jeudi 30 juin 2011

From Troublesome Trees to Brilliant Brasilia

So my friends,

I find myself halfway through my winter holiday adventure, tucked away in my friend Daniela´s house in São Paulo with lots to fill you in on!

The end of term was particularly manic, not least because on top of all my usual activities, there were lots of farewell celebrations for some dear friends moving on from CEM... and I had to give an assessed sermon for the final module, Éxposição Bíblica. Thankfully I was allowed to preach in English, and I got put in a group with all my Advanced English students who also had the opportunity to preach in English if they wanted to. On the day I was absolutely terrified, convinced that my students would take this oppotunity for revenge against all the horrible grammar exercises I had set them throughout the semester, and I spent many hours preaching to the banana trees... I´m sure I converted many of them at least! When the moment finally came I can´t explain what a buzz I got... it was like I was completely taken over and it wasn´t me talking at all. I gave it everything I had, and I think I left everyone pretty dumbfounded... in a good way! I went from teacher to preacher in 27 minutes, and Jan said that it was a great opportunity for my friends and students to get a glimpse of ´the real Heather of Cambridge´, someone who doesn´t make much of an appearance thanks to all the linguistic and cultural barriers. Definitely an experience I won´t forget.

As I continue to battle my clown phobia, I find myself becoming more clown-like every day. Watching my clown friends practise their acrobatic stunts and tightrope walking in full clown gear, my catchprase has quickly become "Mas porqueeeeeeeeeee?" (but whyyyyyyyyyy?) and has been adopted by all as an expression to use when Brazilian´s are being particularly crazy and Brazilian and I am feeling particularly British and normal... or vice versa.

Teaching "left and right" and "left hand, right hand side" etc. in English made me realise how much difficulty I have in distinguishing between the two, to particularly humorous consequences when attempting to participate in Dudu´s (one of my favourite students and a seriously cool guy) yoga classes out beneath the palm trees...

On another particular escapade, I was out with some friends after having spent the afternoon working with children in a poor community where a Christian Fellowship has just been planted by CEM´s caretaker, when we decided to stop in a forest to take some silly pictures. Everyone thought it would be a great idea for me to climb a tree, which, being an obedient and humble servant, I kindly agreed to. Unfortunately what looked like a solid platform covered with leaves halfway up turned out to be the opening to one of Brazil´s largest ants´ nests, and, yes, my entire leg disappeared into it. At this point I would like to point out that Brazilian ants are not of the cute disney "A Bug´s life" kind, but more of the vicious "what the heck do you think you´re doing putting your foot in my home" kind. 15 minutes later in the car home, when I thought I´d finally shaken the last of them off, I felt a sharp jab in my ankle and screamed out, and Bruno nearly led us into a fatal "voltinha"...

Meanwhile, in other news, my samba skills and forró technique are coming along nicely thanks to an evening out at a music concert put on to celebrate 30 years of Rebusca. Also, far more importantly... some of you might remember my student Dantas who is a vet from the rice-murder-dream episode. Well, ever since I translated a particularly complicated and graphic text about varying levels of constipation in horses, and refused payment, he has been feeling forever in my debt. So he decided to take us out for an end of term treat... a milkshake followed by a VIP tour of the University Veterinary Hospital and ... (drum roll please)... I FINALLY, after 5 months, saw my FIRST EVER Brazilian Sheep! Fair enough it was on a drip and not looking much up to frolicking about in a field, but it was a historic moment nonetheless.

Anyway, after a very busy week full of frantic packing and knitting and sermoning and teaching and some more knitting... I finally said some tearful goodbyes and got on a night bus to Brasilia. 14 uncomfortable hours later I arrived bleary eyed to meet my friend Daniela, and went straight to Church with her MPC (Youth For Christ) friends and got swept up into a windstop tour of the city. Brasilia is very wide, white and... shiny! Everything is glimmering, and at 30 degrees centigrade most days, I found myself dehydrated for the very first time in the middle of winter!

Dudu is in Brasilia for the holidays and so I had the privilege of being given a personalised tour of everything... and as he used to be head of a branch of the military police, he even got is into restricted access areas of the National Congress, where I met "Tiririca"... Brazil´s most famous and most ridiculous politician, kind of like a Boris Johnson equivalent. I also got swept up in a massive televised riot, went to a traditional winter party (´festa junina´), bizarrely in a gym run by Dudu´s mother-in-law, where I dressed up, ate lots of strange peanutty things and danced the conga with a scary bride in drag, saw "Cars 2" at the cinema and hardly understood anything because it was dubbed... and polished it all off with açai overlooking the sunset on one of Brasilia´s beautiful lakes. Phew! Amidst all that, Daniela and I helped out at an MPC project called "School of Life", where various people give lectures in schools to teach youngsters about ethical issues such as the environment, behavioural issues and sexuality etc. Excellent stuff!

Anyway now I am in São Paulo to take a deep breath, do some shopping and washing, do a couple of evangelizing visits and see some more friends... more adventures to follow I am sure!

Wish you were here,

samedi 4 juin 2011

May-hem in Viçosa

Dear Friends,

Definitely time for an update! Amidst all the emotional turmoil, heartache, and violent mood swings, lots has been happening here in Viçosa this month!

In everything God’s hand has been so clearly at work. After one particularly difficult, teary morning last week, I came back to CEM feeling like a wrung-out dishcloth. My friends Brenda and Tercio said they wanted to talk to me, as we had had a minor falling out. We spent the afternoon under the tree chatting, crying, praying and putting the world to rights. I was meant to give an English lesson that afternoon, but amazingly, two of my three pupils didn’t show up, which meant I was free to carry on praying! Lots of hugs and a milkshake later, I was starting to feel perkier. That afternoon, I received a letter from my mum. She had written it three weeks earlier, but it was so meant for me to receive on that day. It told me that I was in good hands, that I was meant to be where I was, that I had been called to do something special, and that “all would be well with my soul”. I felt so much peace, it was like a massive weight being lifted off my shoulders. A weekend hidden away in Jan’s flat for some English food and “cat therapy” also did me the world of good!

Every evening before our lecture, we have a devotional, and it was my turn to lead it which was a bit scary, as I’m still nervous about speaking in Portuguese in big group. It went really well, and everyone said it had really blessed them... so that was all good! They all ended up crying actually... but I think they were good tears! My language skills were severely tested last week when we were studying our second module on New Testament Theology. Our usual teacher was bedridden with a nasty bout of dengue fever, and our cover teacher was an Argentinian called Ernesto. His “Portunhol” left my brain in shreds! Especially on the days where I gave an English lesson, then immediately gave a French lesson in Portuguese, then went straight to a lesson on Portuguese material given half in Spanish! Thankfully I am getting along a lot better with Systematic Theology this week. J

My days at Rebusca are still my favourite, despite the fact that trying to teach the children English is like trying to teach an ostrich to fly. They are demanding, loud, fidgety, craving attention, and yet slow to listen and easily frustrated when they don’t understand something. Not only that, many of them can’t read or write even the most basic things in Portuguese, which makes throwing another language at them pretty tricky! My patience is sometimes severely tested, particularly by Ana Paula, who can be quite a little madam when she wants to be, but I keep remembering that there is probably a good reason why she is like that, and that she needs my love and understanding all the same. I am learning the art of keeping a balance between talking at them, and giving them pretty colouring-in things to do. My maths skills are also being nicely honed, as I am giving them times tables tests every week, which has led me to mutter in my sleep (according to Brenda) “dois vezes dois são quatro” (two times two is four).

One thing I find quite hard is noticing the poor quality of the children’s clothes and hygiene. Silvio wears the same T-shirt every time I see him and it has a massive hole in the back. There is no way a parent in England would let a child go to school dressed like that. It makes me want to dress him and look after him, but I know it’s not as easy as that and that I have to love and accept him just as he is, not thinking of myself as coming from a better place.

Recently most of our time has been taken up with rehearsals for a presentation they did at the “Festa da Familia” (a kind of school fete to celebrate “National Family Day”). Watching them dance and sing their hearts out in perfect time to the music was a very proud moment for me, as well as their parents, especially knowing how much blood, sweat and tears had gone into it.

During play time at Rebusca, the playground game currently in vogue is “Beauty Salon”, of which I am the main regular customer. They delight in pretending to do my nails and makeup, putting my hair into all kinds of inexplicable out next year’s catwalk! Last week they decided to dress me up as a bride, and made me a cake out of some chair padding they found and then “pretend married” me to Glauco, one of the liveliest of my boys. My new best friend is my shadow Yasmina, a little girl with learning difficulties. I have never understood a single word she says, and she clearly doesn’t understand me, but it doesn’t matter one tiny bit. We are inseparable, even to the extent that she will happily get hit by footballs to stand next to me when I am in goal playing with the boys! She likes to wear my sunglasses all the time and pretend to be me!

In animal news, I am feeling cat withdrawal symptoms since the kittens got taken away. L Fox, our dog and my least favourite person at CEM, has been inseparable from a number of mangy lovers these days, and is now looking suspiciously swollen... so it won’t be too long before the pitter patter of tiny scoundrels will be terrorising me! Unfortunately, instead of having to contend with kittens when doing my washing, I now have to contend with Fox having a bath and taking great delight in giving me my second muddy shower of the day.

My clown phobia, if anything, has got worse. They are everywhere! When we went to do some evangelism work with children last weekend, facepainting and the like, I couldn’t move for clowns! My dear friend Daniela, has initiated into the CEM clown club, which leaves me massively conflicted when she’s dressed up as a clown! When she was getting dressed up on Saturday, she said “Heather, give me a hug now, because I know you won’t be able to manage it once I get the make-up and false nose on!!”

Things are as crazy as ever in my English lessons at CEM. At the moment I am teaching them “I’m coming into the classroom”, “I’m going out of the classroom”, “I’m putting butter on my bread” etc. (to teach the present progressive), which involves me running in and out of the classroom at top speed with butter and bread flung everywhere. My pupils find it hysterical! A few of them have been struggling to keep up the pace and nearly dropped out which really left me worried. They are currently having extra lessons with Jan to keep on track, but I am concerned that they will become too dependent on her. Please pray for perseverance and stamina for all concerned!

All in all it has been a very good month, despite having to say goodbye to two of my good friends, Ariane and Paula here who graduated last year and have moved on to new things. I have managed to conquer my motorcycle fear and am becoming quite a seasoned traveller! The food situation has much improved since my friend Renata took over cooking lunch here, and I even find I’m liking rice and beans! That said, I did eat potatoes twice today just to compensate!

I have rambled on for far too long... I am off to make a cup of tea and watch a film with the girls. I might even do a bit of knitting... I’m making a scarf to beat the winter chills!

Lots of love and hugs,

Granny Heather

X x x