Thursday, January 31, 2008

To post or not to post

I went back and forth in my mind several times before I decided to sit down and write this post. Sometimes I have doubts about what I should write about on this blog. Should it only be about my work? Is it okay to include funny stories that have nothing to do with my work? Is it okay to talk about things that have nothing to do with my life in Brasil, period? Should I keep it strictly positive, or can I tell you about the negative things, too?

I finally decided to sit down and share my thoughts with you tonight because I know that so many of you care about the big picture, not just my 8 hour LST work days. You care about my life in Natal, how my life in Natal will affect my future, and how my being in Natal affects others. For this reason I share the funny stories, to show you that my being here causes people to learn that "Weel Smeetch" is actually pronounced "Will Smith." For this reason I share the conversations I have with my readers, to show you that I am forming very meaningful relationships based on God's Word, and I don't just go to the beach everyday. But, also for this reason, I share with you pictures of the beaches that I do go to, to show you how beautiful this city is in which I am blessed to live.

The longer and longer I live here, the more aware I become that I covet your prayers. And, the longer and longer I live here, the more aware I become that it is absolutely essential that I, and I ask you, too, daily pray for my safety and the safety of my friends here. It's no secret that Brasil is a dangerous place. I am fortunate enough to live in one of the safest, if not the safest, capital cities in Brasil. So safe, in fact, that it became famous for this reason and *big surprise* attracted all the same things that big, famous cities attract: money, tourists, crimes, and drugs.

There have been several situations since I have lived in Natal regarding my safety that I have chosen not to tell you about, just because everything turned out to be fine and me reporting about it would have turned out to do more harm than good. However, after this week, I decided that it was time I ask all of you who read this blog and keep me in your prayers to pray, specifically, for safety. The situation that occurred this week had nothing to do with me, but involved my apartment building. Everything turned out to be fine, and I was lucky to not even be home when it happened, but it reminded me that I can't get comfortable and forget that I still live in Brasil, and that I still need to daily petition the Lord to keep watch over me. (FYI, when I say "safety," I mean all things ranging from safety as I walk down the sidewalk to keep out of the way of erratic drivers to safety at a stoplight to not get mugged to safety in bad parts of town to keep out of the way of stray bullets. Seriously, it includes the entire range.)

A few months ago I told you that I had been finding a lot of comfort in the words of Isaiah and David in the Psalms. When I pray for safety, I have these words, comforting me and telling me that my prayers are being heard.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. -Psalm 121

Please don't worry about me. Really, I promise I'm okay, and I promise that I've actually had a calmer experience living here than most Americans who spend significant time in Brasil. God has already proven to me, several times, without my asking, that He is watching over me, keeping me from harm, and watching over my coming and going. I just want to remember to ask. :)

I don't thank all of you enough for the support and encouragement you give me. I thank you, in advance, for keeping me and this work in your prayers. Without your help it wouldn't be possible for me to be here!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

I have a neighbor whom I like to call by the name "Bad News Bear*." He was actually the first neighbor I met in my building, after living here for 2 months, but he has grown to be the absolute last face I want to see when I come home. Why? Because he is a bad news bear. Each time I see him and we have a friendly exchange, he ends up telling me something I don't want to hear. One time he even told another neighbor something I didn't want to hear, and it ended up getting back to me anyway!

BNB has a store right across the street from our building that I pass every day on my way to the church. Usually I just give a friendly wave and continue on my way. After I first met him, I would go in and say hi and make small talk; that was until the day he decided to give me an unsolicited and kind of hostile Portuguese lesson. We're right in the middle of a nice little conversation and -BAM!- he starts telling me to never use a particular word when speaking Portuguese, because it's slang and it's wrong. He then taught me the "correct" way and asked if I had ever heard the incorrect way. I said yes, and that I used it. I think that severed our relationship a bit.

A few weeks later, I was waiting for my elevator to go up to my apartment. When it arrived and the doors opened, a guy I had never seen before walked out. We courteously smiled at each other, but then he did a double take and asked if I was The American who had moved in. Turns out this neighbor lived in Australia for a while and speaks great English. (BNB also speaks English, but it's far from great.) We talked in English for a while then he asked how my Portuguese was coming. I told him okay, that I was really trying to learn and speak well. He said "Oh really? _____ (BNB) is the one who told me that you were living here, and he said your Portuguese wasn't good at all."

Okay. So I know I lost a lot of Portuguese when my family moved back to the States, but after living here for 2 months I would not have called my Portuguese "not good at all." My pride was hurt, and I decided to prove BNB wrong and wow New Neighbor with my Portuguese. I switched over, speaking as fast as I possibly could and with the simplest vocabulary I knew, as to not mess up but simultaneously create the illusion that my Portuguese was perfect...perhaps a bit deceptive, but necessary. (You understand.) NN looked at me, wide-eyed, and said "Wow! You've only lived here two months? You speak very well." With a smug smile on my face, I politely thanked him and stepped in the elevator.

After this episode, I became more and more weary of running into BNB. He just brought too much bad news for me to deal with. So tonight, as I walked into my building, I saw two people in the elevator. The doors were closing but they held it for me, and as soon as I saw who was inside I wished they hadn't. BNB was inside, grinning from ear to ear, probably excited because we hadn't talked in a while. He asked how I was doing and I said fine. Then, somehow, between floors 1 and 7, he managed to bear bad news...again. He started to laugh and then wiped a bead of sweat off my shoulder. "Wow! You must be really hot!" "Yeah," I said "I can't handle this heat." "Oh, well it's only going to get worse you know. February is the hottest month." The elevator chimed, the doors opened, and he happily stepped out to go to his apartment. "Goodnight!" he called out behind him. I couldn't push the "Door Close" button fast enough.

Thankfully, my apartment building has 8 stories, with 2 elevators and 6 apartments per level. With all the coming and going everyone does, I hope this is my last encounter with BNB for a while. Maybe I'll start thinking up really sad stories to tell him every time we run into each other. I imagine it going something like this: "Hi Cris! Man it's hot today!" "I had an unfortunate accident with a kitchen knife and am now blind in one eye. WHATCHYA THINK ABOUT THAT??" "Oh...ok, bye." Maybe that will teach him how it's really not pleasant to be neighbors with a Bad News Bear.**

*I realize that the actual phrase is "bearer of bad news," in which case the appropriate spelling would be "bad news bearer." However, I am referencing the movie and children's book, and personally prefer the illustration of an actual bear bearing bad news like this:

**I tell you this story in jest, and you are meant to laugh. I am not venting actual Brazilian frustrations and I will not actually tell him that I had an accident with a knife and am blind in one eye. Just being a bit sarcastic.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Basic Pop Cultural Knowledge Needed, Pt. 2

If you didn't understand my Red Hot Chili Peppers story from a couple of posts ago because either a) you've never heard Brazilian pronunciation of English words or b) I misjudged the story as funny to all audiences, but was really a "you had to be there" moment, then maybe this next one will make a bit more sense.

The other day I was discussing movies around the dinner table with Roberto, Marisa, and Andressa. I asked Roberto, who doesn't speak English, if he had ever seen "Hitch." The following conversation ensued:

(all in Portuguese)
Me: Have you seen "Hitch"?
Roberto: "Hitch"? Hmm...
Me: ...with Will Smith?
Roberto: Will Smith?
Me: Yeah, Will Smith. (Not sure why he wasn't understanding, because we had just been talking about another Will Smith movie.)
Andressa: (who speaks perfectly fluent and perfectly pronounced English, decides to pipe up and translate for her poor dad) Dad, Weel Smeetch.
Roberto: Ohhhhh!!! WEEL SMEETCH!!

They've been getting onto me lately because I need to learn how to speak English "correctly." If correct English includes calling Will Smith Weel Smeetch, then by all means, let the games begin...

Signoretti family photo, with their "filha adotiva" (adopted daughter)
Me, Andressa, Marisa, and Roberto

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cross-cultural settings make for the best stories...

If you aren't in the habit of going back and reading the comments that are left on my posts (in other words, if I don't call you by the name "Mom"...) then you missed out on a great little story left by my sister. So great, in fact, that I felt it warranted a re-publishing on the main page of my blog.

"Our assistant case manager was talking to some Somali clients, and she said "Did you guys get any gifts for Christmas?" They couldn't understand what she was asking, so she rephrased and said "You know, presents. Did you get any presents?" They smiled and said "Oh yes. We are for Obama!"

(My sister works as a job-finder for refugees who have been re-settled in Oklahoma City. I don't mind using this space as a plug for her, not one bit, so if you happen to own your own business or know someone who is looking to hire you just let me know, ok?)

Thanks to all of you who have been commenting lately. It really boosts my spirit and makes me want to post more. (Really! Look at how often I've written in the last couple weeks!) Special thanks to Allison formerly Kelly, Lauren Jacoby, Jeff McMillon, Aunt Nette, sister Kelly, Melanie who posted under the name "Meanie" (good one, Fullerton,) Lacy, Lezlie Carter, Karin Bryan, Deborah Niccum, and all the rest of you. You make my life happier here.

Happy Tuesday!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Imagine a world where high school students spent their full senior year studying for the SAT. Imagine that this SAT is actually much harder than the SAT that you and I are familiar with, and if you don't study, you fail. Imagine that these high school seniors pay good money to take special prep courses, in addition to their normal studies, to increase their chances of passing. Imagine that this SAT will be specialized in some chosen subject, and before you begin college to become a doctor, lawyer, nurse, or teacher, you must prove to know enough about the subject to be admitted in the first place. Imagine that you are 17 years old with this kind of pressure. Imagine that the whole reason you are doing this is to study for free at the federal university.

Welcome to Brasil, my friends. The aforementioned "SAT" is actually the Vestibular. You get one shot each year to pass or not, and I got to observe firsthand the toil, stress, relief, heartbreak, and joy that accompanies this test. I had 5 friends take the test this year, 3 of whom passed. My friends missed retreats, went home early on weekends, woke up at 8 on Saturday mornings, gave up their Friday nights to take prep courses, all just to prepare. And only 3 passed.

So, of course, when people pass the Vestibular it's a big deal. It's not like the way I remember the day ACT/SAT scores came out and everyone just compared scores that night, thinking minimally about what kind of scholarship we would secure. We went on our merry way, knowing that if our score was lower than desired the test would be coming around again in a couple of months, and if our score was higher than expected we could put the dreaded test behind us for good.

No no, no no. The day the results come out for the Vestibular, there is no secret about it. Names pass by on the TV screen. If you're a girl, you shave half of one eyebrow then cover it with a Band-Aid and purposely go out in public so everyone knows you passed:

If you're a guy, your friends attack your hair with scissors so that you have no choice but to shave it all off. Then you purposely go out in public to show off as well:

So, where do I come in to all of this, other than being the only person who had a camera the day it all went down? I'll let you know, other than the people pass the Vestibular themselves and are able to enter the federal university at no cost, the friends are really the people who benefit from all the work. In a matter of one week, I have now been to two churrascos in honor of the test-passers. What's a churrasco? Only the single best barbecue you will ever attend in your life! All you can eat meat cooked over an open fire and served with the best Brazilian side dishes imaginable. Really, picture the barbecue of your dreams and then multiply it by about 13, and there you have the famous Brazilian churrasco.

So, thanks, Caio and Fernanda. All your hard work has put meat in my belly and a smile on my face. Oh, and congratulations, too! :)

P.S. I sent out my most recent newsletter yesterday. If you are not on my email list but would like to be, let me know!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Conversation with a reader today

Context: lesson about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch

Me: So what do you think about the fact that he wanted to stop in the middle of the desert to be baptized? Do you think that's a little strange, that he stopped right there?

Reader:, for me I don't think it's strange at all. What he heard, it was very important. When people hear God's words, it touches them. He knew he had to listen.

Couldn't have said it better myself. :)

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Basic Pop Cultural Knowledge Needed

As I was walking along the beach with my friends tonight, my friend turned to me and asked if I liked "Hot Dog Cheesy Pepsi." (Sounded like "hotch-doggy-cheesy-pepsi".)

"Do I like WHAT?" I asked.

"Hot dog cheesy pepsi!"


Finally, between giggles, they translated for me: "Red Hot Chili Peppers!!"

Welcome to my life. :)

Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Beginnings

I decided to bestow the above title upon this post because of all the new things I'm beginning to do in my life here in Natal. 2008 has just begun and tomorrow is the 4-month mark of my arrival in Natal. As I walked through my apartment just now to water my ever-growing bamboo plant, I thought of four new things in my life that never before existed until I moved down South. I'd like to share:

-I have begun to translate Portuguese into English when I talk to people in the States. Conversation with a friend on Skype today:
Friend: "So how was your New Years?"
Me: "It was good. I passed it at that beach house that the church always goes to."
Friend: -silence-
Me: " you say that in English? 'Passed the New Year'? In Portuguese you say 'passar'..."
Friend: -silence- "Um...I really don't know what that means."
Me: "Hmm. I guess not."

The problem with this is that when I use this kind of reverse-translated English here with my friends, they all know what I'm saying and most likely don't know or don't consider that it's incorrect. It makes sense to us, why doesn't it make sense to you?

-I have begun to lay towels down on the floor next to the crack under my front door because last night a 4-inch albino-looking lizard with colorless eyes entered my apartment and decided to hang out on the ceiling. A friend of mine was here to spend the night, and good thing, because she was able to knock it down and chase it out. Had she not been here I would not have slept a wink. Not. A. Wink.

-I have begun to develop reverse freckles, white spots, on my skin because I am so tan (please note: not burned, TAN.) I think they must have been there before I just never noticed them because they blended in with the rest. But not now, my friends, not now. White Christmases are nice, but I had my own White Christmas with a bottle of Hawaiian Tropic 45+ SPF sunscreen. And how lovely it was... :)

-I have begun to find my inner fish. New Year's day was spent, again, in the pool with the church at the house in Genipabu. The highlight was when all the guys played "Irvaine the Shotput." (Translated: "Who Can Throw Irvaine The Farthest?") Irvaine is pictured to the right, an 8 year old who tops out at like 20 lbs max, and finds no problem with being considered the community toy. More fun for us!

In case any of you were checking back here just to know what the reader count was for today, I'm proud to announce that it was a big fat 0. As in Zero. I passed (ha, kidding. I spent,) 3 hours waiting today, but it was good because I ended up with lots of things to do a the church building. First, the washing machine decided to bust a tube (not to be confused with bust a move) and drain all the water out onto the floor. (This is my washing machine curse...this happened to me four times in my house in Abilene.) Then the line where I dry my clothes decided it also wanted to be on vacation and boycotted my freshly-washed towels, dumping them all over the very dirty balcony floor. Then I decided to just have a little down time from all the stress (ha...what an easy life I have!) to get reacquainted with my buddy James. As in, James from the Bible. I found this gem that stuck with me all day, and wanted to share with you:

Two Kinds of Wisdom
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. -James 3:13-18

If you are looking for something to pray for today, please pray that as I begin the year I will earnestly seek this kind of wisdom in my work here in Natal. I want pure, peaceful, considerate, submissive, merciful, impartial, and sincere wisdom. My prayer is that God will grant it to me and to all of you as well.

Feliz Ano Novo!!