The other night, as I was getting ready to go to sleep, I heard a familiar sound from outside my bedroom door — “Luiza, não ande descalça!” (“Luiza, don’t walk around barefoot!”)
It was my host mom, Luciana, telling her daughter to put socks on. It’s nearing the end of winter here in Brazil, and we’ve been experiencing a lot of rain and colder weather the past few days. The fear is that walking around barefoot on cold, tile floors will get you sick.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that same expression, in Spanish — “No andes descalza!” — from my own mom. I remember being Luiza’s age (nine and three-quarters) and coming down the marble stairs in my own home when I was sick, only to be ordered back to my room to put something on my feet.
Reminders of my childhood and my life in Miami have been coming up frequently since I arrived in Brazil. This past weekend, I actually did get sick, and for the first time since I was in fifth grade, I found myself having trouble breathing. My host mom took me to the neighborhood health care clinic, “Unidade de Pronto Atendimento,” where they got me on a nebulizer right away. The last time I had to use a nebulizer, I was wearing a nightgown with a fairy print and a little bow on the neckline, and the paramedic gave me a white tiger Beanie Baby to keep me company on the way to the hospital. This time, I was roughly 4,000 miles from home, wearing the Havaianas I got at my high school graduation party, thankful that my broken Portuguese was muffled by the plastic mask covering half my face.
My host sister, Luiza, likes eating everything with a spoon. Rice and beans, vegetables, steak…everything. The only other person I’ve ever known to do that is my biological little sister, Margarita. Luiza also likes making weird families on The Sims and taking pictures of random things around the house with her mom’s camera and going for bike rides and watching Disney channel. All big parts of my childhood.
During pre-departure training, we talked a lot about culture shock. Culture shift. The U-curve. The W-curve. Adjustment. Differences. I had mentally prepared myself to enter a setting that was radically different from the one I knew. Instead, I’ve been encountering more similarities than differences, more things I understand than not, more ease than dissonance. And while I’m sure the challenges will come with time, for now, tudo bem.