You got Dengue? You’re a real Brazilian now!

Dengue—It’s a Killer

It could be because you study at UESC and this place is a cesspool of gossip, because you saw my horrific rash pictures on Facebook, or because you heard my agonizing cries for help and more medicine all the way from Brazil, but I’m sure you already know. Everyone I know—and even people I don’t (like the people who work at the post office…)—know that I had dengue.

Dengue fever, cleverly named the breakbone fever, is a painful, debilitating mosquito-borne disease caused by any one of four closely related dengue viruses. These viruses are related to the viruses that cause West Nile infection and yellow fever. Don’t worry Mom, I just got my yellow fever shot.

Symptoms

Symptoms

It is transmitted by the bite of an Aedes mosquito infected with a dengue virus. The mosquito becomes infected when it bites a person with dengue virus in their blood. You can tell that a mosquito is infected because it turns black and white and has stripes similar to those of a zebra.

Infected Mosquito

Infected Mosquito

These mosquitoes usually bite during the day (particularly in the morning), but that does not mean it is impossible for them to bite at all hours. That seems to be common myth around these parts.

Where dengue exists

Where dengue exists

Instead of simply listing the symptoms I chose to retell my experience with the virus. I’m hoping for a couple “oh that poor thing” and “lord have mercy on her” type reactions here 😉

Because we had school holidays I decided to go visit a local Cocoa farm for the week. To my surprise, I woke up on the second day there with an insane migraine and severe pain behind my eyes. The Brazilians there chalked it up to the fact that I was a foreigner and that being outside for one whole day in the sunshine was just too much for me. I also heard things like, “It must be because you don’t speak Portuguese very well and hearing it all day is stressful and a workout for your brain” or “Do you eat homemade food at home? It might be the natural food here”. I know they were trying to be helpful and help find a solution to my pain, but being told that you can’t move your eyeballs because of Portuguese is a little frustrating.

Each night got worse and by the last day I wasn’t sleeping or eating at all. My body ached (I thought it was maybe the bed with 3 functioning legs that I was sleeping on) and my patience was gone. I decided to leave early because of how uncomfortable I was.

Saturday morning I woke up at 5 AM to make sure I could catch the 6 AM bus back to Itabuna. I was in so much pain I couldn’t even stand up to wait for the bus. I was overjoyed when it finally arrived. Sadly, within 10 minutes I started to feel extremely car sick. I tried eating an apple to settle my empty stomach but all that did was making me vomit in the bus.

At this point I was devastated. I promised myself in that moment that after Brazil I would go back to the US and never travel again. I figured I was getting too old and grouchy for traveling and that my body just couldn’t handle it anymore.

I arrive in Itabuna where Andre kindly picked me up at the bus station. He never said it, but by the look on his face I could tell I looked like shit. I just wanted to sleep! As soon as we got to his house I stripped down to my skivvies and that’s when we saw it. My stomach and legs were covered in tiny, bright red bumps. Andre shook his head and informed that I had dengue.

The spots

The spots

That night I came down with a horrible fever and spent most of the night tossing and turning in agonizing pain. They aren’t joking when they call it breakbone fever. I have never felt pain like that before! It started in my back and shot down my left side all the way to my ankle. I couldn’t touch my hip without bursting into tears.

Sunday was even worse. Light was unbearable and every time I tried to open or move my eyes the pain made me nauseous. The fever was so bad that I felt compelled to lay face down on Andre’s kitchen floor. It was the only thing that I thought could cool me down. I don’t remember a lot of what happened after that because I was in and out of consciousness.

However, the one thing I do remember is bawling on the living room floor and yelling at Andre telling him I would leave if he didn’t give me something more than Tylenol for the pain. Really…I though I was going to pack my bags and walk out the door when I couldn’t even pee without his help?

When you have dengue you can ONLY take Tylenol. I believe that my dengue turned into hemorrhagic dengue because I was taking 1,000+ mg of ibuprofen a day before I knew I had dengue. Apparently that’s the worst thing you can take and it has caused far too many unnecessary deaths from dengue. I got the dreaded blood nose on Monday.

By this point I hadn’t slept in 4 days, I had only eaten a couple bites of soup and I my body had given up. I remember laying there and thinking that dying would be OK as long as I didn’t have to feel like that anymore. And for those of you out there that are skeptical right now…..no I am not being dramatic. This virus is the virus from hell.

By Tuesday I was able to walk around and I no longer had a fever. The bleeding had stopped and only the itchy red bumps remained. I thought I was in the clear and decided to go home on Wednesday despite everyone urging me to go to the hospital or stay at Andre’s house where I could be looked after. Sorry I’m so stubborn. I learned my lesson

Wednesday night I experienced heavy bleeding from some areas I won’t mention. I was terrified and was finally convinced that I needed to go to the hospital. Sarah and Geraldine rushed me to the emergency room at the regional hospital where I was scared out of my mind and trying to hold back tears. After all that and I still felt the need to look a little tough. My platelets were low but not low enough to have to stay in the hospital.

My boss was gracious enough to give the entire week off so that I could fully recuperate. I think I drank close to 20 gallons of Gatorade and Pedialyte while abusing my Netflix subscription.

I am happy to say that I have completely recovered and that no one needs to worry anymore! So thank you to all of you who sent me concerned emails, called just to make sure I was doing ok and especially to those of you who were by my side the entire time. Andre—without you I would have taken a lot more medicine, never taken a shower and starved to death. Thank you for being there for me the entire time, even when I was screaming about pain killers. Fran—Obrigada por me visitar e trazer lanche. Amei nossa conversa. Sarah—thank you for picking up slack for me while I was gone and for looking after me when I got home.

Kill all mosquitoes

Kill all mosquitoes

Morale of this story:

  1. Kill every mosquito you see
  2. Don’t take ibuprofen if you have dengue
  3. Don’t get dengue

Feijoada: Brazil’s National Dish

Feijoada: Brazil’s National Dish 

Upon arriving in Brazil I was bombarded with several Brazilian facts, urban legends and local traditions. Every person I met had something different to share, but the one story they all had in common was the story of how feijoada became Brazil’s national dish.

feijoada

Feijoada is a delightfully tasty meat and bean stew that is normally served on the weekends and at big parties or family get-togethers. While each version of the story may slightly differ, the resounding commonality is that it was once a dish of the slaves.

Slaves_resting_by_Rugendas_01For those of you don’t know, the importation of African slaves in Brazil began in the 16th century when the “indigenous labor force” was no longer enough for the growing Portuguese settlements. Slave labor was the driving force behind the growth of the sugar economy in Brazil, as well as the coffee plantations and mining districts. It is estimated that more than 2 million Africans were sold into slavery in Brazil up until the “official” end of slavery in 1888–making Brazil the last nation in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery. Most of these slaves were first taken to and “broken” in Salvador, Bahia (my state!) before being sent to work elsewhere in the country. Today, Bahia is known as the “African Capital of Brazil,” thanks in part to its mainly black population, while Brazil in general contains the largest African population outside of Africa.

Like in the United States, the slaves became the backbone of the country and contributed to the local culture and lifestyle. This is evident in my state.  Everywhere you go in Bahia you witness the beautiful afro-brazilian culture. So back to the feijoada….. 

Per the many Brazilians I have spoken with, feijoada was the “poor slave’s dish”. In that time the African slaves were given only rice and beans to fend off hunger. Since this was usually not enough the slaves would scavenge for, beg for or be rewarded with unwanted cuts of meat (usually pork–skin, snout, ears, feet and intestine). While this may seem disgusting to us, these cuts of meat added vital protein to their diet and flavored the  mundane rice and bean meal.

As the story goes, it wasn’t until the 19th century when feijoada became popular and “urbanized”. Instead of being the dish of the slaves, it was now the dish of the elite (with better cuts of meat of course). How ironic, right? Chefs in Rio de Janeiro began perfecting the dish and thus it became the unofficial dish of Brazil.

Quite the romantic story, no? Well some skeptics out there don’t believe it. They claim that  feijoada is actually cassoulet, a popular meat and bean stew from Portugal. The only main difference is that the beans used in feijoada are black beans (black beans did not exist in Europe at that time). But who am I to doubt so many Brazilians who are so passionate about the story of how feijoada came to be? If they believe it, I believe it. I think in a way it represents the story of Brazil and there is nothing more beautiful than being proud of that story.

Cassoulet for Portugal

Cassoulet for Portugal

Anyways, two weeks ago a few friends and I decided to have a dinner party. Felipe, an amazing LEA student promised he would teach us how to make feijoada. I LOVE this dish, and couldn’t wait to learn how to make it. I had heard that it was pretty difficult to make and I was too scared to attempt this colossal recipe on my own. I was amazed by how well it turned out (probably the best one I have ever eaten) and wanted to share it with you!

Let’s Get Cooking! 

The Ingredients

The Meat

The Meat

1 bag of black beans

3 large linguiça (Brazilian sausage)

1 large cut of juicy bacon (skin probably still attached)

3 salted pig feet

1/4 kilo of paio (a type of smoke sausage)

4 OnionsOnion and Garlic

5 cloves of garlic

4-5 Bay leaves

Salt, pepper and cumin

Step 1- Pour out your bag of black beans on a towel. Go through and pick out any stones, branches or ugly/discolored beans you see. As Felipe put it, “it’s a bean beauty contest”.

Sarah picking out the ugly beans

Sarah picking out the ugly beans

Step 2- Let the beans soak in water (follow instructions on the bag) while you begin preparing the other ingredients.

Step 3– Cut your onions and mince the garlic. Saute them until translucent.

Step 4– Cut linguiça and add to pot. As Felipe pointed out, it is important to cut it on a diagonal so that the meat itself has more contact with the broth, giving the stew a stronger flavor. Continue to cook and stir the onions, garlic and linguiça on medium heat until the meat beings to brown.

Garlic, onions and linguiça

Garlic, onions and linguiça

Step 5– While you are waiting for step 2 to finish cooking, you can start boiling the pig feet in water. Usually the pig feet come extremely salted and need to be boiled twice. So, boil the feet and dump the water. Boil the feet a second time in new water and also discard that water. Your feet are ready!

Boiling pig feet!

Boiling pig feet!

Step 6– Chop the bacon and paio and add to pot. At this time you can also add the bay leaves, black pepper and cumin.

Add bacon, paio and spices

Add bacon, paio and spices

Step 7– Add the pig feet and continue to stir. Make sure that all meats are getting even cooking time and exposure to the spices you just added.

Step 8– Add the soaked beans (beans and water).

Add beans and water

Add beans and water

Step 9– Because we were starving and couldn’t wait to eat the feijoada, we cooked it in a pressure cooker! This way we only had to let it cook on high for about 45 minutes. If you use a regular pot, it takes from 2-3 hours…..So really this step is just waiting while you are taunted by the delicious smell. You can use this time to prepare the rice and vinaigrette.

Step 10– Drink some cachaça and have fun with friends while you wait!

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Step 11- Once the stew is done cooking in the pressure cooker we cooked it a little longer in large pot while we stirred it. I think it was to thicken it up.

Str

Stir

Step 12– Eat the amazingness that is feijoada! Don’t forget the farofa!

Mestre Felipe in all his glory

Mestre Felipe in all his glory

The finished product

The finished product

The finished product

The finished product

Salvador: The First 3 Days

Day 1 

While this post does not represent my overall feelings for Salvador, these are a few words that represent my first day in the city.

Overwhelmed. Scared. Lost. Shit show. Ugly. Dirty. Rainy. Really Scared. Wet. Frustrated. WTF. Did I mention scared?

I love traveling but unfortunately I get extremely “car sick” on all types of transportation.

The city the boat leaves from.

Bom Despacho: The city the boat leaves from.

My trip to Salvador included a 6 hour bus ride to Bom Despacho through a handful of small, Bahian coastal towns protected by an excessive amount of speed bumps, an hour long boat ride across the Bahia de todos os Santos and then another city bus ride to the ‘house’ we thought we were staying at. In an attempt to avoid getting sick on the bus, I loaded up on ginger pills, ginger and honey candy, and ginger mints. I’m not sure if it is possible to overdose on ginger, but if it is, I did! I was also armed with saltine crackers and diet Sprite. While I defeated all feelings of nausea, I was overwhelmed by the daunting migraines,  feelings of exhaustion and the urge to punch anything that came within three feet of me. Needless to say, I was ready to get there and relax. Hah….like that would happen.

Follow my Havaianas to Salvador!

Follow my Havaianas to Salvador!

Salvador

Before leaving for Salvador a student of mine told me that her son lived on Salvador and that he would be more than willing to host us during our stay. Free housing? Ummmm yes! I spoke to Danillo (my student’s extremely handsome son) before arriving and assumed that our set meeting time was exactly that…set. How American of me.

Nightfall was quickly approaching as Sarah and I wondered around Salvador reeking of public transportation and fear. After an hour or so and about five failed attempts of contacting Danillo, we found the “house”. I say “house” because that’s what I was expecting and that is exactly what we did not get. Danillo lives in the co-ed university house of UFBA. It is a gigantic plantation style house that sits on Corredor da Victoria (a main street in Salvador) and the ocean. Because Danillo was not there, we were forced to wait in the commons area until he returned. When Brazilians say that they will be back in an hour or two you should expect them in 3-5 hours.

The Room

After a while, the security guards and other students began to take pity on us and invited us to stay in their room. It was already 11PM and Sarah and I were exhausted and out of ideas. They were friends of the son of one of my students…..close enough connection, right?

We got to their room and that’s when I knew our trip had just gotten a lot more interesting. The overwhelming scent of marijuana and boy stench flooded my nostrils. The walls were filled with drawings, proverbs, Polaroids and messages from previous students and travelers. We plopped our stuff down on our new bunk bed and hashed out our plan for the next day. Even though I was beyond terrified to be staying in a room with two men, in a city that hadn’t been that welcoming with someone who was just as lost as I was, I still managed to fall asleep. Hopefully  the next day wouldn’t be as bad.

The Room

The Room

Day 2 

After a tediously long day of Portuguese courses, a samba dance class and a what seemed to be never ending trek through a terencial downpour, Sarah and I finally made it back to the Residencia Universitaria da UFBA–our home for the week. Tired, soaking wet, and yearning to sleep in my own bed, I was slightly anxious about going to bed in our shared room. I had already survived one night, but what if that was their plan? What if they loured us in with kindness and then planned to rape and kidnap us. Yes, this is where my mind goes when I am left alone to think about things. But surprisingly, what started out as unknown, terrifying territory was in that moment my sanctuary. As I was lying in bed translating Portuguese verbs in the subjunctive one of the boys serenaded us on the guitar while another friend, Oscar, sang and occasionally read poetry to the light batucada Samba beat.

My private show came to an end as my thoughts and worries floated away on the soothing lyrics of Novos Baiano’s Misterio do Planeta. Today was slightly better.

Day 3 

Like I mentioned before, Sarah and I took a class at a Portuguese language school called Idioma. At first I wasn’t sure if a week of classes was worth so much money, but during our second day of class I started feeling confident in Portuguese for the first time. We attended class from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM with quite the diverse group. Our cohert consisted of a German that never showed up, a Colombian girl, a Polish who speaks 6 languages, a Dutch girl and a Kiwi.

On this day I was determined to get out and see the city, but it of course rained again. Did I mention there was a McDonald’s down the street from our house? Sarah and I, satisfying that American beast the resides in all of us, shared a few meals there during our time in Salvador. It’s strange how much you start missing things just because they’re American when you’re abroad. During my last year in the United States I maybe ate at McDonald’s and/or Burger King three times. Here in Brazil, I have eaten McDonald’s every chance I get. Maybe that explains the three noticeable kilos I have gained these last two months.

All day Brazilians had been telling us about the famous concert they have every Tuesday night in Pelourinho. So Sarah and I set out on our own despite the less than pleasant weather and the fact that we had no idea where we were going. On the bus I asked a semi-safe looking man where we should get off. He happened to live in Pelourinho and was heading to the same concert. He walked us through Pelourinho all the while telling us that we were crazy for coming here on our own…..that seems to be the common reaction from Brazilians.

Suvaco da Cobra

Suvaco da Cobra

The concert was cancelled because of the weather (stupid rain), but little did we know that our night was about to get a whole lot better! We ended up at a local, underground samba club called Suvaco da Cobra. The Cobra’s Armpit. It was fantastic! I love samba! I love listening to it, dancing to it and doing everything else that can be done that perfect samba beat. A blog post on samba’s history and the joy it brings to my life coming soon.

I danced all night and even ran into a friend from Ilheus. Fausto! What seemed like a ruined day turned out to be a fantastic experience of what Brazil and Salvador really have to offer–Unexpected friendships, intense cultural experiences basked in Brazilian history and opportunities for personal growth.

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Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog! The last half of my Salvador story coming soon!

Samba at Suvaco da Cobra ❤