Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Singing for my tea

So, out of the blue, just like that, on a sunny afternoon at the end of March, he calls, and says, the council is interested in doing lessons at the local school for English. Great, I say. It’s about time I learned to speak better Portuguese, and how considerate that the council is putting on lessons for the steadily increasing numbers of English people living here these days. Good thinking. I'm in.

Oh, but you’re mistaken, says he, you’ve misunderstood me (I hear that a lot). We want, nay, we need, a part time English teacher for the 3 primary schools in Oleiros for the summer term, cos the last one left kind a sharpish like for South Africa. So I thought of you. Why? I’m not a teacher. Ah, but you are more than qualified my dear Andre, you actually speak English. No denying that, I thought. Quick nip in to town to look up on the internet what teaching English as a foreign language in a primary school might involve, loved what I saw, knocked up a quick CV from scratch (most bizarre having to remember all that education, experience stuff that once I held as having a resemblance of importance, a bit like I was taking a sneaky peak at someone else’s life, as I said, simply bizarre) handed it in that same day with a cover letter to the President of Oleiros as my application and waited 3 weeks to hear back from the powers that be in Coimbra and then Lisbon to decide my fate.

I called in last Monday morning, for the news so I thought. Here’s the contract to sign, says he, then I’ll take you over to the school in town (where Josh and Eli go) to meet the head, and then you’re off to Estreito (20 mins drive from Oleiros) to teach the 3.30pm class and after that to Orvalho (25 mins from Estreito) to teach the 4.45 class there. Righty-O then. No induction? No right. Of course not. Any materials? Ah the internet, of course, silly me.

And so it came to be, armed only with echoes of rhymes sung to the kids when they were wee, that this little old foolish useless nobody, began to sing for his tea.

4 classes, 2 hours each day, in 3 different schools, five days a week, for the next 8 weeks and maybe beyond into next year, and the years to come.

My ten year plan written at 29, included setting up an advertising agency for charities and other good causes I liked, selling it after 5 years to someone nice, retraining to be a teacher in a year (the teaching bit so I could get my life more in synch with the kids), 4 years of experience and then off round Europe and the world teaching as we went. But, that urge to get my life more in synch with the sprogs, took over from the teaching bit, and after selling the agency, bought a motorhome, rented our house, took the kids out of school, and went looking for an altogether different life in southern Europe (see the 1st blog, Poop in Europe Tour, for a refresher on how that worked out). And now I am actually doing the teaching bit too. And it’s wicked. Here’s why.

One. Kids are fun. And here in rural central Portugal, they are not only fun but also really open and well keen to learn English.

Two. For a couple hours a day, in the heat of the afternoon when we wouldn’t normally be doing much restoration work or gardening outside anyway, I drive through some stunning, curvy, perfect-to-drive-on roads through mountain forests and valleys, to go sing nursery rhymes and play games.

Three. After all the kindness and generosity we’ve been shown by our Portuguese neighbours and by those we’ve got to know in the wider community of Oleiros, shop keepers, café owners, engineers, accountants, teachers etc, it is a real privilege to be able to give something back. To teach, to impart the joy of learning a new language to their kids and grandkids.

Four. Someone is paying me for it. Not much. But it all helps and somehow it has taken the worry off about whether or not our yoga, acupuncture, massage, arts, self-sufficiency, honeymoon cottage type retreat will work or not.

It feels like something shifted in us too. We are now not even talking about things finishing. When we finish the houses up there, when we finish the yoga sala, when we finish the moon gate terrace, when we finish the almond blossom terrace etc etc. Our conversation has drifted this last fortnight more along the lines of maybe we should give people a chance to be here while we’re building all this stuff. Maybe there is more value to the process, the journey, than the end result. Maybe the reality TV deluge that’s all over airtime in the States and Europe is somehow symptomatic of a deeper desire to partake in the process of the real, even, perversely, if it’s vicariously through other people’s experience. (Thanks to Paula & Alfie and their delightful 2 year old Elwood for helping us in this shifting process too. Seeing Paula early one morning with outstretched arms tingling from the magic of the place and watching Alfie ecstatic as he chopped up fire wood with a big axe, were real wake up calls for us in remembering the power of the beauty of this place as it is now.)

As a result of this shift, Von and I now have some cool emerging ideas about opening the doors to Moses earlier than planned. Watch this space.

Update on the restoration work at Moses

We made a new pergola with old olive tree wood and new eucalyptus beams, up which are now beginning to trail a grape vine, a fragrant jasmine and a sprawling white rose, under which is a (surprisingly solid) deck put together from recycled old wooden floorboards and joists, all of which shaded with thatched bunches of flowering heather, which we had to cut down to clear the overgrown hillside path leading to the Adega round the corner. And surrounding the deck and in front of the house are now some stone and wine vat wood flowerbeds, in which we’re planting in some yummy plants. In between a few exotics, you can find strawberries mingled in with miniature red roses. (Another big shout out at this point to our brethren back in the humming bird tipi world of the UK, Ian and Merle and girls Evie and Anna, for inspiring us so tremendously with their own patch of gorgeousness in Eira do Miguel – “truth is best expressed without words dudes”).

So finally, after just over a year of being here, we have started on what we came here to do. The plants. The flowers. The blossoming fruit trees. The climbers with more flowers. The grasses. Because they don’t need to flower. And those roses. Oh look and more over there too. Then the other flowers you hadn’t noticed yet. And then yet more in the abundant wild heathers, blooms and cystus engulfing the mountain forest in front of you, to the sides of you and behind you. It’s the stuff that simply makes one’s heart stop and then skip a beat as your breath is sharply inhaled and released with the expulsion of an honest “Wow. That’s just beautiful man”. For us, and we think for quite a few others too, witnessing the way that nature sings like that in lovingly tended gardens, so melodiously, so harmoniously, so generously, so effortlessly, is about as good it gets with this little life of ours.

As you can tell, we’re feeling pretty swell to be gardening at last. Of course we know we couldn’t be doing that if we didn’t have a house to stay in, with running water for drinking and watering, all of which took months installing and restoring. Or without the big structural landscaping of five new terraces carved out of the hillside done last summer. Or in the particularly cold and harsh winter we just had. We know we couldn’t be starting this at any time other than now. That feels pretty sweet as well. To be in the flow of it all. And to recognise that we’re flowing. We’re still waiting for stone masons to start on our other 2 houses, but we can wait; if waiting means we get to plant more pretty flowers in the meantime. All the other stuff will happen when it happens.

Lastly, my mobile is lost. Poor thing. Served me well. May it rest in peace wherever it may be. So the hot new contact number for us now is 00351 96 880 9068. Sorry to all those who left any unreturned messages on the other phone. Desculpe. And sorry for no videos this week. Movie camera was on that phone too. I’ll have to sort a new camera phone out. Sometime. Meanwhile, just off to water the veggies and the new gardens as the sun sets down the valley. Oh, and bless you, Eloise just handed me a cup of tea and another slice of her delicious new cake to tuck in to. Top stuff peeps.

I can’t find the words to tell you about this next last thing. So I thought I’d write a poem instead.

Ode to Slinky

You popped into the world
All shiny and new,
Then suckled a dog
When Mum died day two.

We gave you a home
And your shots, jabs and pills,
You weren’t half a cheeky one
Playing your heart out until,

Your fighting with Angel
Came too much to bare
You couldn’t come inside
Causing chaos everywhere.

So we found you a new place
To run around in,
With a grandma and Michelley
Giving their bestest lovin’.

In just over a week
You caught mountains of mice
Then curiosity gripped ya
You didn’t think twice

One night when you should’ve been
In for your tea
You jumped right in the road
“Don’t do it Slinky!”

It was over in a heartbeat
Your life cut short to nil
And now we’re all in mourning
Missing the Slinkster, we always will.

Thanks for the pranks
The company, and laughs,
We’re honoured that we knew you.
You captured our hearts.