O Começo (The Beginning)

Thursday, 6 September 2007

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After a somewhat rocky, confusing and at times arduous first month, I am beginning to almost feel at home in Salvador da Bahia do Brasil….almost. Getting here was hard enough… luggage arriving two days after me, cockpit door bursting open on the airplane landing impact, and a terrible case of altitude ear popping/pressure that left my hearing “underwater“ for nearly two days…couldn´t barely understand English let alone Portuguese. But alas, I arrived safely.

My experience so far at the University of Bahia has been one of confused intrigue. There´s been an UFBA worker´s strike which made the matriculation process incredibly difficult. Also, English is not spoken by any administrative people nor by my professors. Speaking Portuguese proficiently has become more than just something that would be cool to do. It´s pretty crucial to my overall success inside and outside of the classroom. I´ve made great progress already, especially without Portuguese classes or tutoring for the first month (wish the program included it) but the task is daunting- It seems I must also learn Bahianese! The first week I used my ill-equipped and disjointed Portuguese almost exclusively having not met anyone who speaks more than a little English. I did find myself bursting with English when I finally met an almost fluent English speaker (Merlin from Germany who is now a good friend).

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My two favorite classes are Musica Popular Brasileira (MPB) and Capoeira (Brazilian martial art/dance). In my MPB class the very chill professor plays old records and then takes breaks to explain the historical context around the songs and the artists. His casual manner makes me feel as if we were all sitting around in his family room listening to his favorite old records while he remininisces. Such a cool guy!

The Capoeira class is half physical Capoeira and half history of Capoeira…very cool to get both. I´ve also got a very interesting Anthropology course covering the history of indigenous societies in Brazil and a class of Contemporary Technologies in Education in which we create blogs and thus I produced created this one. Beyond that, I have an engaging ´outside the classroom´ course called Estagios which is a kind of onsite observational study of institutions in Salvador that assist individuals (mostly children and adolescence) with physical and mental deficiencies. All these classes require great concentration on my part with regard to deciphering the language and when the class is 4 hours long in Portuguese severe mental exhaustion can set in.

I did finally manage to snag a Português para Estrangeiros course which has been a wonderful and much needed support for communication and comprehension in my other classes and in daily life in general.

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Outside of school has been a lot of fun. Typically, the group I´ll be out with on a given night will be speaking Brazilian-Portuguese, British-English, and German..and when you stir in enough Skol, Brahma or Caiporinha you may begin to hear Portingles, Germortuguese or Brazilian-Germenglish. My friends Merlin and Sola from Germany have been teaching me bits of German here and there. German is a nice language to take a break from Portuguese with…so markedly different in style and flow. I have some American friends too though there are very few here by comparison to Europeans. The three Americans I know, remarkably, are all from Seattle though they did not know eachother.

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I´ve started surfing- first time was on August 25th, my 30th birthday (or new 20th birthday as some blogs ponder- http://www.ethankbirchard.com/blog/). I don´t know if thirty is the new twenty or if starting a super badass surfing career at age thirty is the new twenty. At any rate, surfing is amazing! I guess I always wrote it off, thoughtlessly, along with surfing pop culture as something that just wasn´t me but now that I´ve experienced it I find it is me! It´s a beautiful challenging meditation of body and mind..and sea. It´s all about balance, sensitivity, humility, daring…and pure joy! I learned some fundamentals from some Bahian surfers who´ve been surfing at the very same beach, Pituaçu, since they were babies. One surfer in particular named Leonardo, who was my main surf instructor, seemed to have a quiet wisdom and joy that´s just gotta have something to do with that ocean (his main surf instructor) that he knows so well….I forgot all my pop culture surfing preconceptions (and the fact that I´m not really a surfer) and got in touch with what surfing must have been like back in the day, like in the 1890s…and I´m surfing with Walt Whitman. Just the basic elements – a man, a board, an ocean….Surf is up! for real.

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pre-conceived surf pose, not pictured: Walt Whitman

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