Do you know how strong Brazilian coffee is? It’s absolutely wonderful. (Dad, if you’re reading this, don’t worry; I already bought some to take home for ya ?). Because it’s so strong, they drink it out of the most adorable little cups you’ve ever seen. Being a silly American, I figured I’d drink multiple cups to make up for the size difference, and ended up consuming about three times the normal intake of this deliciously “forte” beverage. Perhaps this explains my excessive energy…
In actuality, it’s very necessary that I consumed high concentrations of caffeine for all the physical activities in which we’re participating. During this trip, we have had the opportunity to do touristy things, participate as students at the Universidade Metodista de São Paulo (UMESP) and immerse ourselves into actual Brazilian life with our host families (this is my personal favorite ?). Believe it or not, going to the gym with my host sister Luana was one such cultural experience. First of all, it was a new enough experience for me to be at a gym, let alone one where working out was more of an enjoyable, social activity than one we begrudgingly try to cram into our busy schedules. Walking in, there was a café where healthy snacks were individually made, a Pilates room, a Zumba section, a plethora of training equipment, and a fleet of incredibly buff personal trainers. It was one thing for Emerson, a huge, jacked man to be instructing me about muscles I didn’t even know existed, but the issue was exacerbated by the fact that neither of us could speak the other’s language. There were many confused, blank stares and some hilarious body and hand motions. I just kept giggling while he was telling me how to breathe and to act like its yoga and to work my “glùteos.” Eventually I won him over, he cracked a smile, and we became amigos. The other gym members laughed at the unique relationship between the silly American who was a little too giddy for the circumstances and her tough trainer who had a wonderful sense of humor.
The same day, we were afforded the opportunity to participate in a traditional Brazilian activity, capoeira. This art involves fighting and dancing, as it originated with African slaves needing to disguise a method of defending themselves with dance, as they were prohibited from learning to fight. It combines so much more than solely dancing and fighting, in that it exercises ones mind, spirit, emotions, balance, and cooperative skills. Eduardo, our Master, utilizes his skills by working with children with developmental disabilities. Our capoeira session began with a story time of the history of the art. Eduardo described it like this: “Africa impregnated capoeira, but it was born in Brazil.” In his lesson, he made sure to emphasize just how instrumental the African culture was in not only shaping capoeira, but shaping Brazilian culture as well. He finished the chat by discussing the importance of rhythm from the music and from our bodies, and expressing ourselves to our partners as if we were having a conversation with our movements. Our Masters insisted we make our own rhythms, but after hearing our attempts concluded we should stick to our day jobs.
We put this social art to practice by first stretching. Now when I saw stretching, you’re most likely imagining each person bending down to touch their toes and maybe following up with some arm circles. Think again. All of our sweaty, gloriously-smelling bodies were pressed against each other as we wrapped our arms around each other in a circle and bent, swung, extended (and sometimes squealed) in harmony with the music and in unison with one another. I had never before had someone stretch my neck for me, but I assure you it was wonderful.
After we were all limbered up, the real fun began. We split into two’s to exercise some new capoeira moves. I would love to say we were striving to imitate our Master’s incredible demonstration, but in reality we were trying our absolute hardest not to kick each other in the face. We did so with moderate success.
Eduardo kissed us goodbye and requested we take this wonderful experience of Afro-Brazilian culture from South to North. We intend to, so if you’re ever in the mood for insight into this truly beautiful expression of the body and maybe a kick to the head, you know who to call.
Editor’s note: Kirsten was not harmed by this kick. She may have been kicked previously by a professor who will go nameless. However, she in turn kicked that professor.