Tag Archives: Natal Brazil

High Stakes Dominoes

I’ve learned the past few weeks in Natal how much the role of curiosity plays in what we pay attention to. Almost every morning, very early, I sit on our third floor balcony overlooking a busy city street with a median between the lanes of traffic. The median includes palm trees, much trash, old abandoned tires, and a small amount of space that is a tiny park with seats embedded in the concrete floor.

What draws my attention to the middle section of the street is an elderly man who comes to the same spot on the median and stands observing traffic and people.

He follows the same pattern each day. He will cross the street to his spot in the park-like area of the median, stand, and turn completely around to observe the people and the traffic. He looks down at the ground and searches for a weed to pull, pitches it away from his space, rubs his hands together, and sits on the same stool with one foot on the seat of a nearby stool, and watches. He wears flip-flops, a net tank top, and short pants. The clothes always match colors and his hair is carefully combed.

After he finishes these rituals, he will greet anyone who comes near his spot.

The gentleman usually stays an hour and then leaves—probably to go home for breakfast.

Most days I will see him a little later from our building with 4-5 other “retirees” sitting on the stools playing dominoes. The many cars and motorcycles that pass by on each side do not distract them. About noon they disperse and the same routine is repeated most days.

Since I do not speak Portuguese, I can only speculate on their conversation. Do they discuss the rainy season, the amount of traffic, complain about the government? And how about the dominoes game? Do they lay money on the table and the winner gets the pot? Or is this a game just to while the time away?

I can’t resist watching each morning the rituals that unfold and the discussion over dominoes that ensues. I’m simply curious and that alone keeps my attention. Dominoes anyone? What kinds of things are you curious about? What holds your attention?

Musings of a Temporary Resident of Natal

I know no Portuguese and many Brazilians know very little English. This is challenging for me. For example, buying groceries in a large grocery can be intimidating. Today I got in line to check out, not realizing that there was a big sign that said a maximum of 20 items for that lane. I had already placed my 40+ items of groceries on the conveyor belt. Trying to explain was not successful at all. However, I guess the check-out person could see how confused I was because she went ahead and processed my groceries.Hiper

Having experienced several communication problems over the past three weeks, here are some lessons I have learned.

Review your skills at charades. I have found that if you do enough describing with your hands and arms, you have a good chance of getting your message across. One of my students brings to our sessions an artist’s sketchbook which he uses to visually help me understand what he means. This usually works well. Nodding my head and smiling when I understand the drawing will seal the completion of his message.

Another way to communicate in a language you do not understand is a booklet like Point It: The Traveler’s Language Kit . This resource has hundreds of photos of everything from “toothbrush” to “snow chains.” Just point to what you are looking for and the picture book approach has completed the communication.

If all else fails, seek out a person nearby who speaks English and ask him or her to interpret. For example, in the grocery store episode, a man overheard us and, since he spoke English, was kind enough to come to our rescue. After the explanation about our ignorance, the woman checking us out understood and smiled as we left. Better to be ignorant than rude!

One of the benefits of learning to deal with language barriers is that after I get back to the United States, I hope to be more sensitive to the nuances of English and more aware of the person’s reaction as I speak. I certainly will be more aware of visitors who may not speak English and will welcome the opportunity to help them.

So one way to improve your interpersonal communication here at home is to visit a country such as Brazil where English is not common; you will learn a new culture as well as becoming a more compassionate and aware communicator.