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 http://www.ku.edu/~brasilis/summer.html?  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.