O Barco

Joanna Shieh - Brazil


October 2, 2013

Ah the boat! A total of 90 minutes of my day are spent on the boat to get to and from my Portuguese classes in Lagoa de Conçeicão. It is during these 90 minutes where I learn the most about the country I will be living in for the next 8 months, beautiful Brasil. From the outside, this boat appears to be nothing special, however, as soon as I step foot onto that ‘ordinary’ boat, it feels as though I am stepping into a whole new world. I have the opportunity to speak with, listen to, and watch the locals as they carry on with their daily routines.

When I took my first boat ride to Costa da Lagoa, I was greeted with curious eyes and nervous glances. I was new to a group of people who were all familiar, and my presence disrupted routines that had been running for years. Later, my eyes greeted them back, as we became more familiar with each other. Finally, exchanges of glances turned into hellos, and even some small conversations. I was able to eliminate the barrier that existed between the foreigner and the locals. It was this eliminating action that allowed me to better understand Brazil and its people. Do not think these conversations were in any way rich in information and meaning, as my Portuguese level is not quite up to those standards. These conversations were abundant in small talk! “How are you?” “Great!” “It’s nice out today” “Yeah, it’s hot. Yesterday was cold”. Nothing exciting, no politics talk, or even personal questions, but observations and obvious statements. I love these boat conversations, because although the content is not rich in meaning, it is these kinds of exchanges that lead to friendships. Longer, more in depth conversations will present themselves further down the road I’m sure, but for right now, small talk is perfect for me.

The boat is always loud. A harmony of the boat’s motor, people’s chatter, and the gentle crashing of waves lure me into this new world. In this world, I love to listen. I try to become a sponge and absorb every detail of sound around me. After a tough day of classes it calms me to just sit on the boat, and listen to the water rolling around me. Even the motor creates a tranquil atmosphere as it fills my ears with the vibrations of sound. It is the conversations of the people around me, however, that I try and listen to the most. Usually these conversations revolve around men, women, work, and food, and I get a front row seat to these Brazilian dramas. There is never a lack of emotion spewing from the mouths of the passionate Brazilians. The rhythm of their words, and the pitch of their sounds vary throughout their speech, which turns the drama into a musical. Who needs an iPod or a TV when you’ve got a boat packed with Brazilians?

I constantly find myself staring at people I perceive as interesting on these boat rides. There are classic beauties, diverse faces, young children and old timers. However, although they all appear different, their movements and gestures are so in sync, that they appear to mimic the waves of the lake. These actions are what one has to learn in order to fit in, so I spend my time during these boat rides by observing, memorizing, and attempting to repeat.

These 45-minute boat rides keep me sane during a time of stress. I’ve left my family and friends in a different continent to live in a completely new world and it is constantly overwhelming. It is on the boat, however, the magical new world of the boat that I finally understand what I’m supposed to do. I have successfully squeezed myself into people’s routines, and now, I blend. I feel completely in sync.

Joanna Shieh