How is Brazil different to the UK? Showers, fans and oranges are just some of the many ways that my wife, Roz, and I have noticed in the first three weeks of our six months’ volunteering for ReVive International in Olinda. Here are some of the differences we have found, even if we are getting used to them.
Being Spring in Brazil we’ve barely experienced any of the showers that are all-too-common in the UK. However, we’ve been regularly refreshed by the variety that people wash under on both sides of the Atlantic. Showering in Brazil isn’t just about keeping clean; it’s about keeping cool. It doesn’t matter that most showers in Brazil don’t have a temperature control. Their cool water is a wonderful tonic to the heat, particularly before bedtime when it can be key to getting to sleep.
There are two temperatures in Olinda during Spring: hot and really hot! From 7am to 4pm the sun is extremely strong. We found out to our cost when having lunch under a parasol on a beach. Although we were in the shade throughout, we were burnt by the reflection of the sun on the water. Happily, once the sun goes down the temperature becomes pleasant, aided by the sea breeze, although information boards on the sea front still show figures of around 30 degrees Celsius. I’ve only just been brave enough to join the local joggers on the sea front in the late afternoon. A cool shower afterwards was essential.
In the time that we’ve been here I’ve not worn a jumper or trousers. I’ve not once felt remotely cold. The only time I’ve worn socks is to go walking, jogging or play football. The rest of the time sandals or flip-flops suffice.
There are plenty of football fans in both countries, but it’s the electric variety that we have warmed to most. Without one in our room at the ReVive house, we would struggle to sleep at night as the windows have to be shut to keep mosquitoes away. We are soon to move into a nearby flat with Becky, ReVive’s Volunteer Coordinator. Between us we have bought three fans for the flat.
We feel safe here but it pays to be streetwise, so taking more money and valuables than necessary when out and about is a ‘no-no’. It means the lovely wallet my parents-in-law bought me for my birthday in September has been replaced by a money belt that I wear around my waist and under my clothes. Don’t worry Chrissie and Dave, I’m keeping the wallet safe for when Roz and I are back in the UK!
Pace of life
We certainly think it a positive that the pace of life in Brazil is slower than in the UK, with the possible exception of cars and the public buses that hurtle us to and from Portuguese school. Outside of vehicles, Brazilians rarely seem in a hurry and are surprisingly happy to queue. Perhaps more so than us, when we spent around 15 minutes in a ‘15 items or less’ supermarket queue of half-a-dozen people. It wouldn’t happen at home.
Not only do hasty motorists in Brazil regularly beep their horns, there are all sorts of other noises in public. Fireworks go off a lot, even in the day, and street vendors, many riding bicycles, announce themselves by blowing whistles as they go along the streets. And if you want to advertise your product, what better way than putting a large speaker on top of a vehicle and driving through the streets blasting out what you have to offer?
Those of a certain age will remember the department store C&A that closed in the UK around 15 years ago. Well C&A, with the same logo of old, still operates in Brazil. Indeed, Roz bought a pair of shorts from one of two branches we have so far seen.
More vibrant even than C&A’s logo are the colours of plants, buildings and many other things in Brazil. Nourished by the rich sunlight, many plants brighten often dirty streets. Buildings are painted brightly (the ReVive house is blue and mainly yellow), particularly the gorgeous colonial houses of Old Olinda.
Much Brazilian food is colourful too, and not always in the way you would expect. My favourite example is that you can buy oranges with green skin, although they are a familiar orange colour inside. I’ve been enjoying these, along with the much other flavoursome fruit.