Experiences of a Dutchman living in Belo Horizonte, since December 2004, from month to month.
February 2005: Carnival in Recife and Olinda.
My third month in Brazil was one to never forget. You could imagine that this month was a crucial month for me: decisive for my stay in Brazil, and decisive for my future. No, the reader should not immediately think of a marriage, but I can say that during this month the first principles of my writings were born, but they were still in the fetal stage.
On the third day of this final summer month, I accompanied João, the younger brother of Myra, on his journey to the far northeast: Recife. . He wanted to visit his family, in the week of carnival. For me this trip was an excellent opportunity to learn more of the country and its culture. A travel by plane? No! With a coach, a bus service from Belo Horizonte, that attends Recife twice a week. A distance of more than two thousand kilometers, which was made in over thirty-six hours! Frankly I was hesitating about this monster trip. In the past I already suffered when I took the bus from Nijmegen, The Netherlands, to London, a travel time of seven hours. But I could not resist this offer, to know the cities and the carnival in Recife and in Olinda.
João had selected good seats for us, right behind the driver. Therefore, we had enough room for our legs. For the first time I traveled through the immense state of Bahia, and I was charmed by the landscape. Summer green, green meadows, green forests, soothing green. We stopped en route with some regularity, allowing the legs and feet some movement during the stops. Shortly before noon, we arrived in Recife. From there, we took another, regular, bus to Paulista, a city beyond Olinda. I was introduced João’s family, who was living there under very simple circumstances.
They lived in a house, that you could not really call a ‘house’. An unfinished stone structure with walls of rough, reddish-brown bricks, as if they still had to be plastered. In this house two women lived there, with three children, their mother, and the boyfriend of one of the women. There was a lounge/ kitchen and two small bedrooms and a small shower/ toilet. There were no doors; curtains could be closed for more privacy. The floor was of smooth concrete, and my mattress was there, in front of the television. During the day my mattress was, along with some pillows, a comfortable sofa. Water was freely available for two days, then the main valve was shut off, and we were deprived of water for three consecutive days. We had to use the water that was stored in a huge barrel.
We did not celebrate carnival intensely, but we visited both Recife and Olinda several times. I enjoyed the multicultural carnival in Recife, near Marco Zero, I almost suffocated within the huge crowds in the narrow streets of Olinda, but even there I enjoyed the festivities very much. How different was the atmosphere in the tropical cities, compared with the cold and wintry carnival in the Netherlands! I also went to a Brazilian beach for the first time, when we visited the beaches near Olinda. One week later, we visited the beach paradise in Porto de Galinhas. This resort is considered one of the most popular of Brazil. I enjoyed very much the warm sand, the azure and warm ocean water.
My stay in Recife came to an end, after one week. João would stay a bit longer, and I traveled alone to Belo Horizonte. On the way I became acquainted with two Brazilian girls, who spoke fluent English. They were smart enough not to use sunscreen at the beach, and suffered from severe burns. Even sitting in the comfortable bus seats was a real torture for them. I had a front seat again, and a muscular black man sitting next to me. Later he had to use his force and experience to assist the bus driver when one tire got flat. The helpless driver was very grateful to him, and offered him a free meal at one of the stops. The muscular hero received a spontaneous applause from the bus passengers.
In the last two weeks of February, I was at the campus, working on my dissertation. I got to know better my colleagues of the laboratory, and gradually obtained more knowledge about the customs of the Brazilians. And the more I observed the more cultural differences I noticed. Many habits that I have obtained during my life in The Netherlands were not that common in Brazil, and vice versa. I learned from these differences, and they learned from my observations. Often they were speechless when I remarked one of their habits as unusual in our European cultures. I quickly realized that much of the misunderstandings between the two cultures are often due to ignorance and misunderstanding between these cultures. For me it will be an interesting task to reveal the differences for both cultures…
By Adriano Antoine Robbesom © 2007