2004-05 Outbound to Brazil
Hometown: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
School: Episcopal High School
Sponsor: Ponte Vedra Beach Rotary Club
Host: Patos de Minas-Guaratinga Rotary Club, District 4760, Brazil
July 31 Journal
At the airport my family could not find me with my short hair. I thought I recognized my host mother from the picture, but my counselor from Rotary recognized me and introduced me to my family. On meeting my family I liked them immediately. I worried the drive in the car might be awkward, but they had plenty of questions for me in Portuguese. Some were hard to answer with my limited vocabulary, but I think we understood each other. The first question was what does the W stand for - we always hear George W. Bush. They also asked (like many at home) why I cut my hair, and also (much like at home) what was the significance of my email "sugar its eli". They also wanted to know if girls in the U.S. vomit after eating, so they can eat more. They told me this is very common here.
The juice here is sooooo good. It is just juice from the fruit and water and sugar. They make it themselves. I have had mango, orange, pineapple, lemon, and even watermelon. Mango and pineapple are my favorites. You drink them at longe (I think that is how you spell it), a meal at about 4 consisting of juice and pao de quijao. Cheese bread. Very good. My favorite meal. Very very good. Estella, my 13-yr-old host sister, and I went to get me a card at their country club, that is what it is really called. It is more like a fitness center. Indoor and outdoor pool. Many futebol fields, but I guess some are not really fields. One is a court inside and another is a sand pit. The rest are regular fields with grass. They must really love that game. They have about five fields. Also there is a gymnasium with volleyball. There is a basketball court and many tennis courts. Two pools, one in and one out, and several small pools with HUGE slides. Like the ones at Adventure Landing, or something like that.
I am obsessed with "da cor do pecado a novela", a soap opera more or less. We watch it every night at sometime. That is a funny thing. Here television shows do not come on at the same time each night, and they certainly don't have to start on the hour or half hour. It is usually on around 7, sometimes 6:45, sometimes 7:15.
August 4 Journal
I went to school today. Everyone was very very nice. Biology and chemistry and physics were okay to understand. History I got a few words and geography I understood nothing. Spanish I knew a lot. We were going over body parts and no one knew them but me; but I didn’t know the words in Portuguese, so I pointed and she was very happy - the teacher that is. I took a quiz, with a reading passage and I could understand that, because it was in Spanish, but I didn’t know any of the questions, because they were in Portuguese. I was in the third year.
School here is crazy. The kids talk the whole class and just get up and move their desks around. When we came in they were in three rows and everyone slid them around and pushed them right up against each other. It was quite humorous. A boy named Junio sat himself next to me. He tried to ask me the question everyone asks me, which is, “What did you think of Brazil before you came?” I didn’t respond, so he tried to explain to me in English, "All the exchangists think we live with monkeys." Which is sort of what people think. They all think of the rainforest and beaches; but here it is very dry and mountainous. Then he said, "You know houses in trees." We had a snack break and everyone offered me some of their sandwiches which they had bought at the stand. Very good. At 12:30 I went home for lunch, but returned at 2. Someone had told me earlier we would be dismissed at 3:30 so that is what I told my family. The one who told me that had counted on me taking English, because the people who take English left at 3:30 today, and tomorrow they will stay til 5:30, as I did today.
During the Spanish quiz one of the girls kept asking me what I’d put. I think she must have been very desperate to think the American exchange student could help.
I left at 5:30 and for the first time I was walking home alone. I got a little lost and ended up about a block away from the school, in the opposite direction than I had started out. A girl in my class, who I had chatted with during school, spotted me and I told her I was lost. We looked for my house, but couldn't find it, so we returned to the school and asked them where I lived. She walked with me there, and I felt really bad for her going out of her way. Her house was in the opposite direction; but she was very sweet and didn't seem to mind. I also felt bad, because Estella and Ricardo were out looking for me, since it was now 6 and I said I'd be back at 3:30. Daniel was there when I got home, so he called Estella and she headed home too. I was worried and had worried Ezio and Merie, my host parents, but when they came home from work they were glad I'd gotten home and just laughed along with me at myself.
Last night I went to Priscilla's birthday. She is the niece of the lady Marissa, with the maids who made fun of me. The party was very fun. It was strange because some friends were there and all her family too. The family sat in the living room and we sat in a place where the stairs curved and you could see everyone else in the living room and there was a stereo and a couch and chairs. It was funny; Priscilla spent most of the party going back and forth between the rooms getting people drinks and more food. I was scared it would be awkward, but it was very fun. Then I went home and slept and to school I went.
When I got there we still hadn't figured out what grade I should be in. Meire and Ezio wanted me in the second, but there was no room. So Merio and Ezio thought I should be in the third. The administrator said all the intercombistas who go to the third are lost and they fail their exams. Personally, I wanted to try. They said they'd put me there for today and figure out later what to do with me. I bet no figuring is done and I stay there - which is fine with me.
August 31 Journal
I have been here one month and it really does not feel like it. School is not as bad as I thought it would be. I can get along quite fine in math and chemistry. History, Literature, and Writing are a little harder. I took a test in Chemistry and for some reason she did not have the actual test to hand back, so she read the grades out. I thought this was interesting, because no teacher would ever do that at home. Here no one really cares if everyone else knows how they did. Grades are quite different. People are happy as long as they got more than half and really happy if they get something that would be a 70%. Anyhow Elizete (That is the teacher's first name. They call them by their first names) read out our grades and everyone started yelling when she said mine. I got a 6.5 out of 7. Lots of people yelling "nossa senhora" and "que isso elizabetch?" - yes elizabetch would be my name. They don't know what to do with the th, so it just becomes a tch sound. Nossa senhora or just nossa is something people yell a lot, particularly during the volleyball games in the Olympics. It means our lady, or as we more commonly know her Mary, mother of God.
I went to my first real party. Beforehand my friend Julianna took me shopping. I wanted to buy pointy shoes, because that is all anyone wears when they go out at night. I bought some and a sweater that makes me look slightly like a bumble bee. Here you can pay for clothes with installments. Ju wanted me also to buy a pair of jeans that were $80, and she tried to persuade me saying that I could pay 27 dollars a month for three months. She did not understand that it was the principal of the thing and not the actual method of paying that was the problem. I will not pay $80 for a pair of jeans. Don't get the idea that things are really expensive though, because they aren't. Just jeans. (Naturally this was all in reals, not dollars, but I want you all to get the full idea.) Anyhow I went to the party in my new shoes and sweater and it started at 11:30 and we left EARLY by leaving at 4:30 in the morning. The party was unlike anything I have ever experienced. The word "festa" translates to party, but that is not really the right word. A party does not involve hundreds of people who you don't know dancing! in a parking garage (yeah that is where it was held). It was more like prom, or winter formal, except much, much cooler. I spent the night at Ju's and played puppets the next morning with her little brother. He was adorable. At this point I suppose you're wondering if I am conversing with all these people in Portuguese and yes I am. Actually I am getting along quite well. The biggest problem I have is that sometimes people think I have got the wrong word and so they interrupt before I can finish the sentence and make sense of it all. For instance I am holding a pair of Julianna's shoes and saying bubbles. Naturally everyone is like "no you've got the wrong word." But I haven't, and eventually when they let me finish my sentence I get to say the pattern on the shoes looks like bubbles. However I can understand that it must be very irritating to wait as I stumble around trying to pronounce things correctly and looking for the right conjugation.
My family has a farm, which I finally got to visit after hearing about it and seeing products from it. They have brought back eggs, oranges, bananas, and even meat. One day I walked onto the porch and found Ezio, my host father, hacking away at the carcass of some animal. It didn't have any skin. It was just meat, but there was blood everywhere. It was hanging up against the wall, and the wall was covered in blood, and the blood was running down the wall and across the floor. It was apparently a bezerro, or calf. I had never thought that the meat I eat at their house probably came from the farm, but when I saw Ezio putting bits of it into the refrigerator I thought it was pretty safe to assume that it would be lunch someday soon. Visiting the farm was very cool: Horses, pigs, cows, chickens, a turkey, garlic, potatoes, and lots of plants that we either don't have at home, or I don't know what they are in English. We picked oranges. I am very excited also because there are lots of mango trees and when they have fruit that will mean lots of mango juice, which I adore.
However I think among the most exciting thing to happen to me was when I got trapped in a bathroom stall for all of chemistry class. Bathroom stalls at my school are different and you cannot climb over or under. The only way out is through the door. But with the help of several different handymen I eventually was free. I had quite a lot of fun explaining to everyone who asked how it was I came to be imprisoned in a bathroom stall. I say imprisoned, because the word everyone used to ask if I had been trapped was apresa. Which if you look it up just means imprisoned. Anyhow it was all very amusing and I was very glad I knew the word for doorknob.
I met another exchange student who just got here 10 days ago, and I feel quite bad for her, because her name is Ruth. Which is lovely in Canada, but since here r's become h's and th's become tch's - her name is Hootch. Also she seems to be really homesick. I have personally decided not to get homesick. I am just too busy for that. However I do have my own problems here. I am getting really sick of everybody thinking that all we ever eat in America is McDonald's. Honestly! Also I am not from Peru. Just because I don't have blonde hair and blue eyes this does not mean that I cannot be from the United States.
Everyone at school wanted to see pictures, so I brought some. They get really excited because it is all just like in the movies. They have seen lots of American teen movies and know all about prom and cheerleaders and houses without walls. They all loved my yard. Here people don't really have yards, because they have walls encircling their houses. Sometimes these walls have broken shards of glass sticking up out of the top. This, I am told, is to keep the thieves away. I think it is pretty however.
I went to a football game between my Rotary club and the Rotary club in a nearby city. It was funny to see men who are just like Al and Mr. Gregory running around in football uniforms. Apparently this is quite normal here. It is not just kids that play games. Instead of using workout machines or jogging, adults play games too. It was quite fun to watch. And afterwards we had a bar-be-que. Churrassco it is here. They put a bunch of little pieces of grilled beef and pork on a plate and everyone picks at it. Also you eat manjoca, which tastes sort of like a potato, but is shaped more like a banana. You eat them together and it is very yummy.
October 10 Journal
Well in my second month here I have figured out the habits. The woman who gives my host mother and sister manicures comes on Monday, and sets up all her tubs in the kitchen, so we eat in the dining room. Luciana also changes the sheets on Monday, so you don't have to make your bed. The little kids go to English classes on Tuesday and Thursday. Stella has her crazy class where she jumps on a trampoline in a pool on Tuesdays and Thursdays as well (I have gone to that with her and it is quite fun.) The church group meets on Mondays and Rotary on Wednesdays. Sundays we go to visit the parents' families in a nearby town. The first weekend of every month someone goes to the farm. There are less mysteries now. I know where everyone is if they are not at home. I know where to find the pao de quiejo if there is none in the bread bin. I know where they keep the scissors, staplers, and tape. I don't go hovering around anymore asking about things. I go in the freezer and defrost myself some pao de queijo. I walk into my parents' room and plop down on their rock solid bed ( yeah not really sure why, but everyone likes to have really hard beds. My brother told me that the mattress I use used to be his, but it got to soft) just like the other kids. If I need a full length mirror I go into my mother's closet and use it.
Another thing that makes me quite happy is all the people I know. I remember the first time I went out with Julianna to buy shoes and the whole thing took about an hour longer than necessary, because she knew everybody and had to stop to greet 11 out of 10 people. I went out with some friends the other night and they could not believe how many people I knew. I couldn't either for that matter. My friend Laura declared that I knew more people in this city than she did. I am so lucky to be an exchange student, because people want to meet you and then they introduce you to their friends and those friends introduce you to their cousins, and the cousins introduce you to their classmates and before you know it you know everybody.
But enough about my feelings I did do lots of really interesting things. Like ride on a motorcycle. Also I tried Acai. My little sister's English teacher took me and Ruth from Canada to Torteria Holondese to try it. It is the most amazing thing in the world. It is a fruit that comes from the Northeast and it is purple. However no one here has actually seen the fruit, just the pulp. You eat the pulp all mashed up with granola and chopped banana and then honey on top. It is icy cold and amazing. I figured out that if I ate one everyday for a month it would use all the money Rotary gave me for the month. However once I go home I will never see this fruit again, so I kind of feel that I should eat as much of it as possible while I can. The owner of Torteria Holondese is quite familiar with me. His name is Julio and I see him playing volley at Caicaras (the country club).
I have also been to so many political shows it is not even funny. I know all the words to Jose Humberto's campaign song, which you hear all day long, because there are motorcycles whose purpose it is to drive through the streets where people live and play it out of the huge speakers on the back of their motorcycles. Anyhow I sing it constantly and people always find it humorous. O catorce e Jose Humberto e o catorce Jose Humberto vai ganhar. O progresso tem que continuar. Para que parar, parar pra que? Nossa cidade agora sabe o que crescer. Jose Humberto prefeito differente fala pouco e faz muito Patos vai seguir na frente. Speaking of the elections it is really interesting here, because you can vote when you are sixteen, and once you are eighteen it is required. Required! Also the way in which they vote is funny. Each candidate has a number and you punch that into the computer, a picture of the candidate appears and if it is the one you want you hit confirm. How simple is that? I know you are wondering how people remember the numbers, but they are worked into the songs. Jose Humberto is catorce-14. And if I, a simple American exchange student, can know that than I think everyone who is voting knows too.
I also went to Ludimilla's farm. Our whole class went as a sort of class trip. It was amazing! There was a river there and we spent most of the day there, because it is hot. I got 74 mosquito bites on my back alone. It was funny, because everyone got bitten and it just wasn't a big deal. No one didn't go back to the river the second day because of the bugs and it wasn't something anyone remembered or even joked about afterwards. It was just forgotten. At night we would come back and eat chuhassco (barbeque), and played truco. Chuhassco is amazing. Someone just walks around with a plate of sliced up grilled meat and manjoca and everyone picks at it. Trocu is amazing too. It is a card game similar in design to spades or hearts, but the trump cards are the most random things in the world. 4 of clubs, red sevens and the ace of spades. Then come threes. It is really fun though and the best part is when you get to throw down your card with a vengeance and yell TRUCO! Ruth and I also taught them how to play spoons and BS. They loved them both. They were vicious at spoons. Lots of people ended up with cuts on their fingers from someone else snatching a spoon out of their hand. Saturday and Sunday we rode horses a little. I only rode on Saturday, because I realized I was so bad and no horse will obey me. Just when my friend was trying to explain to me that I had to keep my toes and not my heel on the front of the stirrup or I might fall off, my horse veered off at top speed into the cow pasture, and I thought this is it. This is where my exchange year ends. They will tell stories about me and I will be that exchange student who went to Brasil and fell off the horse and was paralyzed for life like the guy who played superman. I really did think of that too. I had a perfect mental picture of Christopher Reeves as my horse headed straight for a herd of cows. Somehow I stopped him before that and then Ludimilla's little brother came and helped me. This little brother was so little and was riding in flip-flops. I fell like the big idiot from America who didn't know how to ride a horse. It wasn't just me though. The next day Gabi fell off, but her foot was still stuck in the stirrup, so she got dragged a bit and it was pretty scary. It was amazing though, because she didn't break anything. She got a couple of ugly scrapes on her face and shoulders and back, but nothing serious. I couldn't help be amazed how chill everyone was about it. Ludmilla's parents weren't terribly concerned and she stayed there for the rest of the trip without calling her parents or anything. The funniest thing about the farm was the way we were sleeping on the ground and in tents and swimming in the river and making campfires and grilling our own food, and yet somehow everybody, everybody insisted on taking a shower in the house, everyday. I didn't take a shower one of the days and Ludmilla's 10 year old twin brothers were all over me telling me that they knew how I'd "escaped" the shower. I couldn't believe it. This is camping. You are supposed to be really dirty.
Also just a few more interesting things: There are more twins in this country. I know I think 5 sets, and at home I know 2. Longbranch, New Jersey must be full of no one but Brazilians. Everyone has a cousin or a brother who lives in Longbranch, New Jersey. I had never even heard of this city before I left and now people will be like "oh I have a niece who lives somewhere up north." And I'll just be like "do they live in Longbranch, New Jersey?" And they do. They always do. Also being here I realized the U.S. is really big and I don't know anything about it. I tried just to see if I could to name all 50 states. I only got 47 no matter how I tried. When I looked it up I discovered I'd forgotten Wisconsin, Idaho, and Oklahoma. When I come back I am going to get to know the U.S. better. There is a girl from Peru who is an exchange student in this town too. It was quite funny, but she said when she met me she thought I was from Japan. Japan! Honestly.
October 30 Journal
So here they have caterpillars just like we have at home. The sort with the spots on the side that look like eyes. The word for caterpillar is largata. Coincidentally this is the same as the word for lizard, which they also have lots of here. My host mother here hates the caterpillars and my little brothers use this as a justification to burn them alive. It is the most horrible thing I have ever seen. The really big fat ones make a loud popping noise, that wakes you up if you are taking an afternoon nap. All I can think about is how when I was their age we were collecting them and keeping them as pets in margarine tubs with holes in the top. But about lizards. I don't like them. I don't like them at home and I don't like them here. They are huge here. You can hear them running around in the bushes. Anyhow the other night I was talking on the phone in our outdoor space, which is almost completely unlike a yard, and when I returned inside my host father made the most horrible face and told me not to move there was a largata on my shoulder. My host mother meanwhile hid in the pantry. I started freaking out imagining one of those foot long lizards and shut my eyes and told my host father I didn't want to see it. He led me outside and then called the maid to remove it. After she had done this I looked down to find that it was nothing but a little caterpillar. My host father then asked me exactly where I'd been. It was hard to be terribly specific, because the space that is almost completely unlike a yard is very small and I sort of just stood in the center of it. He then sent the maid to search for caterpillars in the trees and destroy them. He then comforted my host mother explaining that the man who was going to come and kill the caterpillars would be here next week. On Monday the man came and walked around on our wall spraying every tree with lots of horrid smelling poison. I couldn't believe any of this. All this fuss over a caterpillar. They have ants living in their sugar tub, and they can't handle a few caterpillars in the yard. It is just one of those things I'll have to get used to.
I have been spending a bit of time in the bank, and I think it might be one of the most interesting places ever. So when you walk in everybody gets a number in theory when that number shows up on the screen you go to the desk that is indicated below to be helped. However it hardly ever works out like that, because honestly you can go there and sit there for 4 hours (and you won't even know it, because they don't have a clock, where they should have a clock they have a golden crucifix) and some people have to bail out before they get to go to a desk. So if you're lucky you will arrive just when one of these people is leaving and they will give you their number, which is fun, because then you get to make someone really happy by giving them your number. Another thing that confuses things are the skippers who just walk up to a desk and proceed with their business. This is just the second floor. On the third floor you stand in line, and I have learned you cannot go on Friday afternoon. The Friday I went I spent 2 hours on the second floor and then three on the third. The one really nice thing is that they have to keep the bank open until everyone on the third floor has been served. They won't let any new folks in after 5, but if you're already there you're golden. One might think it would be horribly boring to spend 5 hours in the bank, but it is one of the most jovial places to hang out. I remember at one point the guy in front of me whipped out this phone and the antenna was about two feet long and made of metal. When he turned around it would hit people in the face. I saw this guy and I just started laughing hysterically and before I knew it all 70 people in the line were pointing at him and laughing at this ridiculous phone. Meanwhile his friend kept trying to explain that "it really wasn't a cell phone, but a type of radio." But no one was interested in an explanation. Some guys in the front of the line pulled out their own phones and stuck long rolled paper on the ends of them trying to imitate him. Overall it was a very fun day in the bank and I made some friends waiting in line, which is funny because now when I run into them whoever I'm with is like "oh, where did you meet them?" and I have to say "well, they were right behind me in line at the bank."
I also went to a party for a girl who was turning fifteen. It was really more like a wedding. She had two different really fancy dresses and she had to dance the valsa with like a dozen guys. The first of which was like 13 and the last of which could have been almost thirty. But the most interesting part for me was when they showed the hour long power point with pictures and video-clips of her, starting with one of her mother pregnant with her and ending with a very recent posed picture that had also appeared on the invitation. The reason this was so interesting is because with pictures of her at every age I was able to see exactly when it was that she started being "fresca." Literally fresca is just fresh, but what it really means is that you are a girly girl. You don't pick up caterpillars, you don't climb fences, you certainly don't swim in lakes with your clothes on, and heaven help you if you want to sit on the ground and pet stray dogs. However I've noticed that little girls still do these things, but their older sisters don't. So when I have the desire to play tether ball or climb a tree I have to be satisfied with companions who are at least ten years younger than me. But anyhow in this power point you could see it so clearly, because there was the video of her chasing a chicken when she was like 8 and then starting when she was 9 the rest of the pictures were of her brushing her hair, or looking pretty in a garden. Also at this party when we first came in they had a huge portrait of the girl, which everyone had to sign around the edges. I thought it was pretty funny, because I signed it, and this portrait is something she will keep forever and maybe she will always wonder who is this Elizabeth Salerno that signed her first and last name, and what was she doing at my party. And she really will keep it forever. My host mother has one of herself above her bed, and it is a quite common thing to see in people's houses. It is kind of humorous, because in the pictures they always have on tons of make-up, and they have their hair straightened and they got on some big mother earrings, and they are trying to look all sexy, but then the majority of them have braces and it ends up looking funny. Everyone here has braces, or they have already had them and have perfect teeth.
Novemebr 8 Journal
Well I went on another trip to a farm and I had a realization. Awkward situations do not exist for Brazilians. It's like this. On all of my trips to farms there have been so many people that we've had to rent a bus. Once we get there we stay there for several days. So the bus driver just stays there too and hangs out with us. At home it might be slightly awkward to have some complete stranger who has to at least be in his mid-thirties hanging out with a bunch of high school kids. You might think such a person would have nothing in common with the others and would feel out of place, but that is not the case. He does have something in common: he likes to eat barbeque and he knows how to play troco. So that is how we spent our time at the farm, us and the bus driver. And I slept in a hammock, and they told me I was crazy. But if they thought I was going to sleep in one of those rooms inside they were crazy. At night, because people had left the lights in the rooms on, tons of bugs had come in. Most of these bugs were as big as my hand and had fangs. Even in the dark you could here them flapping their huge wings around.
So yesterday was my birthday and graduation. This past Wednesday at the Rotary meeting they had a surprise party for me. Fabulous cake. It's funny, because when I first got here it was my host mother's birthday and I remember thinking the cake was disgustingly sweet and there was no way I would ever like it and how could anyone make icing taste bad. Well I guess I have gotten used to it. This makes me wonder if, given time, I could even start to like papaya. The Rotary club also got me a present of gold pointy toed shoes that I could wear to my graduation!
Graduation here was like this Friday night we had a mass and the actually diploma ceremony. I read during the mass. In front of everybody. Various teachers presented sentimental slightly corny power points. They are really into power points here. Went to a party afterwards, which ended at about 7 in the morning. And then I went home and spent most of my birthday sleeping, getting up around 5 to go get my hair done for the big graduation party. This was more like a prom only it was cool because everybody brought their whole family. I brought a friend of mine from another school and at first I thought it might be awkward because she didn't know anyone. Then I remembered there are no awkward situations in Brazil. Returned from this party also at 6 in the morning, which brings me to what I am doing right now. Woke up around noon and am currently wondering Where is my family?
December 5 Journal
Two weekends ago went to the Festa de Pijama and that was completely incredible. This year it has a live band, J Quest, which is one of the most popular bands in Brazil. They were expecting about 5,000 people for the party. Lorena (from Peru) and I went together. It was at 11:30 p.m. that it started, so my host dad asked if we were sure we were brave enough to walk. We both thought that naturally he was asking because it can be a little sketchy walking around after dark. We assured him we would be fine. It was only when we got out on the street and found ourselves walking through town in our pajamas that we realized my father had not been referring to any danger we might encounter, but was simply thinking about our embarrassment. And it was embarrassing, because at 11:30 the whole world is sitting outside at bars eating barbeque.
However as we got closer and closer to the place where the party would be we found that most of the people on the street were in their pajamas as well. It was kind of humorous, because weeks before the party when people asked if I was going their next question was "so, have you bought your pajamas yet." I thought this was weird. I have pajamas, what do they think I sleep in every night? But as I saw all the other people I began to understand. Everyone was in very cutesy, very coordinated, but still very skimpy pajamas. They had probably bought them just for this party, and would never wear them to sleep in. I had a great time even if I did feel a little out of place in my baggy and mis-matched p.j.'s.
J Quest probably only played for about an hour, but the party continued until well into the morning with a DJ. Lorena and I left around 7 by foot, despite many offers for a ride. Personally I would not have minded accepting a ride, because I had lost one of my flip-flops during the party. Even though I did arrive home with the dirtiest foot of my life, I was glad we walked. It was fun to be headed home to sleep when the rest of the world is out and about with their regular business. Next day it rained and we hung around my house most of the day calling up some friends in the afternoon, who came over bringing a movie: The Butterfly Effect. We watched it in Portuguese with Spanish subtitles (for Lorena from Peru) and it was humorous, because even so I was the only one who understood it. We kept having to pause it to give me a chance to explain. This gave me a weird sort of homesickness, because it is always the same way with my mother, when we watch a movie with flashbacks that jumps around in time. She gets confused asking "but why is this happening again, we already saw this part?" "Is this real, or is he dreaming?" At the end of the movie they all said they had liked it a lot. This made me happy, because I felt useful (instead of my usual feeling of helplessness). Possibly if they had watched it without me they might not have figured it out and wouldn't have liked it.
This useful feeling did not last long, because when we went to rummage about in the kitchen we found that the dogs had been sitting out in the rain. What needed to be done was that someone needed to go open the gate that lets them into the covered porch. It seems like quite a natural thing that I as the person who lives with them should simply go and open their gate. Let me explain why this is a problem. These dogs are demons whose purpose in life is to make me feel ill at ease. For the first month I could not go into the kitchen by myself to get a bite to eat. The very sight of me through the window would send them into fits of horrible snarling and jumping. Don't think that I can go into the kitchen now by myself, because they have become accustomed to me. I have simply gotten smart and know how to sneak in quietly, so as not to alert them. They are miniature pinchers and I feel ridiculous that a dog the size of my foot can instill so much fear in me. Anyway the dogs were getting wetter and wetter and someone needed to let them onto the porch. Personally I would have left them there hoping that they might die of pneumonia, but my friends insisted that we had to do something. I must sound terribly cruel, but they bite me maliciously every morning when I leave for school. And I have tried to be nice to them, but I think along with being mean they are stupid and forget all the times that I have given them food and attempted friendly conversations. In the end one of my friends backed them into a corner of their pen by hissing and waving a broom, than she opened the gate and ran for the kitchen while they snapped ferociously at her heels. I hid in the pantry. After my friend slammed the door in their yapping faces I emerged. My other friend Juliani had suggested we dry them as well, but now everyone understood that was out of the question.
Last weekend I went with a friend from another school on a class trip to Ouro Preto. It is a historic city in Minas Gerais. It is basically a city filled with frat houses and churches scattered around monstrously steep hills. We stayed in one of the frat houses. Pif-Paf. It was a really cool old building and the guys who lived there were very nice. The first years in the fraternity had to shave their heads all funny and when they went out they had to wear big signs and their pajamas (which can be pretty embarrassing as I had recently discovered). So we left Patos Friday after noon and got there late Friday night, after a long bus ride. Someone had brought a tambourine and someone else a guitar and these were played while everybody else sung. About half way through the ride someone called me over to ask me questions about America and what is different in Brazil and the whole thing. I am quite used to this, so I went, but the rest of the bus noticed and all of a sudden the whole bus was crowded around me asking me questions and demanding that I sing certain popular American songs (such as Toxic by Brittany Spears or anything by Alanis Morisette). I have encountered this before, and sadly I can only remember a few words of Toxic and I have not listened to Alanis Morisette since I was like 12, so most of the songs I could sing are not any they are familiar with. I have been faced with these demands before and have long ago discovered that you do have to sing something, and the best thing is Last Kiss, who I am not sure sang it originally, but Pearl Jam did a remake of it. For some reason most Brazilians know this song and someone can always play it on the guitar. So I sang it and that pleased everyone and then they made me eat some food they said was very typical of Brazil. It was a mixture of beans and this flourlike stuff and lots of other things. I liked it and that made everyone pretty happy.
When we finally got there at midnight I was sleepy and thinking about going to bed. No one else was. They were thinking about a party in the basement. Somehow I managed to wake myself up to this idea and actually stayed up partying until 3. Then we all got up at 7 and hiked around on those hills visiting all the churches. My favorite part of the day was when we went to the highest place in the city and looked down on it all. From here you could see all the churches at once and it really was quite beautiful. The rest of the day we had free time to go the market and shop.
One of the funniest things of the trip was lunch on Sunday. I had gone out early with some friends and had accidentally spent all my money. We went to a nice place for lunch and I felt funny borrowing 8 reals (that is a lot for just lunch) from someone. So I told them I would just wait until I could go back to pif-paf and get my credit card and I would just eat with the other folks who were going to eat in the bakery later. No one accepted this. They insisted on sharing their food with me, which would not have been a problem except it was an all you can eat place, and you have to pay 3 more reals if you have leftovers on your plate, so you are not allowed to share. No one seemed to care about the rules of the restaurant however and they shoved things into my mouth while the workers were looking the other way and the p.e. teacher who was there as a chaperone kept passing me sausages and such under the table. Eventually someone noticed and came over and yelled at us all. Still no one listened and kept passing me stuff. Then the restaurant brought in a police man. Not serious or anything. Just to scare us all. Then the owner asked that I please buy my own plate of food. The others decided to all pitch in and buy me a plate even though I protested. I had actually eaten quite a lot already. They insisted and told me to get the biggest cuts of meat that I could, bc those were the most expensive for the restaurant to provide. I ended up with a plate full of food, which naturally I had to eat all of, bc I couldn't pay the 3 reals for leftovers. I left the restaurant stuffed to the busting point, but everyone else seemed to feel that they had pulled one over on the restaurant owners so they were all happy and therefore I was too.
Lately all my friends have been taking entrance exams for the colleges they want to go to. There is a tradition where if you pass everyone throws eggs and paint and stuff on you. My friends Julianna and Bruno passed, so we all left class and went to the town center with them all painted and covered in eggs and flour. Then you approach cars at stop lights and ask the people for money. We raised more than 70 reals for ... you guessed it, a party the next day. Also if it is a guy who passes, you cut his hair all funny, and then he has to shave his head, because no one wants to keep their hair all different lengths.
January 1 Journal
This month I discovered curdled milk flavored Popsicles.
There are people who walk around with these rolley coolers and sell Popsicles for 50 cents a piece (40 if the Popsicle is made without milk). Anyways normally I like the burned coconut ones, which are quite different from the regular coconut ones, but today I felt like trying something different, so I picked a flavor I had never heard of - coalhado. I took a bite and turned to my friend and told her there was something terribly wrong with this popsicle. It tasted like cheese. I gave her a bite and she assured me that that was how coalhado was supposed to taste. When I got home I looked up coalhado to find out that it means curdled. Generally I think of curdled milk as something you should not be eating. I found it quite difficult to believe that they purposefully created this flavor and that there were actually people out there who liked it.
I don't want you to think this was the most exciting thing that happened this month, but it is one of the few exchange student moments that I had. By exchange student moments I mean those moments when you feel like a complete fool, because you did not know as much as everyone else because you are from another country. I am not saying that that was the only time I felt like a complete fool this month, but the other times were results of me being Elizabeth and not results of me being an exchange student. For instance jumping in the pool in my clothes at the Rotary Christmas party was purely a foolish Elizabeth moment. Also making up my own line dance at the night club and becoming surrounded by gay guys who wanted to learn it was a purely Elizabeth situation as well. It's like when you are a guest in someone's house and you aren't really sure what their rules are, so at first maybe you try to be super polite, but you make some mistakes like wearing your shoes in the house, but eventually you know the rules and then you start feeling more comfortable and at home and you start acting like yourself. That is how I feel with all of Brasil. At first I wasn't really sure what was acceptable, so I just kept quiet and tried not to offend anyone. However finally I understand and can be myself. In the beginning there were just too many differences between Brasilians and Americans that I couldn't add in my own Elizabeth differences. I felt as if people just liked me because I was from America, and now they can like me for being Elizabeth.
I am sorry if my journal is more pensive than usual and doesn't have as many anecdotes, but besides the story about the Popsicle everything has been very normal. I spend the night at friends' houses. We go out and eat pizza. We watch movies. I finally have a normal life here.
February 28 Journal
Well the January trip was completely amazing. The whole month, 40 exchange students, and all of the northeast. It probably would have been fun to just hang out with them in the bus for a month. It is funny because the northeast trip is mainly beaches, but my favorite city was at the very beginning of the trip before we reached the coast. Lencois. It was full of mountains and waterfalls and lakes and caves.
We went scuba diving in a cave. You really didn't see any fish because it was dark (being a cave and all) but it was really cool to be swimming around in complete darkness. You could see nothing. You couldn't see your hand in front of your face or the outline of anything. We went to one waterfall that was like a smooth rock face and you could actually slide down it where the water was flowing. I also really liked Fortalaza where we went to a water park which had a water slide the same size as a four story building. This confused Debbie from Denmark a lot.
She kept going on about how it must be horrible to live on the fourth floor of the building where they had this water slide. We kept trying to tell her that the water slide was not part of a four story building, but just the same size as it, but she didn't get it.
Yeah as much as I liked the trip and all I had more fun talking to the other exchange students. The cathedral in Brasilia was fun but it was even more entertaining to settle Anushka and Mariana's discussion of the pronunciation of the word city in English. Anushka liked to say it city with a t just like it is spelled. Mariana liked to say cidy with a d sound. These arguments of theirs were ongoing and probably stemmed from the fact that Anushka learned Britannic English being from Germany and Mariana learned American English being from Mexico. Pao de acucar (The big mountain that you see in all the Rio de Janeiro pictures) was phenomenal, but even better was the ride up in the glass ball with us exchange students singing our favorite Brazilian song as loud as possible much to the displeasure of the other passengers. I learned a lot from the other exchange students and also learned that Canadians are weird. It is funny because you would think that I could relate with them the most what with us being neighbors and both speaking English, but they were the most foreign people on the trip. Not to say I don't love them, but come on who calls couches chesterfields?
After coming back from the trip it was carnival like the day I arrived in my home town. There are two carnivals in my town. There is the street carnival, which everyone tells you isn't safe and is nicknamed the knife carnival and there is carnival at the country club- Caigaras. i went to Caigaras.
Carnival is crazy. You arrive at like 11 at night and then go home at about 5 in the morning, sleep til 3 and then head out again. Most people would then leave at 7 or so and shower and come back. I however had to stay from 3 until 5 in the morning because I am under 18 and after 8 you only get in if you are under 18 if you have your parents' authorization. My host parents were willing to do this for me, but because I got back the day of carnival there was no way to get the permission slip authorized. It was so strange to have been gone for a month and then get back and go to this huge party and see everyone again and they were all exactly the same as they had always been. I didn't even realize it but I changed in that month. Being around exchange students who also wore flip flops everywhere and didn't get dressed up in high heels and tank tops to go to church made me forget that the rest of Brasil did those things. I showed up for carnival in a t shirt and sneakers, and I probably had more fun that way. I did not think it was possible that there were still people in this town that I haven't met, but there are and I met them and I would tell them I was an exchange student and they'd all be like "uh-huh, right." Nothing wrong with that.
The sad thing is that after this amazing trip and carnival I had to switch families and start school. it isn't that switching families is bad, but my new house is out in the middle of nowhere and it is very quiet. It is terrible. I feel like my exchange year is winding down. It is like that feeling you get when you have a really big party and then everyone leaves and you are all alone with the house and there are still balloons and decorations and stuff, but it is quiet and lonely.
I love my new host sisters and all their friends, although I feel a little awkward because the two of them are grounded right now so whenever their friends want to do something they can't and I end up going off with their friends. I love the maid at my new house. She is very vocal. At my last house the maids would never talk. She talks all the time. Also at my last house the maids would never scold the kids when they were doing really bad stuff. This maid is always yelling at everyone for everything, but it is all in good humor. Also at this house there is a dog who loves me. He sleeps under my bed and will always find my things in the living room to sit on. My new family is really into Big Brother Brasil. It is a reality TV show here. Basically it is just like the Real World only people get voted off and sometimes they have to do strange things for a week like wear donkey ears or pirate hats. We tease my host father because whenever we all sit down to watch the show he is like "this is ridiculous, who wants to see this?" But then he goes and watches the 24-hr camera that the show has on the internet and always knows what is going on more than any of the rest of us.
Across from my new house is a place called the zoonose center and one day I was walking home and decided I would just walk in and see what it was. It is a lot of fields and a few buildings and I sat down because there was a good view of the sunset. Sadly when I went to leave I found that the gate was locked. I seem to have a knack for getting myself imprisoned. I saw my youngest host sister down the street and yelled for her to bring me a stool or something so that I could climb over the wall. It was just the time when everyone is sitting out in the street socializing, so everybody saw me sitting on top of this wall and laughed at me. We couldn't figure out how to get the stool over but then some nice man who was walking by helped us out. It is funny. As much as I learn there are some things that I always screw up. I get myself locked in places and I always find myself explaining the animal hippopotamus, because I can never remember the word in Portuguese.
April 16 Journal
Well my family has come and gone and that certainly was fun. It was nice to see them get to enjoy all the things I like about Brasil and to see them be puzzled over the oddities. My brother asked me how you pronounce the Brasilian money which the word is spelled real, but the way you say it is like heyow more or less. Like I was shocked to find out, so was my brother, that r's are h's. "But they don't say hio de janeiro do they?" I am afraid they do. I loved traveling around with my family, but I was surprised at how much I missed Patos de Minas, my city and my friends there.
So here in Brasil there are no woman in the Rotary, but the wives of all the men in the Rotary are automatically a part of the "house of friendship" which meets every 14 days. My new host mother is the president of it because my host dad is the president of the Rotary. I went to one of their meetings for the first time and it was really funny. There was quite a discussion, because some woman who is not in the Rotary wanted to borrow the table cloths for her parents' anniversary. She had called Carla my host mother to ask if it would be okay. My host mother then proposed it to the other women. Then all hell broke loose and everyone was yelling about how so and so had had a party and they hadn't let her use them, and wasn't this woman's mother dead, and was she the woman who was married to Fabricio? It surely couldn't be her parents' anniversary, because her mother was dead. No she was the one who worked in the shoe store by the pharmacy. So once everyone had figured out who she was and who her parents were and agreed that she was a very nice lady, they decided not to lend her the table cloths, because then they'd have to lend them to everybody. Then they made plans for making food for the dinner they were having to raise money. I helped out and rolled meat balls for like 3 hours and then cheese bread, and then I put chicken on sticks and peeled manjoca and lastly I ironed all the table cloths. It was the first time I had felt useful to my Rotary and that made me happy.
So with my new family we get movies on Saturdays and Sundays and we just sit around all day watching them. it is funny the sort of movies my sisters like to get. They either get something really cheesy like My Prince and Me, or they get something super scary like The Exorcist. There is no happy medium, but I have gotten used to it. It is funny how living with them changes me. I find myself actually liking these films and getting teary right along with my sisters as the cheerleaders in A Cinderella Story publicly humiliate Samantha.
Sometimes Ruth (the Canadian exchange student) gets mad at how little Brazilians know about geography. There are some people that think Canada is a state in the U.S. and there are others who have never even heard of it. It is hard to imagine knowing so little about the world, but yesterday when I went to a town of 200 people I began to understand. Ruth's new host dad invited us to go to his coffee farm. He is like a coffee king. The rows of coffee just go on and on for days. Down the road from the farm there is a little city with 200 people. The only thing noteworthy that it has about it is a parrot that speaks Japanese. We hung out there eating popsicles in a tree and talking to some little girls. I tried to imagine what they must think of us. At first we didn't tell them we were from other countries, because we didn't want to completely blow their minds. They were pretty excited just to meet people from Patos de Minas. "So you guys are from a big city? What's that like? Do they have lots of parties there?" I had always thought of Patos as sort of a nothing town, but now I was realizing that to these girls Patos is like the New York City of their world. Why would you even need to think about whole other countries when there are cities that are situated about an hour away that you've never seen. It just made me think.
I cannot handle the maid at the new house. I know I said I loved her, and I do, but she is driving me nuts. She puts all my stuff in really weird places, where I can't find them. Like my tweezers, why would I want to keep tweezers in the shower with the shampoo? Also she likes to take my wet towel out of the bathroom and lie it on my bed. This is terrible for two reasons - it gets my bed all wet and I have no towel in the bathroom. I think the trouble is that she would like to yell at me like she yells at the other girls, but I am not sure she feels comfortable doing that. Also I don't eat as much as she would like to imagine. People always think that because I am like 4 times larger than any Brazilian girls that I must eat like 4 times as much as well. I am afraid to say that sometimes I disappoint them.
June 9 Journal
Well my last months in Brazil were great. There are still things which can surprise me. Apparently if you are at someone’s house watching a movie and you have not been to the person’s house before and they do not invite you to lay down on the couch you should not lay down on the couch. Also I used the buses in my city for the first time. I had never used them before because everything is so close and you really don’t need to. They cost 1.30 and they are very nice. The corn festival was awesome. My city is the corn capital of Brazil and at the end of May you have a week of school off and there is like a fair everyday with concerts and rides. I had corn juice and corn soup and these corn cakey things. I probably had more corn than I have ever had in my whole life in that one week.
My friends had a surprise going away party for me. It was a tacky party and you had to wear tacky clothes. They brought some for me to wear, since I didn’t know because it was a surprise. The funniest thing was that everyone had borrowed clothes from my closet to wear. I never knew I was so tacky. I didn’t feel like the party was for me. I still haven’t realized I am leaving, or actually at this point I still don’t realize that I have left and am home. It was just another party only this time I knew everyone at the party. That is the first time that has happened in Brasil. Normally I go to parties not because I was actually invited, but because someone thinks I should go to meet people.
I love when I see things that my friends and family are doing that make me feel like I might really have made a difference. My sister never would have worn a long skirt out in public before she met me. She still felt a little awkward, but she kept saying “it doesn’t matter if no one else wears them like this. I like it.” It sounds strange, but I felt proud of her. When I saw one of my friends tucking their trash into their pocket until they found a trash can instead of just throwing it on the ground I also knew that someone would remember me. More importantly though I know that I will never forget them. Now I know that avocadoes are not just to be eaten with salad, but can also be drunk with milk in an avocado milkshake. I learned that there is nothing wrong with being clean. I developed a taste for horror movies and teeny-bopper movies.
In going away I discovered what things are really important to me and what things are really trivial. When everyone is commenting on everything you do, you have to decide what is important enough to argue about and what you can let go. I have returned more easy going and less argumentative.
In Brasil it is very common to comment on someone’s weight and people did not feel funny in the slightest telling me that I had gained weight or even gotten fat. At first I resented this, but eventually I got used to it. In coming back to America and people seeing me who hadn’t seen me for a year I was prepared to hear about how fat I had gotten and whatnot, but no one said anything and the one person who did say something was quickly shooshed by the rest of the world and I laughed it off. It seems odd, but that is when I knew I had changed. A year ago such a comment would have made me cry probably or at the very least left me pensive. Now I just laugh and move on. It was the same way when I first got to Brasil and people would insist that my life must be just like in the movies. I would feel offended and argumentative, but by the end of the year I would just agree with whoever was talking “yup we have those cliques with the mean cheerleaders and everyone really does eat eggs and pancakes and bacon for breakfast everyday.’’
Why should I get so defensive about petty things? I feel I really have grown so much in the past year.