Friday, October 23, 2009

Packin' Up, Movin' On

Today was my last day of formal classes! I finished up my Portuguese class with a final exam yesterday--today was a field trip to a school where our oral exam was a conversation with the students.

We had our last lecture this afternoon and a briefing on the next component of our program: travel! We’re headed to Recife, the interior of Pernambuco, and a couple of cities in Bahia, including Salvador. So I’m not sure what my internet access is going to be like for the next few weeks but I’ll do my best to write updates as these days are bound to be full and very interesting.

I’m excited to explore a new part of Brazil; I haven’t done any traveling, really, since I’ve gotten here, and I’m super excited for Salvador! Apparently they have spicy food there, something I’ve been craving! Here there’s plenty of sweet stuff but spicy foods aren’t really common or popular, sadly.

We return November 8 and I start my independent field study the next day. I’ve already submitted my proposal and everything (that was why I had my laptop in my bag last night) and I’m excited to get started. It’ll be different not having formal classes but I’m looking forward to getting to know CUCA, the youth center where I’ll be doing my project.

I still can’t believe that I’m done with formal classes for the semester. It’s crazy to think that I won’t be back at IBEU, the class center, until we are finishing up and presenting. It’s been such a huge part of the first part of the program.

Today a bunch of people on our program went for a last-hurrah suco at ‘the suco place’ as we fondly call it. It was bittersweet, but I’m sure I’ll be back there soon. I got a maracujá (passion fruit) and it was delicious, as always.

Well, so long for now! Next stop: Recife!

Feeling Skittish

So yesterday, I went to an ‘intercambio’ dinner at the house of the Portuguese III professor, directly after class ended. Annede also teaches english so both classes ate and conversed together. I had a lot of fun, and we ordered banana pizza so the universe was at peace. We spoke english for about half the time and Portuguese for the other half. It was actually really neat because the students in the english class spoke at a high level, and by now, so do we, so it was fairly simple to make ourselves understood in both languages and it was fun to teach some slang!

The event ended around 9:30, but we hung around talking until about 9:50, when we finally parted ways. There were six of us exchange students there; four elected to take a cab because they lived close to one another; another student, Charles, and I went the public transportation route.

I was already a little on the uneasy side because we’d been told not to take the bus after 10-10:30 and that time was getting closer by the second, plus, I had my schoolbag on, which had my laptop in it (I had to finish my independent study proposal last night). Charles was going the opposite way from me but he decided to walk me to the bus stop. Usually, I kind of scorn that kind of thing, but I agreed to it, and I’m glad I did, because on the way there the streets were empty and Charles said that his Portuguese prof had told him last week that two students coming to visit her last week had been robbed at gunpoint on the exact same walk we were doing. She lives in a really nice area, but that’s ultimately not great since it means high walls you can’t see around, not a lot of people on the street, and it’s a vulnerable area anyways because people know rich people live there.

I made it to the bus stop just fine, and jumped on the first bus that came, but after Charles’ story I was feeling more skittish than usual. I tried to be as calm as I could--after all, I really was in very minimal danger--but my imagination got going despite my best efforts.

I was sitting close to the front of the bus watching for my stop. After a fair bit I started recognizing the area and knew I was close. I spotted the Texaco on the corner of my street and hopped of the bus...only to realize that I was definitely not at my street yet. OK, future reference: gas stations probably aren’t the best landmarkers to use.

I decided to keep walking--I knew I was close to home and I knew which direction to walk. But I just couldn’t turn off that paranoid feeling. The sidewalks were dark and emptier than usual; I was carrying a laptop, and in truth I didn’t know exactly how many blocks I still had to cover.

I walked briskly, making the next street light or bus stop my only objective, avoiding eye contact and always listening and looking out.

After an eternity, I finally recognized the street directly before mine, so I turned early, to cut off doubling back, and arrived at my apartment after walking through a much less lit area that really gave me the creeps/

I’m thankful that nothing happened. I was careless and not as aware as I should have been on that bus and when I realized I wasn’t close to home yet I should have just grabbed the next bus. At the same time, I hate how paranoid I was. I think I usually have a very healthy measure of fear walking out alone, but I hate that it limits my actions, and I can’t help feeling sometimes that it’s unnecessary. Last night I got too scared, but better safe than sorry.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pictures and more food-related thoughts

I've finally found a semi-fast internet connection and I've uploaded some more photos!

You can see my photos from the MST and Canindé here, and some new photos from around Fortaleza here.

I think this blog is turning into a food blog of sorts, and I've decided it's for a couple of reasons.
1. I like to eat, and
2. I think it's interesting how we all have to eat but we choose to eat such different stuff! My host mother made a kind of egg/quiche cake with soy the other day. It was delicious; I'm going to try and learn how to make it. I'm only really missing two crucial American foods: salad with lettuce and tomato (they don't really have that here), and peanut butter. I love peanut butter. Brazilians don't have it. Margarine is not an acceptable substitute.
On Sunday, Fátima cooked a breakfast that was bem Cearense: traditional Ceará food, and I took a picture to show you just how different it is:

OK. Going from left to right: in the fruit bowl--guava and banana. On my place setting: a small bowl of soy and vegetables cooked. Pitcher of caju juice and pitcher of coffee. In the big bowl is a mixture of cous-cous and egg. But cous-cous here isn't the arabic kind, it's cornmeal! You're supposed to mix the cous-cous and the soy and eat it. It was delicious if a little strange.

And here is the caju fruit, from which we made the juice! It's in season right now so it's everywhere--sold on the streets and in the grocery store. They make cashew nuts from those black things, but they're poisonous if they're not cooked. I tried some fruit, and it tastes good but the texture is very off-putting. I prefer the nuts and the juice. I think the fruit is an acquired taste.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Sometimes it's nice to just be a tourist...

...and relax. 100% relaxation is impossible here; my mind is always turned on and I'm hyperaware of everything, I've noticed. But this weekend came close!

Fortaleza is known for its sand dunes, and I spent part of Saturday climbing them and sliding down on a sandboard! It was so much fun; there was a lake at the bottom and a couple times I made it all the way to the lake. I went with my family and two of Fátima's friends, one of whom was visiting from the Canary Islands. Climbing the dunes was really difficult, but there were small shade huts at the top and people selling coconuts and refreshments, so that was a nice reward.

There was a beautiful view of the surrounding area—hills and a lake on one side, the ocean on the other, and it was pleasantly cool and refreshing, because we'd had a rainshower just a few minutes before.

After we'd tired ourselves out sliding down the dunes and swimming in the lake, we meandered on over to yet another gorgeous beach and spent the whole afternoon there. We took a ride out into the ocean on a little sailboat and just enjoyed the sun. Also, I got more queijo asado (fried/roasted cheese)! I love that stuff, so much! It's a great beach snack.

Saturday night we went out to a really fancy Italian restaurant and ordered pizza. Do you know they have sweet pizzas here? We got a half chocolate/M&M/half banana pizza for dessert. Banana pizza, you say? I know, it sounds weird, but it was beyond delicious. I'm going to bring that stuff back to the United States for sure.

And today was a national holiday (no, not Columbus day), the day of the children (dia das crianças)! I still don't understand why we don't have one of those in the US— after all, we have Mothers' day and Fathers' day, why not Childrens' day?

We spent all day today at the beach, again, which was absolutely lovely. But tomorrow, alas, it's back to the grindstone!

This week we're doing our community projects, and I'm spending the week at CUCA, Centro Urbana de Cultura, Arte, Ciencia, e Esporte(I love how Latin Americans abuse acronyms? In what world does that equal CUCA?). It's the largest center of it's kind in Latin America, devoted to youth activities outside of school, and it's funded by the government. It just opened and everyone is really excited about it. Updates forthcoming!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I've been here for a month now...

...Which is evidenced by tan lines; a language barrier that’s rapidly decreasing; and, of course, lots of new experiences.

I really enjoyed my trip to the interior. I got to see a different side of Brazil, that’s for sure. The MST assentamento was really interesting. I got to meet lots of new people and the food was amazing! Fresh fruit, milk straight from the cow, and yes...freshly butchered chicken and cow. The last one threw me a little bit, but I sucked it up and ate the chicken soup that was prepared for us.

I also got to sleep in a hammock every night, and I’d stare up at the stars before I’d fall asleep.

I must say, though, that being back to civilization is comforting. For example, running water is always a big plus, especially in this hot, humid climate! (Aside: showers are a cultural thing here. When you go to someone’s house, it’s very acceptable and even customary to take them up on the offer. Multiple showers per day are also customary: 1 in the morning, one when you come home for lunch, one in the evening.) Even the fact that there’s not hot water doesn’t bother me anymore, since it’s so hot and sticky out the cold shower feels good.

Something happened between the weekend in the interior and now. My Portuguese just really...clicked. I find myself talking not in sentences, but in whole paragraphs. I can understand almost everything when people speak moderately fast, and even when people speak at warp speed I get the gist of the conversation. It was all-of-a-sudden. When I think about where I was a month ago, I can’t believe it.

That’s not to say that Portuguese is easy because it’s NOT. And I still grab for Spanish words that just aren’t words at all in Portuguese. It’s interesting: Portuguese has so many words—words for shades of feeling. For example, to think/believe has four different words in Portuguese; to know has two; and people can be three different words. Also, I think the language is much more formal and less colloquial than English. People use ‘the people’ to say ‘we’ all the time.

The more I learn of Portuguese, the more I realize just exactly how much I still have to learn. But I’ve made such tangible progress that I almost don’t care anymore!

PS. Pictures from Canindé and MST soon!!