Friday, August 29, 2003

Culture Shock

Well, here I am, adjusting to life in the states again, experiencing a form of reverse culture shock (what’s up with those huge super-sized french fries and monster soda cups?)

I have received a number of emails from people wanting to know how Kitty is, how teaching is going, how the car hunt went, etc.  I thought I would post here to give everyone a quick update on my life and to apologize for not sending more personalized responses.  I promise to start replying to various emails soon.

For those of you who have not heard, I arrived home on Sunday, Aug. 10th and was met at the airport with the news that my grandmother had had a heart attack the day before and was in a coma.  She never woke up and in fact, passed away (the night before my first day of teaching) and her funeral was that Friday, my third day of school (which meant of course that I had to arrange for a substitute, and thus get my sub folder together at super-sonic speeds.)  For those of you who have taught in the past or are currently teaching, you can just imagine my general sense of panic at the time, which of course, made me feel even worse about my grandmother’s death — at a time when I should be grieving, I also had to focus on beginning-of-the-year duties!  Ultimately, the result was that my first two weeks back, in particular that first week of teaching, were extremely stressful and emotional for me.  Luckily for me, working for a Catholic school has its benefits — my principal was very supportive and insisted that I take that Friday to attend the funeral and to be with my family.
Of course, the fact that I missed the first Friday of school meant that I also missed the first all-school mass, which I have to say was simply a matter of delaying the task that I dreaded more than any other in the world — being responsible for 24 squirmy, wiggly, whiny, giggly first graders.  In church.  With my friend and classmate Michael (who also happens to be the priest of the church) watching from the pulpit as I grabbed a child by the nape of the neck and dragged him off that damn pillar.  With the other teachers in the building cringing in despair as my first graders dropped their kneelers to the floor with a loud, resounding bang, because I forgot to lower them before allowing them to enter the pews.  With one of my children bouncing forward and backward off the kneelers, despite our reviewing all the proper and appropriate behaviors for when we are in “God’s house.”  With another child hanging over the pew in front of him because “Miss Uley, I’m tired” (in a whiney voice, of course).  With a third child swinging his feet so that they connected with a massive thud against the pew in front of him.  With a fourth child trying to rip a fifth’s child’s ponytail from her head.  With a sixth child crawling on the floor for god knows what reason.  With a seventh, eight and ninth child sitting in dead silence, their eyes focused forward, their hands in their laps, their backs straight, their mouths closed, because someone in their life had obviously pounded into their heads the deadly consequences of misbehaving in church (they’ll go to hell, no doubt).  And I haven’t even reached the tenth child.  Let alone the 24th.

Suffice it to say, there is a reason so many religions invented such a thing as Sunday school.  Because their parents couldn’t take the pressure of dragging their children to church service week after week!

And that doesn’t even enter the realm of Amy, who is not Catholic and is not familiar with all the various rituals involved in this mass.  There were the hours spent in the privacy of my own home, practicing the sign of the cross, not to mention that whole genuflecting thing (I had to practice to be sure I wouldn’t fall flat on my face… it’s harder than it looks!)  There was the whole I’m moving my mouth trying to give the impression that I actually know the words to these songs, not to mention the rote responses (I have to get my hands on something called a missellette — okay I have no idea if that is how it’s spelled, but I went with the whole French spelling, since it sounds so very francais — I guess this little book spells out everything I will ever need to know about attending a Catholic mass and looking like a native.)

As for the actual teaching portion of the job, I believe I have the international poster child for ADD in my room, and I most certainly have several poster children for the ”we took naps all summer long and it doesn’t matter what you say, come 2:00 we’re going to be napping one way or the other” club.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve had to pull a child upright in their chair and be the mean teacher who makes them wake up from a sound sleep (which they arrived at in literally 2.9 seconds).

Ah, the joys of teaching.  The thing is the kids are great.  They’re fun and cute as anything and their level of bad just doesn’t even begin to reach the darkest levels of junior high bad.  So, I’m counting it all a plus, and hey, if I have to drag a couple kids down from pillars in church or wake up the nap brigade or even ring my bell 20,792 times in one day just to get their attention and maybe actually get a word in edgewise, well at least I’m not confiscating fart machines and sending kids to the office because they’re threatening physical violence and squaring off with kids who are a foot taller than me and a hundred pounds heavier and confiscating notes about doing the nasty (in truly vulgar terminology) re other 14-year olds.  Then again, junior high had its rewards too.  As a teacher anyway.

And that’s really all I have to say about the teaching right now.  I’m still getting into the swing of things and expect everything to continue along its merry, crazy path for quite some time before it begins to settle down.  But hey, as long as we’re having fun, who minds crazy?

As for Kitty, he’s doing okay.  I picked him up from the vet almost immediately after arriving in town.  I was given two prescriptions and a saline solution, all of which have to be administered twice a day.  If someone had told me, even three months ago, that I would be inserting a needle under Kitty’s skin every 12 hours, I would have told them they were fricking nuts, that I couldn’t possibly handle anything like that.  But the reality is we do what we have to when we care enough.  This treatment is really about maintenance as without it, he probably wouldn’t make it.  So, I will continue the treatment as long as he is able to enjoy life and is not in pain and hopefully my budget will continue to support that decision (given that the treatment costs around $200 a month).

I have had some minor difficulties in the process.  The first night I administered the saline solution, it took me 30 minutes to get up the courage to actually pierce his skin and by that time, he had almost finished eating and got quite irritated with me, resulting in him receiving less than the required amount that first time.  I also had technical difficulties with the line last night (I had just added a new bag to the line) and had to call my vet at her home (the emergency clinics were less than helpful — I actually called two before resorting to my vet).  Dr. Stuart was wonderful and walked me through all the various things I could do before we finally hit upon the solution.

Of course, by that time, Kitty had finished eating and was quite irritable with me when I followed through on the whole saline solution thing (I think he thought he might get out of it for once!)
In any case, Kitty and I are enjoying our time together, for however long it lasts, and of course, I haven’t yet given up hope and am still holding out for one more year.  We’re determined to beat Dr. Stuart’s “he may last a day, he may last a week, he may last a month” warning as we were leaving the clinic.  Though I know she doesn’t want to raise any false hopes, Kitty has surprised us before and may just do so again.

And lastly, my car hunt met with success.  I actually purchased my car the day after I got home and picked it up one day later. It’s a 2003 Honda Civic and basically has everything my other car did not.  Power windows.  CD player.  Working power locks.  Rearview mirror.  Working a/c unit.  Transmission.  Yes, indeed.  I’m living the good life.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Week 9 in Brazil, Take 2

Well, I’m afraid this update loses some of its impact now that I’ve returned to the states, but I didn’t exactly have time to write my final missive twice.  I literally used my last 20 minutes at the youth hostel in Rio to type the tale of my final week in Brazil and as a result, after hotmail ate my words of wisdom re week 9, I had no choice but to leave the tale for later reconstruction as I had a plane to catch.  By the way, many thanks to all those sarcastic words of wisdom (no I did not forget something, Nancy, hotmail just hates me and yes, my week was EXTREMELY exciting, thank you very much, Jed).

And so… I will attempt to reconstruct my final week for you, my patient loyal readers, and also for me, since I find it impossible to leave this tale unfinished!

Speaking of Jed, he would be so proud of me (I forgot to mention this in week 8), for I spent one of my final evenings with my family playing the Brazilian version of that game whose name escapes me, but you know the one — it’s a war game, involving lots of armies with the goal being to take over the world.  In any case, I had to keep reminding the apparent cheaters in the family (the father and the 14-year old son) that no, if they wanted to fight with x number of armies, then they had to actually move y number of armies when they won.  I constantly amazed the young boys in the house with my knowledge of “cool” games and (amazingly enough!) music.

But that has nothing to do with week 9.  Week 9 I spent in Rio (and what fun that was!)  For the first part of the week, I toured the city with the other Americans in our group.  We visited Cristo Redentor at the top of a mountain via train and an endless number of steps; trekked across two other mountains on our way to a third (Pao de Acucar) via rikkety, grindy, terrifying slow, cable cars (my mom would have freaked!); ate at a churrasco buffet (the Brazilian version of barbecue where every two minutes a waiter hovered over your shoulder wanting to drop giant slabs of meat on your plate – I kept them away with my newly acquired Brazilian finger – that would be a no-no-no shaking of the finger not whatever the hell else you guys are thinking); spent hours at the beach; visited several "hippy fairs"; trekked through a botanical garden; visited the soccer stadium (why I ask you); and attended a hideous, tacky, Las Vegas showgirl type show well-known among Rio tourists for its “realistic” portrayal of Brazilian culture and history [scoffs and rolls eyes].

My only regret is that I never did get the chance to leap off that mountain in Rio and hang-glide down to the beaches below.  They kept cancelling our reservation due to inclement weather.  Damn them.  Of course, in retrospect, I think that maybe the inclement weather was actually the universe shouting at us, “HEY!  Enough risk-taking already, you MORONS!!”

My final three days in Rio I spent at the beach, wandering through Copacabana, enjoying my room at the youth hostel that was so very different from the room of broken pipes, waterfall streaming across the electric control panel and telephone, sprinkling in my face at 4:00 in the morning, nearly electrocuting me as I attempted to turn on the lights and turn off the a/c via the same control panel, unable to see the water that was turning it into a hazardous danger zone… this was the room I stayed in at our “classier” and more expensive group hotel we stayed in for the first half of the week.  My youth hostel was much calmer and had lots more character with a hammock on the balcony, bunk beds in the rooms, hardwood floors, ceiling fans and older architecture.

In any case, that was my final week in Brazil.  For the most part, it was calm with a distinct lack of excitement (mainly because I wasn’t with the group that ended up getting in an argument with a taxi driver — well, I did get in some arguments myself, but I wasn’t there for this particular argument — and were forced to exit the cab in the middle of a bunch of favelas, or shantytowns, with no idea of where they were or how to get where they were going, and ended up getting picked up by mega-scary, machine gun toting military police… they were eventually given a ride to civilization after enduring a lecture about wandering where they didn’t belong and having to hear about the German tourist who was shot not two blocks from where they stood two weeks before… yeah, I’m thinking I was lucky to escape all that excitement!)

And so my experiences in Brazil ended with a 12-hour plane ride home, 4 hour layover in Texas, and a 2 hour flight to K.C.  All in all, it was a great trip, crazy family, river rafting near death experience, cable cars, excessive hours in class, military police and all.

But it’s good to be home too!

Friday, August 1, 2003

Week 8 in Brazil

E entao amigos, como vao? 

I'm wrapping up the academic portion of the program here — took my final exam this morning, what a pain in the butt, like we’re supposed to study while in paradise… de jeito nenhum!

Although I must admit that paradise is sometimes an exaggeration (somehow the stench of overworked sewage systems detracts from the idyllic setting), it still seems absurd to spend our afternoons studying… which is why many of us have perfected the art of studying at the beach (that is to say, we pretend to study until someone else from the group shows up to pretend study as well, which usually results in happy, sunny hours with not a book in sight).

And so my academic program endeth, on the beach with coco water and a smile.

I did of course get a lot of work done on my research project (despite the time at the beach) but there is still so much more to do.  I spent the past several weeks, making observations in an elementary /middle school in Vitoria, speaking with teachers and interviewing adults students (who attend at night).  Unfortunately, I had a limited amount of time to pursue my research (given the rigorous academic schedule) and things in Latin America tend to meander along at a very slow pace in any case, so… I think that if I truly want to use the results of my research to write my master’s thesis, I’m going to have to return to Brazil sometime over the next year (how very sad for me, I’m sure).
And so my research stops, with too many questions for it to truly be at an end.

My crazy Brazilian family is already asking when I will return, so they can welcome me with loud shrieks of joy.  I of course am counting down the seconds to when I get to leave their nut house, though I will truly, TRULY miss the children (yes, even the whiney shrieky one).  And so I leave the wacky Brazilian family behind, certain that my family has, in no way, ever approached their level of wackiness (and that’s really saying something!)

I completed Capoeira last night with a video camera attached to my face so that I got out of actually having to perform in front of the hordes of Brazilians our professors invited to watch our (or at least my) shameful lack of coordination.  Too bad I never thought to borrow the video camera from my family sooner, maybe I could have avoided all those crazy evenings of contortionist play.

And so my Capoeira days are over, leaving me covered in bruises, hobbling through the streets of Brazil with a videotape and berimbau clutched in hand.

Tonight I head for Rio de Janeiro on a bus.  I begged my fellow travelers to fork out the extra money for an omnibus semi-leito (partial sleeping bus), but there seems to be a communal crisis of money at the end of this trip – I really don’t understand how the crisis can be that great when even I can afford to pay the extra TEN DOLLARS to travel without another passenger reclining in my lap, but hey…  at least they all agreed to pay the extra two dollars to have three more inches of space.

And so my time in Vitoria comes to a close.  It’s been interesting and fun and messed up all at the same time.  I can’t wait to see what Rio brings the second time around!  One final excursion to end the trip in style.

Ate mais…

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Week 7 in Brazil

First, I have to express my thanks to each and every one of you, for providing so much compassion and support in response to my latest email re Kitty.  He is holding his own at the vet’s office, charming them all I am certain with his feisty attitude and will to live.  He is not out of the woods by any means and may still not make it, but I am taking comfort in knowing that he is in very good hands and is being treated very well.

As for my experiences here in Brazil, I am trying to take to heart the advice I have received from so many different sources:  to continue enjoying my time here as best I can, and to trust all will be well.  It’s hard at times to stay focused and to not wish the hours away, which is the worst way of wasting precious hours of life, but I am doing my best.

It helps that I am living in a house filled with crazy people.  They allow me very little time to wallow and to pout.  The house has a total of 8 people living in it (that includes me) and it is, quite literally, a mad house.  Four of the people are children ranging from ages 5 to 14 and the other four are adults.

Conversations in this mad house are impossible.  You should just give up.  That’s what I’ve learned.  They should have a sign on the door that says “Communication within these walls is currently impossible.”  Although it should be in Portuguese obviously.  It really is an exercise in futility.  Because they all share their thoughts at the same time.  And the youngest child, poor thing, I don’t think she has a hope in hell of ever being heard, which is probably why every word I've heard her speak has been screamed at the top of her lungs. 

I just sit there listening to the chaos until I feel like my head is going to explode.  Then I quietly retire to my room, where I am able to listen to their entire conversation and repeat it verbatum from one floor up and three rooms over because they really are that loud.

In any case, despite the chaos and the noise, the kids are adorable and they’re all currently indulging in a race to see who can read Amy’s entire Harry Potter collection in Portuguese before she leaves.  I really love my HP books, but I am considering leaving them as a gift to the kids.  After all, kids’ books should really be enjoyed by kids, right?  And what’s the likelihood of some young Portuguese-speaking student in my class one day deciding to read them?  Not too great, I would say…

So, my host family’s great.  Capoeira, on the other hand, is killing me.  All I have to say is never ever take an exercise class in a foreign country.  It’s just not a good idea.  They believe that everyone is capable of everything, including crazy-ass cartwheels across a giant gymnasium and one-handed hand stands where your entire body moves in some weird-ass arc that defies gravity and the space-time continuum, but hey… it’s entirely possible if you just put your mind to it, right?  Right… I’ve never really felt my age until now, but I’m telling you, I now feel my age times 10.  I get home every night and I’m walking like a little old lady who just fell down a flight of stairs.

The students in my class can pretty much be divided into three groups:  the athletes, who attack Capoeira like it’s a game to be won (and thus somehow, end up accomplishing all manner of things that defy gravity), the dancers, who flow seemlessly through all the steps like they were born doing Capoeira, and me.  Yep, that would be me, the group of 1.  The non-athlete, non-dancer, ten years older than everyone else in the group me.  It’s really not a pretty sight…. Amy doing Capoeira.  I have a terrible fear that I resemble a giant lumbering gorilla trying to do the cancan.  Every time someone pulls out a camera, I try to hide, but I’m afraid I was unable to avoid being captured by some hidden, stealth-like spy cameras.  It’s unfortunate, but true.  Somewhere out there the sight of Amy lumbering through the steps of Capoeira is captured for posterity’s sake.  Coitadinho de posterity.  (How sad for posterity.)

Well, I do believe they want to close this internet cafe down.  I’m getting the evil eye, so I should go now.  Thanks to all of you for your support and don’t forget to say a prayer that Amy survives four more classes of Capoeira with the insane Brazilian instructors (who also happen to be truly hot, so you might also ad lib a couple prayers – I think you know the kind that I mean!)

Thursday, July 17, 2003

The Middle Weeks

I realize I have not sent an update in a while, and this one is more in the nature of an update on my state of being, rather than on my Brazilian experiences, but I feel all of this is pertinent to providing an overall picture of my summer in Brazil.

I really can’t talk about the last few weeks and my experiences here without touching on some of the things happening in the States.  My uncle Jimmy (whom I must admit, I did not know very well, and who was sick for some time) died a couple weeks ago, leaving my grandmother devastated and my mom and aunts working over-time to make funeral arrangements.  In addition, my grandmother’s health has reached a point where my mom and Aunt Pat feel she would be better off in an assisted living arrangement rather than living alone, so they are trying to help her find a place that she likes.  It’s difficult being away from my family when such turmoil is unfolding in their lives.

In addition, and most devastating for me personally, is that almost overnight, Kitty’s health has deteriorated, reaching a critical point.  Luckily, Celeste recognized that something was wrong almost immediately and got him to my vet, who has been treating him since Monday.  The vet believes he has pancreatic cancer.  Kitty already suffered a bout with his pancreas about five years ago, and the vet was able to nurse him back to health, but there was always a risk that the illness would return.

When he reached the vet’s office on Monday, his body temperature was critically low, and he was severely dehydrated and anemic.  The doctors have been working to stabilize him and he seemed to be doing better yesterday, even sitting up and purring a little.  The bottom line, however, is that there are no guarantees, the vets are doing everything they can for him, but it just may not be enough. At this point, they can’t even treat his pancreas because the treatment is so aggressive, it would aggravate his other symptoms, i.e., the dehydration and anemia.

The worst part, of course, is that I am so far away, and am not able to be there with him as he struggles against this illness.  Feeling terribly helpless, I sat down on Tuesday night and recorded my voice on a cassette tape, rambling about my experiences here in Brazil.  I then Sedexed (the Brazilian form of FedExed) the tape to the vet’s office.  The fastest I could send it was 3-6 days (which still cost a fortune — the equivalent of around $16 US) but I am hoping it will provide him with some comfort.

For those of you who may not know Kitty, he is my 20-year old cat, who has been with me since my 12th birthday, and is most definitely, one of the best friends I could ever and will ever have.  My home has always been filled with his presence and without him would feel terribly empty, as would I.  I have, of course, known for several years that our time together has been getting more limited, and that every single day we have together is a gift.  Sitting here in Brazil, knowing that I have been away from him for a month, something which may have actually caused the illness to come back, makes me feel that I have squandered so many of those precious gifts.  When I heard that he was sick, my instinct was to jump on a plane and rush home.  I restrained myself for one reason.  I left him to do research here in Brazil and leaving without finishing that research would make all he has suffered almost pointless.  At the same time, I am cursing my credit card-less existence, for if I had one, I would certainly be charging a plane ticket home right now, just so that I could spend a long weekend visiting him at the vet’s office.

In any case, this update certainly has nothing to do with any of my Brazilian experiences, and yet, in many ways, it has everything to do with them.  For the past couple weeks, and in particular, this week, as I have attended my classes and conducted my interviews in schools, I have found it almost impossible to concentrate, as my thoughts have centered on my family and Kitty. The events back home have had a definite impact on my experiences here, as they should.  I certainly have more experience in Brazilian public restrooms as a result, given that I spent most of Monday as I went from class to class, finding quiet corners in them to sob and whisper prayers for my cat. I can only hope that things will continue to improve with Kitty and that I will have the opportunity to pet him and listen to his purr upon my return.

Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Week 3 in Brazil

Well, I'm actually in the middle of week 4, I'm getting a little behind in my updates here.  Oh, well…

First, I apologize if people's computers are having difficulty translating some of the weird keys I'm having to use on these Brazilian keyboards.  They don't really believe in using the apostrophe here, so I have to make do with accent marks, which may be interpreted kind of strangely by some computers.
I thought I would take a moment to reply to some generic questions I've received from some individuals (and I apologize to those of you who have taken the time to email me personally and to whom I have not yet responded… I tend to have limited online time, but really appreciate all the emails I've been getting — they make me smile!)  And so… on to the questions:

1.  Have you been able to find any Dr. Pepper there in Brazil?  Much to my great distress, I am living a dr. pepper free life here in the land of beautiful bronzed bodies.  Luckily for me, however, I am able to consume the occasional coke.  It's just not the same, of course, but in times of extreme paucity, one must make do with what one has.

2. Have you been able to consume your regular gallon of salsa and 5 bags of chips per week there?  Much to my even greater distress, the Brazilians do not believe in either chips or salsa.  Instead, they believe in the almighty Cat Chup (that would be ketchup for the less discerning eye), which they pour on everything from pasta to popcorn.  I have yet to see a single human being eat cat chup on their french fries.

3.  How easy is it to remain vegetarian?  Now that I have made it past my original misconception that the word “carne” (literally, meat) has the same connotation here as it does back home, I have a lot less difficulty maintaining my vegetarian status.  Originally, I would ask for dishes without carne and would be invariably directed to a variety of dishes that upon closer reflection included pork or chicken.  People here just don't understand what it means to be vegetarian.  I am constantly asked so you don't eat carne, right (which I originally replied yes to, but later discovered ONLY covers beef).  I have since learned to specify that I don't eat beef, pork, chicken OR fish, which usually garners me some very strange looks and invariably results in me eating a variety of salads and side items. But hey, at least it's not some pork pie masquerading as a vegetarian dish.

4.  What's the weather like in Brazil (I think this person was having trouble coming up with something exciting to ask, but hey…)  Well, it's winter here, which for Brazilians means that they walk around in jeans and short-sleeved shirts and come nightfall, shiver and complain that it's too cold.  Oh, and they limit their ocean swimming to the hottest hours of the day (mid-afternoon).  For me, it means that I walk around in shorts and tank tops all the time and stare in open-mouthed amazement when my 10-year old host brother (who lives in the Northeast, where it's “really hot”) comes downstairs every morning dressed in shorts and a giant winter coat (I didn't even know they HAD winter coats here!)  Imagine… an entire country colder than ME!!

5.  Is that your program at  Yes, this is the website where you can read my itinerary and class schedule for the summer (no, there are no pictures posted, although I have it on good authority that the director of the program is planning to upload some photos to the website one of these days).  And yes, we are actually taking capoeira classes three times a week.  What is capoeira, you might ask?  Well, basically, it's the Brazilian form of martial arts that often looks like dancing, it's so seamless (when you do it right of course, which for me, is never).  In my case, it's more like 4 hours of torture every week, where I'm forced to make my body do things that it was never meant to do (under no circumstances should my legs EVER go over my head in that fashion!)

6.  Are you ever coming home?  Despite persistent rumours that I am having so much fun here fighting off the mosquitoes, rocketing down the rapids of Brazil, fishing giant bumblebees out of my yogurt, paying for slow internet connections, running for my life every time I cross the street due to crazy Brazilian drivers who do not believe in stopping (or even slowing down) for any reason whatsoever, watching all my favorite movies dubbed in Portuguese which means I don't get shivers down my back every time Sean Connery speaks, and spending endless hours three days a week in extremely BORING Portuguese classes where I am supposed to speak like Brazilians (not in that crazy Portuguese accent)… YES, I am coming home.  August 10th.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Week 2 in Brazil

Well, I’ve had an eventful second week.  Moved to Vitoria by bus, which was a hellish 8-hour bus ride, with the woman in front of me reclining in my lap…  Apparently, in Brazil, they do not have the same concept of personal space as we do in the U. S.A.  The seats were made to recline, and recline bem mesmo!  I literally could have rested my arm on the top of her head, as it is, I used the top of her seat (thus providing shade for the top of her head which rested upon my lap) as a book prop!  I was unable to move, because any shift in movement resulted in my driving a knee into her back (and receiving a disgruntled look as a result).  It was quite interesting I must say…

I arrived at the bus station, where my family was waiting for me, and immediately received a huge hug from my little “sister,” Mariana, who is 8.  I have a “mother” who is 3 years younger than me, a “father,” two younger sisters (Mariana and Darah, who is five) and two younger brothers (whom I haven’t met yet, but who are 10 and 14).  Darah and the boys are off traveling with relatives, but will be arriving on Sunday, so the house should be exploding with people in another week.

And speaking of the house… I have my own room with own bathroom (!), a large bed that is not a mattress on the floor (so I’m feeling quite privileged here) and plenty of space for the tiny amount of clothing that I brought (in comparison to the other women I traveled in Rio with, who each brought a minimum of three giant suitcases/duffle bags/etc.)  Actually, every room in the house has its own bathroom, which means that there are SEVEN bathrooms total, and there’s a swimming pool!  Plus, I’m a couple blocks from the beach.  I’m living right, yes, I am.

This weekend, we had our first excursion.  Went to Biriricas in the mountains, stayed in cabins in the woods, and went on an unbelievably adventurous river rafting trip Saturday morning and afternoon.  More about that in a separate email later, when I have more time to describe the incredible events of the day (a warning to all those who might be disturbed by images of Amy almost drowning in the rapids of Brazil:  don’t read that email!)  Sunday we had a crappy day of too much sun and too much sickness (envision no less than 3 girls at any given time puking out the windows of our bus as we rocketed down the mountain at nauseating speeds) and late Sunday night was convinced I was dying of some dread Third World disease, as my system expelled everything it has consumed all weekend long and my legs went up in flames due to the thousands (okay, maybe 30) of mosquito bites they had suffered.

Basically, it’s been fun!  Classes start this week and they’re intense as well.

I hope all is well with everyone else.  Just a word of warning:  if you ever travel to Brazil… take PLENTY of bug spray along and use it LIBERALLY!

River Rafting in Rio da Montanha

Well, here it is, the description of my river rafting experience at Rio da Montanha in Biriricas.  We began our trip in the morning.  There were five of us in my group (myself, Noel, Jenny, Tandi and Matt) plus the guide, Neninho.  I was seated in the middle (lucky me — the prime spot to get squished between two people or knocked out of the raft by any wayward oar) and was already a little nervous, not being the strongest of swimmers and even worse, most decidedly NOT the most coordinated person in the world.  All that “Para frente, para atras, frente com forca, frente esquerda, atras esquerda, frente direita and atras direita” was a little much for me (front, back, front with strength, front left, back left, front right and back right).  I could barely get it all down in English, let alone in Portuguese!  It also didn’t help that our rather hot guide was directly behind me observing my every uncoordinated movement!

In any case, there we were and all was going seemingly well until exactly 2.9 minutes into our 3 hour rafting experience when our boat sprang a leak.  It was a slow leak mind you, but ten minutes down the river and we were sitting in 3 inches of water.  We were able to continue rowing, but everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) was more difficult (and more dangerous) as a result.  Jenny and I (being the lucky individuals seated in the middle) were told to pay attention and be especially careful because the water made it especially difficult for us to brace ourselves in the boat.

Now, I realize that most people go river rafting for the whole “rapids experience” but I think rafting in a pool (commonly called sunbathing) would have been a better choice for our time!  Every time we hit a terribly turbulent spot (which was always accompanied by enormous boulders and sharp rocks), our guide had to get out of the boat and literally expend “muita forca” to pull us over the rocks, as we got stuck.  This was caused by a combination of our riding low due to the amount of water in our boat and the river being low at this time of year.  But we continued on.  Eventually, the water level rose and that’s when the real fun began.  We began to rocket over these ridiculous rapids, with rocks banging us every which way, the guide’s shouts in our ears about front, back, this way, that way, every which way but the way we were going, and suddenly…

We came to an enormous waterfall (which was really just a small drop, but appeared quite enormous to my inexperienced eyes), went flying over it at a speed that left my stomach 20 yards behind us, dropped what seemed to be a mile, crashing into turbulent waters that soaked us all, at which point something that felt like a giant boulder fell on my back (it turned out to be my guide, who lost his balance as we rocketed down that cliff).  I, of course, slammed into Tandi, thus making us a human sandwich for a couple of minutes.  In the confusion, I lost my oar (the boat immediately in front of us managed to grab it for me and pass it back — damn them!)

So, on we went on our wild ride from hell.  I was certain at any moment I was going to be swept overboard and eaten by some giant Brazilian piranha (not that I heard that there were any piranhas in this river, but you never know) when suddenly Jenny was swept overboard.  Everyone panicked of course, including her.  She reached for the side of the boat and our guide, exhibiting an unbelievable amount of strength, grabbed her by the life jacket and in one swift movement, hauled her back on board.  And on we went.

Finally, we stopped for what I thought was a break, but which actually turned out to be the insane portion of our trip (insane up until that moment, that is).  The guides told us it was too difficult to ride the rafts through this, the most turbulent part of the river, so we had two choices.  We could walk along the rocks or we could float down the river.  FLOAT DOWN THE RIVER.  With only our life jackets and the river god keeping us safe.  And so, because I experienced a moment of complete and utter insanity, I “floated” down the river.  Let me tell you:  If a Brazilian guide ever tells you to just “float” down some rapids, you tell him HELL NO and get the hell out of there.

So… I floated.  If floating can be considered this weird experience where you sucked down a gallon of dirty river water, your entire body flipped around, you almost lost your glasses (which is what caused all that body flipping in the first place), you scraped your legs along the bottom of a river and missed by mere inches being slammed up against a boulder the size of Texas.  Yeah, great fun.  Floating.

So, back in the boat and on through more rapids than I ever want to see again in my lifetime.  But we were nearing the end.  Oh, hallelujah!  I could see the boat in front of us … they were on dry land next to the trucks come to take us home.  We had survived!

But wait… there was just one more thing we had to do.  Go down a tiny bit of rapids and then we’re home free.  Oh, and avoid that cliff of to the left.  AVOID THE CLIFF OFF TO THE LEFT!  What cliff?  What?  OH, SHIT!

And so that is how I ended up staring at the river rushing toward me at an awesome speed, knowing with every ounce of my being that our boat was going to flip, watching the body of our guide flying over my head, and … hitting the water.  For a tiny fraction of a second (or a millennium, who knows) I was trapped under the boat and then… I was free.

Now, we all like to think that in these situations, everyone will be all about helping your fellow man.  But let me tell you.  When you’re in the water and you’re gulping down gallons of nasty river water and you’re literally fighting your way to the surface for any chance at air, well… the rest of the world is just shit out of luck, because it’s every freaking person for themselves!  Sure, after I had saved myself, I tried to count bodies, but it was a little difficult trying to stay afloat and count and … the hell with it.  I made my way to shore and hoped that everyone else found their way as well.

Later I found out that Tandi had been trapped under the boat for a while and that the witnesses on land were freaking out counting bodies and coming up one short.  Luckily, she had found the air pocket under the boat and when the raft was lifted up, there she was quite safe and sound.  I was also told that our crash was worthy of sports recording history, that it was quite a “spectacular” sight to see.  I’m so happy we managed to entertain the masses.

And so, we were all safe.  We climbed aboard the truck, headed back, soaking wet, to our cabins.  But alas, halfway there… our truck broke down.

So, the guides radio’d the other truck to ask for help.  Guess what they said?  “We’re broke down too.” And that is how, I ended up riding back to our little cabin in the woods along tiny roads deep in the mountains, standing up in the back of a pickup truck, hanging onto some weird contraption, thinking to myself… if I survive this experience, it will be a miracle.

But I survived.  And guess what?  I think maybe I want to go river rafting in Colorado sometime.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Week 1 in Brazil

Well, I have survived my first week in Rio.  I haven't had much luck with my research so far, but I've given it the effort it requires!  I have attempted to contact my organization, including stopping by personally a couple times (no one seems to ever actually be in the office!) but I'm not too worried as the bulk of my research actually takes place in Vitoria (where I'm headed on Wednesday).

I've been to the beach several times, I'd forgotten how much I miss the beach living in Kansas. It's especially beautiful in Rio surrounded by hills and mountains.  I'm taking an endless number of photos, of course.

I also found myself incapable of visiting a foreign city without visiting a local movie theatre, which is how I am able to tell you with absolute certainty that Rio de Janeiro has absolutely the most comfortable movie theatre I have ever had the pleasure of sitting in, bar none.  The seats were so comfortable, it was like sitting in an armchair in your own home (although the aisles were extremely close, the chairs were high enough, you could actually stretch out with your feet under the chair in front of you).  Even more amazing, at the front of the theatre directly to the right of the movie screen was… a women's bathroom!  The men's was located at the back of the theatre.  I only visited the women's of course (out of pure curiosity) and it was like walking behind the stage.  The door led to some stairs that led up to another door which opened into one of the cleanest movie restrooms I've ever seen (with several stalls).

Everywhere I go people ask me “voce e portuguesa?” (are you Portuguese?)  I have to laugh and explain.  Maybe it's a compliment, maybe not, I'm not really sure!  All I know is everyone knows I am most definitely NOT Brazilian (they do such weird things to their vowels!)

Amazingly enough, I am not having any problems remaining vegetarian here.  Yes, their meats are supposedly a specialty, but they also have the most amazing veggies and fruits. I'm eating quite well (perhaps better than in the U.S.!) and am loving their food.

I visited several street fairs with the most amazing crafts, wood work and clothing.  I am of course resisting all temptation (although the used bookstores are especially hard to resist — I actually found Artemis Fowl in Portuguese!)  So far I've resisted the Lord of the Rings in Portuguese (after all, they're hard enough to get through in English!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

First day in Brazil!

Well, I've made it safe and sound to Rio.  I arrived around 11 a.m. this morning (or about 9 a.m. K.C. time) and met up with my friend Noel in the airport.  We then called a couple hotels from the airport, found the best deal, and caught a bus to Copacabana.  We had to walk a couple blocks from the bus stop (gotta love those suitcases on wheels) but are now staying in a lovely (though extremely small) room at Hotel Canada, which is two blocks away from the beach. The room is about $16 a night per person and really does qualify as a hotel room (rather than a hostel) as it is equipped with a full bath, fridge, a/c, etc.  In fact, it’s quite a bit nicer than the $300 plus room in NYC Mark and Lynnette treated me to on our last hurrah before I left them for greener pastures in KS.

I’ve already explored the area, purchased a watch from a street vendor for approximately $3.50 and found this lovely internet shop which offers a full hour of internet access for 4 Reais (about $1.33).  I’ve also found the local bookstore (only a block away from our hotel) and am already in trouble.  You wouldn’t believe how many wonderful books there are available in Portuguese!  Well, maybe you would, but it was like walking into heaven.  An entire store of foreign language books (not that they’re foreign here, but you get the idea).  I already had to resist purchasing the entire Harry Potter series in Portuguese (although I did allow myself to buy the first one), not to mention the Lemony Snicket and Junie B. Jones series — I never even made it to the adult section.  I decided the kids’ section was more than enough temptation for one afternoon! I’m thinking I may be able to read the newest HP book before going back home after all.

What else can I tell you?  Tomorrow I will embark upon my quest to make contact with the children’s organization here in Rio (seeing as I’m now required to fulfill those research commitments I made in order to receive the grant money that brought me here!)