This post is long. Like I said, I have been writing the blog even though I haven’t been able to post because I have been without internet, so this post is everything I’ve written this past week in Brazil, beginning the night I arrived.
July 27, 2006
Disembarque / Chegar
I was nervous about how it was going to smell here. Very concerned indeed. But the smells here remind me a little of the DR and a lot of camping. Smoky air, tropical, warm. Smoky in a barbeque kind of way, in a fire-on-the-street-in-the- summer kind of air.
The view from my big window and porch looks like it could be Miami (a less lit version) or a Boston (a warmer version) and nowhere near New York (because here it’s quieter and there are way fewer people.)
I’ve already set up an account at Blockbuster, mostly because I wanted something that reminded me of home. Oddly enough, even though I’ve been here all day, I haven’t felt sad. I know I will at some point—I know it. It’s inevitable.
Here, my night view looks out onto tall buildings, with an Itau sign in lights like in Times Square on top of one building showing the time: 2303. I don’t know what Itau is, nor why it graces the top of a building. I see five tall palm trees and an Esso station (gasoline is about $5.00 a gallon here). Directly across the street from my apartment building is a 7th Day Adventist church and another tall apartment building. Ten floors below me is a small street called Rua Joaquim Novaes. It, like some others in Cambui, is made of cobble stones. Tonight, I walked home from Blockbuster on my own, past two restaurants and an apartment building.
There is a security guard house at the gate of my apartment. The guard’s name is Roderigo (“Hod-rigo”) and tonight I asked him why I had two keys. The conversation went like this:
Me: “Porque dois ‘keys’?”
Roderigo: “….”?? [shrugging]
Me: [showing keys] “Porque dois ‘these things’?”
Roderigo: [pointing here] “Fron-chee” e [pointing away]…”
Me: Oh! The back! Okay! Obrigada! Boa noite! Tchau!
Pretty much anything that ends in “T”, Brazilians pronounce like a “chee.” So Roderigo was trying to say “front” but instead said “fron-chee.” There’s a gym around the corner called “Fit.” But it’s pronounced “Fit-chee.” Okay.
I had a real caiparinha today. And I finished every last drop. Much better here than in the US. I think I’ll have a caiparosca next, and Rosie, who’s Steve’s daughter, suggested I get it with passion fruit also. “Caiparosca de..passion fruit.”
July 28, 2006
The First Full Day
Another big day today, one that made my head want to explode all on its own. Three hours of language class this morning, followed by lunch, and then another three hours of meetings at school—all back-to-back. By the time four o’clock rolled around, I was so thoroughly tired all I wanted was to try to fall asleep. But I had so much Portuguese flying through my head that I thought I should try it out on my own, without the accompaniment of any other people. So I stumbled through some very poor phrases, trying to ask where the garbage can for my floor is, asking where I could buy bottled water, and what the guard’s name was who watches my building. (Roderigo had a different shift apparently.)
I told everyone I didn’t speak Portuguese and then followed it up with ridiculous attempts to say, “but keep going! I want to try to figure out what you’re saying!” I asked a woman at the fruit market how to eat a passion fruit, (“uma maracuja”) and she explained it. I then walked to Blockbuster again to pick out another movie. With all the Portuguese I had today, and the lack of English on television, I felt I deserved it.
So I’m sitting here right now watching “The Bee Season” (“Palavras de Amor”) with Richard Gere, which was in the New Resleases section, along with ‘March of the Penguins’ and ‘Mrs. Doubtfire,” (if that tells you anything), and I can’t concentrate on what’s going on because my inner voice keeps repeating words I learned today: “pao de queijo,” “queiro um cafezinho, com azucar, e sem leite. Tambem, queiro um pao de queijo. Obrigada.” When we’re in the car, I try to read all the signs. My eyes are tired of moving around all the time and trying to pronounce things. I went to the store tonight with another teacher and my boss (“meu chefe”) and was so busy looking around for signs I couldn’t really pay attention to what the two were talking about in the car.
I bought a lot of stuff today for the apartment (“o apartamento”), mostly cleaning supplies and a few things of food. The best thing I’ve had here so far is this dessert called queijo com fruta, strawberry flavor. It tastes like cheesecake and looks like yogurt with jam on top.
The only hot water I’ve come in contact with is the hot water in the shower, for which I am very thankful. There’s no hot water for the laundry or for the kitchen sink, and I’m not sure I can drink the water, so I bought some bottled ones and a large thing I can keep in the fridge that has a spout out of it.
I’m getting around here, beginning to feel more comfortable. Tomorrow I’m going to explore Cambui with my Portuguese teacher, Pierre, and two other teachers, Kendra and Josh. We’re going to the Hippie Fair, which is where they sell lots of jewelry and have some music and lots of people gather and hang out every Saturday.
In the school meeting today, I got my schedule and learned that I will only be teaching 7th grade, not a high school elective also like I thought. I’m really excited to teach 7th grade, actually, and I’m looking forward to meeting my students. It makes me nervous to think I will be teaching Brazilian history and geography, especially since there are absolute no textbooks written in English for students about Brazilian geography, and since I’ll also be teaching students who speak no Portuguese, they’ll be confused too. I feel like I have one week to learn Portuguese fluently and know the history of the country, even though I know that’s not the case. There’s SO much that’s going into my brain, and I think it’s going to take a lot of time to process it. It’s all jumbled around.
This movie sucks so much. It’s too heavy for me. I’m sure it’s time for bed now, and according to the Itau tower, it’s 10:11. But New Haven time is only 9:11, and on a Friday night it’s too early I think for sleep.
I cannot wait to have internet access in my apartment. I need Skype, I need to talk to Dennis for more than a minute or two. I haven’t talked to him in a whole day. I know that sounds pathetic—oh no! not a whole day!—but when you go from living and working with someone for a while, one whole day is a really long time.
I woke up this morning realizing—and simultaneously trying to suppress my realization—that I won’t see Dennis for another month. I suppressed it mostly because I didn’t want to get sad about it. I think once I start to feel sad about home, I won’t stop crying for a while. And who wants to start off her first morning in Brazil crying?
July 30, 2006
Believe it or not, I had to buy another blanket. It is something like 55 degrees here now, and raining, and I have come to Brazil unprepared for anything this cold. In a way, I’m relieved for the weather to be so cold—delaying the inevitable and unbearable heat for just a little while longer. I’m glad to get in all the cold I can get now before summer arrives. It’s 10:15, the night before I’m about to go to the school for meetings and planning curriculum, even though I won’t officially begin teaching until my work permit comes through. But I’ll get my planning out of the way and things will be okay. School begins Thursday.
You know, for how stressful this past school year was, you’d think I’d need a solid six months to recover. And when I think that the other teachers in my New Haven school will have another solid month of summer, I’m amazed that I’ll be beginning a new school year this week—a much shorter summer break than any I’ve had in my entire life. But the funny thing is, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I’ve been so ridiculously busy and in motion this past month that it’s hard for me to picture what I’d be doing at home, other than working at Roomba or spending time with Dennis. Same old thing, I guess. So far, this has been one of the best summers I’ve ever had, probably because every day had meaning. I had to be conscious of how I spent my time so that I could get down to Brazil.
I just typed that word, “Brazil,” and stopped. It is so hard to believe I’m actually here. It’s so hard to believe that A) I’m in South America, B) I’m in Brazil, C) I’m away from my friends and family D) I don’t know Portuguese—well, that’s easy to believe—and E) I’m doing what I have wanted to do since I was twelve. The most gratifying part of this entire experience so far, and probably an explanation of why I haven’t been homesick yet, is that I’m living my dream. Since I was twelve, sitting on the tan couch in my living room, flipping through National Geographics and writing stories about traveling around the world, I’ve wanted to go and do it. And holy shit, I am. Here I am, in Brazil, learning the language (“a lingua Brasiliera”) and actually kind of getting it. I’m meeting people I would never have met unless I nutted up and made this huge step. I am so proud of myself, and at the same time, so relieved. I feel like my soul is saying, “Well, it’s about time!”
One of the teachers here, Kendra, wants to date a Brazilian. That’s what she told me anyway, and I think it’s great for her. Yesterday, we went to a barbeque, (a “churrasco”) and drank caipirinhas and danced Forro (pronounced “fo-ho.”) Forro is a close dance that requires the woman to, as my dance partner put it, “feel my force.” My partner, Marcello, is the boyfriend of one of the teachers here. He’s a good dancer and the teacher, Mandy, volunteered him to be my partner so I could learn Forro. While we were dancing, all I could think about was (well, I was thinking of Dennis anyway,) but what I was thinking about was how this trip for me, this journey, is really all about learning another culture. I don’t care about what people look like, I don’t care about meeting people to date like Kendra might; I just want to do the things Brazilians do and go out and learn their culture and language. And I was also really thinking about how cool it would be for Dennis to be here too. It’s so much fun down here, such a good, laid-back time. And I want to share it with him because I think—no, I know—he’d fit in here so well. This place is kind of his style—just fun and full of talking and laughter.
I think another reason why I’m not homesick is because it’s so easy to stay in touch with people. I used to go to camp in Maine a long time ago. It was the camp my mom went to when she was little and she absolutely loved it. I’d heard about this camp my whole childhood and I cried when I got the chance to go, too, because it seemed like such a dream-come-true. But one of the rules was that you couldn’t talk on the phone. EVER. So I had a really hard time there because I couldn’t be in touch with anyone. The mornings were the hardest because I knew I was facing another day when I wouldn’t get to talk to my parents. So I mostly turned to writing. I wrote a lot of diary entries, and I wrote a lot of letters. Most of those were angry “get-me-out-of-this-god-forsaken-place” letters to my parents, sometimes even postcards that simply said, “I hate it here. Come get me. Gina.” I think my angst and sadness were due to the fact that I simply couldn’t talk to my family.
Since I’ve been here in Brazil, a million times farther from my parents than Maine was, I’ve talked to people at home probably six times. Anyone can call me; I can call anyone. Granted, it’s a little more expensive than if I were at home, but I have the means to pay for a call home. And it’s totally worth it. When you go away, especially if you’ve never done it before, you’ve got to be in touch with home. Maybe I can only speak for myself when I say that.
Yesterday was a Portuguese day. I found may way all around trying only to use Portuguese. I found an internet café (finally) and asked how much manicures and pedicures cost. I bought eye drops at a drug store and chose two kinds of small desserts at a restaurant around the corner from my house. I learned how to tell people that I want to speak Portuguese with them and explained that a friend told me Forro was mostly done in Sao Paulo. I did a lot and I was really tired by the end of the night. It is exhausting learning how to speak a new language. Really physically exhausting.
So it’s bedtime. I’m going to cuddle up in my two blankets with a book. I’m still reading “Catfish and Mandala” and I’ve gotten about half-way through. Dennis wants me to finish it by the time I come back to CT for my visa so he can read it. Meanwhile, I’m so loving the writing of it that I don’t want the book to end. I’m taking my time with it.
Boa noite, tchau.
August 1, 2006
Words in My Horse
One of the hardest things I’ve had to adjust to is throwing toilet paper away in the trash can next to the toilet. Even though one of my readers from NHI warned me about this behavior, it is nearly impossible for me to get a good grasp of it. Throwing toilet paper into the toilet is something I’ve been doing for almost 27 years so to teach this old dog (with respect to bathroom behavior only) a new trick is really a challenge. The last place that kind of trash should be going is next to the toilet in a plastic bucket. Yuck. Get rid of it.
Tonight I went out to dinner with friends. We went to a restaurant, Giovannis—a family-style Italian-esque restaurant—to celebrate Agnes’ birthday. Agnes is the daughter of the ESL teacher at my school. So we three new teachers, plus a couple of others went out for dinner. And it was the place of my first undeniable cultural faux-pas.
When you order drinks at Giovannis (maybe just at Giovannis, maybe at other Brazilian restaurants) the servers place a tiny plate on the table. It looks like a coaster or a round soy sauce dish. If five drinks are ordered, then five tiny plates are stacked. This is so the server can keep track of how many drinks have been ordered. (I can think of other, more fool-proof methods of keeping track of ordered drinks rather than stacking tiny plates in front of progressively drunken patrons, but I won’t get into those methods at the moment.) Some of the friends ordered appetizers to share with the table: French fries, salad, fried manioc, pizza. I reached for French fries and manioc and grabbed a small plate to put them on. I took a ketchup packet and squeezed it all onto the tiny plate.
In this single moment, I did two things wrong: I touched the food with my bare hands and I used a tiny plate for food. Brazilians do not touch their food. I knew this already. I knew it because I read in a book about Brazilian culture that even the family with the most modest income will eat sandwiches with forks and knives. Why I didn’t think twice about not reaching for the French fries with one of the toothpicks provided for me is beyond me.
The second thing I did wrong was use one of those tiny plates. How should I know that in Brazil they count the number of beers with tiny plates? My god, it’s like back in the days of the abacus for crying out loud. How about a calculator? How about good, old-fashioned writing it down? Needless to say, the whole table laughed at me, except the two other new teachers because they were about to do the same thing. I just beat them to it in my desire to stuff fried starch down my throat.
Another gigantic faux-pas has been to wear flip-flops. For the past three days, whenever I wear flip-flops outside of my apartment, everyone stares at me. I read somewhere that flip-flops are not the coolest kind of footwear and I have been hyper conscious of what people put on their feet since I’ve been here. I once had a roommate from Colombia and she kept her shoes immaculately clean and almost always had her toes covered. So I figured it was the same here in Brazil. I knew that the school doesn’t allow kids to wear flip-flops, so I figured I was kind of trashy by wearing them. At the pic-nic at the administrator’s house the other day, I slipped on flip-flops without giving them a second thought, and then spent two hours examining, self-consciously, everyone’s feet around me. Not a single other person had bare toes. Not a one.
So yesterday, I went to the malland bought two pairs of shoes—one fancy, the other a pair of sneakers. Today I mentioned to my friends that everyone stares at me when I wear flip-flops and I felt uncomfortable so I had to go out and buy a new pair of shoes.
“I thought flip-flops weren’t okay shoes to wear,” I told my Brazilian friend Agnes tonight. “Everyone looks at me when I wear them, so I had to go out and buy new shoes.”
“No,” Agnes said. “Flip-flops are fine.”
“But not in winter!” Kendra, always thinking, chimed in with the answer to why so many people stared at me. Of course! It’s winter here! I would stare at someone if she were to wear flip-flops in Vermont in December!
And then finally, to add insult to injury, I told a sales girl today in a store in Iguatemi mall, “there are so many words in my horse.” At first I said “words in my hair,” which kind of sounds like “horse,” and I thought I said “horse” after I said “hair,” but really this whole time, I meant “head.” “Cavalo,” “Cabeza,” “Cabeilo.” You can understand the confusion.
August 2, 2006
Do NOT lean over a bidet when you are trying to figure out how it works.