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October 21, 2004

Quinta


I just had a very filling lunch with my friend Paulo, the guy who hands out adverstisements for CrediMatone on the corner by my bus stop–filling philosophically, culturally, and, well, literally!  We went to lunch at one of Porto Alegre’s arabic restaurants, Al Nuhr, since Pablo’s father is an immigrant from Qatar.  I ate a delicious dish of eggplant, peanuts, and spices soaked in olive oil, as well as kibe, a falafel-like food with ground beef cooked into the center.  Paulo’s always enthusiastic to share his culture with me–both his southern Brazilian gaúcho culture and his arabic culture.  Before he ate, he showed me how he lifts his plate and says a short grace (in arabic) before every meal to thank God for his food. 


During lunch, we talked a lot about politics since the race for the mayorship of Porto Alegre is as close a race as ours is for the presidency.  The PT, the Worker’s Party that is so famous for its successes in participatory democracy here in Porto Alegre, is at somewhat of a crossroads.  A lot of people, including Paulo, think that the PT has strayed from its original audacity and become too much like any other political party.  He said it’s going to pain him to do so, but he is going to vote for the non-PT candidate on October 31 because he feels that the PT needs to lose in order to do some soul searching and find its roots again. 


As our conversation progressed into other issues enmeshed in politics, namely poverty, I found in Paulo another friend committed to social justice.  He explained that his religion, Islã (Islam), calls on him to be humble and to share his bounty with others in need, to never eat while watching someone else go hungry.  I told him about how I had purchased a strawberry tart for a street kid at the park on Sunday because I had realized that although I didn’t have any “extra” money with me (the money in my pocket was intended to buy gifts for people back home), in reality all of the money in my pocket was essentially extra since it was beyond what I needed to keep myself fed, clothed, housed, and educated.  We talked about how simple the solution to the problem of poverty (and consequently, the solution to many other problems) is–to share our extras with each other–but that the difficult part is convincing people that that’s all there is to it.  As Paulo mentioned, Brazil is a bountiful country, full of natural resources and biodiversity; no one here should be poor, and everbody could have extras if only the wealth were distributed more evenly.  But it’s not only up to the government to distribute it–it’s up to us to do so if the government isn’t playing its part.


Another interesting thing that Paulo said is that he originally initiated contact with me because he owes a debt to the United States.  Allow me to explain.  He said that before he began following Islã, he used to hate the United States.  He thought it was the root of so many problems.  But once he found Islã, he learned that he should not hate, only love–that hatred is a dangerous, damaging emotion not only to those who are hated, but to those who hate.  Não adianta–it doesn’t get anyone anywhere.  So because he had directed hatred towards the United States in the past, he felt that he had to make up for his misgiving by reaching out to an American.  And I’m glad he did because it’s been great to get to know him and hear his perspectives!  Haha, he also took his debt literally and insisted that he pay for my lunch.  I couldn’t convince him otherwise, so I told him that now he could consider his debt completely paid and that next time we eat lunch I’ll pay (we’re going to go out for Chinese next week since I haven’t eaten Brazilian Chinese food yet.  I hear it’s quite different from U.S. Chinese food).


It seems like I’m learning about Porto Alegre and portoalegrenses at an exponential rate now, and that my Portuguese is improving in leaps and bounds, as I’ve finally taken the time to sit down with my grammar books and study them, not just consult them every so often when I have a question.  Now that I’m actually studying Portuguese every night, I’m able to retain so much more than when I just listen to it, as I was doing before, assuming that I’d somehow acquire it magically through osmosis (which doesn’t work:  don’t assume that just by being in a country for four or five months you’ll become fluent in the language.  The other three americanos here with me are proof of that–I don’t think that either of them can yet form a complete sentence in Portuguese).


So all is well for me in the Happy Port.  I hope all is well for you, too, wherever you are.  Don’t forget to drop me a note every once in awhile so I can keep tabs on your busy lives, too


Note to mom (and Paul):  I’m not putting myself in any compromising situations with Paulo, even though I would never feel endangered being around him.  We always converse in very public places, and he knows I have a boyfriend, so he’s not “after” something.  He’s just a nice guy who, understandably (since he stands at a street corner all day), likes to strike up conversation with the people passing by!  And since he has a two-hour lunch break every day but lives too far away from his work to go home during lunch, it’s nice to be able to accompany him for lunch at a nearby restaurant and learn about his culture(s) while he, in exchange, repays his debt!

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