Language Wars

Yesterday I busted out my old Portuguese workbooks. I have recently decided to start studying again. Of course I have only managed to go as far as dusting off the covers and reviewing my old work before stopping to reflect. What can I say, it’s part of my nature.

A conversation with an older Brazilian woman is what caused me to bust out my old books in the first place. She told me about the hurdles she faced while learning English. The main one, in her opinion, was that she could never think in English. That was her problem, she couldn’t think in English thus could never speak it anywhere close to fluently.

She immediately took me back to memories that I possibly blocked on purpose. I had completely forgotten about that phase, the one where you have to translate what has been said into your native language in your head. It is the phase where your brain can translate the language but not yet think in it.

Thus while in a conversation you can only come up with a response after translating what has been said. Then you have to translate your response so you can share it.

How I forgot that frustrating phase is beyond me! If you have ever been in a conversation with more than one Brazilian, you know you have about a second and a half before the conversation completely changes directions.

During this phase I could finally understand what was happening in the conversation but couldn’t produce a response quickly enough to stay in it. Not only did I not get to actually participate in the conversation, I would once again find myself completely lost due to the time I spent mentally translating my response.

At that point the only thing you can do is stick your tail between your legs and ask someone what the hell everyone else is talking about. Then you catch up, think of a reply, and BAM you are back in the same spot.

Looking over my workbooks only brought back more and more Portuguese learning memories. I remembered how confusing it all seemed. I remember thinking that I would never fully understand it. I also wondered why in the hell any language would need two different kinds of “to be.” It is a bit a bit much.

Thankfully though, I can now understand. I can take part in just about any conversation without getting lost. Hell, I don’t even translate anymore, my brain jumps between both languages like a young 60 yr old who regularly participates in water aerobics.

Of course I have my Portuguese limits, in case you didn’t pick up on my fabulous analogy. I am inventive at best when it comes to verb tenses and conjugation. Don’t even ask about feminine and masculine, I just make that shit up as I go. Also, please don’t ask me to write in Portuguese. Part of me was hoping that I would learn how to via osmosis but let me just tell you now, that method doesn’t work.

So as much as I have grown when it comes to my Portuguese, I have also failed myself. That is a very difficult thing to admit, especially because initially I had planned for this to be a fluffy “you can do it” post.

Honestly though, you can do it. You can learn another language, especially if you are in a country where it is spoken. You just have to remember that you get back what you put into it. You would think that fact would be obvious but I am here to tell you it isn’t.

I have been half-assed with my Portuguese  inquisition acquisition and thus my language skills reflect it. I thought I would learn everything just by being here. While you can learn a lot with this method, there is a definite glass ceiling. Seriously, I am not being hard on myself. I may be able to hold a normal conversation, even read, but I can’t write as well as my 2nd grader. I have been here for over 8 years. There is no excuse for that.

Think of it this way. Learning a language is like going to the gym. The harder you work, the better the results. Yes, both are incredibly annoying at times, but you will never regret doing them.

My Little Chauvinist is Growing Up

On the way to school yesterday, Chatterbox and I were discussing boring adult responsibilities. We basically covered household chores and other mundane day to day activities that are usually taken care of by a grownup.

At one point Chatterbox looked up at me with his big innocent eyes and said “Laundry, cooking, and washing dishes really are a Mommy job. My wife can just do it.”

My little chauvinist pig is growing up so fast.

In my head I immediately blamed Brazil, the machismo country that has obviously been teaching my little boy nonsense. Of course it only took about 30 seconds for me to admit to myself that he was getting this not from “society” but from home.

I am the one at home with the kids. I do the majority of the washing up, laundry, and cooking. My boys stay with me and thus see me domestic goddessing my ass off on a daily basis. In his little world, Mommies are the ones who do those things.

That is how our family works. Our one family, which is exactly what I then attempted to explain to him. I told him how all families are different. I explained how in many families both the Mommy and Daddy work so they have to share the responsibilities at home.

“But Mommy, wouldn’t they just have a maid all the time?”

That one came from Brazil.

After that I decided to change techniques. My son didn’t need an explanation of how different families work but instead needed to understand that he can not expect someone else to take care of his shit. I told him, calmly but firmly, that no self-respecting person needs someone else to take care of their basic needs for them. Everyone, men and women alike, grow up learning how to do things for themselves, and that he would be no exception. I then told him that by the time I am done with him, he’ll even know how to properly clean a toilet.

Of course that last part got some ewws but it also got giggles from both boys. The thing is, kids get a lot of information from observing the world around them. I honestly never stopped to think that Chatterbox was watching me and assuming he would move straight into another woman’s arms and have her do his laundry, though it is a very Brazilian thing to do.

That said, this parenting fail gave me the opportunity to explain the reality of things. In this house we are raising men and real men cook, clean, and do laundry.

 

Why This Brazilian Mother Is Trafficking Illegal Drugs

stonermom

It doesn’t matter what you call it. Weed, Marijuana, Cannabis or whatever else it goes by in your neck of the woods. The fact is that Marijuana is on everyone’s mind these days. It shouldn’t be legalized, it should be legalized, where is my bong, pass the munchies and so on and so forth.

I, for one, am highly pro legalization, and no it isn’t just for obvious reasons. There are numerous reasons as to why the legalization of marijuana would be a positive thing, especially in Brazil. For starters, the government could make a shitload regulating and taxing the good stuff. Maybe if Brazilian politicians had all that money to steal, they would leave the public health and school funds alone. Stranger things have happened.

On a health front, weed is much more than just something to get you high. It actually helps people. It’s illegal though. It seems that because the vast majority of people use marijuana to get high, we should ignore any possible health benefits.

I get the perception of medicinal marijuana and I agree with it to an extent. Hell, if I could get my hands on a card for some half-assed reason, there is very big possibility that I would not turn it down. That said, for the ones who actually need it, it can make all the difference. And they don’t even get stoned!

The medical potential of Marijuana goes far beyond making you hungry, so far that a Brazilian Mother took part in the video I am about to share as a means to explain why she is trafficking a technically illegal substance into Brazil for her young daughter.

Don’t worry, the video is only 5 minutes and 40 seconds. No, it doesn’t actually feel like 15 minutes and 45 seconds. Trust me, it’s worth watching. There are even English subtitles. Go check it out!

April Fools and A Brazilian Dictatorship

dic

Once upon a time, Brazil had a military dictatorship. It actually started 50 years ago! Of course my Grandmother is under the impression that Brazil was a communist country, sometimes she still insists they are, but that is a different story entirely.

Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the Military dictatorship’s first real day in charge was on April Fool’s Day. How many Brazilians wished the military turned around the morning of April 1st, 1964 and said “Just kidding!”

Did you know that right wing Brazilians actually wanted a military intervention as a means to remove constitutional president João Goulart? Regardless, I doubt they knew what they were getting themselves into, that or they were a part of it.

There is no joke to make here, the dictatorship was seriously fucked up. The military government ruled by repression, torture, and murder. Those who didn’t play along and do what was expected by the dictatorship had a seriously difficult 21 years, if they even lasted that long. You would think that there would have been a backlash, but those behind the military dictatorship instilled an Amnesty Law in 1979.

Call me crazy but I would have thrown that law out come 1985, when the dictatorship ended, and put a hell of a lot of military people into some very unpleasant Brazilian jails. Of course the new Brazilian democracy had to bust its ass just to keep its head above water. I can see how other issues may have been considered a priority at the time.

What I do not understand is how it was put off until 2010, nor how the Brazilian Supreme Court could actually uphold the law!

Thankfully Brazil created The Truth Commission (Comissão Nacional da Verdade) in 2011 to investigate rights violations originally from the military dictatorship but now ranging from 1946 to 1988 (the dictatorship was from 1964 to 1985).

This history of mistreatment, followed by the protection of those who were responsible, still sits in the memory of all Brazilians. Now those who were small children during the dictatorship, and those who were not even a thought in their parents groins, are standing up. They are following in their parents and grandparents footsteps and are fighting against a corrupt government.

It is almost as if Brazil is coming full circle and are once again finding their voice.

 

 

Facing My Demons: Capoeira

gingo

Today I faced one of my nemesis from my first year in Brazil, Capoeira. About 9 or 10 years ago, I spent almost 6 months trying to fall in love with the Brazilian sport my newish Brazilian husband was crazy about. I failed miserably.

Not only were the movements far too strange for my little gringa mind to comprehend, my coordination couldn’t even begin to follow. To make matters worse, I didn’t understand a thing the teacher said! At that point my Portuguese was limited at best. I could hardly remember the names, much less remember the movements that were designed to go along with them.

The stress of not understanding what was going on, logically followed by a lack of understanding of what I should be doing, led to a state of constant frustration. It quite obviously turned me off to the sport. In all the years since I have associated Capoeira with a feeling of inadequacy, frustration, and insecurity.

Weirdly, or not, at the time I felt the same emotions while dealing with my acclimation and transition to life in Brazil, though outside of Capoeira I was actually seeing some personal improvement. That is why I chose to give the country a chance and the sport the boot.

So how did I end up back in a Capoeira class? Well, my building has a group, a very nice group, with classes for all ages. It started with both The Menace and Chatterbox joining the kids’ group. Shortly there after, Mr Rant decided start practicing Capoeira once again. He had taken a break from the sport when business picked up and children started popping out of my vagina. I mean, who has the time with all that happening. Of course, when the class is literally an elevator ride down, and free, you really don’t have an excuse not to join, do you?

When Mr Rant returned to Capoeira, Chatterbox started asking me why I didn’t do it too. If I joined their group that would mean that the whole family would be members of the same Capoeira group. For some reason my 7 year old thought that would be the best thing in the world. In case you were wondering, The Menace couldn’t really give a crap either way.

Eventually The Chatterbox had me asking myself why I didn’t give it go. I started to wonder why I wasn’t willing to give Capoeira a second chance? I didn’t have anything better to do on a Monday night at 8pm. Why not take that elevator ride down and give it a shot?

So I did just that tonight and I really enjoyed myself. Seriously, I enjoyed myself through all the push-ups, squats, abs, and even the kicking exercises where I almost fell at least twice… quite possibly more but I refused to keep count after that. I may be older and wiser but I still have an ego.

And you know what, I didn’t care that I looked ridiculous, as the vast majority of newbie Capoeira students do. Though I did feel the need to mention that second part. I think a lot of it has to do with actually being able to communicate. Speaking the language has made everything Brazilian seem so much more accessible, including a sport that initially made me wonder if I really did have any control of the lower half of my body.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the Capoeira path takes me, though I don’t expect much. Not falling while kicking is currently my goal and I am more than happy with that.

Would you ever give a sport a second chance? Have you tried Capoeira? Have you ever tried to practice something local when you didn’t speak the language? Did you succeed?

Which one: Prude or slut?

skirt

I recently read an interesting NPR article that compared the role of women in the Middle East to that in Brazil. The article was basically calling our attention to the different kinds of limits that are set for women, even in seemingly liberal countries such as Brazil.

A big part of the article was based how we choose to present ourselves, and how we are allowed to present ourselves. It reminded me of something my Mother constantly told me when I was becoming a young woman:

“There are girls you take home and girls you take home.”

She was so subtly telling a pre-teen girl that there are girls you take home to fuck and girls you take home to meet your parents.

That is a hardcore lesson. I mean, who really ever raises their hand and says “Hey, over here. Use me please!” Oh hell no. I wanted to be the one a guy was proud of, the one he took to meet his family. Who doesn’t?

At the same time I was confused. Was I not supposed to desire men? Were the sexual feelings I had ones that should be ignored and push down or could they adapt to these limits? Was being the good girl on one side and the bad girl on the other? Is there any grey area at all?

I understand my Mother’s point of view when it comes to giving this advice. As women, we have to dodge society’s landmines while attempting to search and discover ourselves sexually. We can’t be too much, we can’t be too little, we can’t be prude, and we can’t be a slut. Again, are we not allowed a grey area?

When it comes to sexual self and country, I personally found a sense of sexual freedom and oppression when I arrived in Rio de Janeiro. I could wear what I wanted and flirting was was common place. Rio de Janeiro is not what you call a modest city. The freedom of restriction was like a breath of fresh air.

Then I got to know the other side. Beauty wasn’t an option, it was a necessity. It was something there was always time and money for as beauty is a non-negotiable. Nails, waxes, leaving your long hair down in 90 degree weather, and wearing sexually flattering clothing was all expected. It is just how things are done here.

While I love getting my nails done and all that jazz, the regularity in which you are expected to do it makes the entire thing kind of annoying. Not to mention that getting your girly bits waxed hurts like a bitch. And I swear, at least once every wax, I have a moment where I am afraid she is going to rip my clitoris off. That is just plain traumatizing.

Nonetheless, I felt suffocated by the exact thing that was supposed to be liberating me. I could be sexual. The problem was that I was expected to be. Again, another expectation. If I didn’t dress the part I wasn’t feminine enough.

What it comes down to is that wherever you are as a woman, there are sexual expectations. Those expectations could be to cover up, to not, to act a certain way in either situation, or what have you. Regardless, they are expectations or, better said, restrictions.

One thing that is a constant with society’s treatment of women, women being a part of said society, is that we are given limits where men are not. We are then judged on if we meet or do not meet said limits everywhere. We are labeled, boxed, and put on a certain shelf.

How do you feel about this? Do you think that as a society we can change it?

My 3 Phases of Foreignness

photo from: http://bordersartstrust.wordpress.com/

photo from: http://bordersartstrust.wordpress.com/

Today I ran into a fresh-faced foreigner, fresh off the plane into this crazy land we call Rio de Janeiro. His eyes skirted from newness to newness until they met mine. I could sense that it had been merely weeks since his last trip to Target. I was faced with a fresh gringo in Rio de Janeiro.

The funniest part was that I didn’t see anything around us that was noteworthy. I could rationally understand how he may have found some of the things funny, new, or even shocking. Yet for me there was nothing blog worthy on that street, besides him that is.

He reminded me of myself when I got here, back when eating cold açaí on a hot Rio de Janeiro day felt as good as an orgasm. Who am I kidding, it still does.

It made me think about how I got to where I am now. I decided to break the process down into three phases.

Here are my 3 phases of foreignness:

Phase 1: Completely and utterly lost

I was so lost when I got here that I quite literally got lost in my own neighborhood. I got annoyed with Mr Rant and decided to go on a walk. I am an independent woman after all. Of course I didn’t really know the lay of the land, nor the neighborhood… obviously. I did so many loops that I found myself lost about 3 city blocks from home, though I might as well have left the area completely. To make matters worse, my Portuguese vocabulary consisted of hello, how are you, and thank you. Not necessarily helpful when it comes to asking for directions. I finally found my way back home after finding some business men who spoke enough English to figure out what the hell I was talking about.

As frustrating as it is being totally lost when you so desperately want to figure a place out, this phase also has an awesome side. If you figure ANYTHING out, it is a win. When I ordered my first pizza by phone, I was so ecstatic that you would have thought that I had won a Nobel Peace Prize. The same goes for managing to open a bank account by myself, no small feat in Brazil, and figuring out how to make coffee without a coffeemaker.

Phase 2: Look at me, I’m adapted! Any and all new foreigners, come talk to me so I can teach you how.

This is that moment where you finally get your bearings. You have the lay of the land figured out, more or less, and have mastered the language enough to have at least basic conversations and ask for directions… plus you actually understand the answer.

This phase is well welcomed after the first one because, lets be honest, Phase 1 has a steep learning curve. If you are anything like me, during that phase you made a serious ass of yourself a few times, at the very least.

Stage 2 was funny for me though. It made me want to reach out to any and all other foreigners I saw when out and about.

I felt an undeniable urge to reach out to them. I wanted to know where they were from, what they were doing in Rio de Janeiro, and how long they were staying. I honestly felt like I should help them because I contained a deep well of knowledge that should be shared with anyone and everyone who came to my new city. Obviously I was the first one here. I practically built this place.

Looking back, I was like a toddler who finally pooped in the potty. Everyone has to do it once, and then it isn’t a big deal anymore. Same goes for moving abroad. That said, every single toddler wants anyone within earshot to come take a look at that monumental first turd. I was no different.

It should be mentioned that this blog was born during Phase 2 and all of you reading have basically come to take a look at it.

Phase 3: I live here

This is the phase where you move from expat to immigrant. You live there now. Tedious crap like banking and cleaning is no longer an “experience”. When you are out on the street it is to run errands or go to work, not to stop and have a beer with any semi-lost foreigner you meet on the way. You have shit to do. Helping a foreigner figure out the different kinds of juices available at a juice stand is no longer a novelty.

You are no longer in the same family with all other foreigners. You have grown and are a member of the community in whichever city you live. As much as I will help anyone in need of help, I let foreigners struggle before translating or explaining something to them. I feel no need to share my knowledge but instead feel that they need to figure it out. They are in a different country with different ways. MY CITY, isn’t just a tourist attraction, at least now that I am done treating it that way.

To sum it up, people everywhere, regardless of living abroad or not, grow and change over time. It is just how life works. The thing about doing it abroad is that you can see much more obvious changes or growths, especially when it comes to your attitude towards your new home and how much or how little you have adapted.

Nonetheless, I still have this blog. I suppose we keep something from each phase. For me, Phase 1 would be my difficulty with the conjugation of Portuguese verbs, Phase 2 the turd blog, and Phase 3 the Holier than thou attitude (though that is quite fake as I am really not that bad).

How about you? What would be your 3 phases?

Poor Misunderstood Eduardo Paes

“Don’t ever in your life do a World Cup and the Olympic Games at the same time,” Mr. Paes recently said at a debate here on Rio’s transformation…

This is one quote from Mayor Eduardo Paes’ interview with the NY Times. I feel Eduardo Paes’ pain. I imagine running Rio de Janeiro is a circus on its own. It wouldn’t be far fetched to imagine that adding two hugely popular international games is making it a total shit-show.

All that, along with facing an extremely displeased public, would be overwhelming for anyone.

“I’m not cut out to be a masochist, to be someone shouted down and cursed at,” he said in an interview, referring to the way some of his more vocal critics approach him on Rio’s streets. “But this process reflects democratization, the development of citizens in Brazil,” he added. “I don’t think the protests are over.”

It is great that he supports democratization. You’d really hope so seeing that Brazil is supposed to be a democratic country. Sometimes though, it doesn’t really feel like it…

Now I know Eduardo Paes doesn’t technically control the police. His buddy Sergio Cabral does. Though something tells me he is close enough to good old Sergio, close enough to say “Simmer down now Serg.”

Of course we must remember that Eduardo Paes and Sergio Cabral have a lot to talk about when they are together. There just isn’t enough time during pillow talk to discuss everything.

Regardless, we all have to admit that Rio de Janeiro is an exciting city! Eduardo Paes is obviously a fan of excitement! He is the vibrant and social mayor of a city that is bubbling over with energy. A city such as Rio de Janeiro should expect a bit of drama. It happens in all big cities, plus it keeps things interesting. Eduardo Paes is really doing us all a favor by keeping Rio de Janeiro from turning into a boring city like… off the top of my head… Zurich.

“I don’t want to compare my city to Zurich, thank God we’re not that boring,” said Mr. Paes over breakfast served by uniformed servants”

I agree, thank goodness we aren’t boring like Zurich. Clean streets, honest police, and a functional government? Good public healthcare and education?

zzzzzzzz

We may not have all those things in Rio de Janeiro, but we have something else. We have cold beers on beautiful beaches full of tiny bikinis with free public showers where we can wash off in water full of feces and Hepatitis B. Take that Switzerland.

That said, I can’t say that I would do a better job as mayor of Rio de Janeiro. I get overwhelmed running a 84 meter apartment with the population of four. Though I can say that I wouldn’t choose to throw the birthday party of the century if it meant that we couldn’t pay for schooling or healthcare.

I suppose we all have our own list of priorities. Paes seems to think that hastily built structures, that will likely end up neglected and eventually fall to despair, and temporary international attention are the key to Rio de Janeiro’s future. And I was thinking it was health, education, and quality of life. Gosh, don’t I look silly…

 

What do you think?