In 2005 at the end of my New York City Teaching Fellows program I met a woman from Brazil, Sao Paulo to be specific. We met at a little Senegalese restaurant located 2 blocks from my apartment in Harlem. I’d visited the place many times before and it was the first time I had ever seen her, although she too said she had many a brunch there as well.
After eyeing her repeatedly over the course of my meal, she got up, walked over and asked if we knew each other from somewhere. “Are you a dancer, maybe?” (People always think I’m more athletically inclined than I am.) “No.” I responded. It was awkward. I was sitting across from a man that I was on a date with. “No, I’m not a dancer. I guess my staring wasn’t as discrete as I thought. Your face looked familiar.” She chuckled and said no problem and then walked away. Before leaving, it was my turn to walk over. I walked up to her table where she sat surrounded by friends and I gave her my number. “Call me, I’d like to know more about you.” She did. She was only in New York for 3 more days. She was returning to her home country of Brazil after having lived on 116th street and 3rd avenue for the last 5 years. I lived on 116th and 8th avenue for the last 3 years. We had never met, except for this meeting, 3 days before she left for good. We spent 3 days together. I went with her as she said good-bye to friends. I watched her pack her bags. She came over to watch episodes of “Friends”, where she learned to speak English. It was interesting, developing a friendship that we both knew had a definite ending. Perhaps.
So three days later, she left and I continued on in New York. We spoke on the phone. We emailed. 2 months later, while I sat in a park on summer vacation, she suggested I just come visit her in Sao Paulo. “Come, you’d love Brazil.” she said. And so I went. I bought a ticket that week. Packed a bag and was off to visit a month later.
And that is where everything changed. This was no romantic relationship, well, truth is, I was falling and she was not. I was enamored and she was not. She saw me as a friend and I was hoping that I would go and find love. That didn’t happen but what did was even better. I met a group of teachers, five to be exact. Five teachers who were not teaching English. Five teachers who were not on vacation. Five teachers who were teaching in Bahia. Salvador de Bahia where she sent me there once she sensed that Sao Paulo wasn’t for me and that my feelings of more than friendship weren’t mutual. “Go to Bahia,” she said, “you’ll love it.” And so I did.
These teachers, they were the first group of people that I had ever met who were living in another country and they weren’t English teachers. This wasn’t South East Asia. No JET program, no teach English in Korea program. They were living, working, teaching, learning Brazilian Portuguese and spending their off hours on the beaches of Bahia. Do it they said. And so I did, after extending my one week trip to Bahia to another week. I finally left and immediately resigned from my public school classroom position in the Bronx. I had no job offers but I decided to move out of my very affordable apartment in Harlem. I sold my books, gave away boxes of clothes and stepped out on the faith that I would find something somewhere. And I did. It was a classroom teaching position in Honduras, but just before I purchased a ticket I received an email from the principal saying that they decided to hire within. It took two years before I found something. In the meantime, I went home and worked and constantly applied and dreamed and believed and her words constantly whispered in my ear “Go, you’ll love it.” In 2005 I found my first international school in Bangalore, India.
I’m not part of a program. I don’t teach English and I never have. I teach regular elementary school, all subjects, just like I did in New York. I just do it in different countries. I haven’t found my positions through any recruiting agencies, missionary groups or placement firms. Just internet searches and tenacity.
2007 – Bangalore, India
2007 – 2008 – Jobless (I got fired from India) Canary Islands, Spain
2008 – 2010 – Majuro, Marshall Islands
2010 – 2011 – Cairo, Egypt (left at the beginning of Arab spring 2011)
2011 – 2013 – Sacheon, South Korea
2013 – 2014 – Yangon, Burma
2014 – Time off
2015 – Antofagasta, Chile
Life is good. I’ve traveled more than some, less than most. Either way I’ve done it.
I never spoke to her again after Brazil. No calls. No emails. Maybe I lost her number or her email or perhaps her purpose was just to lead me on the path that my restless wandering soul has wanted for a long time.
Thank you Cica Ramos. Wherever you may be. You changed my life.