Ok, so the “hole” had its good points.
Cultura Inglesa, for starters, is impressive. That’s the English school in Recife where the CELTA course was held. Its banks of computers with fast cable connections, a fully stocked library, its always smiling, helpful staff, the meals prepared by Jenny, our surrogate matronly mom, chef extraordinaire. (Who admitted to us that she has a young boyfriend.)
To its credit, the CELTA course was well-organized, efficient, and consistent. But they weren’t joking when they said it would be intense.
Thanks to Alvaro for his calm always helpful self in the library, even in the face of my ever-increasing stressed out state…
There were the nights when we (students and the occasional teacher) staggered from school to the barracas to sit on hideous yellow plastic tables under glaring bare bulbs in balmy air, where we drank Bohemias, and laughed away our tension. Those are great memories.
A big thanks to Julian, a teacher trainer who, in spite of his advanced degrees, and high stature in CELTA, softened the edges of what would have been an even more jagged experience, by stressing balance. Yes, the course was important, he said, and yes, he was aware that we had tons of work to do, but just as essential, he said, was downtime, i.e. nights out with other students and teachers. Or maybe he was just looking for a drinking buddy.
There were others… The owner of the school, Steve Barlow, who drove me around looking for an apartment the day I arrived. Who drove a group of us all the way across town on our final night of the course. And who in my last days, hooked me up with his dentist, doctor, the post office, and his wife’s hairdresser.
There was an angel named Alex, who appeared at my side to translate for me at the post office, where a long line was forming behind me as I tried to communicate with the postal worker (in case it’s not obvious by now, I don’t speak Portuguese). Twenty-three year old Alex, a Brazilian from Sao Paulo, who is moving to Rome next week, who speaks not only Portuguese and English, but Japanese, French, and Italian, told me he was free for the afternoon and who proceeded to help me with each and everyone of my errands, including purchasing an airplane ticket, additional minutes for my cell phone, and much, much more. When I took him out to lunch to thank him for his help, he refused to let me pay. Like nearly all the Brazilians I’ve met, he was kind beyond belief, not for what was in it for him, but just because.
There was the old taxi driver who picked me up from the internet cafe at 11:00 PM, then drove me to a small supermarket to buy water, and came inside the store to guard me from the leering men inside, and who when we reached my apartment, charged me only half his regular fare.
And thank God for Helena from London. We met two days before the course and formed a bond that would continue throughout the month. She had to listen to a whole lot of my bitching, and even sat through a couple of crying jags. A true girlfriend.
My apartment was another redeeming feature. For the equivalent of $280 USD, I lived in a charming one-bedroom flat on the 13th floor, with a sort-of view of the ocean, and a rooftop swimming pool and restaurant. And even with the vehement preaching and gospel singing blaring 24-7 from the evangelical church below, it was home.
The next door UNESCO town of Olinda was a delightful escape with its colonial buildings, cobblestone streets, the old churches, and a fabulous market on Sundays. It was there and at Recife Antigo where I watched the amazing capoeira for the first time, where I learned to dance the hypnotic maracatu, and where I felt like I’d stepped into another version of Brazil. One I liked better.
Finally, there was Sylvia, a tiny, English-speaking dynamo who helped me find my apartment and offered to assist me with any and all logistical hurdles, and who actually seemed to love doing it. (Problem was I didn’t have time to call her until after the course was over.) Her last act of kindness was driving me to the airport even though she was sick. I highly recommend that ANYONE new to Recife, contact Sylvia. She has a range of apartments for rent from low-end to high, and she’ll help you with all the rough spots that come with moving to a foreign city, especially when you don’t speak the language. (See contact information at end of this article.)
I am meeting Sylvia in 30 minutes. – she is escorting me to the post office to ship a box of documents and books to the U.S. so I don’t have to haul the extra weight around Brazil. And she’s driving me to a flurry of other errands necessary before I can leave Recife. She’s doing it, not because it’s her job, and not because I’m paying her, but because she wants to. She is Brazilian.
Sylvia R. Scheddin