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Ah, que bom você chegou!

Six Weeks in Salvador da Bahia

My summer in Brazil started like this (a few months prior)...

“Congratulations! We would like to award you a FLAS grant to study Portuguese. But...in order to receive this grant to study in Brazil, you need to be at an intermediate level of Portuguese before you go. There are some nice domestic options for Portuguese study too...”
“What if--hypothetically--I learn enough Portuguese in the next 2 months to get to an intermediate level?”
“Are you taking a Portuguese class at UW right now?”
“Do you have a Portuguese tutor?”
“Not yet.”
“Well...if you think you can do it, then we will fund you to go to Brazil.”

Thus began my crazy journey of Portuguese self-study in the midst of Boston Marathon training and my already full-load of coursework, supervising, and teaching. But, as those of you who know me can attest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Two months later, thanks in no small part to my tech savvy boyfriend who found me a free version of Rosetta Stone Portuguese, the brilliance of the language-learning app Duolingo, weekly meet-ups with my Brazilian friend Leticia, and a last-minute sponsorship of an intensive Portuguese tutor, I was feeling pretty confident in my newly acquired Portuguese as I boarded the plane for São Paulo on May 23rd. Although it would take a full month before I would stop referring to my Portuguese as “Portuñol” (an accurate moniker), I found that the language was fairly easy to learn, all things considered.

My plan for this journey to Brazil had been in the works since 2010 when I first visited the country with my fellow ChACErs and spent a frivolous week in Rio de Janeiro, and I vowed I would find some way to return to Brazil. And there I was, arriving in Brazil three weeks before the World Cup, on a fully-funded grant with the University of Kansas study abroad program in Salvador. Over the next six weeks, I studied and traveled with a great group of graduate students from the University of Kansas and the University of New Mexico, along with our fearless and energetic leader, Professor Luciano Tosta, a native of Salvador da Bahia.



Salvador is a totally different slice of Brazil and, in many ways, I prefer Salvador to Rio. Rio is a stunningly beautiful city, with rolling green mountains, beautiful rock formations, and white sand beaches that stretch along a coast filled with coconut stands, small restaurants, and fancy hotels. Salvador, on the other hand, is best described as cultural carnival, in every sense. Formerly the economic and political capital of Brazil, Salvador was an immensely important city for the Portuguese crown. It was also the center of slave importation in Brazil, beginning in the mid sixteenth century and stretching until 1870, making Brazil the last country in the world to officially end slavery. The legacy of slavery in Salvador is a palpable tension between the celebration of Afrobrazilian culture and the pervasive racial inequalities and discrimination.




Since the 1960s, organizations like Ilê Aiyê have worked to promote the culture and history of afrodescendentes in Bahia, employing samba-reggae—a hybrid musical genre of traditional African samba de roda and Marley-style reggae—to teach and celebrate African heritage. I was fortunate to live with a family deeply tied to Ilê Aiyê—my host father was one of the directors of the organization—and I gained a deep appreciation for the type of work they do in the legal and educational spheres as well. For example, when I arrived in Brazil, my host family gave me a stack of pamphlets and books about distinct African countries and cultures, materials that had been disseminated in local schools and incorporated into public curricula to emphasize that “Africa” and “African culture” are not homogenous (a curricular move more advanced than present instruction of African history in most U.S. schools). One afternoon several weeks later, I came home to a flurry of activity as my host parents prepared to go to court to defend a young black man who had been convicted of a crime without substantial evidence (he was later acquitted, due, in large part, to their intervention). Like other foreigners, I came to appreciate the African influence in the food, music, and dance of Salvador, but the unique experience of living with my host family offered me a much deeper understanding of both racial tension and advocacy.




Of course, the main focus of my FLAS experience was to learn Portuguese and, with six to eight hours a day of courses, lectures, and tours, it was certainly a rich educative experience. The distinction between formal (written) and conversational Portuguese is so extreme that several professors joked that they should be considered separate languages. I found myself constantly drawing upon my Spanish linguistic resources in conversations with my Brazilian host family, professors, and friends, sometimes with success—much of the lexicon aligns in spelling, pronunciation, and meaning—but more often with confusion. For example, in Portuguese you can assistir (watch) a game of futebol on television, while in Spanish you would assistir (help) a friend or assistir (attend) a class. And, while proclaiming a dish exquisito (exquisite) in Spanish might win over the chef, the similar term in Portuguese—esquisito (weird)—will likely not have the same effect.

Some Portuguese cognates are more similar to English than Spanish—for example, you can be embaraçado (embarrased) without the linguistic fallacy of being embarazado (pregnant). However, other similar-sounding English words could be misleading, such as doors labeled puxe (pronounced “pushy”) that require you to pull. Still, I never encountered a bahiano—someone from the state of Bahia—unwilling to teach me a new word or correct pronunciation. The bahianos I met were warm and welcoming, and I enjoyed talking with them over a cafezinho (coffee) about differences between the U.S. and Brazilian jeito de ser (way of being). I quickly learned that in Salvador one never fully says “no” to anything—a talvez (maybe) or vou pensar (I’m going to think about it) suffices. I also learned that bikinis from Brazil have two styles—asa delta (hang glider) and filo dental (dental floss)—while U.S. female swimwear is uniformly known as “pampers”. After spending a couple of weekends at beaches in Salvador and Recife, I can confirm the veracity of this distinction.



This reflection on my experience in Brazil would be incomplete without mention of the World Cup, which effectively dominated the second half of my study abroad experience. Being in Brazil during the World Cup provided a first-hand glimpse into both the tension between large-scale corporations like FIFA and the general public—whose violent encounters were widely publicized in international news—as well as the familial spirit of watching futebol. More interesting than the games themselves was the spirit of national pride and international camaraderie as people from around the world shared in the love of the game. While bars and stadiums packed with tourists (and, among them, a good number of Brazilians), for many bahianos the World Cup was a time of family togetherness, with game watches lasting all afternoon and well into the evening. The energy and excitement of the World Cup quieted even the most ardent critics of FIFA—for better or for worse.

Germany-Portugal Game

Costa Rica-Italy Game

Bosnia-Herzegovina Game

USA- Game


Since returning from my summer learning and adventures, I find that I am constantly referencing my time in Brazil. Insight into the Portuguese language has given me a new repertoire for teaching phonology to my undergraduates: the open and closed vowel distinction between grandfather and grandmother in Portuguese— avô (pronouced “av-OH”) and avó (pronounced “av-AW”)—helps me demonstrate the way in which our brains are linguistically “trained” to distinguish between certain sounds and not others. My experience in Brazil also renewed my interest in comparative international work with English language programs in Latin America, especially in my interactions with bahianos taking English classes at my program’s institute. For them, English was a vehicle for occupational and educational advancement, a necessity instead of a luxury.

I hope to be able to return to Brazil in the near future, as the "saudade" (nostalgia) remains long after the last samba is danced and gol is scored. I leave you with the words of my favorite forró song by Trio Virgulino:

Será que é amor, não sei, (Perhaps it is love, I don't know,)
será que é paixão, talvez, (Perhaps it is passion, maybe,)
só sei que é bom de mais (I just know that it is wonderful)

Aqui ta bom só falta você, (It's great here, it's just missing you)
Aqui ta bom só falta você, (It's great here, it's just missing you)
Aqui ta bom só falta você, (It's great here, it's just missing you)
você, você, meu bem querer (You, you, my love)

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTuOWIdeDFA

Posted by lhamman1 23:20 Archived in Brazil

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Nice to hear about your great time here in Brazil. You made an awesome description about our country. I enjoyed a lot your comments on the differences among similar words in spanish and portuguese. Hope to see you in the south some day. I love the way you defined saudade... nostalgia. Every non portuguese speaker wants to know the meaning of saudade. Saudade, amiga querida! Beijos, Letícia.

by Letícia

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