Saturday, January 11, 2014

Nineteen Buckeyes In Ohio, and One In Brazil

Hey world,

For the next six weeks, I’m required to keep a daily travel journal for Alpha Zeta Partners. These travel journal posts will be a little different – way too much detail for most people, but perhaps a few family members or prospective students out there will appreciate them. Everyone else, just skip to the photos and keep your eyes open for the usual, shorter posts.

So here goes, my first daily journal recap!

Day 1: Monday, January 6th

Even though I packed fins, a wetsuit, snorkel, and mask, I managed to squeeze all my stuff into a 45-pound backpack and a carry-on purse. Huzzah!

I left home at the same time as my sister, now two days delayed for her return to Chicago. Luck was with us Finley Lesters today, because we both made our flights out of Seattle. As I boarded my plane I got a call from Dr. Pfister, my AZP advisor, saying the rest of the group would be delayed in Ohio for 24 hours. Surprisingly, the problem was mechanical failure, not the frostbite/hypothermia weather affecting every other flight.

So instead of meeting up with my long-lost classmates in Dallas, I explored the airport alone. It’s a strange feeling to compose the last texts and snap-chats you’ll send for the next five months. I became irrationally nostalgic in Concourse D. I called my mom while I ate sesame-crusted salmon with splintery chopsticks. I nearly cried when I ordered a tall Starbucks peppermint hot chocolate, the drink my boyfriend bought me every day of winter break. Panic about small, silly things closed in as I boarded the ten-hour flight to São Paolo. Had I downloaded enough material to keep me entertained on the plane? Did I forget to say goodbye to anyone? Were my friends going to respond to my snap-chats too late, leaving their goofy selfies trapped in the netherworld of my phone until May?

I didn't expect this anxiety. Surely this trip to Brazil was not as scary as last semester's solo journey to Ecuador! But I think this time was harder because my boyfriend is studying abroad in Australia, so I couldn't communicate with him real-time. And it’s never easy to leave home, no matter how many times you do it.

On the plane I sat next to a Brazilian couple and made my first attempts to communicate in Portuguese. Oh sheesh y'all, it is not Spanish! As I'd been told to expect, my neighbors could understand most of my Spanish, but I couldn't understand a word of their Portuguese. The woman helped me start a short Portuguese dictionary in my journal before we drowned our exhaustion in tacky romantic comedies.

Day 2: Tuesday, January 7th

When the sun rose through the oval airplane windows, I knew it was going to be a long, groggy, thirsty day.

I passed customs and collected my Barney-colored bag without incident. A young man named Enrique greeted by with a “Nina Finley” sign. I soon learned that his name is pronounced “Eh-hee-kee” in Portuguese. Oh man.

We met up with Shirota, the program’s Brazilian mastermind. I used my ATM card to withdraw my first reales at an exchange rate of 2.36 reales to the dollar. I thought I would spend the day chilling in a hotel room and exploring the neighborhood on my own – wrong! I spent the day with 22 agriculture students from the University of Missouri who arrived when I did for a ten-day study abroad. We rode a plush, air-conditioned bus to Piracicaba, our city of 350,000 people located about two hours north of São Paulo. I got to witness a favela (Brazilian slum), fields of sugarcane (one of Brazil’s most important commodities), and my first bird (a fork-tailed flycatcher). I was by far the most excited about the flycatcher!

We stopped for lunch at a por kilo buffet. You pile as much food as you want on your plate and pay by weight. I didn’t know what was going on. First, I didn’t know we could get seconds, so I took way too much. Second, I mistakenly assumed Shirota was going to pay, so I was awkward at the checkout. Third, everyone ate so quickly that my plate was still half full while everyone else waited outside. At least the food was delicious! I tried pigskin, chicken hearts on a skewer, and manjar, which turned out to be a gelatinous white coconut pudding with lumpy brown fruit sauce.

In the afternoon, Shirota gave us a walking tour of ESALQ, the agricultural campus of Universidade de São Paulo.

The main building of Univsersidade de o Paulo's ESALQ campus.
Our first site was a normal-looking tree in the parking lot. “I’ll buy you a beer if you can guess the name of this tree,” Shirota teased.

“Brazil tree!” I joked.

Shirota gave me a stern look. “Now I’m out a beer!” he complained.

Shirota asked me what the tree was used for. I incorrectly guessed lumber for ships, then Brazil nuts. I ended up owning Shirota a beer. In fact, the Brazil tree was used to create valuable red dyes when Brazil was a Portuguese colony.

We learned about many more trees during our tour:

Brazil is home to many species of palm.
Brazil has recently developed a genetically modified eucalyptus.
A tropical giant tries to put down roots in the parking lot.

We touched the sticky white "latex" which weeps from this false rubber tree.

A pink orchid high in the branches.
We passed the entomology department, where the researcher have abandoned chemical insecticides to focus on biological controls and beneficial insects like bees and silkworms. If I had a hundred lives to live, I would spend at least one as an entomologist. We were also warned about the capybaras, which carry ticks, which carry a disease – so stay off the grass!

Shirota displays a strand of introduced elephant grass, a great food source for cattle.
After the tour, we were welcomed by the dean of ESALQ, Jose Vicente Caixeta Filho, and visited the Piracicaba River. Shirota explained the river’s opaque brown color: Piracicaba is downriver of many other cities, some of which don’t treat their sewage. The birds didn’t seem to mind, though! Check those out in my next blog, Os Pássaros.

The Piracicaba River.
I could have stayed at the river all day, but after a few minutes we returned to the bus and headed to dinner, another por kilo buffet.

Tonight, I’m sleeping alone in a room on the ninth floor. It was interesting to spend the day with a group of entirely new students and professors, but I’m ready to reunite with my Ohio State classmates tomorrow. The Mizzou students at my table drank lots of beers, cocktails, and shots of cashasa, the local sugarcane brandy, at dinner. I don't love talking about drinking all evening, and I hope the dinner conversations will be different when the AZP group gets here!

2 comments:

  1. The false rubber tree is amazing. The brown river, not so much. I'm glad you are enjoying the food including parts of animals I'd rather not consume. Can't wait for pictures of bugs and birds. Mom

    ReplyDelete
  2. I like your plane story about trying to speak Portuguese. Sounds more like a Slavic language than a Latin-derived one to my ear. And the whole "R is pronounced like an H" thing is a little trippy. And you're not really making me jealous with the untreated sewage and stay off the grass stories :-)
    Have a blast, Niner.

    ReplyDelete