Now I know why I named this blog “Same Boat, Different Ocean”…it just wasn’t for the reasons I expected! Of course there are many things here in Brazil that are the same as in Canada, but there are more things that are different. Actually, what hasn’t changed is me! Just as in Canada, I have this crazy split life that involves me having friends, work, social activities, and homes in different cities (that includes all of you in other cities, countries, and continents, too!). This week, I had finally gotten over the initial shock of the differences to begin to notice the subtleties of the sameness/differences around me.
In my highest level class, each chapter has a different country theme. The chapters begin with a double-page iconic photo of the country, along with a literary quote to start off the discussion. This week, I taught the chapter on Mexico. I have found the quotation to be quite relevant:
“What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of differences, their attractions and repulsions. Life is plurality, death is uniformity.” – Octavio Paz
As we discussed in class, there are two readings of this quote. The first (for me) is that, in life, we must continue to grow and change. If you stop evolving, you are as good as dead. This concept fits well with my own philosophy, and is a big part of the reason I came to Brazil. I wanted to grow, I wanted to see and learn new things, and I wanted those things to be very different from what I had previously known. And as I said before, I have the plurality thing down to a science, although it is an aspect of my life with which I can never quite come to terms. I continue to marvel that I have friends all over the world, speaking a myriad of languages, holding differing beliefs, and that I can be in one place and still connect with them on a close, personal level, on the other side of the world. I have to remind myself that this is life, and it is a lifestyle I have chosen again and again because I believe it strengthens me.
The second meaning of the passage, and probably the intended one, is this: in life, people are diverse. They move in different directions, they come together and separate on these ideas (culture, language, religion, etc. as mentioned above), they coexist, and this “motion” is life; it’s what makes the world go ’round. In contrast, death is the great equalizer. We can be as different as possible in life, but death reminds us that we are all the same in the end: human. Without death and the knowledge of this stilless and sameness, there is no life; no motion, no difference, no plurality. We have to accept death as part of life, and learn to celebrate it for this reason – just as the Mexicans do during Día de los Muertos.
Put aside your distaste for the morbidity of this topic for a moment; these are important things to note. This week, I heard of three deaths that affected people who are close to me. The first was Eli’s cousin, a young man who was like a brother to him. He died in a motorcycle accident along with two other people. It was anguish to watch him receive and come to terms with this news, and due to the language barrier it was difficult to be much use in comforting him. (In the end, I sat him down at the computer and we used Google translate to teach each other swear words in our languages, which was a very effective distraction! It also helps emphasize the similarities/differences aspect of life, and takes our minds from the sobriety of death).
Sad as this event was, it was my turn only a few days later to feel the dull pain of death when I learned on cbc.ca of Jack Layton’s death. It was a shock to my system in a few ways: first, he is a prominent and well-loved public figure, and for that I am sad to see him go. Second, it signals the premature end of a ground-breaking era in Canadian politics, and I am concerned about where things will go from here. Finally, but most impactfully, it brought on a homesickness that hadn’t appeared since my arrival. I realized that, while Canadians at home were mourning together and sharing this sadness, it was something I would have to bear alone. How can you explain to Brazilians, who claim all politicians are crooks, such a deep sense of loss from the death of a national political figure? Needless to say, I got pretty choked up upon reading the news and looking at the photos of the body lying in state. Eli knew I was sad, and he, being in the Brazilian military, gave a sombre salute in honour of “my” loss.
I heard of the third death the next day. Priscilla, another teacher and a friend Itacoatiara, told me a friend had passed. Stupid Murphy’s law: you always wait to hear of the third before you can rest easy. I gave her a hug…I didn’t have to feign sympathy.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have celebrated four birthdays since arriving in Brazil. Birthdays are no small thing here: every employee’s birthday is listed on a calendar in reception, and they get a cake, appetizers, rounds of “Happy Birthday” in English and Portuguese, and hugs, kisses and photos all around. Family and friend celebrations are an even bigger deal, especially for children. On Friday I was present for my host-sister Camilla’s Quinze Anos, her fifteenth birthday which is akin to the Sweet Sixteen in North America.
She and a friend went to a salon to have their hair and makeup done, then came back and dressed to the nines in a dress I wouldn’t wear (too short!) and heels I couldn’t wear if I tried. They looked about 21 when all was said and done. Then the food was arranged on the table for the guests. You can see from the photo there were enough sweets to feed an army. The little round balls are called brigadeiro, made from condensed milk, cocoa powder, and colourful sprinkles, and are delicious.
At around midnight, I went with Adriana (my host-mom) to drop them off at a chic night club about half an hour from home. I didn’t go because I had to work, but I was curious about what kind of trouble a couple of innocent and overdressed fifteen-year-olds would get up to. They arrived home at 5am in one piece.
Last night (Saturday), I went to Maria’s daughter’s third birthday party. This was an even bigger event than Camilla’s relatively modest celebration. There were about 100 people there, brigadeiro overflowing the cake table, a ball pit and trampoline for the kids, and a DJ. The three-year-old Isabella pranced around until past midnight in her Barbie Fairies-themed party dress, and all the kids ran amok without adult interference for the duration of the party. I was on photo duty for Maria, who was running her 4-inch heels off all night; hence I have a LOT of photos of Isabella and her little friends doing their thing. When I left to go to a club with a friend around midnight, the party was finally winding down and parents were dragging their two- and five-year-olds off the dance floor to go home to bed (presumably).
From what I have read from other bloggers, these birthdays are not atypical in Brazil, but the norm. Canadian family and friends, I think you will acknowledge that this is wayyy over the top by our standards! But I refer you to the initial quote: it is this “interplay of differences” that make my experience in Brazil so interesting and enriching. I have been fortunate to have these opportunities to celebrate life and love, and they balance the sad deaths that have recently taken place. Having experienced the spectrum in such a short space of time, I can truly say I have a new life here in my adopted country.