Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Marvelous Beginning

This first week has been one of my longest and most amazing weeks EVER! Sitting here on the balcony of my Alto Leblon apartment in boxers and a tank top, looking out at the ocean and listening to the sounds of Saturday night samba and laughter, I feel comfortable and at home. In seven glorious days, Rio de Janeiro has transformed from intimidating labyrinth to vibrant community. I've already made some Brazilian friends, learned some carioca slang, and tested some delicious new dishes. I've seen fire and I've seen rain, I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end...

I love airplane window seats almost as much as I love free in-flight XM radio. On my Independence Day journey from Atlanta to Rio, I was treated to both. Five minutes after liftoff, to a soundtrack of the classic "Come Fly With Me," I was delighted to witness two different fireworks shows from several thousand feet. The massive explosions looked like slow-motion mini sparkler emissions from that height, but the perspective was definitely unique and probably once in a lifetime. A few hours before landing, just as everyone was rubbing his eyes and waking up for airplane breakfast, we were greeted by a spectacular sunrise over the Amazon River. If you've never seen such a sight, I highly recommend it.

The Brown in Brazil coordinator met me at the airport along with the two other program participants on my flight, and we were driven directly to our homestays. I was the last to get dropped off, and slightly worried as we turned up a hill and just kept ascending block after block. It turns out that I live towards the top of a very tall hill, which would be a bummer except that my apartment is straight out of "House and Home," with vanilla-white furniture, original oil paintings, and a breathtaking view from the enormous balcony. There's also a free circular bus for the residents of the apartment complex that runs nonstop from 6am to 11pm. I think I'll survive.

I'm sharing the apartment with Regina- my host mom, a business journalist, and a bossa nova aficionada- and her 23-year-old son Gustavo, who graduated from PUC and is now a broadcast journalist covering extreme sports. He speaks fluent English (though I'm trying to get him to speak only Portuguese to me!), plays competitive soccer, and is more or less a disciple of Bob Marley. He surprised me last night with his seemingly random knowledge of hyphy music- he's a big fan of Mac Dre and Keak da Sneak! A Brazilian friend introduced him to the movement, and now he's an avid follower. Small world. From Monday to Friday, a maid named Monica lives in the apartment as well. It was a little strange at first having her make my breakfast, clean my room, and wash my clothes, but that's just the way things are done here. She is an Evangelical Christian, and was overjoyed to learn that I'm also Protestant. She already researched the nearby Christian churches for me and gave me several options for Sunday services! I'll start exploring them tomorrow, followed by my first visit to the renowned Hippie Fair in Ipanema.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights in Paraty, a historic town about three and a half hours south of Rio. It was a program excursion, and basically a taste of paradise. We took boat rides out to several different islands where we played Frisbee and soccer on the beach, swam, and ate fresh fish. In the evenings we explored Paraty and got to know each other through self-initiated charade games and guitar jam sessions. The other students from the program are all really cool, with no exceptions. It's nice to have some contacts here in Rio, but when intensive classes start next week, I'll be looking to branch out to native Portuguese speakers.

Yesterday and today I've mostly been trying to get everything in order. I bought a cell phone and a Wi-Fi router, which a technician will hopefully hook up on Monday afternoon so I can have unlimited Internet access the next five months. I organized my budget and made arrangements to pay some extra money to Regina in exchange for laundered clothes and dinner five nights a week. Besides that, I also had my first lecture at the university yesterday, covering Brazilian music and culture. We took a quick campus tour in the afternoon, so now I feel confidant finding my way around. I can't wait to finalize my schedule and fall into a good rhythm.

As for now, I'm content to go with the easy winter flow of the River of January. Life is good.

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