The Cup

And how it represents Brazil and Brazilian Culture 

The CupThey say there are three stages to living abroad: Culture Shock, Anomie and Adaptation. I recently experienced all three of these stages with the simple use of a plastic cup. Before I explain why this cup, in my opinion, represents Brazil and Brazilian culture, let me explain the three stages.

Culture shock, as many of us are familiar with, happens when the traveler becomes disappointed, unpleasantly surprised or turned off by the new culture and surroundings. We often begin missing the simplicity of our home life and crave the comforting elements that we left behind. It’s not uncommon at this stage to feel resentment towards the new culture, as we tend to feel like outsiders.

Anomie begins when you let down your guard and begin to accept the differences. You no longer see these differences as a hindrance, but rather a part of life. Surprisingly, you begin to appreciate the new culture as well as begin to see life through the eyes of your new culture. During the anomie stage reflection becomes a huge part of everyday life.

Adaptation occurs when you learn how to fully appreciate and enjoy your new culture and surroundings. You are now able to efficiently navigate social encounters and everyday occurrences, and the new culture is no longer “new” to you. Personally, in the adaptation stage, I begin to take on a new persona–I begin the process of assimilation. At this point you are often able to successfully step back and reflect on cultural beliefs, attitudes and behaviors of both the old and new culture, while holding on to the best aspects of both worlds.

Now the cup…..

While restlessly waiting for the live samba group to set up on stage, our waiter began to rattle off the daily specials and beer choices. Even though it would have been ideal to ponder about the many beer choices and make my first Brazilian beer experience a good one, my overheated body and shriveled up taste buds could have cared less. I wanted the coldest and cheapest beer! I ordered a litro of Skol and excitedly awaited the arrival of my giant, sweating bottle of refreshing goodness. Before I could wrap my greedy hands around the 40 ounce bottle, Sarah (American but Brazilian at heart Fulbrighter) swooped up the bottle and began distributing it in tiny plastic cups. Wait hold up girl…..ok maybe it didn’t come out like that, but I was going ghetto on this girl in my head. When I inquired about the sharing of my beer she looked at me like I was the crazy one. “It’s what we do here” was her response. She went on to explain that when you drink in a social setting, each person buys a beer on their ticket (another ridiculous Brazilian thing that I will address later) and shares it with everyone. Well that’s stupid–This is where the culture shock set in. I like to stay on a budget. I am fine with substituting quality for quantity (especially when it comes to drinking), and I am not the quickest of drinkers. In that moment I felt like I was forced to chug my beers in order to get what I paid for.

At my first official party in Ilheus I encountered the Cup once again. It had been a long day, and like the samba club, I was ready to get my drink on.  As usual, I went over to the cooler and helped myself to a can of Skol. After a few minutes socializing with the infamous LEA students, Kali (Brazilian who acts more like an American Machista surfer dude)  just looked at Sarah and I and chuckled. “You guys are so American with your cans”. As I looked around, I noticed that everyone had those same, stupid plastic cups. WTF mate?!? Kali went on to explain that when you drink from a can instead of sharing and using a cup you are setting yourself apart from the community. He also addressed the issue of Americans being so individualistic–I quickly scanned the group and realized that he made a good point. I stand out enough as an American, so holding a can when everyone else has a cup makes me look even more “different” and somewhat selfish. However, I also noticed the amount of discarded cups and cans scattered across the yard and decided that would be my excuse as to why it is perfectly fine for me to drink out of the can–less trash! Considering Brazil has taken many steps in order to clean up their environment and lessen “plastic pollution”, I thought my point was quite valid. Nevertheless, I accepted the fact that the Cup would now be part of my weekend routine and unconsciously let the anomie stage being its process.

Since drinking in a social setting is a daily occurrence here, I was provided with several opportunities to practice my “cup use”. Two days ago was the first time I realized that I had moved on to the adaptation stage of my assimilation process. At this party I was offered some beer (which was generously poured into my cup) and then the foreigner next to me was offered some as well. Without thinking, she grabbed the can, said thank you and began to slip the beer. The Brazilian and I exchanged surprised glances….wow that chic is weird….wait that was me 3 weeks ago. So there you have it, my moment of glory! After resisting and judging I was finally thinking like a Brazilian, and it was a natural response. I had adapted and become a part of this secret Brazilian community. Even though I stand my ground on less pollution, I can proudly say that I am an avid plastic cup user and do so without thinking twice.

Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz

Or Just UESC

As many of you already know, I am lecturing and giving classes at the state university here in Bahia. The university itself is not located in Ilheus, but rather 30 minutes inland. It sits in between Ilheus and Itabuna and a not-so-consistent system of city and private bus systems shuttle teachers and students to and from campus.

The campus itself is a lot bigger than I thought it would be. All of the colleges have their own building and commons and the medical college even has its own medical garden. I have yet to venture off and explore the other buildings–I have only been in the LEA/Letras, library and administration building–but I am trying to work up the courage to go meet other people. I love LEA and Letras, but I see these people all day, everyday!

At the moment I am giving four English language classes, lecturing once a month for PARFOR and hosting cultural events . Besides that I also have “office hours” which really means I sit out in the commons and students can come and chat with me in English or get help with their English homework. Of the four class I am teaching, one is beginner, two are intermediate and one is advanced. I will also be co-teaching one of the intermediate classes with Sarah (the other Fulbrighter in Ilheus). I am very excited about having the opportunity to co-teach. I believe having this class will allow us to offer something new and exciting to the students as well as provide a sense of security and creativity for both of us. That’s another plus of being placed at the same university as another Fulbrighter. Sarah is always there to help whenever I am stumped and need advice or ideas. I can also get honest and constructive feedback from her–so far the feedback/advice from Brazilians has been lacking and/or quite negative.

The students here are wonderful! They have been so welcoming and helpful. There are a few in particular (Shalon <3) who have made this transition a lot smoother by picking up slack from above.

When we arrived, Sarah I were told that we were getting a new coordinator because ours would be moving soon. While we were excited to meet our new coordinator, this seemed to be the start of a long stretch of confusion, frustration and cultural misunderstandings. Universities–education in general–do not function like those in the US. Luckily, things have started falling into place. It could also be that Sarah and I have started learning how to deal with the “system” and laugh when NOTHING goes the way we have planned.

More about educational bureaucracy and Brazilian students soon.

Bureaucracy, the Federal Police and pinky promising a man carrying an AK47

A Never Ending Tale

I was all prepared to write a long and very angry post about the Federal Police and all the hoops I had to jump through in order to register and get some form of identification. Well, I am sick of thinking of them and talk about them, so you get the shortened version.

First attempt– Realize we both need to print out the forms and pay the ridiculous $200 fee at Banco do Brazil. We have no idea were we need to go, and by the time we figure it out, it is already past 11 AM (this is when they stop serving foreigners)

Second attempt- After more than an hour and a hot, sweaty and packed city bus, we get to the federal police station and guess what….they are on strike. No one is working and we are turned away. I made the police officer pinky promise me that they would be open and working on Monday. I never thought I would pinky promise a man holding an AK47.

Third attempt- We are finally able to get in the office and talk to one of the people in charge of registering foreigners. He sits me down first and then walks away to find the checklist since he obviously has no idea what is looking for or doing. After about 20 minutes he comes back with the paper. He starts listing numerous problems with my documents and tries taking papers away from me. I told him that unless I was getting my new protocolo today, I needed to hold on to my visa application from the Brazilian embassy. Instead of helping me and simply telling me what needed to be fixed,  he said things like, “I don’t care who your coordinator is and why does she think she knows how we work here” or “how could you be so dumb and not realize that your dad’s name was spelled wrong” (it was misspelled by one letter). Needless to say, I started crying. It was a mixture of built of stress and extreme hatred for Brazil, the heat and the man sitting in front of me. He did the same thing to Sarah. This man was and has been the only Brazilian to treat me like this.

Fourth attempt– The asshole was gone! I thought I had a chance. I made all the necessary changes (expect for the mistake on my visa) and was hoping the wouldn’t notice it today. Sarah went first and got hers! It was about 10 o’clock when it was finally my turn (remember I only have until 11 o’clock). She asked me to stand at the desk and get all my papers ready. She then disappeared. Since this happened last time, I assumed she would be back soon. I was delighted to see her walking back down the hallway after only five minutes, but my heart was soon crushed when she shut and locked the door. I asked Shalon what was going on. He said he didn’t know but that everything would be fine. We waited…..10:20…and waited…….10:30…. and waited……10:45 we asked the man at the desk and said that she had to leave because there was a dead body discovered on a boat that had just pulled into the harbor. Meu Deus! Apparently no one else at the federal prison knows how to look at official documents and a passport and take my finger prints, so I am turned away once again.

Fifth attempt- After waiting for an hour and almost having a heart attack while they looked over my papers, I finally get registered with the federal police.

…..I get home and realize they spelled my name wrong on the card.

Moro no Pais Tropical

My First Impressions of Ilheus

As I boarded my plane in Sao Paulo I was flooded with a mixture of emotions. I was thrilled to finally see my new city in person and excited  by the fact that I would soon be basking in the sun and splashing in the ocean again. I was anxious about meeting Shalon, Taty and Isaias. I had been in contact with them over the last few weeks, but I had no idea who they were, how they would receive me and if they would like me. I was ready to move into my new apartment and get settled–I had been living out of suitcase for about 3 weeks at this point I was ready to unpack and feel at home again. I was scared that Ilheus wouldn’t be what I was expecting and that I would regret choosing that city. Then I was angry when I thought about how I just paid $800 dollars for my luggage on TAM airlines and my euphoric moment was ruined.

IlheusSarah and I nervously chatted during the entire flight. She had the same fears, preconceptions and expectations as I did. This was reassuring for me. I was glad to know that I wasn’t alone on this journey.

As we stepped off the plane my body almost went into shock. My nostril were flooded with warm humid air, and my body began to sweat like it had never sweated before. Even though we were in the “airport”, I could still smell the ocean and sense the taste of salt in the air. I had arrived in Ilheus—tropical, hot, paradise-like Ilheus. As we walked into the airport the first person we saw was Shalon. His kind smile and adorable sign was exactly what I needed in the moment. No matter what adventures, mishaps or confusion was in our future, we had a Brazilian there to hold our hand through the process. To our surprise, Patricia (a gorgeous and loving professor at UESC) was also there to pick us up with Shalon and Isaias (our new coordinator). They took us to our apartment where we haggled a better deal and verbally signed our new rental agreement.

Donkey cart picking up trash

Donkey cart picking up trash

Our neighborhood itself is not at all what I pictured. Pontal is supposed to be one of the, if not the safest neighborhoods in Ilheus, but it seemed very rundown and nothing like I had imagined. I knew Ilheus was a beach town and assumed that it would be more touristy and well kept. Parts of my street actually remind me of Haiti and some of the rougher parts of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Besides the run down buildings, the beaches are gorgeous! I can see the ocean from my balcony and the beach is only one block away. One block! There are palm trees everywhere ❤ To the

The love of my life!

The love of my life!

North we have Playa da Concha which is a small hidden beach with almost no waves and a gorgeous view of the bay. To the South, we have Praias do sul where everyone goes on Sundays. This is a long stretch of beach that eventually reaches Olivenca where you can surf, play fresco ball, join a soccer match or just enjoy an ice cold beer or coconut. I am not ashamed to say that I will soon be a beach bum.
Anyways, that evening, we had a wonderful dinner with Tatiany (the old Fulbright coordinator at UESC). The dinner was delicious and her family was very welcoming and kind. I was grateful to spend my first night in Brazil with a family and a home-cooked meal.

At Taty's house

At Taty’s house

We spent the next couple days getting to know the city (and the horrible bus system) and trying to get some important paperwork down with Shalon. On one of those occasions, Shalon came home with us and waited while we showered and searched for the endless number of “official documents” that we needed to take with us. I told him that he could watch TV in the living room or use my computer while he was waiting for us. To my surprise, I came out of my bedroom, showered and ready to go, and instead of sitting in front of the TV or computer, he had taken one of our chairs out on the balcony and was just sitting there. Perhaps he was looking at the ocean, or watching the neighborhood children play in the street, or maybe just lost in his own thoughts. But whatever he was doing, I wanted to do it too. He looked so calm and at peace, and so Baiano (all the Bahians sit on the sidewalks during the day engaging in neighborhood gossip, chatting about the weather and news or just watching the daily commotion on the street). He was living and relaxing in the moment–a trait that I very much admire. It was then that I realized I had been placed in Bahia for a reason. If I make any changes in my life or achieve any personal growth, I want it to be like that. I want to be at peace. I want to be at peace with myself , with the world and the moment. I often get caught up with sulking in the past and dreaming in the future. It’s time I start living in and enjoying the present. I mentioned before that this is Brazil’s moment in history, well, this is also my moment too. So I’m letting Bahia run it’s course in my life and hopefully I’ll come out a better, more relaxed and tanner version of myself.

Not all those who wander are lost.

Not all those who wander are lost.