Home, Away, Home

April 26, 2006

Back home in Louisville, Kentucky and I'm struggling to understand the differences between my life as of this morning, and the one I led 24 hours ago. How can so much change so quickly? I often think that the culture shock of returning to your home country is much more than when you visit others. I always expect other countries to be different, and so when they are, I'm not surprised. However, I expect my home to be the same as I remember it, yet I'm always surprised. It may not have changed, but I certainly have.
The last few days in Niteroi were spectacular. The Churrasco was a roaring success, over 80 people came, and it went from 2am until 5am the next morning. Rodrigo and I had planned to start it early so it would end early and we could go fishing with his cousins the next morning, but as it turned out, we just pulled an all nighter and went straight from the churrasco to his cousin's house. Fishing was fantastic, as I set a record of number of fish caught. This was easy, since I'd never caught one before. 🙂 That night, I put off sleep again and went out to Castelaria, where there was a live Samba band and I got to try out my Brazilian dance steps once again. My last two days were a mix of meeting friends and dancing. I made it one more time to Queen Pizza, Forro (live music and dancing, basically the brazilian version of Salsa) and then my favorite lanchonete (fruit and snack bar)… As had become a ritual for Debora and I on Sunday nights.
It was sad to wake up on Monday, knowing it was my last day… but this time leaving Brazil is different. Brazil, and particularly, my life in Niteroi, has become a part of me. I know I'll be back soon. I went to visit the Creche one more time to say goodbye to all the kids and the teachers. They were so appreciative of my time there, and gave me a bracelet and shirt to take back with me and remember them by. I'm so lucky to be caught between such great situations. I couldn't have asked for a better experience in Brazil, and yet I'm incredibly excited to come back and get to work with my friends, excited to create a life that as yet doesn't exist, and a life that has no infrastructure, and therefore, no limitations.


Last Weekend and Rodrigo’s Birthday

April 20, 2006

I'm already in a state of semi-shock that I will soon be leaving what has become a very comfortable environment. I'm also shocked every time I look in the mirror, because I now have no hair. Yesterday was Rodrigo's birthday and we started it off at midnight by shaving my head (I asked him what he wanted for a gift, and that's what he wanted), and then going out for drinks. The day was relaxed, we had amazing food for lunch, as always, and I went out with Raquel to buy supplies for the Creche. The kids there eat all three meals at the daycare itself, and therefore brush their teeth there as well. However, the toothbrushes, soap, toothpaste and towels (for baths) come from home, and as you might guess, most of the kids don't bring anything. I went to Sam's club and picked up about 50-60 of each item (yes, they have Sam's club here, can you believe it?)… I dropped the stuff off today, and will be giving a short lesson on how to brush your teeth on Monday, before I leave. It's quite sad, I did a quick study of the kids mouths a few weeks ago, and they look like the horror photos that used to be in the waiting room of the dentists office when I was younger. One of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great article on the failure of the health care system in the US, and wrote about the worst problem for the uninsured: bad teeth. A few dental supplies certainly won't fix everything, but I think these kids are in a really sad situation if all for the lack of a 25-cent toothbrush.
Last night Rodrigo and I went out with a bunch of his guy friends to have a chopp (tap beer). Nights with these guys are always memorable, and of course last night was no exception. We are having a huge churrasco tomorrow, because today is Rodrigo Sally's birthday, and I'm leaving on Monday, so we've combined and invited everyone. I started making a list of people I wanted to invite a few days ago, and it came to over 60 people. This has been an incredible experience because of these people. I will not return home the same person that I was when I arrived. Thanks so much to:
Padilha, Sally, Jessica, Bruna, Binho, Natalia, Daniel, Bilau, Bidu, Erica, Andre, Tainah, Stella, Chico, Paula, Flavia, Colonese, Juquinha, Bruno, Gugu, Andre, Sandro, Bruninho, Patricia, Priscilla, Gabriela, Andre, Nicolas, Manu, Mari, Deborah, Roberta, Katarine, Natalia, Dani, Marcia, Luciana, Leandro, Leo, Rafael, Marcel, Thiago, Sara, Suelen, Manu, Rogerio, Steve, Arthur, Felippe, Vinicius, Fabi, Marina, Ana Paula, Juliana, Deborah, Joana, Livia, Pamella, Maria, Raquel, Fernanda, Thiago, Sabrina… and this doesn't even count all the wonderful people I met while traveling, who can't make it because they don't live in Niteroi.

Marina’s Birthday

April 14, 2006

My friends here are absolutely dying to see photos of Marina's Birthday party from yesterday, and after spending the last three days hanging out with them, I owe them at least that. Today was spent at the beach with Felippe (one of the guys I met on the way to the Jack Johnson concert) and his friends… We later went to Fabio's house, then to see some live music, and ended the night in São Francisco.
I was out with the same group last night before Marina's party, which was a fantastic time. Her beautiful house in São Francisco was filled with food, drinks and a bunch of my new friends. I still find it a bit incredible that I happened upon this group on the way to the Jack concert, but then, I should be accustomed to Brazilian warmth and hospitality by now, right?

And finally, here's a link to the pictures…

Easter Festivities

April 13, 2006

Last night I went into São Franciso, which is the beach on the other side of the hill, about a mile from where I live. I had plans to meet a group of friends for drinks, and the friends I met at the Jack Johnson concert were celebrating a birthday at a nearby bar.
As usual, plans were quite hazy, so I picked up a taxi and arrived in São Francisco alone. I've become quite confident in moving around and going out alone over here, because it always seems to turn out so well. Last night I arrived and found that none of my friends had arrived in the first bar, so after wandering around, I happened to find my friend Luciana from Salvador out in front of another bar. I chatted with her, but she was just leaving (my night started just before midnight) and as she left, I found Ana, a friend from the Jack Johnson concert, and I followed her into another bar where everyone was gathering for Marina's birthday. Cool. Later that night, I met up with my other friends 100 meters down the road at Queen Pizza, and met yet another group I knew. So in all total, I arrived alone, had plans with 2 groups of friends, after being in this country for 3 months I ended up meeting 4 groups of friends, and came home at 5am. Oof. What a life!

I spent nearly all of yesterday at the Creche, as it was their Easter party, so I arrived early and pre-made a bunch of balloons, and then stayed late to enjoy the cake and face painting. I have been waiting for this Easter party for a while, and I think I was at least as excited as any of the kids. I now know almost all of the kids and their personalities, and I can't walk in the street without kids running after me to ask for balloons. The other day I actually visited the other Creche, on a whim, and was invited to their Easter party, next week. I only have about 10 days left here, but Rodrigo's birthday is coming up, and I'm making plans to have one last party with all my friends here before I leave, so it's sure to be memorable.

A Concert Here and There

April 9, 2006

This weekend has been filled with music, as the last two nights I've attended concerts in Rio. Last night I went to a Jack Johnson concert, which was fantastic. He is incredibly popular here (I used to own a community on Orkut devoted to him, with 250,000 people… 90% Brazilian) and the concert was held in the same venue where I saw the Samba Parade of Champions after Carnaval. Jack's show was fantastic, as I always enjoy his laid back music, but even more memorable were the people I met. I had planned on going to the show with Deborah, but after a phone mix up at the last minute, I found myself alone at home without a ride to the concert or a ticket (Rodrigo and family had gone to a pre-wedding party that I had passed on because of the concert). I decided I wasn't going to spend my Saturday night in the house, so I left, and asked around I found the right bus to get on, and headed into Rio. On the bus, I started talking to the guys across the aisle, who were part of the big group sitting behind us. I met all of them and they took me in, helped me find a ticket, and I ended up spending the rest of the night with them. The warmth of Brazilians is unsurpassed. Later that night I was getting something to eat with some of my new friends, and I ran into Sally, Jessica, Natalia and Binho… who actually ended up knowing my new friends. Many thanks to Felipe, Arthur, Marina, Fabiana, Juliana, Ana and Deborah… you guys made my night!

Friday night I went to see O Rappa, a popular brazilian band with a reggae feel. The venue was fantastic… I had been there once before during my first trip here to see Geraldo Azevedo. The show started after 2am… which was pretty late in my opinion, but hey… it's Brazil. 🙂 I went with Priscilla and some other friends who I have met through her. I've seen a crazy amount of live music since I've been here. 🙂 There is a definite difference in the energy level at shows here compared to the US. I thoroughly enjoy it… and hope to bring a piece of it back with me.

More photos are here…

Almost Brazilian

April 7, 2006

It's funny how accustomed I have become to life here. I recently went about trying to renew my visa, as the American tourist visa only lasts three months (not nearly long enough) before you have to renew it. You can do so for another three months, for a total of 6 months in Brazil per year.
The first step was to consult my trust Lonely Planet book, which said I could renew it at the Military Police station. Rodrigo and I tried to call, but got no answer. Thankfully we found their address on the web, so I took a bus to downtown Niteroi, bringing along money, my passport, entrance/exit card. I started this process a week early, because I just knew it wouldn't be an easy task. I arrived there, waited in line, and was told that I would need to go back, make my payment online, bring the receipt, along with a print out of my flight, a credit card and the other documents I already had. Cool.
What surprised me was that despite taking three hours out of my day to go get money, go downtown and return, I was completely unruffled by being turned down the first time. All I received for my efforts was a to-do list, which could easily have been posted online… or they could choose to answer the phone. Now, granted, visa applications in the US aren't always a smooth process either, but bureaucracy drives me crazy when I'm at home in the States. I expect all things to be quick, easy and efficient.
I returned home and found out that the government web site was nearly impossible to navigate, but after some searching, I realized I had misunderstood. I could not pay online, but could only put in my information, print out a form, which I then had to take to a bank in order to pay.
After doing all this, I went back downtown with all documents, filled out a few more forms, and returned home happily with my visa extension.
Yesterday, Rodrigo had to go to the police station to get some forms because his father had a bit of a car accident earlier this week. He was turned away because he was wearing sandals.
Rodrigo, being the exceedingly patient guy that he is, returned home, changed clothes and returned to the police station. He arrived at the window at 4:32, and was again turned down because the guy, despite being present at the window, said the place closed at 4:30.
Rodrigo finally returned this morning (dressed nicely) and was able to get his forms.
I could only laugh, but I'm glad that bureaucracy now only annoys me as much as it does other Brazilians.
Patience truly is a virtue.

Life Changing People

April 2, 2006

I went to another churrasco last night… this one celebrating the birthday of my first Brazilian friend, Raquel. It's amazing to sit back and think about the influences in your life, and unconcciously both Raquel and I have had a great affect on each other.
I met Raquel three years ago during my first trip to Brazil. I spent my first 5 days in the hotel where she worked. Not speaking even a word of Portuguese, I was desperate to start somehow, so after wandering around aimlessly for a while, I resolved to sitting in the lobby of the hotel with my Portuguese book, trying to listen to her talk to the other receptionist, and look up the words I heard. This didn't work at all, but after a while, they were forced to stop ignoring me, and that's how we met. Raquel has since told me that she thought I was extremely strange, and that she wasn't sure what to think of me at first. Now if that was hesisitance on a Brazilian scale, I don't know what to think, because I went out with her and her friends a few times that same week, met Rodrigo (her boyfriend at the time) , and two weeks later I was at dinner with them for my birthday, and Clarice had made me a cake.
Since then, I recommended Raquel to my friend Steve, and she began working for him at Rio Holiday. Then she met Scott, and client from California, they started dating, she came to the US to visit… and now they are engaged and she has plans to move there.
Meanwhile, I left my job and chose to come back to Brazil primarily because of my amazing experience here, thanks to Rodrigo and Raquel. You never know the effect the next person you will meet will have on you, or vice versa.

*The picture above is of Raquel (second from left) and her friends, and the second is of my friend Deborah (who I met through Raquel my first night out 3 years ago, and now works for RioHoliday as well) and her sister Natalia.
**More pictures can be found here