Mural 50 in Barbosa Ferraz, Brasil

Every mural is unique.  They each have their own story about how they came to pass.  Mural 50 in Barbosa Ferraz was no exception, but it was exceptional.

I taught.  I know that teachers hope to make a difference in the lives of their students.  My host, Geremias, is one of those lucky teachers who knows he is making a positive impact in the lives of his students.  He sees it every day, and they adore him.  He told me upon arrival at the airport that meeting me was his "Freedom Writers" moment.  (If you haven't seen the movie, it's a feel-good teacher movie.)  But I know that every day in Ge's class was actually a positive teacher-student interaction right out of the script.

I asked Ge how he ever found me.  Like a gazillion other teachers, he discovered my art on a Google search for educational clipart.  There’s just no denying it.  My art is all over the internet, correctly used and shamelessly stolen.  Geremias used it in his classroom and on PowerPoint presentations for his students. Finally, one day he wrote to me and asked if I would like to come to Brasil (spelled with an “s” in Portuguese).

My mama didn’t raise no fool.  I said, “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!” and plans started.  He and his delightful students raised the money for me to come to South America.  I was told that more than once, people told this wonderful teacher that nobody from North America would actually come to Brasil to paint with his students.  Those people of little faith had obviously not read my blog or wandered my website.  I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to experience Brasil.

It was a long haul to Barbosa Ferraz.  Landing in Sao Paulo was only the beginning of the journey.  There were three more airports to sort through in Portuguese, which I clearly didn’t speak.  But, right from the start I knew I was in for a magnificent experience.  Eight people, wearing t-shirts with my art, awaited my arrival.  It was a three-hour journey to get to the airport.  I never felt so humbled by a warm welcoming in my life.

I sat down with Ge and a few others to brainstorm the mural design.  I wanted to write the word “BRASIL” in the design, but with different themes filling the individual letters.  Inside the first letter, the art was dedicated to the host city of Barbosa Ferraz with its Catholic Church, a welcoming statue, and a South American cowboy.  In the “R”, I threw in my map (as usual) and three local animals in the area.  You probably know of the macaw, but if you are like me, you may not know the capybara and the quati.  The “A” was dedicated to the local breadbasket of vegetables that the area is noted for as well as the wonderful women who cook for the students each day.

The fourth letter, which you might think should be a “Z” if you didn’t live in Brasil, had a classroom situation with a teacher and students.  You don’t win any prize if you guess who the teacher looks like.  You’d be foolish if you couldn’t figure that out.  The “I” has some of the subjects studied.  History is indicated by Pedro Alvares Cabral who is the reason they all speak Portuguese, having claimed Brasil for Portugal in 1500.  The mosaic globe represents art and geography.  The lines in the basketball flow into DNA for sports and biology.  And, my personal favorite is a letter in English that claims, “I study English so I can speak to people from Ohio!”  Most of them couldn’t.  In the letter “L”, some of their additional interests in soccer, flying kites (who knew?), and mobile phones were depicted.

Alessa solved the puzzle immediately and painted a perfect tomato.
Now, I never just throw the letters up on the mural and make it easy for people to read.  It’s a mystery to figure out.  In fact, most people can’t do it, even with clues.  Of course, once you realize completely what you are looking at, it’s a whole lot more fun to watch others struggle to figure out the mystery as well.  In all the time we painted, only one person instantly recognized that it was lettering which spelled her country.  I liked Alessa instantly.

The first day we painted was a national holiday.  Now seriously, what kind of teacher can get students to come in to school on a vacation day?  I told you this was a special teacher.  Not many of those present spoke English.  However, thanks to technology like Google Translate, communication was not a real issue.  It seems that everyone except me owned a smart phone.  I had a really fun day.

Now, just to give you an idea of the kind of people I painted with, I asked if we could start out with a little dance music and shake up some paint for a video.  Usually, if I get three or four uninhibited people, I am delighted.  But, this was Brasil, and I passed out every paint can I had.  They shook everything they had to K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty” before the conga line circled the room and then danced their way out the door.  Yes, it was a party atmosphere from the get go.

I tend to like as little stress as possible when I paint (or any other time in my life).  I find it easiest if I only have six to eight painters at a time.  Any more than that and the stress multiplies.  I always make that point very clear well before arriving in country.  However, on this day, an average of fifteen painters worked constantly.  It was all that could squeeze into the work space.  And, it was truly one of the easiest days I’ve ever had at a mural.

It wasn’t until the day ended that I learned that these JAA agriculture students (sort of like Future Farmers of America) were actually from five different cities, multiple schools within those cites, and included current students, graduates, spouses, and teachers.  They came together as one to paint the mural at the Escola Municipal José Arno Turke School.  When they left, they lingered and hugged like long lost family members who didn’t want to say goodbye.  And, everyone got hugged, including the gringo in their midst who really couldn’t speak to hardly anyone.

Very fortunately for me, many of the painters from the “holiday mural day” were students in Geremias’ class.  They painted with me throughout the week.  The hugs, kind words, presents, warmth, and Facebook friendships continued as the mural moved towards completion.  This mural was going to have a dedication ceremony.  It promised to be one for the record books.  My friends in Brasil certainly knew how to say, “Obrigado”, but no thanks were needed.  They had shown their gratitude from day one.  Well, actually, night one which ended 34 hours of travel at one in the morning.
Shaking to K.C. and the Sunshine Band