Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Irish Pubs

Getting ready to meet friends. After a long battle in front of the mirror to get her eyeliner right, she is finally set to go. Her lips lustrous with magenta, her face under layers of makeup to appear 'natural' and confident, her hair particularly having a bad day, but that wouldn't deter the fun, anyway. 

Before leaving home, a last glance at the mirror, one final chance to give up on the whole deed. No more isolation, she says to herself. I should go out and have fun. Remember, surrounding yourself with people is a good way to keep the ball rolling and away from depression. 

And so she goes, a heart filled with optimism and a mind tainted by hesitation. She knew there was nothing really wrong with aiming to be around people, yet the feeling of inadequacy appeared to be an impending nightmare she was soon to push to the very back of her head. 

At the pub she meets her friends. They talk, dance, drink, have fun. She is not really used to drinking, but the new experience feels just fine to her. As far as she could recollect, she was really young when she'd completely given up on alcohol. Well, the situation has changed, all thanks to Ireland and its Guinness awesomeness. 

The black liquid tastes very strong, but she finds it delicious. She feels way too modest to go for a full pint, though. It's usually little by little, mainly for a reason: as she is not used to drinking, the process is rather slow. And the beer is no longer chilled after a few minutes, so she'd rather have small glasses. People love pulling her legs over those half pints. She feels funny, but never angry, as this is some very light and friendly mockery, after all. 

The lady is always happy when she's around friends. It feels comfortable and familiar. Yet, pubs are those kind of places she struggles the most with, in order to be at ease with herself. There is something inherently sad about this experience, she thinks. There is nothing more fulfilling than being around her dear ones, but nothing feels more awkward than standing here, now. Maybe I should just leave? 

But she didn't. Instead, she's looking around, feeling sort of amused. So many different people who also appear to be exhaling sameness. She ain't bored - no. Trying to find stories behind all those laughters, she begins a genuine appreciation of human interaction. Look, that guy, he looks just like Thomas Müller. Except that he is shorter? Maybe he gets annoyed when people tell him that. He seems to be having good craic with his pal, though. 

Anyway. She is now eyeing a girl's carmine hair. Ain't she fabulous? I love it that many girls here get this hair color. It's not so common in Brazil. I heard it's hard and expensive to maintain, though. As Scarlet moves away from that smoking patio, the lady looks around, trying to find someone else to observe from afar. The general scene feels loud and slightly overwhelming to her. That's when a friendly voice of a stranger cuts through her random thoughts. 

Yer doing it wrong. 

What am I doing wrong? 

Yer not supposed to drink while chewing gum. 

She laughs. He laughs back at her. As he walks away, another voice reaches out to her.

Where are you from? 


Oh! I am so sorry. 

Oh don't be, she says, and looks around, trying to spot her friends. It's funny how <where are you from> is the first question everyone asks her in pubs. She then gets ready to answer to the next standard query. 

And what brings you to Galway? 

She takes a deep breath. While exhaling, her whole tale of disempowerment springs to mind and the lady, as usual, decides to keep it short. 

Women's studies. 

Interesting. And what do you do in that field? 

She goes on about gender, globalisation and human rights. If only she knew what's to come next, she would probably have kept things even shorter. Like, what brings you to Ireland? English. End of story. Yeah, she should probably stick to language. Better than housewife-ing, anyway. 

He asks her name, and it sounds pretty entertaining to him. I will probably never remember your name, he says. I will remember yours because it's quite simple, she replies, looking around, trying to find someone else to observe. The conversation with the not-so-stranger-anymore appears to be kicking in. 

He seems nice, she thinks, oblivious to the fact that no white man has ever been really kind to her. It usually goes on like: oh, this conversation is very interesting! Up until she starts feeling like a peacock being observed at a zoo. That's when things get a bit more complicated, because she tries to be understanding of the fact that she does look exotic after all. She gets reminded of how dutch men get celebrated in her family, and even laughs at the memory. 

But girl, make no mistake. You may be laughing, but it's not the same thing. The Dutch back home get confetti thrown at them simply because they are perceived as somewhat superior. You, my friend, are a sample of the second sex - prone to objectification - and also a genuine (black) representative of the third world - susceptible to exotification. In the interest of survival, she usually dismisses the reality check, though, and just laughs with people. 

So that night, that's what she did. She laughed, and she laughed. 

Can I touch your hair? 

Well, at least he's asking before touching it. *Laughs* 

Your hair is beautiful. The springs feel so soft, and... obedient. Look, it stays right where I left it! That's amazing! 


Your hair is the perfect frame for your face. 


You are very pretty. 

Thank you. *Laughs* 

So pretty that I am horny right now. 

Her eyes widen, and words fail her. So she laughs. 

And laughs, and laughs, and goes away. 

In the comfort of her bed, she promises herself, probably for the millionth time, that she will never set foot in a pub again. Someone once said that Brazilians are great craic. Like, they get the Irish pub culture pretty well, and that's awesome, yay! 

Pretty well, she puffs. Way too well. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Nope, I am not embarrassed by the 7-1

19:55 Posted by Afro Latina , , 2 comments

I went to a pub to see the match with lovely Maria. She's a German friend of mine, one of those people who makes you comfortable and will do anything she can to see you happy. She is really, entirely one of a kind. Sometimes the Universe sends us gifts to remind us that life is not completely horrible, after all. Maria stands with Senthil in that very category. I'm extremely grateful I have them both in my life. 

Football is something that can make me really animated. Actually, I think getting passionate is not that much of a difficult endeavour to me, as I can get intense over unlikely things such as a meal, a poem, the sunshine, a flower, a beautiful, unassuming smile. Sometimes I think that's to do with my horoscope, as I'm a Cancer, and there is a whole narrative surrounding the feelings of this element. I may be a tale of emotions and reverberation, after all. 

But the thing is… I am not really embarrassed by the 7-1. There's many, many reasons I already profoundly dislike 2014. All pretty much linked to my personal life. My depression seems to be back, in full form, just to remind me that I'm not really in charge here. I used to be particularly ashamed of my mental health issues. I no longer feel that way, and it may have to do with the realization that I too am a human being, loaded with flaws, poached in instincts that often times go densely wrong. As of now, human is the only thing I am, and that feels like a victory, to be honest. 

So there is this much anticipated Brazilian defeat at home. I must admit I did feel we were going to lose, but the SEVEN-one never really crossed my mind. So the utter realisation that those men too are humans was somehow liberating to me. I mean, it was a match, but it definitely didn't feel like one, I suppose. Maria got that, and although she was happy that Germany went through, I could see she was not really enjoying it and the reason is very simple: it is not delightful to see mentally shattered people getting massacred like that. It is not nice to see the psychological downfall of any human being, I suppose.

In my personal practice, I've been trying to call attention to the many gruelling nuances of major sports events such as the world cup: the workers who are dying in Qatar, the workers who lost their lives in Brazil, the poor people who got evicted from their homes to give room to stadiums, the poor women who were prevented from selling their traditional foods around the arenas, simply because McDonalds said so.There is this huge issue of child prostitution going on not only in Brazil, but in many parts of the world. All that breaks my heart, and I can't but wonder why exactly people are expecting me to be embarrassed or even apologetic about the 7-1. 

Maybe this has to do with Brazilians being "way too arrogant" about football? Then that would have made total sense had the team lost to Cameroon, as Germans are not exactly the epitome of humility, I guess. I am obviously not talking about all Germans in the world, because that would invalidate what I've exposed in paragraph one and this is just not possible. But yes, when we talk about football, I don't think Germans are the sweetest. 

That's not to say they aren't the best. The goalkeeper was amazing. The players were merciless towards Brazilians but that's how things are supposed to go, according to the system we have in place today. The present narrative - "survival of the fittest" - is a motto for competition. The outcome is dehumanization. People leaving early from that stadium was representative of an inability to deal with humanity. And that match, it felt way too human: the suffering of the Brazilians, and the sadistic smiles of the German players. 

I am obviously sad. Embarrassed, I am not. It took me long, ugly years to get rid of the shame surrounding my being. I may not have complete answers yet, but all in all I don't need to be apologetic anymore: people will come and go, their opinions of me will change like the Irish weather, but I will remain. The thing for football is just a tiny part of my being a Brazilian. The big chunk is resilience, really.

Monday, 7 July 2014

On being a non-native speaker of English.

I used to feel pretty bad because I can't speak perfect English. I remember the feeling of self-consciousness surrounding the fact that I am a late learner. It was always embarrassing to think of my stuttery, broken, Brazilianized English. Even though my learning process felt magical to me, I can't really say it was easy to overcome the inferiority complex surrounding my speech. To a certain extent, those feelings of being an odd/inadequate speaker still resonate at times. I don't really think I'll ever get completely over it, to be honest.

Although I still find it quite hard to effectively communicate with people, I can say things flow more naturally now (well, it's been over 10 years of learning the language) and I owe that to this inner urge I have to express myself. Also, as an activist, I started to think more of the power relations involved in language usage, and how I could be making a political statement with my so-called "broken" English. 

Before I turn to the political dimensions of being a non-native speaker, I want to take a look at the implications of being native, because that in itself has helped me overcome my anxieties when it comes to speaking up my mind, in public or elsewhere. When somebody reaches out to me for advice on how to be a more confident non-native speaker, the first thing I urge them to do is to reflect upon their own status as a native of any given language. Below I expose where I stand as a speaker of Brazilian Portuguese. 

As you might have known by now, Brazil is this huge country with continental dimensions and a vast array of cultures that can vary dramatically from region to region, and such diversity has a direct impact on the way people use the national language and, sadly, also on the ways they demonstrate power. Paulistas (those born in São Paulo) and Cariocas (those born in Rio) tend to be particularly arrogant when it comes to the accents of less privileged states, including the one I come from (Goiás). That means although I can perfectly speak and understand Portuguese, I am usually perceived as 'backwards' by interlocutors of said areas. There is even a book by sociolinguist Marcos Bagno ('Preconceito Linguístico' - Portuguese for 'Linguistic Prejudice') where he exposes the ways in which the Brazilian elite use language to discriminate against poorer states/lower classes. 

By now you readers know where I'm heading, I suppose. English is the lingua franca of the world, there is no doubt around that. However, it is also a locus for complex, intricate, and tense power relations that tend to be ignored by both native and non-native users alike. Maybe 'ignored' is not the correct word - I'd probably say 'naturalized'. For there has never been a place I set foot into where people haven't resorted to the myth that native speakers are 'authorities' in the language, whereas everybody else sucks, basically. The anecdote sounds even more amusing if we consider the fact that non-natives heavily outnumber natives of English. Given such scenario, it seems unfeasible to render only native speakers experts in anything. But that's exactly how the narrative goes, and it's all related to power, not necessarily a reflection of reality per se. 

Furthermore, it is interesting to observe how the industry around 'learning English' behaves. I don't know about you all, but as soon as I started learning the language (as an adult), the options presented to me were: 1. British English; 2. American English. It was only in my masters, like FIVE years after I started learning the damn language, that discussions were put in place surrounding the polarized ways we tend to approach it. If there is an effort being put in place by editors to present English as a language owned by either British or Americans, then we can ascertain, undoubtedly, that learning the language is a tiny part of a much deeper, pervasive imperialistic project to keep the world under a certain order. 

Therefore, given the above mentioned facts, I've decided to remain unapologetic about my own English. Foucault once stated that using the same structures of the powerful can prove empowering to the disempowered themselves, and that's exactly how I feel about my English. I relate to it in a very profound way and I made it my own. However, I feel today I'm mature enough to understand that being a foreign speaker of English means much more than choosing between two options: it means I have an Americanish accent, yes, but no American will ever see me as one of their own and guess what? Thank Kali for that! I realised I don't have to be anything other than myself. I realised I will ALWAYS mispronounce something, no matter how much effort I put into making it right. Above all, I realised that mistakes won't prevent me from speaking up my mind whenever I wish to. 

Besides, there is always the consolation prize of knowing that perfection is a construct aimed at keeping people under control. There's no such thing as being a perfect speaker - birth won't give you that entitlement, and if you really think it does, I'm sorry to say that but you are just one more delusional human being to inhabit this planet.

The very fact that such image exists proves there is no such thing as perfection (and in case you're wondering, this mistake is MASSIVE among natives)