Small Town Girl in the Big City
As part of my Master’s Degree, I needed to do an internship. I had done internships before, so I knew how much fun they could be – but due to my lack of experience in the field, I was worried about finding a placement. One thing was for sure; after spending the winter in Scandinavia, I needed to get out. I wanted to go to South America, and I wanted to learn Portuguese – so Brazil was the logical choice. I wrote a number of applications to embassies around the world, miraculously got some responses, and ultimately a placement in Sāo Paulo.
Let me tell you, moving to a city with more inhabitants than my entire country, not speaking the language at all – it was quite the undertaking. You would say I would be able to get by on my fluent Spanish by then… But noooooo – Spanish is not Portuguese! And these Brazilians definitely weren’t interested in listening to my Spanish. They were also not interested in my limited attemps to speak Portuguese (from Portugal). I had to learn Brazilian, and fast!
It was after about three months of daily attempts to learn the language, when I was speaking to some guy that was helping me organize an event, that I suddenly realized I was speaking Portuguese. Of course it wasn’t perfect, and I speak with some stupid half Dutch, half Paulista accent, but I can understand people, and they understand me.
It was great! Other than the fact that at that point, I started to understand what the lady I was renting my room from was actually saying. Let me tell you, this landlady from hell was bat shit crazy! I had no idea for the first few months, as I didn’t have a clue what she was saying to me. Ignorance is bliss… But by the time I started understanding more and more, it was too late. I realized that she would sneakily enter my room while I was at work, to go through my stuff and fluff up my pillows. But once, I came home from work, and found a sanitary pad sitting on my desk. What?
I realized that the piece of chocolate I had been sitting on, and that stained my bedsheets a little, had been mistaken by the witch for a blood stain. She probably thought I had had my period all over her sheets, panicked, and left me a sanitary pad as a subtle piece of advice…
My internship was fantastic – my colleagues were super friendly, I learned a lot, I had a lot of freedom (a Monday to Friday office job felt like vacation after my 80-hour work weeks on board the ship), I even got paid a decent salary. Working for the government definitely had it’s perks!
What I liked most, was the consular department. I guess I just really like to work with people, especially the crazy ones. Like the guy that came to pick up his girlfriend’s visa. I gave him the passport, he checked the visa and said the legendary words: “My girlfriend told me to get her passport back, as well.” At first I thought it was my crappy Portuguese that was the problem… But really, it was his stupidity. He asked me again; “Can I get the passport?”. I pointed at his hand, in which he was holding the passport. He still didn’t get it. I told him to give me the passport back, and read the text on the document out to him; “Pa-sa-por-te”. He buggered off with the passport in his hand, but still didn’t seem to convinced he had gotten the passport back…
I also don’t understand people that are applying for a visa because they will do a PhD in some subject I don’t even comprehend the title of, but they don’t understand the question “Last Name”. What?
I didn’t particularly like Sāo Paulo, and loved to get out of the city to explore the country. If I finished work on a Friday afternoon at 5pm, I would be on the night bus, spend the weekend somewhere, and take the night bus back on Sunday – just in time to make it back to work on Monday morning. My colleagues rightfully thought I was crazy, but always asked me on Monday; “So, what have you been up to this weekend?”
Brazil is larger than Europe, so even though I didn’t nearly see everything I wanted to see, I managed to go on some memorable trips. I made some friends in town, and I still remember the trip to Paraty (a beautiful town by the beach) – which we almost missed out on because we had a caipirinha while waiting for the bus, and we TOTALLY forgot the time. We ran like crazy, made the bus, passed out, arrived at 4am, had no place to stay, and passed out again in some hammock. It was an awesome trip.
Another place I can recommend is the Pantanal, where I encountered a big frog in my shower, tried to sleep in a hammock but couldn’t sleep because of all the bird noise, and finally got up to go to the bathroom and where I realized the crocodiles had come REALLY close to the house.
One day I went piranha fishing in the Pantanal. They told me it was absolutely safe, I need to go into the water knee deep in order to catch some, but I had to bend my toes and get out straight away if one bit me, because they can smell blood. How does all of that information go together in the same sentence, is my question?
We also went to snorkel in the beautiful, crystal clear sweet water rivers of Bonito – full of colorful fish, unlike anything I’ve ever seen! If at any point you are anywhere nearby that place, you should really take the time and see it for yourself. You will not be disappointed.
The waterfalls in Iguazu were beautiful and much more impressive in real life than I had imagined them to be. I can’t tell you which side was better, you really need to see both the Brazilian and the Argentinian side to get the full experience. And sure, Niagara Falls is nice, but this is the real deal!
The most memorable time I had, was my 5 day trip to Salvador de Bahia. From the moment my friend Sandro came to pick me up from the airport and I asked him if we were going to the beach (“No, why?” – Well, because you guys are not wearing shirts. – “Uhm, we don’t wear shirts in Salvador.”) I knew I was in for some fun.
Sandro had decided that we were going snorkeling at night. “Is that something you do all the time?” I asked. “No – but I thought you would enjoy it, too” he said, while his mother objected, saying that we will die if we go out to the beach alone at night.
That night I overcame so many fears, all the while holding Sandro’s hand, of course. Not only was I afraid to be killed, as per Sandro’s mother, but I was freezing my ass off, and afraid of the creepy animals we encountered in the sea. Sandro and his friend had brought some self made ‘diving equipment’ in the form of a torch in a condom and a bed-side lamp in a tupperware box. I had live shrimp jumping in my hair, creatures I didn’t even know the existence of creeping up against my legs, and I was shivering throughout it all. But it turned out to be an experience I will never forget, and that trip was the absolute highlight of my time in Brazil.
- Rio de Janeiro
- Ilha Grande
- Salvador de Bahia
- Foz do Iguacu