After what was arguably one of the most hectic weeks here in Brazil, I got a little time off, not much, mind you, but just enough to catch a little breather. We have just under six weeks until our Brazilian journey ends, and there are more chaotic weeks ahead. Even so, there was a lot happening this past week in Uberlândia.
We attended a Brazilian wedding. Weddings are such an important cultural event that we felt privileged to be invited, and we were excited to see what one is like here in Brazil. A sweet young woman in our church congregation married an equally sweet young man. We didn’t know what to expect. We looked up online what to wear, which suggested formalwear. I was skeptical, because Brazilians often dress informally for occasions that we in the U.S. consider formal and vice versa. I suppose we could have just asked someone. In the end, Shaunna and I dressed smart casual, and the kids dressed fairly informally, sneakers and shorts. When we arrived, there were many more sharply dressed people than I had expected, but there were quite a number of informally dressed people and everything in between. I was relieved. Yes, we’re that American family everyone can spot a mile away, and on occasion our foreign-ness is a get-out-of-jail-free-card for transgressing social norms, but it’s also nice to adapt to the culture and blend in.
A beautiful night for a wedding we had the privilege of attending
The wedding ceremony was held outside in the parking lot of our church building, but you’d never know it. It was skillfully transformed by two wonderful ladies from our church who did an incredible job with the decorations. It must have taken them hours or maybe even days. They beamed with pride as they told me about it. Our bishop conducted the ceremony. Hundreds of people attended. The church lies directly in the flight path of low-flying aircraft, but despite the roar of an occasional plane overhead, everything was beautiful. Afterward, a reception was held right there in the parking lot. It was catered by two women (not the same two who decorated the parking lot), who, when they weren’t serving, were slogging back and forth from the kitchen giant pots of two traditional Mineiro dishes: galinhada, chicken with rice and vegetables, and tutu, a beans and mandioca blend. Wow. This was some seriously delicious food (see photo). We went for seconds and washed it down with the local favorite, Guaraná. I'm gonna miss Guaraná. :-(
Traditional Mineiro fare-- galinhada and tutu with a Guaraná soft drink. It doesn't get any better than this.
The wedding cake was of the coconut variety, cut in pieces, wrapped in foil, and distributed by waiters to each table, a little wedding cake package. While this was going on, the bride tossed a bouquet over her shoulder to all the single ladies, but there was no garter thrown by the groom. Instead, we were introduced to a Brazilian tradition that was new to us: the groom’s men came around to each table with a bucket in which they very convincingly invited people to donate money. Many bills were dropped into that bucket, which was met with rousing cheers each time from the groom’s men. For those without cash, the groom’s men graciously accepted Pix, a popular Brazilian app that enables bank-to-bank transfers (see photo). The receipt for the transaction was a piece of a groom’s man’s tie. The idea was to create a little honeymoon fund for the newlyweds. The next day, this lovely couple traveled to São Paulo to be sealed for all time and eternity in one of our church’s temples, among the most sacred occasions for members of our church.
Cash or card accepted for the newlyweds' honeymoon fund
Receipt for your charitable donation to the honeymoon fund, a piece of necktie
I had a gig this past week at where else but Libertas in Uberlândia. This was my fifth gig there. By now I know the staff, who greet me enthusiastically, and the owner gives me a hearty handshake. I joked that he must be getting tired of having me, but he laughed it off and seems happy to have an American. This is probably because he owned a bar in Boston for twenty years. He speaks the best English of anyone I’ve met in Brazil, complete with all the colorful expressions you’d expect.
Our car rental troubles continue. The car is working fine, and we’ve just about resolved the issues with the little incident our car had last week, but I regret to report that the other financial issues persist. Briefly, the rental car company— there are only three in Brazil, so it’s not hard to figure out who it might be— was unable to automatically debit our monthly payment from our bank account and instead debited us for some inexplicable charge that we allegedly owed a few months ago. We had no trouble in April, May, and June with our payment, but July suddenly brought a problem. This long and convoluted tale has so many chapters that it's painful to try to follow. I’ll sum it up by saying that after days of texting, phone calls, and an in-person visit to the local branch with a Brazilian friend who speaks fluent English to help us with the financial lingo, we still have no resolution. Mysteriously, no one knows what happened— no one at the branch, none of the eight people in the eternal text thread, none of the innumerable people on the phone, not our friend, and certainly not us. And where there are solutions of a type, they are cumbersome. I’ve told this story to various Brazilian friends, and they all smile knowingly and say some version of, “Welcome to the land of bureaucracy.” My conversation partner theorized that, among other factors, a lack of anti-trust laws in Brazil enables a few companies to gain a monopoly and perform badly, because they know customers have no other options.
In happier news, our daughter was invited to a pajama party. With the language barrier that our kids have, we are always thrilled when they have opportunities to interact with people their own age. There were only one or maybe two English speakers at the party, so our daughter didn't always understand everything that was happening around her, but they played Uno, made chocolate chip cookies, and stayed up until 4am, so how bad could it have been?
Somewhere between 4am-9am, when our daughter slept at her pajama party
As a result, she was sleepy but cheerful for lunch the next day with my colleague, Elder and his wife Gigli, who hosted us for a churrasco at their beautiful home here in Uberlândia. The tasty meats and side dishes just kept coming. Elder educated me on the order of these meats: they start with the lighter, like sausage calabresa style, and end with the heaviest, the motherlode, like the contrafillet. For his skills at the grill, we dubbed Elder, “Mestre do Churrasco,” or “Grill Master” (see photo). We spent the whole afternoon talking about everything. It was a lot of fun. Elder and Gigli were the perfect hosts, and we appreciate the great deal of work that went into creating such a feast and having us in their home. To me, this is one of the special parts of a Fulbright. You’re not just a tourist. You’re living in and among the people, stepping into their homes, getting a peek into their lives. Whenever this happens, we feel honored to be a part of it.
Grill Master Elder wielding the grand finale of the churrasco, the contra fillet
At the end of a great afternoon at Elder & Gigli's home
Have I talked about the weather lately? I don’t think so. That’s because I stopped checking, because every day is the same— sunny, warm, dry, and breezy, in other words, perfect. As I walk out the door in the morning, I often find myself saying, “Another beautiful day here in Uberlândia.” This is certainly something we’ll miss when we return to the U.S, at least to Illinois, where we certainly have our share of rainy, humid, and cold days.
My students are closing in on their August 1 concert. It occurred to me that I have no photos of me teaching, so I managed to get a couple this past week. Among my gig at Libertas and my classes, I'm picking up all kinds of new phrases from my students. One I particularly liked this week was "Entre mortos e feridos," which literally means, "Among the dead and wounded." I've researched the origin of this phrase and found various attributions. One source attributes it to a longer phrase, "Entre mortos e feridos, se-salvaram todos," which means, "Among the dead and wounded, all were saved" [in the kingdom of God], which comes from a speech given by Winston Churchill at the close of World War II. Another source attributes it to a Brazilian saying, "Entre mortos e feridos, alguém há de escapar," which means, "Among the dead and wounded, someone will escape." Ok, first of all, what does this phrase mean? In English, we would probably say, "all things considered," that is, despite the difficulties, it all worked out. It's interesting to observe the disagreements among this phrase's origin in Portuguese, one political-religious and the other humorous in nature. What I learned is that some people aren't familiar with it. For example, when asked how I was doing, I replied, "Entre mortos e feridos," and I got blank stares from a few students. When I explained what it meant, they said they'd never heard it. They thought it might be regional, more common in the neighboring state of São Paulo than here in the state of Minas Gerais, where these students are from. I can't remember what it was, but one student said there is a Minas equivalent for this phrase. Either way, it's useful, and it's fascinating how there are regional versions of it.
Improvisation class meeting in Sala 07
The other phrase I focused on this week is "pois é." Brazilians use it constantly, but if you ask a Brazilian what pois é means, they'll tell you it means nothing. It's filler. I've come across various English translations for pois é: yeah, there you go, right, that's it, and sure. No English speaker can seem to settle on an accurate translation because no Portuguese speaker can seem to settle on what it means. It's one of those phrases that requires repeated hearing over a long period of time to understand and assimilate into your vocabulary. Then, one day, you just find it coming out of your mouth. I love this phrase, because it is very essentially Brazilian... so Brazilian, that it has no translation!
A few posts back I talked about the street performers here in Brazil who set up shop at red lights and put on a show before the light changes. We caught another one on video this week. Actually, we caught him on different days from different angles, and I edited the clips into a single video, which gives you the full scope of what this guy is capable of. I felt compelled to include it in this post, because you really have to see it to believe it. How is this guy not permanently employed by the circus?
Someone give this man a job!