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.

Monday, 27 October 2008


The splendid Gyppo Byard has kindly requested that I write six random things about myself. I note that the adjective "interesting" didn't feature, thankfully, so here goes:

  1. According to my late father's genealogical rummaging, I am (very) distantly related to Sir Francis Drake (or Sir Walter Raleigh, I forget which);
  2. I've suffered two bouts of severe clinical depression (the last 17 years ago) and used to suffer panic attacks. I regained my fragile sanity without recourse to professional help or drugs, partly by reading Free to Be Human by David Edwards, a personal friend with whom I have shared many a beery night over the years. In fact, it may have been the beery nights that cured me, who knows?;
  3. When I was a baby I used to hum songs from the hit parade in my cot, way before I could talk, leading my father to predict that I was some kind of musical genius. Later attempts to learn the violin at primary school proved his optimism spectacularly unfounded;
  4. Despite playing rugby for ten years, I never broke a bone or suffered any major injury. Or made a tackle or willingly entered a ruck;
  5. I am allergic to crab sticks and Big Brother Brasil;
  6. I once "met" the late Princess of Wales when she came to watch rehearsals for our school production of Guys and Dolls in 1988 and walked within 3 feet of me. It was like seeing real life princess.

I've lost track of who's done this and who hasn't in our spiral arm of the blogalaxy, so if you've read this and you haven't, please do.

Tag rules: Link to the person who tagged you. Post the rules on your blog. Write 6 random things about yourself. Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them. Let each person you have tagged know by leaving a comment on their blog. Let the tagger know when your entry is posted...

Thursday, 16 October 2008


We've just had to change our car, something that younger men in baseball hats tend to get misty-eyed about, but a situation I find somewhat galling. Cars are simply a drain on one's meagre income in my view, nowhere more so than in Brazil, where prices are inflated to ridiculous levels by government taxes, which go towards funding wealthy lifestyles for politicians and their huge extended families.

One thing that has slightly reduced the financial abyss into which changing our vehicle has plunged us is the fact that our new motor runs on both petrol (gasoline (US)) and alcohol. At last I've found a use for the bottles of local "wine" I've received over the years.

A litre of alcohol is 45% the price of a litre of petrol, so we'll definitely economise. However, engines use more alcohol than petrol to cover the same distance, meaning that we're filling up every two days, instead of every four as before.

Normally I fill up at night after my classes, always at the same petrol station to get the best deal. I'm only hoping that my sudden appearance twice as often as before won't be misinterpreted by the monosyllabic pump attendant, in scenes reminiscent of those here:

Wednesday, 8 October 2008


Sunday finally saw the municipal elections put to bed for another four years, and frankly, not before time. I can now enjoy the sound of adolscents screaming on their way home from school, people being knocked off their motorcycles on the dangerous crossroads in front of our house and other assorted sounds of vibrant Brazilian culture without some nasty jingle insulting what passes for my intelligence and driving me, ears bleeding, towards the abyss. "More health! More education! More employment!" they warbled, "Vote with the heart!" - the last thing Brazil needs. Voting with the head would surely be more appropriate.

The results were predictable - our man narrowly avoided election and the same old song continues. Ugly scenes were witnessed one evening last week when some of the winning candidate's thugs turned up at one of his rival's election rallies in the town square and started making threats and throwing beer over his supporters, one even trying to physically assault the candidate's elderly father, before being dragged away by a slightly more democratic / sober militant.

The old cliché goes that we, the voters, are responsible for whom we put into power - "it's your fault for voting for a thief," is the standard refrain of the bleating apologists. But this is missing the point entirely, I feel. Often the choice is between a thief and an embezzler, the real problem being that nobody with any kind of wealth and power is ever made to pay for their crimes in Brazil, leading to institutionalised corruption taking hold at the trough that is public service. (Indeed "corruption" assumes that there is something, a lawful system, that gets corrupted. Things have descended to such low farce here that the corruption is the system.)

Coincidentally, I have just finished reading Blood River by Telegraph reporter Tim Butcher. In it, a character makes the following observation:

"... the point is, the money goes only to a few people, not to the country in general. If you think you can solve *****'s problems with money, then you're a bloody fool. You solve *****'s problems by creating a system of justice that actually works and by making leaders accountable for their actions."

Which place do the asterisks represent? Africa, though he could just as easily have been talking about Brazil. The book, which I highly recommend, is a ripping yarn about how the author retraced Henry Morton Stanley's mapping of the Congo River in the 1870's. But the point, depressingly, is exactly the same.

The more I live here the more incredulous I feel - not that Brazil is stumbling around in abject, generalised chaos, but that there exist places on earth that aren't - places where there is respect for the law, some form of social justice and accountability in politics.

Those fortunate countries are very much the exceptions, I'm beginning to realise.