First week in Brazil

Tomorrow, August 15, marks a week in Recife. So far, things have been going well, but as with any move to a different country, my family and I have had to adjust to many changes and we realize that this will continue to be an engaging learning experience.

First, the very positive things about our new life. Our choice to live in the Graças neighborhood was definitely a good one; two large grocery stores are within about two blocks walking distance. A “frutaria” (fruit store) is a little bit further, and a gourmet grocery store is only a block down the street. There are also many restaurants in the area, although we’ve not had a good chance to try many of them yet. I’ve discovered that Google maps doesn’t really work well here as well as the other apps I’ve come to rely on, such as Yelp. (As I understand, Yelp has a pilot program in the Rio/São Paulo area to expand its coverage of Brazil and there are some decent listings in Recife that appear to be accurate.) There are many stores that just aren’t discoverable easily through the Internet. (One might think that the issue is language, but I believe I am using the correct Portuguese words.) In other cases, businesses are located in incorrect places on the Google map.

As my wife would say, this is really more an issue of what has become an over-reliance on my part on online maps and resources. For all I know, there may certainly be a Brazilian equivalent to Yelp, for instance, that I’m not aware of. (Let me know if this is the case!) There’s nothing that says I can’t simply walk on the street and discover what’s here. Because the neighborhood here is safe, friendly, and walkable, this makes on-foot exploration a pleasure. As I understand from my Brazilian colleagues, the Graças neighborhood is one of the few in Recife that have storefront retail with shops that directly face the street (in other words, an urban context rather than a suburban one). I do hope to get to the Santo Antônio neighborhood again soon (I was there in 2011), as it features many small “mom and pop” style vendors in a traditional urban atmosphere.

Speaking of shopping, one of the things I really looked forward to in living in Brazil was the large variety of fruit, and I have not been disappointed. The papayas here are the best I have ever had and they only cost about US $0.60 a pound. Guavas are abundant as are many fruits in the Annona botanical genus, such as soursop, sugar apples, and graviolas. Other fruits I’ve found include passionfruit and white sapotes along with a larger array of banana choices than I’ve ever seen before. (Our babies really like the papaya and smaller bananas.)

While most of our experiences have been great moving here to Recife, communicating has, at times, been challenging. I speak Spanish with moderate fluency and studied Brazilian Portuguese for a few months before moving here and can communicate in a very basic way, which works fine, such as when taking a taxi or buying something at the store. The challenge, however, was in buying a cell phone plan. My lack of Portuguese fluency definitely made the experience a difficult one because many of the words were new to me, which was compounded by the fact that I really didn’t understand how pre-paid cell phone plans work. In the end, some very, very patient sales people were able to step me through the process, and with a little online Google translation, I successfully walked out of the store with two working cell phones. Now, the next challenge is figuring out the voice mail prompts, which are, of course, in Portuguese.

The communication challenges here have given me a first hand glimpse at what it is like to immigrate to a new country that does not share your culture or language. For me, because I love travel and new experiences, I had some sense of what I was getting into and enjoy the challenges–for one, I want to become proficient in Portuguese. At times, however, I felt a bit overwhelmed when I cannot understand conversations, especially when the person speaking has a very strong accent (or, at least an accent I am not used to hearing). I realize that this will get better with time and persistence. I am grateful to my host professor and his doctoral students, the latter of whom will be doing most of the direct community engagement and data collecting for my research project.

Tomorrow morning, my family and I will be visiting a fair/farmers market in the Casa Forte square, which was designed by the internationally-renown landscape architect, Burle Marx. It may become a possible case study for my research. (I am currently exploring two other possibilities.) More to come.

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