I wouldn’t say I’m homesick, but my thoughts have definitely turned homeward as Thanksgiving is right around the corner. I think the weirdest part for me about not being home with my family is that I’m out of the loop. I had no idea that my family was traveling to Washington D.C. to visit my relatives over the holiday week until my brother and sister snapchatted me on the airplane.
Some things that I miss:
My family (that’s obvious). I also miss knowing all the family gossip, so thanks to Grandbob for catching me up.
Rudy, my dog (or rather, my mom’s dog). I didn’t realize how much I would miss the adorable fluff ball until I started looking for something to cuddle and he wasn’t there. Yes, I have dogs to pet here, but I’m scared that Zeca will turn on me and bite me again, and Caffoo is always shut in the back room smelling faintly of mildew as he never moves. He’s afraid to walk anywhere since he’s blind, and Virna has to drag him outside.
The food. I miss American food. I’ve gotten used to the food here, yes, but I really miss American food. When I tell people this, they assume that I eat hamburgers and McDonalds every day, but that isn’t true at all. I’ve found it quite hard to explain what American food actually is, because they do have things like spaghetti and pizza and sandwiches here, but it just isn’t the same. Speaking of food, I miss variety. I miss spices. All the meals resemble the same thing, and nobody adds spice, except for an excess of salt, to anything. I’m finally starting to cook but when I went to the store, I quickly realized that they do not have the variety and quality of spices that we do. There were only two or three brands of spices, and about the quarter of the selection.
Doing school work. I know, you are thinking I’m crazy. But I like learning and it’s quite boring doing nothing all day, and then coming home and doing nothing on the internet. I would like a happy medium. I’m happier now since I got a book in Portuguese and I’m really working on reading it, so I feel like I’m studying again. It also makes me happy since I’m actively trying to learn Portuguese.
Playing in a band and orchestra. I finally dug my clarinet out of the closet after almost three months of being here (ouch, I know!) and it just made me long for a band to play in all the more. I haven’t been able to find any venue to play the clarinet in. Now that I’ve actually put my lips on the mouthpiece again, it will be easier to keep up as a solo gig, but I love playing in groups.
Some things that I love about Brazil:
The selection of fruit. I haven’t had an apple since leaving Colorado, and I’m completely fine with this. Instead, I’m eating fresh mango, papaya, pineapple, guava, watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew every day.
The coffee. I finally figured out how to make coffee that isn’t as strong as the stuff they brew here on a regular basis, but even with that, I’m starting to like strong, black coffee. It also makes me very happy to drink it in the morning with the cute little cups and saucers that my host mom uses.
Learning a new language. I feel like I’m on top of the world. It’s like my brain is on fire and I’m processing new things every day. I already have plans to study either French or Italian yet, and get the Romance languages under my thumb.
Public transportation. Last week I took the bus for the first time, and I’ve quickly grown super comfortable with the bus system. I feel like I’ve gained a huge amount of freedom, and that I’m looking more like a local (albeit a local with blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin) since I’m comfortable navigating the bus system.
Becoming more independent. Since coming here, I’ve learned a lot about myself, and learned how to rely on myself a lot more. Yes, I still have a host family to go to for help, and an organization with a huge support system, but I’m starting to see what living independently can look like. If I can move to a new country and learn a new language without my immediate family right behind me, I can do anything.
The fact that I am eighteen years old is extremely lucky in some ways because Rotary would never let an underage person under their supervision travel alone, like they let me. About a month ago I went to São Paulo to stay with my host sister, Livia, who is in her early thirties and lives, works, and studies in the city.
There were times when I was very lonely in São Paulo, because I had to find ways to entertain myself while Livia had classes and couldn’t entertain me. While I have certainly grown up over the course of my almost three months here in Brazil, I think I grew up the most here. I’ve never traveled before without my family. I’ve never explored a brand new city without my family before.
And when I say that I explored, I do not mean that I went down dark alleys and went to different parts of the city on the subway, although I very well could have done. One of the things you get used to hearing as an exchange student in Brazil is how dangerous the country is. It is hard to get permission to go to many places alone. And São Paulo is rumored to be one of the most dangerous cities of them all. My exploits mainly featured walking up and down Avenida Paulista, one of the famous streets of São Paulo, for hours on end. I knew how to use the subway and bus systems to get to different parts of the city, but I was nervous about doing so.
That being said, I learned a lot about traveling in São Paulo. I was bored in São Paulo. I was lonely in São Paulo. I saw some really cool things in São Paulo. And I absolutely loved São Paulo.
October 26, 2015:
Day of Arrival
Domestic travel is different in Brazil than it is in the USA. I was freaking out before leaving because I didn’t have a clear plastic bag to put all of my liquids in. I tried asking about it several times and the answers I received about this part of travel were just as confusing as I’m sure my question was. I’m fairly sure Virna and Leonardo were wondering what happened to the cool and level headed Claire who didn’t really seem to be phased by anything? That Claire was replaced by a Claire who was freaking out over a clear plastic bag. Finally, we resolved our communication issues and I discovered that not only were liquids waved through security without a second glance for domestic flights, but that checking baggage was completely free of charge, so why don’t I do that anyways?
Then I started freaking out about timing. I thought that we arrived to the airport extremely late, but it turns out that Natal has a very small airport (I wasn’t paying very much attention to the airport’s size when I first arrived in Brazil) and it also operates in a Brazilian manner in that everything is slow and late and will happen when it happens, not before, not later. Security takes all of five minutes to get through even when it’s busy, so my mom and I had a cappuccino and a cookie before I went through. I was still early, but Virna definitely knew I was on edge about missing my plane.
After landing in São Paulo, I discovered that my checked bag had been wrapped in plastic. Not sure why.
Then I navigated through the airport and found the service bus station, and handed over my proof of payment to get on a bus to Avenida Paulista, where I would meet Livia, my host sister. This is the part that I was the most nervous about. What if I took the wrong bus? What if what if what if… It turned out that taking the wrong bus was a next to impossible task, and that the bus was a service, not public transportation, as it included some very comfortable seats and wifi.
Livia met me on the steps of a hotel, and then took me to a restaurant called America, where I had my first hamburger and fries since arriving in Brazil. They were lovely.
October 27, 2015:
After waking up, Livia and I walked to a small grocery store to buy bread for breakfast and then had a conversation about the corruption in Brazilian politics over our meal. Then we walked around a little more, sat in a coffee shop and had coffee, and then, Livia took me to Avenida Paulista, which is within walking distance from her apartment, with instructions on how to get home saying that she would see me back at the apartment around eight that night.
I walked up the street for a little while, and ended up in a Starbucks. Yes, a Starbucks. I was tired and I know how to order at Starbucks. While I was there I sat and journaled a little and read in a guide book about the attractions of Avenida Paulista. I spent most of the day walking up and down the avenue taking pictures and looking for a free art exposition that I had read about, but I never ended up finding it. That day was also spent with a low level of anxiety because I was a tourist, and as a tourist I thought I should be doing something fun and exciting, not just walking up and down the same (extremely long) street over and over again.
October 28, 2015:
This day I actually had something planned for the morning and early afternoon. There is a free tour service offered in different parts of São Paulo in English, so Livia took me to the center of the older part of the city, where it was originally colonized, and I joined a crew of people from different parts of the world. I mainly talked to an older couple from Canada, who informed me that Spanish was actually not that helpful when it came to speaking and understanding Portuguese (they’d been there for two weeks and were leaving the next day, I’d been there for two months and was leaving many months later) and a guy from Japan who was working in San Francisco and now being a tourist in São Paulo who was in his twenties. This was the most English I’d heard people speak for almost the entire time of my being here in Brazil. I told the Canadian couple this and they said the same, except I was kind of miffed that they didn’t understand that I’d already been there for two months, jeez, two weeks is nothing. Looking back on that couple, I probably would be feeling the same way as they were had I not been an exchange student and done so many crazy things already. I apologize to all tourists. It’s exhausting, whether you are in a new place for one year.
After the tour ended, I took the subway back to Avenida Paulista, because nobody seemed interested in going out for coffee or finding a cool restaurant in that area of the city with me (at least, not the people I asked). I didn’t want to hang around, since Livia told me that I shouldn’t be alone in that part of São Paulo and to come back to Avenida Paulista if nobody wanted to hang out. I was nervous about taking the subway, since I hadn’t even taken the bus in my host city of Natal, and São Paulo much much larger and easier to get lost in. It was pretty straightforward and I didn’t get lost.
When I arrived back at Avenida Paulista, I walked up and down the streets. I kept stopping in front of restaurants thinking, I should go in there. But I never could make up my mind. I finally realized the reason I couldn’t make a decision was because I was hungry, and I went to a McDonalds because, again, it was some place familiar and I knew how to order there. I ended up sitting in there for about an hour, and then I walked up and down Avenida Paulista some more before going back to Livia’s apartment.
That night Livia took me to a bar where I met some of her friends and had a great time. One of her friends is an English teacher to really small children and he was just dying to speak English with me. Finally we compromised that he would speak in English to me and I in Portuguese to him.
October 29, 2015
This is the day I realized I could have fun just by walking up and down the same street over and over again. That being a tourist and having fun doesn’t require a person to go to all the museums and do all of the touristy things.
I slept in late, and then I, again, walked up and down Avenida Paulista, except this time I took small videos while walking to compile into a longer video for later. I ate in the food court of a mall where they had a self-service station of traditional Brazilian food because it would be cheaper than McDonalds and is really easy to navigate. I bought a pair of jeans and wandered around the mall looking at shops and generally having a goodtime. After lunch I bought a milkshake and went back to the apartment feeling pretty happy and that I had had a good time.
That same day, Livia’s father, Virna’s ex-husband, and his new wife, arrived in town. Paulino and Renata. That night they treated us to a concert from São Paulo’s symphony. I’m not exactly sure what they played, but it wasn’t the kind of music that I like the first time I hear it since it was modern and atonal. It was fun anyways, just for the sake that I was doing something cool, it reminded me of home, and the concert hall was sure gorgeous. After the concert was over, at maybe eleven pm since they started at nine, we went to a bar and didn’t leave until after two in the morning. I was so tired but enjoyed the new experience nonetheless.
October 30, 2015
Last full day in São Paulo
While Livia did her day activities, Renata and Paulino took me around the city to two different museums.
Paulino is the silent type. He almost never speaks. That’s not to say that he wasn’t really nice and caring. When he speaks to me, it would be to ask if I had enough money for the bus or the subway or if I had my ID since they would be checking. He insisted on paying for everything for me.
The first museum we went was featuring Frida Kahlo and other feminist Mexican artists that she knew and influenced. It was really cool to see Kahlo’s self-portraits in person, after learning about them so much in Spanish class in high school. It’s cool to see something you study in real life.
Then we went to a different museum which was featuring an Australian artist. This was a really super weird exhibition. I can’t remember what her name was, but she mainly had sculptures of what life would be like in the future with the genetic modification of humans, animals, and plants. I think her goal was achieved, since it was a though provoking exhibit, but also an exhibit that weirded me out and I wouldn’t be interested in seeing again.
She used human hair on her sculptures, and the all looked so life like but disgusting and odd and weird. That’s my personal opinion.
I’m not sure what Paulino thought, but Renata agreed with me.
Then I said goodbye to Paulino and Renata, and went back to Livia’s apartment. That night Livia took me to a TexMex restaurant, since I had told her how much I missed spicy food, not to mention Mexican food.
The food was terrible (even for TexMex) but I really appreciated the thought and am so grateful to Livia for everything.
The next day I had to get to a hotel in São Paulo very early in the morning to go on an exchange student trip, so that concluded my stay in the city.
I’d like to start out by saying thank you! Your comments and emails mean so much to me! I’m glad you guys are enjoying reading my posts as much as I’m enjoying writing them. This blog has become my journal and I’m writing more than I thought I would be. You guys are the best!
I’ve decided that language is just about the most interesting, complex, crazy, fluid, etc. etc. etc. way of human interaction ever to be. Take this, for example. I haven’t been speaking a lot of English here (or Portuguese really, staying silent is my strong suit) but when I have been I’ve adopted a more English accent than an American one. That’s because all of my exchange friends learned the Queen’s English, being from Europe. It fades whenever I talk to Haven, who is from California, or my parents, or just people from Brazil who are asking me the pronunciation of a certain word for English class or something.
I’ve also decided that knowing Spanish is the best thing that’s ever happened to me when I decided to move to a country in which Portuguese is the official language. I had the very idiotic idea of that “I’ll just pick it up, that’s what I did with Spanish in Mexico,” but then when I moved here I realized that in Colorado, before moving to Mexico, I had actually been exposed to a lot of Spanish and at least knew what the words were for the various tenses. (Ex. I, you, him, etc.) And then I came to Brazil and didn’t know what the words were for I and you and us and realized just how stupid I had been. Now I know these words, because they are very helpful whenever you want to speak any sentence ever.
Anyways, Spanish is so helpful because I understand so much of what I hear. I can’t always form a reply, but I at least understand the question. Many of the words are the same, just pronounced differently, or at the very least, the words are very similar. Of course, there are words that have absolutely no connection to each other, but because the brain is such a lovely thing and should never be underestimated, it just clicks that that word means this.
It’s really hard to explain how everything is just starting to fall in place. I can speak in baby sentences and basically only in present tense and I have to stop and ask for words but I am speaking and understanding Portuguese. I hear things, and they just magically make sense.
Spanish is also such a curse since I rely too much on it at times when it can be completely different in every possible way from Portuguese.
Again, not sure how much sense I am making here since you guys aren’t experiencing what I’m hearing. On one hand, I feel like my Spanish has never been as good as it was when I was leaving Mexico, and on the other hand, I feel that if I went to Mexico right now I would start speaking in Portuguese to anyone who talked to me. They are so similar and yet so different that I can’t make sense in my head of what is what anymore. So that’s where I will leave you.
Warning: This post is very stream of consciousness since I was mostly unloading, so I apologize if it’s confusing at all.
Written yesterday (Sep. 15), posted today (Sep. 16)
So much happens in one day that it feels like I’ve been here for a month, not a week. I can’t believe that I’ve been here for a week.
Right now Haven, the student from California, is missing, and that’s all I can think about. We are all in a Whatsapp group together and all of the exchange students (minus Haven) are FREAKING THE F OUT.
Natal can be very dangerous in some parts and nobody has any idea where he is. He was supposed to meet his host mom at the mall by the McDonald’s but he wasn’t there and now the mall security and police are involved as well as every single person in the city affiliated with Rotary. We are hoping his phone is just out of battery and that he’s waiting in the mall somewhere (unlikely since the place has been searched all over) but he’s gone. Poof. Right now everyone (on the student side of this, at least) is thinking of worse case scenarios, and our parents are too (we are sure at least) but they are telling us that he will be fine to calm us down. It’s quite scary since Haven doesn’t speak Portuguese and anything could have happened.
UPDATE: Haven is online and texting us! He’s alive! His exact words are: “Long story ill explain later face to face”.
Oh, wait, he just told us his phone died and he waited at McDonald’s for like 3 hours and then walked to Chen’s house and asked the guard there for a charger so he could call his host mom. That’s the story. I’ll bully more out of him at school tomorrow.
THE FREAKING POLICE WERE LOOKING FOR HIM.
Okay, freak out (for now, anyway) done.
Even though about four billion things have happened over the past few days I’m going to talk about my Portuguese class and the stupid Italian boy.
Today was my second day of Portuguese class. As I’ve stated before, there are other exchange students from a different program than Rotary that go to this class too. This includes an Italian boy. I have a ton of very bad names to call said Italian boy, but I’m not going to write them here since I don’t know who’s going to be reading this, like maybe a future employer. Therefore, reader, please insert a lot of curse words here for Stupid-Italian-Boy-That-Makes-Me-Mad-And-Needs-To-Grow-Up.
SIB (or Stupid Italian Boy) for short.
SIB thinks it is funny (and quite possibly flirtatious and amazing and that all the girls will marry him and ride off into the sunset with him) by being the most annoying guy in the room. He picked on all the girls when they first arrived but I am new so I am fresh meat. He pulls your hair and pokes you and touches you and gets in your face and IS SOOOOO ANNOYING (caps lock and extra o’s for emphasis, folks, besides, I’m pissed off so give me some slack). The Brazilian boys are annoying since they are constantly asking, “Do you have a boyfriend? Why don’t you have a boyfriend? You are so pretty. Do you want a boyfriend? I can be your boyfriend.” I am so thankful to be in Rotary where one of the rules is no dating (even though Brazil doesn’t care) because I have such a great excuse when in reality, I couldn’t care less at this point about not having a boyfriend and my relationship status. I am more concerned about making friends and learning Portuguese. But SIB is even more annoying than all of them. He is a major jerk and doesn’t know how to keep his hands to himself.
SIB was filling some water bottles up for some people, including me, and then he wouldn’t give me my filled water bottle back and was only playing with it and hiding it behind his back, etc. This can be amusing for like twenty seconds, like any normal person will joke, but he proceeded with this game for about five minutes until the teacher finally noticed and yelled at him (props for the powers of observation, there. I’m in a pretty sarcastic mood right now.) During this whole show I just stopped paying attention to him. He finally stopped and just dropped my water bottle on the floor. Whatever.
The teacher left the room to grab some copies and asked me to erase the board, and I was doing so, and SIB sneaked up next to me and screamed in my ear. Needless to say, I was not amused. More like scared out of my wits. He, naturally, thought it was the most hilarious thing to ever happen on this planet.
Then he started messing with me by scribbling on the board and telling me to erase it. I was so done at this point and handed the eraser to him. He wouldn’t take it. I handed it to him again. He gave it back. Then he stepped towards me with the pen extended like he was going to write on me and I shoved the eraser into his white shirt. It was a lovely moment just for his look of shock (and my shock too, since I honestly wasn’t expecting myself to do that). There was dead silence in the class, and then SIB threw the eraser across the room and started screaming at me in Portuguese and Italian. I just shrugged and sat in my seat. I was so mad. He was screaming at me saying that I needed to pay for his shirt and what was I thinking and I was such a jerk (and I only understood this after the fact when some people told me what he was saying) and I just told him point blank, “I don’t understand but you were being a jerk.”
The whole touching, talking, pulling hair, screaming in the ear thing comes to mind.
He stormed over to my desk and ripped out the first page of my notebook where I had some notes and ripped it up and threw it in the trash and screamed at me some more and told me that he wasn’t going to get me anymore water and then sat in his desk and glared at me for the rest of the class.
It was such an immature reaction. I have to admit that my reaction was probably immature too, but at some point saying no isn’t enough. And I don’t think anyone has said no to SIB before. I was so high on adrenaline for the rest of the class.
All the other girls told me that he was just joking and playing around with me, but Chiara, my friend from Germany, told me that he deserved it and I was very grateful to her for taking my side.
Written September 16, 2015
Today Haven told me the story about what happened to him. So he was told to wait for his mother at the McDonalds at the mall and he did. His phone was dead, so he couldn’t check the time, but he thinks he was there for three hours since he read two hundred pages of his book and that would take him three hours. (I think he’s an idiot.) Then he left the mall and walked to Chen’s house which was pretty close by but he didn’t know which house Chen lived in and was walking up and down the streets of Chen’s neighborhood before he finally asked a guard if they had a charger for his cellphone, which they did. He called his host mom, and texted the rest of us saying he was alive. Seriously, everyone involved in every exchange program in the city, my school class, the police, and the mall security was looking for him.
He told me he thinks he made the right choice by leaving to go to Chen’s house. I think he’s an idiot for not staying in one place (especially since he didn’t know which house Chen lived in) and not asking the four thousand people in the mall or going to one of the many cell phone stores and asking to charge his phone there so he could call his mom. When I was a kid, my parents told me to stay in one place. Virna told me she thought he was being stupid too. Actually, everyone does, but Haven just blows us off when we tell him that. Maybe he’ll know better next time.
So, Sunday was a busy day. The host mom of Chen took me and Chen and Eric and Haven to Ponta Negra beach where we paddle boarded and had an amazing time. Then we went to a Rotary function which was this band of teenagers playing songs that was apparently started a few years ago through a Rotary club, which is why we went. It was like a fundraiser for the band I think. I was drafted to play clarinet, but I came across mostly as an idiot because the music was all handwritten and I got lost so many times. Also, a lot of it was in the high register and my chops were not up to snuff. They were good musicians, aside from being horribly out of tune.
After we played with the band and ate, some students kept playing and most of them got up and danced. We danced too! It was a lot of fun and we mostly looked like idiots trying to learn how to samba (super super hard) and floro (again, spelling most likely wrong). It was cool to see that so many young people know the traditional dances of their country and dance them for fun.
After the dance, we took a million selfies with the kids and exchanged Whatsapp (a free international texting service) numbers with what seemed like everyone and then we left to go take a tour of the biggest cashew tree in the world. It was pretty cool since it felt like we were in a forest but it was actually one organism. Mostly we had fun hanging out with each other.
Then we parted ways, and me, Chen, and Eric went back to Ponta Negra to swim and paddle board some more, but Pierre came along for the ride this time.
The beach is so beautiful and paddle boarding is so peaceful (if there isn’t that much wind, at least. The first time it was windy so you had to mostly concentrate on not falling off your board, even though I did maybe five or more times. The second time it was high tide and the waves were very small.) You can see the whole city from Ponta Negra and the ocean and it was beautiful to watch the sun set behind the city and float on the water. I felt like I was on top of the world in that moment.
That’s all I have for now! I’m having an amazing time so far and I can’t wait to see what is in my future. I’m very happy. I know it’s inevitable that I will have a slump period, but whenever that is, it is not today.