Monday, April 16, 2018

21st Century Schools

I normally arrive a little late to the kids' school to avoid the crowd. (The doors open at 6:50; I arrive around 7:00, which is actually early by Brazilian standards). They have only one regular average-sized door for an entrance. The kind you find on a bedroom. The entire school has to squeeze through this two-and-a-half foot width. Most parents wait at the door with their kids in a giant group so that they seem to be one living organism. An amoeba that squeezes into the school by pinching itself in the middle. Between the heat, general sweat issues, and anxiety, I choose to avoid it. Late arrivals - like really late arrivals, I don't consider myself in that group - have always been an issue for the school. Late pick ups, too. I remember a parent-teacher meeting once where the principal said some students weren't being picked up until two hours after school ended. So today, without warning, the school closed the door at 7:00 a.m. and forced all the late arrivals to process into the school through the front office. I was the fifth person at the office, but didn't leave until 20 minutes later. (Unless a number system is being used, it's normal to push and shove your way to the front. Exactly why I arrive after the morning rush).

I returned home and vowed to brush my teeth and schedule a meeting with the school director. Yeah, I'm gross, okay. I get up at 6:20 to get the kids ready for school and out the door, and don't actually brush my hair or teeth until after I get back and make some coffee. Sweats, messy bun, dark circles, check. What? I'm introducing my neighbors to the "hot mess" American stereotype. I'm basically a cultural ambassador. 

I did go back to the school and was able to speak to someone who was like.. the deputy director? I'm not sure what her role was. The director wasn't there, but the young woman (Jesus, I'm old enough now where I regard 20 year olds as "young woman" - absent of greys, but full of collagen and inexperience) who greeted me at the office brought this deputy director to me. We sat in her office and I gave her the usual, "sorry I talk like a toddler, Portuguese is my second language" speech. We had a really pleasant conversation about the school and I was able to ask a lot of questions that I hadn't been able to sit down and discuss previously. I mentioned that my biggest concern was the extreme lack of communication from the school. 

In regards to this mornings event: what the fuck? She said, in much nicer terms, "In Brazil, we talk and talk and talk and our words aren't heeded. Then, we punish without warning. Today there were many people at the office door. Tomorrow there will be less. The next day there will be less. This is a conversation we have had with parents for years." Basically, they brought the hammer down to teach everyone a lesson. Okay. I get it. We were one minute late this morning and one minute is one minute. Honestly, I'm much happier to see rigid adherence to the rules than the Brazilian, "eh, time is like, whatever man" culture. 

Then I asked, "What is up with all the little notices?" Tiny pieces of paper either glued inside my kids' notebooks or lost in the bottom of their backpacks. It's a terribly inefficient way of communicating with parents. I never know when school will be closed until the day before. Part of that is because I don't know the 10,000 religious and cultural holidays of Brazil. You'd think I would by now - almost three years later and being married to a Brazilian. But we're not religious and there are SO many of them. She laughed and mentioned that the Brazilian independence day is coming up. I said, "I thought that was in September." She laughed again and said, "That's the other one. We have two." Internally, I could not have looked more like: 😑. Thankfully, she gave me the scoop that a half week off is coming at the end of the month. I said, "It's 2018. Why doesn't this school use email or have a Facebook account to communicate with parents??" Her face dropped a little bit then and she said, "Simply, because it's a municipal school. When I worked at a private school, we did use them both! But the government doesn't want to pay for them." 

I guess they'd have to register for government addresses and hosting and probably a slew of other behind the scenes costs that I'm not aware of, but I mean.. Facebook is free. They could still do that. On the other hand, Brazil does have very different freedom of speech laws, so maybe that causes some type of issue I'm unaware of. She also mentioned that sadly, Brazil is still a generation or two away from being technologically savvy enough AND having enough access to technology to make it logistically reasonable. I would argue that even in the favelas people have smartphones. And even if not every single person is connected to Facebook or email, enough of them are. Information still flows like wildfire through communities here. It only takes one or two people to be connected to an information source for the information to spread. Unfortunately for me, none of my in-laws or friends have children at the same school, so I'm out of the loop. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Nirvana is Elevator Music

My local supermarket never fails to surprise me. At least, whatever's pumping out of the speakers never fails to surprise me. I don't know who chooses the soundtrack to my bread and cheese excursions, but they have some wild tastes (no pun intended). Sometimes I hear inappropriately hilarious tracks like Warrant's Cherry Pie. Sometimes I have to stop myself from singing to Major Lazer's Lean On, or Tom Petty's American Girl (ironic), or Boston's More Than a Feeling. I mean is it so hard to find an English-speaking duet partner in a grocery store in the middle of nowhere, Brazil? Sheesh.

Anddddd then there are times that I'm certain I'm the only one in the store who can speak English. Like when they play R.E.M.'s Everybody Hurts, Gary Jules' Mad World, or Sufjan Stevens' Casimir Pulaski Day. Those songs are sad as fuck! I'm always caught off-guard by them and I have to restrain my emotions and calm myself down, which just makes me look weird because no one else is impacted by these words that they clearly don't understand. I remember the morning I learned Bowie died Space Oddity was playing as I stood in line. SPACE ODDITY FOR FUCK'S SAKE. I wanted to shake the cashier and yell, "The stars look very different today! Don't you get it?!" No? No.. ok...

Today it was a cover of 93 Million Miles (embedded for your pleasure/torture). I had to gather myself by the spices. I mean, "If you do it right / you'll love where you are / just know that wherever you go / you can always come home," ..... not what an expat needs to hear at 7:30 a.m. Because there's this duality to being an expat that you can never overcome, right? I love where I'm from and I love where I am, but there's no possible way to reconcile the two. Even in Brazilian communities in the US, even when I find maple syrup in Brazil, it's impossible to amalgamate the two. And so along with this amazing experience comes a distressing duality. Two sides of a life that will always be separate.

Someday I want to find the guy who selects the music and give him a good slap for not knowing what the hell he's playing. But as my wonderful tri-lingual Brazilian friend once said, "Nirvana is elevator music to us." They like the sounds, but don't get the context. (Which reminds me of the time RAPE ME played as I checked out and handed over my money in a state that can only be described as shell shock.) And so I remain alone, crying into the oregano or inconspicuously playing a miniature air guitar as Journey follows me from aisle to aisle.