Spaced (which is obviously my life) and in one of the episodes leading to the cancellation (bah!) the main characters talk about the idea that friends are the modern day family, and that works for people until all of their friends start to get married and have kids. Then heredity and familial politics take over. I still haven't developed any intersest in creating my own family, but I want to live closer to the one I came from.

I don’t know ya’ll. I;m going home tomorrow, and I can't answer the question that keeps coming up today: how do you feel about it? I can say that this space has been a comfort. I needed the feedback. Thanks for listening to me try to figure it out. I hope you were at least a little entertained. I hope you liked the pictures. I really appreciate your getting me here and supporting me through it. See you soon.

big love,


Monday, February 8, 2010

vamos pra a praia?

yes, of course/claro que, sim.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Roughly 30 days left

I had hoped to spend some time travelling around the country, but I've been restricted to the south. That's okay. It is beautiful here, and I've, instead of doing the tourism thing, made a routine that shows me that I can acclimate to a new place, make new friends eek out a little pocket money and be generally content. That's nice to know.

I'll be heading home in roughly 30 days. The idea of reentry is daunting. How will I react to everything being the same? How will I react to things being relatively easy (i.e. language, cultural mores)? I dunno, but if I can get through being foreign here in Brazil, I can deal with feeling foreign at home.

I've been slacking on the blog because I'm officially in vaca time. It's been a particularly quiet time. I'm applying for a job, and trying to prepare a soft spot to land in when I reenter the Chicago winter. I've become a facebook addict. It's kind of disgusting.

I could talk about why I decided to go home in February, but the reason is simple. I want to make a home, and I want to do that now and in Chicago.

MW asked how the book project turned out.

After everyone had finished their covers and their texts, I assembled the individual books and presented them as presents at our holiday party. Each person showed his or her book to his/her peers. The effect was that each felt noticed and listened to. I'll make a simple anthology, but the funding for the group itself was cut in the last weeks of December so I won't be able to deliver indivudual copies. Still, I will send a copy to the community center. Hopefully, they will be able to pass them on. Now, I'm translating all of the texts to English, for the heck of it. I'll journal on it a little more. The project could be easily adapted for any age group.

Unfortunately, because of severed ties with J, we won't be able to publish it formally or informally with UFRGS, but worst things have happened.

speaking of publishing. check out this press

because soon my words will be on their pages.

later ya'll

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

hello blogosphere

I'm still alive. The holidays were very quiet. I'm going back to Chi in Feb. I have no idea what will happen next, and I've made my peace with that.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Should I stay or should I go now?

My project is winding down. Yesterday, the ladies had their end of the year party. We danced Samba (they were pleasantly suprised to find that the gringa has rhythm), and ate cake. Everyone received and shared their books. I'll compile an little anthology for them as a new year present. Sucks to having a falling out with your university contact.

All of my fellow exchanges are preparing to run around the country to see the Northeast, Rio de Janeiro, the beaches, Carnival. I'm trying to find a farm a short bus ride away from a beach. Christmas and New Year will be quite for me this year, but I think I'll have a good time.

Ok. So I can stay here for an additional 3 months, and teach some very basic English to people who don't have much. I won't be paid, but I will have free room and board and transportation. Part of me really wants to go home and establish a long term home for myself. Another part of me says, it's not everyday/lifetime you get a chance to go learn from some people whose lives are vastly different from yours. And isn't part of this "experience abroad" about shifiting your own ideas of what you need--getting outside of the comfort zone? And didn't you come here to help? I think it would be helpful to give audience and new tools (barebones english) and the novelty of newness/foreigness to poor people (or anyone else).

My friend, Felix, said (in response to a completely different topic): the question we always face is this: how should we respond to our current situation in order to make it better? instead of dwelling on ourselves and our feelings, we should focus on our context and how it might benefit from our presence.

How frustrating that reality isn't static. The idea imbues us with so much responsibility. It means that we are not objects subject to some unfotunate and permanent way of being, but that we have the choice to change. And we all know how uncomfortable change (and necessarily(?) sacrifice) can be. So now I have to answer the ever present question. How should I respond to my current situation in order to make it better? How can my current context benefit from my presence? Well, I could spend some time talking to young poor people about how the world is in other places so that they can generate new ideas about what reality is--imagining is the first step to creating, right? This is why we value teaching kids, right? They have time that old people don't have to recreate the world--to develop it.

And why is it important to do this work here instead of say, teaching Portuguese in Chicago? It's important because English is a language that is spoken all over the world, not only in Mozambique, Angola, Portugal and Brazil. It is important because I am not foreign at home--I do no represent a far off and "exotic" place, and therefore do not function as a fixed point to give perspective on the breadth of the world. Of course, I'll continue working in literacy/writing/education when I get home. We have poor kids, too. So, if I can pull it off, I'll stay here for 3 more months, and then I'll head to Chicago for a little while to see if I can get a really amazing job/volunteer with this organization. If I get it, I'll do cartwheels and settle in for a while. If I don't I'll head to Virginia, to regroup.

Besides, this way I don't have to be in Chi for any of winter. Holler.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Not amazing

but I wrote it, and it's on a 501(c)3's blog.


Favellas, Catholic Church, Afro-Brasilian Mysticism, Etc.

When I leave my bedroom in the mornings I open my door to find a diminuitive woman in her late sixties. Sometimes she's watching TV. She watches 30 minutes of church every morning. Sometimes she's walking around talking to someone that no one else can see. Other times she's laughing along with children's cartoons or waving her hands in the air as she dances alone in the quiet of her living room. Today, when I opened my door, prior to being electrocuted (not death penalty style, but with a sudden jolt of energy as I tried to turn off the shower), I saw her being laid hands upon by a woman who practices some sort of energy moving/healing technique. The music in the background was akin to the sounds of Enya. I live in a Catholic household, but Catholicisim in Brazil has some very close ties with Afro-Brasilian mysticisim.

Carlos, the adult son (he's 40ish) of my new host parents (o pai rises early, retires early, and spends his in between time cooking in the kitchen and chatting with people in the street), is a simple man with a lot of love in his heart. On Saturday he took me to meet some people that he thought might be good connections for me, and who are also his friends. We went to Ilha da Pintada, to attend a women's ministry group which feautred a panel concerning domestic violence. The discussion was an active attempt to inform abused people about their rights outlined in the Maria da Penha law. The chapel is located in a favella (a community of homes built out of whatever people can find--discarded doors, rope, laundry lines, scrap wood and scrap metal--and peopled by folks whos main source of income is gained by collecting the trash from around the city: cans, cardboard and plastic.) just at the edge of the lake, and is mostly windows. The favella is just opposite a very wealthy neighborhood that you can see in pictures like the one to the right (which incidentally, I did not take because my camera is broke-ass). We were lucky, that some of the lake water had receeded since last weeks rain. The group of women (and Carlos) ranged in age from 2-70, and thing that was most touching about the whole event is that at the beginning of the service each person had to get up to hand a "peace candle" to the person at his or her right.

After the service Matilda, an organizer for Movimento Sem-Terra, asked if I would be interested in working on a program to teach English to the youth in the favella starting with 3 young people that she knows. I could stay for any where between 3 more months to a year. So I'm thinking about it. Before I left, I was told that poverty here is like nothing I'd ever seen before, and it's true. Favellas are the biggest open secret in Brazil. But despite the rampant drug and sex trafficing problems, the majority of the people living in poverty are honest hard working, family oriented folks who simply do not have access to education or a social system designed to serve them. So should I stay here and align myself with education and workers rights movements, or should I go home and do the same type of work? My method of fighting the good fight wouldn't change--I'd still be working in the field of literacy, but I'd be doing in a developing country, along with my own foreigness. Thoughts? I'd be glad to discuss. Especially if anyone has something to say about Paulo Friere--I was bound to get around to reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed sometime, right?

While I'm still in the shadow of decision: first stop, organic farm, next stop the beach, then World Social Forum and then The Future. I wish it would stop doing all of this looming.

I will assume that I am now writing to the ghosts of people who used to read this blog. Big love, ya'll.