Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

The last thing I expected to hear in Lebanon was Portuguese, but surprisingly it was one of the first things I heard.

After arriving in Lebanon, and sleeping off a bit of jetlag, I started wandering the campus until I ran into our University President.  He quickly introduced me to the University chaplain, who happens to be….Brazilian.  In fact, he studied at the same University where I did Portuguese study abroad one summer during college.  After meeting him, I learned that there was a small army of Brazilians on our campus – some had come and gone before my arrival and some would come later in the year.

However it’s not only on our campus that we have a mini-Brazil; it’s within the country of Lebanon as well.  The blog Brazzil explains the phenomenon pretty succinctly here.  Over the course of time Lebanese have emigrated to countries around the world, Brazil included.  Nowadays, there are more Lebanese living outside of the country than inside of the country.

Over the course of the year, we’ve run into some of the hyphenated Lebanese (Brazilian-Lebanese).  We even saw the launch of the Brazilian-Lebanese Cultural Center.

Coming from the States, where Hispanics are the largest minority group, it’s hard to imagine them as being anything else, but the more I pay attention, the more I’m finding Hispanic Lebanese.  I study Arabic with a kind lady who’s Mexican-Lebanese, and more and more, I find myself hearing Portuguese in the mall and most recently at the airport on my way home.

These days, we all find a way to hyphenate our identities.  African-American, Korean-American, Mexican-Lebanese.  It’s like the noveau “I got some Indian in my family.” (only a few of you will understand what I mean by that one)

How do you hyphenate?


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I will admit it, unabashedly and unashamedly: I am a language brat!

There are many kinds of brats in this world (and most of them are not children). But I like to think of myself as a brat in the best way possible.

A brat is not made after one misstep or one inexcusable moment. A brat earns his stripes after a series of continuous behavior.

My first defining moment occurred in Spain, where I lived for a year to learn Spanish. I was placed in Level C, the middle level in a series of five. After attending class for a few months, I began to feel a bit uneasy. It was a nervous itch that began with a sense of impatience.

I knew that at the pace I was traveling, I would never reach my goal of learning the language by the end of the year, when I had to return home. So one day, after class, I approached my grammar teacher and told him I didn’t feel as though I was learning quickly enough. And I asked to be moved to a more advanced class.

After a brief pause, he suggested I move immediately to Level D and finish out the remainder of the course in Level E. The students in Level E were native speakers, so I soon became the skinny, scrappy kid in the fight, trying to stay conscious. But after the language brat inside of me got her way, she managed to fight to the finish!

My second similar moment happened in Brazil, where I went to study Portuguese. To be honest, I’m a bit ashamed of my behavior.

There were only two students in the program that summer, and my sense of urgency was high, as the course only spanned two months. The pressure was further increased because I had no intention of returning home unable to speak Portuguese.

Before our classes started, I already sensed an imbalance, as I had a background in Spanish while my classmate had none, and administration expressed that they would place us in class together.

So you can imagine my frustration the first day of class when my Professor pulled out a chart of the alphabet and proceeded to explain each letter and its accompanying sound. Any normal college student might grin and bear it, waiting until the end of the class to explain the imbalance in the situation. And I’d like to believe that I made an attempt to do that. But somewhere along the way, I found myself flailing like a tempestuous kid throwing a fit when I found that things weren’t going my way and that I was going to be forced to endure a review of the alphabet.

Needless to say, the next day, after my brazen display of immaturity (hey, it’s not my proudest moment), I found myself in the classroom with my own teacher. And given that I only had seven weeks to learn, I believe I picked up on Portuguese fairly well.

So now, fast-forward to my Middle Eastern experience. One would think that with the passage of time and a bit of maturity, I would have outgrown my bratty ways. Sadly enough, I can’t completely say it’s true.

Tonight, we had our first class in Arabic for Beginners. And while there were only five of us in the class, the range of Beginners varied quite a bit. Most of the others in the class have lived in Lebanon for at least a year or more, so they have quite a few loose words rattling around in their minds. In that way their Arabic skills exceeded my own.

On the other hand, as we reviewed the alphabet, I couldn’t help but recall that moment back in Brazil, when the teacher was reviewing a concept and the language brat emerged, as though through a sort of possession. While I’m no Arabic expert, meaning that the CIA will not be calling on my language skills anytime soon, I at least know the alphabet, from taking an introductory course (twice) back in the states.

This time, I managed to contain the language brat lurking inside, but the feeling of impatience and urgency couldn’t help but make its way to the surface. After class, I expressed my sense of urgency and impatience to learn the language, true to my bratty self. After showing her my previous materials and a few children’s books I had purchased, I think she sensed the fire in my belly to learn.

So in addition to class, my Professor (who I love by the way) will be helping me to push through my children’s book.

Arabic will be my biggest language challenge thus far, and I’m totally up for it. Let’s just hope my bratty ways pay off!

This may seem totally ignorant, so blame it on the American in me, but I must ask the question: How does one eat a date?

You’ve heard of Southern hospitality?  Well, I think Middle Eastern hospitality is gonna give it a run for its money.  Recently one of my colleagues graciously gave me a bag of fruit, which included an apple (with which I’m quite familiar) and some dates.  And while I’d like to say I’m familiar with these little delights of a fruit, I can’t.

Something felt very wrong when I tried taking a bite into it, however, I was a bit embarrassed to go back and ask for proper date-eating etiquette.

And this has consistently been my biggest dilemma when traveling, especially to warm weather places.  I’m not familiar with the produce.  Even while shopping in the local grocery store.  I could properly identify about 1 in every 5 fruits the store was selling (that’s a whole ‘nother blog post that will have to wait until later).

I remember when I traveled to Mozambique.  I found myself wandering in the garden of the house where we were camped out, and I happened upon a pineapple plant.  In fact, I was so excited when I asked the family’s gardener about it.  He stared at me with a bit of disbelief that I had made it so far in my life without seeing the source of pineapples.

Hey!  I’m from Chicago.  What can I say?  If you need to identify a skyscraper or hop a ride on an elevated train car, I’m your girl.

The same happened in Brazil.  I was thrilled to no end at seeing sugar cane for the first time.  I awed in wonder, “so this is where sugar comes from?”  Many a’ Portuguese lessons took place on the side of the road on the edge of a sugar cane field or in the produce section of the grocery store.

All of this has taught me to be curious about other people’s cultures and things I don’t know.  There’s a whole world out there waiting to meet you, if you’re willing to admit what you don’t know.

So as it stands, I’m still a little unsure of how to eat a date…any takers on explaining it to me?

I can’t say much these days to phase my mom.

My initial scare tactics began as a child, when I boldly announced my desire to go to summer camp.  My parents halfheartedly acquiesced.  I thanked them by yelling in protest when they came to pick me up.

My second attempt at freedom came when I boldly announced my desire to go to boarding school.  Contrary to popular belief, I went there willingly, in full sanity.  My parents neither shipped me off, nor did I commit a heinous crime.  Hey, some people like the taste of a fine wine.  I prefer the taste of freedom.  So, once again, I headed off, much to my dad’s chagrin.

From there I moved away from gateway travel and started hitting the hard stuff.  Spain for a year-long study abroad stint, followed by a summer in Brazil.  I started trying it all.  It didn’t matter what it was, as long as I could get my travel high.  I ventured to South Korea to visit a friend, returned to Brazil and hit up Mozambique, among a bevy of other less potent trips.

Through it all, my mom consistently maintained her cool.  My dad…not so much.

And then, while well-poised to keep my dad’s blood pressure at a cool 120/80, I dropped the unexpected:  “I’m going to Beirut.  Lebanon, that is.  Beirut, Lebanon.  Yes, dad, the one that’s just north of Israel.  Yes, the one that often makes the news.”

This announcement was followed, by a long bout of silence, from both of my parental units.  But I knew that for each parent the silence should be interpreted in different ways.

From my mom:  “I’m processing this.  This is my daughter, and she often comes up with crazy, harebrained ideas.  Has she thought this through?  Will she change her mind in a week?  I’ve always told her to travel and explore the world.  She’s living her life like I wish I would have at her age.  I’m trusting God to keep her safe.”

From my dad:  “I’m processing this.  This is my daughter, and she often comes up with crazy, harebrained ideas. #^@%@&@(#(#).”

I wish I could share the rest, but my dad’s a good Christian man, and even his thoughts are censored.

Let me give this whole thing some context.

While the two screens I was offered at my corporate gig seemed a step up from the laptop my previous Big 4 Accounting Firm offered me, I still couldn’t quite scratch the itch I was feeling to travel.  To see, explore and understand the world.  To put the news I watch on my TV screen into context and maybe even help write some of it.

I longed for the ten-times recycled air generously ventilated throughout the plane, crying babies, irritated by cabin pressure, who felt fully liberated in letting us know about it, and often cranky American flight attendants.  I needed a good adventure.

However, let me be clear, this is no quarter life crisis trip.  This fits into the whole scheme of things.  This is me stepping out in faith and taking a risk to accomplish “that which otherwise would not have been accomplish.”  This is an expansion of my Sand Pails and Beach Balls lists.  Goals can’t just be limited to the summer time.  I’ll clue you in more on how it all fits together in a later post.

You may have heard me say it before, but I ran (and walked) a ½ marathon in Spain, without any training.  The only thing I had to guide me were the words of Muhammad Ali, “When a man says I cannot, he has made a suggestion to himself.  He has weakened his power of accomplishing that which otherwise would have been accomplished.”  And I’m taking that attitude with me now, except this time, I’ve got a little somethin’ extra.

While Ali had all the cockiness of God, God he is not.  And that’s the main advantage I take with me on this trip.  I feel inspired and guided this time.  I’m excited for the adventure, excited to teach my students and excited to learn and grow.

Don’t worry mom, I plan to have an adventure that lets you maintain the ever- present calm that’s fitting of the diva you are.