from Sandy Needham

Friday, October 1, 2010

Brazil Dispatch 30

So I did end up checking out a Canadian-model bilingual pre-school in Natal at which to volunteer. The place is sparkling new and looks very Scandinavian with its white tiles and colorful furnishings. I attended several sessions of the three-year-olds. I was interested to see what they were like, having been familiar with four and five-year-olds at Blue Rock School. I found several things problematic, yet interesting: the Brazilian teacher, whose English is excellent, never asked me to sing songs or tell nursery rhymes to the children, as I offered; the children seemed much more adverse to having a stranger there than my experience with their American counterparts, though I could see that they were not amused to have yet another person speaking English to them. They could understand some of the English, but never spoke it. They told me I should speak Portuguese because it’s easier, and worried if I had someone at home who could speak it! Then when I did mix some Portuguese in, they thought I talked ‘like a baby’ with my funny accent and incorrect genders. Another contrast with their American counterparts: they are more dexterous with small motor skills - one boy was about to tie his shoes! The girls went off to ballet class, all changing into tights, tutus and ballet slippers (labor intensive) while the boys went off to judo. The teacher has two great assistants for the twelve children and they all play independently so very well – something I try not to interrupt – that I simply wasn’t needed there. I basically was driving all the way from Cotovelo Beach to laboriously pick up plastic blocks in the heat, so I decided to suspend my volunteering for now, having added my wonderfully fun Portuguese for Foreigners class to my “schedule.”

My Portuguese professor, Marcelo, lived in Chapel Hill, NC for six years getting his Ph.D. in linguistics. His English, with a mix of the British accent he studied and the North Carolina accent he picked up, is hilarious. He was the perfect addition to a party Newton and I threw for our international friends. Marcelo told the class that American drivers are so careful that in NC he used to step to the edge of the curb as if about to cross the street just to watch the drivers stop! My friend Maria Candida had observed the same thing in Florida, except there the drivers already stopped a block away! (In Brazil, drivers all have the right of way, so one can see old ladies running for their lives to avoid turning cars at every intersection – it’s pathetic, especially since I’m one of them.) We Portuguese students never tire of hearing the names of each other’s uncles and grandmothers as we go through a grammar drill: Satish, Andreas, Shio, Ivan, Yenny, Malmoud…or about our daily schedules, the foods we like, or the fact that Brazilians often marry their first cousins, etc. The casualness with which Marcelo brings the lesson and lets it unfurl spontaneously in the group is just perfect. He adds in plenty of slang and vernacular, with gems such as “burracracia” - combining the word for donkey, which is also the word for stupid, with the usual ending for bureaucracy! This is a Brazilian university in the northeast, so the casualness is ingrained. Two times in a row we were locked out of the classroom, with Marcelo and all of us waiting for the person with the key to arrive; finally, the guy and his maintenance entourage came lumbering down the hallway at an inhumanly slow pace!

I had quite a harrowing day last week, beginning at lunch on our front porch. I got ‘burned’ by a gigantic poisonous caterpillar. He started at my left heel, but by the time I had dashed some unknown, slightly stinging thing away, the side of my right foot and my right ring finger were also beginning to swell and turn purple. As you can see in the photo, we had quite a jolt when we saw what it was. The branch-like tentacles are like tiny medieval weapons. The caterpillar is about 3-1/2” long and about 1” wide.TaturanaNewton picked him up on a stick and threw him away down the road. The caretaker was away, which explains why this monster from the neighbor’s cashew tree had not been spotted and swept away already. Burned As the pain and swelling increased, Newton decided to go check about this “taturana” on the internet, and found out there were 6 fatal cases on record. We decided to go for an antidote, but while Newton was getting info and directions to the specific hospital for this, I went out to the carport for more air. Then I got faint and sat down. When Newton came out, I had fainted and fallen over on the stone ground, resulting in a huge purple goose-egg on my forehead. He panicked, thinking I keeled over from the venom! I managed to avoid another fainting spell en route to the hospital by rocking back and forth like a crazy person, saying “OK…OK…OK.” We had to stop for gas quickly and the attendant just said to pay on the way back after seeing me rocking in the car with the big forehead! I continued this anti-fainting strategy while in the waiting room at the hospital. Newton left to park the car and some folks in front of me turned to ask what had happened (to make a person act so strangely?). Getting mixed-up, I said a “tartaruga” instead of “taturana” had gotten me in three places. This means turtle and they are not poisonous, so weirdness reigned! Their puzzlement led them to ask Newton upon his return, and he set them straight. The hospital had no antidote, though this caterpillar in the northeast is not as lethal as its cousin in the south of Brazil. They gave me an I.V. for the pain. The I.V. was out of place and my arm was swelling up with the solution, which made me faint again – apparently after a mighty convulsion that scared Newton all over again. The wailing fisherman who had been bitten by a fish didn’t help my concentration! Finally, after they lifted my dead weight to lie down on a gurney and gave me oxygen, I began to feel better. Ten days later, now the swelling has gone down significantly except in my finger, which is still rather numb but beginning to itch, which is a good sign; the purple burn dots are turning into little raised blisters. As the hospital said, time is the only solution.

bull dozer In the meantime, we have been living in our paradise, continuing to be interrupted by passing cement mixers and bull dozers as the construction proceeds across the street. Even though many coconut trees have been knocked over and a gigantic pile of this debris piled up across the road - prominently featured during our meals on the front porch - a tree strategically hides this pile when I walk out on the balcony of a morning and greet the surviving beauty there.

debrisI have the loveliest, most fun female dentist here. I told her I like the fact that I actually kiss my dentist! She was surprised to learn that people don’t kiss each other on each cheek in the US. I said we shake hands with our dentists. She prefers the kissing!

Newton ran a 5-kilometer race on a Saturday morning in Natal. Even though they gave him an electronic chip to tie to his shoe, his stats were never offered on the website set up for the event; he is not sure what his time was, especially relative to the winner. But he enjoyed training a bit beforehand and participating. There were many people running also a 10K and a 25K race.

A very odd item appeared in the local news: a woman dropped her boyfriend off at work early one morning in the city and two robbers - one with a gun – came to rob her in the car. Natal is still one of the safest cities in Brazil, so this is not a common event. After taking her purse, the robber with the gun rode off on a bike. The woman hit the accelerator and ran him down, killing him. All the mixed responses to the story ran through my mind, until I learned that the age of the robber was just 15. Disturbing.

We will bid this wondrous, crazy place farewell for three weeks when we take off soon for Sicily by rental car, then Athens for business, then Newton to Poland for business and me to Herford, Germany to visit Anke, my family’s year-long exchange student in Tulsa in 1964! Newton will join us in Herford for the weekend before we fly back home. I’m airing out the fall clothes and checking for mold, faded lines, bug holes and the odd larvae nest. The hard part: I’m going to have to give up flip-flops and stuff my feet into those closed shoes again…NO!!!!!!!!




  1. Wow, what a beautiful little monster that caterpiller was. To think he did that to you by just brushing next to your foot and getting swatted by your hand. I suppose he has few enemies with that lethal defense.

    Max and I got very used to crossing streets in San Francisco where pedestrians always have the right of way. Here in Cincinnati it is more challenging even in cross walks. Brazil sounds tough on walkers.

    We will look forward to hearing more about your travels to Europe. Sicily by car sounds wonderful. Hope you foot swelling goes down in time for those shoes.


  2. Good grief! What a beast!! So as for having to return to closed shoes, you know the Europeans are infamous in the US for wearing sandals and just adding a pair of socks when the weather gets cold. If you followed this fashion statement, you would still be in style and not have to cram your feet into real shoes!

    Vermont is beautiful right now - we're at peak foliage (a bit early for us) and you can feel the whisper of winter in the air. We're already thinking snow!!

  3. As always your disbatches are fun to read. Sorry the volunteer work with 3 year-olds didn't work out. But your Portagese lessons sound like a "hoot".

    Our trees are beginning to turn here in town, but the high-country is brillant now. We are content to just watch the pictures posted on the news for now. Janet

  4. What an absolutely terrifying tale! And that foot looks so swollen. I'm so glad you're not down south where the caterpillars are really dangerous! But you do tell a great story.
    And the Portugese lessons sound so much fun. And I do believe you attract friends the way fly paper attracts flys!
    I can't wait to hear about you next travels. I'll be patiently waiting- well maybe not so patiently- but I will be waiting. Enjoy!

  5. Im glad that caterpillar situation wasn't any worse! How creepy...
    Hope you have an amazing time in Europe and I can't wait to see you in Natal for Natal! (Although I'm gonna be wearing


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