Thursday, September 23, 2010

To Campo Grande and Back

I spent the last week or so in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brasil. It is the capital of the state underneath my state. They used to be one big state and when they broke off Campo Grande took over as that capital and Mato Grosso's capital remained Cuiaba. The culture is very similar between the two areas due to close proximity and similar climates, however it was a different adventure as well. In Campo Grande I stayed in an apartment with my tío (uncle) João (John) and tía (aunt) Sandra. My sister, Laura, lives with them, and they have two adopted kids Helen (17) and João Paulo (15). [[Sidenote of Interest: I asked where they were adopted from and everyone kept telling me 'here', thinking there was a misunderstanding I repeated the question explaining that I had adopted cousins from Russia and Guatemala, and they told me that in Brasil kids are adopted from Brasil, from the cities nearby or other states, not from other countries. This is because they have too many orphans here and need to find homes for them first.]]

First the bus ride. The bus ride was long. My mom and I left Tangará da Serra on a Friday afternoon (2 p.m.) We arrived in Campo Grande on Saturday at 7:00 a.m. Now during this time there are about 5 or 6 maybe 7 stops. One is 30 minutes for dinner, the others are ten or so minutes. I didn't take the precaution of not drinking a lot of liquids (I was dying of thirst most of the trip so I'd drink some water). There was a bathroom on the bus so I didn't worry too much. About 2 hours in I had to go to the bathroom and the bus was breaking down so we were stalled on the side of the road. I thought 'PERFECT' it's not moving I should have no problems. I walk back to the bathroom open up the door and the smell just about killed me. There was toilet paper thrown everywhere, used toilet paper, and the floor appeared to be sticky. Well I plugged my nose and decided I had to go anyways, sometimes you can't help it. Then the minute I stand up in there, lock the door, and am avoiding touching anything except the toilet seat, the bus lurches forward. Let's just say that lots of hand sanitizer was needed. Also, apparently this bathroom door locks in a very false manner. It looks locked, it feels locked, but it isn't (or wasn't for me anyways). Some old guy came back and yanked open the door while I was using the bathroom, then I grabbed it and reclosed it and relocked it. I also held onto the door this time just incase it wasn't locked, good choice because it wasn't. Another guy or maybe the same guy about 15 seconds later yanks on the door, but I was holding it thank goodness. So this is where I learned to NEVER drink liquids when you are going on a bus ride. Just don't.

The first afternoon I met my grandma, she is the biggest sweetheart in the world. She made me miss my grandparents even more. Her food was delicious but I must say I prefer the cakes, cookies, and other desserts at my grandmas' houses. I met some aunts that are divorced and live with her (there are two houses on the lot), and I met my cousins Thalita and Felipe. Thalita is nice by any standard and she was wonderful to visit with although the similar names confused me often. She is around 17. Felipe is 8. He is a ball of energy, reminding me a lot of my cousins in the states. He always wanted to play and was a lot of fun to spend time with!

The first night I went out for Sobá which is Japanese.
There was a huge immigration of Japanese people to the Campo Grande area, so not only are there thousands of Japanese-Brasilians, but there is a high demand for Japanese food. Sobá is a soup with beef or pork, noodles and vegetables. It was delicious.

Then I went to a barzinho, which translates to little bar. It is a mixture of a club and a bar, except it's all open (similar to being under a lean to). We went to Miça, which believe it or not sounds like Mass in portguese. So the new friends of my cousin I had made invited me to what I thought was mass and I thought, sure I haven't been there in a while and every church is different, so I was like "ok, that sounds good", then they said "It's a barzinho." and I said "OH. That's SO cool, I haven't really gotten the chance to know places like that." Everyone found the retelling of this story hilarious and now everyone in my family there knows it.

The next day Marie, the exchange student from Minnesota, arrived in Campo Grande to spend the week with us. This was nice because we had each other to lean on for the language and for everything that was strange and new, however we took too much advantage of English. One thing I learned was that we can both be speaking Portuguese and understand each other almost completely, when other people can't. This is because we speak some things incorrectly, however it's incorrect in a way that we both understand (it translates well to English or it is a word we made up, this means its English with a poor portuguese accent).

Now instead of day-by-day replays I'll list off some of the bigger things.

We met some cousins on my other side, they are body-builders. Ages: 15 and 20. They are half Japanese. Their dad lives there and their mom returns there often to work. Many people in Campo Grande look for work in Japan because the money is better there, however you must be married to, or be Japanese to enter (at least from Brasil), so my mom told me that many people marry Japanese so they can work there. I like to believe that there is love there first and it just reinforces the fact that they should be together, but I didn't think to ask. Anyways the mother (my aunt) told my 15 year old cousin to take us to his gym (a lot smaller than mine) and then we went to a park and walked around.

The new group of friends went to the mall and then to the movie Amor a Distancia, sadly I don't remember what it is called in english (long distance love?) It has Drew Barrymore who meets a guy (the actor from accepted) in New York and then moves to California and they date long distance. It was in english with portuguese subtitles, it was funny and nice to be able to compare translations. Translations for movies and songs are awful here. This is due to the heavy use of slang that doesn't translate both from portuguese to english and english to portuguese. [[Sidenote: I learned from a girl named Thaisa that People magazines and magazines like that cost roughly $20 here, and they are in english so people can't even understand them anyways.]]

With the same group of girlfriends Marie and I went to an memorial park of the indigenous people. It was just a large park with a walking path and a lake on one end. It was green and beautiful although the water was a little dark and not cleanly looking. There were also capivaras there, a lot, like our squirrels here. In one area there were roughly 50, just hanging out. It was so strange.

Shopping, nails, hair, and waxing. My mom took Marie and I to the mall. We both have cellphones (although my battery lasts literally two hours and dies and my mom knows this so it is for emergencies only), so we asked my mom if we could stay while she went to a doctor's appointment. She said we could and that she would call for us when she was back in the building. We first got ice cream, Marie got a McFlurry and I went somewhere that had a product similar to Dippin' Dots. I was allowed to pick 4 flavors, I only wanted chocolate. That was a fight with the guy selling it. So i settled for two flavors and it was good, although not as delicious as ours in the states. [[Ice cream here is not as good by far, although I've had some that tastes pretty decent]]. Then we walked around and looked at clothes and jewelry, we purchased a few things, and then we came upon a book store. Now for any of you that don't know me, I buy books before clothes, before shoes, before just about anything with the exception of food. Books, movies, and music are staples in my life, even here. I am constantly downloading new songs (in portuguese because the music here is amazing) watching movies, both familiar and from Brasil, and of course I had to be missing books (with the exception of the buttload I brought down). So entering the book store for me was very similar to how I enter them in the United States, except imagine a lion that hasn't eaten in weeks and comes upon a group of sleeping campers or some zebras. Anyways I looked at many many books and found some translations from english to portuguese and I was very excited. I eventually settled for buying a couple that had been translated from english that I had already read to help me settle into the swing of reading portuguese books. Then Marie and I walked around and shopped some more. My mom eventually called Marie's cellphone but there was some confusion about where we were meeting, however when we tried to call her back we couldn't because we didn't have the proper area code. [[Now before I left my brother, Henrique, made me a list of all the numbers and what provider they belong to and all the area codes I would need, how to call people collect from my cellphone, and other things, however who carries a notebook shopping with them]] So remembering that we needed area codes we went to a near by store and asked for help. They gave us the area code for the other half of Mato Grosso, not my half, therefore we called someone else and tried to explain that they were our mom and we didn't know where to meet them. Then we continued to wander for another ten-20 minutes and eventually saw a lady that looked exactly like my mom who we creeped on, but it wasn't her. So we got bored and sat in front of a shop (our understanding was a yellow shop on the first floor) which was yellow and on the first floor and gave up, waiting for my mom to come. We tried calling her one more time changing the area code this time and it went through and as Marie said "we're lost", my mom tapped us on the shoulders. Then we spend even more time looking for our car because there are two similar parking lots so we checked all over the wrong one first. What an adventure. Nails are a weekly thing here, they cost between $10-20 to get done, and EVERYONE has nice nails here. It's a staple of life which I am not accustomed to, because not only do I dislike having nailpolish on, the last 3 years of my life I haven't been allowed to wear it as of work. So we got our nails done which was an adventure as well because my aunt picked tons of colors that go well with my skin and tried to persuade me into some I had no interest in. They ended up a medium dark pink/red. Marie went with dark blue. Getting your hair washed is common here also, washed and styled, just because. We didn't partake in this either. Now Brasil and waxing. Everyone here waxes everything. Legs, eyebrows, armpits, chests (guys), everywhere. My aunt believed that my eyebrows needed fixing up so we went and got them done. The biggest change now is that I live in a society where everyone worries about how they look and I grew up on a farm as a tom boy. I'd rather play in the mud and have dirty feet than be in a beauty pageant and some people in my family are only trying to get me to try harder on my self-image.

We went to one of the largest farmer's markets in the area, lots of shops and good food. It is well-known in the area and it was a very cool experience. Helen, Marie, and I had a caricature drawn while the whole world watched and we also creeped on anyone that looked foreign. It is really exciting to see foreign people because Marie and I both haven't met any other foreign exchange students (well I met one today but that's a different post in itself).

Acid Rain here is common because it doesn't rain for months on end. The first rain after a long dry-spell is always a bit acidic. Marie and I didn't know this. We woke up, noticed it was raining, asked for permission to go down to the main floor where we could get outside, and we ran and played in it. Oh I had missed rain so much. It was a common thing for me to do in the states, sometimes I even was late for class or delayed because the rain had kept me outside. When we returned to the apartment we were told that it was acidic, and that my hair would be gross for a while. Little did they know, divers are accustomed to this. Oh well I'll learn how to deal, it isn't that awful. I did get the go ahead to take a bath in the rain during the rainy season. From what I've heard exchange students from Minnesota in Brasil like to play in the rain.

We had a churrasco (BBQ) the first Sunday we were in Campo Grande. It had delicious food, but the funniest thing is that there were so many appetizers and I thought it was just food coming at random times. Nope, just appetizers, appetizers that were chicken wings, sausage links, and chicken hearts. Enough meat to make me full before we even at lunch. Chicken hearts, DELICIOUS, when prepared correctly. These were marvelously prepared. They were amazing. Now, I also come from a family that raises chickens, and cleans them by hand. My job is to clean out the inside, it has been my job since I was old enough to handle a knife, so I am not afraid of chicken hearts and am completely familiar with them in their raw form. I also come from where eating soups with squirrel or cow tongue, or eating chicken hearts, livers, and gizzards, isn't a strange thing at a family get together. My mom had prepared them in my house and they always smelt good but I never wanted to try them. Well, when in Rome...or Brasil.

On the topic of food, we went to a Rodizio, this time it was a pizzeria and not a fundraiser for anything. The pizza was delicious I tried bits of everything, one (two) with corn, one (two) with cheese, egg and balogna, one (two) with ice cream, one with chocolate and strawberries, one with banana, one with stroganoff, and one with chicken hearts. When I heard the word chicken I was like okay it's safe after I accepted it, it clicked in my brain that he said heart before chicken, Marie pointed this out as well. It wasn't bad if I must say so.

Shameless brasilians are everywhere. No one here is ever embarrassed and they are very loose. They dance and sing, even when they obviously can't. They aren't afraid to tell you straight up that you have a huge zit, even though you've been trying to forget about it all day (I have seen friends do this to each other, and acquaintances too). They aren't afraid to point out that they don't like your hair or that you've put on a couple pounds. It is taking getting used to and I don't take criticism that harshly anyways, but I don't know if I'll be able to completely copy them in this area. Although I have been becoming more talkative, more jokey, and more willing to do things on the spot (like handstands in class). My family all tells me that I am becoming more brasilian, but we still joke about how I wake up American.

Marie and I celebrated our one month anniversary of living in Brasil by going out to eat and hanging out with our family, and our new cousin/friend Helen who we spent every day with. It wasn't a big thing, but it was fun to realize that one month before we were freaking out on the airplane because we were going to be living with complete strangers, and now those strangers are family.

September 11th was the day I arrived in Campo Grande. I thought about it randomly throughout the day, but I didn't see much on it until that night when we were watching television. There was a show talking about the Twin Towers and it replayed the news clip from that day over and over again. We talked about how it was so long ago(we=my sister, my mom, my sister's boyfriend, my uncle, my aunt, and me) and how I was so young. My sister's boyfriend and I shared the same memory of being in a classroom at the time and everything kind of stops and they clue you onto what was going on. I got to watch part of it on television. I watched the clip and got really somber, and everyone talked about how it was sad, but it was a weird emotion sitting around people that didn't have the same connection with it, they weren't from the same country. Kind of like how I can feel compassion for the people in Haiti, but I will never share the exact emotion they have towards the earthquake.

On a happier note, I ate feijoada again. I ate more rice and beans, more beef. I tried really delicious drinks as well. Juices of fruits that don't even translate into english. I showed off some pictures I have on facebook and orkut to my aunt and uncle who were in love with the land my house sits on. They like the country and the fact that in the U.S. people can have big free space and no walls or gates or fences.

It is a joke around here now that I am an animal killer, all because I have hunted a few times before and have been successful, and because I chose to share this with them. Everytime we see animals or talk about animals they tell me to put away my guns and that I can't shoot and eat it. For example we were sitting on my aunt's porch one night and my uncle was holding a turtle, he then set it on the ground and let it run loose and the comment "watch out for Aletha. Aletha-you can't hunt this." shortly followed.

I learned some old folktales from Brasil as well, but I am too afraid to screw them up so I am going to look more into them before I retell them. My uncle also taught me new words. Piranha=hair clip, the fish, and a person that has lots of boyfriends. Capivera=[of 4 legs] animal, [of 2 legs] ugly woman. Dragão=ugly man. Vialão=Guitar, beautiful woman. There were more but I'm struggling to remember them.

Last but not least, living with a family has its ups and downs. I get along with every single person in this family well, but on the day we arrived at the bus station my dad sent Henrique to pick us up. Henrique doesn't have his license and he got into a small fender bender. Everything but $500 is covered by insurance. However being the truck still ran and Henrique was fine, the worst part for me was that everyone was tense for a while. They seemed to want to yell at each other, but were holding everything back because I was there. I hate witnessing people yell at other people, or at me for that matter. So I retired to my room to unpack my clothes. Although I'm certain that they weren't happy with one another and I'm sure some unpleasant words were used in unpleasant tones were used, the next day the air cleared a bit more. No one is holding a grudge and although it isn't quite what it used to be everyone is beginning to act the same. This I think is amazing because what is done is done, we all have to move on with our lives and no one is remaining angry. Man that was an awkward night though, because I didn't know where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to say or do, if anything, but it all passed and everyone and everything is okay.

All in all it was a wonderful trip and I had my mind opened even more. I learned more music, tried more foods, and watched more brasilian soap-operas. Conversing with different people has brought me new perspectives and has made me a better speaker because it has broadened my vocabulary. I returned to Tangará and everyone was amazed at how much I'd improved, although there is a long ways to go yet.

New post soon. I may add more pictures eventually to this post, or in another. They'll for sure end up on facebook and they are already on my orkut, but I'm getting really slow at uploading things and really busy with life here so I'll let you know.



  1. A brother that gets in a fender bender with the truck and tension ensues? Sounds like they are going way out of their way to make you feel at home.

  2. Lee is correct. They went way of their way to make you feel at home. Pick-ups, fender benders and burn outs, just like home! Your host brother is very similar to your brother in the states. Tell him he needs to perfect his burn out technique!!!!