Monday, March 28, 2011

A gift from my host aunt...

 What could it be?

It's... shorts.

I'm not sure why you would need your shorts to do this, but I think it's awesome.

Obama no Brasil!

I’m not sure how extensively Obama’s visit to Brazil last weekend was covered in the United States, but I’d be really surprised if it was televised there more than it was here. It was on the news all day last Saturday and Sunday, and it continued in the evenings for a few days after he left. They kept replaying a portion of one of his speeches where he began with a few words of Portuguese – everyone seemed very entertained by this. Good try, Barack. You and me, learning Portuguese. I was also pleased to see that Michelle Obama’s fashion choices were just as exciting to the Brazilian news as they noremally are in the States – I particularly enjoyed the reddish dress with the teal shoes. Nice work.

Quick side note: Somehow, multiple people in my program have remarked to me that they are aware that Obama went to Oxy. I have no idea how this information has been disseminated. The only places I’ve ever heard it stated are at Oxy itself and on Huel Howser’s California Gold, which both seem unlikely sources. It’s a mystery to me.

Anyway, as it happened, Obama no Brasil turned out to be the first and so far the strongest weird experience of seeing American or American-ish things in Brazilian media. This happens fairly often – a lot of Hollywood movies are shown dubbed in Portuguese, and some Hollywood stars are interesting to Brazilian entertainment magazines. So far the most unexpected has been seeing an interview with the American actor Bill Pullman in Cara, which seems like a classier version of People or Star. Apparently, he really loves Brazil. Go, Bill Pullman. made an appearance on a variety show today, and they’ve been running Harry Potter in Portuguese in the afternoons, which is hilarious – Ron and Hermione’s names get me every time, since the R sounds like an H, the H is silent, and they add an “ee” sound at the end of everything – “Honny!” “Ermy-oney!” But let me get back to Obama.

I’m not a very patriotic person. I appreciate my life in America, and I’m starting to really appreciate a lot of the everyday things about it, like putting the toilet paper in the toilet and having water temperature options in the shower, but I’m just, but I feel really awkward saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and my feelings tend more towards certainty that there is a good deal of wool over everyone’s eyes than pride. But somehow, watching the Obamas do their thing in Brazil just completely undid me. I started tearing up watching them stand next to Dilma Rousseff while The Star Spangled Banner played and the U.S. flag was raised. I’m not claiming to know the meaning of being American, or anything like that, but man. I had no idea I had any of that kind of feeling in there. I guess when I’m in America I don’t feel American – I just feel like a person. But at that moment I felt really, really American. It was bizarre. And it keeps happening. I watched most of Ladder 49 on TV today, and I kept almost losing it during the entire thing. I don’t even have a particular attachment to firefighters or anything – the whole thing was just so American. It’s really weird. 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

In other less organized and less concept-heavy news…

While I’m doing this bizarre living in Brazil thing, life at home apparently still goes on. I hear it’s been rainy and cold, which makes me incredibly jealous. As a side note, I’ve noticed that I feel sort of happy inside whenever I hear my family say they are cold. I think it’s some kind of mental retaliation against the equatorial heat. I hope it doesn’t get too flood-y at home, though. California, please do not sink while I am gone!

I’m registering for classes at Oxy on Tuesday, which is always an absolute party. I’m looking forward to the probability that I will need to email all of the professors of the classes I want to take, begging entry – except for comps, of course! The joy. Along with that, I’ll hopefully be taking Gender and Society, Social and Cultural of the Middle East, and one other non-sociology, non-history class that is yet to be determined. Right now I’m leaning pretty heavily towards a religious studies class about Judaism, but we’ll see what happens.

I talked to some real live Brazilians my own age last week! Actually, I talked to a few people my age at my cousin’s birthday party last weekend, but when they found out I wasn’t such a fan of Twilight, or Crepusca, as it’s known here, and that I liked Harry Potter I think they decided I was too much of a dork to bother with. Even the fact that I really love Beyoncé was not enough to counter it. Oh well, at least I was being honest.

But this was super cool. A few of us from SIT were hanging out downstairs at IBEU, and Valkyria (I have no idea how this is actually spelled, but this is how it sounded, and she asked us to call her Val anyway) and João (who preferred to be known by his last name, which I have now forgotten) came right up and started talking to us. They’re both in their first semester of English at IBEU. Offering English classes seems to be IBEU’s primary function, and people sometimes get confused when I say I study at IBEU and I’m obviously learning Portuguese, not English. João goes to one of the universities here, and Val is taking the exam for public university for the third time. Apparently the SAT is nothing compared to this test – the public universities are free, which makes them incredibly competitive, which apparently means that they end up being of far better quality than the private universities. Anyway, I think I should start hanging out downstairs more often.

Next weekend we’re off to Aracati, which is an apparently smallish city to the southeast of Fortaleza. On the map it looks like it’s close to the coast, but is actually a little bit inland, inside the mouth of the Rio Jaguaribe. I really enjoyed going outside of the dense city area with José Albano, so I’m really looking forward to this.

I didn’t think that I would find knitting inspiration in a city so close to the Equator, but I have. Friday’s challenge on Big Brother Brasil involved wearing what appeared to be hiking boots and thick, cabled socks. What I wouldn’t give for even the desire to wear thick, cabled socks right now, oh my goodness.

And finally, since I haven’t yet – photos of my host family! Here's my host sister and mom, Gracilene and Georgia.

And my cousin, Julia, who loves taking pictures.

Culture Shock, Phase Two: Irritability and Hostility

I actually did believe the people at Oxy’s International Programs Office when they talked about the phases of culture shock, but I didn’t think I would react in exactly the ways they described. In my American life, I’m a lot more likely to get sad and mopey than irritable and hostile, but here I am in what I’m really hoping is a fully-fledged Phase Two: Irritability and Hostility.

It completely snuck up on me. For about two days it was sort of a fun mind game to think about what I was doing right then, and then think of what that would mean at home or at school, like “doing laundry” or “walking home from school in the rain” or “using the bathroom” or “going to the grocery store.” It’s interesting to think about, and it gives me this happy feeling of American-ness that I’ve never had before, and still can’t really pin down. I’ll talk about that more later. Right now I’m too irritable and hostile.

Phase Two took hold today at around eleven in the morning. I went to the Mercado Central with my host mom, Gracilene. It’s actually a really amazing place that I’ll have to tell you about later when I’m feeling less hostile. Also accompanying us were her friend, her sister, and her sister’s two friends, which in case you weren’t paying attention makes six people in a five-person, two-door car. That actually wasn’t irritating, though. It was nice, in a car-full-of-middle-aged-women-speaking-a-language-you-barely-understand kind of way. My major irritation was what I’m now starting to be able to identify as overprotectiveness. On the one hand, I am more or less a grown person and am therefore fairly unlikely to wander off and get lost in the crowd, so I probably don’t actually need to be grasped firmly by the arm while we walk around. On the other, though, every single place we go is new to me, I’m still not entirely sure what the cultural norms are that I’m supposed to be following and I’m operating under the impression that we could get robbed at any moment – this is probably an overstatement, but the realization that I’m basically unable to identify working to middle-class Brazilian neighborhoods as good or bad combined with Gracilene’s shepherding me around has encouraged this feeling. It’s like being a teenager all over again – I need you, but I don’t want to need you.

My other significant irritation is my own frustration with the language. One of our party was a rather elderly woman who had some problems with one of her legs, apparently, and Gracilene told me frequently to take her arm as we were walking. Being accustomed to the concept of an elderly person needing help moving around, I find this a reasonable request. It did come off as a little bossy to me, but honestly, direct commands are probably the most effective way to communicate with me at this point. Also, truth be told, most of the time when she asks me to do something I don’t actually understand most of the words. Instead it’s clear through context, and I just get the basic meaning of “open the door,” “answer the phone,” or “unplug that thing.” So, okay. That’s fine. The irritating thing about it was that there were really a lot of people in the Mercado Central, so there wasn’t really room to walk two or three abreast, and I kept getting run into things. So, okay, I could just say, “there’s not room for me to walk on this side” or “could you move over” or something like that. But wait. I barely speak Portuguese. It takes me an incredible amount of effort to come up with the words to express an idea, and it’s extremely unlikely that what I say is going to actually make sense. Combine that with the noisy environment and the fact that I’m walking behind the person I’m trying to talk to, and it doesn’t honestly matter enough for me to go through this whole process.

As a side note to the actual culture shock, getting to know people in our SIT group feels like a minor kind of culture shock. (I guess some of you might be reading this – hi, if you are!) It’s kind of like the beginning of college again, where you have this pool of people who you know you’re going to eventually be close friends with, but you don’t know anyone well enough to really know what to expect yet. I haven’t actually gone out with anyone from the group yet, besides lunch, which I really want to do – so far it’s been communication mishaps, weather, or pre-existing plans with my host family that have stopped me.

Anyway, I’m hoping that as the group gets closer, our collective culture shock will become easier to handle. I’m sure it’ll be up and down – but hopefully mostly up!

Monday, March 21, 2011


Oh my gosh, two posts in one day.

You may have to zoom out to see the pinpoints - I live to the east and go to school to the west.

View Fortaleza, CE, Brasil in a larger map

Ze the Cool Guy

On Friday, we had this amazing day out with Jose Albano, a relatively well-known Brazilian photographer who I can't seem to find much about online, disappointingly. This is going to be a pretty quick rundown, but guess what - I finally got to take photos! I haven't been taking any except for in my homestay (which I'll show you later) because you just don't want to call any more attention to yourself as an obvious non-Brazilian than you have to. But, in our huge group of twenty-one plus Jose and Oelito, we could do the tourist thing a bit.

First we went to this old-style cemetery, which dates to Portuguese colonial times. It's very overcrowded, and there haven't been any new graves added in a long time, but families apparently re-use their plots - we did ask, and this apparently does entail digging up whoever was down there before. So I'm not totally clear on how that works. 

This is Jose Albano's family plot - yep, that enormous metal statue thing. I don't know who his ancestors were, but they must have been bigshots.

Okay, I don't know why these won't rotate, I'll work on it, but this is the inside of the old prison in Fortaleza which was converted into a market and cultural center about fifty years ago. 

There was a small museum upstairs, in which I found a wooden statue of a rendeira, or a lacemaker. One of our professors mentioned them in passing last week, and after doing a little reading about it (there's not much written on it) I think I'm going to be doing my independent study project on the industry.

This is the Dragao do Mar, a huge cultural center in the center of the city. The architecture is really incredible. The orange roofs in the foreground are really well-preserved historic buildings, and they're the reason they built the huge red bridge connecting the parts of the center. There are restaurants and nightclubs and at least one museum inside, but we went in the morning just to look around in the building. It's named after a man called Dragao do Mar, or Dragon of the Sea, who ran a business which ferried goods and slaves from ships in the harbor to the port itself, and was apparently instrumental in stopping the slave trade in the city, as he refused to carry slaves on his ships. 

This is the view back towards the city from a pier on the Beira Mar, a beach in the center of the city where most of the nice hotels are. The area is rocky and fairly still, making it bad for swimming, so the development of the city allowed the fishing industry to remain.

 This is the beach where the fishermen keep their boats. Nearby is a fish market where a lot of it is sold. And there's Jose in the corner.

Everything so far has been in the center of the city, but this is off to the west. It's on top of the highest hill in the city, and is the only place where you can really see the skyline. Don't be fooled - there's WAY MORE CITY off to the left of this picture. It's huge. It doesn't feel that big from street-level, though.

After our day out, we went back to Jose Albano's house, which was an experience in itself. His house is awesome, with colored glass bottles stuck in the walls with light shining through, and a ton of albums of his photos. It was awesome. We collectively made dinner and ate it outside in the woods, where it was a beautiful, beautiful temperature.

Yep, that's right - this exists in Ceara. Enormous sand dunes. I do not know how they came to be there, all I know is that they're awesome. This is way to the west of the city, about ten minutes from Jose Albano's house. 

Gorgeous. We all climbed up the hill, and then you run and jump off the other side and land further down on the side of the dune. It feels like you're jumping off a cliff, but you land in soft sand. Amaaazing.

Again, so cool. 

That's all for now.

Friday, March 18, 2011

One week!

It feels like way longer.

Yesterday was my host mom's birthday, so there was a party. I was not initially aware of this, as I think they either didn't tell me about it or I just didn't understand them. I thought she wasn't going to be home from work until 9:30 PM, like usual, so I almost went to the beach in the evening, but fortunately decided not to go since the party had already started when Georgia, my host sister, and I got home.

The party was incredibly language-work-intensive, but was probably the most fun I've had with my host family since I've been here. It was great to talk to other native Brazilians who weren't Gracilene and Georgia, and I think I did pretty well! In general I understand when people are talking to me, if they talk slowly enough, but I miss most of what they say to each other. Sometimes there are words that I would understand if they were written down, but spoken they're just different enough that I'm completely lost. I spent about ten minutes yesterday trying to understand "ventilador," which is the word for fan. I thought it was something about "vinte," or twenty, and something about somebody's back. We got there in the end, though. I supremely enjoyed hanging out with my host cousin, Julia, who is absolutely marvelous, and the daughter of a friend of the family, Barbara, who thought I was the most hilarious thing in the world for not understanding her.

Whoops, gotta go - tchau!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Total exhaustion.

That's about all I've got for you right now. I had my first night in my homestay last night, which was great, but it takes such an incredible amount of energy just to come up with "Boa noite" and "Bom dia" much less find out where to put my laundry, and good God, take the bus. Anyway, I made it back to IBEU (Instituto Brasil Estados Unidos, where SIT has its program center) with Gracilene, my host mom. I'll update more later, though I somewhat doubt that the exhaustion situation will improve until I get used to the quarter-hourly train which goes by the apartment starting at about 6:00 AM. I'm sure I will, though - I slept like a rock until then. I also hope I'll stop sweating with quite such intensity - Brazilians don't seem to sweat, ever.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I'm here! All of my connections ended up being extremely rushed, mostly because Toronto was pretty backed up, but I made them all okay. I met up with a few people on my program in Sao Paulo, and Oelito picked us all up from the airport in Fortaleza. I cannot describe to you the joy I felt when I realized who Oelito was - he is this tiny, constantly smiling Brazilian man, and his wife is the homestay coordinator for the program. He apparently was using his daughter's phone, and the ringtone was a Ke$ha song, obviously. We're still missing one girl, who Oelito thinks missed her connection in Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, so they're trying to figure that out, but Oelito took the rest of us back to this strange convent-ish building across the street from our program center, where we ate dinner and then all walked over to the center with Bill the long-winded but very heartfelt and ideologically awesome program director to use the internet.

Friday and Saturday we'll be here, having orientation, Sunday we go to our homestay families, and next week we start classes!

Some quick first impressions - to begin with, it's incredibly humid and hot here. I thought I understood. I didn't. I am now fully prepared to be sweating every minute of every day that I'm here. Seriously, the sun went down two and a half hours ago, and it's still sweltering.

I'm not sure what the story is on driving here, but I'm sure glad I don't have to do it. I can't seem to tell whether what we've been driving on are highways or just massive streets, and it just all seems to be this massive game of chicken.

I have to go now, but I'll update when I can! Take care, everyone at home and abroad!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fortaleza, I am coming for you!

Or rather, San Francisco, Toronto, São Paulo, and Fortaleza, I am coming for you in that order over a 23-hour period, 17 hours and 55 minutes of which will be actual flight time.

I may have described already to some of you how the terror had gone away for the time being, and would probably return at some really inopportune time. In case anyone was wondering, it has returned, and it's thriving. I think the catalyst was the realization that I had not only forgotten to buy chlorine or iodine tablets and insect repellent, but was unable to find the travel alarm clock that I had previously convinced myself was hiding somewhere in my room, and upon further reflection realized that I had, in fact, tossed it when we moved. This then led to the realization that at this point I can only produce about two words of Portuguese strung together, and that this is only really helpful when I actually know the two words I'm trying to use, which is unlikely. Fabulous.

But anyway, I'll be arriving in Fortaleza at 5:25 PM, BRT. See you on the other side!