Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Woke up in BH about 15 minutes later than I wanted to...which put my in a big hurry to get ready and then go and catch my bus to Pouso Alegre (PA). I literally RAN out of the hotel to a taxi. We sped towards the bus station, I got my ticket and then sprinted to where the bus was just leaving...once again I got on with less than a minute to spare! Whew, another close one.
I arrived in PA just after 2 and called Raquel. I may have mentioned before but she is part owner of an English school and teaches there also. The school is actually in Santa Rita, which is about 45 minutes from PA by bus. Raquel told me how to get there so I grabbed the next bus. The south of Minas is very mountainous and since I was only traveling from a small city to an even smaller town, the small road was just as scenic as any down here in the south, but this ride was more of a close up look...sort of like being part of the scenery rather than only looking at it.
Anyway, when I got to the bus station in Santa Rita...there was a pretty funny sequence. I had just gotten off the bus and was waiting for Raquel. There were several people around in the streets since it was the middle of the afternoon. Well, some guy starts yelling out "Adrian!" I look around and there is this guy holding up a cell phone and signaling to me that I have a call. Now, of course, it was Raquel...she had sent someone to get me, but at first it was a bit shocking to receive a cell phone call on the street in a small city that I had been in for about 30 seconds.
I got to the school and finally met Raquel for the first time after we had exchanged so many e-mails. She was great...she showed me around the school and introduced me to the other teachers and people who work there. She was about to do a training with one of the teachers there so I sat in. As I mentioned before, I am probably going to end up teaching English at somepoint so I wanted to get a feel for what it is like to actually teach English.
I spent about an hour checking e-mail (free!) and then we had a small dinner. Most of her students didn't show up that day so we sat around a lot talking...the school also had a TV with cable so that was sweet...first time I had seen TV in English in two months. I had thought that the school would have large classrooms where 15 or 20 students at a time were being taught but it turns out that most schools teach on a one on one basis...this was also the case at her school (Up Communication).
Around 8 we finally headed back to PA to Raquel's house. On the way, we stopped to visit a friend of hers, Fabiano who was pretty cool. We made a plan to go to Alfenas, a university town about 2 hours from PA, the next night to stay with a friend of theirs for a couple days because that Friday was a holiday.
Raquel lives in a pretty big place with two other girls (don't remember their names) and her two dogs, Buddy and Scarlet, who are both beautiful pitbulls. Scarlet is only a few months old so she is tiny. When we arrived at her place, I settled in and one of her friends, Viviane, came over. Unfortunately, I had walked right into the middle of a pretty bad drama...Raquel had just found out that Viviane's boyfriend (Raquel's good friend) was cheating on her and this was the day Viviane had been told...that's right folks, small town drama is the same, no matter where you are from. Clearly, the situation had absolutely nothing to do with me, nor did I want to be part of it so I sort of stayed out of the way for most of the night. It was a Tuesday and not much was happening. Later on, around 1, we decided to go out for food...there was absolutely NOBODY out in the streets. It was a big switch from BH. It was also freezing out there as PA is located in the mountains. At the restaurant, I got another attack of the "sleepies" and couldn't keep my eyes open. Either there is something wrong with me, or my frivilous pace of the past few months is finally catching up with me. Anyway, I at a quality burger and we headed back to Raquel's for some sleep.
Wednesday, April 30, 2003
When I got up around 11, Raquel was already dressed and ready to head for work. She was going to return around 7 or 8 at night and then we would head to Alfenas. Fabiano showed up to walk her to the bus stop and also to tell us he couldn't make it to Alfenas b/c he decided to travel to SP for the weekend to see his daughter that lives there. They left and I showered and was getting ready to go out and do some shopping for a couple of long sleeve shirts. Winter is starting to settle in and here in PA it is painfully clear that I am going to need atleast one sweatshirt and maybe another long sleeve shirt. Looks like my warm beach days are officially over for the next couple months:( Just as I was about to leave out, Raquel and Fabiano came back in...they had missed the bus and Raquel wasn't feeling to well. She had a recent problem with her kidneys and it was really bothering her that day. They headed out to the hospital to get some medicine for her and I went out to explore the city and maybe pick up a shirt or two.
When I got back a couple hours later, they still hadn't returned...not surprising, going to the hospital is never a short process in the US, so I imagine that in Brazil wait times are probably quadrupled. Finally Raquel came back around 6. She wasn't feeling much better but was still willing to make the journey to Alfenas. We were going to go there with Fabiano's brother, Junior, but when he showed up, we found out that he couldn't get ahold of the guy we were supposed to stay with when we got there so that plan was scrapped. All was not lost, however, because Junior knew of a bar that night that was having 2 for 1 cuba libres...not a bad deal. Also there was a "party" that night at a place nearby. So that is the weird thing with the small towns here...there aren't any clubs but there are spaces people (or companies) actually rent out, hire a DJ and throw a "partry" there. In effect, it is exactly like a club...there's a cover, it's very large (several hundred people fit), dance music, laserlights, the whole nine yards...except it only exists for one night at a time every few weeks or so when someone pays for a party there. Strange. It is the small town version of clubbing...so of course whenever there is a "party", everybody in the city goes to it. I wonder if anyone ever just tried to keep a place open? It would be the only club...seems like it would work to me.
We went out for several Cuba Libres with Junior and Viviane. That Junior was some character...there's something about a fat guy named Junior...he just HAS to be funny and that is all there is to it. After several drinks we headed back to Raquel's so she could change (it was FREEZING that night...luckily I had a decent long-sleeve shirt that I had bought the day before!). During the 12 hours it took Raquel and Viviane to get ready I took a nice power nap to insure that my recent bout with narcolepsy would not ruin the evening.
We finally got out to the "club" around 2:30 and it was great. We danced a bunch and met a bunch of people...some pretty cool, some not as friendly. The more time I spend here in the southern part of Brazil, the more I realize why people say the north is better...the people are certainly different. I mean, there are still tons of awesome people in the down here but it isn't like up there where every single person you encounter is friendly. Around 5:30 the girls were tired and ready to head home...in true Brazilian fashion, the party was still going strong when we left.
Thursday, May 1, 2003
Due to our late night we got up pretty late. It was a holiday as I said before so there wasn't a whole lot to do. Everything was closed so I spent most of the day working on journals and talking with the several people who popped-in. It was a pretty good lazy day but I got quite a bit done with journals. That night, Raquel and I had an interesting talk about the education system here in Brazil, which is less than stellar. That is putting it midly...it is horrible. I really believe it sits at the top of the list for why the economy here is so weak and many of this nation's problems stem from that.
Here you have both public and private highschools as you do in the US. The problem is that the public schools are terrible. There is lack of good teachers, lack of materials, etc...most of which stems from a lack of money put into the system by the government. The result of this is that the those attending public schools get VERY poor education...Raquel was saying that you get people who are highschool seniors who can't do simple algebra. Now, I'm not saying that algebra is easy, or has some sort of great significance in the world, but just as in the US, they use certain criteria in Brazil to gauge the level of education that one receives in highschool. So here in Brazil, after highschool, they take a test (similar to SATs) in order to enter college. The difference here is that this test means EVERYTHING and is the #1 criteria (and basically the ONLY criteria) Universities use when looking at applicants. Your grades in highschool mean absolutely nothing. It's only the test. Consequently, during highschool, many people take classes multiple times and failing a few classes is quite common. Grades don't matter so nobody is really learning very much. So that is the point of what I was saying a second ago...if you can't do things like basic Algebra, you aren't going to do well on the test, and that is the situation for most kids here who are in the public highschools. So what about the private schools? Well, they are much better and the kids there do fairly well...BUT, they are expensive to attend so the average person in Brazil has no chance of being able to afford going. Here is the interesting twist to the whole thing...at the University level, the situation is exactly reversed. The PUBLIC Universities (which are free by the way) are far better in quality than the private universities. So, basically, everyone wants to go to the public universities but only the kids who can afford to go to the private highschools score well enough on their tests to get in. And the rich get richer. The whole system is designed to keep the elite on top. Just a side note here...this sort of touches on something I brought up back in my Sao Luis journal. In the US, I generally believe the system is designed with a similar goal...keeping those on top, on top...but you can beat it in the US, if you try hard enough. That old “American Dream” thing I talked about before...but here, a lot fewer people are able to do the same for many reasons, and I think if you look at the structure of the educational system, you can see what I mean.
Anyway, that's where I think the root of the problems in Brazil lie. I believe that the foundation of a country begins with its education system...that old “knowledge is power” adage. Here in Brazil, you have a large percentage of the population that is undereducated, and I believe that is reflected in the economy here on a national and international level.
Anyway, the whole thing was pretty interesting to discuss. Raquel is an incredibly intelligent girl and expresses herself extremely well. We must have sat and her kitchen table and talked for about 4 hours that night. I still find it so enriching spending time talking with other people about their country and their views and learning more and more about other places and people. Nights like this show the advantages of actually staying with someone instead of being in the hostels. You get a much more up close and personal perspective. Another great night in Brazil.
Friday, May 2, 2003
I got up pretty early as Raquel was leaving for work. I decided I would spend the day walking around the city and get in some time at the internet place. I am so far behind with journals since going to Amazon...plus I have SO many pictures I want to put up. My camera is damn near full. I spent almost the whole day working on the website/pictures/journals etc. I got home around 7 and waited for Raquel to get back. Since I was at Juliano's last week and now at Raquel's, I have seen a lot more TV than in I had over the previous couple months. I wasn't missing anything. There is this RIDICULOUS novela that is on now that has vampires in it. Raquel's roommate likes it so I have been forced to watch it the last couple days. I think I said this before, but Brazilian TV is absolutely horrible. I decided to try to take a little nap so I would be able to go strong all night...but it didn't happen.
Raquel came home around 10 and soon after Fabiane came over. We hung out there drinking until about 1 when Junior showed up. He drove us to a restaurant where we all ate and drank but once again I wasn't able to keep my eyes open. I needed some action so we decided to check out a place in town called Republic Garden. It looked good to me but the other's wanted to go home so I went in alone...which I never really have any problem doing. The place had a good rock band but I once again got strong reminder that southern Brazil isn't like the north. The girl's were rather stuck up in general but I did eventually meet some nice folks that I danced with most of the night. I got back to Raquel's at 5:30...her and Renato were still awake. We talked for about an hour and then finally hit the sack.
Saturday, May 3, 2003
Woke up at 2:00!! I'm really getting concerned with all this sleeping. Perhaps I've caught something. I decided to hit the internet and check on cell phones...now that I knew I would stay in Brazil, I wanted to get one so I needed to get ideas about plans, etc.
I got back around 7, which meant I had 3 hours until Raquel would get back. I decided to see if I could find anything interesting going on in this place. I walked around for a while but didn't really see much...there was one bar that seemed to have many people congragating nearby but it seemed more like a small intimate party between friends so I didn't join in. I sat at an Italian restaurant and had some of the best garlic bread I've ever eaten.
Back at Raquel's, Junior (a different one...not the fat guy), and Rafael came to pick us up. We drank for awhile and we went out to another "party". This was supposed to be a bigger one than Wed. night and it was up in the mountains...translation...it was FREEZING!!! Anyway, when we got there, I felt like I had stepped into a time warp that took me back in time about 15 years...it was a pretty lame scene. Most of the people there were between about 14 and 20 and let's just say that they put a lot of emphasis on their car stereo equipment. Everyone parked, standing by their cars drinking...each one trying to outdo each other with car stereo systems more sophistacted (and louder) than some concerts I've been to. There really is a big difference between small town life in Brazil and big city life. Anyway, since most people were standing outside the place drinking, we were at a loss with one of the fundamental needs in a situation like that...beer. We went on a beer run...all the way back down the mountain...and then had a bit of indesicion on whether we would return. It was so cold and windy up there...reminded me of the mid-season tailgates for ND games. Not below freezing...but cold enough that you need to go with the ever popular tailgate move...one glove for your beer hand, other hand in your pocket. Ahhh...the good old days. So we finally went back up to the party but by then most people had gone inside...it was a steep entrance to get in and Junior and Rafa wanted to check out another place they thought might be good. Raquel and Viviane stayed behind and I left with the boys to check out the other place. The place was lame and we didn't stay long, but they knew the owner and we had a few quick beers free of charge. It was fun hanging out with those two guys though...better than standing in the cold with a bunch of teenagers anyway...but we decided to return to the party anyway. We got in for cheaper since it was pretty late. The music was actually pretty good and I danced with one girl for awhile...it seemed the night was turning out quite well after all, but the whole thing crumbled when Raquel got in a fight with Renato (they were seeing each other) and then everybody wanted to leave. Oh well, it ended up being decent overall. We went back to town and got a burger...possibly one of the best I have ever had. We went home and listened to music and crashed around 6 or so.
Sunday, May 4, 2003
After waking up, we just hung out in the apartment for a few hours. I actually caught Beverly Hills Cop on TV and it was on a channel that I could put it in English. It was nice to catch a good afternoon movie on TV...sort of like having good ol' TNT or TBS for those Sunday afternoon hangovers back in H-town. After that, Raquel and I went for a VERY good rodizio near the university in a nice part of the city. It really was a PERFECT afternoon and we had fun.
Back at her house, we sat around like stuffed pigs. Her neighbor came over with her daughter and nephew. They were so cute. Her daughter is about 3 or 4 and the nephew was about 2. I played with them for a long time and they were wearing me out...but I was amazed by the little girl's (Julia) patience. She was smart enough to realize I didn't understand everything and was actually trying to teach me Porteguese. It really was fascinating
That night there was a festival at the church just up the street from Raquel's. It was very packed but not too exciting. It was even more 80's than the night before...the kids here must get their ideas for hairstyles and clothes from some 80's classics like Teen Wolf and Back to the Future. There was more denim, spiked hair, and leather jackets at that festival than I've seen since watching the Soc's and the greasers duke it out at the end of The Outsiders. One bright spot of the festival was the ready availability of meat on a stick! Back at home I watched this Stallone movie I never heard of called "Daylight" in Porteguese...I was actually able to follow it really well...although Stallone movies aren't really known for their intricate dialog. After that I caught an old rerun of ER that I watched with subtitles. I think it's funny that after being deprived of anything in English for so long you'll really watch anything that comes on. Anyway, went to bed around 3.
Monday, May 5, 2003
When I got around 10 it was raining...the first time I had seen rain since the Amazon. The plan was to spend the day in Santa Rita with Raquel to watch a couple classes and to get some free internet time in. We got a bus at noon...but it was packed and we had stand for most of the ride. That is something I have seen here that is crazy...they really pack the buses to capacity. If there was ever an accident it would be ugly. Of course, there isn't enough money to buy enough buses and not enough people can afford cars are factors contributing to this...and it probably won't change, but that is the story.
We got to the school and had lunch and then I used the computer for awhile. I spent some time talking to Andre and Ricardo, the other investors in the school, but it was very frustrating. I was having a lot of difficulty talking with them in Porteguese. I guess I'm just not practicing enough...but in due time. It has only been just over 3 months. Sometimes I understand and speak well...sometimes no. I find it is much easier to understand women than men, but maybe that's because I actually care what they are saying:)
At the school they actually have a TV with cable so I watched a little TV and chatted with one of the other teachers.
At night, Raquel let me sit in three classes of hers which was quite an experience. The first girl actually spoke quite well and really asked Raquel some tough questions. She fielded them pretty well and she knows English very well, but still I got the idea that not having a native speaker teaching you can be hurtful at an advanced level. There are some things that you just can't know if you don't know a language intimately...and I give Raquel A LOT of credit. She has never even been outside of Brazil and speaks with very little accent and makes very few mistakes. She wrote the books that the school uses herself. I went through them...and there are VERY few mistakes. That is no easy task. Anyway, with the first girl, it was very difficult to bite my tongue and not say anything about a few mistakes Raquel made but I managed it okay, only really opening my mouth one time...quite an accomplishment for me. The class was really good and well structured and the questions were interesting. I can't say how impressed I was by the books that Raquel wrote. The girl was very interested in talking with me and wanted to ask me a lot of questions. I think the odds that these people get to spend time with a native speaker is pretty small...especially in a tiny place like Santa Rita. I was happy to talk with her though...it was very interesting.
The second student that I saw didn't speak nearly as well, but certainly could communicate. She was more intrigued by my prescence than the first girl and wouldn't stop asking me questions. I think Raquel was getting a little annoyed actually. I tell you something that is starting to annoy me. Every single Brazilian I meet thinks that every single one of us thinks they all live in trees down here. Another topic I can do without discussing for the rest of my life is what I think about Bush. Because of recent events, we are all forced to discuss this topic in one way or another, but it is really starting to get old for me. Of course I know when people get a chance to met a foreigner they want to ask a lot of questions...and in truth I enjoy answering them and setting people straight about things in the USA, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I get frustrated sometimes.
The third student I saw didn't speak very much...he was basically a beginner, but still wanted to ask me many questions. It was realy good for me to get a chance to see students that were at all different levels and I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with the students. I think if I end up teaching it will be fun. It certainly is different than I expected since what I saw was all one on one. It's probably better that way. Also, taking private English classes is rather expensive, so the people who are there really want to be. I'm sure it makes a difference when the students care.
Anyway, I had decided that I was going to head to Sao Paulo the next day so we headed back home but didn't do much that night. I figured I had been in Raquel's hair long enough and I was a little excited to go back to SP and see some people. Besides the cold though, I enjoyed my time in Pouso Alegre. Since leaving the Amazon I have been taking things a little easier and it has been nice. As I said before, it was especially different because I have stayed with people instead of in the hostels. I really send my thanks to both Juliano and Raquel. It was great spending time with you both and I hope to see again in the future.
Now, it's on to SP for Sunny's visit which should be great. I'll either end up staying there or heading back to BH...but I won't be on the move too much longer. I guess there's an upside and a downside to that...I mean, there is this danger that things will become a little routine after I find work...well, just about anything is routine compared to these last few months, but you know what I mean. On the other hand, it will be nice to have a permanent place to sleep and not have to pack everything up every couple days. Incidentally, despite all the places I've been and all the times I have unpacked and repacked...I have still yet to lose a single item that I brought with me. That is pretty amazing I think. Maybe I shouldn't have thought that outloud.
Anyway, tomorrow I shove on...SP here I come.
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