As I mentioned in my previous article, I am currently living in Cascavel in the state of Paraná. Going from the North-East to the South meant a huge change.
Not only are the prices much higher and the buildings very modern and new (Cascavel is only about 70 years old), reminding me of e.g. Australian Queensland, but also the people are different, starting with their looks which are much more European as the settlers coming in were not only Portuguese but also German, Austrian and Italian for instance. Arriving during the 19th century European Immigration wave, the diversified ethnicities had a huge influence on the demographics and culture of the area. Currently, the main ethnic origins of Southern Brazil – except for the already mentioned ones – are Luxembourger, Polish, Ukrainian, Spaniard, Dutch and Russian. This obviously means that it is not uncommon to see a blond-haired and blue-eyed population. The fashion and the goods in the shop seem very much Westernized too.
Thanks to all this and the proximity of the wonderful Iguazu Falls (about a two-hour drive from Cascavel) and the borders with other states of touristic interest (Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay), the whole region and mainly the state of Paraná is an economic pole. Despite the high standard of living and safety, the unemployment rate in the region is medium to high. So you still get to see poor people and poorer neighbourhoods around here.
The region though is considered the safest in Brazil to visit, having a lower crime rate than other regions in the country. I must admit I do feel safe here and this is probably the only area in Brazil where I was willing to try out public transport.
Many would claim that Paraná (namely Cascavel) is the cultural and artistic hub, but I am not so sure about that. Even though there are some concerts and performances happening and street art is quite a thing here, I am missing a connection with history. A certain degree of haughtiness is undoubtedly present rather than the genuine simplicity of e.g. the North-East. People from here often mock the North for its poverty and crime and simplicity and describe Rio de Janeiro as the most dangerous place in the world, with snatchers, muggers, gangs and lost bullets.
I find it hard to generate genuine affiliation with the modern town of Cascavel which was created in the first half of the 20th century. People come here to study and earn money. There is a feeling of general uprootedness and identity crisis which I cannot shake off.
I am here to fulfil my dream of seeing the Iguazu Falls. This trip will be kindly organized for me by the university where I am volunteering in exchange for bed and food. Univel is a private university, very well-equipped and modern. It applies the American standard of general friendliness among teachers and students rather than ranking and dividing. I must say I like that and enjoy the fact that students would come to me after a class to talk and take selfies and ask for my social media contacts. What I do not enjoy so much is the fact that many lectures and seminars start at 7pm (so that even full-time working students get a chance to study) and finish around 10:30pm. That is crazy timing for me as it is normally my bedtime.
I sleep long in the mornings then and my days thus seem short, especially when I spend hours preparing and doing research for my lectures. I have been lecturing on my favourite subjects and themes such as Aesthetics and the Impermanent Ideal of Feminine Beauty throughout history, on Gastro Photography and on Travelling in connection with journalistic, photographic, writing, artistic and IT skills.
All my lectures are always being translated as not many students would speak English well. I was told that the quality of English teaching at primary and secondary level is not very good as the number of students in the classes can reach up to 50 people. In the Czech Rep. a half of that would be considered way too many and a language class would usually sit max. 10 – 12 students. Also, the learning approach here, just like e.g. in France, is receptive rather than communicative, unlike my country of origin where students are being engaged to speak. The students here whose English is good would usually admit they have been taking private classes or spent some time living abroad.
The staff of the university is very kind and treats me with admiring respect which is almost surprising for me sometimes… I get to feel like a movie star. This feeling multiplied as I was interviewed at a radio laboratory (stunningly well-equipped) of the university by the students of journalism who had done some amazing research on me online and whose approach and questioning were often very professional. Funny enough, a day after this interview I was invited to a proper radio station called Radio Capital FM 102.7 as a guest on a talk-show with two presenters, Giovani and Adriana.
I stayed for two hours with them and we had many laughs when talking about the topic of sexy chubby Brazilian men. Apparently, many listeners of this Cascavel-based regional station (there are about 28 000 per minute I was told) would agree that it is sexy for a man to be a little chubby – oh well – each to their own.
My host, whose bedroom I am occupying, is a 27-year-old professor of Photography called Kassia. She is a gem. As a well-read and curious person she inspired me with many of her opinions. As she is a lesbian, we also got to talk on the theme of homosexuality in Brazil. Kassia lives in a house with her grandma, mum and uncle, none of whom speak English… I am grateful for Google Translator without which I would not have been able to experience any conversation with them.
I hope for Kassia to make her own dream of travelling come true someday soon and for her friend Marcelo, an extremely smart Northerner with African roots, to make his way to study in Portugal soon.
Climate, Architecture, Food and Such
It has been terribly rainy since I arrived to Cascavel, but luckily not too cold. Every time I drive around the hummingbird statue (in Portguese they call the bird beija-flor, “flower kisser”) at Avenida Brasil in the centre of Cascavel city, I get a sad smile on my face thinking that it probably is pretty common for this agricultural area of Paraná to have hummingbirds here then, but I will not get to see one here due to the rains… I did see a beautiful one in the North-East though, right at the property of my friend, so hopefully that one shall bring me good luck as they believe here.
My favourite building in Cascavel is (except for the university building of Univel, but that could be biased, of course, though I must say it is architectonically quite interesting and the sunsets there are stunning, something that we have agreed on with amazing artist Antonio Carlos Machado who is a legend here) the church of Nossa Senhora Aparecida which is simple, modern, yet has a special charm.
In my free time, if I am not chilling out at the lake (observing the huge capybaras or doing yoga there) or taking a late drink with my host and her friends (drinking the famous beer types such as Skol, Brahma – yes, they named a beer after the divine essence of the universe – and Devassa) and eating peanuts and BBQ-d chicken bits, I am browsing around the city in search of cool street art murals and getting acquainted with some local food such as barreado, a Brazilian carnival dish which became an icon in this region.
It is basically a mixture of stewed beef, cooked in a clay pot for over 12 hours with bacon, bay leaves, and spices, served with manioc gravy, rice, and sliced bananas. Barreado’s genesis was as a dish that could be prepared easily and cooked slowly while people attended Carnival festivities (and it tastes really well when re-heated too).
Then there is arroz com feijão, rice with beans, and pastel de queijo, delicious pastry with cheese or shrimps. And then of course there is the amazing pudding made from condensed milk: pudim de leite condensado. That is something one can never forget!
The Weirdest Bathroom Electricity Work and How Pipi Got a Life
Now, electricity work in the bathrooms here (by here I mean Brazil in general) is shocking! There are open, uncovered wires running on top of the shower sprinkler! I know it is a fixed standing one but you do touch it in some places to change hot water for cold and vice versa! And generally, come on, uncovered wires in a bathroom? On top of a shower stand? Mamma Mia…
I really learn to appreciate my life and what I have on my travels… and my country too. I mean, our electricity work is pretty safe, we can throw toilet paper into the toilet, and we can drink water from the tap. It is pretty common to have a dishwasher, in many families even a tumble dryer. All these things make life so easy… Funny how we take them for granted, not realizing that a half of the world, most countries in Asia, South America and Africa, would consider them luxurious…
I appreciate that my travels help me realize what I have in my life. A loving family and amazing friends all around the world. The kindness of strangers who host me via volunteering or couchsurfing, giving me their bed and food – unconditionally. The comfort of a very civilized, peaceful home country which allows me to come and go as I wish and to receive a non-paid visa on arrival in many other countries of the world.
I have recently learned a phrase: Gentileza gera gentileza – kindness breeds kindness. I believe in that strongly and funny enough, just as I was thinking about this phrase the other day, or rather the other night, while walking to a bar with my friends to get a glass of beer after my successful presentation about Travelling to almost 300 students and teachers, I saw something yellow lying on the pavement, covered in plastic. I thought it was a bird which got stuck in a plastic bag – which was not a completely wrong thought as it was a plush chicken which runs on flywheel sealed in a plastic covering.
I picked it up, not knowing what I was about to do with it. As we were sitting and drinking a story came to my mind of this chicken that was created as a unisex toy in a factory. No name, no chance of a proper life, just a prefabricated something. And then I thought: what if this toy had a dream too like we all have? Maybe a dream to travel the world? Which was the reason why I found her or she (yes, a she, as I gave her a Czech female chicken name – Pipi) found me? Thus the story of Pipi was born…