Thursday, October 30, 2008


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Too Much Free Time

Classes are not going well. I'm down to only about 15 hours per week, and only 3.5 of those hours are private classes at home. The big money engineers flaked out. Frustration! Apparently, in the teaching industry of Brazil, you not only can't put all your eggs in one basket, you can't even put the eggs in a few different baskets and start counting them only after they hatch. It's best just to not count them at all and constantly go searching for new eggs.

Now that I've overextended that metaphor, I'll tell you a bit of good news, and also how we've been spending the rest of the week.

I went into The Old Job and was honest with the boss (what a refreshing concept)-- I just told her that the private classes weren't panning out like I thought they would, and I was unsatisfied with the schedule at my other job. I told her I was offering myself to teach any classes that needed teachers. I was worried she'd be annoyed, but that other teacher had buttered her up for me (see previous entry), so she was happy that I wanted to come back (phew!). She was only able to give me one of the classes, but it's still an extra 3 hours a week until I go home for Christmas. (When I come back in January, it'll be a new semester at both schools, so my schedule will change completely, hopefully for the better.)

I've also started teaching English classes for the teachers at Primary Job. It was my boss's idea-- he wants me to focus on cultural things and common problems that the students have (directions were kind of vague, of course). Today was the first class (and, of course, the boss didn't show up). I was worried that the other teachers would be a bit offended by the idea, but they actually really liked it, and the class went well. We had nice discussions about false cognates and when swear words are and aren't appropriate.

In other news, we're on quite the vegetable kick right now. Alexandre's dad has been sending us home with ice chests full of frozen meat the last few times we've visited, since there's a really cheap carniceria by his house. That means that when we go to the grocery store, we usually don't buy any meat. Yesterday, Alexandre was annoyed with the middle-aged and apathetic cashier, who wasn't doing anything and was completely ignoring us. When she finally decided to give us the time of day, he decided to mess with her. In English, he muttered to me, "just play along. I'm gonna tell her I'm allergic to meat." The conversation went something like this (paraphrased and translated):

Alexandre: Yeah, we're buying so many vegetables... you see, I'm allergic to meat.
Cashier: [incredulous] Is that so? Wow, how terrible!
Alexandre: Yeah, it's a big problem in my life. I have to have a special diet and find protien in eggs and beans.
Cashier: That's awful. I've heard about meat allergies before. They usually only happen to adults, right? (hahahahaha)
Alexandre: Yeah, it's a late-onset allergy.
Cahsier: [waving her head in my direction] And her? Is she allergic to meat, too?
Alexandre: No, no.
Me: But I don't eat it at home. You know, for support.
Alexandre: Yeah, sometimes if we go out to eat, she'll order meat, but she doesn't want me to feel bad.
Cashier: Can you eat fish?
Alexandre: Well, I can, but she doesn't like it. So fish, yes, but no chicken, no pork, no beef...
Cashier: Wow... I would be so sad if I couldn't eat meat.
Alexandre: Yeah, it was hard at first. But, you know, vegetables are healthier anyway...
Cashier: Well, good luck! Have a good day! etc etc.

Hahahaha. Alexandre will write ranting emails to Brazilian TV channels that give incorrect medical information, but he doesn't think twice about confusing the poor cashier. Pretty funny, though.

I'd also like to share a commercial with you all that's on TV here. We call it "the misplaced UNICEF or WWF commercial." It's slogan is "The forest is inside of you." You'll see that it's totally dramatic and serious and... selling overpriced hippie bodywash. Enjoy:

That's it for now. All this free time obligates me to responsibilities of housewifery... I have clothes to iron. ;oP

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Nice Weekend

This Monday is a national holiday-- kind of. It's the "dia de servidor publico," so everyone who has a public (government) job gets the day off. Alexandre goes to a public university, which means it's closed. My job wasn't, but since I only have private classes on Mondays now, I just did some rearranging with the students so we could have a 3-day weekend and visit Alexandre's family.

Before we left on Saturday morning, I substituted for a class at The Old Job (the one with the name that Kristin likes). I still sub there every once in a while, but I don't have any classes of my own. I dropped most of them back when the boss at Primary Job had promised me that raise and all the other stuff that turned out not to be true. Then I dropped the last of them the at-home schedule was going well. Well, neither of those thing have panned out as well as I would've liked. I was chatting with another teacher at The Old Job, because she also had a stint at Primary Job, so I could rant to someone with first-hand experience with the madness that is the boss.

She said that they were friends in school, and he made her all the same promises when he opened the school. She had a good job as a translator for a big company, but he convinced her to leave it to be a sort of co-coordinator with him at his school. He told her he had all the classes and students lined up for her.

But when he realized that opening a school was more expensive than he first thought, he decided that he would teach almost all of the classes himself (to save money), and left her with just a few hours of work a week. It messed up her career and ruined their friendship. It sucks that she had to go through that, but at least I know that I'm not the only one who was silly enough to fall for his promises.

Anyhoo, this teacher told me that she had nailed a new job as a translator and language coordinator for a different private company (good for her-- a big deal!), so she'd be leaving some of her classes at The Old Job. She asked if I'd be willing to take over her classes-- she hadn't told the boss at the Old Job yet, and she could put in a good word for me. The schedule is good, so I told her I would like the idea, but that I figured our boss was tired of me being so back-and-forth about my schedule. She said that the boss likes having a native speaker teacher, and also would prefer to have me back than to have to find and train someone else. So I said she could mention it to the boss, and that I'd call on Tuesday when we got back from our little vacation.

It was really nice to talk to this teacher-- we could compare our experiences, and she gave me good advice. It was also nice because she always says, "and I was like/ and he was like" instead of "and I said/ and he said." :)

I know I was trying to leave the schools and be more independent class-wise, but private students are just so unreliable, and I can't make a living like this-- at least not yet. I make less per hour at this school, but I make more in the long-run because they're big classes and never get cancelled. This school is also really nice in that it pays me even if students do cancel.

This teaching experience over the last few months has taught me to re-examine my job priorities as an English teacher abroad. In the beginning, the most important things for me were schedule and textbooks. I originally didn't like Old Job that much because the textbooks are pretty bad and the school has a lot of rules. But after having more experience at Primary Job, I can see the value and respect that Old Job gives to its teachers, and how much more important that is overall. They pay us for meetings-- we're working. (Plus, the meetings are actually valuable, not just the boss ranting, "this school is so disorganized!") They pay us when students cancel-- if the students have to pay, we get paid. The boss is understanding if we have to drop a class or change our schedules-- she knows that it's hard to be successful in the EFL industry, and that we can't revolve our lives around her school if she's not offering us full-time. I've never had to lie to her about why I couldn't work or why I wanted to drop or needed to add a class. But I still think schedule is important, and I'm willing to sacrifice 1 or 2 hundred reais a month for a consistent sleep schedule-- because I don't teach well when my sleeping is out of whack.

So yeah. The only problem I can forsee is that my trip home may overlap with the end of the semester at Old Job. But hopefully we can work something out... either that, or I can go back to the school in January.

Babble babble. Anyway. We had our lonnnggg 5-hour bus ride to Alexandre's parents' house. We stopped at a big rest stop/restaurant/hotel place somewhere along the Sao Paulo interstate. I learned that Saturday afternoon is not a good time to try to go to the bathroom at a highway rest stop, even if it's a big bathroom, and even if you are a woman. One thing I have consistently appreciated about America, every time I travel, is the Americans' ability to FORM A LINE. We are SO good at making respectable lines. We make it into an art. We may complain the entire time we're waiting, but at least we wait respectively, giving people their personal space and waiting our turn and all that.

The bathroom at this rest stop was jam-packed with stinky fat women (most of whom had just spent hours on busses without air conditioners). There was no organization. Some were lining up in front of stalls. There were scattered groups trying to push in front of each other next to the sinks. There were people blocking the entrance. A kind of 2-way street had formed at the entrance, but half of the women just pushed in between everyone. Most weren't flushing the toilets. Women from poorer cities didn't change their habits of throwing their used toilet paper in the trash instead of in the toilet. Many had the brilliant idea of trying to cool themselves off by splashing sink water all over their bodies, except their efforts were haphazard so the floor was covered with water and sweat and mud. I could've been in a cattle arena and I wouldn't have known the difference.

It was a short experience, but one of the most disgusting and frustrating moments of my life. Plus, I had to pee! That can make anyone grouchy. I wasn't going to write about it because I didn't want to come off as pompous, but Alexandre thought it was so funny and insisted that I share it with all of you. He can be so supportive! ;oP

On the bus, we chatted a little with a nice police officer who offered to change seats with Alexandre because our tickets weren't together. Alexandre joked that he was the only nice cop in Brazil. I said that maybe he was just new at the job. Maybe they all start out nice and with good intentions, just like the women in the bathroom, but when they see that their efforts at being ethical are futile, they give in and adopt the every-man-for-himself attitude. And then I was a little sad.

We got to Alexandre's parents' house and took advantage of the summer heat by jumping in the swimming pool. It was my first time in a swimming pool since... I can't remember when. A long time. It was my first time in a large body of water since we went to the beach during my first weekend here back in April. Fun. :)

We spent the rest of the evening enjoying English TV, since our secret illegal cable operation at the apartment was found out and turned off. :( Sunday morning, we went to an early lunch at Alexandre's aunt's mansion house. She has an ADORABLE puppy that reminded me of Madison in her stockiness and hunger for attention. She immediately rolled over for us to rub her tummy, and when we stopped, she started whimpering until we started up again. Some friends of the family also came to the lunch, and included a little girl named Isadora. She was about 8 years old and was really excited to practice the English she is learning in school. She asked me "what is your name?" in English, and told me that her favorite colors are yellow, blue, and pink, and that her favorite animals are snakes. Then she tried to tell me a joke in Portuguese, but I had to explain that jokes are really hard in a new language. I asked if she could teach me a hand game instead. (You know, those "down by the banks of the hanky-panky" things.) Then she told me that her dream was to move to England and meet the kids from Harry Potter, and while she was there, she would study at Hogwarts and then become either a singer or a doctor. Hahahaha.

After our lunch, Alexandre and I tried to go to the local (free!) zoo. But we were only there for about 15 minutes before they closed and kicked everyone out. But we managed to get a couple of pictures...

...before I we dropped my camera and broke it. Sadness! The thing was on its last leg anyway. The lens didn't go inside and the battery compartment didn't stay closed without tape. But now I am camera-less in the land of 800-dollar cameras... so if anyone's going shopping on Black Friday and sees something small and simple for me (100-150-dollar range... 6-7 megapixles is all I need), I could pay you back. :)

We spent the rest of the evening at home with the family, and good times were had by all. We head back tomorrow. Only this time, I'm peeing outside.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Danielle's Tips for Teaching English in Brazil

Hey! Welcome to my blog. Check out the date on this post. It's a little old. It has some good general info, but click on my "about my blog" page or my "teaching English" label for more details and up-to-date posts.

I've been having bad luck with classes and students this week, and I'm home bored. So I've decided to write a list that I wish I had seen in my Google searches for "teach English in Brazil" before I came here. I hope it'll help some people who have the same idea.

Planning before you go...

1. Bring a lot of money with you. It's going to take time for you to get established as a teacher, and even when you are established, you'll still have months of ups and downs. Your American currency goes far here. So save, save save. Even if you start making money here, it may not be enough sometimes for you to pay for your living expenses. I would say to bring at least a couple thousand if you plan to stay for the entire 6 months of your visa, and be sure you've already bought a return ticket home that is refundable and that has changeable flight dates. (You'll actually need to buy the return ticket home to get the visa anyway.)

2. Try to find a Brazilian travel agent in your area. This may sound silly, but if you don't know much about the country or the visa laws, these agents can help you a lot. (The one I went to also sold Brazilian candies. Fun!) The one I went to also charged a really small fee (only 100 dollars) to go get my visa for me from the consulate. This is a great deal, because it's cheaper than the gas and missing work to get it yourself. In my case, the closest Brazilian consulate was 3 hours from my house on a good traffic day, and I had to go early on either Tuesday or Thursday morning to sign up, and then I had to go back to pick it up 2 weeks later. So do the math and figure out if it's worth it for you. If you're in the southwestern US, I recommend MargoTour, based in San Diego. They offered me the cheapest ticket by far, and were very friendly and helpful. (Also remember the candy.) They also will do some business over phone/email. Just be sure your ticket is refundable!

3. Don't pay for vaccines in the US. I'm not saying to be silly and not get ANY vaccines, but I'm saying to wait and get them for free in Brazil instead of paying 300+ dollars to do it in the US. Neither I nor anyone I've talked to was asked to prove that they had gotten vaccinated in the US before they could enter Brazil. You just need them for youself so that you don't die for some dumb reason, like a preventable disease. So when you get here, ask around for where you can get the free vaccines. It's usually in the local hospital or "ambulatorio," which is like a government clinic. (I WISH someone had told me this!) You don't need to buy malaria pills unless you're going to be smack in the middle of the Amazon (not many English students there), and there's no vaccine for Dengue, which is actually your biggest threat. (So be careful with the mosquitos.) You can check out this CDC website for the vaccines that you need, but the doctor you see in Brazil will know what you need for the reigon:

4. Learn at least a little Portuguese. Don't be one of those Americans who thinks that English is the only important language in the world, and don't assume that everyone's going to speak it, especially if you go to a city that's not São Paulo or Rio de Janiero. Be respectful, and make your life and everyone's lives easier. It will also make you a MUCH better teacher, and it will give you the option of teaching beginning English classes (more $$). Check your local community college for a class, or at least get a book on Amazon. If you speak Spanish, you can get by here, but you won't be able to understand what people say, and all of the basic verbs are irregular in a different way. If you are a Spanish speaker, I recommend a WONDERFUL fabulous textbook called "Brazilian Portuguese for Spanish Speakers." Also remember that the word tem (or sometimes têm) is your friend. (It's pronounced "teng" or [t] for the linguists). It means "he/she/you/you guys/they" have, "there is/there are" and "is there...?/are there..?".

5. Learn how to teach English! Oh, this one makes me crazy. Please, please don't assume that, just because you speak English, you can teach English. Just because you know how to drive a car, would you walk into a mechanic's office and apply for a job? No. Do you know the difference between "make" and "do"? Between "for" and "to"? Do you know what a helping/auxilary verb is? What about an allophone? Or the communicative method? Do you know why we need "do" in the question "Do you know what time it is?" but not in the question "Are you hungry?" You have to explain things that you've never thought about before. Don't be a punk, and don't do a disservice to your future students. Many community colleges offer classes about teaching ESL/TESOL. You can also pay for a TESOL certification class for a few weeks, and get certification to boot. The Oxford one is pretty well known.

6. Buy some English textbooks and bring them with you. You will find that some schools are lacking in resources, or they only have textbooks that are made by non-native speakers. It is in your best interest to have some more options for yourself, and they can also be really helpful if you start teaching private classes. I really like George M. Rooks's Let's Start Talking series (There are other books with similar titles in the same series). I got a copy on Amazon for 3 bucks. These can be great, easy, time-consuming activities for intermediate and advanced classes. Any ESL textbooks by Cambridge are usually good. Oh, also, BRING A DICTIONARY. The vast majority of dictionaries here are made by Brazilians, and they have a LOT of mistakes and bad translations. My favorite is the Harper-Collins (not just Collins) English-Portuguese dictonary. My vesrion is paperback, and green and white. I paid 6 bucks for it at a used bookstore, and it has been one of my best friends here. It's very good.

7. Bring first-world living with you (to an extent). Food and healthcare in Brazil tend to be cheap, but everything else is expensive. Like, offensively expensive. There are things that you don't think about packing, but without them, your life can be very frustrating.

Bring: makeup (!), razor blades (or an electric razor, for the men... they can cost between 50 and 300 reais), a few pairs of your favorite jeans, shoes for all occaisons (though Brazilian women's shoes are amaaaaziinng), lithium or rechargable batteries, your favorite face wash and other beauty/grooming products. To give you an idea, Finesse Mousse (1.99 in the US) is 28 reais. A microwave is 300. Another big problem is buying any kind of electronics. If you may use them, bring your American cell phone (and any old cell phones you have-- maybe you can sell it or maybe your newest one won't work), camera, laptop, and MP3 player. Oh, also, I have yet to find an American-style hand can opener.

Another thing that's a bit of a touchy subject but I'll say it anyway, for the women: a month's worth of birth control can be as cheap as 5 reais, and you don't need a perscription-- you just need to know the chemical compound of yours, or the shelf name of your compound in Brazil. So if you pay for birth control in the US, don't worry about bringing a lot with you. You can just walk into a pharmacy here.

Don't bring: your nice work clothes. The style of dress is generally more casual here, especially for teachers. I wear jeans and a decent shirt and nice shoes to work. If the school wants you to dress up, they give you a uniform. I wasted a lot of space in my suitcase with this.

8. Have contacts in Brazil, preferrably someone to live with. I don't know much about finding a place to live as a foreigner, because I was fortunate enough to already have a living situation set up before I came here. But you won't be able to just want into an imobiliaria (like a leasing office, but the people with all the power in the apartment industry) and pick a place. From what I understand, in order to be the main signer on a lease for an apartment in the state of Sao Paulo, you have to already own 2 properties. It's really difficult and strict. So I don't know what you can do; I just know what you can't. If anyone knows anything else about how to find places to rent, please leave comments.

UPDATE: Blogger friend Lindsey wrote a very helpful post on renting an apartment in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Most of the rules about fiadores (co-signers) hold true in the state of Sao Paulo. Please don't leave us comments asking for more help on this matter. It's all the information we have. It's just to give you an idea.

9. Don't get caught up in any teaching scams. As a general rule, unless you're a rich college kid whose just using a teaching program as an excuse to convince your parents to pay for you to party in Brazil, you shouldn't have to pay to teach here-- they're supposed to be paying you! These programs can be convenient if they offer room and board, but more often than not, they're just scams. You shouldn't expect to find a job before you get to Brazil. You're better off showing up here with the money you saved up (see number 1) and applying to schools in the city you're in.

10. Pay your American debts before you go. Unless you have someone to help you pay your bills in the US, you will find this difficult to do. Santander bank has a thing where if you have an American bank account and a Santander bank account, you can send money for free between the accounts. However, you can't open a bank account here because you are working illegally and can't prove your income. So you have to pay to wire transfer money to your US account, and that can get super expensive. Plus, the exchange rate is bad. So try to finish up those credit card payments before you quit your American job, okay?

When you get here...

1. Put yourself out there. Apply to all the schools in your area, especially the ones in walking distance if you won't have access to a car. (We just opened the yellow pages and went to "escolas de inglês".) Also, have your Brazilian contact (see 8 above) help you make and put up flyers (in Portugeuse!) saying that you can teach private classes. Put them up at the local universities and private high schools (if you're willing to teach kids), and avoid places like shopping malls and hospitals (so you don't get calls from creepies). Also, don't worry about translating your resume to Portuguese. It's polite to offer, but no school took me up on it, since the owners/coordinators are fluent in English. Just note that flyers aren't a big hit. Your biggest source of students is going to be word of mouth, hands down.

2. Decide what kind of experience you want, but also keep your options open. You'll basically have two options in terms of English schools: the huge chains and the small franchises. They pay about the same-- you should expect between 10 and 20 reais per hour (10 being bad, and 20 being very, very good.) The huge chains, like Wizard and Fisk, and are typically very rigid about what and how you should teach. This can be good and bad. You don't have to do much prep work at home, but you have to follow a LOT of rules. (These rules usually focus on stupid crap, like seating arrangements, and ignore big problems, like how the test has nothing to do with the chapter.)  The smaller franchises will usually give you more leeway, but are VERY unorganized and inconsistent, and often don't have enough resources (see number 6 above). The bosses at the smaller schools are also more likely to make lots of big promises to you that they can't keep, so my advice is to make your decisions based only on what you can see for yourself at the school, not what they say that they're planning. No school is going to pay for a work visa for you. No school is going to make you full-time or give you any management positions. In fact, if you meet a boss like this in an interview who makes you lots of big promises, don't be naive like I was... run away! If you receive more than one job offer, accept 2 or 3. Here's why:

3. You have to think about yourself before the school. I know this can go against your American work ethic, but the industry is ruthless here, and you have to always do what's best for you. Take both jobs and then accept the classes/students that fit your schedule.  If you're working at more than one school, both bosses will pressure you to quit and work exclusively for them. Be polite, but don't do it. Like I said, neither one can offer you full-time, and neither one is going to fire you if you can't teach all the classes that they want you to teach. Almost all of the Brazilian teachers here teach at more than one school and also teach private classes on the side, and no one feels bad about it. If you can get between 25 and 30 hours of classes per week, consider yourself lucky.

4. Don't expect a 9-5. Your schedule is going to change every week. You'll probably need to have classes spread out from 7am -11:00pm. People change their schedules. Your bosses change your classes. Students come and go. Remember, you're teaching adults with families and full-time jobs. English classes are not their first priority. They're going to try to fit it in when they can. Speaking of which,

5. Expect many of your classes to be cancelled. This sucks, but it's true. Many students are F-L-A-K-Y Flaky. (See #4 for reasons why.) Typically, the schools won't pay you if you don't teach, even if the students don't call to cancel. So yes, you get ready, show up, wait, and don't get paid. (Sometimes the bigger chains are better about this, which is a benefit for working for them. Ask during the interview.) You can set the rules of your private classes, but remember, if you make a rule that students have to pay even if they can't come, it may be harder for you to find students. I had a rule with my private students that, if they call within 24 hours of the class to cancel, they have to pay half. Some people offer makeup classes if they give you this 24-hour notice. I was at a point where I had so many students that I didn't offer makeup classes at all. To give you an idea, if I have a week with 25 hours of classes scheduled, I end up teaching about 19. That's why I say, if you're choosing between groups at schools, accept the bigger classes rather than 1-1 classes if you're trying to decide. The bigger classes don't get cancelled. (Though put your own private students before the schools, because you make the rules!)

6. Don't expect to extend your visa for more than 180 days total. So here's the situation with visas for Americans. Trust me, I've become an expert! Your first visa is for 90 days. If you want to extend it for another 90 days, you have to go to the Policia Federal's website and print a receipt saying that you'll pay 60-odd reais. You take it to a bank to pay, and get another receipt. You take these papers to the Policia Federal office in your area. You fill out a form and give them everything, and then you get a stamp in your visa.
If you want to stay for more than 180 days, you have to get married or get a "civil union contract." If you don't have some job contract and you're not a student, then that's it. Those are your options. (See my earlier entries for details.) Like I said, the schools won't pay for a long-term visa for you. They have to pay a LOT of money and they also have to prove that they're being legit with their taxes, and they usually aren't. It's cheaper for them to just hire a Brazilian teacher.

For each day that you stay illegally, past 180 days, you have to pay $8.80 reais. I don't know if you have to pay in the airport or if you only have to pay if you try to come back, but you won't be able to leave and come back without paying, and I don't know if you'll get restricted from future visas or anything. You'll see below in the comments that people have had different experiences with this.

7. Get your CPF ASAP. A CPF is like a Brazilian social security card. A Brazilian address and the tourist visa in an American passport is enough to qualify for one. It's free, and it can come in very handy. You just have to go the Ministerio de Fazenda and fill out some paperwork, and then they mail it to you.

8. Have fun! I know this list makes it sound like teaching in Brazil is like getting a tooth pulled, but I promise that's not true. Teaching is fun and fascinating, and doesn't even feel like work. You'll meet so many interesting people, and you'll learn a lot. You won't get to travel much on your teacher's salary, but if you're in one of the big cities, that won't be too bad. It's an experience I wouldn't change for anything (except the same experience with more money, ha).

Thanks for reading!

UPDATE: I wrote this a while ago. I wrote another one. Read more tips here. It includes more about private classes. You can also check out my About Me and My Blog page (at the bottom) for more teaching-related entries.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Mariah Confession

Tonight we went to a bar with some people from Alexandre's school. It was super fun. I had one (too many) capirinha(s) (it only takes one of those) and Alexandre had to drive me home while I whined about how I wanted an AMPM hot dog. He took me to a real-life AMPM! They actually have them in Brazil, AND they had real-life AMPM hot dogs. Oh man.

So then I came home and put cheese and honey on my hot dog (yay) and we were flipping through the channels and stumbled upon a MARIAH CAREY TELEVISED CONCERT. I have casually mentioned to Alexandre in the past that I "really liked Mariah Carey when I was young," and kinda left it at that. But with a capirinha under my belt and Mariah on TV, everything came spilling out. Come on, she was singing "Vision of Love!" So then I started telling him about how it was her first single and how she was married to her producer and once they divorced she went down the R&B road and got cada vez mais pior, to which he told me I can't say "mais pior" and also "what?? How do you know that about her?"

So then I was singing ALLLLLLL the songs and he couldn't believe that I knew them. He was saying things like "I didn't know you had such a dark past" and "I would never have guessed" and "I had such plans and dreams for us, amore..." How mean! Mariah is so cheesy and ridiculous, but she was an important part of my life. Her songs are generally optimistic and motivational and if I had a kid, I would want her to listen to something like that rather than "let's bang in the club"-type music. Besides, he listened to Bon Jovi and The Backstreet Boys. So.

Mariah was so nice!

"It's a long road when you face the world alone and no one reaches out a hand for you to hold.... you can find love if you search within yourself, and the emptiness will disappear! And then a hero comes along with the strength to carry on! And you cast your fears aside because you know you can survive!"

Come on.

But he didn't ask to break up, so I guess that's good. He just went to bed and asked me to keep the volume low on the TV. Fair.

Ha. Haha.

Monday, October 20, 2008

One More Fun Update

We got a questionably-legal cable box today, which means we have ALLLLLL the channels, including CNN in English and HBO and Fox and FX and "the Sony channel," which plays Grey's only one week behind the US, and with subtitles!

Sooooo exciting!


1. On Friday I went to a free city concert by the dam with my student/friend Priscilla, her brother, and her brother's wife. It was a concert with 3 different famous artists (1 group and 2 individual people that all played together). I can't remember the names of the people-- just one of the singers, because her name was Daniela Mercury and that was understandably easy to remember. She's apparently pretty big in the Brazilian dance/carnival scene. She's from the same part of Brazil as Alexandre's mom, so it was strange to hear a voice like hers saying so many bad words.

It was fun music for a live show, but probably not something I'd listen to in the car. It was definitely a strange experience being the only person in the audience of a good 5,000 people who didn't know the words. I remember once learning about this thing called "collective unconsciousness," or "a reservoir of the experiences of our species," and if that wasn't it, I don't know what is.

Videos of Daniela Mercury are here and here. The chorus of the second song just says "zoom zoom zoom zoom zoom bap bap!" over and over, and is one of the most torturous things to get stuck in your head. Poor Alexandre hates this song and now I have my own weapon for teasing! Muahahhaa. It is, however, pitiful compared to his teasing aresnal. Sigh.

2. I found this wonderful website called that's a dream come true for ESL teachers. It has literally hundreds of recorded interviews about a variety of topics with a combination of native speakers and non-native speakers. The best parts are that the interviews aren't scripted (so they use natural speech with "like" and "um"), and they have downloadable versions and accompanying PDF lesson plans and quizzes. I spent like 6 hours on Sunday preparing lessons using their activities combined with my textbooks. If any of you reading this blog are ESL teachers OR learners, you have to check out elllo!

3. All of the Brazilian news right now is talking about this girl who was held hostage by her boyfriend and killed 3 days later. She was only 16. It's one of those stories that is obviously tragic but that does not warrant 24-hour news coverage, and yet the channels still find a way to report it constantly, showing the same pictures and video clips and interviews over and over. The news is the same in every country.

4. We had a time change, so now I'm another hour ahead of you guys. When you have YOUR time change, you'll fall back, so soon we'll be another hour apart. I had an unusually high amount of sun this year. :)

5. The temporary roommate suddenly up and left last week, 2 weeks early. He decided he was bored here in our city and wanted to go travel around Brazil. He lost his credits for the internship and didn't say goodbye to his girlfriends-- just the one who gave him a ride to the bus station. The other girls kept calling asking for him, and we had to explain that yes, he was gone, no, we didn't know where, and no, we didn't think he'd be coming back. Kind of a weird situation, but at least I've got my classroom back, and we've got our apartment to ourselves again!

6. I got my plane ticket! I'll be home on December 8th! :D :D :D

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The "As if we were Married" Certificate

So we're a few steps closer to securing the visa!

We got the contract that I mentioned in a few other entries. It says that we promise to plan to get married eventually, and we must live "as if we were married" and that Alexandre's responsible for me if I do anything illegal in Brazil. It'll be good for 2 years, at which point we may have to get married for real. We joked that we should celebrate "as if it were a honeymoon," but then we just bought milkshakes instead.

But of course, when we took everything to the stupid immigration guy (described before.... the one with the gold chains and the limp), so convinced that we were FINALLY finished, he informed us that we actually weren't done, and needed more stuff from the US. UGHHHHHHH! His rationale? "I told you it was complicated."

Alexandre is much better than I am at not losing it with asshole people who get just a little bit of authority and go nuts with it, and still manage not to get any work done. I started getting lippy--"Well, sir, it wouldn't be complicated if you actually knew what--" but Alexandre talked over me to prevent any regrettable confrontations. We just have to suck it up and do what this guy says and proverbially kiss his feet until I have the papers I need.

Then we can slash his tires.

Although the timing isn't great, I've got to start planning my trip home, even though I don't know what's happening with the visa. I'll be there tentatively from Dec. 9th - Jan 3rd. Maybe Dec. 15th. Yay!

And now is the time that I ask for donations! Remember that your money goes much farther than mine does for this plane ticket. If you were planning on buying me a Christmas present, you can contribute to this ticket home instead. :)

Boo. I grew up on the border with Mexico. I'm not used to being on the expensive side of the currency. It's so annoying! But at least reais aren't pesos, right?

Mark your calendars!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Week as a Housewife

So this week, I haven't had any students because of the Brazilian spring break. Coincidentally, this is also Alexandre's most difficult week of the semester-- he's right snack in the middle of his pediatrics unit, which means he has to drive to a children's hospital every day and he's not allowed to sleep in or skip any classes. The residents in peeds (term I stole from Grey's) also keep the students for the maximum amount of time that a class can be. Grr! That leaves me with nothing to do really, except clean the house.

I've been so wonderfully productive, despite the fact that it's 95 degrees in our apartment and we don't have an air conditioner:

I'll spare you the details, because I always remember this story we had to read for a practice AP English test during our junior year. In the story, the man had a very boring life, and he wrote what he did at every minute of every day, except it was nothing substantial. I think the writer of that short story predicted the future of blogging.

I will tell you about an... interesting conversation I had with our temporary roommate while I was mopping:

Roommate: At our house, we have to do that every day, but the house is much bigger. Like three times this size.

Me: Oh really? That sucks. Did you guys have to help? Or was it just your mom?

Roommate: Oh. Well my mom and my sister.

Me: Not you [or your 3 brothers]?

Roommate: No. What? Just my sister, because she is not married.

Me: [you're not married.] ... I see.
Here's a picture of the roommate and Alexandre from the night we had authentic (kind of) Israeli food. Alexandre didn't like the picture because he wasn't wearing a shirt, so I made him one in Paint:
He still doesn't like it because "it's Argentina's colors!" I just chose the colors without thinking, and unwittingly made him a San Diego Chargers jersey. Just for you, Auntie Tammy! Ha.

I've also had the last couple of days to explore my camera's memory card. Here are some pictures that got lost in the shuffle:
This is how the cat sleeps... I call it "playing dead."

This is a nice tree in our neighborhood that loses lots of pretty white flowers. Notice the little grey Fiat. I HATE little Fiats. For me, a little old Fiat can be translated as "a piece of crap car that is going to drive in front of me REALLY slow and eff up all the traffic and it'll be impossible for me to pass because the cars in the other lanes are going so much faster but 'loo loo loo I'm just a dumb Fiat driver who is always completely oblivious to the world around me!' RAAR phew."

This is for Danette and Ashleigh (though I don't think Ashleigh reads this):

And here's another candid shot of the cat:
And here's one of us being silly, just for your enjoyment:
And, the videos you've all been waiting for (or at least the videos that Auntie Tammy's been waiting for)... the cat and her laser pen!!



Enjoy! More updates soon!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fogado, etc.

So Portuguese has a great word that I just can't find a nice translation for. The word is "fogado." (Don't look in your dictionary: it'll tell you "cooked" or "baked" or something. This meaning is slang.) It's kind of like "lazy" and "bratty" combined. Here are some examples:

"My husband woke me up to iron his clothes for him before work. He is so fogado."-My student

A certain nameless roommate leaves his dirty dishes in the sink and expects us to wash them. He can be very fogado.

Danielle (reading in bed): My love, my sweet, mi vida, mi cielo, could you please possibly get me some water?
Alexandre: Sure, of course!

The next night:
Alexandre (lying on the couch): Hey meu amor, could you bring me some water?
Danielle: You get it. You think just because I'm the woman I have to be your slave?
Alexandre: Fogada!

So if those examples enlighten you with any English translations, please let me know! I'm sure, however, that even if you can't think of a word, you can certainly think of a person in your life who could be described as "fogado/a." ;)

In other news, next week is "Semana do Sacocheio" (I don't know if that spelling is correct; I've only heard it spoken), which is Brazilian Spring Break. Some schools celebrate it, and some don't. My job is closing for the week; Alexandre's school isn't. (Luck of the draw!) So that means that next week, I'll only have the classes at home, and not even all of them, because one of my students has the week off from HER school and is going home to visit her parents. Also, the engineers are going to their engineering conference in Italy (the reason they started English classes in the first place). So it looks like it'll be a pretty slow week for me. I think I'll only work about 5 or 6 hours at most. Enough time to go buy some new clothes... my dress pants are all too big for me now. ;P

In not-so-good news, this "financial crisis" isn't faring well for my trip home for the holidays. For reasons that I don't completely understand (since I copied all of George's tests when we took microeconomics in high school, a decision that I am now regretting), the Brazilian real is losing value against the American dollar, even though it's the American market that's having all the problems. It's been going up and down, but if it stays on this track, it'll be almost 3 reais to 1 dollar when I try to buy my ticket home. (When I got here in April, 1.6 reais was 1 dollar.) That means the ticket is almost twice as much as I predicted it would be; it means everything will be three times more expensive for me when I'm back in the US. But, on the flip side, every dollar that you guys give to me is like giving me 3 DOLLARS. Eh? Eh?

It's even worse for Alexandre, who still has his trip to Europe sort-of lined up. (For those of you that don't know, he was chosen to go to Greece for an internship/exhange thing, which is the reason we have Najib staying in our house this month. We give him room and board; Alexandre gets free room and board in Greece.) But he still hasn't gotten any information about which hospital he'll be at, or who he'll be staying with. The program is unorganized, and the Euro is even more expensive than the dollar. He hasn't bought his ticket to Greece yet, so, as far as I'm concerned, there's still a chance (albiet a tiny chance)... that he can buy a ticket to go to America with me. [huffs and pouts and acts fogada]

I guess that's it for now. We're going to visit Alexandre's parents this weekend; we're signing our last visa papers on Monday. More updates soon!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Learning Stuff

So Alexandre is really good at getting people to open up to him. On Najib's first day, Alexandre took him out to get a tour of the school and the hospital. By the time they came back, they were already chummy chums and discussing Najib's opinions on the current political climate in Israel.

We all had a nice long talk comparing our countries. Here are some things I learned about Israel:

- Najib personally doesn't feel any particular alliance to either side of the conflict (Arab vs. Jewish, basically). His family is culturally Arab but the majority culture is Jewish, and he is not Muslim; he says that seprates him from a lot of the side-choosing.

- He says that the media (especially in Israel, but obviously not on Al-Jazeera) always portrays Israel as a victim, and only discusses the attacks on Israel, but that Israel also instigates a lot of problems and kills a lot of civilians.

- He said that the government really forces people to put themselves in boxes based on religion, and that every survery/questionarre asks you, and that laws are constantly changing trying to be sure that all religions have equal rights (but that Jewish people always get more rights). He said that sometimes people date people from other religions, but that the families and society really cause problems with it. We compared this to the situation with race in America.

- He said that the fighting is stressful and causes a lot of tension, but that it actually doesn't affect day-to-day life very much for people who don't live on the Gaza strip.

- He said that the vast majority of people want the governments to come to an agreement without fighting, mostly because the wars waste so much money on the military that could be used for schools and hospitals (also sounds familiar!). He doesn't, however, see any solution over Jerusalem that would make everyone happy, so he doesn't think the fighting's going to stop any time soon.

I'm posting these opinions on here because his opinions didn't seem too one-sided (probably unlike the ones I gave about the US); he explained both the good and bad of Israel and the surrounding countries. He was really happy to share with us and said that if we had any other questions that we didn't have to be shy about asking. We told him that he could have the same open-ness with us.

In short, we're basically starting our own faction of the UN in our apartment. We've got 5 languages between us and 3 pacifists. Sounds promising!

Short updates: The visa stuff is going okay (this is our last week to get it sorted out! :-O ); I secured another student at home (a friend of a student); and a few others have mentioned friends who want classes, but I don't count those until they're "certinho"; the cat has learned how to crawl inside the couch and is destroying it from the inside out, and we are powerless to stop her (until we buy duct tape, at least).

Vanidosa update: I weighed myself at a scale in the shopping mall this weekend. I've lost 14 pounds since I got here in April. I'm almost down to the weight that's written on my license. ;) haha. Every woman's goal, right?

So if any of you have any questions for Najib, I can pass them along for you!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Our New Israeli Friend

So the Israeli foreign exchange student came last night. He seems pleasant so far. He's the same age as us, and is studying medicine (duh). I was so strong and I waited a whole 45 minutes before I started pestering him about the languages he speaks. I was reading up on the language situation in Israel yesterday, and I learned that 20% of the population are native Arabic speakers-- usually people who were in the area before it became Israel, or people who immigrated there from surrounding Arab countries. My original assumption was that he would be a native Hebrew speaker, but then I saw this and know there was a 1 in 5 chance that it would be Arabic. And it is!

But he's also fluent in Hebrew, obviously.

This is fun. I made him demonstrate all the crazy Arabic consonants, like these fricatives that are velarized and pharyngealized AT THE SAME TIME. For the non-linguistics people, that's kind of like making the 'th' sound in "the," while also closing up your throat to make the -ng sound in a word like "sing." Craaaaaazy. He admits, "this will require training for you to learn." But he doesn't understand why I can't hear or make word-initial glottal stops or why I can't make uvular stops. Psh. My next project for him is to make voiced pharyngeal fricatives for me.

He seems nice enough. He brought us a gift-- a CD of traditional Israeli songs. (The CD opens on the opposite side... you know, since Hebrew is read right to left. ;) He really likes the cat. Jet lag kept him awake last night long after we went to bed. He told us this morning that he tried to let the cat sleep with him in our-office-turned-his-bedroom, but that she kept attacking his feet all night. Haha. We should have warned him.

I have so many questions for him, becasuse I just don't know anything about the Middle East except what American news reports, which is just like "[abstract politcal terms] blahblah war fighting blabhlah [names of leaders] blabhalh failed peace talks" etc. I want to ask him things like how the wars affect the average people, and not the governments, or why he thinks the area can't achieve peace, or what life is like for the people living on the borders, and what kind of alliances Arabic speakers/Muslims have if they were born and raised in Israel, and if most people have strong political opinions or if they are like Americans in not knowing much of the details, or how people decide which politicans to vote for, and what Israel thinks about America's support. But these are serious things. I can't really be like "hi, nice to meet you, what do you want for breakfast tomorrow? Oh, and by the way, can you explain your opinions on your country's current political climate?"

In the meantime, I'll just keep bothering him about sound systems until he gets used to me.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Big Storm

Before I tell you about the storm (literal title!), I have to tell you that in the battle with the boss, I won! He decided to let me just drop those 2 classes, and he already has another teacher lined up. Convenient! Ass. I think I'll stick with the school until the end of the year, and quit before the new semester starts if the private classes continue to pick up. :D

Speaking of winners, Alexandre won best presentation at the medical conference yesterday! :D :D He was so great and professional and passionate when he was explaining his board and his research to the evaluators. (I was watching from a few feet away... I really wanted to take a picture of him, but I didn't want to embarrass him.) But then he won (out of about 40 people, including older residents!) and got some nice certificates and stuff. :D So smart! When he came home from schmoozing that afternoon, he had his poster board.... and a bunch of fancy yogurt that he stole from the free food area. Haha. The transition into adulthood takes time.

Yes, so, the storm. Yesterday was annoyingly hot. (Remember that we're in opposite seasons, and heading into summer, and we're 8 hours away from any ocean.) But (because this is the tropics), suddenly, around 10pm, the temperature dropped rapidly and this crazy wind started up and was slamming all of our window panels open and shut. And then the rain came. It was so strong and loud that it sounded like hail. The poor cat was in a panic. We had to shut up all the windows to keep our stuff from getting wet. The problem was that the apartment still hadn't cooled down from the very hot day, so it was.... stuffy. Gross. Still hot. And to make matters worse, the power went out as we were getting ready for bed! Our little standing fan, our only source of relief from the heat, slowed to a stop. Though the air was crazy outside, it was humid and still inside. We couldn't open the bedroom window on account of the rain. Torture!

So. We got creative. We opened the balcony door just enough to get some air into the dining room (where the balcony is). We moved the dining room table into the living room, and then picked up our top mattress and moved it to the dining room, close to the breeze. This helped us sleep, but had dire consequences ....!

Ew ew ew ew ewew ewewwweweeewew

One of these made it into our apartment. I stole this pic from the internet...I would argue that the one here was bigger. I know I exaggerate about the size of insects, but this time, I swear I'm not! (Alexandre just came over to see the picture, and he said "no, ours was bigger!" See.) It probably would've caused Danette to have a heart attack.

We woke up around 6am to realize that the power had turned back on. To escape the growing light, we decided to move the bed back to the bedroom. I turned on the bedroom light... and saw the HUGE MOTH spread out on the top of the (thankfully closed) laundry basket. I didn't have my glasses on, so I wasn't 100% sure it was a moth... "Maybe just a dirty sock?" I thought to myself. But then I called Alexandre into the room to verify. But our lens perscriptions are almost the same, and he is more foolish without his glasses than I am without mine. He leaned up really close to it to see.

"NOSSA!" he shouted, which is like "JESUS!", but in Portuguese, and jumped back. We both tried to move as far away from it as we could while still keeping an eye on it in case it decided to attack.

"Maybe we could get the cat to kill her?" He said, giving the moth a gender that it didn't deserve. (Remember that he did the same thing with the snake... a cobra, a mariposa...)

"No. It would probably kill the cat. But also maybe she won't catch it and it'll fly into the closet or something. You have to kill it."

"How do you want me to kill it? It's bigger than my shoe."

"Yeah, and it would make a textbook dirty. Hey, I have an idea! You can catch it with a towel. There. Pronto. Solved. " Solved for me, at least. I wasn't getting any closer to that thing. I was playing the gender card for this one. I walked off to the kitchen to get some water, and left Alexandre to fend for himself against the giant mutant moth. (I'm the worst girlfriend ever.)

I heard him sigh dramatically, and then a pause (apparently while he was looking for a towel), and then I heard "ughhhh eewgyuugugughhhhhh" and his feet stomping quickly across the apartment to the balcony. Then he came running into the kitchen.

"Oh my god Da that was so disgusting, nossa, she was really strong! She was fighting against the towel and I could hear her making all these noises like--"

"EW no no stop don't tell me about the noises!" I writhered around and shuddered a little at the thought of the monster killer moth noises and movements.

He saw a prime opportunity for teasing. "Oh Da it was making noises like plewpoewlewpwelw--" he started making all these gross sounds and tickling me-- "and I could feel it moving my hands!"

"Nooooo stop ohmygod ok fine you're the biggest strongest sexiest man ever, and you saved my life from the deadly mutant moth! I can never repay you for such a debt!"

He smiled, victorious, and stopped tickling. "Thank you, my lady!" he said, with an attempt at a British English accent. But it came out as "donk ew, mah lede!" ...At least the tickling had stopped.

By this time, it was too late for Alexandre to go back to sleep (he had a class at 7:20), so he started getting ready for school. But I, on the other hand, have gotten out of all my morning classes, and today was my first day without the Tu/Th class, so I got to go back to bed! Ha... ha. After a fitful stormy night on the dining room floor and a near-death encounter with a robotic alien moth, sleeping in the dark bedroom with the now-working fan with the sound of a calmer rain against the window was a welcome relief.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Battles with the Boss, Part II

Disclaimer: I know the adults in my family have always told me not to lie, and especially not to tell big lies. But this is a different country and a different culture, and desperate times call for desperate measures.

So my boss is a total jerk. I might lose my job this week. Allow me to explain.

I wanted to get out of my classes on Mon/Weds nights (2 classes...2.5 hours each day). I have a good number of people interested in private classes with me, and the money is a LOT better (like 3 times more what I make per hour there). Alexandre and I conspired and made up this really extensive lie because I knew my boss wouldn't accept something like "I'm busy" or "my boyfriend needs his car back" or even that I was getting classes at my other job. He does not accept answers that don't favor him. Also, just like Michael from The Office, he responds better to being included in secrets and personal things.

We thought we had an air-tight story. I told him that Alexandre and I were having relationship problems and that Alexandre was having some personal problems of his own (I was vague, but made hints at depression) and that it was really hard for me being here going through that without friends, and so we were going to go to counseling together, but we could only find one English-speaking psychologist and he was only available on Mon/Wed nights in the middle of my classes (how convenient!).

I think any American boss would be legally required to accept an answer like that, especially when are schedules are the way they are, and when he changes up teachers and classes all the time. It's not like a 9-5 job. But he didn't! He said, "Well, if Alexandre's the one with the real problem, then YOU don't need to go to counseling. Just him." (!!) I even thought about all the bad things in the world and made myself cry a little, and he told me (while saying "I'm not your boss, I'm your friend!") that he would be totally "fucked" if I didn't work these 5 hours each week (lack of native speaker intuition). Then, he said (while saying that we would "work together to figure it out") that if I couldn't teach those classes, he would have to just give ALL my classes to another teacher (i.e., fire me).

I guessed that he was totally a bluffing, so I held my ground. I told him that talking to him was my last resort, that I had already decided to go to counseling with Alexandre and I hadn't imagined it would be more difficult for him to replace 2 classes than it would be to replace 12 classes. I told him I was giving him 3 weeks' notice, which would be plenty of time to find another teacher or to change up the current teachers' schedules (ahem like he already does when he wants to change his schedule). But then I said that I would accept losing my job because this was so important to me... and also my boss at the other school would take me back (ha-HA!).

He hadn't thought about that. So then he asked me if he could have the number of the psychologist (!!) so he could "talk to him to see if he knew anyone else that would be available." WTF?! I don't know what his true intention was here, but he was totally overstepping his bounds. But I couldn't say that. Instead, I said, "I appreciate you offering to help, but if that were an option, I obviously would've tried it already. This was my last resort. I didn't want to cause problems for you or drop any of my classes." Jesus, this lie was becoming so extensive.

So now he's "thinking about it" to decide if he's going to fire me completely or just replace my 2 classes. I told him that if the other teacher needed more classes I would understand if he had to take away some other ones, too, but I hoped we wouldn't have to "end our working relationship completely." But I'm at a point where I don't even care. I couldn't believe he could be doing something so awful (imagine if this problem had been real! What if I really was in some bad state tell him I needed time off work for THERAPY, and he said no?) while saying at the same moment that we're friends and he wants to help. He really needs a new teacher anyway (this person could also take his Saturday classes that he always pesters me to teach) so this is just going to give him a kick in the pants. He might fire me just to maintain his "leadership role" or whatever, but Alexandre says he won't because he knows that lots of students, especially the advanced 1-on-1 students, would probably leave with me.

When I first started teaching here, I had a nice conversation with one of the teachers at my other job. She told me that almost every English teacher has 2 jobs, and that schedules always change. She said that bosses always pressure the teachers to conform to their schedules, but that the teachers have to stand firm against the bosses so that they don't control our lives. That's what's been happening at this job (7am-10pm work schedule anyone?), and if I don't take care of myself work-wise, no one else is going to.

If I lose my job, it won't be the worst thing in the world. Some of you may be aware of my compulsive habit of making lists and doing money math. I figured out that, with the private classes that I have secured, I'm already making about 80% of my monthly income from the school. If I secure the other classes that are "in the works," I'll only be working about 10 hours a week and I'll have more than my income now. So, obviously, I can work more than 10 hours a week; it might just take some time to find the students. The point is, it will be a much bigger problem for him than it will be for me.

But can you believe that? I go to him in tears that I'm having all these problems in my life; I reach out to him and ask for help, and this is how he responds. If this had been a real problem, I would've been traumatized!

So I'll keep you posted. (Get it, posted?! Because it's a BLOG?!) In happier news, Alexandre's making a presentation about his malaria research at a medical conference today, so I'm on my way over there now to watch him do his thing. :)

Gotta find the good and go to it when you can!
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