samedi 23 avril 2011

Kittens, Clowns and Car Capers


Once again I epically fail at providing regular updates on my brilliant blog! My feet have barely touched the ground this week... quite literally! I am making the most of our Easter holiday break this week to go on an exciting adventure with my room mate Brenda, which involved visiting not one, not two, but three capitals of Brazil in 24 hours!

On Tuesday we did our usual trick of squeezing as many people (plus suitcases this time) into Felix, and whizzed down into town after our evening lectures for a night-time escapade, pushing the limits of our curfew! I should add that a new game has been added to our driving repertoire aside from "voltinhas". It's called "Heather e legal aqui" (Heather is awesome here" and goes something like this. We drive along, squeezed in like coffee beans in a coffee pod (I struggled to find a suitable Brazilian idiom here!) and Bruno swings the steering wheel violently to the right singing "Heather e legal aqui", and then to the left "e Heather e legal aqui", at top speed ad libidum, until I turn green and the car is ringing with ultrasonic screaming.

We enjoyed a "lanche" and clowned around in the bus station (quite literally, and loudly, much to our fellow passengers´ annoyance), we crawled onto a bus at midnight to Belo Horizonte, the capital of our state, Minas Gerais. After another bus ride and a flight, we arrived in Brasilia at around 11 am on Wednesday. After yet another two buses, and a lift from Brenda's friend Vitor, we arrived at Goiania, to spend a few days on an Easter camp for young Christians. Brenda manages an AMAZING worship band, and they were the main act at the camp... I am still humming their songs now as I write this! I cannot put into words quite how much Brazilians exceeded my craziness expectations during those few days! I found myself dancing like a clown, shouting and generally being very stupid, all in the name of Jesus! One evening they had a pretend "peasant" wedding, and on another they had a Mexican fiesta, at which I showed my pure Englishess by failing tragically at dancing the limbo!

I must digress for a moment to tell of the subtle irony of this latest humiliation. As you all now, the boys here at CEM dearly enjoy winding me up like a clockwork mouse to see just how beserk I will go. Tercio particularly enjoys asking me very deep and meaningful questions that he knows I don't have the vocabulary to answer, as late at night as possible. Everyone laughs at me because at 10pm sharp every day I go into "screensaver" mode and am incapable of communication in any language. Last week he was passing me questions on post-it notes during the Systematic Theology lecture to keep me awake, in which we were discussing why Catholics believe in limbo and Protestants don't. Having asked me what I thought about limbo, I told him it was a special dance found at only the best parties. 24 hours later I found myself dancing the limbo (*correction*, I found myself face down in front of a bunch of very boisterous amd "brincalhao" Brazilians!) At least I think Bruno and Igor, the clowns, would be proud. They have devised a 10 point "Curing Heather of clown-phobia" plan. They estimate that by the end of my Stride project they will have me fully made up in clown gear walking a tight rope. Not quite so sure about that!

Despite being severely bullied, my friendships here at CEM are going from strength to strength, and I have an amazing sense of God's grace and presence... this is where he always intended me to be! My Portuguese has come on leaps and bounds too, and I even manage to throw the odd bits of slang in here and there. My favourite expressions so far are "get your foot off my dinner please" (roughly meaning, "get a flippin move on") and "stop filling sausages" ("stop rabbiting on!"

Other important highlights have included an all-night vigil the students did to pray for the situation in Rio (where a man opened fire in a primary school), making cards to send to the victims, singing round the bonfire, a three-day visit from Lesley, the lovely lady from Latin Link who set my project up, severely bruising my arm playing volley ball with the CEM crew, and being taught how to cook a proper "feijoada" (think beans, with beans, and unmentionable bits of left over pig... and beans). Guess what it's served with. Go on, guess!.................RICE!

In food news, I have eaten many a yummy thing to compensate for my ... not so favourite experiences. Some of you will remember Dantas from my poisoned rice nightmare. He's a vet and I have taken to helping him with translating some academic texts on the effects of various laxatives on horses (!!!!!!), in return for which, he keeps bringing in yummy sweet things that his wife makes. Perhaps it will be "death by chocolate" rather than "death by poisoned rice".

What else have I been up to? Ohhhh so many things, I don't know where to start! Picnics, prayer meetings, training days, eating copious amounts of pizza, playing crazy games. In wildlife news, it has been kitten central in CEM, and I have been mastering the art of doing my washing with one kitten on each foot, one on my shoulder, one clinging to my neck, and another two in my wash basket trying to get into the machine! The day they got taken to market was a very sad day, but thankfully one got left behind, which is a great distraction/therapy on stressful days, and a great antidote to all the dogs/cows/creepy crawlies that follow me around!

Now I am at Brenda's house enjoying a few days of rest I am hoping to brave getting my hair cut too (let's see how my hairdressing vocab turns out!), although the boys at CEM have started a campaign to stop me doing so! Brazilian men don't like short hair! Things have been so busy in Vicosa, that it's great to take some time out to spend with God and think about why I'm really here, where I'm going... and just being thankful for all the wonderful things that my Father is doing in my life. Look out for my April prayer letter soon!

Brazilian beijos,
x x x

samedi 2 avril 2011

Beautiful and Broken

Dear faithful readers,

An update here is very long overdue here, but I have been so busy having adventures that I haven’t found the time to write about them!

At the start of the month, while many Brazilians were dressing up (or undressing!) in time for the infamous Carnival, CEM hosted an amazing conference for young professionals and students interested in mission. What did this mean? An invasion of 100+ people on our “cosy” campus in the middle of the rainforest, people sleeping in every available space, lots of challenging teaching and encouraging words, eating bomboms, dancing samba and singing Brazilian folk songs until the early mornings!

Other culinary highlights have included my first ever churrasco (imagine a barbecue but a bazillion times better with banana and pineapple covered in cinnamon and slowly roasted over a grill underneath CEM’s palm trees.... yum!), many celebratory birthday cakes and ice-creams, a massive community effort to celebrate pancake day Brazilian style, and a random trifle I made for everyone. Culinary low points have included my attempt to make popcorn for my “fun” English lessons during carnival week (where we watched films, played games, and translated songs), leaving a nasty smell in the girls’ kitchen for days. My growing love for potatoes is a constant source of amusement to everyone. On Sundays we tend to eat in the self-service restaurant next to Church, and I pile up 5 different kinds of potatoes, and not a single grain of rice nor a single bean... just because I can!!

Things have also been quite hectic on the wildlife front. The other morning my room mate Brenda and I were woken up by a cow mooing outside our window. CEM is rapidly becoming a retreat for all kinds of stray animals who turn up and expect to be fed. A couple of weeks ago for instance, a very pregnant cat turned up and gave birth to the 5 most beautiful kittens I’ve ever seen. Yesterday morning I was woken up by a commotion. A giant cobra almost the size of me had attempted to get to the kittens, the mother had started hissing, and the boys had jumped to the rescue, brutally murdering it before my eyes! It was pretty horrific to see how it kept squirming with venom, even after its head had been squished to a mushy pulp!

Speaking of the boys here at CEM... I should probably introduce you to them and explain just how completely and utterly crazy they are. Their sense of humour consists of relentlessly teasing me and my Englishness and laughing at me when I can’t find the vocabulary to respond and get very flustered! Paulo , fellow student and teacher at Rebusca, is particularly “sem graça”... he laughs at the way I run when I’m playing with the children; Daniel makes the most of the newly installed telephones on the boys’ and girls’ corridors by prank calling us at all hours; Bruno and Igor are professionally trained clowns who juggle fire and all sorts, and have introduced me to a new game called “voltinhas”, which they claim will cure me of my Englishness and make me more Latin. After my first game yesterday, I felt it was a step in the right direction.

The game goes like this: we open up Bruno and Igor’s car (Felix) and see how many people we can squeeze in – 8 is the current record, with two boys in the boot! We count loudly as each person gets in, just for dramatic effect. Then we whizz up the dirt track towards town at top speed, and zoom round the mini-roundabouts until Heather is sufficiently green. We then drive up into the university and stop the car in the middle of the road next to the biggest group of unsuspecting students we can find. Then Bruno screams “VOLTINHA” (little run around), and we leap out of the car screaming at the top of our voices, run two laps of the car, get back in through a different door, sit in a different seat and zoom off again at top speed. On the first two attempts, I refused to take part. On the third, I tripped over, grazed my knee, banged my head on the car roof and couldn’t get back in again because my route was blocked. The boys agreed nonetheless that it was a heroic effort, and a step in the right direction. Despite being jokers, the boys are very sweet. They have taken to serenading people at their window by moonlight when it’s their birthday... unfortunately mine was before I came!

Unfortunately I am becoming known as the poor little English girl who is scared of everything, snakes and ‘voltinhas’ aside: my face when Bruno and Igor dressed up in their full clown costumes was a picture, I live in constant fear of our pet dog “Fox” who is constantly jumping up at me and trying to eat my feet, and Daniel has yet to convince me to get back on his motorcycle! Bruno and Igor, who are also in my Beginners English Class, observed my spotty trainers the other day and decided that there is a clown somewhere deep down inside me, just as there is an English speaker deep down inside of them! It looks like this learning process is going to work both ways!

Community life at CEM is such an incredible blessing, and so much fun! It’s great to be living with, studying with and teaching such an inspirational group of Christians. We often have prayer breakfasts together, send each other encouraging texts, and have heart-to-heart chats over coffee. Everyone is being so supportive of my transcultural experience, and is learning to adapt to my erratic mood swings. One day a couple of weeks ago, I was feeling pretty low, exhausted and underappreciated, so I just spent the morning crying and talking to God about it. When I opened my door a little while later, there was a present and a little card written in French by one of my French students and signed by all the girls. It said “everything is worthwhile when your heart is big”, and “we really appreciate everything we’re doing”. That is just one example of ways in which God has answered all my little prayers.

The other day I was so tired after an evening lesson that I collapsed on my bed and physically couldn’t get up to go to the second half. My friend Lícia, unprompted, came into my room and said that she had been worried about me all week, and had been to talk to my mentor Jan, because she thinks I’m doing too much. She is probably right, and the words of encouragement she spoke to me that night were so special. This week and next I am enjoying a break from the evening lectures to catch up on things a bit, and at Easter I am going to have a review with Jan to see if I need to make some adjustments to my timetable. I know I am being very hard on myself: I don’t want to just do everything, I want to do it well. I want to be a great teacher, a great friend, a great speaker of Portuguese, a great model to the Rebusca children, a great student of theology... but I know God is teaching me a lot about being humble, and accepting my limitations. Sometimes, by saying “no” I am actually being a better servant, because I have enough energy to do everything with a smile!

Despite being very difficult and tiring, the last module we studied on Old Testament Theology was very much fun! We had to prepare group presentations on different time periods, and be as creative as possible. Our group was responsible for the Moses Period, and we conducted an “it’s a knock out” type team challenge were each group had to travel around the classroom into the Promised Land, answering questions on the 10 commandments, acting out the plagues, and making plastecine models of golden calves in order to win the milk, honey and grapes at the end! I also made a giant burning bush costume for my friend Tércio, and a cloud of fire for acting out part of the story... which to this day he claims looked like a rock. I wrote on it “I AM A CLOUD”, signed it, and gave it to him as a present. He will thank me one day when I am a famous impressionist artist!

The other groups’ presentations were amazing too! One that sticks in my mind was on the life and times of Joshua, where Daniel dressed up in drag as Rahab the prostitute, and the boys led us round a fortress they had made out of cardboard boxes, singing “Joshua at the battle of Jericho”! Storming it at the end was even more fun!

As you may have read in my prayer letter, most of us from CEM went down to Teresópolis last weekend to work with a community of people severely affected by the floods. Our time there was very challenging, but also very special. We stayed up in our newly painted basketball court, praying and singing through the night under the stars. The children were such a joy, though it was so apparent that they had seen so much sadness. It was interesting and also quite hilarious that they were CONVINCED I was Japanese, and wouldn’t be persuaded otherwise. In poorer areas, the people have no concept of countries outside their own, and obviously Japan was the only “foreign” place they could identify. “A Japonesa” has been added to my ever increasing list of ridiculous nicknames! Talking to them about their experiences was very memorable. As I chatted with one of the girls, and remarked how incredibly beautiful the countryside around her home was, she replied “yes, it’s beautiful... but it broke”. How true, that God’s wonderful, beautiful world is so broken. God is teaching me so much about loving the broken and how important it is to help them glue the pieces back together.