Sunday, March 11, 2012


Ok, so this post has been a long time coming. How long? Try six months. First visa issues, then visa denial, then a total change of plans, and now I finally find myself embarking on a great crusade, toward which I have striven these many months (a little nod to Ike). I’m here in Belém, Brazil preparing to teach English for the next 9 months of my life. That’s right, Venezuela is history. No socialist anti-American regime for me, just caipirinhas and balmy beach weather. Or something like that...

Why the delay in posting? Well, I could have bored you with the day-to-day ins and outs of an unemployed Fulbright Fellow in the making, or I could have waited til something post-worthy occurred. I think I’ve reached the acceptable amount of material for that now. Something needed to happen, something interesting enough to me that I thought it would intrigue my readers. It was tempting to write when I first got to São Paulo for orientation. I had plenty of down time then, and there were numerous events that were noteworthy. But post-worthy? I think not. The arrival in Belém itself was noteworthy, with my director picking us up at the airport with a whole contingent of (one of the ETA’s) future students. But again, not quite enough. What had to happen to make me want to write and give some detail about my journey thus far? A child, of course. I needed a muse, an inspiration! And young Marcus was it.

It goes like this: my two fellow ETAs and I had just come back from the supermarket with a couple of beers. The night was perfect for chillaxing (pardon the terminology). It had stopped raining and we had cold pizza in the fridge from the previous night. Honestly, what more was there to do? So we moved our feast to the courtyard and settled into some wet lawn furniture for an easy dinner and a nice chat. It wasn’t too long before we noticed that a young boy was poking his head out of the adjacent kitchen watching us intently. We caught each other’s eye, he and I, and I saw the laser sight on his Nerf gun light up just a tad too late. I went for my trusty finger pistol, but he had me. The compressed-air puff! of the toy told me that if this were the Wild West, I’d be pushing up daisies. Luckily the phrase “Não tem bala” (it’s not loaded) was what followed when I tried to express in broken Portuguese that he was a dangerous gunslinger.

What followed was an hour of intense conversation, the kind that can only occur between curious youth and strange foreigners. It started with a measuring up of one another’s respective Nerf arsenals and stories of glorious Nerf combat with brothers and friends, but quickly progressed to more serious matters of age-guessing games and learning English at school. Now usually I find it disconcerting to speak to children in a foreign language. They sound funny, have a perplexing lexicon and generally intimidate with their superior grasp of the language despite their limited years. They sense the intimidation, (because as any good camp counselor and uncle can tell you, kids are quite perceptive), and so they too often shy away. Little 10-year-old Marcus, however, was damned persistent. He kept us going with question after question of US music trivia, and was determined to find more interests we had in common.

We talked about his sisters and his family in general. It was a full half hour before we figured out whose kid he was. Apparently he’s the landlord’s youngest. Back on the subject of music, he told us he cried when Michael Jackson died. What was he, like 7? He asked us if we liked DJ David Guetta, Linkin Park, among others. We gave a short rendition of Numb for him, which he seemed to enjoy. My favorite moment, however, was when he said “Tenho algo que quero falar para você (I have something to tell you): I will never say never!” We almost fell over. The Bieber fever can strike across all bounderies of geography and language.

In short, talking with this very intelligent and expressive young man made my day. It made me forget all about the disastrous laundry incident and ant infestation in my room. Those were worries of hours long past. It reinforced in me the knowledge that though I am far from home, I am not far from friendly people. This whole country is full of them! I haven’t met a person yet who wasn’t extremely nice to me and helpful in whatever way they could be. Even our consulate security guy in São Paulo, who was supposed to scare the bajeezus out of us, had this to say: “Brazilians are friendly. Even the thieves. Hell, in Liberia they’ll blow your head off with an AK for some pocket change. But here, here you can practically make friends with the guy holding the knife to your throat.” I’m paraphrasing, but it’s not far off. Little Marcus exemplifies all the best traits that I have seen in Brazil so far, and oh what a long list it is.

This year is bound to be great. Or should I say, ótimo!

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