A Foreigner in Brazil (20)
MAY 2006: Neighborhoods in Belo Horizonte
Experiences of a Dutchman living in Belo Horizonte, since December 2004, from month to month.
May 2006: Bairros in Belo Horizonte, the neighborhoods I was living in.
May 2006 was another month without travel for me. Like April, May was a quiet month, and I kept on working on my thesis, and I participated at a number of social gatherings in the weekends. For this, I have more opportunity to write about the locations where I have lived in the past eighteen months.
Delicious! a dessert made of milk and sugar
My connection with Brazil started in 2001. In December 2001, I arrived in Belo Horizonte, capital of the state of Minas Gerais. I spent Christmas and New Year in Bairro (Neighborhood) Dona Clara, close to Pampulha Airport. A bairro can best be interpreted as a residential area. In a metropolis like Belo Horizonte you have hundreds of such bairros. The bairros are part of distritos (districts), such as Pampulha. In the center of Belo Horizonte, there are no clear limits between them, although some limits are formed by avenida (avenues). The center (Centro) is defined by the original city limits of 1897. This limit is now Avenida Contorno, which literally surrounds the center. At present, Belo Horizonte has expanded significantly; you have to spend dozens of kilometers to leave the city, when you depart from the center. The Pampulha district is about five kilometers from the center, connected via Avenida Antônio Carlos and via Avenida Cristiano Machado.
An autumn flower
Pampulha district is known for its oddly shaped artificial lake, the city airport, and the immense campus of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). Bairro Dona Clara, a quiet residential area, is located at about three kilometers from the airport. Predominantly middle class families live here. There are not many high buildings, no more than eight floors. Dona Clara does not have the characteristics of a quarter; it merely has the appearance of a residential area in a smaller city. Predominantly local traffic runs through the streets, but you will not notice many children playing in the streets. Most children are playing within the safe area of the so-called condominium, a cluster of houses or apartment blocks that is surrounded by high walls or fences, and generally has only one -guarded – entrance.
Genipapo, an uncommon fruit
Four times in a row, I spent Christmas and New Year in Dona Clara. In a house with two floors. Such a house is not very common in Brazil, since most Brazilians have a house or apartment with just one floor. There was a very small garden in front of the house. In front of the apartments, a large concrete floor served as a public area. The cars were parked there, apparently at random. At day there was a lot of noise from the children, playing with each other. There was loud music, the housekeepers loved to listen to the radio or CD player at maximum volume. The cars made noises through their engines. The neighbors loved to chat with each other, but even when they were standing or sitting closer to each other, it appeared that they were very far from each other: they loved to shout and scream. At night, you could listen to the TV of your neighbor, but only few became irritated. Because when you will make some noise, you would not appreciate when your neighbors immediately knock on your door. I felt at home there, as a welcomed guest, and gradually I became more and more familiar with the Brazilian way of living. A way of living that is very different from the Dutch, Australian, or Belgian way of living, as I have experienced in my life.
Picanha, beef ready to be roasted
June 2005. I had to move, and I was lucky to have a friend who invited me to stay at her family, for a couple of weeks. Instead of a guest room, I had my space in the living room of an apartment. My mattress was in the living room. The apartment was on the top of a steep hill. It took some effort to climb that hill, especially with a backpack that contained my laptop and equipment. I daily climbed and descended this hill; it was a very good fitness exercise. From the foot of the hill, I took the bus to downtown, where I had to switch for another bus, which destination was the university campus. In total, I spent ninety minutes and two bus fares. These three weeks were very enjoyable, especially during the weekends. The family invited close friends, to have some beers, and to play acoustic guitar and sing together. Brazilian and international popular songs. I have to be clear that I cannot play the guitar, that I do not have a good voice, and that I only drink socially….
Those three weeks came to an end. I asked around at the university, among my friends, and not much later, I was offered to share an apartment that was located only a few hundred meters from the university campus. I shared the apartment with a PhD student. He did not speak English, and I was totally dependent on my very poor Portuguese. Fortunately, my roommate had the patience to repeat, in a slower and clearer way, sometimes accompanied with appropriate gestures. Few weeks later two more students arrived in the apartment, but thanks to a big party, that caused many complaints from inside the apartment complex, the three had to leave. I was living alone then, for more than six months. The professor, who rented the apartment, had to move to Roraima, a distant state in the far north of Brazil, and had to give up the apartment. I had to find another room for myself.
Again I managed quite easily to find another room, and again with the help of my friends. I moved to to a student apartment, a so-called república, only a few hundred meters from the previous apartment. I shared this apartment with two students, who studied Pharmacy at the university. These students lacked a lot of self-discipline and order: sometimes it was a clear mess in the apartment. I did not leave this apartment because of this mess, but because of an excess of noise. The students themselves were very quiet. They sometimes had social gatherings in the apartment, thereby inviting a number of friends to drink some beers and play some video games. But… the neighbors started to have their parties after their colleges at night. They started with loud music at 11 PM, together with a lot of noise caused by shouting to each other and slamming with the doors. Those parties lasted until 3-4 AM. For me it was really hard to find a rhythm to live and work: therefore, it was better for me to find another location.
In May 2006, I was still living with the students. The student apartment was within walking distance from the main entrance of the university, and within walking distance of my previous room. Later, I was living at more locations in this neighborhood. But that will be described in future episodes.
By Dr. Adriano Antoine Robbesom
Original text in Dutch, translation with help of Google Translator