My Brazilian Family(s)

Here in Brazil, I am being fully inducted into the culture through familial naturalization. I have a host family in Manaus which has all but adopted me and treats me as a daughter; but I also have a number of friends and co-workers with whom I’ve formed close, personal bonds in a very short span of time. True to Brazilian form, blood runs thick around here, although it doesn’t discriminate with genetics. Love, concern, trust, bickering, protectiveness: these are all present in my relationships.

For starters, my family in Itacoatiara has nothing to do with bloodlines. It doesn’t even run in chronological order, and the familial roles change on an hourly basis. In my classroom, I am the head of the family; I have to herd my students in the right direction, discipline them if they get out of line, and reward them with praise when they do well. Most of my students are teenagers, so I can see it in their eyes when they aren’t impressed with me confiscating their cell phones or reprimanding them for whispering (loudly) to each other in Portuguese when I’m trying to explain a grammar point. But I know they love me, even if I am tough on them sometimes – they know it’s for their own good!

Outside the classroom, sometimes I’m the child. As I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of things I can’t do for myself. More realistically, I could do these things if I had to, but there are a few reasons why I don’t. First of all, as a lone, foreign female, I’m a target here for danger. This is something I know intellectually, but find hard to consider when I don’t see any immediate threats walking down the street at 10pm with friends. The other reason I don’t have to do things for myself is that Fisk organizes and pays for almost everything. This includes meals, residence, transportation, and even social events. Fisk is like Big Brother; it always has something in mind for me, regardless of whether I know about it or want to do it.

After Big Brother Fisk comes Fisk administration, the people who do all the dirty work that I’m not allowed to. In Itacoatiara, this is Eli.

A horrible photo of us, but that's what I have

He has to order my meals (I just get asked, “chicken or beef?” and then it arrives 20 minutes later), coordinate my travel with Manaus admin, and buy my bus tickets. He’s always worried something will happen to me – mostly because it’s his job to make sure I’m safe. The other day, I was with a bunch of friends at the school, and he came up and demanded my passport information “agora!” (now!). Everyone started laughing that he was my father, because I dejectedly went to my room to get it, but I knew he just needed it immediately because he had to catch a ride with someone else to get to the bus station, and it was late. Sometimes he yells at my friends who drive me around on their motorcycles because he thinks they aren’t good drivers…but again, I know this is because he recently had a death in the family from a motorcycle accident.

On the flip side, and more commonly, Eli and I are more like siblings. We look out for each other, we know when the other is upset or stressed or missing home, and we cheer each other up. Eliveuto is also away from home (he was transferred to Itacoatiara from Manaus just a month before me to fill a vacant spot), and I think he’s having a harder time with it than I am. I deal with homesickness too, but those times when I know he’s sad I feel like the big sister because I’m older and have more experience with being away from home.

One of my students, Karla, is a particular friend. She is only sixteen, but she likes to hang around the “older kids.” Some of our other friends have started calling her “Karla Maharaj” because she’s always around me!

Karla, on the right

It cracks me up. Hear that, Aleeta? You aren’t the baby anymore! Anyway, it’s nice to have her around. She speaks English pretty well (she’s in one of my advanced classes), except when she’s tired, and then she doesn’t understand a thing I say! Actually, Karla “babysat” me once when Eliveuto had to go back to Manaus. A., the coordinator, didn’t want me staying in the school alone so he asked her to come stay with me. She had to bring her mother into the school so A. could introduce me and prove she wasn’t making it up. Poor Karla!

My other “sisters” in Itacoatiara, or more accurately my girlfriends, are Priscila and Nancy. They both work at Fisk so they speak English quite well. Pri spent five months in Canada in a small town near Red Deer, Alberta when she was in grade 10, so it’s nice to be able to talk to someone who understands my comparisons with home.

All my girls: Pri on the left, Nancy and baby Sofia, and Karla

She understands when I say I want a “grande” coffee I’m talking Starbucks size, not the whole Dixie cup instead of half. She’s nineteen but very mature for her age. Nancy is in my class with Karla. She’s twenty, but she’s married and has a baby girl named Sofia. Cutest baby ever! These three ladies are my female gang in Itacoatiara.

A "family-sized" pizza for our conversation dinner: Hudy, Pri, and Pedro

This post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of my “assistant,” Pedro. Pedro is officially in the class with Nancy and Karla, but he is taking full advantage of my being here and sits in on two or three other classes as well – which means I see him at least once a day. I love Pedro: the guy always comes in with a smile, whether it’s 8 am or 9 pm. He’s good-humoured and helpful in the lower level classes, and is very dedicated to learning the language, despite maintaining a busy full course load in Chemistry. He told me he may have a big job opportunity in the near future which would require him to do an English exam, so I’ll help him as much as I can with that. He was also the one responsible for suggesting an extra conversation class for our advanced class, which has turned into very fun dinners every Thursday night (we talk about all kinds of things…Brazilians are not very academic outside of class, if you know what I mean).

Ary at the entrance to the school

A. is the coordinator for Fisk Itacoatiara, and he is very much like a parent to all the kids who grow up attending English classes. He knows everybody by name, greets the kids with a kiss and a hug, teases girls about their boyfriends, and is generally very jovial and committed to his job. He is my Portuguese teacher, and I have no complaints about spending three hours a week in his company. He speaks excellent English, due to a lot of effort on his part: he works all day in English, then goes home and reads English books and watches English TV. He told me sometimes he forgets Portuguese because he barely ever uses it!

I think that sums up the main characters in Itacoatiara. I will have to do another post to talk about my students (the ones that I’m not friends with). On to Manaus.

I’ve given an overview of my host family, but this week I’ve had more time to spend with Camilla and her father Marcos. I sleep in Camilla’s room when I’m here, so we are like sisters in that regard anyway, but this past Saturday I really got to see her in action when we went to the mall. Oh my goodness, I had forgotten what it’s like to be fifteen! I have two younger sisters, but for Kel it’s been a while since she was that age, and when Aleeta was fifteen I was away at university. Camilla and her friends were so funny though, I could barely keep up with them.

Camilla (right) and her friend Melissa at her Quize Anos

When I got to the mall they were in a movie, so I did my own thing for a bit before meeting up with them. There were four of them, but the group somehow just kept growing…and it took forever to decide to go anywhere, but once we did it was a mad dash up escalators and through crowded corridors – and then we’d get to the opposite end of the mall and they’d change their mind. And even though I have come to understand quite a bit of Portuguese, there is no way my brain can keep up with their tongues. I know I was the exact same when I was that age, but thinking back that far is frightening (god, I am old now haha).

Marcos, my host father, took Camilla and her friend Ana Clara and I out for churrasco on Friday night. He scolded me for not calling him on Monday like I said I was going to (although I have a chip (SIM card), it’s been on the fritz and only sometimes allows me to make a call). He said he knows I’m twenty-four, but he considers me a daughter now and he will worry about me like he worries about Camilla. The next day he gave me a new chip with minutes and texts and told me to keep in touch. Lesson learned!

(Sidenote: the second we set foot in the Churrascaria, the waiters figured out I was Canadian and got really excited. They then proceeded to foist every kind of meat on me (yes it’s their job, but when they tell you “It’s good! Try this!” you have to accept), attempted to educate me on the different cuts of meat and where they come from on the cow with a diagram, and brought me special servings of sushi just for my enjoyment. It was cute, but man was I full afterwards!)

Now comes the part where I tell you about my crazy international gang. These guys are my brothers in the truest sense: they honestly forget I am a girl 99% of the time. Vinicius is a Fisk employee, and a Brazilian. He picks me up at the bus station when I get back from Itacoatiara on Fridays, and he has been put in charge of taking the other intern and I to the federal police to register. He also picked me up from the airport with Leilson, so he is literally the first person I met in Brazil. Vinicius’s best friend is Paul, an Irishman who moved here with his Brazilian wife about 16 months ago, and who works at Fisk. Paul is soooo Irish.  He curses all the time, he bitches and moans about being in Brazil because he’s

Cristina and her fiance Vinicius, Paul, and Albert at the Forro club

homesick, he has an awesome accent, etc. Most of the time when the three of us are in the car together, I just sit back and listen to them rag on each other and cry with laughter. Our fourth gang member is Albert, the American intern. Albert is a hard character to pin down; he wasn’t very well-liked at Fisk initially, because he has a very dry personality and a slow, southern accent to go with it. But, as he’s spent more time with the three of us, he’s starting to loosen up and gain a sense of humour – or at least, project it outwardly. On Friday he told us that, since we were going to check out a forró club, he had taken the initiative to book a dance class! Ohhh the boys ate that one up. So when we went out on Saturday night we all just waited, cameras ready, for him to do his thing. What a guy, he has two left feet and a broom down his back.

I’ve posted some photos already of my Fisk Parque 10 family, so I won’t go into detail about that today. Hopefully you enjoyed meeting the “characters” in my life, and real family, I hope you aren’t offended that I’ve been adopted here, as well! After all, family is culture in Brazil.

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2 Comments

Filed under community, family, friends, Itacoatiara, Manaus

2 responses to “My Brazilian Family(s)

  1. Ahhh, so refreshing to read this. People in Manaus are so friendly and kind! And it’s nice to see pictures of them because they look Amazonian (so different from the people in Brasili).

  2. Hey Meredith! Yeah, I have to say that so far, the people are my favourite thing about being here. I think I was handed friends on a silver platter, and I love all of them. I read your most recent blog, and I know you’re a little unsure of your new city…well that would be me but for the friends. Find some people to make it worth your while for the next two years 🙂

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