Farewell to Brazil

We said goodbye to Brazil and we are not sure when we are going to be back. From travelling around this country we have fond memories and single Portuguese words that despite crossing the border do not want to make a place for Spanish ones. I came here with “muchas gracias” and I was using this phrase throughout South of Brazil and now, outside this country, when I want to express my gratitude I automatically hear me saying “muito obrigada”. I am often surprised with my language skills and I guess I have just created a Polish version of Portuñol (a Spanish – Portuguese mix that Brazilians and people from the rest of Latin America use to communicate with each other).  I am not overly worried about this fact. Right now what matters is to be understood, to learn a proper, written Spanish I still have some countries to cross.

We came to Brazil having certain idea and knowledge about this country. We knew about the carnival, we had in our heads an image of the “typical” Brazilian, we heard about violence, drugs, favelas and other issues. We were expecting exotic views, food and nature that we had never experienced before.

And then we arrived in Brazil and our idea about it had changed dramatically. We knew before that it is a big country, when in doubt just look at the map, but only when you are “inside” you start to experience its enormous size. One country and uncountable secrets, millions differences, cultures not easy, if not impossible, to grasp. We spent here around 3 months and even though I have seen a thing or two, I have an impression that after all I know nothing about this country.

South of Brazil surprised us most of all with its European traits. We met a lot of people whose roots reach Germany, Italy, Poland and Ukraine. Seriously, you can find here a representative of each nation, however the majority of immigrants are from Europe. Our experience with this phenomenon began in Curitiba where many people introduced themselves with the last name ending with -ska (which is typical for Polish surname). We heard from many Curitibianios: “my grandfather was Polish”, “I do not speak Polish, however my grandmother still uses this language”. Many people knew such Polish words as ŚWIĘCONKA (quite an unusual word to remember and it means blessed food eaten for Easter Sunday breakfast) and also Tadeu’s dumplings (Tadeu pierogi – a Brazilian variation on typical Polish dish where instead of quark, ricotta cheese is used).

Later our cycling led us to Witmarsum – a small village where everybody knows everybody. To find our host we had to ask locals for the directions and so in the middle of Brazil, in a lost, miniature village we had been surrounded by German language. For us it was quite an abstract sensation and we wondered that maybe, in some mysterious way we had been transported or teleported to Germany. At the end we had been reassured that we are still in Brazil, in one of Mennonite’s villages where language and tradition of ancestors are still cultivated. We were also informed that many times on our way we will find places where European languages are still in use. I really wanted to meet people speaking Polish. I was just curious about its sound and the way it evolved outside our country. Unfortunately, we were not lucky, every time when we thought that we are in the right place, people told us that it is not here, that it is few kilometers away, in the direction we did not plan to go.

In relation to this mysterious (at least for us) presence of Europeans in Brazil we learnt that: long, long time ago, but not before the dawn of history, on the turn of XIX and XX century, the Brazilian government had decided to populate the South with Europeans. They did not want to give the land to indigenous people nor to the newly freed slaves who were needed on the northern plantations. The Brazilian government issued an appeal to the people of Europe inviting them to settle down in the country and promising them a fertile land and endless possibilities. Many responded to the call. How bad must have been their lives in Europe that they had decided to go to another continent, to another land of which they knew nothing. As we saw in a museum in Witmarsum, the new incomers brought with themselves things that were needed to survive in their original environment. We noticed sheepskin coats, down comforters that protect from severe winter brought to Brazil where the snow is such a rare phenomenon that when it happens, it immediately becomes a touristic attraction. Their villages were a copy of the ones they left behind. The only thing that was different was a climate and everything that is intertwined with it. On a trial and error basis they learnt about the surrounding environment, they learnt what to eat and what to avoid, what to use to feed animals and in this way step by step they adjusted this new land to the standards they were familiar with. In Brazil they created their own “little” Europe where they nurtured the tradition of their ancestors. Right now the majority of young generation does not speak the language of their forefathers however they still identify themselves with their origins. We heard many times „I am German, I am 1/4 Italian, 1/4 Polish and … so on“.

Experiences that we have from the South of Brazil let us understand that there is nothing like typical Brazilian (at least in this region). People here mix with each other and your appearance do not reveal your origins. Everybody can look like Brazilian, however everything changes when you open your mouth and you start to speak. Then the questions about your roots are being asked. I got an impression that this way a new society have been created in which the meaning of your origins has been lost and in which everybody embraces different cultures and traditions. However, for me there was only one thing missing to complete the ideal image of the open society, namely the presence of Afro-American and indigenous people. On our way we indeed passed by the signs announcing the entry to indigenous land and we saw few of them selling their crafts however in the cities their presence was almost non-existing. People do mix yet I think that this happens mostly among Europeans.

Not only people mix here but also cuisines. Food in Brazil from the first day on won our hearts, everything was full of taste and many times with the mouth full we were saying: this is the best X or this is the best Y we have ever eaten. Brazil is a perfect country for carnivores and the vegetable are a bit discriminated here. One of the interesting food adventures was our visit to churrascaria  – a restaurant that serves grilled meat. You start with a buffet, where you put on your plate as much food as you want, later you go back to your table and then the fun begins. Every few minutes a waiter appears at your side, in one hand he holds a skewer with different kind of meat and in the other a knife and he asks you, whether you would like to try it. If yes, he serves you a slice and then disappears. Never in my life I have seen so much meat reappearing and disappearing with such a velocity. In this way you can spend the whole night enjoying your meal as there is no time restriction for occupying a table. After our first visit we thought we will die from overeating: we ate too quickly and too much, obviously even Brazilian barbecue requires some skills. During our next visit we already knew the rules and our feast was reaching the infinity.

We also became a big fans of Brazilian „bufet livre”  – for a small amount of money you eat as much as you can. Usually it is being served between 12.00 and 14.00 and is quite popular among Brazilians. There is always rice and black bean stew that is very delicious especially after cycling for few hours. The meal does not ends with rice and bean you can also get some pasta, a bit of meat and some salad just to hush your conscience concerned with healthy issues. You eat grilled banana at the end in order to enjoy its taste in fullness. At the beginning I did not like it but later I was really disappointed when I could not find it anywhere. Usually this typical dish is sprinkled with farofa (toasted manioc flour) that supposed to help you with digestions. In general manioc here is like our potato – you can boil it, fry it as well as you make a very nice desert out of it. Manioc desert resembles a small beads that are served with sweet sauce. When I tried it for the first time I thought I am eating some exotic Brazilian fruit – well we learn all our lives, don’t we?

In the South of Brazil we encountered food that was known to us. There was no big surprirse (it is said that the North is different) but it does not change the fact that the food here is simply delicious. Everything here has distinctive taste and you don’t need to add a lot of spices to conjure up something really tasty. For me in South Brazilian cuisine you can notice influences from Italy and Germany with the locals accents such as feijoada (black bean stew – former slaves’ dish), manioc, avocado eaten sweet (salty version is met with a surprise if not with disgust), some fruit and for sure some other stuff we do not have any clue of.

However what did surprise me here, what I did not encounter in Europe was sweet pizza – the base is the same as in „common“ one only toppings are a bit different: strawberries covered with hot chocolate, sorbets of different flavours, coated nuts, white chocolate, anything what is sweet and tasty can land on your pizza. At the beginning I could not even force myself to try it, this combination was too weird for me however later, when I thought about it, my taste buds went crazy.

What did however disappoint us here was coffee. Maybe we are used to its different taste, maybe it is as the locals say that the best quality is being exported to other countries. We do not know and we would be grateful to discover the secret of this phenomenon.

We did not come to Brazil only to fill our stomachs we arrived here also to cycle around. We were aware of the fact that this is not the safest place for the cyclists as the drivers do not respect them (well I think the same can be told about many other countries). However what I saw here scared me a little bit. In Curitiba, where we were assembling our bikes, I had the first chance to observe the city driving culture. Honestly I was grateful that I do not have to cycle as yet. For me it was like a jungle: already as a pedestrian you have to be very careful as the cars generally do not stop. Even when you are half way through the vehicles still try to slip through just before your feet and if you cycle you generally compete with cars on every step. I was under impression that here when you are in the car or on the bike you are not perceived as a living person. That’s why you have to instantly make signs with your hand to remind others that you are alive and you want to stay like that for a bit longer. Local cyclists advised us on basic gestures and with time we manage to master the skills of moving around without being hurt. Not only we survived but also we had a great pleasure in crossing this country on our bikes.

There are no railways in Brazil and so transport is carried out by trucks – they are the masters of the roads. The traffic is huge and the velocity, with which they can move, many times made me dizzy. Sometimes they were loaded in the way that you were under impression that any minute its content will land either on you or anywhere nearby. In addition the tracks do not like to share their space, even when the second lane was empty, they still passed by so close that I had a feeling that any time soon they will rub my shoulder or the whirlwind created by its movement will drag me off my bike and crash me onto the pavement. It was not a nice feeling and so we always greeted with a big smile a hard shoulder and if it was not there (which did not happen very often) we were cycling with our heart in our mouth asking drivers for their mercy.

We also learnt about “respect” towards cyclist while we were crossing the bridge in Florianopolis. 4 one-way busy lanes, no hard shoulders and cars moving at high speed. We did not notice any alternative route so we decided to take the risk and cross it anyway. The drivers were scolding us with their honks but we stubbornly were moving ahead. In the middle of the bridge we were stopped by a policeman and he informed us that cycling is not allowed here. We looked at him with a surprise as there was no sign and we did not see any alternative route. The policeman told us that there is one below the bridge and asked us to go back. To go back???!!!! We were half way through!!! We pleaded for letting us go, however he did not have mercy and we had to do what we were told. It was the longest ten minutes ever: I was touching the edge of the bridge and with scared face I was watching oncoming cars. Finally accompanied by the angry honks we managed to go back and to take the other route. Once again we would like to “thank” this policeman for his apt decision and for giving us a chance to cross this bridge via cycling path.

More and more people in Brazil appreciate using bikes however the safety on roads or rather lack of it causes that only few of them decide to use it as a mean of transport. In order to change this situation protests and different kind of events are organised, people demand cycling paths and try to make drivers aware of their presence as well as to convince them that on the roads there is place for everyone (well it seems quite familiar to me).

Many people perceive Brazil as a very dangerous country and unfortunately our first day was a confirmation of this fact. Our latter encounters with people and their reaction to our experience make us wonder about this situation. It looks like almost everyone of them at least one time in his/her life were assaulted with the use of gun or knew somebody who was in the similar situation. At some point I was under impression that for the residents of big cities this kind of experience is something normal rather than exceptional. We were told that the best thing you can do in this situation, is to give away everything you have been “asked for” without blinking an eye. You should not resist as here it is common to shoot first and ask questions later.

I was really surprised about this situation and I wanted to find out more about it. First thing, I was made aware of the growing gap between the richest and the poorest people. This contrast is easy to spot in the big cities. In many places next to the falling apart houses beautiful buildings rise, on the streets cars that any minute will tumble down pass by the one of the best quality and the best brand. It seems as if those, who can afford more, pay for their better status with lives in fear. They build beautiful houses, they surround them with electric fences and on the entrance they put somebody to guard their belongings. They close themselves in the golden cages. Sometimes I thought that to be better off here is not a privilege.

Many times we heard: do not take out your phone here, do not show your camera, do not do this, do not do that. If you follow the rules you can make yourself invisible. It is not a nice feeling and so far it does not look as if something is going to change. Court sentences are not harsh enough to keep away from committing crimes and as we were told not everybody want to solve this situation and often the far-reaching corruption is mentioned. Supposedly when you join the police force you are on the horns of dilemma: either you take bribes or you die (a stalemate). I am aware of the fact that also Europe is not free from corruption, however in my opinion we have more confidence in our system and we do not feel threaten by the authorities.

We heard also that here there is a common practice to involve a minor in the crime. In case of detention this underage youngster takes all the blame and go to jail only for shorter time than an adult would. In the meantime the rest of the group pays money to his family for the sacrifice. This system is very well thought and works well. It is said that in Brazil favelas are the source of evil, it is sort of a country within a country that gets money from selling drugs. The only question is who supports this situation, who creates the demand?

Brazil has many faces and this is what makes it, to certain extent, such an interesting country. It has its dark side but above all it has the other one. On our way we met so many amazing people, their hospitality and kindness surprised us many times. We – total strangers – were invited to their houses and for the time being they made us feel as a part of their families. We chatted, enjoyed the food together, we shared our experiences. These were the best lessons about their country and its people. It is amazing to experience such human selflessness, these spontaneous encounters with other people. We came here not knowing anybody and quickly we became a part of the friends circles, suddenly we had our people here and this is an unforgettable experience. Till now I wonder what some people meant by saying that in Argentina or in Uruguay we will see what hospitality really means, for me there is no way it can be expressed in any better way, it is just impossible.

Brazil was a very rich experience and despite our unfortunate beginning I do not regret that we started our trip here.

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8 Responses to Farewell to Brazil

  1. Lulis says:

    Oh, God! Is this the first pages of your Doctorate Thesis about Brazil, Aga? Sure that can be! Wonderful! I’m glad that you’re going fine =D SAUDADES! Keep your dreams on road!

    • aga says:

      Thanks Luis, Ph.D theis on Brazil,mmm I think you need eternity to finish it and I would like to do some other stuff as well :)

  2. So glad having you here, guys.
    Always hoping you have lot of fun in your trip.
    Since the chocolate pizza we had here, we allways remember you.
    Rosangela allways repeats playing Wojtek “Chocolatiiii”. So fun.

    We’ll still reading your posts and hoping you guys a very very nice trip.

  3. Eduardo M. Cooper says:

    Godspeed polish friends! :D

  4. Lucas says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post :)
    Should have made sure the RSS subscription was working before !
    All the best mate

  5. Lucas says:

    Glat to know ! cheers

  6. Miriam Costi Ribeiro says:

    I friends we realy miss you end wich you are having a good life at now. Hugs from Miriam, Gabriela, Pitucho and Nina.

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