Sunday, December 20, 2009

Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 12 (tertia-feira, decembro 16)

Mosquito bite count: (unchanged)
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 6 / Shoulders: 4 / Chest: 1 / Head: 8 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 0

Sunburn incident count: 1 (completely healed)

For the first time on this trip, I’m actually stressed out. Here I am, already very out of my element with a significant language barrier and undergoing massive culture shock, and only starting to figure out the local area, and I’m in a hotel in Natal where the front desk person actually needs a Kevlar vest. How did I end up here?

Immediately following breakfast, we were rushed to get on the bus for a 6-hour road trip from Porto to Natal, with one stop in the Recife airport and another stop to eat and get gas. The trip is cushioned with earplugs for the bulk of the trip as I’m feeling more anti-social than usual. I make it through half of Ender’s Game as in my haste to leave, I forgot my iPod charger. I also find out the hard way that my DS charger requires a step down converter before it will work here.

As much as I keep trying to remind myself of the class differences between Canada and Brazil, the bus trip through some of the more run-down areas of Natal has left some of us on edge. Christianne felt it was amusing to tell us that we’d be staying in some of the run-down neighbourhoods and the group would be split up. One non-Capoeira practicing member of the group uses the words “shit-hole” to describe the neighbourhood. It’s people like her who are usually the first to die in the horror movies that put Americans in foreign locales.

Lunch happens with Mestre’s extended family, where we are told we are staying. Despite the obvious class differences, we are treated with the utmost of hospitality with good food and drink. We’re still a little put off at the prospect of spending the night however. The Other Vince vows to follow the advice of Mestre Bimba, the founder of modern Capoeira Regional, who was said to sleep with one eye open. Gripping your pillow tight. Exit light, enter night, grain of sand.

After lunch, we end up at a public school, which is actually well maintained, a contrast to some of the neighbourhoods we have seen. This is the venue for the local Batizado. Compared to previous Batizados at Xexue and Olinda, the children students are less well-off, evidenced by the fact that they don’t all have official Aché Brasil uniforms. We attempt to soften the edge with some charitable donations of gifts that we’ve collected at the Vancouver academy.

We get the minor celebrity treatment and the kids are happy to see us, although I still get the feeling that they’ve never seen an Asian before, as one kid takes to pull on the corner of his eyes to imitate stereotypical Asian slanted eyes. I haven’t had anybody do that to my face since I was 8 years old, probably the approximate age of the kid who did that. I try not to be offended by this, although I am a little bit surprised, especially given the ethnic diversity that is seen in Brazil. But at least they don’t throw fruit at the van when we leave.

Batizado goes well and is much better organized than the Olinda Batizado, mostly owing to the fact that this was not a last-minute location change, and therefore the bathroom wasn’t as scary, although the fact that I had to use the girls’ change room while Kayla stood guard and the stall was missing half of a door does stand out. The Canadian students all end up doing Capoeira solos to warm up the crowd, but with inadequate warm-up, I know better than to cut loose with the high-risk moves.

However, we do not represent as well as we can, as half of the Canadian students are without proper Capoeira uniforms. While the locals do have an excuse, the only excuse we have is that we trusted the local laundry service which promised next day service. We surrendered our laundry on Monday and were supposed to have it on Tuesday. Guess what happened.

During the drive to God-only-knows-where (presumably where we’ll be staying), we are told that because Natal shares its name with the Christmas holiday in Portuguese (Feliz Natal), the city is completely decked out in Christmas decorations and lights. This leads to some of us singing Christmas carols, with the two Vinces allowing holiday cynicism to take hold – the Other Vince makes a point of changing the line “Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight” in “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” to “Won’t you shoot my wife tonight,” whereas I rant on the excesses of Christmas consumerism.

I mention that I’m doing a Buy-Nothing Christmas with family, mostly owing to the amount of money spent in order for this trip to happen. Our resident non-Capoeira practicing member of the group finds it unfathomable that we could’ve blown so much in savings all at once. She also received the trip as a graduation present. Without mentioning dollar figures, I list off the expenses that come with living on one’s own and sound really frickin’ old in the process.

We finally end up at the hotel, where I notice that the front desk clerk is wearing body armour. I haven’t decided if this is worse than staying at Mestre’s family or not, but at least we are very close to the beach and have a beautiful view. The photos taken will end up as my screensaver at work.

Dinner takes place at an Italian restaurant, consisting of thin-crust pizza and Caparinha (an alcoholic beverage containing Pitu, a local liquor derived from sugar cane). The pizza helps with the hypoglycaemia while the Caparinha takes the edge off.

The generally lackadaisical approach to customer service has me asking Christianne how they can get away with this. I’m told that this is largely due to the completely laid back attitude to just about everything. She tells me that it’s not so much the case in areas such as Sao Paulo, which is heavily industrialized, but also heavily commercialized (ie: Starbucks and McDonald’s all over the place). All I know is that back home, this is a quick way to ensure that repeat business does not happen. If I hand in the type of customer service that we’re getting here back home, I will get fired.

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