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!