#3 - Jazz, car washes, and sideburns

Updated: 2 days ago

Week two of classes at UFU brought my teaching into focus. Rehearsals and classroom activities have made the enterprise of teaching in a foreign country a reality. My routine is starting to set in. I spent a few days this week documenting it in images.

My morning ride to work. The main entrance of UFU's Santa Monica campus. The sign says ,"UFU, a public good and service of Brazil," a slogan which makes sense given UFU's status as a federal university.


Challenges continue. I’m still rearranging some of my private guitar lessons. I forgot my keys one day. The process for getting into the room— which my colleague Raphael has graciously allowed me to use for the duration of the semester— was not as straightforward as I would have imagined, though everyone was friendly and helpful. The internet connection in the room is essentially nonexistent. In fact, our T-Mobile international phone plan only gives us 2G. And they’ve taken the word “international” to its literal extreme: I can call my parents in the U.S. anytime, but I can’t call the grocery store around the corner. I can *only* make international calls. As you might imagine, this has caused a few problems. We're working on this.

"Traveling Office." Guitar, amplifier, and bag filled with computer and various cables, all of which is a permanent part of my office in the U.S., but which I take back and forth to work with me each day in Brazil.


But I finally have access to the university wi-fi thanks to my colleague Daniel, which should improve things, though I haven’t had a moment to sit down and test it out yet. I didn’t have a way to write arrangements for my music ensembles, because the software program I use to compose is back in the U.S. on the computer in my office, where it does me no good. So I downloaded a free trial version of it, but it runs out in thirty days, so I’m working with the IT folks at Millikin University in the U.S. to transfer the license to my computer here in Brazil.


The students are great. They're eager to learn, especially having an American jazz musician in their midst. Though I rarely feel like it in the U.S., I’m seen as an expert here. I’m bringing something homegrown from my country to their country that I don’t think they usually experience in this way. It’s gratifying to share my knowledge with them and watch them wrap their minds around it and ask interesting questions.

8:00am Pratica de Conjunto (music ensemble)

A hop skip and a jump across from Building 3M where I teach, Dona Joana has become my local lunch haunt.


On the family side, we did a couple of new things this past week. One was wash the car. After a month of driving our Jeep Renegade around the city, to São Paulo and back, and through the red clay backroads of Uberlandia, it was due for a washing. They do have some automatic car washes like the kind we favor in the U.S., but the more common way is to leave the car at the “lava jato,” and pick it up later that day. We of course found this out the hard way, expecting to simply drive up, have the car washed, and pull away fifteen minutes later. But a car wash here is really what we would call a detail in the U.S. It’s a thorough spiffying of the interior and scrubbing and waxing of the exterior with special attention to those hard-to-get-to parts. The irony is that this detail costs what an automatic deluxe car wash costs in the U.S., about $15.00.


When the manager gave us the price, we responded with, “Oh, ok, that seems reasonable,” though we were thinking, “Wow, what a bargain.” He said he wished he had fifty more clients like us, because we didn’t try to negotiate or just walk away as he said many Brazilians do because they think the price is too high. The guys and gals at the serendipitously-named Lava Jato Gringo did a fantastic job on our car for a fraction of what we would have paid in the U.S. for the same service. It really gave us pause on the cultural differences on what is valued and what is seen as a bargain. With our newly-cleaned windshield, we made a little video on the ride home from the car wash to show what our neighborhood looks like. Check it out.

A ride through our neighborhood, Jardim Finotti, just after the car got washed.


The other new thing I did was get a haircut. This event really highlighted my lack of vocabulary. I thought I was pretty brilliant on the day of my last haircut before leaving the U.S. by taking a picture of myself. I thought, "I'll just show this to the stylist in Brazil and say, 'Cut it like this.'" Even so, I had to clarify a few things that you don’t usually learn in a language class, like, “can you blend the top and sides?” or, “trim my sideburns about halfway.” I also had to figure out if leaving a tip is a local custom (it is) and how much to leave (20 reais). Now imagine having to repeat this for almost everything you do, with processes and vocabulary that you take for granted— filling your tank, making a medical appointment, buying a Mothers Day gift (see photo). All these tasks come with specific jargon you have to know, stuff you don't think about when preparing to move to a foreign country.

On the left, the photo I took of my last haircut in the U.S. before we left to show to the barber at my first haircut in Brazil. On the right, my first haircut in Brazil. How did we do?

My daughter as the test subject for the makeup she bought her mom for Mother's Day. I got a crash course in how to say things in Portuguese like, "Use this brush to accent your eyebrows!"


The reason you don't think about all this stuff is because you're consumed with accomplishing the tasks it takes to get to the country. For instance, our family had to get vaccinations for yellow fever, hepatitis, typhoid, meningitis, and shingles (me only) in addition to our Covid boosters. It was no small task to figure out how to get some of these vaccines. Most are not typical in the U.S. and not easily found. Yellow fever, for example, has to be administered by an infectious disease doctor at a special clinic. The typhoid vaccine, on the other hand, was experiencing a supply shortage at the time we were trying to get it and had to be specially ordered.


The guidance on which vaccinations were necessary varied from doctor to doctor, and we were surprised when the infectious disease doctor unexpectedly urged us to add a vaccine or two right there at the appointment, which we did. So you just kind of hope you get the right vaccinations and leave the rest to… luck?


Our insurance company didn’t share my enthusiasm that our trip to Brazil was a vital necessity and was therefore not keen on paying for our vaccinations. Somehow, though, as with many things on this adventure, it all worked out. We got every vaccine we needed on the timetable recommended by the CDC, and the insurance company paid for them all.


But to accomplish this, we were getting vaccinated up until the last minute: we left on a Monday, and I got the second dose of my shingles vaccine the preceding Friday. I was crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t have a reaction and have to travel eighteen hours to Brazil feeling lousy. In fact, with the sheer number of vaccines we got in such a short period of time, it’s a miracle we had no reactions at all and that we’re not glowing with all the weakened strains of lethal diseases swimming around in our bloodstreams.


Visas, passports, physicals, dentist appointments, eye exams, house-sitters. The list goes on. We had so many tasks to complete, that I still marvel that we did it all while doing the regular things of our lives. None of those regular things stopped. We just piled all the Brazil stuff on top of them. Did I mention a Fulbright with a family of five is no cakewalk? Maybe I’ve discussed this in previous posts, but I reemphasize it here, because you really have to keep working at it and not get frustrated when the consulate or the doctor places a barrier in your path. You just have to keep pushing through and solve the problem.


Ultimately, though, it’s worth it to endure these challenges, because you get to have this life-changing experience. We continue to enjoy our time here in Brazil and learn about the incredible culture we find ourselves in the thick of. Ate a proxima, meus amigos.

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