January 24, 2012
I’ve had some difficulty in my attempts to write my journals. I’ve been trying to convey every single thing that has happened to me in all my time here in a journal that I didn’t want to be so long that everyone lost interest in what I had to say. I’ve been trying to put into words all of my profound experiences in a way that properly portrayed the differences in culture and, simultaneously, my personal revelations. The things that have made me stronger as an individual and more confident, the things that tore me down and made me vulnerable in a way I had never experienced before, the things that made me feel at home while home was so far away, and the things that made me feel like a complete foreigner. So, in light of my writer’s block of sorts, I’m going to try something a little different all the while hoping that this successfully conveys everything I wanted to convey in the same way that I experienced it all.
I stepped from my host mom’s car unto the gravel parking lot. The gravel was red just like the earth turned up in the construction site across the street. Just like all the dirt I had seen since my arrival. My host mom started up the steps to the school; I followed. We hadn’t talked all that much, my host mom and I. When faced with speaking with a native Portuguese speaker who knew very little English, all my language preparation since January really didn’t seem like much at all. As a result of our communication difficulties I knew alarmingly little about my first school day, actually, about my school in general. I assumed we would go to the school’s office and an administrator of some sort would explain things to me. It seemed a little strange to me but I thought we were going through a side entrance. The parking lot had been off a side street with an electric gate and a guard. It was very small and didn’t have many cars in it. There really was n’t much of a “main entrance” on the side of the school that faced the main street either but that was probably it. My host mom and I passed a small cafeteria and continued up more stairs. Maybe the office was on the second floor? At the top of the stairs my host mom poked her head in a door and a man followed her back out. She introduced him as Roberto and with a quick “tchau, Tori!” turned around and made her way back to the car. I followed Roberto into the room and faced 30 of my soon to be classmates. Not an office, then. Roberto indicated that I should introduce myself so I used about half of the Portuguese I’d learned and did just that. They laughed. It wasn’t mean laughter so I wasn’t really that worried but I still had no idea why they were laughing. I got that nervous smile on my face that screams “I really hope they’re not laughing at me, but I’m pretty sure they are.” I took an empty seat and faced forward.
Beautiful. I made my way down A Garganta do Diabo. The Devil’s Throat seemed more like paradise to me. The weather was perfect; the sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot. I lifted my face to the heavy mist coming from the humongous waterfall to my left. I weaved in and out of tourists snapping 20 shots a second and reached the end of the boardwalk. Amazing. The end of the boardwalk, the Devil’s Throat, was perched on the edge of a cliff covered in water. Waterfalls under us, in front of us, all around us with a rainbow or two draped through the mist. Stunning.
That’s it? That was by far the fastest class on American History I’d ever had. My Brazilian class just covered in half an hour what I’d studied in high school classes for over two years. Thirty minutes to cover 200 years of history that my peers and I had researched, read, studied, colored. And, it made Americans and our history seem far worse than any of my research ever did. On a similar note, Brazilian French bread is very different from American French bread. This makes me wonder what French French bread is like...
I’ve observed that Brazilians are perfectly fine with making you wait. They are hardly ever on time and are completely unapologetic about it. I know that Brazilians not being on time for anything is a famed characteristic but what no one ever includes is that they hate to be kept waiting. They really despise it. My theory is that everyone always shows up late so that they are never the first one there. Buh dum ching!
My toes squished around in my shoes. Excellent. The mud has officially entered my shoes. Standing ankle deep in the stuff, really it was only a matter of time. But then this is a minor inconvenience. Totally worth it. My attention returns to the humongous stage in front of me and the crowds of ecstatic, dancing, Brazilian youths surrounding me. They also happen to be standing ankle deep in mud. In the rain. Gustavo Lima’s songs pour over us as we sing and dance. Dancing isn’t usually my strong suit but I’ve picked up on sertaneja quite nicely if I do say so myself. The mud is making it more difficult that usual; I almost lost a shoe.
Finally, I would like to convey my sincere thanks to Rotary for making this incredible and life-changing experience possible for all of us!