Sunday, September 21, 2014

Three Cheers for Bravery

Lessons Learned from MK & Ash, circa 1994.

If you were a girl in the 90s, chances are Mary-Kate and Ashley rocked your world. Sis and I were so into watching them solve any crime by dinner time. After all, they were our blonde-haired, blue-eyed American sisters and celeb idols. If they could do anything, surely we could too.

One of the most inspirational, thrilling episodes for me was The Case of the Thorn Mansion. It takes serious guts to go into a haunted mansion, and all these first grade babes had to do was sing a song about bravery and they were set.

Just like that, this became our own theme song for bravery. Anytime sis and I were scared, mom would remind us of the song.  Example: the time we got our ears pierced.

Three cheers for bravery!
Though tears were shed, we got through it.  And little did I know how much this mantra would help me as I got older.

Fast forward to today, where I find myself in a new city, country and continent. The things that were once familiar and easy for me are now really intimidating.  I used to feel pretty fearless talking to strangers, and now I can be such an awkward, shy creature—how did this happen?? I wondered.

To the people here, I am an estrangeira. A foreigner that isn’t quite competent enough to have a meaningful conversation. No one knows the person I once was in my home country, the network I had, or the friends I surrounded myself with. It’s like I have everything to prove and miles to go before I can do it.

Instead of feeling strong and independent like Destiny’s Child, I felt like MK and Ash on their first day of kindergarten when I moved to Brazil. Distracting myself with Legos so no one thought I was lost. I decided my ultimate goal each day should be to do something brave. If there’s anything we can learn from the Olsen twins, it’s that bravery comes from conquering the little moments that scare you.

I've tasted buttermilk, sat through Jurassic Park.
I've taken off my training wheels, used adult shampoo. 

Sometimes there's no limit to the scary things I'll do.

Yea girls, bringing it home with those lyrics. From rehearsing the Portuguese I needed to ask questions, to going to meetup groups with strangers, I decided to take on all the baby stuff that scared me. 

The other day before asking someone a question, I took a deep breath and thought, 3 cheers for bravery.  And then I laughed to myself. Am I really using MK & Ash lyrics for courage right now? 

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing. So thank you Mary-Kate and Ashley, for inspiring me with your lyrics. And thanks Mom, for always reminding us to be brave.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why I don't like Cameras

Since being in Brazil, everyone asks to see pictures. And why would you not—this place is incredible.

Sometimes I just feel intrusive pulling out a camera or phone when I see things that really fascinate me. I don’t want to make a spectacle out of the way people live.

I think it would be different if I was a tourist on a short vacation and wanted to capture every fleeting memory. But I will be here for some time and can look, breathe and take it all in.

Part of my camera reservations too come from my inner scaredy cat. With theft happening so frequently here, I would rather not make myself a target. In the US it’s totally status quo to walk around with your phone, camera and laptops in hand, but here that looks like you’re asking for trouble.

Ideally I want zero trouble, so all of my photos from my Life in Rio album came from places I felt really safe in; our hotels when we first arrived, our apartment, a calm day at the beach and at a friend’s beach house.

These are picturesque images of the natural beauty of Brazil. But they only capture one side of the story.

For example, on the way to this place:

We drove through an hour and a half of poor towns and poverty. Tiny houses stacked on top of each other, some covered in graffiti, others missing windows and doors. People walking around in worn clothes, the sweat and stress from the day still heavy on their faces. Child after child playing barefoot in the streets. Watching silently from the car window, I could not bring myself to take a picture. 

This is what poor looks like. And this video puts the irony of visitors with cameras into perspective.

As much as I want to share all parts of my experience with the world, I think there are better ways than taking pictures. There has to be.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Brazilians are funny

As hard as I try to be Brazilian, it’s just not in the cards for me.

It would be nice to be an incognito gringo that could pass as a Carioca living another day in her native life.  But there’s something about me that looks all too American. Though I have a decently fair complexion, Rio is a diverse city with a lot of other fair sisters. I think what really gives me away is my eyes--maybe it’s the way I look at everything new around me or perhaps just the lightness.

I woke up like this (still not Brazilian)
Either way, when my shades come off my Carioca front is for sure game over. Then people start asking ‘De onde você é?’ Where are you from?

So the other day I rolled out with my sunglasses on, feeling so master in disguise as I strolled down the street. I walked past two older men as one of them said, “Uma Americana!” -_- Three cheers for trying.

These Brazilians really call it like they see it. Which reminds me of another time I got called out, by a group of boys playing futebol.

Futebol with my friends

After feeling a bit stressed about figuring out what I want to do here, I took a jog down the beach to embrace the beauty of Rio life. Like a true Carioca, I bought a coconut on my way back and walked on the shoreline. I saw a group of about 50 young people ahead, all in different circles juggling soccer balls and passing them around. It looked pretty amazing, so instead of taking a roundabout way to avoid the action, I decided to walk next to them on shore.

If you know anything about Brazilians and their beach sports, you know they take them very seriously and are very, very good at them. Especially anything that involves a futebol.

I barely got past the first circle of boys juggling when one of them kicked the soccer ball and bee lined it straight into my coconut. With immaculate precision, both the coconut and ball flew into the water. I laughed, because what else can you do when someone shoots an apple off your head?

Brazilians are funny to foreigners. They also have pretty funny pickup lines. 

Dogs at the Beach

As I sat next to the ocean yesterday and enjoyed some alone time, I noticed a man playing with his little yorkie dog near me. Next thing I know, he runs over and hands me the leash. He was speaking very fast Portuguese, kicked off his shoes and started walking away—leaving me with his dog!

 In my confusion I couldn’t find any real Portuguese words to ask questions but then he said, “Ohhh you speak English! Can you watch my dog while I go get something from my car?” Suure, I guess. The dog was pretty cute and reminded me of my own yorkie back home, so I had a mini photo shoot with Scooby Doo. What else are you supposed to do when a stranger gives you their dog? 

Then the Brazilian guy (or maybe he was a teen? He had braces) comes back with a towel and an umbrella. He put them next to my stuff—like we were friends and planned to hang out at the beach together. I was one confused American girl because who does that? I laughed at his persistence, used it as an opportunity to practice my Portuguese and told him I had to leave to meet my boyfriend. 

Talk about an awkward encounter for a girl who’s used to men who wait for your approval before they try to pick you up. Oh these Brazilians are funny. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Language Learning 101

Moving to a new place can be strange.  

“Strange and unfamiliar…I suppose this all feels pretty foreign to you," 
Google replied when I asked her what foreign means anyways. 

It’s pretty easy to feel like an incompetent toddler when you’re surrounded by people speaking a beautifully fast language you know nothing about. You can try to memorize key phrases and words—which probably works out great if you perform well under pressure. However if you’re like me and instinctively go deer in the headlights, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

I’ve already lost count of embarrassing moments I’ve had here. I tend to feel a real sense of urgency when trying to speak, only to mumble completely false statements in my haste.  For instance, just yesterday I quickly told a hostess at a restaurant I was meeting ‘meu amigo’ and she brought me to a table with two men (really I meant to say ‘minha amiga’-girl friend). Queue awkward glances from all parties involved.

And then I got locked in between two gates at a friend’s place and had to make a call to the management for assistance to get out. Couldn’t seem to articulate my predicament with my limited Portuguese vocab so I kept repeating “EU PRECISO SAIR” I need to leave, despite his ever-changing follow-up questions. Luckily meu amigo knew how to help a gringa (white foreign girl) out.

During all my daily encounters like these, I can see the pain the brasilieros feel for me.  These Cariocas really are expressive people. When I feel embarrassed, they too feel embarrassed for me. When I show hesitation, they stare silently like I am a delicate creature they can’t understand. When I speak timidly, they speak very little back.  Yet when I laugh, they laugh with me. When I show humility, they help correct my errors. 

“It’s like you’re my mirror,” JT sings over the Zona Sul radio*. And ain’t that the truth. 

It seems that my interactions are mirroring the emotions I feel.

After realizing this, I started observing other native English speakers and how they converse with the locals. The more confident the speaker, the more positive the interaction. Pretty intuitive, right? Great, so now I just need to figure out how to be less awkward.

Or maybe I just need to let go of the idea of being awkward at all.

The expectations I once had to communicate with those around me in a sophisticated way is no longer valid in a foreign language. Instead of trying to save face like an educated, twenty-something feels they should, I think I need to embrace my toddler Portuguese brain.

The importance of mindset: step one of Language Learning 101.

And if that means spending more time in the happy baby yoga pose and practicing 2 word sentences, then alright. Three cheers for baby brains, patience and a more fluent tomorrow.



Learning how to be a Carioca (you know, assimilating)

*Cultural Side Note: American music is played everywhere here. Team America is so trendy!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

First Week Friends & Good Luck Grasshoppers

!@#^!! This place is amazing.

From the beach to the food to the Carioca culture, I still can’t believe Rio is real. Waking up every day to the sound of the ocean and the sight of these mountains is some kind of wonderful.

We spent our first weekend here in Barra de Tijuca, soaking up the scenery and meeting our Brazilian friends’ families. Though our speech may have been broken with half Portuguese/half English, the laughter we shared was incredibly full. Feeling so welcomed in a place so far away is such a beautiful thing. Turns out some delicious Bacalhau and belly aching laughter is all you really need to feel at home.

On Sunday we made our way east to Ipanema, which you may recognize from the famous song, The Girl From Ipanema. 

We stepped out onto our balcony at our Ipanema beach hotel to discover this:
I would say it’s a little bit more scenic than our Houston view of the parking lot at Star Pizza, não é? (Portuguese for, isn’t it?)

Speaking of Portuguese, I made the executive decision that I needed to learn how to speak it, STAT! In a cab ride to our new hotel, I practiced my Portuguese with the driver. After he told me he had a son, I tried to ask how old he is. “Quantos anos ele tem?” He smiled at me really big in the mirror and laughed. Turns out I may have asked him how many anuses his son has. Whoops!! He has 27. And off I went to my first language class!

For a girl that enjoys meeting new people, connecting with a group in the same boat is an ideal situation. My first week of classes reminded me so much of college—all of us excited to be studying and making new friends. Out of 10 people in the class, only 2 of us are Americans and the rest from all over the world. Our one common denominator? Moving to Rio for love.

It’s quite liberating to be in a room filled with strangers and realize your lives aren't so different after all. Though we call different coordinates on the map home, we find ourselves in the same place…following our partners-in-crime and falling in love with the same city.  

After spending the mornings in class, my new friends and I ventured off for some city explorations; trying different restaurants, shopping at the market and hitting the beach. If you ever meet a group of new girls and want to really bond the first day you meet them, I recommend going Brazilian bathing suit shopping.  In thong-like bottoms, your hips won’t lie and neither will your current butt tan lines from that modest suit you've been wearing all these years. Quite a fast tracked and funny way to unite, after all, girls [all around the world] just want to have fun.

Oh and another great friendship I've made is with this guy:

He is a large flying grasshopper that flew into our window on the 12th floor. The Brazilians call these little creatures, “esperança” meaning hope as they are believed to be a sign of good luck in Brazilian folklore. Contrary to his large size, he doesn’t seem threatening at all in person. Just slowly moseys around our drapes like the wise soul that he is.  We keep the balcony door and window completely open when we are home, yet for some reason he chose to stay for a few days. Like a true friend, he left a present for us to always remember him by. Before finally setting sail into the Brazilian night, he pooped on our drapes.

Até logo, until we meet again my friend.

Michelle (pronounced Mechellee here) :D