Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunny Sunday

I am here on my front balcony transcribing an interview with 3 graffiti artists. It's hard to hear them over the sounds of a Sunday, which maybe you want to know about?

A pagode song plays in the distance... ("paaaah pa pa pa pa... go down to the floor, go down to the floor" and other baseless lyrics)... the kids, maybe 7-10 of them, play in the little walkway in front of our house (there's no "street" it's just a sidewalk that divides the two rows of houses). They have little three-wheelers that kids too big for them ride on, bikes with tires that are flat and the metal screeches as they ride, scooters. one kid has on one roller blade. they yell, laugh, fight, play play play. They tell me that I speak funny, "what are you - French?" they ask... "say something in English!" and when i do the laugh and scatter, resume playing, unsure how to respond to that funny language. It's 3pm, and most adults are sleeping despite all this noise. People eat big heavy meals for lunch - feijoada (beef stew), rice, meats... we always eat at Tia (pronounced cheea) Luissa's house, and she always serves the same thing - feijao, (a lighter style of feijoada, less meats both in quantity and variety), a chicken stew (to die for), white rice, farofa (a manioc flour-based meal cooked with butter and onions), "salad" (green-leaf lettuce with vinegar, salt, bit of olive oil), cod-fish with potatoes, pasta (for her daughter Tais who likes it), and a liter of coca-cola, fresh passion fruit juice, some beers. Needless to say, I'm stuffed, and should be snoozing as most are, including Zaya, but there's too much to do (blogs, laundry, skype calls, emails, dishes to wash, family visits, journal entrees, interviews to transcribe, thank-you letters to write, reserving plane reservations to go to sao paolo, etc, etc, etc) so here I sit.

I love sunday, because it's the only day that most of the people have off... they even work saturdays!! who said Bahianos are lazy? that's the stereotype in all of Brazil, there are endless jokes about a lazy Bahiano, but if you were to live here, and watch as man, woman and child carry heavy bags and sacks, concrete or anything else up and down the morro (hills) where they live, you'd be convinced otherwise. I like the family visits, they way they joke with each other (they certainly can be ruthless - a testament to the unconditional love they have for each other). I love the spontaneity of it all, how each Sunday unfolds differently. I never know which relative will come and visit when. I just have learned that I better put Zaya in a cute outfit on sundays, because you never know.

The weather has been great, slight winds, partly cloudy, high '70's... but one day this week it got pretty hot, the eve of another scorching summer has begun. When we got home that day we took cold showers (the only kind you can) to cool off... and I thought, let's put Zaya under the water to cool her off (she usually takes delicious warm baths in her little plastic bath bin I always have pictures of). Hilarious, I hand her to Eder and as soon as she's under the water (I guess we should have introduced her slowly) she's letting out a blood-curdling scream. oops.

Things have certainly developed a rhythm, a schedule, a flow... and this has freed me to think about so much of my life. I am deeply sad to not be at PAIHS this year. This sadness creeped in out of no-where, because I didn't feel it when I left last year in the middle of the year. It only hit when the school year started this year and I wasn't there. After a little nosing around, I found out that my old office/classroom is no longer mine, no longer a free and open democratic space for any and all students to hang out, talk politics, heat up their food, get some water, browse my library of books, chat on internet or their cell phones. Now it's the teacher's office. (what a slap in the face!). And my job position wasn't renewed, there is no partnership coordinator, no one nurturing PAIHS' partnership with Make the Road. Now, there's just a Student Activities Coordinator, and it's the gym teacher. I feel slighted. Did I spend the last 2 1/2 years in a position that the gym teacher took over? And finally, there IS no Puentes office on our school's floor, it's been moved to the first floor. Space and place mean everything, so out of sight, out of mind. It left a pit in my stomach, a guttural nausea, that I just can't shake. To top it all off, right now, the U.S. Congress has the DREAM Act up for a vote that is closer to passing than ever. What's the Dream Act? It's the legislation I've been working with immigrant students to get passed since 2001!!!!!!!!!!!! I know, I know, this is a god thing! While I'm ecstatic that it may pass, I cringe that I'm not going to be around to watch it actually happen. Anyway, that's minor, it should pass. it has to. if you're reading this and it's around September 18, please please take action! Help get it passed!!! http://bit.ly/NCLR_Action_Alert.

On another depressing note, as I turn my head 180 degrees from the past to the future, I wonder what the hell I'm going to do with my life? I have this masters' degree in City Planning, and have no conventional experience doing city planning except for small bouts of community organizing here and there. And in the field of education, where my resume is abundant with experience, I hold no title, degree, or certification to get a foot in the union-saturated field (I know it's a good thing there are unions, but the credentials needed to get into schools works as a gatekeeper for us non-conventionals). So, what will I do in this national "crap" economy and even crappier upstate NY one, when I show up needing a job, dirt broke after my 15-month brazil escapade? should i go back to school like so many in the unemployed pool do? could i handle school with a one-year old? The last place I need to be is depending, even more, on my parents. Speaking of that...

Returning again to the past, this time recent, I've had some time to reflect on the last 9 months of my life and realize how crazy absolutely insane it was! remember packing up the apartment, throwing it all in the back of the 22-foot truck, then driving that truck in the middle of winter all the way through manhattan to the GW bridge and up to rochester in caravan with my mini and pete's cars? at the time, i didn't know that was just the START to the craziness. What I realize now is that i think you go through it, and you survive, you just get through. But now, in perspective, I am coming to my senses. It also helps to talk to other Brazilians, young women friends, who hear my travails and shake their head and ask, "how did you do it?" One friend, who is 7 1/2 months pregnant, had 3 baby showers here and stocked up on 3000 disposable diapers (they have "diaper baby showers" here so that's pretty much what you get). She has an immaculate baby room ready, a terrific crib with an expensive cotton mosquito net, dresser, closet, bathtub and changing table. the works.

I remember when I was 7 1/2 months pregnant, how I'd squeeze out of our one bedroom on the roof of Eder's house, into the construction zone of concrete, dust, dirt, bricks, wood, construction workers (who changed every 2 weeks - as we went through 3-4 sets of them one quitting after another). I squeezed around the work with my big stomach, out the door, down stairs, to the kitchen of my mother-in-law. She gives a nasty glance, grumbles hello as I try, again, to give her a happy "Bom Dia Dona Maria!" I start breakfast, trying to wash as many dishes as I can to "make up" for the use of her kitchen. I wait for a break in her housecleaning to wash some of my clothes, trying not to step on the dog pee-stained newspaper in front of where you hand-wash clothes. At least the view is beautiful out that back room. At least my feet aren't swollen. At least today it's only 98 degrees and not 100 degrees like yesterday.

I try and get some exercise, hauling my big butt up to the main road, get on a small bus after waiting 1/2 hour for it to come. Completely car sick from speed bumps and rush-hour bumper to bumper traffic through one of the most densely packed, overpopulated informal favelas in Salvador (Pau da Lima), I descend from the bus and begin the 20 minute walk down a dusty road, down a hill and up a bigger one, to the sanctuary of a private colegio that hosts a pool open to the public for a minimal fee. I swim to my heart's content and I do say, it's the best part of my day. by 5:30 though, the sun has set and I head back, walking the dark road for 20 minutes, waiting even longer for a bus, get home. Back to the craziness... mosquitoes out in droves. The fan pulls all the dust in with it as it cools me off... and ohhhh, I long to get out of this place. Eder and I were mostly not speaking to each other the stress was so intense, our entree into living in Brazil so emotional, and when we did, it was about stressful conversations long over-due... we had to make financial decisions about the apartment we're constructing, baby decisions about the type of labor, decisions, decisions decisions. I was miserable. I cried often. I slept little. It was mid-march. My mom would be arriving, and I'd be leaving to go on a short vacation with her and pete to Chapada, get away from this place. After that, I'd pack my suitcases and move out of this house and into their rental house ... It all was too much. Even moving to the rental house didn't help settle the dust. traffic jams prevented us from getting to dr.s appointments. we got lost all the time trying to get from a to b in a city with the worst signage imaginable. there were "little" irritants in that rental house - a constant dog-barking, neighbors blaring music, dirt accumulated along the road and tromped into the house all the time, mold and dirt everywhere. nothing worked. And the rains didn't stop, so much that there was a landslide down below eder's house crushing the roof of the house below, scaring the daylights out of eder's mom and whole family. Huge damage, but only economic, no one was hurt. Then there was my torturous 35 hour home birth labor ending in a wretched transfer to the hospital, attempted epidural (4x) and then the realization that my worst fear - a cesarean - was upon me. I spent 3 days in that hospital happy to be away from everything. glowing that i was a mom, that i had a daughter, and on enough drugs that the pain didn't set in. Until i got home. the incision gets infected and i can't move from the pain. eder and i are new parents figuring it all out (which is code word language for - our relationship was extremely strained). we're living in this humungous house where, bed-ridden, my meals had to be delivered to me upstairs and on the other side of the house. it was all i could do to just nurse. I barely could make it to the bathroom that was off my parent's room, and had the biggest accident one night when, trying not to wake mom and pete so i kept the light off, I didn't see that the toilet seat was down. oops. anyway, this is what zaya was born into. chaos. we moved into our home when she was 5 weeks old, no fridge, no faucet sink, a roof that leaked, one night we flooded the whole entire apartment. more family drama with the inlaws downstairs. stressful relations with my mom who was staying here with us during her final week in salvador, getting bit alive by mosquitoes. ahhhh... how on earth did I/we all get through it? No doubt Zaya felt the stress, from the womb into the world. At some point, you lose site of what's normal. What's tolerable. I kept my head on straight by just reassuring myself I'd get through it. there would be better days. i could be much worse off. indeed. all of that is true. life feels luxurious right now... every single thing has gotten better - we have a kitchen sink that works! we have a refrigerator. we have clean fans that work. the weather is nice. we're getting good interviews and graffiti research. we know Zaya and her moods, we know if and when she's going to freak out. Well, not always, but at least its easier to handle now. As fun as it was to have so much change in such little time (quitting my full-time job at 6 months pregnant, packing up my entire apartment and putting it in storage upstate and moving to the Southern hemisphere to have the baby and research some graffiti), I'm not sure I'd highly recommend it to someone else. I paid the price for my wild and crazy ideas. I live and learn (or do I?). At the same time, I'm so glad to be where i am.

once again, so very blah blah blah of me to go on and on here.
I'll end with two things:
i'm reading parable of the sower and parable of the talents (octavia butler) and sceerd for the future!!!!!!!
i dreamt last night that i lived in someone else's manhattan apartment and they had a huge in-ground pool in their bedroom, and i walked into a university classroom and i was the professor of this fabulous course (not sure what but i liked it). ahhhh dreams.

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