Completely aware of the fact that blog-writing isn’t my strongest method of sharing my experience, I’ve neglected it a bit throughout the real meat-and-potatoes portion of my gap year. Also aware of the fact that I owe my ever-supportive friends and family the opportunity to learn about my time here, this blog will be as all-encompassing of my day-to-day experiences as possible (Spoiler Alert: It’s harder than you think to get to the beach every day).
Let’s begin with my job. I work at a creche (a preschool) called Creche IrmÃ£ Scheilla four days a week. All the teachers here love their job, which makes for the happiest and least annoying group of three to five-year-olds that I’ve ever interacted with. Ironically, as I write this, two girls pretending to be dragons are yelling in my face with no sign of stopping.
There’s a playground perfectly shaded by trees with equipment largely made by hand, to which I added an abstractly horse-shaped swing made out of a tire in my first few months here. In the back, there’s a big, formerly lush garden, which unfortunately was neglected over the summer and allowed to be overgrown with weeds. My community project, a program requirement which allows us to take leadership in our communities, is to revitalize the garden by turning a manageable portion of it into a produce-filled agroforest. Explaining the whole process will require a blog of its own, so stay tuned.
My responsibilities at the school are admittedly few. Most of the work to be done is accomplished in a free-flowing, unpredictable, yet efficient manner by the staff, so what I do is mostly up to me. Whether it’s spending a week and a half making Bingo boards so I can teach the kids the English words for the animals that cover them, or just sitting in on a class every once in a while, I find ways to spend my time until I head home.
Luckily, heading home from work is a piece of cake. I walk to the bus terminal about 15 minutes away and wait for the 561 Caieira da Barra do Sul bus to come and hope that I’m far enough ahead in the line to get a good window seat. Getting to work, though, is another story. The traffic on this island is so unbelievably unpredictable that, though I leave at about the same time every single day, it’s impossible to know whether I’ll be a half hour late to work or a half hour early. I once got off the bus three kilometers from work because the bus had been stopped in place for about five minutes already. Sure enough, I beat the bus to my destination by about 45 minutes. The infrastructure and city planning here are clearly rather old and have not been adapted to accomodate the huge number of people who have been relocating to the “island of magic”. There’s about one major two-way road to get to each part of the island, which approximately 68 quadrillion people have to use at once. In addition, there are seemingly no rules unmarked intersections, so people just go when they can and hope that a motorcycle weaving through the cars at the speed of sound doesn’t rip off their wing mirror.
During the summer months, the traffic was especially bad. Depending on who you ask, the population of the island increases two-fold to four-fold, making for crowded, sweaty buses and traffic that would make even a New Yorker’s head spin. Even on 90 degree weekends, I was strongly discouraged from going to the beach like everyone else becasue the traffic was sure to triple my already lengthy journey to even the closest beach, and my air-conditioned house was far more inviting than even attempting the hellish commute. Though I adore the beach, it remains a rare treat.
Dealing with the traffic and all the frustration it brings surpasses even language-learning in terms of stress, so I have my ways of relaxing when I need to. There are days when I’m on my way home, mentally exhausted after a two-hour bus ride, and I can’t even imagine entering my house and discovering what chaos was in store with my zoo of a home (in the most endearing way possible). So instead of getting off at the stop closest to my house, I stay on the bus and take the tranquil, shore-hugging, and traffic-free road all the way to the south of the island. It’s best with a window seat. Once again, just this bus ride will require its own blog to properly explain its caming effects. It’s one of the things I’ll miss most from the island.
Then finally, I’ll arrive home from the south. And who awaits me there but my wonderful host family! A typical scene upon my entrance includes Carol, my host mom, and her oldest daughter LaÃs (11) looking up from their phones to smile and say “Oi, Sintra!” or “Boa noite!”. Then my host brother (2) will either calmly acknowledge my presence and stutter an adorably mispronounced “O-oi, Ita.” or, if he’s in his natural state of a sugar rush, he’ll run up and just blow raspberries until I can reach the safety of another room. My favorite greeting by far is from my littlest host sister, Lara (1). She runs up with outstretched arms and a squinty grin yelling her own version of my name, “Dia! Dia! Dia!”. She runs so fast that I’m sure that if I didn’t catch her and lift her onto my hip every time, she’d fall on her face. Then we walk to the mirror and make funny faces at each other until I finally put her down to go drop my backpack off in my room.
The rest of the night depends on how much house cleaning still needs to be done, what’s on TV, and how energetic the kids are.
The day-to-day in Brazil was nothing to write home about, at least not taken one day at a time, which was what I had to do. So I hope this summary gives you some idea of the reality of my life there, and of everyday life in this program. The ups and downs are enough to give a person whiplash, but the middle always exists to calm you down if things get too crazy.