The attention I constantly and inevitably attract here as a young white woman. I can’t go anywhere without being approached, harassed, or commented on. Especially in the Pelourinho and on the beach. It’s just impossible. I don’t mind the passing comments – “nice legs,” “beautiful eyes,” “hey babe” etc because they can simply be ignored. But the key is not to make eye contact with any of these people, not to acknowledge the comment in any way. If you do, they’ll take that as a positive sign and make a pest of themselves. By far the worst is when the guys “psiu” (a hissing sound Brazilians, especially in the northeast, use to get each others’ attention) and then if you look at them, they make a loud kissing sound at you. I HATE this. I always feel dirty when it happens, as though I were receiving an undesired kiss or touch, and it doesn’t matter if the guy is a smelly old homeless man or an attractive young guy – still makes me want to take a shower. As a result, whenever I walk in the streets I adopt the same strategy I use when playing capoeira – peripheral vision. I never look directly at anything or anyone, but I’m hyper aware of everything around me.
The ladeiras (hills)! In order to go from home to capoeira, I have a 30 minute walk that involves going down a steep hill, then up a steep hill, then down another hill and up another hill. Also, certain bus drivers – like the one on the Barbalho-Fazenda Garcia line – like to barrel down the hills into intersections at a frightening velocity, which is why I try to avoid catching that particular bus if I can help it :-p Anyway, related to the walking bit, I also won’t miss the cobblestones. They’re not nice neat even cobblestones that give the streets a quaint look; they’re uneven and broken cobblestones that are make every step in the Pelourinho a risk for a twisted ankle. If it’s raining then forget it; I have to walk at about half my normal speed.
The dirtiness of the streets. In São Carlos people are almost obsessed with cleanliness – sweeping and thoroughly washing the sidewalk and bit of street outside their houses every day, which in my opinion is overkill. But in Bahia people spit on the street, blow their noses on the street, spill their leftover beer on the street, throw garbage on the street when there are numerous readily available trash cans affixed to lamp posts and telephone poles (with the cute little slogan “play clean with Salvador!” written on them), and use the street as a toilet. There are certain alleys and street corners I have to hold my breath when I pass by, because if not the intense wave of outhouse-that-hasn’t-been-cleaned-in-an-eternity-scented air makes me gag. That’s why the rain is nice, because I feel like it gives the city a bath. On the flip side, the rain washes all the dirtiness of the city into the sea. You will never see a Bahian go swimming in the ocean when it has rained the previous day. But getting back to the streets – with the way Bahians treat their streets, I can see why street capoeira had and still has the reputation as something dirty and unsanitary that only poor and gross and unrefined people do. You can bet I wash up thoroughly after I play in the street!
The general enrolação (difficult to translate. It’s like a combination of messing around, making excuses, and fouling things up) and inefficiency that’s found in all of Brazil but is worse in Bahia, in my experience. Not that I have to have every minute of my day scheduled down to the last second and everything running perfectly smoothly like clockwork, but sometimes I would like it if things just worked, period! Brazil’s bureaucratic and legal systems are famous for being overly complex, illogical, and just generally not functioning correctly. Heck, even the scheduled TV programming doesn’t run on time!!! The “novela das oito” (eight o’clock soap opera) does not start at 8. If you turn your TV on at 8, you’ll get the national news. No, the eight o’clock novella starts at 9. Or 9:15. Or maybe 8:50 if there wasn’t much to report in the news. And the episode doesn’t seem to have a standard length, either; sometimes it’s shorter and sometimes longer… I think that depends on the soccer programming of the day. Ok, I can deal with the “flexible” TV programming. But I mean regarding things like hospitals and laws, you really want to have those working properly, you know?
Going along with the first point on this list, I hate the dual personality I’ve had to develop here in order to protect myself from unwanted “friends.” I mean totally dual. To people I know and am familiar with, I’m my normal friendly and talkative self; to people (men) who approach me and try to start a conversation with me in any public place, I’m extremely cold and downright rude. I will tell them to go away and leave me alone, that I’m not interested in talking to them or getting to know them better or making friends at all. I hate being so mean to people (and they’re often shocked and upset at my icy attitude) but it’s necessary. Because I got sick of aguentando (putting up with) the interminable conversations that often ended with an invitation to get together later – sorry, not interested – but whysoever not? – I’m just NOT, okay?!? Not all these conversations result in me being asked out though; sometimes I’d get stuck with someone who would just spill out a monologue about their long and hard life, without me being able to get a word in edgewise – no less annoying. So in order to spare myself all this grief, I’ve adopted the strategy of nipping these encounters in the bud and making it clear from the beginning that I’m not interested in conversation. I’m sure I’m driving away some nice and honest people who just want to chat. And it goes against my grain to treat people the way I have to. But it’s necessary… I hate that it’s necessary…
Washing clothes by hand. I just feel like they never quite get completely clean. Thank goodness the most complicated thing I have to wash is capoeira pants. If I had anything heavier like jeans or sweaters, it’d be impossible.
The lack of warm water in my house… meaning cold showers all the time. During the day or right after training it’s no problem, it feels good, but early in the morning or late at night I have to steel myself to step into the shower.
My incredibly uncooperative hair. Either it’s the water here or the temperature and humidity or both, but in Brazil my hair is wavy/frizzy and uncontrollable. I’ve thought of cutting it short multiple times just so it’d be more manageable. But during the three days I spent in Uruguay, my hair was nice and straight. So that’s why I’ve refrained from cutting it; I have hope for when I return to the U.S.
Things that will be difficult to get used to when I get back to the U.S.
Speaking English all the time. Switching languages is difficult, and thinking in Portuguese so much has messed up my ability to phrase things in my native language (just now when typing this sentence, I started to type the word “phrase” with an f, because Portuguese never uses “ph” for the “f” sound). I’m guessing it’ll take me a little while to get back to my normal decently articulate and witty self in English. And also the little phrases that you never think about, like saying licença instead of “excuse me,” desculpa instead of “sorry,” and even ai! instead of “ow!” Also greetings and goodbyes. I seem to have, like, forgotten how I used to do them in English. In Portuguese I have a ton of options – oi, e aí, tudo bem? Como vai? Falou, tchau, até mais, se cuida, a gente se vê, etc. – and for some reason anything I say in English sounds weird and unnatural.
Living in a small town of under 100,000 people and having to drive everywhere instead of walking or taking the bus. Driving in general – I haven’t done it in 15 months.
The American meal schedule: dinner being the main meal of the day and happening around 6 PM. Ugh, at the moment there’s no way I could stomach a large meal at 6; that’s when I have afternoon coffee… dinner’s not until 9, and it’s no more than a sandwich or some fruit, soup at maximum.
Not attracting any attention from men. Yes, I know that in the part above I complained about how I attract way too much attention here, but in the U.S. I don’t attract any whatsoever. So every time I go back my self-esteem tends to plummet (What, am I invisible? Am I just not considered attractive in the U.S.? Does no one have any interest in me, or are they just never acting on it?). It would be nice if there was a happy medium between the two extremes…
THE COLD. I’ve virtually forgotten the sensation of how below-zero temperatures sting one’s skin since I haven’t felt it in so long. Brazilians freak out when I tell them that it goes below zero Celsius, which, at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, would be a blissfully warm day at Hamilton in February! Going along with that – wearing long sleeves. I have exactly one long-sleeved shirt here and I don’t think I’ve worn it since coming to Bahia.
Throwing toilet paper into the toilet, which is another thing I haven’t done in over a year.
U.S. prices. Hrmph. I’m all used to my dollar being worth two reais, mangoes costing 40 cents a pound, and 1200 dollars a month being a FANTASTIC salary (I lived comfortably on half of it!) When I go back I’m going to be thinking all the prices are outrageous, and I’ll probably become even more of a tightwad than I already am.
Being more or less on my own in capoeira angola 🙁 Here there are so many extremely skilled angoleiros, people with absolutely incredible abilities who are inspiring for me to watch. I’m a bit worried about the development of my own game if I have no one more experienced than me to train with.