Thursday, November 29, 2012

Arriving in Bissau

At the Airport it hit me. I'm going to Guinea-Bissau. It was at the airport where most of the conversation around me switched from Portuguese to Creole. It was at the airport where the drastic demographics it went from bring a pretty mixed crowd to a mostly African crowd. It hit me hard as I began realized I wasn't just getting on another plane, I am going to AFRICA! Thoughts that going to Bissau was either the best or worst decision I've ever made started running through my mind. Things are going to be so different. There's no turning back now!

We arrived in Bissau in the Early morning, around 1:30.  The first thing I noticed was the smell of the air. It reminded me of Brazil but was a lot drier and had earthier undertones.  Looking back as I got off the plane I got an amazing view of the moon, trees, and the plane with a stair ramp rolled up to it. Either out of ignorance or fear, probably a little bit of both, I didn't take a pull out my camera to take a picture. At least I have the mental picture!

The whole airport experience was pretty funny. It is definitely an airport, but its also one of the least official airport experiences I’ve ever had. It felt like had just gotten off a taxi and walked up to a small building to wait for my luggage.  For being so late it was crazy outside the  airport doors! People waiting for guest and people trying to make a buck by helping you with your things to the car. Overall it’s a hectic scene and it definitely keeps you on your toes. I can't believe my family didn't lose anything with 25 pieces of luggage in that scenario.

We arrived at Alice’s house. She is the wife of my step-dads brother, or his sister in-law. I hadn’t seen her since I was 8!  Ramos got a room to him self. I slept in the bed with Alice and one of the children she took in slept on the floor.  As I got into bed I immediately understood my privacy level was going to drop significantly. I woke to my 9 year old cousin pulling off my sheets, her face full of rice.  Her older sister and another cousin ran in to pull her away. The house is always lively! My Aunt has taken in several children who were in need of a home and Ramos’s nephew Manecus is out of town so his kids  also came over. 

For some reason being here feels familiar. I keep having deja vu! I’m not struck in awe by my surroundings nor do I feel at home. I feel like I'm in some of the poorer areas of Brazil that I had visited while studying broad. Fortunately I have been able to get by with my Portuguese so far.  If  someone doesn’t speak it they definitely understand it. I, on the other hand, am hitting the ground hard (and not running) with creole. The pronunciations are a lot more difficult for me to sound out, and it makes the words that much harder to remember.

I've been camera shy lately because I'm still taking it all in. I'll have more pictures soon!

Monday, November 26, 2012

In Portugal (part 2)

I could see myself living in Portugal. I said that to my cousin Emanuel and he looked at me confused.  Then I learned your average cat is making anywhere between 1,000-600 Euros a month.  At best you're making 12,000 a year not including taxes. That is 10,000 US dollars a year! And cost of living in Europe is EXPENSIVE! Granted the dollar only has 67 cents on the Euro, so I was feeling the budget constraint. But their PG&E (equivalent) bills are through the roof!

Cidade Biaxa (lower city) at night
I saw a sign at the Airport the said “ Portugal descobriu o mundo. Chegar pra descrubrir Portugal” ( Portugal discovered the world, now come discover Portugal). Sure that's probably an effective marketing slogan, but there is so much between the lines of that first statement.  Seeing little things like that makes me really appreciate the opportunity to go to the land that colonized Guinea-Bissau.   The colonial history and the war for Independence, from my understanding, is still felt in Bissau since it happened with-in the life time of people who are still alive (just 39 years ago)! From what I was told, even to this day a former colony will usually look to its old colonizer for financial and developmental support. But Portugal now is trying to figure itself (both due to the Economic Crisis and its own issues) so it can't offer much support to Guinea in that way.

Street Art in Lisbon
On a different note, on my last night in Lisbon I got a taste of the Portuguese nightlife. Emanuel, a cousin of mine who was visiting from London, took me to a couple spots around town. One was super chill, a chic bar/lounge in an inconspicuous alley way. The other was a club where his gym partner works. It was full of Polish people (his words not mine, because I can't tell the difference) and they played almost strictly American dance music.  This was yet another affirmation that a club in one county is just like a club in the other. Granted there were some differences, but none of them worthy enough to note. I'm just glad to have gotten a taste of it so I can see how similar or different it will be in Bissau!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In Portugal (part 1)

Portugal is the first stop for 3 days.  Boy has it been a blessing of a rest stop on my way to Guinea- Bissau.  I have been able to practice my Portuguese, adjust my palate, and really let it sink in that I'm no longer in the US of A.  So far I’ve come to notice a couple things:

Folks selling
Brazilian Portuguese and Portuguese Portuguese really are different. I couldn’t tell in the US, but being here I can only understand 65-75% of what is being said. This might also be because the folks I am with are combining it with creole.. none the less, the "SHHHH" in Portuguese from Portugal makes it so much more difficult to understand for me. 

Folks in Lisbon are dressed impeccably well ALL THE TIME! While I can absolutely appreciate casual/hippy/sporty American (and apparently English as well) waredrobe, there is definitely something to be said about a cultural norm of  looking your best all the time.  My step dad and I stuck out like sore thumbs walking around downtown. It is also 50 degrees outside and we are packed for 8 months of 85+ degree weather.  Nonetheless its really inspiring so see literally everyone so well dressed.

The food is ooooh sooo good! Fresh bread, wine, grilled fish, potatoes and salad. On the other hand, my step dad ordered a nice steak with some French fries and rice.  To be real, most people are ordering that as well. Regardless, it is obvious they are doing something right with food because no one is rocking the electric scooter look. There is a restaurant below where we are staying and the food is just amazing! We eat there every single day and i get the same thing every time. Its one of those places where you want to try what else they have but what you get is also too good to stray away from. 

Bacalhau is the main dish here in Portugal. I never got the name of the fish, but its not one that we are accustomed to on the Cali coast. Bacalhau is fish with potatos, carrots, eggs, and sometimes broccoli or chick peas. Everything is boiled and put on a plate. You cover it with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Its definitely a testament to simple cooking being the best cooking.  I'm looking forward to seeing what types of food Bissau has in store.