From BRASIL!!!!!!

Day by day, pouco a pouco, I’m feeling more settled here as I make friends, get to know the city, etc.

I think many of my friends have this idea that I’ve gone on a year long vacation in which I’ll do nothing but play capoeira, soccer, volleyball, and lay on the beach all day, but in fact living here feels very “normal,” familiar in a way, because I’m doing the same thing I’ve always been doing – lab all day and capoeira all night.

And then contrasting that is the difficulty of speaking in a foreign language all the time, and the simple little everyday things that are different from what I’m used to. When people think of “cultural differences between Brasil and the U.S.” they think of the big, overarching things like differences in food, music, conception of time and personal space, etc. – but all those things I’m already used to; it’s the tiny things that you won’t find in any guidebook because they’re too small and ordinary that are the most alien to me.

Like the fact that no one ever drinks directly from a can or bottle here – you either pour into a glass or use a straw… sometimes I feel like an idiot because I just don’t know how certain simple things are done… when you order OJ at a restaurant you have to specify whether or not you want ice and/or sugar… etc. So I’m trying to be more observant of how the Brazilians do things, but I get frustrated sometimes by doing things “wrong.”

All in all I feel like a transplanted organ – performing the same function in a totally different environment. And actually I think this is good – during SIT I was longing to “spend more time in Brasil that isn’t wasted” …now I have plenty of time, and I realize that living/working in Brasil and coming here as a tourist/capoeirista are very different things. Consequently, I don’t feel the need to try to stay down here for the long-term; I think doing something like working/studying in the US and spending summers here for tourism and training would make me very happy.

Work is a little slow because I’m going through that new-lab-accustomization phase that I despise. I’ve already done essentially all the techniques in this line of work, however, I have to have someone walk me through it the first time JUST IN CASE something is done slightly differently here. It’s an annoying quandary: either be babied through everything once, or take the initiative but risk making a mistake. I prefer the first, because there are indeed differences in every lab’s traditions, techniques, and equipment – and I only have to be shown something once and then I’ve got it – but still, it always makes me feel like an amateur, and I also dislike having my schedule depend on others’ availability to help me. However, I’m sure I’ll be through this phase soon. Despite the slow start, I’m really excited to be working on an unexplored organism with confirmed anti-cancer activity!

I really dig the schedule – work from 8:30 or so to noon, then from 2:00-5:30 or 6. Even though you get out a little later, I love the 2 hour lunch break; often I take a nap, and I always return to work very mentally and physically refreshed. Lunch is one of the best parts of my day because it’s the only big, hot meal I eat (for breakfast and dinner I keep fruits, veggies, cereal etc in my apt. Bought some peanut butter today – about USD $8 for TWELVE OUNCES. Stuff is worth its weight in gold here).

Virtually all restaurants do the pay-by-weight thing: typical price is R$14 (about $6) per kilo, but who ever eats more than about half a kilo (about a pound)? Usually I have salad – typical Brazilian salad bar: lettuce, tomato, beets, quail eggs, carrots, cucumber, sometimes olives, and various potato-salady things – and rice/beans and meat. They also have fish, pasta dishes, sometimes like a chicken lasagna, and a whole bunch of fried potato/plantain/chicken-or-fish-ball things. For dessert, there’s fruit salad, jello, various cake-y things, and goiabada (guava paste) with cheese, which is surprisingly good. I’d forgotten how much I love the food here. My fridge currently has mango juice, passion fruit juice, strawberry juice, and coconut water in it. Yum.

Capoeira’s interesting. Am training with Grupo Cativeiro at the USP and with a branch of the Academia de João Pequeno in the city. Cativeiro can be a little confusing at times because they train angola and regional and sometimes they mix them in the roda, which I am not at all fond of. I haven’t been playing my best, which is frustrating because I was playing so well before I left the states. I attribute it to 1) adjustment to slight stylistic differences in Cativeiro’s capoeira from Raça’s; and 2) still a bit of nervousness/anxiousness to impress the group, which I know I shouldn’t have but I think I do anyway, lurking in my subconscious and screwing up my game. I have taken a couple of people down and had the same done to me a few times.

I’ve been really pleased with my performance in the bateria though – am playing berimbau well and leading singing well. The group is impressed that a gringa can improvise verses to songs – and I LOVE the fact that here, everyone actually UNDERSTANDS the lyrics, so their meaning isn’t lost or appreciated by only one or two people. The Academia de João Pequeno group is small, but I love it – I know I’m going to learn a LOT in their classes. Capoeira angola feels to me a little like yoga; although it’s a workout, ultimately it relaxes your body, mind, and spirit. The more good angola I see the more the style seems to call to me, and I long to be able to play like a good angoleiro. But this is a great chance to learn.

Here are some random bullet points of interesting observations:

– The worst part of my day is taking a shower. There’s no hot water in my apartment and the mornings and nights are chilly and I literally have to psych myself up for five minutes before I jump in.

– One of my favorite restaurants sells the most amazing truffles. The other day I had one that was filled with maracujá (passion fruit): that was heaven in my mouth.

– Unlike Salvador, my skin color doesn’t make me stand out here, which is nice. There are a lot of Japanese people here, one girl in my lab is ethnically Japanese but born and raised here, and her name is Miriam. Japanese-Brazilian with a Jewish name. I’ve met a couple other foreigners – several people from Spain whose Portuguese is rather hard for me to understand, a guy fom France – mas ninguem que fala minha lingua!

– The guy living next door to me didn’t learn to walk until age 6 because of childhood paralysis. Now, he’s a runner and he trains 40 km per day, which he runs in two hours.

– I wonder if they put more ethanol in the fuel here, because the smell of traffic is slightly sweet.

– I hate the milk here. I’ve taken to drinking soy milk because it’s the least disgusting I’ve found thusfar.

– The lab has some interesting quirks. Missing some things I’m used to having, such as splash guards for the rotovaps and cork rings for round-bottom flasks (which they call balões – balloons – cute huh?). No one wears safety glasses or gloves. I don’t mind getting methanol or ascidian juice on my hands, but phosphomolybdic acid? I’m not sure that’s so healthy.

– The city totally shuts down on Sundays. No one goes out, and all the stores are closed except for supermarkets and drugstores. So I think Sunday will turn into laundry day for me.

– Samba is starting to grow on me. The more I hear the music the more I like it, and the more I practice dancing the more I enjoy it. I like the samba here because it’s very chill and not overly sexualized like some. Everyone has their own individual style. I’ve got the basic step down and now I need to add more turns, flourishes, etc. Unfortunately when I try to do that, I lose the rhythm. Bah to being a gringa :-p However, there do exist rhythmless Brazilians, especially among some of the guys. Yet everyone goes into the samba roda anyway, regardless of how good a dancer they are. As one guy put it, “Não existe vergonha aqui. você só entra na roda, e todo mundo bate palmas” (“Shame doesn’t exist here. you just enter the roda and everyone claps”)

Think that’s all the random thoughts for today. Até a próxima…