Tuesday, May 31, 2011

At the sitio.

I’m at the family’s sitio, which apparently Melissa was invited to live at by her friend in the government who owns it. Or something. That was the limit of my Portuguese understanding. Anyway, there’s a stiff breeze and I’m not sweating at all at this moment and it’s pretty fabulous.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I have zero expectations anymore.

Today, Olenir, one of the lacemakers, sang Portuguese versions of Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore, Oh Susannah, and I think even Mom’s Hello, hello, hello and how are you? Wild.

I love how they talk about sua terra or sua pais. Your land, your country. When will you return to your land? Do you miss your country? Do you have a mother and father in your country?

Melisse comes to my door tonight and says hi. I ask her how she is and she shows me her boobs. She went to the beach and got sunburned today. I’m not even bothered. Or surprised.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Matheus and Glaisa.

Pictures are fun, even if you only have a few words.

Matheus and Glaisa are the grandchildren of the rendeira with whom I am living for these three weeks.

I'd say we're all pretty good sports about this whole thing.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

As dunas!

Went to the dunes in a dune buggy today!

The whole thing was an excellent example of how the whole assumption that things are probably going to be safe because otherwise people are going to get sued or whatever just completely doesn’t apply here, and people are totally okay with that. No forms. No seatbelts. Woo.

The dune buggy driver, or bugueiro, was one of Cleide's brothers. He made a joke about how there's the Sahara Desert, but this is the Ceará Desert.

This is Tebe, the sister of Giovanni, who is married to and/or dating Cleide's daughter Melisse. Whew. You can see the beach part of Prainha in the background.

I also slid down this huge slide thing made out of sandbags and tarps.

It shoots you out horizontally at the end, and you feel like a stone being skipped.

Kind of uncomfortable, but fun nonetheless.

I showed Glaisa and Matheus a photo of Brad that’s on my computer and I think Matheus was saying that Brad looks like a particular Brazilian horse racer, or wrangler, or cowboy, or something. Something that involves riding a horse.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I went to the LAN house near Cleide’s house on my way home today, and when I got back I got into a conversation with Melissa and Glaisa. It was nice. I like Melissa a lot, but I’m not sure where Glaisa gets her shenanigans because Melissa is so not crazy. Anyway I was kind of torn up from being on the Internet, which always seems to do me in, and she asked something about my mom and I immediately lost it. She received it very well, by verbally acknowledging my emotions and then continuing our conversation without making a big deal about it. It was less about just missing my mom (although I do miss you, Mom) and more about culture shock, but it’s nice that missing one’s mother is something that seems to transcend these particular cultural boundaries.

As a side note, I’ve been continuing my history of watching things Bill is in without realizing it. Breaking Bad, episode 5, there he is!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Off the previously charted linguistic map.

I went to the beach today with Cleide’s daughter Melisse – and Tebe and the Italian guy. So this is one American, two Italians, and a Brazilian. I speak English and bad Portuguese, Tebe and Giovanni speak bad Portuguese, Tebe also speaks bad English, and everyone but me speaks good Italian. So they all talk to each other in Italian, Tebe and I speak English to each other, the daughter and I speak Portuguese, and the Giovanni and I really only talk to each other through Tebe and the daughter because our mutual Portuguese is just too horrible to get by. It was an interesting linguistic experience. Italian sounds enough like Portuguese that I didn’t always realize they were speaking it, and sometimes just thought I wasn’t paying enough attention. It was frustrating until I realized I wasn’t supposed to understand, and stopped paying attention unless people were talking directly to me.

I have also learned that Cleide’s daughter Melisse was born as Pedro, and then chose the name Melisse. Cleide’s other daughter is Melissa. So that explains a number of confusions I had.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What are my ethical obligations to sand dollars?

So in case we all weren’t sure whether or not this was the challenge of my life, it definitely is. Not only am I attempting to do the homestay thing without even the six-hour daily respite of IBEU, but I’m also attempting to do research and write like a thirty page paper simultaneously. So that’s cool.

Today at the Centro I saw the most ridiculous-looking tourist I have ever seen. Glow-in-the-dark pasty, hairy, wearing a speedo, a t-shirt, sunglasses, and a ridiculous brimmed hat with a neck flap. In all honesty it was probably the most practical thing a really white guy could wear on a  dune buggy ride, but it looked absurd. And he’s Brazilian. I had sort of thought Brazilian tourists wouldn’t look like American tourists – and they don’t, for the most part. Mostly because they wear fewer clothes, I think. But I guess the potential for ridiculousness is definitely there.

I walked on the beach today for about an hour and a half, which was incredibly beneficial. Just to not have to think about anything or understand anyone speaking any language at all was great.

And there were so many shells. They were everywhere. In California it seems like you’re really lucky if you find one, ever. Not even just shells, but live things in general. Bivalves, sandpipers, these weird things that looked like they were the back halves of fish but weren’t, and little tiny fish getting swept around by the waves. 

I picked up one shell, a little orange one. For some reason this didn’t trigger any moral doubt. When I saw the first of the ten or so sand dollar tests I encountered, though, I had this enormous mental battle. I wanted to pick one up and take it with me. I have never before just found sand dollars on the beach. There were a lot of them. And they were dead already. But if I take it, it won’t be there for the next person to enjoy it. I’ve been so well indoctrinated by elementary school trips to Californian state parks and such. It’s a little absurd. And it would probably just disintegrate on the trip back to the States, anyway.

So I compromised by holding it and walking for a while, and then putting it back and taking some pictures.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Quem está entendendo?

So I just went to the Jesus Cristo e o Senhor Igreja Universal with Cleide, and I’m pretty sure they exorcised some people there. I also think I might have been anointed. There was this big glass flower vase looking thing full of oil. I thought the wine/bread thing was the standard, but apparently at this church it’s oil.

The whole thing was interesting, though. It quickly became clear that there were a lot of physical gestures that people were expected to make, and not only that but I understand enough Portuguese to know that there were explicit instructions to do them. Raise your hands, hands over your heart, eyes closed – that kind of thing. I went with omitting the hands up and doing the hands over your heart, because that seemed like less of a lie to me and I feel like even if you don’t really believe in God it’s probably not a good idea to mess around in His house. I closed my eyes about half the time, because once I realized they were going to sort of exorcise people I really wanted to watch. I was also never sure what to do every time he asked, “Quem está entendendo?” or “Who is understanding?” because I understood so little else except for him asking that question.

Afterwards a lady came up to me – she was affiliated with the church, although I’m not sure who she was – and welcomed me. I guess she noticed I was new, or something, hah. She asked if I wanted to talk with the pastor and I was sort of flabbergasted, because that seemed like a really nice gesture but I really didn’t want to at all. I did, however, say I might come back on Sunday. (I didn’t go back on Sunday. I went back about a week and a half later, though, and it was potentially even more confusing than this time.)

For a person who goes to church almost every day, Cleide was remarkably chill about this whole thing. She was very whatever about whether or not I wanted to come, and assured me that there was no problem with me not really being a churchgoing person. It was nice.

Whoops, so we're really not done with this culture shock thing yet.

It’s amazing how every time I go to a new place in Brazil, I feel completely incompetent all over again. I don’t know anyone’s name and I can’t understand a damn thing anybody says. So I think I really haven’t been getting used to Brazil – I’ve been getting used to specific households in Brazil.

I finally realized what the purpose of the little toilet paper compartment is, though – it keeps the toilet paper from getting wet when you shower. This isn’t such an issue in my Fortaleza homestay, because that shower has a door, but many of them don’t. The bathroom in Cleide’s house doesn’t have either, which is unfortunate.

You know, this is nice and everything, but I am so freaking excited to go home. I can’t even explain how pumped I am for being able to function normally in social situations, for being able to overhear people without trying, for being able to understand people who are actually talking directly to me without trying, for putting my toilet paper into the actual toilet and flushing it, and for showers being separated from the rest of bathrooms by a curtain or something. And for bathrooms to reliably have doors! And to be able to greet people I’m meeting for the first time with mutually expected handshakes! Oh my God. This is going to be incredible.

I was realizing today, thinking about the person that I know myself to be, that it seems impossible for me to be actually doing this. But it’s actually not through any personal abilities that this is happening. It’s actually because you just have no other choice. You’re here, people are talking to you, and it’s just happening. It’s not really a choice at this point.

I am also desperately looking forward to there being fewer biting insects. Good Lord.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Vale do Capão

After Salvador, none of us wanted to leave. We were even less excited after our zillion (okay, maybe like ten) hour bus ride into the interior. We had heard there were waterfalls, but it's hard to be excited about waterfalls when every part of your butt is asleep. But fortunately for us...

It didn't take much once we saw them.

The water in this area looks rusty red, but it's all from the color of the rocks. 

 This first set of waterfalls was a pretty easy hike. The next day, though...

Yep. I walked up here.

This is Cachoeira da Fumaça, or "smoke falls," the second-tallest waterfall in Brazil - we were told at the time that it was the second-tallest in Latin America, but I can only find confirmation for within Brazil.

 It's so tall that hardly any of it reaches the bottom in traditional crashing waterfall fashion. Most of it just turns to mist.

 There was a guide holding onto my ankles, and I was lying all the way down. Just saying.

Rainbow in the waterfall!

So, quick update on my current life in Brazil. I've just finished the first week of my independent study project, and it's going well. I came back to Fortaleza and met with my adviser for the first time today, and while the language barrier was challenging (he also trailed off a lot in his conversation - I can't infer words in this language!) he gave me a lot of food for thought. I'm looking at less than two more weeks in the field, coming back to Fortaleza on June 8. Not much time, but honestly, I'm glad of it. Having lunch with some of my SIT friends, we discovered that we're all much more intensely homesick than we've been before. For me, anyway, it's much more of an emotional thing now than it was. I think that has partly to do with being away from all the other American students, partly having to adjust to a new homestay, and just plain old having been here for a while. I know I'll be sad to leave in the end, but just thinking about it right now - I'm okay with it.


So after the overall disappointing Recife trip, we went to Salvador, and everything was amazing.

One of our first days there, we went on a walking tour of the city. This in addition to it not raining very much allowed us to go off on our own more later in the week, which I think is part of what made this trip so great. Above is the lighthouse near our pousada, which was a big orienting landmark for us. 

I was struck by this a little bit in Recife, but even more so in Salvador - in addition to being older, these cities feel a lot more like the cities I'm used to. There are statues.

There are parks and green spaces.

There was a march for peace in the schools - we were walking along beside it for a few minutes.

There was a lot of incredible street art. This was the only picture I managed to get, there was so much more.

The photo below is in Pelorinho, one of the oldest sections of the city. Lots of plazas.

Overlooking the harbor...

More Pelorinho...

Some awesome old churches...

(Check out that bird flying by, too. Totally did that on purpose, right?)

The inside was wonderful and horrible at the same time. So many pretty things, but... so many pretty things. Overwhelming.

Can't be a church without scary angel babies, right?

My favorite part, though, was outside in the courtyard...

Gorgeous blue and white painted tiles!

Each panel depicted a proverb.

"In any state of life, you may still be a philosopher."

This one seriously cracked me up, for some reason.

If you've ever seen any images of Salvador, you've probably seen buildings like this. This is deep into Pelorinho, and it's a weird mix of things. Beautiful buildings, old streets, children begging, aggressive walking salespeople.

But if you want to hear more about it, we'll have to talk in person. There just isn't time!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


 Another of the disappointingly few fun moments in Recife was a short trip to Olinda, a neighboring city. The city itself is apparently quite large (all I remember is it was bigger than San Rafael) with a large historical section.

After we got off the bus, me and my partners in crime Christine and Lucia were immediately approached by one of a number of tour guides hoping to take people on walking tours of the city. At first we said no, but when he lowered the price and seemed to understand that we only had an hour to spend, we went with it.

It turned out to be a good decision.

There are really a lot of seminary schools in Olinda. I'm not sure why - the guide mentioned four or five different orders.

Apparently they also have a very well-known Carnaval.

It was also the first totally sunny day of the trip, which made it even better. Right when we got back to the pousada, we had to leave on the bus to the airport to go to Salvador, which I have run out of time to share with you today. Oh dear. The backlog begins.

I'm excited and nervous for my ISP, but in a lot of ways I feel really ready to go home. I miss you all!