Jessie Cordasco
2005-06 Outbound to Brazil

Hometown: Gainesville, Florida
School: Gainesville High School
Sponsor: Gainesville Rotary Club
Host: Rotary Club da Bahia, District 4550, Brazil

August 13 Journal

"Life will go on, for good or ill.  The structure might be a little Crooked, but the foundations are still Strong and Unshakable." ~Hunter S. Thompson

This quote explains a lot about the beginning of my exchange trip.  There are so many things going on in your mind before you leave, biting your nails over the thought of forgetting something.  Or when you get those wobbly legs when you first step off the plane and you don't know if it's the blood finally reaching them after that nine hour flight, or the thought of being just minutes away from greeting your first host family.  But it's nice to think that it's your feet that are planted here, you worked to get here and when you arrive it's a great feeling to think "Well by God, I've made it."  So all in all it's important to know that even though your environment may be completely unreal you are the foundation of this trip, strong and unshakable.

I've been in Salvador for almost three weeks now and I have to say Thank you Rotary! Really you have no idea ...this is what I do in the morning...ok when I wake up and look out my window, I see the beach and there's always a nice breeze.  Then after the morning routine I make my way to the kitchen to pour myself a bowl of  Sucrilhos (su-cree-loos) cereal and some fresh squeezed orange juice.  Then until noon I do whatever, some studying, some room cleaning, some TV watching. Then around noon it's lunch! Oh lunch is so good.

Ok so lunch works like this in Salvador: it is the most important meal of the day (kind of like the American dinner).  The most common food to see during lunch is beans and rice.

Then I'm off to school.  School here is a lot different than back home. The teachers are more friends with their students than administrators.  I learned this when I was given a tour of the school by the assistant principal.  This day happened to be his birthday (but I had no idea at the time). So we walked into this building and all these girls came out of nowhere hugging and kissing him on the cheek. I was thinking... "What's going on? What's happening here?" Then we walk into a class room and everyone is singing happy birthday in Portuguese and banging on the desks and clapping (making noise is very important here).  And he tells me he turns 35 years today and I was like oooooh ok...well very good, happy birthday! 

But that was just the tour. The next day was the real thing and I was really nervous. My mom and sisters were there to see me go as I walked out of the car and up through the gate to my school.  The same administrator was there to greet me with a girl from my class, Kelly.  We all walked up the many stairs to my room (2nd H).  Kelly and I wait outside the room for a while then another girl with curly hair kind of sneaks her way out to meet me.  The two girls are so excited they're talking Portuguese to me and I just kind of look at them and make the ...hmm I don't know face...I tell them I can only speak a few words in Portuguese and can understand very little.  When I said this in Portuguese they looked at me with the same ...hmm I don't know face...then they paused for a minute and smiled and said ooooh and began giggling and smiling.  This was all happening while the curly haired girl was touching my hair, locking my arm with her arm - it was different but really nice at the same time.  I immediately felt like I was a part of the class, even though I was still standing outside.  Then I was finally allowed to go in and everyone just kind of looked and smiled. Kelly, the curly haired girl, and Maria pushed like five desks together and I sat in one of them.  They asked me tons of questions that all required the dictionary, kids were passing notes like crazy, all of this was going on while the teacher was doing his bit.  I'm thinking "what's going on is this o.k." but whenever the teacher said something about all the ruckus they would yell "americana ela americana!" Then the teacher would smile and say ooooh very beautiful.  But this sort of thing happened a lot! In fact the teachers walking by the room would stick their heads in just to say "americana es beautiful!" This went on all day long, and I realized that Brazilians say the word beautiful very well here.  But what took me by surprise is when biology class came and the teacher drew out the whole reproduction system of plants on the board and I realize the reason she is drawing this is because there are no books.  She doesn't have a book, the kids don't have any books, and there aren't any books in the class.  Even though I can't understand most of what she's saying I can easily tell that she's a very good teacher and really loves her work.  That goes for all my teachers here. It's a different style they have here than back home.  School here I think is harder.  For instance my math class, there are no calculators, and they are learning very difficult trig. problems. Plus they put all their answers into decimals rather than fractions.  Over all school here in Salvador has been a great place to make friends and socialize.  I think it might be the end of their quarter because almost every other day it seems they have a test.  For the time being I am not supposed to take any of their tests so whenever I go to school on a test day they say "tests today, you can go home, no it's ok go home."  And I'm like I'll go to the library and wait till break to talk to everyone (they look at me like I'm crazy) and they say "Don't you want to go home to sleep or something? It's really ok ...you can go home."  The library has about four rows of books for the entire school which is from basically kindergarten to high school.  So everyone works on homework or talks and very rarely you'll get someone to tell you to be quiet.

The biggest culture shock here is the two kisses, one on each cheek.  It doesn't matter who the person is either. I realized this when I went to shake the hand of my math teacher SIIIILVIO and I get pulled into the two kisses and I'm like ah!  This is with other teachers too when I see them in the halls, or my friends when I get to school. Everywhere it's the two kisses, and it's just so different.  When I fold my arms they tend to look at me funny like why are you doing that and I'm like huh? I never knew how simple gestures just don't fit here.

What I love the most about school here is when I walk in and everyone is singing and banging on the tables and walls and desks and the guys are all dancing the samba.  They're so animated here always talking with their hands,  no one is afraid to stand up and yell what they want to say.  In fact the other day we were all in the auditorium for some project the kids were doing for literature class on romanticism. They had to sing songs from the time period.  These were all Brazilian classics so everyone knew the words and eventually the kids who were sitting in the bleachers moving around and clapping their hands just couldn't handle their seats any longer and were up on stage dancing.  One guy decided to say a few words on the mike to his girlfriend and la la la it was cute then like seven of the guys from class that were on the stage just dancing and doing whatever all came to the front of the stage with their arms around each other, got the mike and said this is for americana! and some more stuff in Portuguese that I didn't all together understand but it was nice and they all sang a song for me - it was funny.

So I have to say that I'm really enjoying it here and I realized the other day from a true Brazilian why I am really here.  I was talking to him on msn and he told me "I love Salvador and I love the people here" then he asked me why I came and usually my answer would be to learn a new culture and language.  But this time my answer was "So I can love Salvador just as much as you."  I know, how adorable is that? It's so true though, there is no bigger goal I have here than that. 

October 18 Journal

ROOOTARRY what's up from Brasil or more like "iai....beelleeza"

Wow ok I have sooo much news! This place is packed with culture and events and parties and dancing, the list can go on and on. The weather here is now getting even warmer as those of you in the northern hemisphere are slipping into the long underwear. Well maybe not Florida quite yet but you know what's ahead as the air conditioners are gonna go off and the heaters are gonna go on, but here oh no buddy here its gonna get warm real warm. Even though my city is warm all year round they look at me like I don't know what hot is. I say I'm from Florida, but even then they're like, oh no ..its HOT. I asked my host dad about this (he's been to more cities in Florida than I have), and he said to me, "it's hot here Jessie but Florida, that's hell!" hahaha This made me feel better because Salvador is on the coast so there's always a good breeze and it doesn't get as humid, so it wont be too bad. But it seems like the hotter it gets the more the people come out of their homes. There are more events lined up weeks in advance and you can almost feel the drums outside your apartment every weekend, and at night from the party that always has that o-so popular techno music. The language, let me tell you, is like eating Mukaka (a typical food here) its sticking to my ribs and each day I digest just a lil bit more.

So let me begin with the play I participated in ...I was a curtain puller yaaay but evidently I even needed help with that too hahaha. It was tough though, those curtains were heavy. I also did a lot of prep work - this was a project that every class in my grade had to do; there are three classes. The subject was on how countries are becoming greedy over petroleum and getting to the point of destruction like....war...and the U.S. for example...or THE example. I tried to keep a happy face through this whole thing seeing as I was kind of a target in the midst of these once jubilant people. This project got to them and I realized it when I gladly whipped out my American flag and paraded around with it during the final construction of our project. Some asked me to choose between here and there. I gladly replied that there are comparisons between the two countries and I simply can't choose. Then Marsio said while he had this ridiculous American hat on (this is the type of kid who can never be taken seriously - he's full of jokes) and he said to me "to the fire" with my flag. I said "Marisio!! no you cant do that ...I'm sorry ok...you have to give me my flag now," but he had just too much fun running around with it like a cape. I learned a lot from this play and was really impressed with what our class had put together. There was no teacher to point the finger there was no administrator there to tell us when to practice or what we could and couldn't do. Everyone worked very hard to make it good, I was surprised that I didn't see any slackers or people sleeping or sneaking off - it was 100% effort and I was downright amazed. The next lil event on the list was a samba show - it was great fun. I went with a bunch of friends from school and everyone was very nice when they were trying to teach me their slick moves. I'm not sure if I have it completely down yet; I think I need that internal rhythm everyone seems to be just born with here.

The news on the TV was getting real interesting. The busses here, mass transit, taken by almost every Brasilian, posted that they'll be raising the tolls from 1.50 to 2.20. This was a problem, and these Brazilians knew exactly how to reply - with STRIKES! There were tones, almost every day, traffic would be stopped, people would be in the streets, the news was getting way too exciting. Then one day at school my friend says "Jessie we don't have school, come on let's protest," and I'm like, oh, alright. I've never protested before, I was really looking forward to it, but I didn't expect anything that I saw. So I go out to this intersection and it's huuuuggee ... everyone from morning classes and noon classes and people are gathered in the middle. There were speakers set up attached to a microphone. People were sitting in a circle with green war paint on their faces. I couldn't believe it, five lanes of traffic were stopped, only one was letting cars through - only cars, the rest were busses and they couldn't get anywhere! Not past the green barricade we set up. These Brasilians meant business. Raising their bus tolls so people can spend more of their hard earned money that they simply just don't have. The majority of Brasil are poor people, very few percent are middle class and even fewer are rich. The normal poor person in Brasil can barely afford to support their family - why would they have the money to buy a car. The average monthly payment is about 250-300R$ a month. This bus thing isn't just something they can fit into their budgets, yet they rely on it every day. I was fighting a good fight and taking tons of pictures while doing so. The most memorable part of the protest is when all six lanes of traffic were stopped ... the story goes like this: My friend Negou was all over the place, he had that walk like he was gonna make his footprint in the asphalt... I was proud of him going around with the nostalgic war face, this strike was brewing in him and now he was doing his best to make a difference. The sixth lane had cars come rolling through, the cars were then guided by my peers to show them where to go. When the next car came through she stopped and asked Negou what was happening. She, I guess, had that same fire in her belly b/c she turned off her engine put the emergency brake on and hopped out of that car. The crowd went crazy! People were singing and dancing and now no one was going anywhere! Hurraay Negou! After about an hour more of protesting, people started heading back towards the school. We took down the barricade, and we had to try to show the buses the way out. Traffic was a complete mess, and we eventually gave up. But this isn't the first strike I've seen here - actually they have strikes all the time. There was one in the post office so it took like a month to get a package from my fam. Then there was a strike at the banks just a few weeks ago where they weren't letting anyone get cash out. That was a beast because I had to put like ten dollars on food on my credit card and try and save all my cash for the bus ride home. But it mixes things up a bit ... I kinda like it.

I don't think I have a story to top that but I've still been keeping busy, especially this week. I've spent the night at my friend's house two nights in a row, the next night was at a different friend's house, and on the weekend I spent two nights at a Rotary/Interact meeting. I must say that was my first real home sickness ...home sickness for my home here. Weird huh? But I was like, aaaah I want to go back to my house with my own bed and my own bathroom and eat at the table with my family. This shows you how much my family here has really provided for me and I am so grateful to have them here and have them be so good to me. I really appreciate everything they have done and I think when I come back with my little stories they get a real kick out of it. That's what I like most is when we can sit and enjoy each other's company. But so far this whole "you're in another country" thing is incredibly fantastic. It's shaped me in a completely new way, I'm no longer a "cold" American ...yes we are, I have to admit. But that wall broke when Silvio my math teacher kisses my face almost every day at school so! I would have to say the whole weird foreign thing has gone now, but there are still those little culture shocks that still come out and get me. Like one day when I got up, took a shower, checked my e-mail, got some breakfast, and was like alright I'm gonna take a walk.... So I walk around a bit, go to the mall (I live really close to the mall). I'm out for maybe a couple hours and when I return home my maid tells me oh go take a shower. I'm like Maria! Why? I took one this morning? She's like "you got hot go take a shower.. ok? I'll make you food and when you're done you can eat". I said "OK Maria I'll go take a shower"....and I did. But I thought that was just a special day, maybe I smelt bad, I don't know. hehehehe. But if I were to even go out for a little walk she would say the same thing - go to take a shower, you're hot. Then I realized talking with the other exchange students here, they were giving me the same kind of stories, and we realized that when you sweat you have to take a shower. Brasilians take about two to three showers a day, they're so clean! Maria was a great maid, she loved to be in everyone's business and was always talking and when she wasn't talking she was singing. It made the house so interesting. So one day before I was gonna head out to the beach with some friends I said Maria what should I wear? I held up this long blue skirt and a white tank top she looked at me and said, oh no Jessie, that's ugly. I said Maria!! Why? She said that skirt is too long you have to wear something shorter so I held up my shorts and she approved, now I was good to go. OK so those are my little Brazilian stories. Take care everyone - I cant wait to see you all and thanks fam, Rotary, the whole crew for everything ... kisses! tchau

January 24 Journal

Who new Catholics could party! Man! I’ve been woken up twice these past few weeks with trumpets, drums, people dancing in the street.  This is like 9:00 in the morning and they’re already dancing! It’s best to be prepared for these sorts of things. Like last Thursday I wasn’t prepared - here is how the story goes. 

I’ve started taking drum lessons down in Peloriño (the kind of historical downtown - this area was first populated by the Portuguese - like our Plymouth rock). So every Tuesday and Thursday I take a bus around 9 or 9:30 a.m. and head over to my lesson.  Well last Thursday what I did not know was there was a big Bahiana festival. The Bahiana is like a Bahian (Bahia is the name of my state) - for example me, I'm a Floridian.  Well the typical Bahiana is Catholic and they have a big celebration every year to clean ...well everything.  The Bahianas carry big things of water other their heads ...perfumed water, is what they call it and they clean the street, the steps, the sidewalks, and dip leaves into it and shower the people in the street with them. 

So for me, when I woke up Thursday morning, I did the typical routine, and left for the bus around nine-nine thirty.  I'm sitting on the bus and it’s taking me almost 30 minutes to get just five minutes away.  I'm thinking maybe there was an accident up ahead, maybe something broke down... wow! why is there so many people in the street ....? I wait on the bus some more, probably making it up the road about ten yards in the past 10 minutes and it’s gettin’ a little hotter. A few people even left the bus and I’m thinking.... man they’re crazy leaving the bus, it’s gonna get better in a few minutes, we’re gonna start movin’ .....

Well I’m looking around and I notice that everyone is wearing white ...Why is everyone in white ...whoa! Everyone is in white! My host mom told me that for the first of January (the new year) everyone wears white but, it’s like the 12th of January now and that’s a long time to be wearing white ...maybe its some crazy Brasilian event and everyone has to wear white...  I look outside some more hoping to catch some more breeze on the bus .....and woooww the people in the street are wearing white too ... o-my-goodness did I miss the memo… is this like a special day... what’s goin’ on man!? 

I was completely in the dark so I turned to the lady next to me and asked why is everyone wearing white and she replies "You’re not from here are you? Where are you from?"  "I'm from Florida, I’m an exchange student."  She tells me how excited she is to go to the party and meet her friends and how I should go too; bring some of my friends and have a good time.  It’s almost ten by now and the lady next to me just couldn’t keep it in, she had to go to this party.  So she wishes me all the best of luck here and tells me to go to the party and practically dances off the bus.  This woman is no teenager, she may have had her heels on and her lil’ skirt and top but she was probably in her late 40's.  So I guess you never get too old for anything here. 

Well I spend about an hour more on the bus. Traffic is getting better and the wind is venting more through the windows when the teller stands up and asks everyone where they’re going. I realize that the turn we were supposed to make ...we didn’t. And now I’m headed towards the opposite direction.  oh great I can't believe it ...we didn’t go by my stop...wait where am I ??   I ask the lady in front of me where the bus is going and she says Liberdade ...I said “LIBERDADE! Isn’t that far?”  

She said yes and the man began asking everyone on the bus. Everyone replied Liberdade and not only was I skipped but everyone was going to Liberdade and I asked the lady in front of me, “Sorry but we’re not going to cidade baixo?” and she looked at me like I was nuts and said, “You can’t go down there, not today, no."  whaaaat, what is she talking about? I always go down there - what is she talking about...oh my goodness where am I going? …  maybe Liberdade isn’t that far, maybe it’s close to downtown and I can walk to my lesson or something...  “But I have a lesson in Peloriño today.” And she said, “well, no busses can go down there, it’s crazy." 

She told me how it was crowded with people because of the party. And now I had no choice but to sit on the bus and wait till it finished its route and went back to my stop where I got on that morning. So I sat and people came on and got off and I sat but I wasn’t bored ... that’s the thing - you never get bored on a bus, especially since I was in a completely unfamiliar part of my city.   A more poor part of my city. 

It was interesting to see the people. I saw a kid probably no older than four with a cast on his arm walking with no shoes and shirt alone on the street.  I saw a man hike a wheelbarrow full of building rocks up a hill, again no shirt no shoes... it’s hot, it’s the middle of the day.... how can these people work like this?  Cars and buses are trying to make a two lane road into three and the people on motorbikes seem to race through traffic on all sides.  The houses were stacked to where it looked like gravity could just one day make them all fall like a stack of cards.  The windows and balconies were not decorated with curtains or shutters - they had people looking out them, faces of children and adults, probably to get some fresh air. Houses here sometimes have fans and rarely ever will you see them with air conditioning; considering the location I think that those houses have neither.  It’s all a different life, something I kept thinking I would never see in the U.S. 

It was a bus ride of just pure culture... it felt like one of those educational rides at Disney, like taking you on a little cart through some historical happening where you just sit and watch little mechanical figures stamp papers for other little mechanical figures to step through immigration, getting you to think that you’re back in the 20's.  That’s what it was like except it wasn’t Disney and it wasn’t history. It was right now.  It was how people live in Brasil right now.  The only similarity was that cart at Disney. I was surrounded by foreign people, and there was a designated track that made sure I ended up at the same spot I started at.  With just a little bit more knowledge than before. 

We came to the turning point and I was the absolute last on the bus.  The teller and driver came up to me and asked why I was still there pretty much.  I told them they didn’t stop at my stop ...and he said oh where were you going ...I told him and he looked at me like that lady in front of me and just said “It’s crazy down there, no bus can get down there!”  I gave him that look like, well I know now, and he smiled.

The teller walked off the bus and the driver was talking to me about something and I looked out the window and the teller was takin' a piss right outside the bus like that. I thought...ew man! that man gave me my change!... I use the bus more than twice a day sometimes and for the amount of people I saw get on and off today, the people who sell candies to the people, who just plain ask for money, and now with the teller who’s outside the bus peeing on the dirt like that ... no wall no tree nothing ... and I give these people money every day and they give me change aagghh...ew. 

I got over the grossness a little and opened up my purse to make sure I had a good amount of baby wipes.  Lucky for me I carry around more baby wipes than an 80 year old, and things like this just make me a little bit more glad that I do.  My throat was dry and the bus was heading back to my neighborhood.  I was so glad to get home ... eat lunch with my fam, guzzle down some cold water.  Even though I missed my lesson and spent a whole four hours on the bus ... I was glad that I got to go to Liberdade - I was right too...it was definitely far away.

June 13 Journal

Today I witnessed one of the most amazing things ever.

As you all know, or if you might not....Brazil is AAALLLL about the World Cup. I think it's one of the biggest anticipations a Brazilian faces to see their boys duke it out on the "football" field once every four years. The first time I heard that the World Cup existed was right before I left for Brasil. (I know I'm so ashamed ...but what can you do...I play golf.) I was completely confused how it works, why Brazil is crazy about it, and is it like watching a Gator game??

1. It is a huge soccer event that this year is taking place in Germany, Berlin. It occurs every four years. Various countries participate which makes the World Cup an intense global phenomenon.

2. Brazil LOVES soccer. To the core. They are five time champions of the World Cup.

3. NO! this is no college town and this is not college football.

Which brings me to my story....

Today was the first day I got to see the Brazilian soccer team in action. Everything has been built up to this moment, the start of the World Cup (for Brasil). It's nothing like I could have ever imagined. I've been watching a lot of the games. Seeing the technique of other teams around the world play for only one goal...the cup!....I was at home with my mom, dad and a friend of the family George. We were all huddled in their bedroom with the gorgeous plasma screen, mmm felt like I was almost in Germany hehehe. I was on the bed with my mom and dad and their friend sat beside us in a chair. It was great spending time with them, and for such a memorable event. As the game commenced all our Brasilian bodies were exploding with anticipation - THE GAME! The two teams sang their anthems and then went to their positions. The two foreigners shook hands, the coin was tossed...it's officially begun. I was impressed how fast the Brasilians were...it was like Kaká some super human speed, and Ronaldinho controlling the ball as if it had some magnetic connection with his shoe. Other players such as Roberto could shoot the ball with so much force you'd think it was a cannon. Robinho, 19 years old and such a great player.

But it's when the first goal was made is what sent chills down my spine. It was by far the most unique experience in my life. You see a little prolog.... about Brasil is that today, work stopped for just about everyone at 2 o clock - the game starts at four. The entire city was stopped; more like the entire country had stopped. It was dead in the street, you could only see a few busses pass by. Brasil for the first time...was silent. Now that you know the set up... that first goal was more intense than the whole six days of carnival. First it seemed just a little bit more intense than a Gator game, my mom jumped up and screamed, then gave me a big hug - we were all just screaming at the top of our lungs, arms raised in the air, then my mom says to me... "now jessie" ...as she opens the window ..."look outside". It was unlike anything I've ever felt in my life, for that moment after Kaká put that soccer ball in Croatia's net, the TV became inaudible to the sound coming from a sea of buildings outside the window of my parents' room. It felt like the Brasilian earth was shaking. The entire country was more alive than I've ever seen it before. I knew at that moment that this is something that I will never forget. It was like the country of Brasil turned into a huge stadium. It's a feeling so indescribable but I know it's something I'll never forget.

For all of you exchange students who are leaving this summer to embark on new adventures in new places: These are the little morsels worth cherishing ... these are the treats that are worth more than gold. Congrats! and Boa Viagem!

with love,

Jessie Cordasco

Bam!