Account of a travel-happy American family bent on a “global” education for the children.
A former dance instructor at the University of Montana, Ragsdale takes a frank approach to observing life in Penedo, a colonial hill town in the northeastern Brazilian state of Alagoas, where the family of four serendipitously decided to move from Missoula for a year in 2010 and 2011. Fearless to embrace total immersion when no one, including the two children, knew any Portuguese, the family let the year unfold without trying to enforce a hurried American method to the laid-back, unbuttoned Brazilian way of life. Ragsdale grew up traveling abroad with her diplomat family, from Manila to Cairo, and had already lived with her writer husband, Peter, in places like Ghana, Indonesia, and Mozambique. They were ecstatic to find a cheap house in Penedo to rent and the ability to afford a full-time housekeeper and cook. Catholic school for their son, Skyler, 12, and daughter, Molly, 15, proved a challenge due to the language barrier, and making friends was difficult, especially for Skyler, who felt both criticized by the youth as well as adored by the girls for his blond strangeness. Enjoying little privacy or quiet—Ragsdale writes of having to let go of a Western sense of possession—the family was confronted by their senses of privilege and entitlement in terms of having the money to pay for things that the small-town Brazilians could not afford. In short, anecdotal passages the author recounts the ups and downs of daily life—befriending a series of 20-something guides, navigating the permissive teenage parties for her daughter, taking up capoeira, establishing relationships with the market vendors, and managing the rather bossy, cynical locals—with a pleasant candidness. In the end, she displays a deep gratitude for the eye-opening adventures.
A pleasant chronicle of living life outside one’s comfort zone.