Author Archives: graceclements

To be a foreigner

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A couple things come to mind.  I can’t say popcorn in Portuguese.  Why is everyone talking so fast, and damn, I really thought batman would at least have English subtitles.

After throwing ourselves into Bahian culture, we decided to take a day off and head to the movies.  Because of lack of Internet to check times, we started walking to the mall with nothing to loose.  We got there and saw that the next movie was for 3 hours, so what better time than to make a pro con list of malls in Brazil.  Pros; everything is an extra half off because the dollar is so strong, the food court is way nicer, and you can buy caramel everywhere.  Cons; nothing.

The whole group spoke about how it was kind of comforting to come to a mall and be around some familiar things.  It was funny to me though, because this was one of the times it hit me the most that I am in Brasil.  I realized that you never really have a day off when you are the foreigner, and you should never get too comfortable.  I decided to go the American way, and have ice cream and popcorn for dinner.  This was my first hurdle.  Why did everyone look at me like I was crazy?  All I said was, “una bolsa de dolce de leite”….  Is my accent that bad?  The same exact thing happened with my popcorn, but I got through that by pointing, smiling and pointing again, and repeating the phrase in Portuguese, until I see the mutual look of understanding.

It was weird for me to go to such a familiar place, and experience it in such a different way.

After searching and scouring for deals, and finding none, we trekked on to the movie “batman, the Dark Knight Rises”.  Things were starting off pretty well.  The previews were mostly in English with Portuguese subtitles.  Perfect, I thought, I get to practice my Portuguese, and I get to hear Christian Bale’s crazy batman voice.  Well, to everyone’s surprise, the movie was neither in English, nor did it have subtitles.  Within 15 minutes 3 out of 6 Americans were napping.  Every ten minutes or so, I would forget about the Portuguese, and just continue to watch the movie, then I realized again, oh right I have no clue what is happening. 

This very minor comfort zone put many things into perspective for me.  I had one teacher last semester that gave us 3 pieces of advice the first day, none of which was related to his class.  One was to take a picture of yourself in your birthday suit, because you wont be this young forever.  The second was to read the newspaper, and the third was to study abroad no matter what.  Everyone needs to know what it is like to be foreigner in another culture.

So I tried my hands at a jam session…

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I came to Brazil with the full intent of becoming a better musician and opening up the way I play and write music. What better time to learn than at jazz jam?

After a long day at the beach, my friends and I decided to put on our dancing shoes and split a cab. For only 3 realis, I had the experience of a lifetime. We walked down a cobblestone hill as we checked out the latest fashions, from mullets to beautiful floral dresses. Young and old were out and about, and the people were packed like sardines, something I have yet to experience at a jazz club in America.

The venue was outside and overlooking the water. The weather was breezy, people were friendly, and fried queijo was at the tip of your fingers.

I had previously asked my teacher if this was the type of jam session that I could play at, and he said he would see what he could do for me. I listened to the first couple songs and thought, “Hey, no big deal I got this.” So I went up to the line of musicians waiting to play. Everyone knew everyone and people were trading hugs and kisses on the cheek. We waited by this old VW bus that seemed to be out of service and there for decoration. People were hanging out inside, as well as adjusting the sound from there.

So I waited. I had a first class view of everything going on, and I figured, even if I didn’t get to play, I got a great seat. I saw a drummer who played with an unheard of groove, and dark curly hair to match. I saw a kid who looked no older than 18 switching instruments every song, and playing better than many seasoned 50 year olds I know. I saw timbale and pandera players who were funkier than James Brown. Needless to say my musical expectations were being filled. Before I knew it, my teacher came up and began to talk to the musicians he knew and ask if I could play a tune. Okay keep your cool, you can do this.

So, I waited, and I began to doubt myself, and others began to look at me with very questioning eyes. What is this girl doing here? She looks lost. Maybe we should help her? With my little Portuguese I introduced myself to some musicians and held up a conversation for as long as I could before I ran out of Portuguese and they ran out of English.

I finally got called up to play, after much anticipation. I was asked what I wanted to play, and I answered ,”whatever you want?” I am so bad at making decisions what is my problem? Finally we all decided on Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”. Before I had time to run off out of fear, the song was counted off and we began to play.

Immediately i felt a change. It’s hard to explain, as most things are when you go abroad, but the attitude was the biggest difference I felt. Everyone was just there to have a good time. All the musicians had gigantic smiles sweeping across their faces. I finished playing and was greeted with hugs and kisses from all the musicians, and invited back to play again. I also got introduced, “Gracie Clements from Washington, DC the White House!!!”. The crazy drummer handed me the mic and I said, “Obrigado, e Boa Noite!” (Thank you, and Goodnight!”). I left the stage with a new sense of myself and a new stage name to go back to the states with.

Music in Bahia

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I finally got to check out some live music in Brazil!  What I have been waiting for my whole life.  Every Tuesday in Pelourinio, they have free concerts on the church steps, and music playing all around.  Myself, Armando, Miguelina and I went with the other students from the Dialogo School.

We all met at the bus stop and got on an extremely crowded bus where I was sat closer to strangers than I had my own sister.  After a short bus ride there we were dropped off at the end of the line and began walking towards the music.  A young girl selling peanuts, and tons of tents selling caiprihnias and other drinks greeted us.  The concert that is usually free ended up being 50 reails, which is 25 US dollars, so we decided to keep walking around.  We went down one street, where people began crowding.  We saw on the steps rows and rows of people waiting for music to begin.  This was the beginning of a night like nothing I had ever experienced.  My friends and I got a place pretty close to the front and got settled.  Without warning the music began and samba broke out!  As the night continued I got to move up closer and closer to the front.  By the end of the night I was dancing in the front row with some older Brazilian women I met.  One of them told me I was danced the samba “muito bom!” and kissed me on the cheek.  We both had really big smiles on our faces, and continued to dance.  This is something I can’t really picture happening in the US.  It was really special to me, how we could connect through the music even though my Portuguese did not take me very far and she did not speak English.  This was such a special night not only because the music was fun but also because everyone as a collective was part of the music.

Tomorrow night I am going to try my hands at a jam session.  This is a pretty big deal, because I usually don’t even go to jam sessions in the US for fear of my hand falling off from playing drums behind too many horn solos.  However, I am really excited to see how the Brazilians do it, and maybe I’ll have a thing or two to show the Americans when I get back!  I highly doubt that I will school any of the Brazilians on rhythm, most of these people have been playing drums since age four!
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Getting adjusted to time in Bahia…

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I have no clue what day it is, and no clue what time it is.  Time runs differently in Bahia, as Professor Dossar is reminding us.  Part of this has to do with me not having a phone, and rarely having Internet.  But part of it I cannot explain.  Life seems a little simpler here.  I am treasuring it every day, because I know it will not last very long.  We met another  American on the beach the other day, and he was telling us how he lived in Bahia for 2 years working as an artist.  He had a lot of trouble adjusting to the culture in Boston, and the fast paced life we live.  It is something hard to explain.  It isn’t to say that everyone here is just a big hippy and free.  People here have things to do just like us.  However, they get to it when they are meant too.  A popular phrase here is the equivalent to our “God willing”.  We are learning much about the faith here within the Brazilian culture.  It seems much more spiritual than many religions I have studied.  There is a popular song called “walk with faith” by Joberto Gil that is very popular here.  This is something I don’t see happening in the United States.  Our top 40 is much more concerned with songs about tiny bikinis at the beach.  We are often reminded by everyone to be patient.  At first I thought this was a conspiracy, and Professor Dossar was making people tell us that, but I am constantly reminded of it.

Things that are simple.  I do my laundry in the sink here, and I let it dry on the close rack.  Things seem much more thoughtful.  Instead of throwing my clothes into the washing machine and leaving, it is a much more thoughtful process.  Being here really makes me think about what I actually need.

We are slowly getting used to this city.  It is day 6, and we have found our market, our favorite place for feshauda, and our favorite beach.  It takes us no longer than 15 minutes to walk up the big hill to school, and I haven’t even gotten sick from any of the food!  That is saying something, because I had a maracuia juice.

We are adjusting to our school routine, Afro Brazilian culture and music in the morning, and Portuguese class in the afternoon.  I am pretty sure I will never want to see quejo again when I get home, which is weird because it is my favorite food.

One thing I realized I take for granted back home is how easily accessible everything is.  I find myself sometimes craving foods, that I would never dream of eating in the United States.  Why would an ex-vegetarian be craving Popeye’s chicken like this?  To be fair I would also do anything for some vegetables.  I began practicing my patience the other night; my roommate and I decided to check out the pizza scene here, because I’ve heard it’s something special.  It was raining, but you only live once right?  So, we took ourselves to the pizza place around the corner.  First mistake.  We were not well equipped to be in this fancy place with our sweatpants. Second mistake, I only brought 5 reis, and one pizza is 40 reis. Woah, this is awkward.  I must keep reminding myself, that the exchange rate for the US dollar is quite good; one dollar to 2 Reis.  That aside I realized how crazy America is.  At any moment, within a mile, I could get one slice of pizza for a dollar.  I would also have 500 different choices.  We ended us getting a delivery pizza for 10 reis each.  The pizza was tasty and all was well.

First week in Brazil!

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I woke up this morning, and I realized, in just a few short hours I would be on my plane to Salvador, Brazil.  Needless to say I was freaking out.

It begins with the packing.  Will anyone actually want to play with the UNO cards I brought, or will that just make me look stupid?  How can I convince my mom to let me bring my guitar?  Okay, I will settle for ukulele.  I guess I will have to learn how to play that, along with speaking Portuguese in the next 6 weeks.  Who knows maybe I am a ukulele prodigy?  Will I look like an idiot in my American bikini?  Do I even bother bringing a top?

Step two; I make it to the airport, with just a few tears spared between my mother and I, in between laughing at ourselves for how ridiculous we are.  I found it important to get the airport with much time to spare.  So much so, that I read through every single fashion and music magazine, and even had to resort to magazines about golf, motorcycles, and gardening.  Am I there yet?

More questions, what do people eat for breakfast in Brazil?  Did I take enough Airborne?  Will Brazil’s climate make my hair look stupid?  Did I just see two people at the airport with weed paraphernalia?  I don’t know about chivalry being dead, but discreteness is definitely rolling over in his grave.

I met up with Armando, and we waited at the gate for about 10 minutes before boarding to Miami.  We got there at about 7, and met up with all the others going on the trip.

Before we knew it, it was time to board to Salvador.  I hope I didn’t forget anything, will my passport work?  Is my Visa the right Visa?  Butterflies in my stomach I found my seat next to two 15-year-old Brazilian twins.  They were on their first trip to American visiting Disney world and all of the other flamboyant attractions we have to offer.  I asked them how they liked America and their eyes lit up like fireflies, “Very much”, they said.  We talked as far as we could with my little Portuguese.  They of course had amazing English, and I reminded them many times.  I admire them so much, only 15 years old, in another country, striking up conversation with a complete stranger.  I definitely could not have said the same for my awkward self at that age.  So kudos ladies.