The Big Head Tour and a Big Good-Bye

IMG_1540 by Kerry Nappi

High:  I ended 2014 on a related Low when I broke my toe two days before we left for Easter Island. I worried that I’d fall behind, miss the fun, ruin the vacation. Well, I am glad to report, the toe had little to no impact on the trip. It was everything we expected and more. Easter Island isn’t the most remote island in the world, but it’s pretty darn remote. Once we got to Santiago, Chile on South America’s west coast, we still had to fly 5 1/2 hours over ocean to get to the small volcanic island. The giant moai (stone statues) erected by the Polynesian settlers were, of course, the highlight. In fact, my husband just called it The Big Head Tour. But the simple luxury of walking in town, not feeling at risk as we have sometimes felt in Brazil, having dinner every night while watching the surfers, and just being together for 9 straight days made it a holiday well worth the distance. There was one surreal moment I felt when I realized: We’re this American family having this simple lunch here on Easter Island with our New Zealand tour guide Marc, who is married to a Rapa Nui woman, before we go home to Brazil. When did everyone become so connected?

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Low:  I have tried half a dozen times to reword the same sentiment, but this low has been written to death: My older child has moved out. We thought he’d be here in Brazil longer, but he’d rather work for six months before he starts university, and that’s okay. His destination is far from home, but we knew that would happen when we relocated to another continent.  And I know modern life affords us so many instant communication tools that it will be almost like he’s still here. Nevertheless, I feel the loss. Nobody else comes into a room laughing and speaking before even checking that I might be busy, always starting with, “You want to hear something funny?” a dozen times a day. I won’t add the personal stories of 18 years because every mom has those stories and every 18-year-old doesn’t want them told, and because if I do, he might not text me something funny tomorrow morning, and then I would be really sad.

Glitter:  Back to Easter Island, because there were just so many moments there. There were tours of moai and activities like ATV riding and horses and snorkeling, but my glitter for the whole month, I think, was a 5 hour glitter. We went trekking on a part of the island where there are no roads and thus no vehicles, few other people, and hours of no contact.

I had debated making the trek at all because, well, when you have a broken toe and two bad knees, you wonder how hard it would be for your family to carry you 12 kilometers back to civilization. The way was sloped, stretching down the hill to the coast and covered with black volcanic rock. We spent 90% of the time looking down at where our feet were walking, though the other time was checking out hidden caves and knocked-over moai and noticing carcasses of cows and horses that had perished. Don’t think it didn’t cross my mind just a little that those creatures, too, might have had a knee or toe not quite up for the walk!

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The reason it was my glitter is just this: When you are 50 and in need of a couple new knees and maybe a slightly less-creaky back, you don’t get too many physical challenges that are fun. Sometimes the challenge is not whining when you get up in the morning. But this, this felt like an honest, I-am-conquering-a-mountain-trek kind of challenge. It has come to my attention recently that I am now to the point in my life that there are some things that I will never do, and that makes me a little sad. I’ll never ski, or surf, climb Mt. Everest, or run a marathon with these knees. I made my sports choices as I went through life and I don’t regret any of them though they limit me now. But for 5 hours on the side of a volcanic hill on Easter Island, Chile, I didn’t say I can’t and I didn’t have to get carted home on the back of a wild horse, and the aches that I had felt honestly earned. And that glitters.

Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

Rocks, Sand and Cats with 7 Lives

Despite assurances from top feline experts to the contrary, in Brazil cats have SEVEN lives.

The latest High Low Glitter from Alex Nappi in Brazil

High: Rocks. I never thought I would say this, but rocks were the high of the winter (er, summer) season for me this year. Lots and lots of rocks. Big rocks and small rocks, sculpted rocks and scattered rocks. We went on a family trip to Easter Island, famous for the physics-and-belief-defying Moai, one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been. For scenery, it was top notch. For archaeological interest, it’s second only to Egypt. And boy were there rocks. Not just the light volcanic rocks from which the Big Heads were sculpted, but also the rocks over which I trekked for five hours in order to gain access to the north side of the island, where no motorized vehicles are allowed to venture. In those hours I saw perhaps 500 horses and cows, but only four other people: it was a private view which, if our eye were capable, would have extended for thousands of kilometers in any direction. No wonder they call it the end of the world: the nearest inhabited island is nearly 4,000 kilometers away, and it’s roughly the same distance to Chile. One could travel from Moscow to London and halfway back in that distance!

Low: I’ll be honest: I hate snow. It’s almost as bad as sand. It gets everywhere, it’s awful for driving, and the horrific salt we throw on paths to keep them dry when it snows ruin my shoes. For the first time in my life, though, I actually thought “I really miss the snow.” Christmas in the South is just not the same. Ninety degrees, the beach, cocktails at the barraca (a sort of beach-front mini restaurant and bar, ubiquitous here)… it sounds like paradise, and in many ways it is, but on Christmas Eve you lookout the window at palm trees and really, really wish for snow. It just isn’t the same.

Glitter:  Cats. We all know that curiosity kills them, but we also know that they get eight more chances. It’s just a fact. Gravity. Heliocentrism. Nine lives. My world was secure, until one day when I found out that in the southern hemisphere, that just isn’t true. Despite assurances from top feline experts to the contrary, in Brazil cats have SEVEN lives. I don’t know if this is really cool or a catastrophe, but either way… it’s information worth passing on. 

alexAlex is an 18 year old who is taking a gap year before college to live in Salvador, Brazil. He’ll be returning to the United States in the fall of 2015 to attended school at George Washington University, where he plans to major in finance and international relations. He enjoys science fiction, soccer, and procrastinating, and, much to his chagrin, has learned that his archenemy, the snake, is a permanent resident here in Brazil. 

Summer Vacation in December

by Kerry Nappi

ouchHigh:  During our long “summer vacation”  from school (December- end of January here in the southern hemisphere), we decided to take some day trips from here in Bahia, Brazil. We’ve been privately critical of the beach trips our local friends make; after all, all we have to do is walk outside and past 6 houses and we are at a gorgeous beach 365 days a year. Why would we pack bags and food and sunblock and then drive for miles to find something worse than what we already have?  Still, we thought we’d give it a try.

So, we arranged to go to Mangue Seco, on the edge of northern Bahia, before reaching the next state of Sergipe. Mangue Seco is a fishing village of 200 inhabitants known for its role in a novel by Jorge Amado, but we went because we wanted to take a dune buggy ride to the beach. We went with a new expat family, sharing an adventure in our new host country.

In the end, the beach was great: soft, sandy shoreline without any rocks or seaweed to interrupt our swimming. That was tempered by the overpriced barraca, which was the only place to buy food. But the reason this was my high was exactly why we went: The exhilaration of riding on the back of a dune buggy racing along sand dunes next to the beach is an experience you usually watch others have, but we had it for ourselves!

Low:  Well, the dunes were great (see above), but the hazard only I could find was sticking 8 inches out of the ground: a wooden marker. It was solidly in the sand, it was blocked until the last moment by other photographing tourists, it was perfectly capable of breaking my toe. So, another trip to a new Salvador Hospital at six o’clock the next morning and several hours later, I am now sporting an attractive “boot” and a pair of “muletas” to help me hobble around. The kicker (no pun intended) is, we are off to Easter Island tomorrow, trip of a lifetime, and I’ll be racing behind my family on all of our treks and excursions as we look at the big stone heads.

Glitter:  Christmas Day was mellow and undercelebrated this year. It just didn’t seem right with temps in the 80s and no extended family with whom we could mash the potatoes and open the presents. However, there was one sweet moment that glittered for me: My 14-year-old daughter was strumming her new guitar. She had gone through all the Christmas music she knew and could play with help from YouTube. Her dad and brother had driven to the city to bring back a guest who had nowhere to go for Christmas. It was just me doing a Christmas puzzle in the adjoining room and her playing for herself, but the music she moved on to were all classic songs from the 70s that reminded me of my childhood. I didn’t want to break the spell, so I sang along quietly. Merry Christmas, Stairway to Heaven.

Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

On the Edge in Brazil

…no amount of natural beauty is convincing me to get in a car for six hours with a walking incubator of microscopic misery.

The latest from Alex Nappi

High: I got the opportunity to add another continent to the list of places that I’ve done Model United Nations. The way they do it here is a lot different from the how I’ve ever seen it before, but it’s very informative to see it. I really love MUN, so adding to that list was an exciting experience. Looking forward, we’re going to Easter Island in the new year and I couldn’t be more excited!

Low: I realized about halfway through November that, lacking anything else to do here, I’ve watched all five of my favorite television shows in their entirety: More than 30 seasons! What on Earth am I supposed to do now…? We had to miss out on a trip to the highlands, a place called Chapada Diamantina, because my sister was sick. We were looking forward to what were supposed to be hiking for three days and what were supposed to be spectacular vistas… but no amount of natural beauty is convincing me to get in a car for six hours with a walking incubator of microscopic misery.

Glitter: I feel as if I’m on the edge of some sort of poignant insight into human nature whenever I see a Christmas tree, adorned in lights and shining in all of its glory, and then I feel the urge to take off my t-shirt because it’s just so hot. There’s something to be said for having the fact that all of our traditions and cultural expectations, so carefully constructed over decades, are as much constructed by our environment as by being shoved in my face. 

alexAlex is an 18 year old who is taking a gap year before college to live in Salvador, Brazil. He’ll be returning to the United States in the fall of 2015 to attended school at George Washington University, where he plans to major in finance and international relations. He enjoys science fiction, soccer, and procrastinating, and, much to his chagrin, has learned that his archenemy, the snake, is a permanent resident here in Brazil. 

My Students are My Glitter Again

kerry-classroom

by Kerry Nappi

High:  In the midst of a two month period of sickness, sadness, and frustration, my daughter’s high is my high this month. Isn’t it always the case that when our children are happy and proud, we share that feeling tenfold? She has become involved in Model United Nations at her new school, the Pan American School of Bahia. In fact, she is not only involved, she uses all her free time to research her topics and her country’s positions on world issues. For this conference, hosted by her own school, she represented Somalia in the African Caucus. She learned from the last conference, in São Paulo, that when you have something to say, you have to just swallow the fear, raise the placard, and say your piece. And so she did ~ And when the General Assembly was over, she had won Best Delegate in the African Caucus as well as Best Newcomer to Model UN. Before the weekend was over, she had started researching for the conference coming in March.

Low: Thanksgiving overseas is never the same as at home. Even with a turkey and the sides, it lacks the communal spirit of a country being thankful together. Some expatriates will celebrate together and make it as homey as possible. This year, we decided we would take the opportunity to travel for the first time outside our known surroundings and experience a new part of Bahia, Brazil. We booked a pousada (like a B&B) in Chapada Diamantina, The Diamond Highlands, a six-hour drive from home. We anticipated getting away together, trekking the mountains and caves, refreshing under waterfalls, and partaking in the famous breakfasts of that pousada.

Then S came home from school Tuesday with a 102 degree temp. We watched, and we hoped. But by Thursday, it was apparent we were not only not going, we needed to see the doctor. Our only doctor experience here was a long trip into Salvador two weeks ago when she was sick with a virus. Blood tests and ultrasounds and traffic jams made that trip a challenge. This time, we had no trouble, but the end result was not much fun: Strep throat. Now, not only were we sad to miss our trip, but she felt too lousy to do anything much for Thanksgiving. Pizza is great, but it certainly doesn’t taste like turkey.

Glitter:  My students are my glitter again. And once again, they glitter in unexpected places. Driving into our gated community, about 4 km from the school and an equal distance from my home, I often see the schoolkids sitting on the side of the road. They wait there for the small security cars to ferry them to school, back and forth until they all get there. It’s an informal but much needed “bus” to school.

Last week, my son and I were coming back from a trip to the store as we were out of drinking water. When I saw the kids and one of their teachers waiting, I pulled over and asked (yes, in halting Portuguese) if they wanted a ride. Well! She gave me the ubiquitous thumbs up and the kids poured across the street. The stumbled over each other to pile into the car with shouts of, “Teacher! Good morning! Good morning, Alex!” Two, four, seven kids jumped in the back, handing me their backpacks and our groceries to be put in the trunk, sitting on laps and the floor and giggling in delight. The little ones played with Alex’s hair (much to his dismay) and looked at him in the mirror. No seatbelts were considered, and I was grateful we were not on a public road. We spoke in broken languages as I assured them we would be back to teach the next day, and they all piled out moments later with hugs and shouts of “Thank, you, Teacher!” It was a 7-minute glitter.

kerryKerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

Mom and Son Now Sharing HLG’s from Brazil

momandsonby Kerry Nappi

October

High: I love to teach. I have taught elementary students, special ed students, adult immigrants learning English, adults struggling to get their GED, and prisoners in jail. So it is no surprise that the most meaningful new way I have found to spend time here in my new home of Bahia, Brazil, has been teaching young Brazilian students in the little public school down the street from my privileged life on the beach.

The schools have been linked to social service programs here; families get food and money to keep their kids in school. However, the schools are not well funded and sometimes the kids come in hand-me-down shirts and no shoes. However, they ALL come full of love and life and vigor. Without getting into the details of how difficult it is to teach children a new language without even being able to say, “Look here” or “Everyone have a seat” in the language they understand, let it be known that those one-hour classes twice a week might start with trepidation (mine), but they have always ended with more hugs from 7-13 year olds than a US teacher would get in a year. There simply isn’t a line drawn between the culture of physical affection in the country and what is allowed and expected in the school.

My high for the month occurred after I had been teaching about 3 weeks. I had even lower Portuguese skills than I do now, which is pretty low. I had stopped at a convenience store just outside the gated community that also holds the school. It was 4:15 pm and I faced an hour long commute to pick up my daughter from school. As soon I stepped out of my car, I heard them calling: six or seven or was it ten of my new students, rushing to me from all sides, overjoyed to see that I had an existence outside the school, all clamoring for hugs and chattering incomprehensibly to me. I desperately tried to catch a word or two that would clue me in to what they were saying, but it flowed over me too quickly. All I could manage was a stuttered, “I don’t understand Portuguese.”

The older ones started in again, louder this time, as if I were deaf instead of ignorant! Finally, the littlest one there, an imp I now know is named Iarley, stepped forward and held his hands up. In Portuguese even I understood, he said, “She doesn’t understand.” Then he turned to me and said, slowly and patiently and with the clarity of a 6-year-old: “Where do you live.” Finally! And from then I was able to tell them which neighborhood, exactly, was mine and how long I had lived there. By the time I left, with more hugs and promises to see each other on Friday, I was much higher than I had been when left the house and looking forward to the relationships I was starting to build with my new students.

Low: We middle aged folks are in the sandwich generation; we have the responsibility of caring for our children still, while our parents may now start to need us. I have already suffered the loss of my father, in 2006, while I unsuccessfully flew home from Bangkok to be with him in his last days. I had been lucky to spend 11 weeks with him in the months before that. So it is with concern and frustration that I now watch my mom go in and out of hospitals while I sit too far away to do much. She has too many medical problems to list, but she has continued to be active despite them all.

Now, one vertebra after another fractures and she continues to get them cemented and go on to do rehab. She mourns the loss of her vitality and I wonder what I can say to make her better. I want to go to help, but she asks me to wait until she needs me more. My siblings care from closer, but no one is close enough. It is the flip side of being citizens of the world that we are no longer close enough to our family when they need us most.

Glitter: (tennis watchers will notice this is November, so my October entry is late!) I was watching TV, waiting for the finals of the Barclays London ATP finals of tennis, when suddenly I realized I was reading the ESPN banner news on the bottom. I suddenly recalled the word ‘desiste” from my studies and realized it must be a conjugation of desistir, to quit, and so I kept reading to find out that Federer had pulled out and Djokovic was the winner! My disappointment at missing the match was completely overwhelmed by my excitement over reading that news in Português!

Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

September in Brazil. HLG?

by Alex Nappi

Second Month

High: Witnessing the passion that Brazilians have for soccer, or futebol, in person. Their love for the sport is legendary, but to feel the energy of a home crowd supporting their team is like few experiences I have had before. The local team, Bahia, is on the verge of relegation to a lower division, and yet still tens of thousands of faithful supporters cheered and danced- fortunately, I experienced a rare win, and over a rival team no less.

Low: The Bahian winter is over, and with it goes spectacular ocean storms and daily rain. Temperatures are rising altogether too fast, and the cost of electricity here makes the air conditioning prohibitively expensive. There’s also the small matter of my run-in with a coral snake…

Glitter: I discovered a type of restaurant, the pizzeria Rodizio, which I could hardly have fathomed before: a pizza parlor where waiters carry around trays, containing more than a dozen varieties of pizza, and, for a flat price, you can take as many pieces as you want, indefinitely. Certainly a great thing for those of us that love a slice or 20.

Alex is an 18 year old who is taking a gap year before college to live in Salvador, Brazil. He’ll be returning to the United States in the fall of 2015 to attended school at George Washington University, where he plans to major in finance and international relations. He enjoys science fiction, soccer, and procrastinating, and, much to his chagrin, has learned that his archenemy, the snake, is a permanent resident here in Brazil. 

High Low Glitter: Brazil

by Alex Nappi

First Month

High: Got to watch the stormy Atlantic as the winter season wound down – great swells, strong winds, and extremely beautiful in a dark way.

Low: I lost my glasses to the all-powerful grip of the Atlantic Ocean.

Glitter: Nobody really tells you how much more accomplished you feel when you exercise in kilometers instead of miles, it’s great!

Alex is an 18 year old who is taking a gap year before college to live in Salvador, Brazil. He’ll be returning to the United States in the fall of 2015 to attended school at George Washington University, where he plans to major in finance and international relations. He enjoys science fiction, soccer, and procrastinating, and, much to his chagrin, has learned that his archenemy, the snake, is a permanent resident here in Brazil.