Pssssst. Hey you.Wanna be a sponsor? It’ll make you feeeeel good. The CLO is busy putting together our summer sponsorships. We are particularly in need of sponsors for the months of June and August. Please contact the CLO if you can help. Not only are all the cool kids doing it, but sponsoring makes you look at least fifteen years younger and ten pounds thinner.
We arrived in Brasilia bewildered and culture-shocked. It was our first post. We had no car, no language skills, and no CPF numbers, which meant no internet or tv. On the upside, we also didn’t have a drum set. Our sponsor met us at the airport and had stocked the house with some food. She also took me grocery shopping the next day so I could stock up on
wine to drown my sorrows healthy food for my children. A friend of mine recently arrived at her new post to find that her sponsor had left nothing but a jar of pickles in her refrigerator. It was 10:00 at night and she had three hungry kids, but hey, who doesn’t love pickles? Another friend with no kids arrived at his first post to find just a six-pack of beer waiting for him. Fortunately, it was a happy enough discovery.
Sponsors provide a soft landing when newcomers arrive in a foreign country. Often, the newcomers have traveled for many hours and are exhausted, hungry, and experiencing culture shock. If they have arrived in Brasilia, it is very likely they are without transportation to a grocery store. Providing enough food to get them through the night and next morning is an easy way to make a great first impression of life at post. It doesn’t have to be fancy or even homemade. Make contact with the people you are sponsoring to see if they have any special requests/diet needs. You don’t need to fully stock the house, but some cereal and milk and sandwich fixings can make all the difference for weary travelers. I usually make a casserole or lasagna, provide some simple sandwich and salad fixings, and make homemade bagels for the morning, but I’m a show-off like that.
Sometimes, you get very picky people when you have volunteered to be a sponsor. I saw a list of requests that had been sent to a friend of mine who was sponsoring a first-time officer and his family. The newbie had a hilarious list for items they wanted my friend to acquire at her African post: “Amy’s Vegan Margherita Pizza, crisp romaine lettuce (not soggy!), organic vinaigrette dressing, fair trade coffee (French Roast is prefered, but Italian roast is acceptable)….”. The list was long and quite detailed. My friend gave them sandwiches, cereal, milk, and regular old coffee, likely made with the tears of underpaid workers, but also the only coffee available. The moral of this story is, please don’t be too demanding of your sponsors. Offer to reimburse them for the items they have purchased. More often than not, your sponsors will tell you to just “pay it forward”.
The day after arrival, offer to bring your sponsorees to the grocery store, and stay nearby while they shop to help with translations and food identification, and to help with the checkout process: “Somethingsomething…CPF?” It took me a few months to figure out what that even meant. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just answer “não” to the checker, because if you DID have a CPF number, you wouldn’t be at the grocery store trying to determine if queijo prato was anything like cheddar cheese (it isn’t), you would be home waiting for the cable/internet guys to not show up. If you are out running errands, call the person you are sponsoring and matter-of-factly say, “I’m going to the market at 9:00 am tomorrow. Shall I pick you up at 8:45?” Some people are afraid to ask for help and would rather give their kids airplane cookies and smashed granola bars from the bottom of their purse than consider putting someone out by asking for a ride to the grocery store. I know what you’re thinking. That last sentence had a fair amount of detail.
Consider the needs of the family you are sponsoring. Do they have language skills? Have they obtained CPF numbers in advance of arrival? HAHAHAHA! I kid. Access to a car? Young children? Try and anticipate ways that could make their entry a little easier. We leave a folder of DVDs on the MINISCULE chance that their cable/internet hasn’t been hooked up in advance. HAHAHAHA! I’m on a roll today. We also leave a tub of Legos and blocks if they have younger kids.
Here in Brasilia, many people have churrascos in the form of a potluck to welcome newcomers, inviting people with similar interests or same-aged children. You can do as much or a little as you want to when sponsoring. Okay, maybe provide more than a jar of pickles. The point is, don’t be scared off if you had a sponsor that went above and beyond the call of duty. Just do what you are comfortable with, be pleasant, and try and remember what it’s like to land in a completely foreign place.
Being a good sponsor is easy at this post. GSO sets up the house with linens on the beds, towels hung, and welcome kits unpacked, so really, just providing some food and a ride or two is all that is needed. With the new Wi-fi at the embassy, newcomers have easy access to
Amazon and Zappos connect with their loved ones back home. Leave your phone number for any questions that might crop up. Try and remember when you first arrived if you are considering volunteering to sponsor a new arrival. Think about what you would have done the same or differently than your sponsor. For example, maybe leave a roll of toilet paper in the house. I know what you’re thinking. That last sentence was very specific.