Coming back to Brazil after 7 months in the U.S. has caused me (Grace) to ponder on where I am after 23 years in Brazil. Am I more aware of cultural cues? How am I communicating? Am I allowing God to fulfill His purposes for my life? And most pressingly, how would I do in Itapiranga, a river town on the Amazon river, where I was about to go and teach?
Not long after I arrived in Itapiranga I found myself one morning, alone, studying at the rough long wooden dining table in the pastor’s home. I sat by one of the few open windows enjoying the natural light but also hoping to catch a breeze. I was rewarded by a rain shower. For a while the heat relented but water began dripping throughout the house through tiny holes in the roof. The drops began to splatter lightly onto the cement floor nearby but I sat contented in the rainy coolness, dry and listening to the neighbor’s parrot joyfully squawking. He too liked the rain. I felt a load on my shoulders as I got ready for my class later that evening. Again I wonder if I am practicing the principles of teaching that I came to teach? Are they learning? Will they apply it to their own teaching months after I am long gone? And, now that it is raining, will they even make it to class. Rain and clay roads make it hard for walking.
The hardest thing about a trip like this is that I lose my cherished independence. I become completely dependent on the people I came to help. I feel helpless doing even the most ordinary things. How do I wash clothes? Is it appropriate for me to jog in shorts? Where do I buy a snack? How do I eat small fish with tiny bones? Eating fish, I have discovered, is an art. I was asked which kind of fish I enjoy eating. Curimatã? Surubim? Aruana? Lambeia? Salumba? Tambaqui? Piraracu? Pacu? Matrixã? They all sounded quite exotic. I did discover on the last day that my favorite is Curimatã grilled on an open fire.
I had breakfast one morning with Valqueria, one of my students. I had been given the directions to her home and I had memorized them easily. Go down two streets and turn right at the Catholic Church then turn left at the cashew tree. I knew what a cashew tree looked like so that was not hard. In fact, as I walked to her house I mentally named all the trees I passed. I could recognize the mango tree, banana tree, cupuaço tree and several different kinds of palms, like the buriti, the tucumã. and the coconut. Knowing your trees is important because there are no street names.
I learned so much on this trip. My new friends patiently taught me while I came to teach them. But mostly I learned that the folks I had come to serve were as eager to serve me as well.