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!