The Big Switch

Three weeks ago the six Tufts fellows sat at a hostel awaiting the arrival of our temporary parents. We were in the middle of the city, our new city, Curitiba. Gabriel was the first to go, swooped away in a flurry of smiles and kisses by an as of then unknown woman. We were meeting our host parents for the first time. Some of us had seen pictures, others only a few words, but we were all in the same boat, we were all about to become strangers in a strange land.

Yesterday morning, those same unknown men and women said goodbye, but they were no longer strangers and this land was no longer so strange. These families opened their hearts and doors to us and over the past three weeks we have gone from overfed house guests, to sorely missed quasi-children. To most of us, the city was just beginning to show its amicable side. We could get around, for the most part, and had our set of landmarks. We almost had a new home.

My first host mothers name was Edna, she is 44, lives on the outskirts of Curitiba, a sprawling city of 1.2 million, and works 5-7 days a week 8-10 hours a day as a manicurist at the local mall. On the side she bakes little cakes called Pão de Mel and sells them to her customers (I may have gorged on a few of them as well) and still she manages to cook dinner most nights. Her son is 24 and coincidentally is also named Daniel. He works at one of the local bread factories six days a week from 6:30am-2pm. Their apartment lays in the lone multistory building in the area, bordered by a parallel set of roads and train tracks on one side and low-lying houses on the other. The nights consist of televised white noise, a cacophony of canines, and a train that seems to silence everything once every hour.

The small apartment only has four rooms: the living room-kitchen combo, the bathroom, my room and the other bedroom where both she and her son slept (this is unconfirmed, but I am fairly confident she kicked her son out of his room so I could stay there. He would come in every now and then to grab his clothes out of my/his dresser). There is a TV that remains on as long as someone is still conscious within the house. A computer, consisting of a laptop whose screen is so smashed it has to be hooked up to a small 9 inch monitor where all the key strokes and mouse movements show up, or at least are supposed to.

The kitchen is separated by a stone peninsula. It has a stove, a microwave, an oven, a washing machine and a dish washer in which the only way Edna could describe its current state was with the word “boom” and by spreading her hands like parting jellyfish. She loved cooking everything, but especially rice, beans and all sorts of meats (it is still unknown specifically what animals I was consuming) and I had no trouble eating.

My room was mostly bed-space. But there was room for a dresser, a desk and my suitcase which sat on the floor for my entire stay. I loved my host family, but I never moved in. For 14 days I lived out of my bag, constantly shuffling around its contents (don’t worry mommy, I washed my clothes). But it is barely day two in my new homestay and I am already unpacked, my duffel shoved away for the next 7 months. The difference is not that this new place automatically felt more comfortable than my previous home stay, because it didn’t, it doesn’t. But rather, the fact that where I am now is not just some passing fad; this is where I live, this is my home, so I better get comfy and quick.

Now a home can be kind of weird when you are born into the family at age 19. But that is entirely expected. What you can not expect is what people are going to be like, what your new family might be like. No matter how many Facebook pictures you see, or stories you hear about someone, your expectation will almost never meet reality. But when you have absolutely zero idea what these new people who seven months from now you will be crying over are like at all, that is when you have a blank slate, that is when anyone can be anything.

My new house is silent at night. No canine conversations or trains running through my dreams, just a faint whine of electricity running through my adapter. Instead of cars, there are butterflies, instead of graffiti, hanging fruits, instead of the city, the water. There is no apartment, not even an apartment building, only a house surrounded by a subsistence farm and a family of neighbors(In this case, the whole block is one family). There are three dogs, Brisa, Paçoca, and Pery(Peh-Hee) a cat, (Fran)Cisco, a mother, father, brother and sister. The beach lies a few meters down the road with a fleet of sailboats moored just offshore. The family bovine-powered mill only a few doors down. Fresh bananas, sugar cane and eggs come in every day from my backyard. Daniel, you’re not in Kansas anymore, you’re in paradise, but you have no idea how to tell your new family just how grateful you are.