Excerpts from Ryan Knight’s blog “Fun in Florianópolis -The Adventures of Ryan Knight,” from USAC‘s Florianópolis, Brazil Spring 2013 program.
“No matter what, I have discovered one important thing: The best part of traveling is not about the places you are traveling to, it is the people you meet along the way who make the experience the best that it can be.” –Ryan Knight
I arrived at my host family’s apartment tonight at about 10:45 and it is beautiful! There are 4 rooms, one is for storage and I think they said another family member lives here sometimes but I couldn’t really understand. I am living with a couple about 50 years old – the husband speaks a little English, and the wife doesn’t speak any at all. A neighbor was over when I got here who spoke English, so that was helpful and she told me she is right around the corner if I need anything at all. I talked to the husband – Delmo for a while tonight and I think we will both benefit from this relationship. He wants to learn more English, and I am desperate to know Portuguese. As long as both of us speak slowly, we can both understand each other and communicate well enough. I think soon I will catch on to the language, especially being surrounded by it all times here. The wife, Angela, made us both fruit smoothies and we sat out on their balcony and I showed them pictures of my family at home. They both enjoyed this very much, and I enjoyed getting to tell them about myself – and learn how to do it in Portuguese as well! Delmo always refers to me as “my friend”, so to go to bed he told me “well my friend, my house is your house, my family is your family, I am very happy to have you here”. This was extremely reassuring and made me feel right at home. It will definitely be a work in progress, but I think it will be a good situation here.
Last night was easily my favorite night that I have had in Brazil, hands down. Delmo told me yesterday morning that we were going to have a “Churrasco” later that night, and I wasn’t really sure what that meant but he showed me some meat he had bought so I figured it meant a BBQ. The one rule to know about churrasco’s at Delmo’s is “no te hagras” – there are no rules. He claims that he makes the “melhor churrasco en el mundo”, and I cannot disagree! It was an incredible experience, Delmo had his brother’s family over so we all sat out in the outdoor kitchen here enjoying each other’s company. He made tons of different kind of meats – t-bone steak, linguina, sausage, filet, bacon wrapped fillet, and more, all tasting absolutely incredible.
He grilled them in the stone grill outside made specifically for meats, and would cut a couple pieces of the meat up when they were done and serve them around. We sat outside for hours talking, listening to Delmo and his brother sing and play the guitar, drinking, eating, and telling jokes.
At the house Angela was making tons and tons of breads and beans and meats, and I wasn’t sure what it was for. Apparently every week she spends her entire Sunday making a ton of food and gives it to the homeless. Angela has one big, amazing heart. She asked if I wanted to accompany her last night while delivering the food, in which I immediately agreed. And let me tell you, it was a real eye opening experience. At 9:30 we hopped in Angela’s old, old van that she’s had for over 35 years, and drove to the parts of town that everyone has previously told me not to go to. She knew where all the homeless people were all over the city, so she would stop, flash her lights a few times, and yell out of the window “SOPA”. Within 30 seconds, 5-10 people would come out of nowhere – under a bridge, behind a tree, etc. and head towards the car for a cup of soup and bag of bread. Angela would ask them how many more they needed and would fill up a to-go bowl of soup and bread for them as well. Some people would just come and get the food and not say anything, but some were very nice and would ask my name, say good evening, and thank you very much. It was easy to tell on a lot of them though that they were either strung out on or addicted to some kind of drugs. None of them did or said anything too wild – that I could understand at least, but Angela told me in the car that most of the people were on drugs and that is why they were homeless. The nicest comment I got was from a woman who called me a “beautiful gringo” – I’m not sure if it is actually a compliment, but Angela said it was! I plan on doing this every week with her from now on.
A lot of questions came up for me throughout the night – does she go to the same places every week? Are they expecting her? Is it the same people every week? Unfortunately, I can’t speak fluently enough to ask some of the questions, and if I could ask them I don’t think I could understand her answers fully yet. With time, I will understand the entire situation and be able to talk to the people we are giving the food to as well. It definitely opened my eyes to how some people really live here, and gave me a chance to reflect and be thankful for what I have and all the opportunities that I have been given.
I learned a lot of things about why Angela does everything that she does and some reasons why her heart is pure gold. She really spends her whole life doing this, not ever taking any time for herself.
She started a “program” (she says it’s not an organization, just something she does) called Espaço Pixurum –Espaço means space, and Pixurum is an indigenous word with a meaning resembling “pay it forward” – she helps someone, and hopefully they will end up helping someone else.
She gets donations from local companies for the food, and she spends the time cooking it, and delivering it to everyone without a home on the streets. She often times gets to know some of the people after delivering to the same ones for long periods of time, and does what she can to help them. Often times it is just delivering food every week, but I learned that one of the people who went with us to deliver the food Sunday night was a former addict, who Angela helped get off the street and stop doing drugs, and is now living in one of the properties she owns. He helps Anglea deliver the food occasionally to people who are in the situation that he used to be in, and is starting to get his life back in order. I am a lucky person to simply know Angela, and I hope I can gradually pick up some of the amazing qualities that she carries.
Friday our USAC team of directors put on a churrasco (BBQ) for us in a really nice town called “Ingleses” to celebrate our successes in our first five weeks of intensive Portuguese classes. I got lucky because although it is a far trip there, one of my Brazilian friends was nice enough to give me a ride in his car – just another way to say how great every Brazilian I have met is. They rented out a party room for us where we were able to play games, hang out, and of course eat, but the best part was that there was a beautiful beach about 5 minutes walking from where we were at. This meant that at the party room area we could play games like soccer, basketball, pool, and tennis, or we could escape to the beach where we could lay back and relax or play unique beach games like fresca ball and Brazilian cricket.
We got a nice view of the sunset, I was able to begin my quest of tan thighs in my Sunga, and we ended up staying at the party room until late at night where we had a great time interacting with everyone from the group and being able to hang out with some of the professors and directors in a nonprofessional environment. We all got to know everyone “in charge” on a whole new level, meet their families, and have an overall great time.
Yesterday was one of those days that really made me appreciate being in Brazil. I had my first Social Inequalities class which got me really excited. The class sounds like it will be one that I will really enjoy, as we are going to spend most of our time looking at the many inequalities around Brazil, and what we as people can do to help fix them. The majority of the class will be us having readings on different issues and discussing them, watching a movie about once a week on some kind of big problem in Brazil and what people are trying to do to change it, and the best part of all, going to 6-8 different government sponsored organizations who are trying to help with social changes on various causes, and interviewing people while we are there. After we go to all of the organizations, we are going to make a project on the organization we were the most interested in, and present it to a group of Brazilians, as well as our group of here from America (since there are only 4 people in the class, everyone will have a different topic to discuss).
Wow, what an overwhelming day. For my social inequalities class we went on a “field visit” to the favelas (slums, really poor area) today to see what a NGO – Nongovernmental Organization is like. It is pretty crazy, the favelas are considered one of the worst places you can live in Brazil, but they have the nicest views there because they are always at the tops of the hills. That is why it is so difficult for the police to move people away and clean up the area; because they have a better view than most of the people who live in nice houses in the city. We first met with a priest who lives square in the favelas. He was told by everyone that he should live somewhere else that’s safer, and not right in the heart of crime, but he is committed to making sure the kids there have a better life. He opened up a house up the street from him where kids ages 7-17 who were being physically or sexually abused at home, a part of the drug trafficking, or around parents who were addicted to drugs could go and stay at for 2 years. While they are there, the parents go to counseling and see if the house is a stable place for the child to live by the end of the two years. If it isn’t the child can either be adopted by a more suitable family, or if they are old enough, trained to work and go to college. I was skeptical of how well this situation really works, but they informed us that about 50% of the children are able to move back in with their parents and live a happier life.
My last few days in Florianópolis were a huge whirlwind of emotions and feelings. The feeling of knowing that the chapter of my life which had started just four short months ago is now over left knot in my stomach that was hard to get rid of. It was strange, the previous two weeks, I was kind of mentally preparing for what was coming, but in my final days, it did not even seem real that I would be leaving. All week, the weather was cloudy and drizzled off and on. My take on that was, “well, I guess this is Brazil’s way of telling the gringos it’s time to go”. When I told Angela this, she quickly disagreed and said “no, no the rain is Brazil’s way of telling you that it is sad you are leaving”. Either way, the day came, and it was a tough one.
When I arrived, I was nervous, and had no clue what to expect. Not knowing the language, culture, or any of the people was a scary situation for me. Now, I can speak conversational Portuguese, understand a lot of the Brazilian Culture, and have made some of the best friends I could have ever asked for. I feel like I have changed in multiple ways. I think I am a lot more self-dependent now, and feel a lot more confident in all of my abilities. I feel like I can be put into any new situation, and come out of it a stronger person. I think I had a lot of skills, talents, maturity, and confidence before I left, but now I feel like all of those things have been enhanced to a new level that will help me succeed even more. If it was not for the support of everyone when I got there, keeping me going even when I was nervous, my experience would have been totally different. But now it is over, and I would not change a thing!