Category Archives: something new

Metro Cool

This is my own photo, for once! PS Never, ever Google "Rio Transit images" unless you like being terrified of intra-city travel.

Maybe it’s just me, but I really feel that, in order to really know a place, you need to know its public transit system. I think this is really the key to travel: not only does it enable you to get from place to place, but it means you are going through the same daily actions as locals. It’s another way to get closer to the “underground” (haha) culture of the city. It’s rarely beautiful, often frustrating, crowded without being touristy, and most of all, functional. Knowing a transit system means you know the layout of the city. It means you can sympathize when someone complains about the cost, the terrible musician in such-and-such a station, and the inconvenient construction at your end of the line. The subway literally maps out the most important destinations in any city, and stops are usually named after neighbourhoods, so it’s nearly impossible to get lost. The bus can be a little trickier, but it’s the cheapest way to get an above-ground tour of the lay of the land. For a traveller, the cost of transit beats cabs almost every time, with the exception of late nights or excessive luggage. Personally, once I’ve conquered a city’s transit, I feel a great sense of accomplishment and connection to that place.

Some of the places whose transit I’ve “conquered” include (among others): Toronto, Ottawa, New York City, London (UK), Paris, Rome, Naples, Rio and São Paulo. These are obviously some pretty major world cities, and their transit networks are both vast and intricate. I didn’t pull this off easily; in fact I frequently got lost, had to retrace my steps, ask for directions, or pay to re-enter the system. However, I have always been proud of my ability to read a map and locate myself geographically, and this has served me well. I’ve also had to get over any shyness about asking for help and admitting to being a foreigner/non-local. It’s definitely not cool to be the clueless person on the subway, but the longer you go without asking, the longer you’ll look like a fool.

This brings me to another point: it can actually be dangerous to appear as that clueless passenger. It marks you as an outsider, a tourist, and a great opportunity for pickpocketing. I always try to blend in with the locals on transit, not just because it makes me happy to be adapting to their culture so accurately, but because I don’t want to get accosted or robbed. That being said, nothing makes me happier than when I get mistaken for a local when people ask me for directions. It happened to me in Toronto over Christmas, even though I’d just gotten off the airplane and was hauling a massive suitcase through Spadina station (I proudly pointed the way to the Northbound train). Even more delightfully, it happened to me in Rio as I was waiting at a bus stop with some friends. I explained, in Portuguese, that I wasn’t Brazilian, but I gave as much accurate information as I could. I turned back to my friends with a grin – they don’t speak any Portuguese, so I felt pretty cool.

Rio and São Paulo were my most recent conquests during my January trip. First of all, it must be said that these cities have done a lot to upgrade their metros recently in anticipation of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, so they were sparkling with new bilingual signs, brand new lines, and high-tech safety features (the new Sampa lines have glass doors that prevent passengers from falling onto the track). There was really no excuse for me not to find my way around in these cities, all things considered. Even better, though, was taking the bus in Rio. The Cidade Maravilhosa runs along a curvaceous coastline of beaches on one side and buildings on the other, interrupted by the famous towering hills. It really is as breathtaking as you’d imagine, and fortunately it can be experienced in all its gritty glory for the low cost of R$2.75 (or sometimes R$3.00). Fortunately, the hostel where I stayed in Lapa was good about giving out bus information, and the hostel residents were quick to share their knowledge, so after about two days I knew the names of the buses that would take me anywhere I wanted to go and back again. Additionally, I was getting braver with my Portuguese, and began verifying my destination with the bus drivers before I got on the bus. All were friendly, and some were even helpful enough to get out and ask another driver if they weren’t sure themselves. I felt like the city was mine on the day I told my friends to go ahead without me while I continued shopping; I knew I could get back on my own.

Some of you may have noticed that I did not include Manaus in the “conquered” list above. There is a reason for this, although I’m afraid it isn’t really a good one. To be honest, up ’til now I have been a huge baby about learning transit in my own city. Part of this was out of fear: what if I got lost somewhere in the city and couldn’t get back home? What if I was late? Another part of it was the minimal amount of time I actually spent in Manaus last semester – two days a week, but a good part of one of those was spent teaching – but really that’s an excuse. Another excuse was that, since my host family never uses public transit, nobody was able to teach me. The real reason I didn’t learn the bus system is because I was too afraid to speak Portuguese. Really, it’s a stupid reason. I could tell taxi drivers where I wanted to go, and I had to learn specific language for that, so why not for the bus?

After Rio, I realized that I was certainly able to do it on my own. My language skills were up to par, and (as I mentioned before) I have enough spatial awareness to know when I’m in the right or wrong part of town. The difference is that in Rio I was forced to use my resources to take the bus, with effective results. Here in Manaus, I have friends and family who often drive me around. Last semester I usually took cabs when going out at night (sensible) or when coming back from the bus station (realistic). I definitely did not need to cab to the mall or home from class, but I did because it was easier and less scary than the bus. This semester, I came back with a new resolve to try. It also turns out I have a need as well, as my classes are in the Centro school, and at times when my host mom won’t be able to drive me. I have zero excuses – all the buses actually lead to Centro at some point during their route. And I’m pleased to say that, as of Monday, I have officially taken the Manaus bus by myself! Today is Day Three of going to and from work on my own, and it’s started to turn into routine. Maybe by next week I’ll stop sitting on the edge of my seat during the last 15 minutes of my journey and take my eyes off the road long enough to read a book! Despite the dangers and discomforts (yeah, 40 degrees Celsius and raining) of bus travel, I’m looking forward to saving myself some cash and getting into the local rhythm, and adding one more city to my “conquered” list.

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Filed under bargain hunting, fear, Learning Portuguese, Manaus, overcoming fear, something new, Transit

In and Around Manaus: Forró 101

This week I have been off of work for the first time since I got here. It has been really nice to sleep in, but mostly it was nice to stay in one city for more than four days at a time. I have been here in Manaus since last Friday, and will stay until Sunday when I go back to Itacoatiara.

Other than sleep, the main benefit of being in one place for so long is that I actually got to do some touristy things, and more importantly, began to gain an understanding of where things in relation to each other. I am the kind of person who needs to be spatially oriented, and I also really like understanding the history and culture of a place. Besides being type A and just liking that stuff generally, it’s also a big part of how I learn; I need to be able to see the big picture to understand and appreciate the finer points at close range. This week, I got the full perspective on geographic, cultural, historical, musical, and natural aspects of Manaus.

As I mentioned before, I had my first real taste of Brazilian dance music last weekend when I went to a Forró party (pronounced foh-HO). I’m going to have to give a bit of a background here, so bear with me. I heard forró music for the first time on my first night here, and I thought it sounded lively and upbeat for dancing, if a little repetitive. Maria asked me if I liked it, and I said sure, because it was my first night and of course I was going to say that, but she just laughed. This became a trend: anytime forró came up, the person would ask me if I liked it, then stare at me intently until I responded. They would then either tell me they hated it, or they would just laugh. So I was never sure if I was allowed to like forró, and the style of music isn’t something I am used to, so I decided to reserve my opinion until I’d seen some dancing action. I had also been warned by Paul (the Irishman) to beware the forró party, as they can seem tame enough at first with the vigourous dancing, but then you notice that the dance floor more closely resembles a porno and it’s not so innocent anymore. Of course this was both horrifying and fascinating, and I knew it was an aspect of the culture I had to see to…believe.

The International Gang had made plans to go out last weekend, and Albert in particular had requested we try out the forró. So against the better judgement and taste of Paul and Vinicius, and with a club recommendation from a teacher and self-proclaimed “forrozeira,” we headed out in search of this club. Now, everything in Manaus is far, even if it’s close. The roads are all twisty and full of boulevards and one ways, so it usually takes 20+ minutes to go anywhere. It takes about half an hour from my house to get to Ponta Negra, the really posh, beautiful area where all the good bars are. Well…we drove and drove, we got to Ponta Negra and passed the pre-drink gas station party lined with motorcycles, we passed through the well-lit streets, and we found ourselves on a road to the middle of nowhere. The boys always joke that, if Vinicius’s car runs out of gas, I have to get out and push (it’s frequently on empty) – but even the boys were hoping we didn’t break down along this road. Nevertheless, we didn’t break down, and we knew we were getting closer to our destination when traffic started picking up. And just after the speed bump the size of a raised boulevard, we turned down a road full of cars and came to our destination: Kabanas!

The parking lot was filling up fast, and we were directed into a spot. When we got inside ($40 cover for the guys, but only $20 for the ladies), some promoters handed us fan-shaped flyers which were actually a life-saver. The club area itself is pretty huge, and I was worried about losing the guys, but fortunately it wasn’t extremely crowded when we arrived and we were able to stake out a spot. Then I was able to make a first impression of the raison d’être, the forró! There was a live band playing at the front of the club, with professional dancers onstage.

The end of the night, with the fan

The pros were really impressive, but even more so were the dozens of couples around me dancing just as fast. But it didn’t look like something I couldn’t handle, and I was eager to try – well, maybe with the exception of the extreme pelvic thrusting that some of the dancers thought was an integral move. So, after grabbing some beers (um, they were R$2.50. Whaaa?), Cristina grabbed me and taught me the basics…and soon we were whirling around, dancing faster and faster, and making our high-heeled feet work overtime! It was great, because I never get to partner dance like that.

My dance partner and me

Cristina was a really good teacher, but I didn’t get the chance to dance with anyone else so I don’t know how I’d fare with one of those guys (they are so good, you don’t actually have to know how to dance if you can follow a lead). I guess that’s an adventure for another day.

The other source of entertainment was Albert. We all waited patiently for him to try out his new skillz (from the forró dance class he’d taken the previous day), and it didn’t take long for him to approach a group of girls nearby. The only problem was, on closer inspection they appeared to be about 16 or 17! Ohh Brazilian clubs. Anyway, it was still funny to see him bobbing around, trying to avoid stepping on their feet, and the girls swooning simply because he has blond hair and blue eyes. After a while the band finished their set, and the club played hip hop during the intermission (which actually got Paul dancing…who knew?). By the time the band returned to the stage, Paul and Vinicius had decided they’d had enough forró for the night and Cristina’s and my feet were pretty sore, so we dragged Albert away from the jailbait and headed back to the car. By the time we got back to the city it was 2am, and I realized I’d been up since 6:30 for work, so I asked to be dropped off. Apparently the boys went out to Porão do Alemão, a rock club that I’d been to the week before, and stayed out until 5:30. If I missed some hijinks, it was definitely worth it to shuck off the heels and get some sleep.

In fact, I got a lot of sleep for the next couple of days, and my next adventure didn’t happen until Tuesday…but that will be the next post. The final verdict on Forró?  It’s a lot of fun, but not an every weekend thing.  And if you’re going to go, take a nap because it lasts all night, and wear heels you can dance in!

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Filed under friends, funny, Manaus, nights out, something new

The More Things Change…

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.

Camilla's Qinze Anos

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.

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Filed under friends, goodbyes, Life and death, Life Lessons, quotes, something new

Ping Pong

Swimming at the Itacoatiara school with Eli and Lee

I mean this both literally and figuratively.  First things first: last Sunday, when I got to Itacoatiara, the boys (Lee and Eli) and I played several rounds of ping pong on the outdoor table at the school.  I think I surprised all of us when I was actually kind of good…and they realized I’m competitive by nature, so we made things interesting: whoever lost a round had to do five pushups (situps for me…I really can’t even do a yoga vinyasa properly).  And for the next round, they had to do ten pushups, and so on.  So it got pretty intense, and we kept intentionally miscounting each other’s reps, and eventually we gave up for laughing.  So ping pong is now sort of an inside joke!

The figurative meaning would be me as the ball, and a decent stretch of the Amazon river as the table, with Fisk bearing the paddles.  I’m going to be bouncing back and forth between the two schools for the next 4.5 months.  I’m not complaining; in fact, having been to, taught, and made friends in both places, I really can’t say I’d prefer it another way.  It does mean the flow of my time in each place gets interrupted, and I’d love to have more time to hang out with people on my days off…but I’m kind of greedy, so I want both.

A new aspect for me in Manaus is my homestay family.  When I got back to Manaus on Friday, I went to Fisk long enough to eat some lunch, then I was whisked away by my new family!  There is a girl named Camilla, who is 15, and a boy named Matteus, who is 17, as well as a mother, Adriana, and a father, Marcos.  They have two cats, one of which was fresh from the vet where she’d had major surgery.  The two cats now have to be kept in separate rooms, as the injured one is cranky and the fight like…well, cats!  The family (and now I) live on the 18th floor of a high-rise apartment, which has amazing views of Manaus.  On a clear day you can see the Rio Negro from the balcony, and the night-time panorama is gorgeous.  I think this family is quite well-off, as they have all the latest gadgets and the kids have had a pretty expensive English education at Fisk their whole lives, so I’m getting a whole different perspective on the city with them.  (By the way…they even have showers with a hot water option – muito chique!)

Adriana has made it very clear to me that I should consider the house my own, and I’m free to get food for myself whenever I want, go out, do laundry etc.  In exchange, I am to exclusively speak English with the kids.  Meanwhile, she speaks only Portuguese and isn’t planning on learning English, so I’ll have to practice my Portuguese to communicate with her.  Fortunately she is very easy to understand; the kids told me that, when they went to Panama, everybody understood her Portuguese though she didn’t have a word of Spanish (apparently this wasn’t true for the rest of the family)!  During the two and a half days I’ve spent with them so far, it has been very comfortable.

On Friday, Adriana dropped Camilla and me off at Manauara, the biggest and nicest of the “shoppings” in Manaus.  I told her I was in search of black pants and shoes to wear to work, so with that mission we set out through a bunch of the women’s clothing stores in the four-storey mall.  I didn’t have any luck finding pants, but it was also a struggle to figure out my size here.  They go by European sizes, but I know what my size should be and it wasn’t fitting right.  She introduced me to Bob’s Shakes, which is, as one would expect, a milkshake stand.  We got Ovaltine flavoured shakes, Camilla’s favourite.  Then, we headed to the movie theatre in the mall to meet up with her friend, Diana.  Diana has been studying English, and is going to Canada (Vancouver) in January, so she was eager to meet me.  The three of us went to a movie…and to my surprise, they picked a Brazilian movie out of a lineup of English movies with Portuguese subtitles.  I was a little worried about how I would get through 90 minutes of Portuguese, but it turns out comedy is funny in any language.  I actually followed the plot with no problem, and laughed at most of the jokes!  I’m glad to know I’m at least perceptive enough, if not linguistically equipped, to understand film.  After the movie, Camilla and Diana helped me buy a SIM card for my phone, and then a pair of black flats for work.  They aren’t anything special, but the price was right and they fit, so I’m happy for now.

At around eight, we left the mall and found Adriana in the grocery store (Carrefour) next door.  It was a pretty familiar sight…it looked just like Loblaw’s in Canada.  We went back to the apartment, where we had a late supper and the parents asked me some questions about home.  I had a glass of wine with dinner, and that combined with lack of sleep and a headache meant I went to bed almost immediately after eating at around 11:30.

It was a good thing I slept early, as I had to get up for work at 6:15 the next morning.  My classes start at 7:45 and I should be there at least fifteen minutes early.  Camilla is in my first class, so Adriana was going to drive us…but we left really late!  I ended up getting there closer to eight :S.  Ah well, that’s what happens when you’re dependent on other people.  I swear I was ready on time for once!  Luckily, I was teaching a class I’d already taught earlier in the week, so I was familiar with the material, and as it was the first day, we spent the first half hour doing an icebreaking activity.

My Saturday class schedule is kind of brutal, actually.  I have class solidly from 7:45am through to 3:30pm, which worried me at first because there is no scheduled lunch break.  I found out though that Mary Jane, who is administration at Fisk Parque 10, just orders the staff lunch and we carve out a half hour lunch between the second and third classes.  I spent lunch and the breaks chatting with the English teachers I hadn’t yet met.  They had lots of comments and advice for me about living in Manaus and Brazil, the most important of which was probably the rundown of Brazilian soccer team stereotypes.  I won’t repeat them on here (if you know you know), but it didn’t actually make it easier for me to choose a team.  Everyone keeps saying they’re going to buy me a shirt from their team so I will have to like it!  I think I’m leaning toward Flamengo, the team for which Ronaldinho Gaúcho plays (shhhhh!  Don’t tell anyone, or they’ll yell at me!).

Fisk Parque 10 Family (Manaus)After classes were finished, I hung around the school until 5:30 because we were having a “surprise” birthday party for Lee.  Just like my students (oh and I’d have to say family :P) in Canada, everyone thinks the surprisee has no idea they’re getting a party…even though they do it for everyone.  This is the second Fisk birthday I’ve been to!  Anyway, Lee is now a friend, so I was glad I could be there for it.  Mr. H., the director, came back for the party too as Lee is his right-hand man.  He made a big long speech in Portuguese (which I half understood) for Lee, and then Lee made a big long speech, and it was all very touching (more so if I’d known what they were saying, but you get the gist when people start tearing up).  We sang happy birthday in English and Portuguese, then I added French just for the heck of it (could have added Italian too, but that would have been going too far and my vocal (in)abilities were already revealing themselves).  Then the photos began, and I finally had an excuse to whip out my camera and get some photos for you!

My host family came to pick me up after that, so I had to leave the party quickly.  We returned to the apartment, and I had some time to relax and unwind.  At around 7:30, some of Matteus’ friends showed up.  They invited me to go down to the “playground,” the outdoor activities centre for the apartment complex, to play soccer.  Play futebol with Brazilian teenagers barefoot in a tennis court and get my ass kicked?  Why yes, I think I will!  It was actually very fun, and I didn’t embarrass myself too badly unless you count not knowing the rules of tennis court soccer, especially considering I am older, less fit, and less Brazilian than the rest of them.  Afterwards we all sat down in a circle (everyone’s feet were black from running around), and they all kind of stared at me.  I keep having these moments where I realize these people have never seen a Canadian in their life and they are full of questions.  These kids were too shy to ask, and the ones who knew some English refused to use it.  So Matteus and Camilla acted as translators, and they asked the usual run of questions such as what I eat, what’s the weather like, what music do I listen to, etc.  My favourite question by far was, “What’s the difference between ‘Oh shit’ and ‘bullshit’?” hahahaha

The kids decided to go out to eat after that, but as I was sweaty and tired from teaching all day, I declined to join them.  I finally got a chance to Skype with my family, and then I just relaxed for a couple hours before hitting the sack.  Not very exciting for a Saturday night, but I’d worked a very long day!

On Sunday morning, Camilla slept in, while I woke up early and lounged around on the computer and reading a book.  Then we had breakfast (lots of sugary and fatty bread-type things, sweet coffee, and some fruit).  After breakfast I was relieved to be able to sort through my luggage and unpack some of my stuff.  Camilla had cleared some space in her closet, and I did some laundry. I showed her some of the stuff I’d brought with me, we looked at pictures, and I painted our nails.  It was finally starting to feel like a living situation, and not temporary!

Alas, after lunch it was time to return to Itacoatiara.  Matteus and Marcos took me to the bus station, where I boarded the bus for my four-hour trip back to my weekday life. This time, I brought with me a small suitcase full of things that will stay there, so it, too can feel like a permanent living situation.  As crazy as it sounds, I don’t think I would change this strange split-life; I have friends and “family” in two cities here in Manaus, and I couldn’t choose between them if I wanted to!

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Filed under cheesy metaphors, friends, Itacoatiara, Manaus, something new

August 11 – Bem-Vindo a Manaus!

I’m here!!!  I can hardly believe it.  I don’t think it has fully sunk in yet, and I’m already feeling a little culture shell-shocked.  But I’ll start from where I left off, so you have an idea of where I’m coming from (literally and figuratively).

I had set my alarm this morning for 3:45 am, but somehow I still woke up before it.  I got up, showered, and moved some things around in my luggage, then hauled myself out the door to catch the 4:30 shuttle to the airport.

I missed it by 5 minutes, and it comes hourly.

So the concierge, who had been working the night before, called the driver to request he come back for me.  In the meantime, he kept me awake in the lobby with a steady stream of flirtatious conversation (he’s Cuban…what else?).  The shuttle didn’t end up coming back until 5:30, and by that time there were a dozen more people waiting to be picked up, too.  Of course, the second the van arrived they made a mad dash to the door, and even though I reached it first, I ended up holding the door for everybody else as they stampeded past me (all I wanted was to get my second piece of luggage!), and wouldn’t you know I was the last person in the over-crowded van.  The driver looked like he was going to ask somebody to stay back, but I pleaded my case and he told me to ride up front (HA!).  In the end, I got to my gate around 5:40, so no harm done.

I grabbed some breakfast inside security and meandered down to the gate, where about a hundred other people who looked dead on their feet also waited for the call to board.  Well, we waited and waited, and the time drew closer to the 7:40 takeoff time, and yet no call to board had been made, though the screen still told us the flight was “On Time.”  I took this to mean it was on Brazilian time, so I read my magazine some more and waited.  We eventually got onto the plane and seated for takeoff in a relatively short span of time, leaving just twenty minutes late.

I haven’t mentioned yet that from the first interaction with TAM (the airline), everything was in Portuguese first, and English as an afterthought.  I was already getting nervous, as it took several tries for me to remember that the word for thank you is “obrigado/a” and not “graçias” – which is something I should know!  So when I boarded, I got a little worried about struggling through five hours with a Portuguese-only seatmate.  I guess fate decided I was too wimpy to deal with it at that time, because of the three non-Brazilians on-board, I was seated next to a very English, very American guy from Ohio who had also never been to Brazil before.  We traded stories – his wife of 16 years is Brazilian, though this is his first trip and he doesn’t speak a word of Portuguese – and bits of knowledge and advice for the first little bit.  He said he wasn’t feeling well, and when he went to the bathroom shortly after the seatbelt light came off, he didn’t return for several hours.  I had the row to myself during the hours when everyone was sleeping, which was nice.

He came back in the last hour and a half (apparently he’d found three seats together where he could lie down), and it was nice to have someone to exclaim over the view with.  Unfortunately the clouds from yesterday were both ubiquitous and persistent, so our first glimpses of the Amazon were fleeting and hazy.  Still, as we got closer, what had looked like brown roads turned into serpentine rivers that joined and divided, interspersed with lakes amid a vast canopy of green.  I remarked that I’d never seen so many trees before – which seems like a kind of dumb thing to say, but if you don’t say it out loud you can forget that it’s true.  Getting closer to landing, some roads did differentiate themselves in clay-red; meanwhile, the rivers, whose identity had heretofore been unknown, divulged their granddaddy: the vast and unmistakeable Amazon didn’t just appear, it unveiled its size dramatically as we spiralled toward the city and the airport.  I could also spot a suspension bridge arcing across the expanse.  I tried to take photos, but the window was not very conducive, and the task was distracting from my actual view.  You’ll see anything useful I might have taken.

Upon landing, I didn’t have any problems with Customs, though the luggage carousel was chaos as usual.  After about 20 minutes I located my stuff (everything intact, yay for not having to use that insurance!) and exited the secured area…into a food court.  I pushed my trolley a few feet into the food court, which wasn’t crowded but was permeated with the strangely American scent of grilling burgers, and gazed around to get my bearings.  Luckily I spotted Leilson and his Fisk shirt just a few moments later.  He and another Fisk employee, whose name embarrassingly still eludes me, greeted me and led me towards the car.  Both guys are in their mid-twenties, so we got along pretty well.  We were all hungry, so the guys said they’d take me for a***, a staple beef dish.

It came out that the poor guys had actually turned up at the airport at 12:45 am instead of in the afternoon!  They had waited around for about half an hour before asking an employee, who corrected the error.  Oops!  I feel bad, but I’m also pretty sure I gave the right time – at least twice.  Anyway, they didn’t seem to harbour any ill feelings about it, and we got along great.  The second employee, whom I’ll call V for lack of more accurate nomenclature, speaks quite fluent English despite never having been outside Brazil.  Leilson struggled to keep up by comparison, but managed to follow along the thread of conversation quite well.  Sometime in the middle of lunch, he asked V to translate for him so that he wouldn’t miss any important details: all my needs would be taken care of at Fisk, including all meals and transportation; however, apologizing profusely, he told me the school was short on teachers at the moment, and they needed me to work both at one of the city locations and in Itacuatiara, a city two hours from Manaus.  So I’d be in Itacuatiara from Sunday night until Thursday night (teaching Mon-Thurs), then back in Manaus for a Saturday class, just for this semester.  Although this sounds like it’s going to be inconvenient, I think it won’t be too bad.  I’m pretty used to both commuting and travelling, and I don’t mind having some time to read and lesson plan on the bus.  Also, I’ll get weekends in Manaus, and I have two days off, even if they aren’t in a row.  All in all, the schedule is pretty reasonable.

After lunch, the guys brought me to meet Mary, a Fisk teacher and administrator whose home I’ll be staying in temporarily.  Unfortunately as soon as I got here she had to leave for an appointment.  She told me she’d be back in two hours, so I could shower and rest – which I gladly did.  Her apartment is tiny: just a kitchen, a bedroom with an extra mattress on the floor, and a bathroom, but everything is clean and neat.  When I woke up, it was around 6:30 and I could hear what had to be forró echoing through the street below the second floor bedroom.  Still disoriented from sleep and travel, I slid the metal shutter open, to a fabulously and uniquely Brazilian scene: a sky hazy orange sky with the silhouette of downtown in the distance; below, a man barbequing in the triangular median, a woman selling baked goods from her front step, a dog lazily wandering down the street, and the strangest mix of vehicles you can imagine careening down the narrow road.  The surroundings scream abject poverty from my North American viewpoint, but this is quickly challenged by the guy driving the hip-hop blaring, bright orange Camero convertible directly beneath me.  I feel more out of touch than ever.

Not long after this, Mary came home.  She suggested we head over to the downtown school to meet some of the teachers, and then go to the mall (“shopping” in Brazilian, you know).  We walked to a main road, where we caught a cab (which already had another passenger), then got out and walked to the Centro school.  Unfortunately everyone but the desk staff had already left, so we rested in the air conditioning for a few minutes before running out to catch a bus to the mall.  The bus was also confusing, because you only pay when you get off.  There was also a lot of awkward dodging of other passengers on my part when we tried to get off, due to my not having anything to say to them.  Note to self: learn more polite words!

The mall was a familiar scene, but I was too tired to really want to look around.  We went to an internet café, then got some dinner at the food court (finally got to try out this weighing-your-dinner thing, and it was pricey!).  Mary had a few items to pick up, but we didn’t stay for too long as it closed at 10:00 anyway.  Mary called a friend of hers who happens to drive a cab, and he came and picked us up, saving us a likely crowded and less safe bus ride.

When we got back, I was pretty happy to change into pajamas and crash on the little mattress.  I knew we’d be leaving the house at 7 the next morning, so I wanted to savour every second of sleep I could!

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