Notes from the TEFL Graveyard

Wistful reflections, petty glories.

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Location: The House of Usher, Brazil

I'm a flailing TEFL teacher who entered the profession over a decade ago to kill some time whilst I tried to find out what I really wanted to do. I like trying to write comedy (I once got to the semi-finals of a BBC Talent competition, ironically writing a sitcom based on TEFL), whilst trying to conquer genetically inherited procrastination... I am now based in Brazil, where I live with my wife and two chins.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008


That's queer as in strange, before we get started.

There are moments when I suspect that the person who invited me to join my male voice choir wasn't a musical conductor at all, but an undercover psychiatrist from a shadowy government agency, and that all this singing is just therapy designed to keep us harmless. Such a suspicion grew on me over last weekend, when we had the pleasure of receiving our Polish friends, who organised the festival we sang at in May, into our collective bosom, as they took a detour on their way to Cabo Frio in Rio de Janeiro state to swing by our neck of the rainforest.

Firstly, they were greeted on Thursday on their whistle-stop tour by the penetrating stare of the bipolar paediatrician in our midst. Ironically for somebody who participates in a choir, he seems incapable of accepting group decisions, resolving to do everything his own way, even if it means separating three of the anxious Poles from their brethren on some madcap jaunt he's invented when all they want to do is be with their friends and rest.

On Sunday he went one better after a visit to a local vineyard, when he insisted on taking them to see the fields of grapes, almost totally indistinguishable in the gathering dusk. But the post-concert party was when things got truly unnerving.

Two of our most dangerous patients donned those big, floppy, Mad Hatter-style top hats that people wear to try to be on the telly at sports events, adorned in Polish colours. So far, so good. The air of surreality grew when, glancing over at them as I sipped my beer, I noted that both of them were quietly sobbing, one apparently having kicked the other off in some bizarre outpouring of grief at the imminent departure of our Eastern European guests. The largely middle-aged Polish choir appeared equally bewildered by their sudden emotional implosion, as they hadn't even started knocking back the local wine or quaffing the chilled lager. Everyone just wandered around making polite chit chat as if nothing overwhelmingly odd were happening. Hence my beginning to wonder if my anti-cholesterol pills are in fact strong anti-psychotics.

Don't get me wrong, our Polish visitors are very nice people, but we're not related to them or anything - we've spent about a week together in total. A mild wistfulness is all I felt on their departure, not an urge to declare a month of official mourning.

I shall miss Waclaw, however, who I am sure is Lech Walesa's older, less politicised brother. A large, if slightly musically overbearing bass, he managed to hold his side of conversations using one word repeated twenty times in what appeared to be Latin. "Do you like the banana dessert?" I asked him earnestly, as he slapped his seventh spoonful into his dish at our lunchtime churrasco, "Yes, yes," he boomed, "Maximus maximus maximus maximus..."


Blogger Gadjo Dilo said...

A culture collision of Polish and Brazilian sounds an excellent mix, and could produce perfect offspring (though, yes, I realise you're all chaps, and I didn't misunderstand "queer"!). My music teacher is a musically overbearing tenor, which I suspect is even more annoying than the bass variety.

17 September 2008 at 03:50  
Blogger No Good Boyo said...

It is possible to go a long way with but a few words of any given language, if your hosts are aimiable types who take ready recourse to drink. Finding yourself among fellow enthusiasts probably helps too.

A friend once interpreted for a group of Kyrgyz policemen, whom the Foreign Office had invited to Britain to learn the civilised ways of non-Communist law-enforcement. The force they visited was the West Midlands Police. My friend had little to do, as the coppers found their common interest in kicking people downstairs and shoving their heads down toilets overcome any language barrier.

17 September 2008 at 06:13  
Blogger Special Brew Man said...

I afraid to say that queer meaning strange has gone where gay meaning happy went.

How are the Poles going with the Brasilenas?

19 September 2008 at 09:54  

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