Ricardo is waiting for me outside in the car. “How was it?” he asks, handing me a plastic bag with traditional Russian sweets – mini cottage cheese bars covered in chocolate. “Where did you get them?” I gasp, the taste of my Soviet childhood feels like a perfect ending to my day. “It was muito gira (a lot of fun)! I can only imagine how we all sound to the teacher in our broken Portuguese. I wonder what stories Sandra tells her husband after work, sometimes she can barely hold herself from laughing. We have such a peculiar bunch of people in my class.
We have 65 year old Wang. In full confidence he walked into the classroom almost 30 minutes late today, dressed in a business suit with a plastic cup of coffee in his hand. It felt almost like we had an alien invasion and the alien wanted to learn to speak our earthly language. Wang is from China, he repeats random words after Sandra during the class whenever he feels the need to polish his pronunciation. He does it very loudly and confidently.
Then there is Olga from St. Petersburg sitting opposite me. Olga arrived to Lisbon only seven months ago and she is already pregnant. “I’ve managed to do everything” she tells me after the class and we both giggle. Instead of “goodbye” and “nice to meet you” she whispers to me “I have to pee badly, so sorry” and dashes to the loo. Olga leaves the classroom for that reason every 30-45 minutes but nobody bats a eye, we are having so much fun exploring each other through our dialogues and introductions – the 2 hours go by in a flash.
As all beginners we have very limited vocabulary which means that certain facts from our biography, that would’ve been embellished or presented as half-truth in a joking way in normal circumstances, are blurted out with desperate honesty.
Matteo is 26 year old. He is from Italy, um filho unico (the only son) in his family. Mimado baptizes him Sandra straight away and explains to us: it is the one who is sent abroad to study, the one who gets the money any time he asks, the one who receives a car for his birthday, etc. We find out that he has a lot of tias and tios (aunts and uncles) though and therefore many sobrinhos (cousins). “You must have great Christmas celebrations!” exclaims Sandra. The spoiled one pauses for a second, he puts his two fists together and rubs them against each other demonstrating, for the lack of words, what usually goes on in his family. “Oh” says the teacher and moves on to the next student.
My introduction is quite brief. I announce what my name is and make everyone aware of my age. “Tenho 41 anos!” I say. “Uma cavalho!” loudly comments Wang. Sandra promptly explains to everyone what a cavalho is by imitating a galloping horse, hinting at my sign according to Chinese horoscope. “Sim” I confirm. “Sou a dragon” proudly introduces himself Wang in an improvised dialogue. “Muito prazer em conhecer-vos” I repeat the phrase that is written on the blackboard. We have just learnt it in the beginning of the class. Wang repeats it back to me two times nodding his head and smiling broadly. He is very pleased to meet me too. When I mention in my introduction that my parents are divorciados, our only pregnant student in the class excitedly screams “Eu sou divorciada tambem!” (I am also divorced) and has us all immediately looking puzzled. “And my husband is also divorced” Olga adds enthusiastically.
We all support each other in our struggle to express ourselves with the very few words that we know. When someone takes the courage to plunge into a conversation, we all smile encouragingly.
“You mean you and your husband got divorced and now you are married to each other”, helps Sandra. “Sim, sim”, nods Olga – we have not covered past tense yet.
Since neither myself nor my sister has any children and therefore no sobrinhos, I don’t have much to talk about. “And what brought you to Portugal?” saves me the teacher.