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!


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