Wednesday, December 8, 2010

And things end, on a weird note.

It's happening! I'm leaving here in just a matter of days! It's super sad to say goodbye to everyone here; at least I have lots of things to look forward to in the coming months. This will probably be my last blog post before I leave for Panama, where I'm not sure what my internet situation will be since I'm selling my computer to Felipe. In short, I may not be able to write again until after the new year, in which case, Happy Holidays!

As awesome as my time here has been, larger forces conspired last night to give me the weirdest send-off from my Brazil experience.

I am walking to my friend Carolyn's house around 8 o'clock, when I see two people on the sidewalk, one struggling to help the other up onto their feet. I run forward to help them, and find the strangest pairing of individuals I have ever seen. The man on the ground did not look good; he was dirty, wearing some tattered jump-suit, was missing teeth, smelled bad and had crazy hair. The person helping him was a short, chubby, Asian boy (I only mention this because he's literally the second Asian person I've seen in this city), who looked exactly like the kid from "Up." By running up to the scene, I feel pretty committed to help. So, me and the boy each grab one of the guy's arms, I'm handed the man's umbrella, and we finally manage to pull him to his feet.

"Is everything ok?" I ask. "What's going on?"

"I'm just coming from church, but now I'm going to my karate class," the boy says. Sure enough, he was wearing white pants and had a green cloth belt draped around his neck. "But, why do you have that weird accent?"

"I'm American, do you know this guy?"

"Kind of."

"What's going on then? What are you doing with this person?" Meanwhile, the man, who has not let go of our hands since he needs them to stay standing, let out a long string of slurred babble. I know enough Portuguese to tell when a person has actually used words, this man was not.

"He wants to go to karate with me," the boy said. At this point, I'm worried about this boy and the people he is inviting to his martial arts sessions, but whatever, it's his prerogative and I'm off to my friend's place. I try to figure out how I'm going to detach the man's death grip from my hand.

"Do you have time?" he asks, "I need help taking him there."

"Uhhhhh, where is your class?" I ask.

"On the other side of this hill," he says, "it's kind of far."

We're interrupted by the man, who has resumed his chatter. He manages to say, "I know a Brazilian woman," and the single word "panorama." The boy keeps asking him what he is trying to say, before the man turns to me and says, "Explain this to him." I have literally no idea what I'm supposed to be explaining to the boy who is a native Portuguese speaker. We are all still holding hands while getting passed by many people, all of whom give us weird looks. I'm ready for this situation to be over.

"Ok fine," I say, "Let's go."

We start walking at a painfully slow pace, this man is simply in no state to be walking, much less up a steep hill. We stop, and the man starts shaking his arms and groaning. Then, he looks straight forward and starts huffing. "Oh God, he's going to vomit," I think. I then push the button to open umbrella I was given earlier, trying to shield myself from what's going to happen. This umbrella ends up being huge, so I'm able to protect a lot of my body. However, the man does not throw up, and we start shuffling along again. I can't collapse the umbrella, however, since I'm still holding hands with some stranger. We now take up the literally entire sidewalk and people have to walk into the street to pass us.

"How do you know this man?" I ask.

"I've met him once or twice." This boy really needs to be taught about inviting strangers to his extracurricular activities. The man stops walking and starts shaking again.

"This man is not well, I really think he needs help!"

The boy looks at the man, "Are you ok? You're worse than you normally are." He looks at me, "Do you think he's sick?"

"I have no idea." Maybe we can take him home, I think. "Where do you live?" I ask slowly.

The man groans, "Guarani," he finally manages.

Great, he lives in another town. This does not help me. "Do you know where he lives?" I ask the boy.

"I think he lives on the sidewalk, but I usually see him a couple of blocks down the street. I don't know what he's doing over here." Awesome, now I really feel like an asshole, I can't just return this man to the street. I don't know what to do.

The boy looks at me, "Your accent is just soooo funny!" REALLY LITTLE BOY?!?!? Is that the weirdest thing about this situation? My accent?

We keep walking, displacing people, and I still have an open umbrella. The boy thinks I'm the strangest thing that has ever happened, and asks me a bunch of questions about where I'm from and what I'm doing, apparently oblivious to the individual between us. I find out that he's from São Paulo, which has one of the largest Japanese populations outside of Japan. Well, at least I solved the Asian mystery.

We stop in the middle of a thru-street, and the man says he wants to walk "normally." "Thank you Jesus!" I think, I'll get my hand back and can let these two do their thing. The man, however, lifts his elbow up over my arm and tucks my forearm hard into his armpit. We are still holding hands, though I'm now losing circulation in mine by how hard I'm being squeezed in his pit. I really start to notice how bad this guy smells.

"I think we should call the police," I say, "This man really needs help."

"But he really wants to go to my karate class!"

People start lighting off fireworks a couple of blocks away, which just upsets this guy and he starts saying "I'm scared, I'm scared", over and over again. People keep passing us, staring at the chubby Asian boy, homeless man, and foreigner with an open umbrella. "You know it's not raining, right?" the boy says, "you really don't need that."

Forty-five minutes later, we make it to karate. We arrive at the door, and the whole class just stares at the craziest trio that has ever existed. I finally detach myself from the man, but see that my arm and hand are covered in dirt. I really want to wash this off, but I don't want to admit that in front of all these people. Instead, I say I need to go to the bathroom and walk through this class into the back of the building while the boy asks his teacher if the guy can stay and watch their session. I find some kitchenette thing, scrub my arms with soap, then start walking out. I pass the boy and the man, they are now literally in the middle of this karate class, and the boy says that the man wants to go to the bathroom also.

"Where's the bathroom?" he asks.

"I don't know, I didn't up going." I'm really not keen on saying I just wanted to wash my hands.

"But, you said you were going!"

"Yeah I know, I just didn't end up going. I'm going to leave now." I figure there are enough Portuguese-speaking adults around that I can leave the man without feeling too guilty.

"You are just so weird," the boy says.

This is how the story ends, with the three of us in the middle of a karate class, and me managing to come across weirdest part of the whole situation. Perfect.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Soccer follow-up

So, a couple of months ago I wrote a post about starting to participate in indoor soccer. I've been playing periodically since, usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays when I'm in Juiz de Fora and not traveling. Despite the disparity in skill, playing futesal has been a positive experience largely because of the social aspect. Soccer is definitely an important way for guys to hang out with each other here, so it's been fun meeting new people and hanging out with an entertaining group of people. Male bonding, love it.

I guess I've probably got a little better since starting, though any such improvements would be hard to notice since literally every other person is playing on a entirely different level; like a, "I've been playing my whole life in freakin' Brazil", sort of level. Hanging with this crowd, it's pretty apparent I don't know what I'm doing.

It's one thing to write about how weak my soccer is, it's another to demonstrate. So, here's a video of me playing the other day, which I'm really not sure why I'm putting on the internet. Before you watch, read my viewing guide so you know what highlights to look for. In case you can't pick me out, I'm wearing a blue t-shirt and spend my time running around directionlessly.

-The guy who blasts the ball from one end of the court to the other: People do this all the time, and it's the reason that being the goalie is the scariest/worst job ever.

-The ball that is thrown to me: The goalie throws a ball to me, not too hard, and I just let it drift right out of bounds. I indicate my indifference with an only mildly effeminate hang gesture.

-The pass I interrupt: Some guy tries to pass the ball to someone behind me, but just kicks it at my feet. You'll see how surprised I am that I just stole the ball by the fact that I almost fall over backwards.

-Probably the most spastic thing you've seen today: So then, I supposed to pass the ball, because I'm sure as hell not going to dribble it anywhere, but the guy passes it back to me. I'm unclear as to what it is I do after that, I just know that someone decides that they've had enough and just kicks the ball out of bounds when I try to rid myself of it again.

-Corner kick: I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be doing during the corner kick, so I just hop around a little.

The next video is from our Thanksgiving that we made, and by "we" I mean Carolyn and Athena. The spread involved two chickens, green beans, yams, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, mac 'n cheese and four kinds of desserts. Carolyn's American mom brought down a lot of things when she visited which made the dinner super authentic. We invited over our teacher who gave us Portuguese lessons our first two weeks here, Felipe and his mom, Carolyn's roommate, our Brazilian friend Lucas, and our Argentine friends Paloma, Macarena, Florencia and Jaime. One of my favorite moments thus far in Brazil was watching everyone from this international group go around the table saying the things for which they are thankful. The video is for our exchange program that wanted all their students to make a video from their countries communicating some sort of seasons' greetings in the language. We thought it best to include as many native speakers as possible in ours. This is the result, we're saying "Feliz dia de ação de graças, do Brasil", which means "Happy Thanksgiving from Brazil." Our timing was a little weird, and we were also taking other self-timed pictures during the video, so ACM will probably need to do a little bit of editing on our contribution to the holiday video.



Saturday, November 27, 2010

Let's clarify

Happy Thanksgiving!

The 25th was doubly significant since it also marks the four month mark of my trip, meaning I have a little over two weeks left in Brazil before I leave for Panama. It's been a very positive experience, and I'm going to miss it a lot.

This last week was my finals week, I only have a three-page poetic analysis left to do for Portuguese before I'm done with classes, and I think everything worked out fine in terms of school. I'll spend the rest of my time hanging out with people and finishing up the presentation I'll give on the sixth of December showing what I've found for my project in the economics lab. I will also being trying to figure out what exactly I did find during this period.

One of the difficult things about being abroad is knowing that there is a part of your personality that gets trapped in the cultural/language barrier present in the relationships between people of different countries. Learning to express oneself better and becoming more familiar with the foreigner's culture do a lot to diminish this effect; improved speaking abilities allow those who like to entertain to tell jokes and stories, or strange aspects that people just assumed to be individual peculiarities are discovered to be larger cultural characteristics. Nearing the end of my time here, the process of learning how to show people who I am has been one of the best, though challenging, parts of my experience. Yet despite the progress that has been made in this department, there are still some things that are stuck in that cultural "filter." The following are three points of confusion about me I think could use some explanation.

Point of Confusion: You were told that I was told that you live in the jungle.

Background: I mentioned a couple of months ago the rumor that Americans are taught that Brazil doesn't actually include the Amazon territory. Apparently, many people here have been told that we are taught that Brazilians literally live in the jungle, play with monkeys, and swing from vines. As a result, the American students are frequently asked if this is what we thought before coming here. I can understand the worry if this is what you've been told people from the United States think, though it does get a little tiresome on my end being asked a question that presupposes I didn't know anything about the country where I decided to spend a semester. Assuming that it were true, it would have been quite the surprise when I thought I was going to be going to school in a treehouse and live with rainforest animals but ended up living in a city with half a million people.

Clarification: I can't remember ever thinking that all Brazilians lived in the jungle.

Point of Confusion: You find my underwear flamboyant.

Background: Clothes dryers are a very American thing; and though I do miss the convenience of our appliances, airing drying clothes really isn't a big deal. One aspect of this system, however, is that you are frequently put up your entire wardrobe for everyone to appreciate. While this isn't weird for all the clothes that people see anyways, it can be a little awkward for the items people don't usually get to examine. I was never self conscious about my underwear until coming here, when my roommate's friend came over to the house and commented that my brightly colored collection of patterned boxers looked like "clown underwear." I had never thought about it before, but in the US men's underwear usually also has at least some sort of colorful pattern if not some other loud assortment of pictures or words. From what I can tell, I haven't asked to see my male friends' underwear while here, "clown underwear" is not as big of a deal here as it is in the States.

Clarification: My underwear is weird, but so is my compatriots'.

Point of Confusion: You think I look like Macaulay Culkin.

Background: This unfortunate association has been going on since my first night in Brazil. While crossing a street in Rio, we passed a group of about ten police men just hanging out and talking. After saying, "good evening" as we passed, one of the men pointed at my face and yelled "Macaulay Culkin!" We all then had a "conversation," which basically involved me standing there and a group of cops laughing and saying "Macaulay Culkin" over and over again. Another time, I was talking to some friends outside of the university restaurant, when someone said, "You really look like the guy from 'They Forgot Me.'" I had no idea what that meant, so then everyone clapped their hands to their face repeating, "They forgot me! They forgot me! They forgot me!"

Side note: "Esqueceram de mim" (They forgot me), is the Brazilian title for "Home Alone." When they translate movie titles here, they just end up coming up with a whole new title. I just looked up "Home Alone" on wikipedia in Portuguese, and in Portugal they say "Sozinho em casa" (Alone in home), so it's just a really weird Brazilian thing. Other weird examples of them doing this is for "The Hangover," which, despite having a word for hangover in Portuguese is called, "Se você beber, não case" (If you drink, don't get married) which just sounds like weird relationship advice. Even weirder, "Charlie's Angels" is called "As panteras" (the panthers), which makes literally no sense. It becomes really annoying when someone asks you if you've seen some movie, and despite understanding the title, you have no idea what they're referring to.

Anyway, I ended up finding out what "they forgot me" meant, and have been told this same thing since on several occasions since.

Clarification: You are mistaken.

Hope everyone had a great Turkey Day. We're having a dinner for our close Brazilian friends and relatives tonight to thank them for making our experience so great.

Feliz dia de ação de graças,


Friday, November 12, 2010

Brand names in foreign languages = risky

While picking the perfect brand name, foreign languages often present a viable option for marketers looking for an exotic touch. Though despite the potential advantages of marketing in another language, such a strategy presents considerable risks; namely, not knowing exactly what you're calling your product. The following are five of my favorite english-inspired brands that I've run into in Brazil whose names are just a little off, especially for an American with a very immature sense of humor. Photo credits go to Google Images, with a special shout-out to Athena who has spent countless hours in supermarkets with me during this trip laughing at this sort of thing.

1. Name: Splat. Product: Yogurt.

Naming food after the sounds they make is not uncommon, just look all the cereals with "crunch" in the name. However, I just don't think onomatopoeia is the best strategy for naming yogurt.

2. Name: Batmilk. Product: Yogurt.

This one is just a little confusing. I know everyone here knows what "bat" means, because people are talking about "the Batman" all the time, and "milk" is also not an obscure word, especially not for someone in the dairy industry. Unless this product comes from bats, I don't know how this could happen.

3. Name: Superballs. Product: Cereal.

My advice to all Brazilians in marketing, be very careful with the words "balls" and "nuts." Just read on...

4. Name: Sweet Nut Cream. Product: Cream made of nuts that is sweet.

I feel like there is a story behind this one. The lable on the container is in Spanish, so it has an international market, and I'm wondering if this has been given this name intentionally. In any case, I can't imagine sitting at the table with my family for breakfast, and asking my mother for some sweet nut cream since my toast is a little dry.

5. Name: Blowtex. Product: Condom.

I feel like most of the time, products that have to do with sex are given names that are suggestive without being explicit about their purpose. This would not be one of those cases.

Anyway, hope everyone is doing well. This is a busy week for me, I have a couple presentations these next few days and four of my five finals next week. It's hard to believe that things are wrapping up so soon, especially since I don't leave here for another month!



Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Things that almost makes sense....

I hope everyone had a great Halloween, I was missing it down here! Brazil only celebrates the "Day of the Deceased," which sounds like it could be similiar but is decidedly less cool. As described by my roommate, this holiday involves "people going to church while it rains." Apparently the weather always cooperates with this second piece. Interesting? Yes. A little creepy? Certainly. Fun as dressing up in costumes? Questionable. It meant that we got time off from school though, so I got over its shortcomings pretty quickly.

People often talk about elements of languages that are untranslatable. The most famous example in Portuguese is the word saudade, usually approximated with English's longing, yearning or nostalgia. Yet despite it's weight, this word is used all the time. For example, you wouldn't usually say that you miss someone, but rather that you long for that person. It's very fun and dramatic, and Portuguese speakers take pride in this word which constitutes an important part of poetry and song and is emblematic of an unique passion of this language. I just like hearing it when someone says they yearn for my presence.

Personally, however, what I find most entertaining are words are phrases that almost translate. For example, the informal way of saying "hello" in Portuguese is oi. I always just figured you could substitute it for "hey," and would use it to get people's attention even if we'd been spending time together beforehand. Oi, however, really is just an informal "hello," and is therefore only used when greeting someone. So, instead of saying things like, "Hey Felipe, can you pass me the rice?" I spent weeks saying, "Hello, Felipe. Can you pass me the rice?", even though we had already been eating lunch for twenty minutes. The following are a couple of my other favorite "almost-translatable's".

Mais louco que o Batman (Crazier than the Batman, usually in reference to a drunk person)

I'm not sure why, but in Brazil Batman is singled out as the standard for crazy. I looked this up on "Informal Dictionary," the Portuguese equivalent to our "Urban Dictionary," to figure out if there was a reason why this particular superhero was chosen for this type of comparison. The description read, "He's a millionaire who fell down a well and became afraid of bats but then decided to dress up as one and fight crime. That's pretty crazy." I guess I agree, though Spiderman's story is like ten times crazier than Batman's and Bruce Wayne always struck me as a pretty level-headed guy.

A gente (The people)

In informal speech, instead of saying "us," you can also say "the people." So, saying "we are really hungry," and "the people are really hungry," literally mean the same thing. It sounds hilarious in English, and thus has become the American's new favorite joke when speaking to each other to substitute "the people" when talking about ourselves.

Porra (Semen)

This is one of the most common vulgar words here and, like the f-bomb, is used so often that it's actual meaning isn't even considered when spoken. Que porra é essa, for example, would be translated to "what the hell is that," though it really means, "what semen is that." Another example would be, essa mulher não esquece de porra nenhuma, which means, "that woman doesn't forget a damn thing," but reads, "that woman doesn't forget any sperm." Not that our swear words make much sense, but it's funny for people learning this language to think about what's actually being said in such circumstances.

This last weekend I went to a national park in the state of Rio de Janeiro. It was super fun hiking and we spent the night in a cabin near the summit of a mountain with some awesome views. I've put up pictures on Picasa and included two here.

From Blog pictures

From Blog pictures



Wednesday, October 27, 2010

School and the Orphanage

Three months down, a little under two left, and the time couldn't be going any faster.

Though you wouldn't know it from reading my posts from the last two months, I actually am still enrolled in school here. Things at UFJF have been going smoothly for the most part, so I don't have a ton to share on the subject, but I thought it'd be good to update on what I usually do during the week.

The hardest part of school here is getting there. I live a block away from the bus stop, and the drive is maybe fifteen minutes from my house, but it will still sometimes take me at least forty-five minutes to get to class. Especially early in the morning, the city simply does not have enough buses to comfortably transport everyone to the university. As a result, they pack the buses here until you literally cannot fit another person inside. I'll be waiting for a ônibus and as many as three going to UFJF will drive by without stopping; unable to fit anymore passengers with students just crammed up against the glass of the door. It's way better on Thursday and Friday when I don't have class at eight, but the first three days of the week I get to have some very intimate bonding with my new compatriots. The bus ride there involves many curves, taken much too quickly, and a pretty steep hill. Remember playing that game in the back seat of the car where two people would lean really hard with the curves in the road, crushing the third against the door? It's kind of like that, just more fun since you play with sixty people you don't know. I brought my camera last week to document the whole ordeal, but I didn't want to use the flash because a candid early-morning photo shoot seemed like it may freak out my fellow passengers. As a result, the picture below turned out pretty psychedelic. Hopefully my artistic inspiration comes across: the presence of many bodies in a small metal space.

From Blog pictures

My classes are going well. The most challenging part of understanding them is paying attention; I have to really make an effort to focus on what the professor is saying but inevitably drift off at some point only to return to reality a couple of minutes later not knowing what we're talking about. In order to raise morale in my two economic history classes, the professor has decided that we will have periodic group presentations where the whole class receives the grade of the presenters. I'm looking forward to the look on everyone's faces when it's my turn, knowing that their fate is being decided by my ability to articulate concepts in economics. I actually learn quite of bit of Portuguese in my Spanish class; I sit with two girls who point out to me when the other Brazilians' errors are due to slight differences between the two languages. My Brazilian literature class is cool; we're now giving presentations on important contemporary poets and songwriters and last week I presented on Caetano Veloso with two other students.

My project in the economics lab is also going well. The highlight is the free cookies and coffee, though I tend to go a little overboard with this perk. Right now we just finished reviewing variables in the database we're going to use and will start to run some basic statistics about the countries we've chosen to analyze. The professor who's supervising us is super nice and I'm really enjoying collaborating on the project.

I'm also doing a lot of learning outside the classroom. Speaking Portuguese is usually a positive experience save the moments I inadvertently say widely inappropriate phrases. The other day, instead of ask the head of the international students office if she was planning on doing her masters degree, I inquired if she was planning on menstruating in the near future. I'm sure she appreciated my concern. Even worse was when asked by a guy if I had studied Portuguese before coming here, I responded that I had spent twenty hours in Minnesota doing a "little asshole" instead of a "little course." Thank you, diminutive suffixes, for making me sound like the creepiest pervert ever.

I was able to travel again last weekend, with two of the Americans and one of our Brazilian friends, to the colonial town Ouro Prêto. This city is known for its role in the Brazilian gold boom during the 18th century and is filled with amazing architecture connected by winding, and very confusing, cobble-stone streets. Apart from the tourist appeal, Ouro Prêto is also famous for its myriad "repúblicas," university student housing that could roughly be conceptualized as Brazilian fraternities. Using the website Coach Surfer, where you can coordinate with people to stay in their houses for free while traveling, we ended up staying in a república during our stay in the nearby town of Mariana. It was a super fun way to travel, though modest at times, since we arrived already knowing people who could show us around. Our república was called "the Orphanage," and we had a great time hanging out with the orphans as well as meeting other travelers staying there, including a Dutch guy our age who just finished meditating with Hare Krishna's for a month. I put up pictures of the whole thing on my web album.

From Blog pictures

Hope all is well,


Monday, October 18, 2010

The Fashion Edition

Manner of dress is usually a salient indicator of a person's foreign status in another country, something which I personally do an excellent job of reminding people. For example, on Juiz de Fora's "cold days," (60-65 degrees Fahrenheit), I typically show up to class in shorts, sandals and a t-shirt while everyone else is dressed in jackets, sweaters and jeans. There was also no planning whatsoever in terms of what clothes I brought down here, I hastily packed the day before, which resulted in a rather skewed color representation within my wardrobe. Having just counted, I brought 24 shirts to Brazil. Eleven, effectively half of my shirts, are either white or yellow, seven are blue, and one is striped blue-white. Only six fall outside this color scheme. It's not even as though I have that many yellow shirts, I just happen to have brought every single one I own to this country. Whatever, I've just made underdressing in only three colors my new thing.

Even considering my own eccentricities, o Brasil is no stranger to interesting fashion trends. The following are some of the standouts, of which I've included some pictures from Google Images to help illustrate.


Reinforcing the international stereotype, Brazilians really do love their bikinis and sungas (speedos). But what the picture above doesn't communicate is that this trend isn't specific to any age or body type; you're as likely to see a large elderly lady wearing a bikini as some sexy young thing, and grandpas and beach-studs alike sport equally skimpy sungas. One-pieces on ladies are not common at all, though longer swimsuits on guys are a little more prevalent (especially on foreigners). I think this inclusive aspect of the Brazilian beaches is great, and definitely suggests a different dynamic in terms of the amount of skin we deem appropriate for older or larger people to show in public. This being said, I have not bought a sunga; I just think it looks too funny when guys wear only a shirt over their speedo and it looks like they're naked.


From Blog pictures

Also stereotypical is the ubiquity of this popular brand of flip-flops; it is estimated that five out of every six Brazilians consumes at least one pair of these a year (thank you, Wikipedia). You see them all over at the beach, but where people really use these is just hanging out inside the house. And they're cheap; depending on the style, you can get a pair here for six or seven dollars. I never bought Havaianas in the States, but I've been told they're considerably more expensive. In fact, we met a guy the other day from England who said he paid thirty pounds for a pair in the UK, about five times the Brazilian price. I have bought a pair of chinelos (flip-flops), as those are my white legs in the picture above.

Retro Lady Spandex

When it's workout time, the women here are all about the knee-length spandex, which comes in the most hilariously 80's patterns you can imagine. There must be some unspoken rule that girls aren't allowed to workout in anything that's not totally tubular, because these things are everywhere. Someone who's actually lived through the 80's may disagree with this association, but in my mind, that decade looked just like a Brazilian woman's thighs on a stationary bike.

Diaper Pants

While looking for a picture on the internet, I have since discovered that this style of pants is actually called "drop crotch," though for us American students they will always be known as "diaper pants." Used by both men and women, these things just confuse me. Do you need more breathing room? Do you keep your purse there? Someone should tell me if these are a thing in the States, since I'm pretty sure I've never seen them in Minnesota or Montana. I considered ironically buying a pair, but they're super expensive and it just really wouldn't be that funny if I did. Also surprising, Google Image searching "Brazilian pants" turned out to be more of a educational experience than I would have expected. Turns out, adding "Brazilian" to any piece of clothing in an English search is enough to make you blush.

"English for the sake of English" shirts

These are definitely not unique to Brazil, but I thought they deserved a mention since they can be so over the top funny. From what I've seen, placing English, regardless of the phrase, on a piece of clothing can be a major selling point. Frequently, however, the messages that people end up wearing come across as hilarious to native speakers. For girls, they usually say something like, "Fierce and Fabulous, Yes I Am!," and for boys, "I like hot girls and cold beer!" I saw my absolute favorite one the other day on some middle school girl:

[ ] Clothes
[ ] Cute Boys
[ ] Fun Parties
[ ] Cats and Dogs
[√] All of the Above!

That's right honey, don't just settle on the cute boys when there are cats and dogs to be had.

Hope all is well, keep it fab.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"They just hang out in a house and fight with each other"

In terms of scripted TV drama, most people associate Latin America with the novela, soap operas famous for their popularity and over-the-top acting. Brazil, along with Mexico, is one of the most important producers of these shows which command a significant portion of the airwaves here. However, if you're looking for a good bout of television backstabbing, you can't overlook Brazilian reality TV.

My roommate and I have started following two reality shows here, both originally based on American programs. The first is called "Hipertensão," (hypertension), inspired by the show "Fear Factor." In the American version, each "episode" consists of a group of people competing for a sum of money which is awarded to the contestant able to complete three challenges in the shortest period of time. These tests follow more or less the same format; typically involving eating something gross, doing something high in the air, and getting tied to something heavy and being dropped into water. In the Brazilian show, this aspect is basically the same save for the presence of thong bikinis, which I'm pretty sure aren't allowed in American shows. Also of difference is that in "Hipertensão," you follow the same group of people across an entire season and, despite being aired everyday, there are only challenges on Thursdays and Sundays. I asked my roommate what happens during the other five days of the week, to which he responded that during those episodes, "the people hang out in a house and fight with each other."

The other show we follow is "A Fazenda," (the farm), which apparently also comes from an American version, though I never watch this and so am unable to provide a comparison between the two. The show here consists of a group of celebrities who live together on a farm and divide their time between several activities: about 5% is spent doing farm work, 10% working out, 25% is for challenges that are vaguely farm-themed, and 60% is spent sitting on couches gossiping or fighting. It should be noted that the people are allowed to gossip during the chores and exercise parts and most of the challenges are meant to get people mad at each other. Last week, for example, the contestants had to dress up in blue jump suits and throw horseshoes into the buckets with the names of the people they would like to leave the farm. Things got pretty tense...

While it's fun just hanging out and watching some girl in a g-string bikini get covered in tarantulas, all the fights in these programs are nearly impossible to understand. Anyone who has traveled can attest to the difficulties of understanding a foreign language under certain circumstances, some of the worst being: crowded places, right after waking up, conversations involving many people, joke telling, and listening to intoxicated individuals. Fights are especially bad since everyone gets worked up and speaks super quickly with a ton of swearing and slang. It would be very helpful for me if we could get some sort of judge or a mediator in there to get everyone to look into the camera and calmly explain why they're feeling upset.

Yesterday was Children's Day, aka. the best holiday ever. For me, it meant a five day weekend spent in Ilha Grande (big island), in Rio state. I rented a house with five Argentines, so I got to practice my Spanish, and we hung out with a larger group of two other Argentines, one of the other Americans studying in Juiz de Fora, and sixteen Brazilians. The weather was not cooperative at all, it was overcast the entire time expect for the last day, but we still had a ton of fun and the beaches were beautiful regardless. You can see some pictures I put up here.

From Blog pictures

Oh, and while playing soccer the other day, I literally scored the first goal of my life.

Um abraço,


Monday, October 4, 2010

Apparently they don't let Americans vote here

Some may have already heard that Brazil had its first round of elections yesterday. Going forward, all the races where a candidate did not win with over 50% of the vote will be repeated on the 31st with all but the top two finishers eliminated. Of obvious importance and visibility will be the presidential runoff between Dilma Rousseff, the current president's former chief of staff, and José Serra, former governor of the state of São Paulo. Dilma finished first last night with about 46% of the vote, but was not able to command a majority due in large part to a strong performance by the Evangelical green candidate, Marina Silva. It will be interesting to see how Marina's votes are divided between the two remaining candidates in the weeks to come.

A couple of people have asked me about how my friends here feel about election. Among the young people I've talked to here, the most prevalent attitude has been a general discontent with the candidates this cycle, with education topping the list as their most important issue. As such, most of my Brazilian friends reluctantly voted for Serra and Marina; though I do know a handful of die-hard fans of the current government who enthusiastically voted for Dilma.

Here, the process is done exclusively by machine. You only vote for about 6 candidates each election with no referendums or initiatives, but you must make sure you've written down the specific two to six digit code for each candidate beforehand. As you enter each number into the machine, a picture of the candidate pops up on the screen and you push "enter." It's much quicker more entertaining than filling out fifty little bubbles while feeling bad about not having researched any of the city council candidates you're supporting.

Voting is obligatory for all people over 18, optional for 16 and 17 year olds, so I was feeling a little left out by when all my friends had to go vote yesterday. So, I went with my friend Lucas and we asked the officials if I could help him vote. I was denied. All I wanted to do was type in the codes for Lucas and press enter, but they only allowed me to watch. I tried to argue, but the people working there were not convinced by my argument that parents are allowed to let their kids type in the codes for them. Stupid electoral laws.

In terms of "experiencing" the election thus far, I occasionally watch the presidential debates with my roommate as well as "political hour," a daily period of time in which stations are required to give free programming to candidates and literally air nothing but political ads. Yet above all else, my engagement with Brazilian politics has been dominated by one particular form of media: the jingle. Candidates here hire people to decorate their cars or bicycles with stickers and posters of their face, strap huge speakers to the top of their vehicle, and drive around playing highly annoying and sappy songs about their qualifications that are impossible to get out of your head. As a result, we're always quietly singing to ourselves about how bright our future will be once we elect some candidate for senator or governor.

As an amateur analyst, I have specified three fundamental characteristics of an effective Brazilian jingle:

1. It must be played very loudly and very frequently
2. It must be as catchy as possible
3. It should contain as many words from the following list as possible: friend, smiles, experience, growth, progress, family, future, trust, happiness, the right choice, the right vote, the right guy

To demonstrate, I've embedded a youtube video of a jingle from the campaign of Antônio Anastasia, who just replaced the current popular governor, Aécio Neves, of my state, Minas Gerais. This is about all the information you need to understand the lyrics. I particularly like how creepy and weird the video is.

Amigo que é amigo (A true friend)

Minas grew, and may it keep growing
you can choose our future
Anastasia, the right vote to win
we are going to write our history together
A true friend, that we trust
I want this one, I want Anastasia
and our days, will be of much happiness
with Anastasia we will win

He know what progress is, he is a professor
Aécio approves Anastasia for governor
All that needs doing, will be done,
Anastasia as governor, with him I go
He knows what progress is, he is a professor
Aécio approves Anastasia for governor
All that needs doing, will be done
Anastasia as governor, with him I go

My favorite part is when he cites his credentials as a professor to prove that he knows what progress is.

Anyway, hope all is well and everyone hasn't been going too insane because of American-style election madness.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Brazil and I celebrate our two-month anniversary: reflections on our relationship

Last week marked the completion of two months in Brazil; the time is flying. As of now, I'm a little under the half-way point for the Brazilian leg of the trip and about a quarter of the way through my entire abroad experience.

Stay in a place long enough, and it becomes a part of you. Here are some of the habits I've picked up over the past two months, how I've affected this country since my arrival, and the subjects on which Brazil and I still just won't see eye-to-eye.

How Brazil has affected me:

1. Thumbs up and hang loose: Hand gestures and other non-verbal forms of communication constitute important parts of learning a language, and Portuguese is no exception. My favorite gesture thus far is for something that isn't just full, but REALLY full (ie. every bus I take to the university). This is done by opening and closing your hand, keeping you fingers straight and meeting your fingertips to your thumb. Another entertaining one is the gesture for sex, which for some reason is communicated by a movement that looks like knocking on an imaginary door with the tips of your four fingers. Try it; if it looks like your imitating a bird pecking at something, you're doing it correctly. It's beyond me how this became associated with the action it represents.

Just like any word, however, a gesture in one country may mean something totally different, and possibly offensive, in another. While one of our most common gestures, the "OK!" sign can be interpreted in other cultures as an less-than-polite reference to a particular bodily orifice. As a result, travelers to Brazil are often warned not to respond to someone in this manner regardless of their good intentions. I don't think I ever used the "ok" sign in the States, but for some reason, not being able to now has made me compensate by over-using other affirmative hand gestures; namely, the "thumbs up" and the "hang loose" (the one surfers use where you stick your pinky and thumb out like an imaginary telephone). Both of these are used here, though not exceedingly often, so I'm perplexed as to why I can't stop telling people to "hang loose" all the time.

2. Board shorts: One male fashion trend here is to wear board shorts like a normal piece of clothing, not just while surfing or hanging out on the beach. As a result, I've started wearing my bright blue and yellow floral Hawaiian-pattern swimming suit as I hang around the house, go to the grocery store and do other errands. The look is complemented well by my new "hang loose" habit.

My contributions to brazilian society:

1. Teaching American geography: The first time someone asked me if I knew that the Amazon was in Brazil before arriving, I laughed it off. The second time, I was worried about how ignorant I was actual coming across here. The third time, I knew something bigger was at play. After that, I stopped counting.

Apparently, there is a pervasive rumor that American schools teach students that the Amazon is actually politically international territory and have maps with that region excluded from Brazil's borders. As such, the other American students and I are frequently asked if this was the case in our education. At this point I'm getting ready to respond that it was, just to see the reaction. Until then, we've all just started cutting people off when the conversation goes in that direction:

"Let me ask you a question (all questions here start like that), in your school, did they teach you that...."

"NO! IT'S YOURS! I know it belongs to you!"

The sad part is that this rumor, albeit ridiculous, contains an element of truth. As many Americans do know, the region is vastly exploited by international companies and local power figures, and as a result is one of the least governable areas of the country.

2. Single-handedly raising the internal demand of bananas and cheese: In the Brazilian meal schedule, there is typically an afternoon "snack" or coffee break since dinner is eaten much later than it is in the States. One of the most common snacks here is the "misto quente", literally translated to a "hot mix", basically just a grilled cheese with ham. As a team, my roommate Felipe and I consume an obscene amount of certain staples and chief among them is the "hot mix". I actually don't feel comfortable offering an estimate of how many of these things we eat; but rest assured it's not just during the afternoon that our little electric grill is being put to use.

The other pillar of our diet consists of bananas; which are super cheap and Felipe's favorite fruit. Looking back I suppose it was only natural that our two principal food groups would be combined, but I was still surprised the first time I was offered a banana hot mix (sans ham, obviously, we do have standards). They are actually good, in the "I can't believe I'm eating this" way that only mozzarella and white bread can provide.

And my ongoing conflicts with this country:

Motoboys: Brazil is not unique in that it has much scarier traffic than what we're used to in the US. However, the specific danger in crossing the streets here is the veritable army of motorcycle delivery boys, "motoboys", in Juiz de Fora. These individuals feel compelled to disregard all traffic guidelines while going twice as fast as all other forms of transportation. Since I don't have a car and don't take the bus unless absolutely necessary, I spend much of my day trying not to get plowed over by some kid with a dirt bike loaded up with Chinese food.

The large quantity of motoboys is due to the fact that you can get almost anything delivered here: from arabic food, pasta, hamburgers, beer to even ice. People are always surprised when I tell them that we don't have delivery McDonald's in the US like they do here, and the more I think about it, I also am.

Air kissing: Similar to the hand gestures discussion, travelers in countries that greet with alternating kisses on the cheek should do some research beforehand to ascertain the appropriate quantities for given situations. Getting this wrong is unavoidably awkward.

When you stop air kissing too soon, the other person leans in, realizes you've had enough, then quickly moves their head back. However, by this time, you're now trying to compensate, so you're all puckered-up and moving back in to make things right. But wait, they've already retracted, so you snap back to your original position. If things are really going poorly, they've taken this as a cue that you actually do want to reach that magic number of air kisses that makes this greeting culturally legitimate. And so it goes on... When you air kiss too many times, the same scenario is triggered with the roles reversed. Though these situations are uncomfortable for all parties, since you are a foreigner and have no idea what the hell you're doing, the fault is always 100% yours.

For American men, the sensation is more or less like when you greet a distant male relative after a period of time, shake hands, can't decide if hugging is ok, and just end up squeezing each others' elbows or something comparably uncomfortable.

Enter Brazil, where from what I can tell the magic number is "less than or equal to 2." When you meet someone new, you need to quickly size them up as a "onesie" or a "twosie;" err at the risk of starting your new friendship off on a uncomfortable note. I've developed a few loose guidelines at this point that seem to help: you're more likely to kiss twice when meeting someone for the first time, while you usually kiss once and give a side-hug for friends. When saying goodbye, just one farewell kiss will do the trick, unless you didn't kiss when you met each other, in which case you should probably go with two. Older women are also more two-kiss material, while younger women typically are just fine with a single, yet you'll eventually run into the friend's aunt who just isn't into what you're offering in the air kiss department and will have one peck to-go thankyouverymuch. I also have no idea what this is like for newcomers who aren't twenty-one year old males; for all I know two kisses are always exchanged between women and people over forty-five. So until I get the hang of this a little more, a part of me wishes everyone was as awkward about touching as Americans are.

I've put up pictures and videos from this weekend. I went to my friend Lucas' godmother's dairy farm (I will you have you know that I guessed correctly with two kisses for this greeting). Highlights included:

Two wonderful nights of sleep
Horse racing
Cow milking
Finding the best tree for climbing ever
Hanging out with friends
Playing with Great Dane puppies

You can access my pictures here, and my video page on the right border of the blog. I've put up a video of me dominating at the horse racing, and me doing an absolutely terrible job milking a cow. The latter video confirms the fact that this activity is about unflattering for the milker as it is for the animal.

Hope all is well,


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cam sees the president, is puzzled by modern art

Despite its frustrations, there is an entertaing element of being out of the "loop." Since I usually only hear about big events or parties the day before, it always feels like we're all being really spontaneous together despite all the planning that has taken place without my notice. For example, on Thursday a friend asked me if I was going to see the President the following day during his visit to the University.

"The president of what?"

"Ummm, the country."

"I guess so, yeah." What a nice surprise for him to drop by so unexpectedly....

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is kind of a big deal. In the final months of his eight-year tenure, "Lula" currently enjoys approval ratings around the mid-eighties; not bad for a guy who dropped out of school before the fifth grade and didn't learn to read until age ten. He's typically contrasted with his Venezuelan counterpart as an example of the "good" left in Latin America, as his administration has been marked by sharp decreases in poverty and inequality and impressive economic expansion. He has quite the story; working his way up through organized labor in Brazil's automobile industry (he lost his pinky finger in a factory accident), before becoming one of the nation's most powerful syndicalists and founding the country's Worker's Party. Though elected in 2002, his presidential ambitions had previously resulted in several failed bids dating back to 1989. As a result, his image often emphasizes his tenacity and ascension from the ranks of the Brazilian poor.

Lula came to tour some new buildings on campus and gave a speech afterwards that was open to the public. The lead-up to the appearance had most the aspects I've come to expect of any sort of event here: everything started an hour late and there was a band that played Beatles' covers. Since I got there thirty minutes early, which was almost an hour and half early in actuality, I got a pretty good spot to see him. It was super interesting to hear about higher education from a man who had never had the opportunity to go to college. Like some past American presidents we know, his speech is famous for its mistakes and "unpolished" nature, and he jokingly began by commenting on how his university audience was going to "analyze" all of the errors he was going to make in Portuguese. Well, no need to worry about this audience member providing any such analysis.

Yet any lack of refinement did not keep Lula from effectively working up the crowd. He's very easy to understand and is a passionate speaker, making it quite the experience to witness. We're currently in the throws of picking his successor, so the speech was dedicated to talking not only about the contributions of his party to education, but to all aspects of the country. I lucked out with the timing of his visit, this is the first time he's come to Juiz de Fora during his presidency. All in all, it was an excellent way to spend my Friday afternoon and I'm looking forward to seeing who or what will "randomly" appear next. Here is a picture of me looking foolish with Lula behind me and a close up of him speaking

The rest of my weekend was spent in the state capital, Belo Horizonte. I was invited by some friends who study architecture to go with their class to a huge modern art museum on Saturday. This "museum" is actually a 90-acre park filled with crazy structures, buildings and galleries, some of which I've put up pictures on Picasa. My favorite building was a round pavilion on top of a hill that offered an excelent view of the surrounding park and city. Inside, visitors sat on a bench that ran around the structure and listened to the magnified rumbling sounds that came out of a narrow hole that ran 600 feet into the ground. The exhibit was called, "Sounds of the Earth." I think it was my favorite because it's the only piece of modern art I'm moderately sure I understood.

While super nice, the professor leading the trip was also quite the character. He would often stop conversation to loudly declare that "we need to smoke a cigarette!" while taking a Marlboro out of his bag. He would not, however, lite said cigarette. He still took long, dramatic drags and would blow out imaginary smoke, often while chatting up a group of people who were smoking the more traditional way. After a while, he would decide that he had had "enough!", and would replace the cigarette in his bag. During one of his "smoking" session I asked him what exactly he was doing, to which he matter-of-factly responded that he stopped smoking lit cigarettes when he was thirty-five. Like I said, "Sounds of the Earth" was about the only part of the modern art trip I really felt I had a handle on.

Hope all is well,


Monday, September 13, 2010

Bonbon disaster

Regardless of the country, regaining your academic focus after a long weekend is never easy. As such, my first day back at the university last week was characterized by my use of all sorts of delay tactics to put off reviewing dense economics articles for my research project. After checking my email for the third time in ten minutes, I decided that my hard work merited a bonbon. These chocolate treats are sold all over in the university "cantinas," which resemble those DECA stores where everyone bought ramen noodles and hot pockets at in high school. So I left "Determinants of city growth in Brazil" open on my screen, so passersby would know that I had at least located the article I was supposed to be wrestling with, and energetically made my way to the nearest bonbon outpost.

As I triumphantly walked out of the cantina, already three bites deep, I looked down and saw that instead of "doce de leite," my bonbon was filled with copious amounts of mold. A fit of spitting and hacking ensued right in the middle of the patio where all the law and economics students hang out between classes. Thankfully, the only witnesses to me emptying the contents of my mouth and throat were three girls quietly sitting at a table drinking diet Coke. Having already effectively got their attention, I thought it was an apt moment to explain why I just covered the ground with chocolately saliva.

I can only cram so many Portuguese words into my head a day and, not surprisingly, "mold" up until this point had never struck me as particularly important vocabulary priority. As a result, my strategy for communicating what had just happened was sticking my arm out, bonbon in hand, while saying: "it has... it has.... it has..." However, the girls did not inspect the contents of my bonbon, they were too busy staring at the chocolate all over my face and teeth. What's more, saying "it has," "you have," and the command "have," are all communicated by the word "tem". Since I was not providing any context for my verb conjugation, my repetition of this single word was not perceived as an attempt to explain what my bonbon "had," but rather as a command that my three new friends take the treat from my hand.

As can be expected, the girls were not particularly interested in trying the other half of the bonbon they had just seen me practically vomit up, and very politely declined my offer. It was only after hearing, "I'm fine, thank you," several times did I become aware that I was aggressively offering my bonbon to these girls instead of effectively explaining my freakout two minutes prior. Realizing this, however, did not help me think of a new way to communicate the word "mold," but rather made me repeat "tem... tem... tem..." louder and with more urgency. The story ends with me reentering the cantina to bargain for a bottle of water, you aren't supposed to drink tap water here and my mouth really needed a rinsing, while leaving the girls without any explanation whatsoever of why I had acted in that manner. What's more, I have no absolutely no recollection of what those girls look like. I probably passed by one of them today as I went to class, blissfully ignorant as she thought, "oh God, it's the crazy from the cantina."

In other news, this last weekend was an absolute blast. I went to a nearby state park with our friend Lucio, the one who took us to the soccer game in Rio a couple weeks ago. Lucio is a biology student who just got published in a Brazilian journal for his research about snakes in this park, and he and his fellow researchers spent all of Saturday and Sunday showing the Americans and another one of our Brazilian friends around. This is the first time I've ever lived in a city, so it was literally a blast of fresh air being outside again. We spent hours walking from one swimming hole to another, while hearing about the local plants and animals from people our age who knew a ton about the area's biology. The park, Ibitipoca, is a favorite among locals in Juiz de Fora on account of its many waterfalls and caves, and I've put up pictures for anyone who's interested, as well as a some poorly taken videos, (it never occurred to me that you shouldn't flip the camera on its side while filming....) It was one of those trips where all the preparations just work out in your favor; we had no plans going into the weekend, just happened upon an opportunity to see this place we had heard so much about, and were there by the next morning.

And in case you're wondering, the word for mold in Portuguese is "mofo," as in, "moldy bonbons make me act like a crazy mofo."

Hope all is well. Shout out to my Carleton friends that started classes today!


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Capitalizing on a long weekend to confront adolescent insecurities

My roommate commented the other day, "Cam, you're running away from playing soccer." Despite my indignant response to his allegation, he was absolutely correct. I'm all about cultural immersion and trying new things, but soccer has never been my "thing." Like any American youth, I played the game growing up, just never very well. The last nail in the coffin of my already lackluster career was placed when I was literally the only 14 year-old cut from a group of forty boys trying out for the spring traveling league, (they couldn't justify placing me in either the A or the B team). Apart from effectively convincing me to seek out my talents in other activities, such experiences soured my relationship with "the futebol" and I've been disinclined to play much ever since.

In the States, this was never really an issue. Here, this is an issue.

My repertoire of lame excuses for turning down invitations to pick-up soccer games has failed thus far to effectively convince anyone that I'm not a total weirdo for not falling over myself to play this sport whenever I have a free moment. My two most common responses to the "do you like futebol" question are typically:

"I LOVE soccer, watching it is super fun!" and "I like playing soccer, I just prefer individual sports." Translation: I have the coordination of a newborn fawn, so when I choose to look like a fool and exercise, I do it by myself.

The conversation then is usually doused with another layer of emasculation when I'm asked if anyone in my family plays the game; "oh yeah, my little sister just finished a summer playing on a boys' team in Paraguay..." My sibling is also the reason why my other backup story: "soccer was forbidden in my household because my mother said it was the Devil's game," was never particularly believable. I can't even blame not wanting to participate on culture differences, since the only other American male on the trip played through high school and has got some skills. Whenever you read short or stereotypical descriptions of Brazil, the obsession with futebol is almost always followed by some description of the country's illustrious Carnival celebrations. Yet, why am I never asked if I like flamboyant street parties every time I meet someone new?

I know what you're thinking, Brazil is the perfect place to confront my soccer issues! While impossible to find a place more passionate about the game, the self-proclaimed "soccer capital of the world" is also a rather intimidating place to start playing again. If I'm going to pick up some sport, I want to do it with other spastic nerds not a bunch of baby Pelé's.

Anyone who's read thus far would agree that it was time for my pity party to end. I choose to come to Brazil, I can hardly act surprised that I'm being asked to play soccer. The more important question is what pride I'm afraid I'm going to lose; I spend most of the waking day looking foolish. Every time I arrive at class in shorts, sandals and a t-shirt while everyone else is in jeans and winter jackets, accidentally order something crazy in a restaurant, or just speak in general for that matter, I'm acting out the "weird foreigner" routine that every exchange student does so well. I hardly have a reputation at stake. So, this past Saturday, I bit the bullet and went with Felipe to play with his friends.

For a country that loves this sport, it's shockingly difficult to find a place to play in Juiz de Fora. We, for example, had to rent out an indoor court since fields, even small ones, are expensive and hard to book. These court games, called "futsal" (foo-chee-sau) instead of futebol, are definitely different from the game that I remember as middle schooler. Like indoor soccer, everything is super compact, moves really quickly and the ball is smaller but heavy. As a result, the game favors your ball-handling skills. Perfect....

I was telling people that I would be a valuable asset on their teams since my soccer muscles should be well rested after my eight year hiatus, but my poor delivery of an already weak joke put an end to those antics. Anyway, I had more important things to concentrate on than my thinly veiled attempts to remind everyone around me that I hardly ever play and my skills were speaking just fine for themselves. Thankfully, the upside to such a small court was that I was constantly running into people and about half of the time the individuals I was getting in the way of were from the other team. My performance peaked my first time as goalie when someone kicked that heavy damn little ball right towards my face. I suppose they were probably aiming for the general goal area, though this worked out well since my reflexes to protect myself also prevented them from scoring.

In short, the whole thing turned out exactly as was to be expected. I played like a person that doesn't play soccer very often, and everyone was super nice, supportive and generally seemed glad that I was there. Brazilians simply love soccer; and showing interest and excitement for something that they feel passionately about is almost always going to be received positively, regardless of my skill level. Though not an important part of my life, this sport is an integral aspect of the culture here and it was overdue that I accept the gracious invitation to participate. So, I think I'm going to start playing with this group on Saturdays. I'll let you know when I go professional.

My photo and video updates are from this weekend. Today is both Brazil's and Garrett's birthday, so we got a four-day break from school. We started the mini-vacation off by going to the "German Party" on Friday. Brazil has a large population of German descendants, especially in the southern chunk of the country, so in one of the neighborhoods here they had an appropriately themed street party. On Saturday, we went to our professor's birthday party at one of the clubs here in Juiz de Fora. Yesterday, we had a big churrasco (barbecue) for Garrett's birthday. All of Felipe's family is in town, and Felipe and his girlfriend have been planning this for weeks, so it ended up being quite the event. It was a super fun weekend and I've really enjoyed getting to know my extended Brazilian family.



Monday, August 30, 2010

A month deep...

I've officially past the one month mark on my trip! Reflecting on this benchmark reminds me of a lot of the same feelings I experienced after my first month in Panama four years ago. Indeed, the one month mark is an interesting one. While a significant block of time to spend abroad, too long to be deemed a vacation or trip, it can feel very short at the same time. For instance, I wouldn't say I've "lived" in Brazil at this point, and even asserting I've "studied" here feel premature given my limited participation in my classes. I have met a ton of new people, from Brazil and Argentina to Colorado and Japan, and now have friends outside of my program with whom I go out and enjoy spending time. Nevertheless, I can't help but feel that I'm missing out on another priceless social experience as I watch the stream of Facebook statuses announcing my friends' arrival to Carleton for the fall. In respect to my Portuguese, I have learned a ton; every day represents an opportunity to learn myriad new vocabulary words and practice formulating sentences, pronouncing weird new sounds and learning the "melody" of the speech. Yet, I feel stuck in a weird contradiction where, due to learning words in my classes or to their similarity to English or Spanish counterparts, I know how to say "policies of import substitution industrialization" but not "mop," all the while not speaking quickly nor pronouncing anything particularly well.

I think the one month mark is significant because it represent that point where you start settling in for the long haul. I know that learning a language takes practice, and that my friends at school and Bozeman will be there when I get back, I'm just getting used to the fact that all this isn't as temporary as a part of me would like. Studying abroad and getting to know other cultures is exhilarating and exciting, yet inherently uncomfortable. I'm very thankful for such an energizing and fun experience, but at the same time still yearn for the comforts of the things I already know; be them people, places, food or languages. Yet there is an excitement inherent in this part of the journey, as I'm settling into a new routine and life, while afforded time to make lasting connections.

Nevertheless, there are some simple things here I still am having difficulties getting a hang of even after five or so weeks. Here's a list of some of the more significant ones.

Military time: The fact of the matter is, it's just simply is NOT as easy as subtracting twelve. When I look at the time on my cell phone, I'm not looking for a math problem, I'm wondering how late for class I am because of the bus. 22 o'clock will just never be 10 PM in my head...

Getting through doors: The word for "pull" in Portuguese, in the form which appears on doors, is "puxe," pronounced "pushy." My routine while entering or leaving a building now goes something like this: I walk up to a door, read "pushy," laugh at how funny that sounds, then walk into the door.

Telling people what I study: Not even going into the liberal arts schtick ("we all study a little of EVERYTHING at my school"), explaining my Latin American studies major never ceases to be a point of confusion. Translating the name of this area of study doesn't ever really help, I always need to explain what that name even means; a process that always takes a little while and never seems very satisfactory for my interrogator. My short answers have thus become: history, political science, economics, and "you."

Understanding English words: By far, the most confusing misunderstandings I've had with people here are when they say an English word while I think they're speaking in Portuguese. Their accent doesn't even need to be that bad; I just simply will not understand what they're saying while racking my brain for this seemingly bizarre Portuguese word that they keep repeating, while looking at me like I'm a crazy for not knowing exactly what they're talking about. This happened the other day while I was talking to Felipe and his grandma about spinach. After responding that, "Yes, we have spinach in the United States," I was perplexed by Felipe asking me if we had "pa-pai" in my country. I responded that I had never heard of that vegetable in my life, and that "No, we don't eat that, ever. That must be a Brazilian thing." He found this hard to believe, so we debated for about two minutes until I realized he was talking about Popeye the Sailor. Oh yeah, we guess we do have that... This happens a lot, since people will typically be proud of some English vocabulary word they know and just say it in the middle of our conversation. Cue, comically confusing interaction! Some of my favorite Brazilian pronunciations thus far are Titanic (Chee-tan-eek-ee) and Hip Hop (ee-pee-op-ee), and never get tired of people ask me if I listen to rock (pronounced like "hockey"). "Yes, I love the sound of skates on ice and bodies getting checked into the boards. I frequent rinks just for this reason in fact..." On a somewhat unrelated note, my new favorite word/phrase in Portuguese is now "craque," (crack-ee). I only bring this up because this is how they pronounce the English word "crack," though this spelling means "awesome," as in: "that soccer player is craque!"

My photo contributions aren't particularly exciting this week. I've put up pictures of the "Calourada Unificada," a party last weekend where all the new students come together and listen to bands and hang out. We had a ton of fun, and stayed out super late. I mention this since I was slated to go on a tour of a botanical garden then next morning, of which I've also put up pictures. The garden was really beautiful, I was just having a hard time keeping my eyes open, as my pictures do a good job showing. You can see the pictures here or in the slideshow above. (Yes, I am excited about having just discovered the hyperlink feature of the blogger program.)

School is also going well, as I'm getting the hang of my classes and now am entering into the point of the semester when I get assignments and readings... score. My research project is also going well, albeit slightly overwhelming. I'm currently reviewing the literature for our topic with the intention of getting a handle on sources in Spanish and English and writing it up in Portuguese. There just happens to be quite a lot written on medium-sized cities, poverty and inequality. My fellow researchers and professors are really nice and patient, so I'm hoping I'll get the hang of what they're looking for in the near future. We have periodic meetings where we discuss where we are in the process and the next one is next week, so we'll see how that goes.

Anyway, whoever you are reading this, I probably miss you buckets! Hope all is well.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Some more school, gays, and soccer


Just finished up my second week of school. I've finalized my schedule; I'm now going to take four classes, two economic history courses and two literature-based ones. I ended up dropping my fifth class because it was at nine to eleven PM on Mondays and Fridays. The fact that I went to it three times while the professor only showed up once may have had something to do with my disinclination to schlep myself to the university in the middle of the night for the rest of the term. Four classes is a pretty typical course load for an exchange student, and I'm getting the hang of the material more and more. Yesterday, I had to lead discussion in my Spanish class, so already the pace has started to pick up.

My other exciting piece of school news is that I spoke on Monday with a professor in the economics department about working in his research lab. So, starting this coming Monday, I'm going to be working 12 hours a week on a project, "Poverty and Inequality in Medium-Sized Cities." I'll be organizing a data set that looks at migration from large urban areas to mid-sized cities across Latin America and researching existing literature on the subject. The professor who oversees the project is glad I speak English since it will facilitate working on the latter task. On Monday, I'll meet the other students who work in the lab as well as a couple of other professors who are collaborating on the project. I'm super excited to get started; I've met other groups of students who work on research projects here, it's pretty common in the hard and social sciences, and the environment looks really tight-knit and fun. The professor who took me on has done so with very little information about me, so I'm really lucky that he's letting me participate even though he has a waiting list of students who applied for the opportunity. I'll keep you all posted on how it goes, it looks like a super interesting project and a great way to meet people and become more integrated into the school.

Last weekend was really fun. On Saturday, Juiz de Fora had its Gay Pride event, which was very widely recommended that the exchange students visit. The event is actually just a huge gay-themed street party, which attracted over 70,000 people this year, and is the city's biggest event of the year, surpassing even its Carnival celebrations. I had never been to a Pride event before, so I don't have any point of comparison to the States, but there were some aspects that I think are pretty unique to this celebration. While encouraged to go, we were also warned that we needed to be careful since the party attracts a large amount of "favela," slum, residents. This turned out to be true, which I thought was a cool aspect of the whole thing since it attracted all sorts of different people who just wanted to have fun. I ended up staying only for about two hours in the afternoon, even though the party goes long into the night, since it was really, really crowded and did feel a little overwhelming at times. Unfortunately, the event has been known to experience violence, though this is exclusively the result of confrontations between gang members and is never motivated by homophobia. My expectations were definitely shattered by this whole dynamic; I assumed I was going to see more tropical bird feather costumes than riot police.

On Sunday, the four Americans and a friend of ours, Lucio, went to Rio to see a soccer game in the largest stadium in South America, Maracanã. Lucio is a diehard fan of Fluminense, one of the four Rio teams, and he was ecstatic to deck us out in soccer jerseys and have us experience some Brazilian futebol in a matchup with International, from Rio Grande do Sul. We had a blast. The tickets were only 8 dollars, (we get all sorts of discounts as students here, I now pay $1.50-$3.00 for movie tickets), though the experience was priceless. I've put up some videos on youtube (which you should be able to see on the right of the page), though they're short and I'm screaming like a fool in them so it's hard to hear what everyone is chanting. The first one is before the game, when all these people with big flags came out and walked across the stands. The second is of the cheering right after our first goal, and is the best for seeing the 60,000 fans that went to the game that day. The third is of one of songs that all the fans sing together, though again, I didn't know the words so just yelled a lot. We won the game 3-0, though Internacional went on to win the Copa Libertadores, the Latin American equivalent to the Champions League, two days later. So we didn't feel sorry for them. I definitely want to go back for games in the future, the experience of being in a mass of cheering fans for a winning team was energizing and addictive. Thankfully, we've had perfect timing, since the stadium will be closed starting this year for renovations in preparation for the World Cup in 2014, (which people are already freaking out about).

This week I also had the pleasure of meeting the professor who started this exchange, Peter Blasenheim, of Colorado College. He has spent tons of time studying this region and was here to launch his new book. He is also quite the foodie, so it was wonderful going to meals with him since he knew the best items to order. On Wednesday, the four American students had him and four of Felipe's friends over to my house for some "American" food. I grilled hamburgers, while Caroline made Cesar salad, Athena made apple crisp, and Garrett made gin and tonics. The night turned out super well; thankfully the hamburgers turned out well and everyone had a ton of fun creating/experiencing some American cooking. I've put up pictures of this, as well as the soccer shenanigans, on Picasa. Last night, we went to Peter's book release, which was held at the modern art museum here in Juiz de Fora. The event was great, though arguably the best part of the night was going out for steak afterwards at midnight. We also got to reconnect with Celia, Peter's friend who housed us in Rio, which was wonderful.

So, things are going well and I'm keeping busy! Hope all is well wherever you are.

Beijos e abraços,


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Classes Begin

Well, it's back to school time.

I just finished up my second day of Brazilian college at UFJF, and so far things have been going well. While I haven't finalized my schedule, I'm excited about the classes I tentatively signed up for. I'm currently slated to take two classes that track Brazilian economic policy and development, one that covers the period from European contact to the Great Depression and a second that picks up from that same point and continues to the 1980's. Both are taught by the same professor, who seems to be really nice. I'm also taking a history class that looks at Brazilian domestic policy from the 1930's to the present and a Spanish literature class. The latter was meant to help me keep my Spanish and Portuguese separate, though I went to it today and it made my head hurt. Finally, I'm planning on taking a Brazilian literature class, 1960's the present, in lieu of a Portuguese for foreigners class. I haven't gone yet, so I'm not sure to what degree I've overestimated my language capabilities, but I can easily drop I've been told if need be.

Finding classes at the University was a little more of a challenge than I was used to. Students generally don't take classes outside of their "faculdades," separate colleges that constitute the larger school, so it was difficult to track down any sort of course catalog with all the courses offered by different disciplines. This meant that I needed to physically go to all of the different schools to find out where these classes where held, and what my other options were. Adding to the confusion is that the first week is dedicated to the "trote" (pronounced tro-chee), which is a huge Brazilian tradition where literally every incoming student, called a "calouro," is hazed by the upperclassmen, "veteranos." While containing your typical fraternity-style debauchery, one of the most famous and unique aspects of this is when students get their clothes ripped apart, are covered from head to foot in paint, then sent into the streets to beg for money so they can throw a party. It's a huge deal to get into public universities here, kids have to study like mad for a test called the "vestibular" in order to get accepted into the "facultade" where they want to study. This involves taking special courses outside of high school for a single exam that entirely determines their fate. Once accepted, however, students don't have to pay tuition, so the ceremony surrounding incoming students is hyper-charged with emotion and excitement.

All this also means that not many people go to class at the moment, and we got straight stood up by our professor yesterday in one of my classes. So at this point, I currently don't really have any idea what my classes are actually going to be like. Once things settle down I'll have a better feel on how things are going to be though.

I really like the UFJF campus. It's built on a hill so different disciplines are separated into physical tiers whose altitudes correspond to my personal ineptitude at that subject: social sciences and language studies are the lowest, chemistry, biology and physics, are the next highest, nursing and dentistry higher still, while medicine and engineering sit on top of the hill. This is almost super convenient for me, as I would otherwise need not climb up and down all day, if it weren't for the university restaurant's position next to the engineering building. Arguably the best part of school thus far, the restaurant only costs 1.40 reais (read: 80 American cents) a meal. They insist on serving you the meat portion, but you can get as much rice, beans and juice as you want! As I've been told: "sometimes the food's good, sometime it's bad, but it's always 1.40." I'm all about the federally subsidized cafeterias now....

I took some photos of the University, which should be up on Picassa. Just click on the slideshow above if you want to skip the earlier pictures.

In true exchange student form, I've also become all about the comfort eating as of late. When I'm not using my mouth to speak garbled Portuguese, I feel a strong urge to fill it with cheese, sweets and white bread. Brazil has been a wonderful host, and offers several options for the simultaneous satisfaction of my new food addictions. One is "pão doce," sweet bread, of which you have the choice of a mozzarella or cream cheese feeling. The more exotic food I've come across, which is actually quite common here, is "pizza doce," sweet pizza. You have all sorts of flavors of this dish: milk chocolate with M&M's, white chocolate with passionfruit and strawberries etc. Felipe's favorite sweet pizza flavor, however, is boiled bananas sweetened with sugar and cinnamon, with mozzarella. Thankfully, I've only come across this creation once, for I fear for the repercussions if I were regularly exposed to this.... I've also discovered the section of the city's myriad bakeries that has the older pastries that they're selling on the cheap. As a bargain bakery shopper, I can buy the same piece of cake for half the price (2 reais vs 1 real), I just have to unwrap the bundle from a bunch of plastic wrap. Hello hello, 60 cents savings...

So, things are good. I'm spend more time confused and lost than is typically normal, and may have put on a couple of pounds the last week and half, but for the most part, I'm happy.

Love and miss you all,


Saturday, July 31, 2010

One week in...

It's been one week since I arrived in Juiz de Fora, and things have been going super well.

I had Portuguese class everyday at 9 AM, so I would walk to the "shopping," literally the word for a mall, where our class is. I live right off of the city's biggest streets, which is super convenient since it's easy to walk to places downtown and catch busses. In class, there are the four of us and our professor, Ulisses, who is super nice. So far, this setup has been really useful for working on my pronunciation and learning new vocabulary since we spend a lot of time speaking sentences and words out loud to him. Class goes until one in the afternoon, with a twenty minute break when we all go out and get coffee at a different bakery. In Minas Gerias, my state, they eat a ton of cheese. One regional speciality is "pão de queijo," where they bake the cheese into the dough to make these dense, chewy biscuits. We have a lot of fun on these little outings; ordering in Portuguese, getting asked where we're all from, and trying different cheese bread creations.

Learning Portuguese has been going well, I've learned a ton already and am understanding more and more. It's amazing how much the other students have learned in just one week also, having come from literally nothing to being able to communicate ideas. It is still frustrating at times, but we're all figuring it out. The pronunciation is pretty difficult, especially in comparison to Spanish where everything it pronounced like it's spelled and each vowel only has one sound. Here, the meaning of the word can be completely different by changing how open or closed a vowel sound is. For example, the word for grandmother is "avó", while grandfather is "avô". There are also nasal vowels, which constitute the difference in words like "pães," meaning breads, and "pais," parents. My roommate Felipe and his friends are super patient, and will sit with us for extended periods of time repeating these different kinds of sounds.

Felipe has been a godsend, and not only has helped all for of us get adjusted, he and his friends are a lot of fun to hang out with. The other night we had a churrasco, barbecue, and I've gone out with him and his girlfriend a couple of times. It was his girlfriend's sister's birthday two days ago, and I got invited to go out for pizza with her family. This dynamic has been great, one of my biggest worries about living in an apartment with another student was that I wasn't going to be around families and would miss out on that aspect of the culture. This hasn't been the case at all, and I've been invited to all sorts of gatherings and functions by Felipe as well as the other students' families. Despite sounding cliche, everyone has been incredibly welcoming and genuine in wanting to get to know us and show us a good time. Felipe has personally found Garrett, another exchange student, another house to live in since his first apartment was not ideal. So tomorrow we'll move him into his new place, which is where Felipe's grandmother lives.

One fun activity this week was when we went to Caroline's, another exchange student, sister's graduation. Maybe the funniest difference between this ceremony and the others I've attended in the States was that instead of having a typical band play "Pomp and Circumstance" when all the graduates file in, they had a Beatles tribute band play. It was entertaining to watch everyone enter to lyrics like "she loves you yeah, yeah, yeah." This act was followed by an intense opera singer and other musical acts, so the whole thing ended up being quite the event. I've put up pictures on Picasa, which you can link to in the slideshow thing above. After this, we went with Caroline's family out to eat pizza to celebrate.

So, all is well. I'm still adjusting to being in a new place and am nervous for classes starting and meeting a ton of new people all at once. We're going to meet the rest of the exchange students who aren't in our program soon, so that will be fun.

Beijos e abraços,