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!