Sunday, December 5, 2010

Um ano atras! Ja???

This is crazy! I’ve already been in Brasil for four months! In some ways, however, it feels like I’ve been here much longer than that. This place is so familiar to me now, and I feel like I know as much about Joao Pessoa as someone who’s lived here for years! I feel like a local. I was thinking to myself the other day that this is the city that I know best in the whole world, besides Northfield. And possibly besides Ely, where I spend my summers. I know where the best and cheapest acai is sold. I know the beaches where you’ll find seaweed, and the ones where there’s a nice, sandy, bottom. I know where it’s dangerous to walk alone at night. I know around which corners I’ll find the pungent odor of old, dead fish, and along which sidewalks I’ll find the delicious smell of churrasco! I guess this is what I should expect from living here for four months, but it’s still a surprise to find myself so knowledgeable about a city I knew basically nothing about four months ago. Also, I know so many new people, and people know me, too. Nearly every time I go out, I see a familiar face. And no matter what the locals say, Joao Pessoa isn’t all THAT small. It’s so hard to believe that I didn’t know anyone here 4 months ago, but I’m sure that I’ve already made some life-long friends.

The rotary country fair was exactly one year ago today. That was when the whole process became real to me. Well, in some ways at least. In lots of ways nothing seemed real until I actually arrived here in Brasil. I remember entering the room where a bunch of tables were set up and exchange students from all over the world were eagerly awaiting the arrival of us newbies. The first table I went to was the Brasil table! Mostly because the Brazilian exchange students were basically dragging most of the people who walked through that door over to their table, because that’s just the way Brazilians are. But I loved it! I love the big-hearted, open-armed, unreserved way of the Brazilians. I will sincerely miss giving two kisses on each cheek when saying hello/saying good-bye to a friend, acquaintance, or even someone you don’t even know. This tradition is so much better than the cold and impersonal handshake in my opinion! After the country fair, I literally spent the next seven months with Brazil constantly on my mind. Without realizing it, I built up an impression of what Brazil was going to be like. I’m sure every exchange student did this with his or her respective country. It’s hard not to when you know you’re going to live in a completely different place for one year! It’s interesting how my expectations matched up with my actual experience. I don’t even remember what I expected, really…because now my life here is what it is, and I don’t really dwell on anything that I thought was going to be different. All I know is that I love it, and I am so glad that the Brazilians won me over that day one year ago.

So, all of you about to embark on the amazing journey that is rotary youth exchange, I’m so so so excited for you! The application, interview, and choosing parts are over. Now the real fun begins! I’m pretty sure those 3 weeks I had to wait to learn what my country was going to be were some of the longest weeks of my life…but once you finally find out, it’s the best feeling in the world! Be excited! I know I don’t have to tell you that, the excitement is there from the beginning. But embrace it! Before you know it, you’ll be embarking on the year long journey that will change your life. I have already changed here, in just four short months. Or maybe I’ve just become more of myself, if that makes sense. I’ve found out things about myself I never knew, both things I like and things I don’t. Although while on exchange you’ll meet many new people and some will become your best friends, I sort of feel like the person you get to know the best is yourself. Sounds cheesy, but hey, I think it’s true. These four months have been the most exciting, the most challenging, the most fun, the most emotional, and just in general, some of the best months of my life. And I can’t wait to see what the next six months will bring! I can’t wait to hear where all of you future outbounds are going! You made an excellent choice choosing rotary youth exchange. Since I’ve been here, I have realized more and more everyday how completely right this choice was for me. And to anyone who picked Brazil as one of their choices…voce escolhou o melhor pais do todo mundo! You picked the best country! Sorry, I’m a little overly enthusiastic. In all seriousness, any country you end up in, whether you picked it or not, you’ll have an amazing, unforgettable year. Woooo exchange students! I can’t wait to hear what the next year brings for you! Muitos beijos, e eu espero que neste momento o proximo ano, todos estarao esquecendo o ingles ;)

Saturday, November 27, 2010 a different sense of the word!

So these last few weeks have been surprisingly busy! Not busy like the way I was busy in the U.S. I have had no calculus problem sets to finish, no A.P. World Lit papers hanging over my head, and no long, cold, tiring track meets. I’ve been busy with travels around the northeast of Brasil, get togethers with many different groups of friends, LOTS of beach time, attempting to learn German in Portuguese(have I mentioned this? German in Brasil haha…weird, but fun), basketball and other random athletic type activities, and the occasional rotary event. If at this time last year I had taken a look at my life now, I would have laughed in my own face if I tried to call myself busy. And I guess I’m not busy, really, but I’m definitely not unoccupied. Its funny, the thing that stresses me out the most here is when I have too many fun things to do, but I can’t do all of them so I have to pick. Seriously, for some reason this really stresses me out! I always want to hang out with as many people as possible and see all of my friends, but I often have to pick and choose which fun thing it is I want to do on a given day. Again, back in the U.S., I didn’t have time to be stressed out by this sort of thing. It’s funny how different my life here is from my life back home, in terms of my schedule. Anyways, here are some of the fun things I did end up choosing to do during the past few weeks:

I went to Natal! Twice! Natal is this city about 2 hours north of Joao Pessoa in the State of Rio Grande do Norte. The first time I went, I went with a family from Joao Pessoa that I’ve gotten to know really well, and we went over election/Halloween weekend. There was a second presidential election where everyone had to vote again, because the first time none of the candidates got a majority of votes. So, the night I got there was election night! I got to go to this huge party for Dilma (the winner of the Presidential election, and Brazil’s first woman president! Woo!) It was an election party unlike one I had ever seen before. It was complete with a live band playing all sorts of Brazilian dance music, from samba to forro to funk, and everyone there was dancing like only Brazilians can dance. Everyone was wearing red, Dilma’s color, and waving banners and signs and flags and singing Dilma’s song at the top of their voices (did Obama have a song?? I guess this also must be unique to Brasil haha). There was also churrasco. Every Brasilian party seems to have churrasco! Deeeelicious!

The second time I went to Natal I went with all the other exchange students, plus a few of our mutual friends. We left Joao Pessoa at like 5:30 in the morning so that we could get there by 7:30 to do a buggy ride on the beach and sand dunes of Natal for the whole day! A ‘buggy’ here is not like a horse-drawn carriage. Its pretty much like a jeep-convertible, although a little less sturdy. Now, this buggy trip was definitely in the top three most fun things I’ve done so far here in Brasil. We started out just driving along the beach right next to the ocean, which was quite pleasant, but then we turned onto the sand dunes! Natal is surrounded by natural sand dunes, and in the middle of these dunes, fresh water lakes have formed. It is so beautiful. We got to drive all over the sand dunes, and make stops along the way to swim in the lakes! The buggy drive was actually kind of scary, but I love a little bit of a thrill! Let’s just say that my dear friend Sonja would not be able to handle it. Our driver took us at a speed more appropriate for highway driving that for sand dunes, and the buggy was nearly vertical sometimes as we sped over the steepest of the dunes. Also, there were no seatbelts. You just had to hold on. Along the way, we made two other stops where we did something called ‘esqui-bunda’, which is like sledding on the sand. We sledded down this fairly steep sand dune, and landed in a lake at the bottom. I also got to do a zip-line for the first time! I sat in a swing attached to a wire, and zoomed across a lake, landing in the water on the other side. We also went to the ocean and swam there for a little while. Its funny how its routine for me now to have the ocean so close. When we went to the beach after the buggy ride I was like ‘oh, it’s the ocean again, nothing new there.’ Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the ocean, and I appreciate living by it soooo much, it’s just that it’s so normal for me now! Before I came here, the ocean was always something so exotic and foreign to me! Funny how things change.

A couple weekends back, I also got to go on a trip to with my host mom and her friends to Bananaeiras and Guarabira, two smaller cities in the interior of Paraiba. We first went to a farm in Guarabira and had an AMAZING breakfast with an obscene amount of food (like always). There were all of these fruit trees at the farm where we were allowed to just pick the fruit off the trees and eat it fresh! These included what I think were clementines, a large green something that looked like a coconut, but wasn’t, and acerola, which sort of reminds me of a cranberry. After leaving the farm, we went to visit my host mom’s brother, went to a museum in honor of this Italian saint that used to live in Guarabira, and went to a just-opened hotel in Bananaeiras for a lunch of typical northeastern Brazilian food. After lunch went to the University of Bananeiras, and a then to a newly developed condominium community and got a tour of the place. I enjoyed seeing some different, and smaller, cities, although they aren’t nearly exciting as Joao Pessoa. It actually made me even more grateful to live where I do. These cities were nice, but there really wouldn’t be much to do at all for a teenager living there. It helped explain why there are so many students from the interior of Paraiba in Joao Pessoa going to high school. Also, the small cities of Brasil are really different from the small cities of the U.S. For example, Guarabira has about 70,000 people, and that is considered, like, miniscule for Brasil. When I was in Guaraibira, it looked to me like there were about 7,000 or less living there! The whole town was mainly just houses and little shops. In Northfield, which has less than 20,000 people, we have 2 colleges, Target, Cub foods, Menards, numerous fast food places and restaurants, parks and recreational areas, etc. The number of people that make up a city versus what is considered a small village is very different in Brasil.

I also went to two different concerts over the past 3 weeks or so. The first one was this festival of both local bands and bands from different parts of Brazil. There was also a bunch of art on display from local artists, which was cool to see, because I hadn’t really seen the artsy side of Joao Pessoa yet. It was in this big square in the center of town, and there was constantly a different band playing typical Brazilian music. At first when I went to concerts like this I just liked to watch the crazy Brazilians dancing, because that’s a show in and of itself, let me tell you. However, after being here awhile, I’ve picked up on a few things and join in as well, although not quite in the style of the Brazilians. It was soooo fun though, just being there with all of these Brazilians, dancing and laughing, and eventually everyone joining hands and doing a sort of circle dance around the room. I really felt like I was part of this country and its culture!

I also went to a concert last weekend in the big hall where there are always shows here in Joao Pessoa. I went to see Luan Santana, whom I would sort of describe as a Brazilian combination of Justin Beiber and Jason Mraz. The show itself was pretty cool, and he was a good singer, but I was sort of iffy on the songs. My favorite songs he sang were the ones that weren’t actually his songs, but just typical Brazilian songs I knew. It was definitely a fun time though! I went with some good friends, Jani, Lana, Ramon and Saul. Shows in Brasil rarely start until after midnight, so we ate a late dinner and then got to the show around midnight, and it started around 12:30. The main portion of the audience was probably teenage girls, and there was A LOT of squealing when Luan Santana came on stage. However, I had never been to a show like this in Brasil, and it was definitely a good experience to have. Lots of dancing, singing, squealing, etc. And the show was complete with some pretty cool effects as well! Fireworks and sparklers were constantly being set off, and there was real live fire coming out of the stage! Brazilians know how to put on a show!

Well, I feel like there’s a lot more I could say, but I’ve been working on this post on and off for about a week and a half, so it’s time to wrap it up! Its summer for me now, and that means no more school, so I’m excited about the next couple of months. I’ll try to post more frequently and write shorter posts from now on…its so difficult not to ramble on! Stay warm as the snow piles up back in MN; I’m going to be looking for new ways to stay cool!
Beijos e abraços!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Minha Identidade Brasileira e Hidrogimnastica!

A few days ago, I was at my friend Ramon’s apartment waiting for some friends we were going to go running with. We were chatting with the doorman, and he asked Ramon if I was German or Brazilian. I got really excited about this, because whenever everyone sees me or hears me talk, they always assume I’m American. It must be something about the way I dress, and I guess my accent is pretty obviously American, but for some reason this doorman didn’t see the American in me. I don’t’ really know where he saw the German…but anyways, as soon as he asked where I was from, I responded, ‘Eu sou Ana Beatriz, de Rio Grande do Sul!’ which means, ‘I’m Ana Beatriz, from Rio Grande do Sul’. I had been joking with my friends about how the next time I was asked where I was from, I would say I was Brazilian, just from a different state, so I took this opportunity to do so! I chose the name Ana Beatriz for myself. Rio Grande do Sul is the southern-most state of Brasil, where there are lots of Europeans and blonde people, so I chose that as my state. The doorman looked a little bemused at my enthusiasm when I told him where I was from (I was really excited about being addressed as a possible Brazilan!), and I really don’t know if he believed me…I might have taken the act a little too far by telling him I had cousins in Akra, another Brazilian state in the Amazon, especially because the name of the state isn’t Akra, its Akre. Oops. So maybe the joke was up. As I was waiting with Ramon in the lobby of the apartment, I was doing my best to speak perfect Portuguese with as little of an accent as possible, in case the doorman was still listening. It actually wasn’t that difficult! Maybe by the end of my stay here, I’ll have a handful of people convinced that my name is actually Ana Beatriz, and that I come from Rio Grande do Sul!

This past weekend was really fun! I got to play volleyball and soccer with two different groups of Brazilian friends, I went to the beach and swam/body surfed, and I got to go to two of my very favorite restaurants in João Pessoa! One is called Mangai, and it is a restaurant that just serves food that is typical of Northeastern Brasil. I embraced the part of me that is still sort of a tourist here, and loaded up my plate with arroz (rice), feijão (beans), macaxeira (a delicious root prepared in many different fashions), cartola (banana, cinnamon, sweetened condensed milk, and cheese), queijo coalho (fried cheese), carne do sol (sort of like steak), calabresa (a type of sausage), camarão (shrimp), pão de queijo (bread that tastes like cheese), e bolo (cake, the way only Brazilians can make it!). It was sooooo good! Apparently all the tourists go there to experience the real Northeastern food, and let me tell you, it is the place to eat for sure! The other restaurant I went to is called Sal e Brasa, and it is the churrascaria I went to earlier on and already devoted almost an entire blog to, so I’ll spare you. It was delicious though, of course. There’s really nothing like Brazilian churrasco! I also got to play monopoly twice this weekend, which was also great, as I love games and no one has board games in Brasil! I played with some friends from school and it was a good time, although I lost both games.

I had needed a good weekend, because the week before was one of the more stressful ones I’ve had here. I lost my cell phone, which was just a pain to deal with, especially in a foreign country, and it took sort of a long time to buy a new one. Also, as I’m sure many of you know, my Dad had been in tons of pain because of a problem with a herniated disc in his shoulder, and had to have surgery. I was sad for him and sad that I couldn’t be there to give him a hug and see him before and after the surgery. Although I knew it wasn’t dangerous, it was still worrying me. Now, however, he is doing SO much better! His pain is completely gone! Thank God for modern medicine. I tend to worry more about things here in Brasil than I did back in the U.S., probably because I don’t have all that much to distract me. So, it’s nice that the stressful week is over!

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but my host mom here runs a ‘hidrogimnastica’, as it’s called here. It’s basically like a water aerobics class in which thirty to forty women ranging from middle aged to downright elderly participate. There are 5 different classes I think, each with about 8-10 women. The classes start extremely early. People start to arrive at my house at like 5:30 am! The first class I think starts at 6, and that’s when the Brazilian samba and forro music they work out to starts blaring. My favorite thing is when I wake up to the forro version of Lady Gaga’s ‘Alejandro’, in which instead of names like Alejandro, Fernando, and Roberto being the subjects of the song, its Alexxandre (pronounced Aleshandree) and Gustavo, which are more appropriately Brazilian names. Anyways, I had never actually participated in a hidrogimnastica class before, and this morning I didn’t have school, so I decided, what the heck, I might as well join in! I didn’t do the first class though, I did the third one, which started at 9 instead. It was actually quite an enjoyable time! I was definitely the youngest one there by a good 40 years, but that was ok. We did lots of arm exercises with water weights, lots of running in place in the water, and even a water yoga type of thing. The teacher of the class stood in front of the pool the whole time doing difference types of exercises that we were supposed to imitate. And literally the entire time she was shouting ‘Bora meninas! Bora! Bora!’ Which is pretty much just ‘Lets go!’ or ‘Come on!’ I have never heard a single word used so much in such a short amount of time. I thoroughly enjoyed the hidrogimnastica, however, and I’m sure I’ll join in again some time!

I hope everyone is staying warm wherever you are! Its soooo hot here now that I could do with a bit of cold sometimes! I like the heat though. Brasil is treating me well! Beijos e abraços!


Monday, October 18, 2010

Basketball-Brazilian Style

One of the main things I knew about Brasil before I came here was that this country is passionate about soccer. Soccer is Brasil’s sport, and it is also considered a man’s sport by many of the people here. This being the case, I wasn’t sure that there were girl’s teams for soccer or any other sport for that matter. So far, I haven’t found a girl’s soccer team I can play on, which is a bummer, but I have found a team for another sport I love! Basketball! My friend Mariana and I were talking one day, and the subject of sports came up. I talked about how I was missing playing organized sports, and she said that she plays on a team at an athletic club in Joao Pessoa. She invited me to come to a practice one day, so I went and checked it out.
Since that first practice that I went to, I’ve also been to watch some games (though I haven’t played in one yet) and to a couple more practices. It has been interesting seeing the similarities and differences between Brazilian and American basketball. I’ll highlight a few:

- When I arrived with my friend Mariana at the gym, I was expecting us to be sort of late, because she said she’d meet me at the bus stop at 3 and she didn’t get there until 3:30. However, I found out that the practice didn’t actually start until 5, so we were about an hour early! Most of the kids were already there, however. For the hour or so before the practice actually started, everyone just played pickup games together, like a 3 on 3 rotation sort of thing. It was a fun, relaxed atmosphere where everyone just enjoyed playing together, though it was actually more tiring than the actual practice!

- The practices I’ve been to are boys and girls together. Maybe this is because there aren’t enough girls, because there were just like 4 or 5 other girls there along with the 15 or so boys. The age group I’m with is mostly like 14 or 15 year old boys, and girls slightly younger than me. This actually works out ok, though, because these boys are pretty much my same skill and speed level.

- Lots of the drills we did were pretty similar to the ones I did in high school. We did this one similar to ‘Millie Drills’, a ball handling/conditioning workout we used to do. However, everything was just way slower and relaxed. The point of Raider style ‘Millie Drills’ was basically to get a work out and go as fast as you could, however, here people were just sort of jogging through it. I kept thinking I had to go faster, but everyone was just taking their time.

- Suicides, Killers, Champion Makers, or in the case of NHS, Raiders, unfortunately also exist in Brasil. We did a 5 on 5 scrimmage at the end of the practice, and the losing team had to do one. No one was allowed to go slow during this though. The two slowest runners had to do two more!

- When the teams scrimmage or play in actual games, there seem to be no set plays. They do what my high school coach would call ‘just playing basketball’. It was sort of refreshing! There were a lot of fast breaks, and everyone seemed to want to push the ball up the court as fast as they could. Also, whenever someone didn’t know what to do, they just shot the ball from wherever they were on the court, which I found funny.

- The average skill level of most of the kids was slightly less good or about equal with the girl’s varsity team at NHS that I played on. At least most of the boys were around that level. I mostly played with the boys because the girls weren’t quite as advanced. I think everyone was expecting me to play like a girl here would play, because they were pretty shocked when they realized I’m fast and can actually play basketball!

- All the girls wear spandex shorts. Now, if anyone wore spandex shorts to a Raider Girl’s Basketball practice, I’m pretty sure they’d be asked to leave the gym. However, when I showed up in my long, baggy, boy’s basketball shorts, people were laughing. I wore soccer shorts to the next practice instead.

- I almost cried of nostalgia when we did a drill similar to ‘High-Low 120’, this drill we did in RGB where we had to make 120 different shots in 5 minutes from 6 different places on the court. It was just 100 shots when we did it here, and just 4 different places, but still! I wasn’t expecting many of the drills to be the same in Joao Pessoa, Brasil, as in Northfield, but it just goes to show that sports are just another thing that are fairly universal from country to country.

I loved the opportunity to play basketball with a group of young people again! I hadn’t sprinted the way I did at the practice since the section final track meet! It’s so great that basketball, a game I love, is another way of bringing two cultures together. Since I’ve been here, I’ve realized how well sports can bridge cultural gaps, just by playing pick-up games of soccer, volleyball, basketball, or whatever. People say music is a universal language. I agree, and I also think the same goes for sports. Maybe not literally, as I have already forgotten the Portuguese words for ‘shot’, ‘lay-up’, and ‘dribble’, but you know what I mean.

Ate mais, um grande beijo!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

2 months in and life is good!

So it’s been a little over two months since I arrived in Brasil, and for the most part I feel like time has gone by really fast. Summer is on the brink of arrival here, which makes me miss fall, but also appreciate the incredible beauty of Joao Pessoa. It never rains anymore, the sky is always a cloudless blue, and the ocean a perfect turquoise. Yesterday I was running on the beach with my friend Anna, and I just had this moment of pure bliss and awe as I was gazing out at the sea. It was at my favorite time of day, just a few minutes before 5, when the sun is starting to set. Where the ocean meets the sky, the sky turns a pinkish orange from the reflection of the setting suns light. The contrast of the colors is something I would want to paint, it’s so beautiful! The sunset seems so much grander when you see it on the ocean, but at the same time it gives me a calming feeling. I never lose sight of the fact that I am unbelievably lucky to be in this city, mostly because the beauty of it reminds me of this every day. I really can’t thank rotary enough! Now for a few other thoughts and musings:

There are 7 exchange students besides myself in my city, and I feel like this is quite a lot. It has been both a blessing and a burden. Don’t get me wrong, I really like all the other exchangers here, and we’ve become quite close. It’s nice to be able to talk to someone else on a daily basis who’s going through the same thing you are. However, rotary warned us, and I was also warned by previous exchange students, not to hang out with only exchange students. At first, this was rather difficult, especially because none of us spoke great Portuguese, but all of us spoke great English. During the first 2 weeks I became especially close with Anna (from Hungary) and Charlotte (from Germany). I really love them both, and I feel like we’re going to be lifelong friends. However, we were probably together more than we should have been. But as time has passed, I’ve made more and more Brazilian friends, and in a lot of ways us exchange students have each other to thank for the Brazilians we meet. My exchange student friends have introduced me to a lot of their Brazilian friends that they’ve met, and I do the same for them. I feel like I have a lot more Brazilian friends than I would’ve if I was the only exchange student here, because we help one another out. And I now go out on a regular basis with other Brazilians, which has been really nice because I speak Portuguese at all times with them, and with the other exchangers I usually speak English. Also, I just love Brazilians in general! I don’t know if I’ve said this enough before, but they are the kindest, most generous, most fun-loving souls I’ve met. This country and its people have welcomed me with open arms, and I’m so grateful!

As I’ve made more Brazilian friends, school has become easier and easier to bear. There was a period like a month and a half ago where I absolutely hated school, and dreaded going so much that I purposely tried to ignore the maid or my mom when they knocked on my door to wake me up, and pretended like I slept through it. I’m not proud of this, but school was seriously the most miserable thing ever. I read seven books during the first month and a half! Now however, things are different. First, I sort of adopted the attitude that there isn’t really much else I’d be doing between the hours of 7 am and 1 pm. I’d just sit in my house and be bored doing nothing, so it’s better to be at school with everyone else. Also, I've gotten to know all the other students SO much better, and sometimes I actually look forward to school so that I can see them. I have yet to look forward to the part where I sit in the class watching the teacher ramble on in Portuguese about stoichiometry and the Russian Revolution (about 80% of the time) but I no longer hate it so much. My friends are super cool and nice, and they help me out with Portuguese, understanding the culture and just anything I need, so it’s really fun seeing them every day. However, I have no school for the rest of this week because the Brazilian students have tests, and I’m definitely not complaining!

I’m starting to feel less and less like a tourist here. Of course I still look like a tourist, probably even more so because my hair has gotten blonder from the sun, but I feel like I could probably give someone directions or something if the place they wanted to go was in my neighborhood or the surrounding ones. I also find myself wanting to show people around and introduce them to my favorite areas of Jampa (that’s João Pessoa’s nickname). I want someone to visit me so I can show them this amazing city! So if you know anyone who wants to come to João Pessoa, I’ll be their tour guide!

Before my exchange, I was really used to having lots of things stressing me out, and because of this I think I was really good at handling stress. What with balancing a schedule full of AP classes, three sports, music, and a host of other things, I had a lot on my plate and was able to handle it well. Here, however, it’s really not obligatory for me to do anything. I think I keep myself busy enough, though. Its not really hard to find things to do here. The thing is that I get stressed out about the smallest things that really don’t matter at all, and I feel like I wouldn’t have worried about these things back home. I just get sort of anxious, and there really is no reason for it, which bothers me. I just need to stop worrying about the little things, even though there really are no big things. It should be a good thing that I have nothing big to worry about, but it’s definitely made me worse at handling stress, because I think my mind is sort of trained to stress itself out about something! My mood can change at the drop of a hat too! I can be in a bad mood and then some small thing can happen and I can be over the moon. I think you have to be an exchange student to know exactly what this feels like. It’s so weird!

My Portuguese has also become much better. The language barrier is still there to some extent, but I can carry on a conversation quite well. I’ve been told that I have a huge American accent, but by the end of the year hopefully I can speak more like an actual Brazilian. I also just love speaking in Portuguese in general now! Its fun for me! The exchange students always want to speak in English while we’re together which just makes sense because some of them can’t really carry on a conversation in Portuguese, however, I have so much fun just talking about nothing in particular in Portuguese with my Brazilian friends! Also, yesterday I had a fun moment when I was talking to my friend Maria, who is in Argentina, on skype. She was speaking in Spanish, and I in Portuguese, but we understood each other perfectly! I love languages!

Anyways, life is good on my end here in Brasil. Hopefully everyone’s fall has been enjoyable so far! Beijos!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Campina Grande

Campina Grande

Last weekend, I got to travel to a city called Campina Grande, which is the second largest city in the state of Paraiba. Teemu (the Finnish exchange student in Joao Pessoa) and I had been invited to stay with some friends of my host family that live there, and attend this dance show that their daughter Leticia was to participate in. I was very excited, since I love it when an opportunity to travel arises, and since Campina is known as the city of Forro (popular northeastern-brasilian dance) the dance show was sure to be excellent. We travelled to Campina by bus, which is very common here in Brasil, and it only took about two hours to get there. George and Gisellda, the family with whom we stayed, picked us up from the bus station and took us to their quaint little house on the outskirts of the city. Basically right after we got there, we went to this padaria (bakery) that was right down the road from the house. George bought us like a bazillion Brazilian baked goods for our ‘pre-dinner’. The real dinner was going to be after the show. The pre-dinner would have been plenty for me though, let me tell you. There were like 5 different types of rolls stuffed with either guava, cheese, chocolate, cream or chicken. There was also cake, cookies, pudim (like flan), assorted fruits, and tapioca. I feel like I talk about food way too much on this blog. But oh well, its fun! After our pre-dinner we headed off to the show.

The show was sort of a combination of professional dancers and student dancers with this dance company. Most of the dances were standard Brazilian/Latin American dances, such as samba, bolero, salsa, ventre, and salao. There were also some rather weird Arabic dances (Brasil is big on Arabian stuff, I don’t know why. But there’s also a lot of Arabian food here, and people are always asking me if I eat Arabian food in the U.S.) and this extremely strange ‘contemporary’ dance with a group from Sao Paulo. This was mainly weird gestures and staring off into space at symbolic times, and also random yelling of words and numbers that seemed to have no connection with anything. I didn’t know anyone took interpretive dancing seriously! I felt sort of bad for this group though. People started laughing and then like a quarter of the audience left. But on to the good stuff. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Brazilians sure can dance. Two of the professional groups were particularly good. There was this one women dance, a ventre, with this lady called Ju Marconato, who is apparently sort of famous. It was sort of like a ‘belly dance’ with a lot of other interesting bodily contortions that kept me thinking the whole time that she couldn’t have eaten for at least five hours before doing this. Or she would’ve had a baaaaad stomach ache. She was extravagantly dressed in this bejeweled skirt and bikini top sort of thing. It wasn’t really like anything I’d ever seen before, but it was just another example of an amazing Brazilian dancer! The very best dance was a bolero. It was this two-some called Sheila e Chocolate, a guy and a girl, and not only was it the best dance of the night, it was also the best dancing I’ve ever seen…ever! The only thing I can think to compare it to is the Olympic Ice Dancing competitions. There was a lot of the guy lifting the girl above his head and spinning her around his body, etc. And when they were actually both on the ground, their feet moved so fast I couldn’t even see them! Apparently these guys are sort of famous in Brasil too, and I can see why! I was very proud when I got to have my picture taken with them.

The show got over around mid-night, and then it was time for our real dinner, although I was still full from the pre-dinner. We went to this pizzeria, which of course was still full with Brazilians just getting started for their night out, while in the U.S. the restaurant probably would have closed an hour ago. I’m still continuously surprised by the night-life here! Brazilian pizza is extremely delicious, and there’s always dessert pizza (with chocolate or ice cream or banana, etc.) which is excellent. I met some friends of Leticia’s at the pizzeria and they were super nice and invited me to come hang out with them in Campina whenever I want. But apparently there is this rivalry between Joao Pessoa and Campina so I guess I shouldn’t get too close haha. The next day George, Gisellda and Leticia showed Teemu and I around Campina. We went to the lake, the park, the shopping mall, this huge pyramid where there are forro dances, and to a delicious restaurant with typical northeastern food. It was definitely a fun weekend. I love meeting new people and travelling to new places here, which I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of recently!

The rest of the week was pretty normal. I went to school every day, which is boring but getting better. There are lots of kids there that I really like and so I look forward to the breaks when I can hang out and chat with them. If I didn’t go to school I really wouldn’t be making friends, so it doesn’t bother me that much to go anymore. Tonight I’m going out with some friends to eat tapioca and then we’re going to this concert of some famous Brazilian singer, which is on the beach close to my house! Should be fun, they’ve been setting up this big stage for a few days now, and I think there’ll be a big crowd there.
Até mais, um beijão!

Monday, September 13, 2010

A day in the life...+ some insight into moodswings and homesickness

I realized that my blog posts have mainly been about specific experience occurring on specific days that are often more exciting than the average day here in João Pessoa. I haven’t written much about my day-to-day life in general or about my feelings about this experience thus far, so that’s what I’m writing about today.

My average daily schedule
6:30- Wake up, take a cold shower (no hot water here, brrrr!), eat breakfast, which varies, but is usually something along the lines of a hot cheese sandwich, cake, and lots of fruit.
7:10- Go to school, where I have 6 classes. There is a break between the 4th and 5th class where the kids have a snack and chat amongst themselves.
12:40- School ends. Go home and have lunch, which nearly always contains rice, beans, 2 kinds of meat, pasta and a salad. There are usually additional small dishes as well, and a dessert. We eat a LOT for lunch here.
1:00- Digest (which takes some time here) while watching ‘Friends’ for an hour. It’s always on from 1-2 on weekdays, and in English!
2:00- Do some facebooking, emailing, blogging, etc.
3:30- Go for a run on the beach! I am often happiest when I’m running. It’s so beautiful right next to the ocean that I can’t help but enjoy myself. I’m often running without other people around, which is also nice, because mid-afternoon is usually the ‘siesta’ time, and most people prefer to run around 5 when it’s cooler. True, it is hot when I run, but after sitting all day I like running sooner rather than later.
4:30- Swim in the pool! Very refreshing after running
5- Read or some other leisure activity. I read a lot here, I’ve already finished 5 books! Most of the reading has been done during school though...haha
6ish- Go out with friends/other exchange students. I actually go out quite a bit here, and I know I’m really lucky to be able to. My house is in the perfect location, right next to the beach, so I just walk down and meet friends and we hang out and eat together, usually. Food is really cheap here, which is lucky, because I feel like all we ever do is eat!
10- Go home and get a good night’s rest! On week days I seriously do go to bed at 10 most nights. Brasil is a tiring place!
Weekends are slightly more exciting. Sometimes I go to the beach to swim with friends, or to the mall, or to see a movie, or out dancing, or to some other random rotary/family event. My days aren’t all that exciting, but overall I’m pretty content with the way things are.

Mood swings
Daily changes in my mood mainly involve feelings toward this exchange, feelings toward other people, and feelings about myself. Sometimes I feel absolutely euphoric and over-flowing with happiness, and then like five minutes later I could be filled with anxiety and worry. Each day has its highs and its lows. The times I’m feeling the most mood-swingy are when I’m alone at home with nothing to distract me. Then, I sometimes dwell on the day’s activities, especially if there was a situation that particularly bothered me. I also definitely tend to be in a worse mood when I’m tired. Sleep is like really important to me here, which is funny, because it never was in the U.S. When I’m out doing something with friends or otherwise busy or occupied, I’m happy as a clam. It’s when there are hours at a time with nothing to do that I start to become anxious, and worry about things that don’t really matter. Before I came here, I already knew it about myself that I tend to get anxious when bored, so it’s just important to keep busy. I’m lucky enough that when there’s nothing to do, I have the freedom to just leave my house and go for a walk on the beach or go get some açaí or something. Sometimes, when I’m in a particularly bad mood, I find myself getting frustrated with the people I spend the most time with, or with something the Brazilians do differently than what I’m used to. For example, the fact that Brazilians are always late. It’s totally normal for a Brazilian to show up like an hour and a half later than they said they would. At first I thought it was kind of funny, and I still do sometimes, when I don’t mind waiting and I’m in a good mood. Other times I’m like, how hard is it to show up at 7 if you say you will?! Or at least have the courtesy to call? But Brazilians don’t think the way we do in the states about time or obligations. And I feel like Paris Geller in Gilmore Girls as I tell myself ‘Just breathe, accept it, and move on’. Haha, I try not to get frustrated by these little things, but sometimes it’s hard. I know that getting used to these types of cultural differences is of course perfectly normal, and I bet I won’t be quite as timely as I once was when I return to the states after this year.

For the first two weeks that I was here, there literally wasn’t room in my head to be homesick. I was meeting sooo many new people and trying to remember all of their names, seeing lots of new places, and getting used to all the cultural differences that come with an exchange. I think I rarely thought about home during that time. Also, I didn’t have internet for the first month I was here, which, looking back on it, I actually think helped astronomically with not being homesick. Although I was really frustrated at the time not having internet, getting that initial distance was just what I needed to fully adjust to my new life here. I had my first skype conversation with my parents three weeks in, and by that time I was comfortable enough where I was to handle seeing their faces and not feel extremely homesick. When I finally did get internet, it was extremely over-whelming. I was closer to home than ever as all of a sudden I was able to facebook, email, and skype whoever I wanted whenever I wanted. I felt like I had this huge luxury. Incidentally, I’ve probably missed home more since I got internet than before, which I think is a combination of being here more than a month, when things are more routine and less new and exciting, and being able to contact home if I want to. I don’t think I actually am homesick though. I just have a little bit of a runny nose, if we’re comparing it to being physically sick. There are certainly things that I miss, but I’m very happy here for the most part. Here are the things that I miss the most (in no particular order):

-Free water and drinking water in general here. NO ONE DRINKS WATER. And you’d think they’d be dehydrated all the time because it seems like they just drink guarana and coca-cola! Its trivial, but I really miss going out to eat and ordering a water for free. Water is more expensive than food in some places!
-Playing organized sports. I got this huge lump in my throat when the pictures of girl’s soccer started going up on facebook. I want to play soccer so bad! But the only girl’s soccer teams I’ve been able to find here are for like ages 14 and under. I’ve been running to keep in shape, but its not the same. I even had a dream about playing basketball last night and that season doesn’t start until November! Hopefully I’ll be able to find some sort of team I can play on for some sport. Even volleyball would do!
-Hanging out at people’s houses. Whenever I hang out with friends here, we go to the beach or mall or something. Its sort of rare to go to people’s houses, maybe because most people live in smaller apartments. I sort of miss the comfort of being in a house with friends.
-Ice Cream. The one and only food I feel is inferior to American food here is the ice cream. Its sort of icey/frosty and not as creamy. I miss Hogan brother’s ice cream, culver’s custard, and DQ’s blizzards!
Of course I miss my family and friends too, but that’s sort of a given. For now I think I’m doing pretty well concentrating on the things I love about here rather than what I miss at home. So I think the real homesickness hasn’t quite hit me yet.

I’ve been in Brasil for about 6 weeks since yesterday. This is so weird to me! It feels like I’ve been here for months already. Although graduation was just a little over three months ago, it seems so far in the past, and as though the memory belongs to a different person’s life. As the days pass by here, I feel like time should be standing still back in Minnesota. I finally realized that that was not the case when people started moving into college, and school started up again. Although I do feel like graduation was ages ago, I also feel like summer just started. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that its getting hotter and hotter here every day, but still, it just doesn’t seem right to me that time, and along with it, everyone’s lives back in the U.S., are moving forward too. I don’t know if I thought time would just freeze when I left for Brasil, but I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that things will change while I’m gone, and that in some ways I’ll come back to a different life than I left behind. Although it is Northfield, so at least the town itself will likely stay pretty much the same.
Tchau e beijos amigos!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Some serious fun!

This last week I had some serious fun. On Wednesday, I left on a 4 day trip to Fortaleza with the other exchange students and the swim team here in Joao Pessoa. I’m not actually on the team, but the manager of the team asked us exchangers if we wanted to go, and of course I want to take every opportunity to travel, so I went! Fortaleza is about 12 hours north of Joao Pessoa in the state of Cearà, and it is the 5th largest city in Brazil. We took a bus there and drove through the night, arriving around 9 in the morning, so the journey seemed shorter than I expected. I slept very little (which is normal, I can rarely sleep anywhere but a bed), but when I got there I was excited enough that I could run on not much sleep.

On a quick side note, travelling in Brazil is really different from travelling in the U.S. For one thing, the roads are a lot less developed. You get thrown around in your seat a lot, and forget about trying to go to the bathroom while the bus is moving. Its close to impossible. We got a nice bus though, I was worried that we were going to take one of the rickety little city buses I see driving around Joao Pessoa all the time, but the coach bus we took was at least as nice as the ones we have in the U.S. However, the bad thing about the coach bus was that it was well equipped with air conditioning, and Brazilians positively blast the air conditioning! I don’t know if it’s something to do with the fact that it’s always so hot outside, so they want a taste of cold, or if the air conditioning doesn’t have a low setting, but I am always freezing whenever I’m riding in a bus/car. It’s weird, being from MN I feel like I should be able to handle a little air conditioning when I’m used to -20 degree windchill, but I was shivering my face off wrapped in a blanket and sweatshirt while some of the Brazilians were wearing just a T-shirt and didn’t seem to feel a thing! I guess Brazilians are just resilient people!

We stopped for breakfast on the way at a churrascaria. We also stopped at 7 in the morning, which is a little early for churrasco I thought. However, there was semi-normal breakfast food here, and it was all delicious! Some of the weirder things they had for breakfast were pizza and cachorro quente (which is like sliced up hotdogs in some sort of meat sauce). I steered clear of the hot dogs, but pizza is delicious at any time of day! When we arrived in Fortaleza I discovered that our hotel was basically ON the beach, which was great. The beach in Fortaleza is even prettier than the one in Joao Pessoa, and we went for a long walk there right away. The water was the most perfect blue I have ever seen! Ahhhhh I adore the ocean. For lunch, we ate sushi, which was also great because I have discovered a new love for sushi since I arrived in Brazil. They have it at basically all churrascarias and even at the supermarkets. I only paid the equivalent of $5 for a deliciously generous portion as well.

After lunch we hit the town! Fortaleza has a large downtown area with all of these little boutiques that sell super cheap clothes, sandals, Brazilian bikinis, etc. It was fun to see the difference between this shopping area and the ones in the U.S. There were just soooo many more stores here than there are in similar areas in the U.S. I didn’t really realize how big the area was until we left. There must have been several hundred little stores crammed onto the streets that make up the downtown, and all of them were selling the same things for the most part. When we got back, we went to Pizza Hut for dinner. This is the only American restaurant that I’ve been to since I got here, because for the most part I want to eat Brazilian food when I’m in Brazil. It was also one of the most expensive! I think all American fast food restaurants are expensive here. For example, a Big Mac is 15 reais, which is like >$8. Your standard hamburger from McD’s is like 12 reais, around $7. I’m not sure, but I think you can get that type of burger in the states for like 99 cents. Granted, I hear McDonalds is much better here, and ironically its one of the few restaurants that actually is expensive relative to the product. But anyways, back to Pizza Hut. The pasta that I had was probably better than any pasta I could get from a Pizza Hut back in the U.S., even if it was expensive. Later that night we went to the Ferrinha, which is basically like a flea market. It’s right on the beach and opens only at night, so we spent basically every night we were there perusing all the little stands.

The next day, we went to this huge waterpark in Fortaleza called Beach Park (and pronounced Beachee Parkee by the Brazilians. Haha they add an ee sound to basically every word ending in a consonant. I am usually Beretee or Berechee here). It was EXTREMELY awesome! There were like 20 different waterslides, so we never got bored. There was this one super tall and steep one called ‘Insano’ that I went on, and it was definitely the scariest. I was in freefall for part of the time, and not even touching any part of the slide! Scary stuff. The park was also right on this beautiful beach! There were huge waves so we could body surf and play in the waves. It was a great day, and gorgeous weather like always. When we got back, we went to the beach by the hotel again and had dinner by the ferrinha. We ate this delicious pastry type thing called acaraje. It is fried dough stuffed with shrimp, some sort of green legume, and with a sort of peppery, spicy sauce. It was delicioso! I love trying new foods from here. I honestly have had only one thing I didn’t like so far, and it was a fig. And I don’t really think figs are all that common in Brazil anyways.

The last day we were in Fortaleza we basically just spent at the beach, swimming and sun bathing and enjoying the beauty of Fortaleza. Of course, we had to eat some açaí too, which is probably my favorite food from here. It is the açaí berry ground up into a sort of ice cream/sorbet type thing, but without any sort of milk or dairy product. It is topped with granola, honey, nuts, raisins and bananas. I eat açai at least 5 times a week here! I think it’ll be the food I’ll miss the most. The journey home went smoothly and we arrived in Joao Pessoa very early in the morning on Sunday. My parents here are pretty much insistent that I go to school no matter what so I was verrrry glad it was a weekend!

On Tuesday, it was Brazil’s Independence Day! This meant no school, which was great. Sept. 7th here, the date of their independence, is not nearly as big a deal as July 4th is in the U.S., as far as I could tell. At least there were no more Brazilian flags than usual, and no one dressed in national colors, no parade, nothing really out of the ordinary. This struck me as odd, because Brazil normally has some of the most pronounced national pride of any other country I’ve seen! I think they actually just celebrate in year round instead of on this one particular day. But anyways, we did get school off on Tuesday, so I got to have some fun! I went with the other exchange students and some Brazilians to do this thing called picozinho, which is basically like snorkeling! We rode on this boat out to this coral reef a ways out from the shore, and swam around with the fish and looked at them with goggles. The water is always super warm, which was nice, and we got to stay out there in the sun for a couple of hours just swimming around the reef. I love that I can do this kind of thing here and its normal. I mean, its kind of a big deal to me, but to the Brazilians its very routine, which is so cool! After we got back, we went to a small restaurant and ate tapioca! Tapioca is probably my second favorite food after açaí. I think I might have already described this previously, but I’ll do it again because it is nothing short of delicious. Tapioca is kind of this rubbery, salty substance that, when cooked, is shaped like a tortilla/crepe. You can order it with any number of things inside, nearly all of which are delicious. My personal favorite is coconut, cheese, banana, chocolate, and leite condensada. I could eat tapioca everyday. I actually had it twice yesterday and once today. I’ll say it again, I LOVE the food here! Anyways, I’ve rambled on enough for one post, so até mais, muitos beijos amigos!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rotary training, time, thirst, and big fat Americans??

I haven’t blogged in awhile, and when that happens I get all of these ideas building up in my head that I want to write about, but they really have nothing to do with each other. So this is a real hodge-podge of my random thoughts and experiences over the past few weeks!

This past weekend I went to a training camp for rotary in a small town called Maragogi. All the exchange students from Norbrex (Northern Brazilian Exchange-my district) drove down together in a big coach bus. It was really fun to meet all the other exchangers, and they came from all over the world. I’d say the majority were actually from the U.S., but there were students from at least 20 other countries there as well. In Joao Pessoa there are 7 exchange students, and we come from Hungary, Germany, Finland, France, Denmark, and 2 from USA including myself, but altogether in my district I’d say there are more than 50 exchangers. Maragogi was actually pretty cold the whole time we were there. It was the first time since I’ve been here that the temperature got below 70, and it actually felt really chilly compared to what I’m used to! While we were in Maragogi, we had lots of free time so we swam, ate, played volleyball, soccer, and other games for most of the time. Just playing a game of pick up soccer made me really miss organized sports! I’m hoping to start playing handball here since they don’t have soccer for girls my age. We also got to see a capoeira show, which was really cool. Capoeira is sort of like a mix of kick-boxing, break dancing, and karate. Music plays and the…I don’t know…capoeira-ers…dance around each other while doing all kinds of acrobatics, high kicks, and other impressive things. This is also something I’ll hopefully try when I’m here! We also got to go to these natural swim pools out in the ocean. However, we rode there on these tiny little boats that did not seem fit to navigate the ocean on that particular day, as it was very windy and rainy. Basically everyone made the mistake of not bringing anything warm to Maragogi, (because its Northeasten Brazil of course! Who would think it every got cold?) so we were all shivering the entire boat ride. Once we got there however, the water was lovely and warm. All the important rotary chair-people from Norbrex were also in Maragogi with us. They are all delightful people who are so willing to help with anything and everything the exchange students need! Rotary here is quite well organized, I feel very lucky to be here with people who are experienced and know what they’re doing. Brazilians in general are always so outgoing and eager to do what they can to make you feel comfortable and welcome, which is one of the many things I love about this culture.

The concept of time is completely different in Brazil than it is in the U.S. In the U.S., we never have enough time. We are always trying to think of ways to save time, and no matter how many seconds we shave off of the drive to the store, or how fast we eat our food, there is always more time that can be saved. We rarely just enjoy the passing of time. The Brazilians act like they own time. That, or they just don’t care about it at all. We don’t even have a clock in my house here. I have to use my cell phone as a clock/watch. Brazilians have their own way of measuring time as well. If one of them says we’re going to leave in 10 minutes, you can expect to leave in about an hour and a half, but even that isn’t guaranteed. If they say they’ll pick you up at 7, it’ll be around 8:30. I can’t tell if the same situation applies when I’m coming home at night. If my mom tells me I have to be home at 12, does that really mean 1? Probably best not to test this theory I suppose.

I miss free water!
Brazilians never drink water. Ever. I am the only one in my house who drinks water, and I have never seen a Brazilian carry a waterbottle, or drink water with any meal, or order water at a restaurant, etc. This may be because water is expensive here. I am so used to being able to get water basically anywhere I want in the U.S. for free, but here you have to pay for a bottle of water at a restaurant, as well as for filtered water at your house, since you can’t drink directly out of the faucet. There are also no water fountains in public places. Whenever I am out, I feel constantly thirsty. I think this is psychological, though, because I know I can’t just get some water whenever and wherever I want. Luckily, there are fresh coconuts sold every few feet on the beach and their water is better and cheaper than a regular bottle of water! When I am at home, I drink water all the time, which my family thinks is funny. Back in the U.S., I basically only drank water and milk, with the occasional glass of orange juice. I haven’t had a single glass of milk this whole time, which hasn’t bothered me too much, but I can’t live without water. The Brazilians drink Guarana and Coco-cola with nearly every meal, and I’ve never really liked pop that much. I’m definitely adapting to it, though. Guarana is pretty delicious! And I love it when we drink juice here, its always fresh-squeezed with tropical fruits!

What does Brazil think of USA?
The main things that Brazilians seem to associate with the U.S. include the following: McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, and other fast food, Lady Gaga, fat people (this actually seems unfair, because I definitely see just as many fat people, or more, here as I do in the U.S.), cold weather, TV shows (such as friends, two and a half men, and supernatural), and bad soccer teams. When people ask me questions here about the US, it’s usually involving pop-culture or food or something. I’ve only been asked once about politics, but it was my history teacher who asked me. He asked me who I liked, Obama or Bush. I actually got really excited then and started rambling about how great Obama is and he looked sort of overwhelmed so I stopped. Anyways, Brazilians always seem genuinely interested in the U.S, and I enjoy answering their questions. Its just interesting to see what sort of associations other countries have with the U.S. There is a Finnish boy here in João Pessoa this year as well, and I asked him what he thought of when he thought of the U.S. He said he thought of a fat guy sitting on his couch watching TV while eating McDonalds. I thought this was extremely sad and said that by the end of the year, I will change his mind!
Atè mais, um beijão!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Forró and Churrascarias!

Different types of music are specific to each region in Brazil. In the south, it’s samba, in Bahia, its axe (pro. AH-shay) , a type of Afro-Brazilian music, and here in the northeast, its forró (pro. foh-HO). Forró music is fast-paced, kind of folksy, has a strong beat, and makes you want to dance! It uses a lot of different instruments, but the drums are apparently the most important. There are all of these bars/restaurants here where forró music is played by a live band and people go to dance. Last Saturday night I went out with some friends and other exchange students to one of these bars. We had to search for a while to find one that was empty enough to let us in, because I guess these places fill up fast on weekends. We finally found one and were told that the girls could get in for free, but the boys had to pay. I guess they were short girls or something?

When we went in, I thought I recognized the song and was wondering where I`d heard it before when I realized that it was a forró version of single ladies! It was an interesting mix of Brazilian style and flair with an American dance beat, and I liked it. The bar that we were in was a small little dive of a place, but there was room for a stage, where the band was playing, and a dance floor. The three of us exchange students had never danced forró before and so we had to be taught. You dance with a partner, and the steps are kind of like swing dance steps. You just dance much closer together and it’s a lot faster. There’s also a lot of swinging of hips and other body movement involved. I’ve never been that good at swing dancing and wasn’t very good at this, but it was still really fun! It definitely takes some getting used to; you really have to feel the beat. All the Brazilians who came with us and the ones who were there were very good. That’s the thing about Brazilians, they really know how to dance!

We stayed at the forró bar until close to 2, so I was glad it was a Saturday. I’ve had some nights when I’ve been out until after midnight and then had to get up at 6 for school, which is not fun. That’s something I don’t understand about here. All the Brazilians like to stay out really late, but then they have to get up for school. Why not have school start at like 9 instead? Another thing I don’t understand (and this is completely random and off-topic) is that oranges are green here (weird, right?), not orange, but they are still called laranjas, which means orange. It funny, but also paradoxical.

Another one of my nights here was spent going out with friends to a real Brazilian churrascaria! (I really don’t know if I’m spelling that right…) A churrascaria is a Brazilian meathouse with many different types of ‘churrasco’, which is basically, as far as I can see, just a fancier way of saying ‘carne’, which means meat. The churrascaria we went to was called Sal e Brassa. It was a pretty fancy place and everyone got all dressed up. Even though it was a week night, we didn’t start dinner until around 9, which is pretty normal here. And now for the food! Ted Meyer, if you’re reading this I don’t mean to make you jealous because I know how meat-deprived you’re feeling, but they really had every single kind of meat imaginable at this place. It was amazing! I really didn’t even know what I was eating most of the time, just that it was delicious. The waiters would walk around with these huge skewers of meat and constantly come up to us asking if which type of churrasco we wanted . There were wide varieties of pork, beef, chicken, ham, steak, sausage, etc., with certain specialties such as a filet mignon wrapped in bacon, pork smothered in a parmesan/garlic coating, and chicken hearts. The chicken hearts were interesting…the flavor actually reminded me of a really strongly flavored piece of turkey meat.

There was also this amazing buffet that had literally everything. There were about 15 different types of salad, pastas both hot and cold, fruits and vegetables galore, bread, cheese, fish, rice, beans, potatoes, lot of dishes I don’t know the name of, and even sushi! There was also this amazing dessert bar with like 10 different types of cake. Let me tell, you Brazilians really know their cake. I think every piece of cake I’ve had here has exceeded any cake I’ve ever tasted in the U.S., with the possible exception of a glorious coffee cheesecake I once had. Although everything at the restaurant blew me away, I would have to say that my favorite thing I had there was the fried bananas. I don’t know why, the meat sure was something else, but these bananas just hit the spot. They were sweet and slightly unripe on the inside, just the way I like it, with a breaded and perfectly crunchy, lightly salted exterior. It was glorious.

If you’ve been to Fogo de Chão, the Brazilian Churrascaria in Minneapolis, you’re probably thinking that this sounds really similar. In some ways, it was. The type of food was for the most part really similar. However, there was just way more of it here, in terms of meat and the buffet food. It also just tasted better. The Brazilians take their meat seriously, actually they take all their food seriously, and everything was prepared to perfection. Also, the price difference was extreme! In the U.S., I think it was a little over $50 per person at Fogo de Chão, plus the tip. So four people would probably end up spending about $250. Our party was just under 20 people, and I think we probably ended up spending about that all together. My meal was 27 reais, which is like $15! I was amazed, I was prepared to pay what I did in the states! But food is just cheaper here; I think it’s because most of it is produced somewhat locally. I’ll probably ramble on even more about the food later, but for now, tchau e um abraço!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A List of Interesting/Humorous Events and Situations

Yesterday I got lost on my way home from school. This is inexplicable, as school is literally a block from my house. I have no idea how it happened, but my sense of direction is not the best and I must not have been concentrating on where I was walking. I think I walked in a giant loop around the neighborhood looking for my street. It was actually kind of scary! Fortunately, I remembered the name of my street and asked a kind Brazilian woman how to get there. She told me in Portuguese, and I was glad to realize I could understand her directions!

The Brazilians are very huggy, touchy –feely people, so here, the custom is that when you meet someone, you hug and kiss on both cheeks. I have had several awkward encounters with new acquaintances where we are each going for different cheeks and meet somewhere in the middle, or I turn my head too far one way and end up getting kissed on the ear, etc. etc. Apart from the occasional awkwardness, however, I actually do enjoy how the Brazilians display affection so boldly and outright. It’s refreshing!

The fruits here are something else. Every day I have fresh mango, papaya, guava, pineapple, and other fruits of which I don’t even know the name. There are also freshly squeezed juices made from all these fruits. And when I say fresh, I mean squeezed immediately before drinking! It’s amazing. My host dad, Painho, as I call him, asked me what sort of fruits we eat in the U.S. I mentioned apples, bananas, oranges, etc. He then went out and bought a bag of apples so that I’d have a little something to make me feel at home. It was very sweet.

I have gotten into a habit of going running on the calçadinha by the beach. I absolutely LOVE running there. It is sooo gorgeous, I just gaze out at the ocean the entire time. I even look forward to going running, which I never did at home. The only thing is, I think it’s considered kind of abnormal for a girl my age to go running. There aren’t many runners, and those who do run are mostly male. The few female runners I’ve seen aren’t really running, they’re more power-walking or running realllllly slowly, and they’re like in their forties. Also, while I’m running in a pair of old basketball shorts and my grimy AP World t-shirt, for example, all the other women are in these fancy spandex jogging suits. I’m gonna have to get me one of them.

Before arriving here, I imagined João Pessoa to be a fairly affluent city. And for the most part it seems like it is. There are many ritzy apartment buildings all over the city, as well as lots of nice cars driving around. However, most cities of this size have their share poverty, and João Pessoa is no exception. On the outskirts of the city, there are areas sort of like ‘favelas’, where the houses are extremely small and close together, and I’ve seen several people driving around in carts with horses attached, sort of like rickshaws, though this is not common here. I have also been asked for money several times already, once from the smallest man I’ve ever seen. He couldn’t have been more than 2 ft tall. I don’t know what to do when I’m asked for money. I feel this extreme pity for them, but I think everyone here is really used to seeing beggars. I think they know to look for foreigners, because we’re the ones who are more likely to give them money. I’m no exception. Once when I was buying a coconut, I gave a toothless boy my change. Its really difficult to say no.

And a quick word on coconuts: On the calçadinha by the beach, there are these little stands that sell coconuts. You’re guaranteed to find one about every 100 yds or so. They only cost 1 real each, which is about 60 cents. The vendors at the stands punch a hole in the coconuts and then you can drink the milk out of them. The milk actually doesn’t taste anything like a typical coconut flavoring. It has a subtle taste, but it’s very refreshing. Also, the coconuts here look nothing like the brown, hairy coconuts we see in grocery stores in the U.S. They’re green and about the size of a melon. Hundreds of already-been-drank coconuts line the calçadinha. It’s really funny.

The driving here is really different from in the U.S. First of all, it’s practically impossible to cross the street. You have to lean out into the crosswalk and wave your arms around so that the cars will stop. In general, the streets are just more crowded and more dangerous. I don’t know if there is a speed limit or not, I haven’t seen any signs for one, and people just go whatever speed they want to. There is also a lot of weaving in and out of lanes. I always feel like we’re going to hit something. People also use their horns way more than is necessary here. Seriously, people honk all the time for no apparent reason. I think they just do it to say hello to other drivers or something.

Até mais, beijos!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I have so far been to two days of school, the first one being only my second full day in Joao Pessoa. So far, there are few similarities between school here and in the U.S. School starts at 7 here, so I have to wake up at 6. Last night, we went out to a late movie and I didn’t fall asleep until after midnight, so I was really groggy during the first few hours of school. I rarely wake up much before 7 to go to school in the states, so 6 is pushing it. My school is called Motiva, and it is this large, funny-shaped building painted in red, yellow and blue. Students who go there range from elementary aged to the U.S equivalent of Juniors in high school. I am with the Juniors, which here is called the 2nd grade. Students here wear uniforms as well, just a polo that says ‘Motiva’ and jeans. The teachers, however, dress extremely casually. Usually in a T-shirt and jeans or shorts from what I have observed. Also, all of my teachers are male except one. A good number of them are also very young, like in their early-mid 20’s. Here, there are way more classes than in the states, which also means way more teachers to keep track of! I don’t know any of their names…Cecila had to write them down for me. Heres a list of all the subjects:
Chemistry 1, 2 and 3 (lab): There are two different chemistry teachers at Motiva that I’ve had so far. One of them teaches more mathematical stuff, like equations for molarity and gas laws and what not. The other drew a lot of pictures of molecules on the board. I don’t know what he was saying. This was definitely one of the more boring subjects. However, the students seem to really like the second chemistry teacher…they were all hugging him and he kissed them on the cheeks and joked around with them, which apparently is totally normal.

Physics 1, 2, and 3 (lab): The subject speaks for itself. I’ve had enough physics to last me a lifetime. This was probably the most boring class, mostly because the teacher just talked the whole time about wavelengths/frequencies in Portuguese without using any sort of visual. This teacher also came into the classroom and started kissing the girls on the hand and forehead and giving the boys bear hugs.

Biology 1,2, and 3 (lab): I actually enjoyed biology quite a bit. They were learning stuff about genetics, which I like, and I realized that it’s not that hard to learn in a different language as long as the teacher uses lots of visuals and most of the words are cognates. For example, in Portuguese, genotype is ‘genótipo’ and probability is ‘probablidade’…so its not that difficult to follow along.

Math (Geometry, Algebra, and Trigonometry): Today in Geometry we learned the Pythagorean Theorem and how to find the volume of a cube. Enough said.

Composition: This teacher is the only female and seems to have the best control of the class. She’d snap her fingers and shout at anyone who started talking during class. However, this class was also extremely dull.

Liturature: I’ve had two sections of literature thus far, and in both we watched this ridiculous movie about a guy from Rio who had all of these weird dreams about goddesses and elephants…I don’t know, it was weird but one of the more entertaining classes.

Geography: From what I remember, this was pretty boring. It was at the end of the day and I was zoning out. I think we learned about the amazon??

Grammar and possibly either English or Spanish are the classes I haven’t had yet but I’ll have eventually.

We don’t take all of these classes in one day; we rotate through them day by day instead. For example, today I had composition, chemistry, literature, chemistry, literature, geometry. Also, it’s not the students who switch rooms, it’s the teacher, which is kind of a bummer because we don’t really get to get up and move around a lot. We also have a break after the first 4 classes. School runs from about 7 until 12:40, so the break is just for a snack, and we eat lunch at home.
One of the reasons so many of the classes are so boring is because all the teachers ever do is lecture the class and sometimes draw things on the board. There is basically zero class participation, mostly because the teachers never ask the class any questions. We just sit there like stumps. Luckily, there is no reason why I have to pay attention, so I basically just read.

One thing I noticed during school is that Brazilians are extremely loud people. The decibel level in the classrooms escalates to something un-heard of in American schools. It’s usually when the teachers are out of the room, because the students do generally quiet down for the teachers, but still! I think its because they all want to talk at once, and then they end up shouting over each other.
Another thing: I have been terrible with names so far at school! I can’t remember the names of classmates because so many of them have introduced themselves to me, and lots of them have the same name. There are Isabellas, Isadoras, Gabriellas, Lais’s, Marianas, Paulos, Gustavos, Rafaels, etc. Some names I haven’t even heard of and I ask them to repeat it like four times and still don’t get it. That actually happens in reverse all the time as well. Typical conversation:
-Que é seu nome? (What is your name?)
-Voce o pode escrever? (Can you write it down?)

Although school itself is extremely boring, many of my classmates have been making a kind effort to make me feel comfortable. I got to know quite a few of them today, and they are very nice people. Overall, I think it’s a good thing I’m going to school, at least at first, although academically its quite pointless. It’s definitely a good way to meet people. Oh, and another interesting thing: Apparently there is no school on Thursday because there is some sort of ‘Holiday’. When I asked people what the holiday was, no one seemed to know. Ahhhh Brasil!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Os Primeiros Días

After my first three busy days in Joao Pessoa, I’ve finally found some time to blog. However, my computer, as of now, does not work with the internet here, so my posts may be far in between. I am using my host sister Cecilia’s computer right now, but she leaves for CA in 10 days, so I’m not sure what I’ll do then. I’ll worry about that later. For now, I’ll tell you a bit about the glorious city of Joao Pessoa.
But first, the plane ride. The flight to Atlanta went smoothly, it was only about 2 hours long, and we arrived in the Atlanta airport with a three hour layover. In Atlanta, we met three Brasilians on their way back home after studying in the United States. We had our first true Portuguese speaking experience with them! I really enjoyed talking with them, and found out I actually can communicate in Portuguese. Our next flight was to Brasilia, and it was much less pleasant. It lasted about 9 hours, and we flew through the night. I was sort of expecting to fly in one of those huge international jets with a ton of leg room and comfy seats to sleep in and the big TV screens on the back of the chairs. But no, the plane was no bigger than the one we took to Atlanta. Needless to say, I got about a half an hour of sleep. When we arrived in Brasilia I found out that my flight to Joao Pessoa was delayed because there was something wrong with the plane, so I spent a few hours in the Brasilia airport waiting for the plane to get fixed. When I finally did get on the plane, I promptly fell asleep.
I arrived in Joao Pessoa at around 4 in the afternoon. The temperature was actually colder than in MN because it is winter here, which basically means slightly cooler weather and rain much of the time. The rain is actually very pleasant; it’s a warm, light rain. Anyway, when I arrived my first host family, (Mom-Elizabeth- I call her Mainha, Dad- Medeiros- I call him Painho, and sister Cecilia) was waiting for me, along with some other friends of theirs. We got in their car and drove a bit around Joao Pessoa so I could see some of the sights. It’s a very beautiful city, all the houses and apartment buildings are very bright and colorful, there are palm trees all over the place, and don’t even get me started on the beach! We then went home and they asked if I was hungry. I was, because we all know what a disaster airline food is. The maid had made brigadeiro (a Brazilian fudge that is SO delicious!) a chocolate bundt cake type thing, and a something that reminded me of a pineapple upside-down cake, but frozen. Later, for dinner, we ordered a pizza, which was quite different from American pizza. It had pepperoni and onions on it, with hardly any sauce or cheese. It was good, though. We also had bread and multiple kinds of cheese, and something called inhame. Its hard to describe inhame without making it sound really gross. It is this large, white, squishy thing that doesn’t really taste like anything by itself, but is really good with some butter and cheese on it. They eat so much cheese here. I can’t even begin to think of all the types. The night I arrived I went to bed really early, at like 8:30, and woke up the next morning after 10, which felt wonderful. I can’t remember the last time I got more than 12 hours of sleep in one night!
I’ll take a moment to describe the living situation here…Mainha is starting a beauty salon in the house we are living in now, so we are moving out in a few weeks to an apartment that apparently needs finishing. The house is mall but comfortable, and is very close to my school. There is a pool outside which I have yet to swim in, and an outdoor shower. The shower only has cold water, which of course would be miserable in any Minnesota winter, but Joao Pessoa is quite warm so its actually very nice. The house is also within an easy walking distance from the beach 
Already one of my favorite times of day is the early morning. Here, the sun comes up at 5:30 am and sets at 5:30 pm, so it doesn’t feel so early when I have to wake up at 6 to go to school. The sky is always so perfectly blue in the morning, and the city is the perfect temperature. Also, I love breakfast! Here, for breakfast we have a large spread that has so far included: mango, papaya, grapes, melted cheese on warm bread, and bundt cake. I also have a cafezinho for breakfast, (actually I do at nearly every meal) which is warm milk mixed with a splash of coffee and a couple teaspoons of suger. I also sometimes put chocolate in it.
After breakfast on the first day my family and I went to the mall close to the beach to look around. I had never seen any of the stores or restaurants that they had there in the U.S. Everything was different. There was a store called “Loja Americana”, which means American Store...However, I didn’t actually see anything American in the store. At the mall I had a feijoada, which is a typical northeastern Brazilian dish. It is a stew with beans, meat and some vegetables. I had been told the sometimes Brazilians use some un-appetizing types of meat in feijoadas, such as the ear or foot of a pig. However, my feijoada was delicious and if the meat was from an ear or foot, I couldn’t tell.
Later in the afternoon, I went to the beach with Cecilia to meet one her friends, Anlise, and her exchange student, Teemu, who is from Finland. The beach is absolutely beautiful! The water is warm all year round, and the sand extends for miles along the coast. There were people doing this thing that I think is called ‘Praia Surf’ or something, where you ride on a surfboard while hanging onto this sail that goes way up in the air, and the sail catches the wind and pulls you. Its kind of like windersurfing, except the sail goes really high in the air, and instead of holding onto the actual sail, you’re holding ropes that are attached to it. I definitely want to try it sometime. Along the beach, there are lots of little markets and restaurants. At one of the markets, I got a wrap put in my hair. Maybe it makes me look like a tourist but I don’t care. We went out to dinner at one of the little markets and I got a type of tapioca with pepperoni, chicken, and cheese in it. It was delicious, but then again basically everything is delicious. Along the calcedinha, which is a little sidewalk by the beach, there are also all of these vendors selling coconuts, which I think just makes everything so picturesque and tropical. And by the way, coconut water is delicious.
So far, Joao Pessoa is amazing and I am enjoying every minute of it. I’m definitely still in the stage where everything is new and exciting! Today was my first day of school and soon I’ll post about that, but this has already gone on too long. Até mais, beijos!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Here we go!

So how exactly am I supposed to sleep tonight?? Tomorrow, I'm leaving. Its the day I thought back on during January of last year when the weather was sub-zero and I just wanted to be in glorious, tropical Brazil. Now that its here, I'm more excited than I've ever been, but I'm definitely not without anxiety. People ask me if I'm sad to be leaving, but the truth is, I'm really not. The sadness may come later, but now I'm trying not to look back on what I'm leaving behind, but to look forward and be ready for the new adventures out there just waiting to be had. I really have no idea whats going to happen when I get off the plane, but thats part of the fun! Heres what I do know:
-I start school on August 2nd, two days after I arrive. Hello jet lag...
-My host sister, Cecilia, leaves for her own rotary exchange year in Clovis, CA on August 10.
-I have an inbound orientation on August 20th, in the town of Maragogi, Algoas, slightly south of my own city.
We'll see what other exciting stuff Brazil has in store for me! I'll try to update this blog at least bi-weekly if not more often, we'll see what kind of rhythm I fall into.
To all the rotary kids who haven't left yet: Make the most of the rest of your summer, it'll go by faster than you can imagine. Also, you'll realize when it actually hits you that you're leaving. It hit me about 3 weeks before departure. The best thing to do then is just start to get ready! I started packing early and I'm so glad I did...the last few days were stressful enough without having to pack everything. It gave me so much more time to do things I actually wanted to do here. Best of luck to everyone! We can do this. So...ready. Set. GO!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

One month!

Today is June 30th. At 2:35 on July 30th, i'll be flying out of Minneapolis and spending the next ~24 hours sitting on various planes, getting lost in airports, and anxiously awaiting my arrival in Joao Pessoa, Brasil. I've imagined leaving so many times. I can see myself in my minds eye, sitting on a plane, watching the Minneapolis skyline draw further and further away, and probably making whoever is sitting next to me feel very uncomfortable by sobbing hysterically at the thought of not seeing my family and friends for a whole year. But I'm SO EXCITED!

I remember the day I found out I'd be spending the upcoming year in Brasil. It was the day before winter break and many of my fellow outbounds had recieved the letters informing them of their host country that day. There was no way I was waiting through the entire rest of the school day and my basketball practice to find out where it was I would be spending the next year of my life, so I skipped out of English class, drove home and opened the letter. I remember feeling dizzy, elated, and THRILLED when i read the word Brasil. I've definitely retained the excitement I felt that day, but now that my departure is so close its so much more of a reality than it ever was. Now I'm scared, too. But I should be. I have to expect parts of this year to be the most difficult times I've ever experienced, but I'm confident all the hard parts will be totally worth the overall amazing year I'm sure I'll have.

Everyday I think to myself how lucky I am to be going to Joao Pessoa. Rotary assigns each exchange student a host district, so we don't really have any say in where we go in our host county. However, if I myself could have hand-picked any city in Brasil to live in, there is a good chance I would have picked Joao Pessoa. I think its a good thing that I'm already so in love with my city, but I also don't want to have extremely high expectations...but Joao Pessoa is so much fun to just talk about! (which probably gets a little annoying for my family and friends...oops). Joao Pessoa is the eastern-most city of the Americas. It is 4 time zones away from MN and only 2 away from London, to provide a bit of a reference point. The neighborhood where I'll be living is right along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, and there are many beautiful beaches. I really want to take surfing lessons! Joao Pessoa is also the second greenest city in the world, after Paris, in terms of undeveloped forest land. Its a very tropical area as well, so the temperature consistently stays above 70 and below 90, which coming from MN sounds amazing. Although Joao Pessoa's population is 700,000 people (which seems fairly large to me), I've heard the city itself is pretty calm and safe. I've been in touch with a couple of my host siblings as well, and they are so nice and welcoming . I couldn't have asked for a better situation. I've just been waiting for something to go wrong! Anyway, I was going to try to keep this short and sweet, so....tchau! Let the adventure begin!