¡Fala boi! Living just 10 blocks from the Uruguay-Brazilian border has exposed me to portuñol – a dialect comprised of a mix of Spanish and Portuguese.
Thanks to students I’ve been able to learn a few phrases, such as the greeting above, used almost exclusively by high school kids to say, “What’s up, dude?”
The variant dialect of Spanish is among many “new” things I have encountered in the city of Rivera, where I will be living until the middle of June, and thanks to an incredibly warm welcome from many people it has started to feel like home.
Per Jamie’s request, I’ll try to include more stories from day to day life. After all, I couldn’t possibly mention (much less explain) all the trivial nuances between life in Uruguay and life in the Midwest, but hopefully by sharing anecdotes I’ll be able to convey that as people we are far more similar than we are different.
Uruguayans have been extremely generous in helping me get accustomed and find my way around. For example, one of my first solo Uber rides in Montevideo involved the driver parking his vehicle and walking me to the door of the apartment building I sought. Despite knowing full well he would likely never see me again, the man was quick to make conversation during our brief ride across town and was both enthusiastic and proud to hear that I had chosen Uruguay to be my home for the coming months. He offered me maps and tourism brochures representing nearly every city and attraction in Uruguay, and was extremely genuine as he wished me well and sent me on my way.
Last Saturday, accompanied by my hosts, Sandra and Daniel, and their sons, Diego (23) and Guillermo (19), I made the trek north from Montevideo to Rivera. The drive lasted about five-and-a-half hours and although the landscape outside the car window consisted exclusively of countryside, it was really very pretty. 500 kilometers of rolling hills and expansive plateaus – cerros – offered spectacular views. Think more Ireland, not Iowa.
Together, the city of Rivera and its’ Brazilian neighbor across the street – Santana do Livramento – house a population of roughly 200,000 people, although much like the Midwest you’re never more than 10 minutes from a cow pasture. Diego and Guillermo kindly took me around to various places in and around the city and one afternoon we ran into traffic, although not the type of traffic I had expected…
Reminder: There are over 12 million cows in Uruguay.
During my first week I took advantage of free time by walking, running and biking all over the city, and for the most part I’m able to navigate and get most anywhere I need to go. Hopefully the images below in the slideshow will give you a sense of what the city looks like!
To date I have visited six of the city’s eight public high schools, as well as CeRP del Norte, which might best described as a training center for future teachers. My first few days of “work” in Rivera were devoted to meeting and sharing information with local English teachers. Since then I’ve given about a dozen presentations to students, explaining who I am, where I am from, what my family is like, what I like to do for fun, etc. as well as answer questions the students have about the United States.
I have very much enjoyed these presentations as the students are ecstatic to have a living, breathing, blonde-haired, blue-eyed gringo in their school. Many of the high school students have never seen, much less spoken with, a US American and for this I get asked tons and tons of questions, but it’s really fun for me to see their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. The topics they seem to most enjoy discussing and asking about include: typical foods (bratwurst, cheese curds, American breakfasts, apple pie), music (country music, Bieber, Taylor Swift, Eminem, Tupac), winter (snow, temperatures, ice fishing, snowboarding), sports (football, baseball and hockey especially), and Donald Trump.
Next week I will be able to share more information about what the school system is like, as it contrasts significantly to what we are accustomed to in the United States. However, at the end of the day, students are students everywhere… Many are actively listening, a handful are disruptive, and some would just rather sleep. I’m very much looking forward to getting engaged in more projects and lessons as the curriculum ramps up following Holy Week, which offers a full week’s vacation for students and staff.
To celebrate my first week in Rivera, Sandra and Daniel graciously hosted a chorizada on Friday night, in which several students and faculty from CeRP came by to welcome me and we enjoyed what we could call “grilling out” with chorizo and some Uruguayan brews.
Every Sunday, Uruguayan families get together for asado, meat prepared in la parrilla. Similar to what we would call a barbecue, every family contributes something and we just hang and chat all afternoon. Sandra’s mother (87) and father (91) – married 68 years – host every weekend, and as Sandra is one of 9 children there are always people coming and going. In total, there are 28 grandchildren, 3 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. It was truly remarkable to see three year-old Ciro interact with his ninety-one year-old great-great grandpa at the table. 5 generations. Pretty amazing.
I am in a very fortunate situation: con muy buena gente, one might say. I have already met over a hundred people easily and continue to learn more and more everyday. Having said that, I’ve had more trouble communicating in Spanish than in previous experiences. I’m easily understood, although at times I have difficulty understanding others due to the regional variation of Spanish.
This is very humbling.
A former Fulbright Uruguay ETA, Kimberly Collins, said it best during our orientation in Montevideo: In your second language, you’re just not as quick and as a result you are not quite as intelligent, not quite as funny, and just can’t add as much value to a conversation. I would definitely say that I’ve turned a corner and feel far more comfortable with Uruguayan Spanish than I did when I arrived two weeks ago, but I definitely relate to what Kimberly shared with us.
Fortunately I am in a good place with great people who have helped me along the way: inviting me to go places, telling me stories, repeating said story multiple times, even offering to accompany me on a trip to the grocery store or school as I was learning to navigate the city on my own. Upon meeting people for the first time and explaining my purpose for being in their city, many conclude their welcome messages with a simple phrase: a las ordenes – at your service.
In this sense, traveling serves as a good reminder that there are people doing good in all corners of the world. For the moment, I’m fortunate to get to meet and work alongside many people of this type in Rivera, Uruguay.
That’s all for now! I’ll leave you with a video that shows a second out-of-the-ordinary traffic jam that occurred in downtown Rivera when a group of candombe drummers took to the streets last Sunday night. Why? Why, not?