Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Time to Dust off the Rosetta Stone

We have been here 307 days, and I am proud to say that my Portuguese is coming along nicely. I have ordered food, shopped, gone to the doctor, presided over the Young Women group at church, and even taken a telephone survey. (Tom says I probably shouldn't do those anymore.) With the help of the ever reliable and accurate Google Translate, a little deft hand gesturing, and my natural ability to pick up on a new language, combined with my keen memory, I pretty much have been able to communicate all of my needs.

Yes, there have been times when I have given an assignment to one of my girls or presidency members, and they have arrived at the assigned time-totally prepared--(with something totally different than what I asked for)--but I feel like at least I am teaching them to fulfill assignments, right?

Then, there was the time that I asked a friend what I could bring to her house for lunch and she said, "nada" (nothing), but I thought she said, "salada"....When I said, "What type of salad?" (in Portuguese), she looked at me a little funny, and then said, "Sure, you could bring a salad if you want." I  realized my mistake, but I couldn't correct it. And so, I brought a salad. It was a delicious fruit salad; fruit salad goes with everything, so no harm done.

And, never mind the time that I ordered one hundred brigadeiro candies for Marissa's birthday party, but somehow, when Tom picked up the order, it was filled with two hundred candies. Or the time that I ordered twelve rolls and got a bag with two. Everyone likes brigadeiro, and I didn't really need that much bread, anyway.

Yesterday, I bought a cake for our anniversary. I saw one that looked like it had whipped cream with a cherry swirl, but it wasn't clearly marked. Tom really likes cherry, so I thought it would be special. So, I went to the girl working behind the counter and asked her what kind of fruit was in the cake; if it was cherry. She gave me a really funny look. Then, she looked at it, and told me that it was "red fruits". I said, "Yes, but do you know what kind of  red fruit? Is it cherry?" Again, the strange look, and she told me she didn't know. So, I took a chance and bought it. It looked good. It was on my way home that I realized what I had said. The word for cherry is "cereja". The word for beer is "cerveja". Guess which one I said? I may or may not have sounded like I had already enjoyed a little too much cerveja before picking out my cake.

But, probably my finest hour of linguistic success was last week when the missionaries came over for lunch. I was complaining to them about the things I can't find here; how I had to come up with a different recipe for my cake since I couldn't find Baker's cocoa. I tried to say that I couldn't find cocoa powder without sugar. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realized my blunder. (Recognition of errors is the first step to becoming fluent--or, at least, this is what I keep telling myself.) I actually told them that I couldn't find powdered POOP--without sugar...(!) Tom reminded me that this is a hard item to find in the United States, too. The missionaries gave that strange look for just a moment, as I tried to correct myself. Then, we all had a good, hard laugh. I'm sure I provided subject material for the letters home that week.

Okay, so I may not be perfecting my language skills, but I am getting good at recognizing that telltale look that people give when I have just said something off the wall. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to take that look off of peoples' faces. (Do you know how hard it is to back track in another language, when you weren't successful with your first attempt at communication?!) At least I can rest assured that I am furnishing some humor, and contributing to the positive image of immigrants and foreigners everywhere.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Practicing Life

Facebook can be a blessing and a curse. It has been a lifeline of sorts for me to the real world; to my "normal" world back home. But, at times, as I peruse the posts from friends and family, acquaintances, and sometimes even strangers, I find myself feeling jealous of others' experiences, consumed by their seemingly perfect lives, and my supposedly rotten one. It sounds shallow and even childish; but, there it is.

This week, as I have been reading the posts about the end of school festivities back home, I find myself missing those traditions--because that's what they are--traditions. The excitement in the air, as the days grow warmer and the school year grows shorter. The calendars chock full of end of year plays, recitals, ceremonies, and programs. The press for completing school work, studying for finals, making the perfect gifts for all those wonderful teachers. (Oh, how I truly appreciate those teachers now!) Never mind that normally I hate this time of year; that the business and bustle is usually enough to send me into a tailspin of depression. For, this year I am missing it! And I want to experience every stress-inducing moment of it, darn it! --for tradition's sake!

Besides, it's confusing to be going into winter here, as all of my previously known world is going into summer. Is Christmas just around the corner? No, it's June. As I see billboards advertising stores' winter lines, I'm telling everyone here that they will be getting snow back home...no, wait...still June! (Of course, there still is a good chance of a snow storm--but, that's just springtime in Cache Valley.) I have been able to keep the seasons straight up until now. But, somehow, the end of school buzz has me all fouled up. And I am celebrating, in true Kathy fashion, with one of my typical pity parties. People all over the world, right at this moment, are experiencing the devastation of natural disaster, the pain of a difficult diagnosis, the tragedy of losing a loved one; and I am crying about missing out on the fifth grade biography fair. Wow. I guess I haven't learned much this year.

I am reminded of something I should have learned; something I thought I had learned, but apparently didn't. I have been teaching the children at home this year. (Again, let me give a BIG "shout out" to teachers everywhere!!) In Keira's history class, we have been learning about geography. We have an inflatable globe, and have been studying the continents of the earth. (Incidentally, I am embarrassed to say that, before this year, I could not have named all of the continents with certainty. It is therefore, with pride, that I announce that I [and my kindergartner ] can confidently name all seven continents; and we can even sing you a snappy little song, if you want to hear it sometime. ---I guess I did learn at least one thing.----) Anyway, as we were studying North and South America, I explained to Keira that North America is the continent where we are from, and South America is the continent where we are now living. She became very upset and insisted that we are NOT "living" here! ("We do NOT live in Brazil! We live in Logan!") It didn't matter how many times I explained to her that our home is still in Logan, that we would return there after a year, but that we are actually living here for right now. She was adamant that "we do NOT live here!!!" After several weeks of going through this, reducing her nearly to tears, I finally relented. ("You are right Keira, we LIVE in Logan.")

This got me thinking, "Am I really living here, or am I just biding my time until we can return to the 'Promised Land' of Logan?"  (I pause to laugh here, because it was just a year ago that I was complaining about how dull Logan is. "If only I lived in California, then I'd be happy....") Anyway,I made a commitment to myself, those 6 months ago, that I would do my best to really live the remainder of the time I had here, and not treat it like some sort of long, torturous test away from reality. This was going to be great! Not only was I going to be happier, but I was going to be an example to my children that truly living and being happy with one's circumstances has nothing to do with location, and everything to do with attitude! After all, as long as we are together, we are home. But alas, somewhere along the way, I lost sight of my wonderful plan, and I find myself biding my time again, until I can return home--to true bliss. (Snort!)

Writing this, it occurs to me that I have learned several lessons:
  1. I am ridiculous.
  2. I am slow to learn.
  3. I am never happy.
  4. I have a lot to learn.
I keep thinking of this time in Brazil as a sort of alternate reality. Like I have been given a gift; a year away from my normal routine to learn and grow--physically, spiritually, emotionally. Well, I better learn fast! I only have two months left to figure this out! Or, do I? Yes, we will be returning to Logan in exactly 61 days. (But, who's counting?) Does this mean that I must learn all that life has to teach me in the next two months? And, while I have had much occasion to be stretched here in Brazil, are there no opportunities for growth back where life is "easier"/more routine? Of course not! Just typing it makes me realize how ignorant I have been! As the time has been winding down here, I have felt a sort of panic; an "Oh no, I haven't learned everything I ought to have!" feeling. But, in reality, this is one year out of a lifetime of years (however long or short that may be). And, while I may have missed some of the opportunities to really learn some things here; to really change my behavior for the better, I hope that I can say that this year will change my perspective for a lifetime, therefore increasing my prospects for learning and growth in the future.

But still, I have the desire to learn a lesson once, and have it down pat. I don't want to have to learn it over and over again! I don't want to be a slow learner! I used to sign Marissa up for various classes when she was younger; ballet, soccer, art. After a season, I would ask her if she wanted to sign up again. She would reply, matter-of-factly, "No, I have already learned that." It would really frustrate me.  And, now I see where she got that from. Now, I see that life's lessons,  just like ballet, soccer, or art, must be practiced over and over again to become truly proficient. We may not have to exactly relearn every principle, but we do have to practice each one. And, as we "master" these principles, we are taught more, "line upon line, precept upon precept."

It is true that I have learned many lessons this year. And, it is true that I continually forget the lessons that I have learned. But, thankfully, I will have the chance to practice these lessons again and again throughout my life. I hope that I will remember that, even though I am not yet proficient--not yet perfect--that it doesn't mean that I am hopeless. I hope that I can remember that it is a blessing to be able to have time to practice in this most important class called "Life". (And, if you ever find me not paying attention in class because I am too busy comparing my children to your children, or coveting your perfect family vacation, please forgive me...and then give me a good, swift kick in the pants!)