Sunday, December 20, 2009

Onde é o banheiro? Blog de Brasileiro, dia 14 (quinta-feira, decembro 18)

Mosquito bite count:
-Hands: 4 / Arms: 7 / Shoulders: 4 / Chest: 1 / Head: 8 / Neck: 2
-Back: 0 / Legs: 1

Mestre knows that I’m putting together a blog and has half-jokingly asked for approval, to which I responded, “I don’t remember signing a non-disclosure agreement.” And really, given my responsibilities as a writer, I have to call it as I see it, with as much balance and fairness as possible. But, in the interest of maintaining positive ties and whatnot, names will be withheld when appropriate and discussion of sensitive topics will be kept to a minimum.

With my last night here in Brazil, I can sum up my entire experience in three words: “Abandon all expectations.” This can be both good and bad at the same time, and in retrospect, it’s been mostly good, even with the not so great experiences. And there have been days when I’ve been feeling like absolute crud, but largely the positive experiences more than made up for them.

For example, most of today ended up being a minor write-off. We were scheduled to go to the mud pits for a therapeutic mud bath, which I was really looking forward to, but the transportation company isn’t exactly coming through on agreements. Previously, it was agreed that the van would be available to pick us up at 11:00AM, but when they aren’t there, they suddenly have no recollection of this appointment, or that the van needs to be repaired, or something. From my experience so far, it’s more than likely they rented it out to someone who paid more, but they’re just not willing to admit it.

While cultural dynamics can be fascinating for sociological study and international relations, they’re a pain in the ass from a customer service point of view. The Other Vince and I have been compiling a list of businesses in Brazil that we cannot trust, but given that in some certain respect, pretty much all of the businesses categories fall under there, it’s not so much that certain businesses can’t be trusted, rather that it’s the general mentality of the culture in general. For a person that depends on full disclosure and transparency (and comes close to having anxiety attacks when these things are not there), this is not the kind of thing that I like to deal with on a regular basis.

As it stands, the end result of this is that we have to hire another van and driver, sending an old beat up VW minibus which doesn’t have all the seatbelts. By the time we pass through Ipojuca and get to the mud flats, they closed early, leaving behind a very unfriendly looking guard dog behind. And of course, no one has any idea what’s going on and asking for help from the locals gets us nowhere.

With me looking forward to finishing up a non-relaxing vacation with a therapeutic mud bath, this is less than welcome news, which has actually gotten me pretty bummed out. And considering that the number of hours wasted waiting could’ve been spent at the beach or doing something else, a lot of people are definitely not happy with the van company.

But, the feeling doesn’t last all that long, as we end up going to a favela (“shantytown”) to deliver gifts to underprivileged locals. This gives me enough perspective. These people, while they have less, are generally happy, even though their lives are harder. They are literally dirt poor, often making less than a few dollars per day. And they are extremely grateful for the gifts we give them. Meanwhile, we have everything we want, but want more, become disconnected with the people around us, take psychoactive meds to remain calm, shut ourselves out from the outside world because we’re addicted to our 24 hour high speed internet, shopping, eBay, and pornography.

For us, these gifts are mostly cast-offs and leftovers. While Kayla did procure new items (stationery, toiletries, etc.), the bulk of the items are old clothes and toys that we have no longer deemed useful. While these people have benefited from our materialistic attachments and our disposable culture of excess, seeing the way people live really makes stuff less worth complaining about, at least in our lives. Heck, my contribution was a few Rubik’s Cubes which I “retired” just because I own so damn many of them. This barely set me back $20.

However, this leads to a fun moment where I get the photo I want…I staged a photo where I’m racing one of the favela kids with Rubik’s Cube solving, and then he ends up beating me. I got what I wanted out of it and I did my good deed of the day, and on top of that, I made somebody smile.

And later, I do confront our non-Capoeira practicing group member to explain myself for last night and why I may have been upset. Indeed, I indicate to her that I’m not so much as looking for an apology as for an understanding of the consequences of not acting according to childhood lessons, while assuring her that after blowing off steam, I’m actually okay with it. Still mildly annoyed, but at least not pissed off about it.

We ended up back at Churasso Gaucho, an all-you-can-eat meat buffet, which the Other Vince describes as “like Samba’s, but the waiters don’t ignore you.” I forgo desert, although the bill swells slightly as we have to pay for the live musician (they neglect to tell us this before we sit down and eat). But, on the plus side, I have finally heard a live rendition of “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl from Ipanema”), which I haven’t heard in my entire time here. That’s kinda like going to NYC and never hearing Sinatra’s “New York, New York”.

As we leave, the Other Vince and I ask Acai to help us locate suitable gifts for our significant others back home. Given that shopping for clothes is generally an anxiety-inducing experience, we rely on her expertise and buy what she tells us. We run into Mestre and Christianne, who are saying that they are going to “Go for coffee.” This has the Other Vince and me laughing uncontrollably. We end up explaining the joke to Mestre, who is visibly unimpressed, while Christianne finds it funny.

The night is finished off when we go to the town looking to dance the night away. We run into Diago, one of the locals who works as a tour guide, whom we previously met during one of our Capoeira rodas. Since his English is significantly better than my Portuguese, he recommends one place called Santeria, which Jacare explains is a name of a religion. I only know it as a song by Sublime.

The club session starts out with a live band playing Forro music, for which I’m wishing that I paid more attention in salsa class (Charme explains that the only differences are the footwork). Things start more moving towards familiar territory after the band finishes their set and the DJ steps in to play electronic music and remixed top 40 favourites. “Kung Fu Fighting” begins pumping through the speakers and I do my worst Bruce Lee impression possible, much to the amusement of my peers.

I make my leave in the wee hours of the morning, intent on getting some sleep before an exhausting flight. The girlfriend isn’t feeling very good and could use some cheering up. I hope I picked something that she’d like.

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