samedi 12 février 2011

A Tropical Storm in a Teacup

Reading on the Hot-ometer: 110%

Number of escapes from potentially savage beasts: Several

Number of mosquito bites: I look like a teenage cheetah with chicken pox

Walking along the side of Vicosa’s beautiful lakes on one of our daily walks with Tonika, a living mission legend, and my new friend Juliani, we come across many things. A family of strange-looking turkey-type birds, monkeys spying on us from the trees, parrots having an argument about who had more than their fair share of guava, and... some unusually large, smelly droppings. “Ah don’t worry about those,” says Juliani, “those are just from the ferocious beasts we have here in Viçosa. They’re giant rats. They live in the lakes but hardly ever come out to kill.” Just as I stop and pale, thinking I’ve stepped into The Princess Bride with its Rodents of Unusual Size, five brown figures emerge from the water. They can only be described as giant rats with fetching green lake sludge coiffed on their heads. Juliani is in absolute hysterics at the look of horror on my face, when Tonika kindly points out “they’re just Capivari. Think of them as big cuddly guinea pigs. The only way they could kill you is from their fleas. ” Later, I go around merrily telling everyone about all the amazing “capirinihas” (strong rum cocktail) I’ve seen floating around, and everyone starts to think I’m very strange (I suppose it’s better that they work this out sooner rather than later).

The next day I find myself at the University’s Vet School with Jan, as her cat Pepsi has got the runs. The experience has certainly given me new respect for my cat, Moses. In England, we can just drop our animals off and pick them up when all the yucky bits are done with. Not so in Brazil. Having told at least three different students about the VERY precise nature of Pepsi’s condition (*shudder*), one vet comes into take some blood and her temperature. When that one fails, another enters. Then their supervisor is brought in. Then the senior professor. Half an hour later, eight of us are crowded in a pokey, hairy surgery holding legs and tails and teeth, while things are stuck in unmentionable places. Poor Pepsi.

Aside from all this, I have had lots of time to spend with God and think things through, which has been great. His creation is so beautiful and... baffling. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to opening the bathroom cabinet and finding a lizard there. When I get back to England I will need to play a CD recording of frogs, cows, and mosquitos in order to sleep! God has been so gracious in bringing me here and introducing me to some really inspirational people and such a beautiful part of the world. When I sip my tea and look out at the much-needed rain, I’m reminded of how refreshing talking to God about my mistakes can be. It washes all the gunk away, so that I’m ready to be filled again.

“Hettie” has so far proved rather unpopular in Brazil, particularly with the children I'm going to be working with, and “Heather” is totally off the radar. “Luisa” and “Header” are still on the table, but I’m not too keen. I’d appreciate your suggestions! :)

samedi 5 février 2011

Markets and Mischief

Olà amigos!

Well, here I am in Viçosa (I think), and it is Saturday (I think), and a lot has happened so I had better keep you posted!

Reading on the Hot-ometer: 100%

Number of showers: Bazillions

Number of mosquito bites: Nil! :)

I made it to Rio de Janeiro in one piece yesterday lunch time, after a bit of an ordeal with the slightly less than helpful American Airlines people. My first experience of the Brazilians on my second flight from New York was not great. There wasn’t enough room on the tiny plane for the enormous hand luggage that each of the Brazilians had brought, and a massive yelling match ensued right over my head. One lady refused to get off the plane to check in her bag and called the cabin crew names I had better not translate, and then tried to sweep me and my fellow passengers up into a protest march off the plane. I did my best “I’m a pathetic helpless gringa impression” and thankfully we eventually took off.

Once safely in Rio and with Jan and Phil (my mentors), we went to their daughter Becky’s house (where we were staying) to drop off the bags, have a much needed shower and something to eat. I found it strange that the mulata maid, Teresa, didn’t speak to us or make eye contact with us, and when I suggested helping with the washing up I had obviously committed a blasphemy. Later, we managed to navigate the metro and have a wander along Copacabana beach, which is beautiful. Rio is a real city of contrasts... a mish-mash of graffiti, street-corner traders, slums and luxurious hotels. It smells of fish, tyres, coconut and glue. Everything is so strange and different, that I got weirdly excited when I saw a pigeon. A tiny scraggy slice of home in a foreign land!

The coach ride to Viçosa was stunningly beautiful; the countryside is breathtaking. Brazil is so much more colourful than I ever imagined, it feels like I’ve been viewing the world in black and white and have just switched to colour TV. The school itself is simple and secluded, but lovely. I have a dormitory to myself for the time being, and have managed to nest a bit and make everything less strange and unfamiliar. I was quite pleased that I would have some private space where I could go and cry from time to time (which I definitely needed this morning)... but really there’s no such thing here in Brazil! Everyone has their doors open and is in each other’s room drinking a cafezinho.

The girls have been great at including me in things and showing me the ropes, although we’ve had quite a few communication problems with me being so tired all the time. They find my England-Portugal accent hilarious. I spent most of last night meeting and greeting and "helping" with making a pizza (apparently my sausage-slicing skills are not up to scratch).

One of the guys here, Joci, (pronounced Josie) has a slightly unfortunate lisp... and we spent an uncomfortable ten minutes or so in a circular conversation as I tried to find out how to say his name! I hope I didn’t offend him too much! His son, Sebastião is one of the most mischievous 2 and a half year olds I have ever met. We didn’t understand eachother at all, but hide and seek and “let’s drop things on the floor for Heather to pick up” seem to be universally understood games.

This morning when I went to the market with Phil, and Lícia, my next door neighbour, everything became a bit too much. There wasn’t a single thing on the market I recognised, and I didn’t have a clue what to buy or how to cook it in our tiny, very basic kitchen, or how to ask for it. It was hot, I was tired, and I am feeling like I don’t know anything or anyone. I know things will get better, but I suddenly feel like a helpless child. I hate asking for things all the time, when I feel like I should be the one helping others. It will take a while for me to settle in and start doing what I’m meant to be doing, but so far it feels like everything is being done for my benefit... that this is all for me, and not for the one I came here for.

I have rambled on long enough, and I think I have understood that it is my turn to clean the smelly bathroom (*shudder* - I’d forgotten you can’t flush toilet paper down the loo in Latin America!)

Thank you for your prayers. I will try to make my next update a little cheerier!


X x x

mardi 1 février 2011


So, the suitcases are fit to bursting with Cadbury’s chocolate and potent smelling insect repellent (note to self: do not get mixed up), Moses the cat has jumped in and out of them a few times, my visa, passport and tickets are safely tucked in my handbag and a “last supper” of fish and chips is on the menu. The funny thing is, I’ll probably be worrying about rice and bean withdrawal symptoms in 7 months’ time!

I can’t believe that after months of planning and dreaming, I am actually off to Brazil tomorrow. My stomach has been dancing the tango with my oesophagus all day. One second I am dancing around merrily flinging sun cream into my bags whilst smirking at the miserable rain outside, and the next I feel an inexplicable urge to burst into tears rising in my chest. When I think of how hard it will be to say goodbye to my Dad and brother tomorrow afternoon, after more than a fortnight of farewells, I get a little ache and sit down with my umpteenth cup of tea. I have been away before; this is just another suitcase in another hall. But somehow I get the feeling that this challenge will be the greatest one yet, socially, spiritually and linguistically, and that God will transform me more deeply than he ever has before.

When I tell people that I am going away for seven months, on my own, to teach English, work with Brazilian students and underprivileged children, the reactions could not be more varied. They range from “oh yeah, my niece did something similar on her gap year when she went to work with dolphins”, “call the vet ‘cos your mum must be having kittens”, or “it’s great that you’re doing something so worthwhile, I bet you’ll really find yourself”, to (my favourite): “I really think you should take a gun. A girl like you needs to look after herself!!” Whilst there may be a certain degree of truth (ahem) in all these assertions, they kind of miss the point. Firstly, I’m not going on my own. From the moment I step through that beepy detection thing in the airport, I am going on a journey with someone who will hold my hand all the way and never let me down. Not only that, he is preparing the way ahead for me so that everything will work out just as it should. Secondly, am I going away to help people, to do something good and worthwhile, to make a difference? Absolutely. But this journey is about so much more than that: it’s about following where I am called, listening and learning, and most importantly, serving - saying thank you to the one who has given me so much to be thankful for.

Thirdly, with the armour of God, I’m pretty sure a gun would be entirely superfluous and quite a lot of trouble. Although perhaps it would come in handy for my first encounters with all these snakes I’ve been having nightmares about lately…

Anyway, thank you readers for all your love and prayer support, I need you more than you know. Hopefully I will be safely tucked up in Viçosa, Brazil when I next update this! :-)


x x x