bus people

This post isn’t about a trip, but rather something that’s occurred on almost every one of my trips: bus rides.

Bus rides in Brazil, at least in my part of Brazil, are fairly painless logistically. The bus shows up more or less on time, it’s more or less clean, and you eventually show up where you intended. It’s the people that add the element of unpredictability.

This post was inspired by my last bus trip, a three-hour ride from Araraquara, Sao Paulo to my hometown. The man next to me was snorting every 10 to 15 seconds, as if he were having an awfully difficult time trying to hock up a snot ball. There was a woman yelling on the phone in front of me as if it were some new contraption she wasn’t sure how to use. There was a two-year-old blabbering for every second of those three hours. But that wasn’t what got my attention.

What did was a man sitting across the aisle from me, clipping his fingernails.

He was old, and using one of those tools nail technicians use to cut off your cuticles when you get a manicure. His nails were thickened into gnarled yellow bone stubs. As I was staring at him, one of his larger clippings flew up into the air and hit the woman in front of him. She looked around, confused. He continued clipping. He then pulled out a nail file, his nail dust floating around the bus, being breathed in by the rest of us. His pinky finger sported a coke nail, or as I was told by a friend, a nail to pick his nose with. I’d like to think it’s a multipurpose tool.

Twice now on the way to Sao Paulo I’ve come dangerously close to being puked on. The first was by a little girl across the aisle from me. She was sleeping on her mom’s shoulder when suddenly a stream of chunky vomit gently fell out of her mouth and landed all over the seat, floor, her mom, and the unsuspecting victim sitting next to them. The mom and daughter left the bus at the next stop, leaving her enormous pile of puke on the seat and the bus smelling of stomach bile and hot dogs. The second was a not-so-little boy sitting on his mom’s lap next to me. He said the same phrase for 4 hours of the bus ride, and then started crying. I took that as a bad sign, but his mother apparently did not, until he projectile vomited all over them.

Another bus favorite happened on a local bus in Belem. It was packed full, and my friend and I were fortunate enough to have seats. She had the aisle, and a fat woman kept pushing her fupa into her shoulder. We thought the woman herself was being pushed, or that it was an accident in some way, but she just kept on forcing her gunkum into my friend’s personal space, and my friend kept on moving over, and in this way the woman conquered much of the space in and around my friend’s face.

I’ve heard stories of robberies and shootings on buses, but I’ve been fortunately enough to never experience anything dangerous. It’s usually just a lot of sweaty fat pushed against me until I arrive at my destination. Not even comparable to the horror of riding Greyhound, where you run the risk of being decapitated and eaten. Cheers, Brazil; you win.

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top 12 things I never thought I would miss about the U.S.

Top 12 things I never thought I would miss about the U.S.:

1. Starbucks. Really just the cafe culture, independent of the brand. The pure joy of sitting in a busy place and not being required to talk to anyone while drinking something delicious and reading a good book. I miss using that as my thinking time.

2. Businesses being open during lunch time hours (except for the Columbia, SC post office–I never did understand that one).

3. American dancing. No, we’re not sluts, we’re just Americans.

4. American approach in a bar. Putting someone in a choke-hold and saying ‘give me a kiss’ from four inches away is reasonable cause to get you face slapped off in the U.S., and I like that.

5. American lack of touching. I like meeting someone new and having no part of their body touch mine, and then us saying goodbye and the same thing happening, which is to say, nothing.

6. Not being friend-requested by hundreds of people I don’t know. You’re the cousin of someone I accidentally bumped into on the bus? You one time passed me toilet paper under the bathroom stall when mine was out? I sat next to your mom on a flight from Salvador? Sure, please friend-request me, I’d like for you to know lots of personal details about my life.

7. Lawn mowers. People here burn fields down like I imagine my ancestors did. No wait, I think even they cut down grass with a machete or something.

8. Garbage disposals. I don’t ever want to touch mushed up pieces of wet food again. Call me prissy, fine, but it’s disgusting.

9. On-line banking. Need to pay your rent? Get in line at the bank, pay, get a receipt, scan that and send it to your landlord. Need to pay your electric bill, get more credit on your phone, and take cash out? Get in the 10-person line at the ATM and wait for everyone else to attend to their monthly banking before you.

10. Being rich isn’t that big of a deal. Lots of people are rich in the U.S.; I don’t happen to be one of those people, since I’m $60,000 in debt, but I’m not impressed by those who are. In my experience in Brazil, the class system is still very much alive. Insanely expensive gadgets are must-haves in order to impress your peers. The more money you have, the more you stand out and the more people are impressed by you, which is very important. Maybe some play by these rigid class rules in the U.S., but when I think of someone who would I think of old-moneyed people like in the Great Gatsby. Not real people.

11. Being blonde isn’t that big of a deal. Blondes, it seems, are more common than not, at least at the 75% Dutch high school I went to and at the University of South Carolina, where I went for grad school and where blonde bimbos reign supreme. I also happen to be blonde, so I fit in in the U.S. Here, on the other hand, unless I’m in the far south of Brazil, I stand out like a sore, 6 foot tall, blonde thumb. It’s tiring.

12. Everyday things being simple. Sending something at the post office, getting from point A to point B in my car, getting a cell phone working, having easy access to the internet, ordering food, going grocery shopping, finding an apartment. When I first arrived here, these things turned from simple, slightly irritating errands to stress-inducing, all day events.

I’ve gotten used to the Brazilian way, and the act of merely living has gotten less stressful, but these past eight months have made me crave home; not in a homesick way, exactly, but I miss doing things I’m used to. Six more weeks and I’ll have that opportunity again. I already have my Target shopping list made up.

top 12 things I’ll miss about Brazil

Top 12 things I’ll miss about Brazil:

1. Rio de Janeiro. Best beaches I’ve ever been to. I relaxed there for the first time in a long time.

2. Getting to wear a thong in public and no one cares.

3. Getting to wear leggings as pants and no one questions your sense of fashion.

4. Fresh mango juice. Fresh pineapple and mint juice.

5. Pao de queijo.

6. Brigadeiro with chocolate sprinkles.

7. Acai na tigela. With granola. And honey.

8. The relaxed culture. The only one who has expectations for me is me. My perfectionism has been challenged here, which I think is only healthy.

9. Places staying open past closing time without complaints. They technically close at 11 and you wander up wanting beer at 11:15? No problem.

10. Being an American is generally a good thing here. Something I can’t say for many other countries, where we’re seen on a spectrum from neutral to hatred. It’s nice not to have a negative stereotype stamped onto you the moment you meet somebody.

11. It’s an easy place to be a language-learner. Your Portuguese is always good, even when it’s bad, and almost everyone is willing¬† to try to understand you, even though you may sound like a retarded toddler.

12. It’s easy to make fast friends. I have less positive things to say about the depth of many people I’ve met, but Brazilians sure do know how to be friendly with strangers. It’s easy to show up in a place and have people to go out with within a week, and as a foreigner, that’s invaluable and appreciated.

Florianopolis, the opposite of exotic

Florianopolis is a chilly California with graffiti. Located in the richest state in Brazil, Santa Catarina, it offers the best the country can, if you’re talking money. The German-descended here are like royalty in the rest of Brazil, their blonde hair and height translating to wealth and beauty. And it’s true; money drips from the cut of their jeans, the weight of their earrings, and the clack of their imported boots. It is a different Brazil entirely.

One of my first days I took a bus over a mountain to a beach called Santo Antonio. It was late afternoon, my favorite time of day, and I liked the way the sun glanced off the harbor’s boats, the cobblestoned streets, and the houses’ and shops’ clay roofs and bright facades. It was the first sunny day I’d seen after a weekend of rain, and it’s warmth despite the low temperature reminded me of being in college in Indiana. One year I had to take a class during the month of May, and my friends and I would lay in the cool, damp grass in tank tops and shorts to soak up every weak ray of sunlight we could, the sun our savior after another impossibly long winter. Back at Santo Antonio, a friend and I ate oysters and enjoyed the view until the sun dipped low in the sky, the wind came out, and it was time to go home.

At the end of the week I went to a party where I met a frat boy from the university I got my masters at. In the U.S., frat boys are the exact opposite of anything I would want to spend time with. Their polos, old man Dockers short shorts and boater shoes are enough to repulse, and that’s just the surface. This one was no exception, yet a frat boy in Brazil shifts perspective. We danced like Americans and could anticipate each others’ moves. I made stupid jokes and he could understand. I had a sense of humor again. We didn’t have to repeat ourselves. I sang a lyric of an American song, and he finished it without hesitation. I felt capable. I never thought I would say a frat boy was refreshing, but he was exactly that.

It’s become apparent to me this year how much personality affects the process of language-learning. I’ve seen my friends develop different skills with varying speeds, mirroring the English versions of themselves. ¬† The chatty ones have gotten fluent very quickly, but a broad vocabulary and grammatical correctness elude them until later. I’m on the other end of the spectrum, reading and watching dubbed Netflix more than making small talk, so I have a weirdly bookish and formal vocabulary with stunted fluency, which really isn’t that far off from how I am in English. My brand of language-learning gives others the impression that I’m one to choose my words carefully, as carefully as I probably should.

I saw an ex-lover in Florianopolis for the last time, unless the universe decides I should be punished. The last time I had contact with him he told me to fuck myself, called me a bitch, and blocked me on Facebook, the ultimate diss. His presence in Florianopolis was like a dark cloud. But then I saw him wearing a Pikachu sweatshirt complete with ears and heard he suggested manicures to my girl friend as an appropriate afternoon activity. I need to use more discretion about who I let insult me.

The other day, I read this quote in the book Reading Lolita in Tehran and was reminded of a conversation my mom and I had recently. “Azi, she would say, you are a grown-up lady now; act like one. Yet there was something in her tone that kept me young and fragile and obstinate, and still, when in memory I hear her voice, I know I never lived up to her expectations. I never did become the lady she tried to will me into being.”

In our conversation my mom was telling me something bad her friend had found out about her daughter, then made an offhanded comment saying she would rather believe her daughter was living the way she wanted her to than to know the truth. It makes me sad that I will never laugh with my mom about the freshly-manicured Pikachu boy or any other of life’s messy mishaps. I’ll continue with my “the weather’s great here”s and “I learned something really interesting”s and save the important stuff for my friends. It feels like a sort of mourning.

Florianopolis is my kind of Brazil. When living abroad, I’m not so much looking for difference as I am similarity, somewhere I can be comfortable making a home for myself. I find comfort in close beaches and easily-accessible eggs benedict with hash browns. But my friend was telling me about the boyfriend she has in Para, a state that’s more jungle than not, and I can’t deny the sense of adventure and exoticism that has. I picture the boyfriend lying around in a hammock that he made and strung between palm trees, smoking a joint, sweating, and weaving baskets out of palm fronds. I picture lazy days near murky rivers, strange fruit, mosquito nets, and feeling totally lost, in a good way. Florianopolis doesn’t offer a sense of exoticism, but a sense of home, which is infinitely more sustainable.