The Food! Pt. 2- Ibitinga

Ibitinga

In our little host city Priscilla and I ate very well.… We started with a nice little buffet at the hotel then just about everywhere we visited we had Pon de Queijo of course, juice and coffee. It is a nice way to be welcomed! We also ate a Brazilian staple called pastels often. Pastels are made up of various meats, sometimes vegetables, and cheeses wrapped in a thin pastry. I think this is where somebody got the idea about making Hot Pockets. However, these are way better. I think we ate 10 different variations of these pastels. Of course the meat ones were great but the one with hearts of palm in them were a close second.

Maura also made us homemade feijoada- a stew with black beans, sausage, and meat over rice. It is served with a small salad of greens, hot sauce, and orange slices. It was our first homemade meal and it was nothing short of incredible. Maura prided herself on how she made her feijoada and it became a running joke that the thing we liked best about Brazil was her feijoada. Joking aside, it probably was the best thing we ate.

Most of our lunches were at local all-you-can-eat places that had a little buffet and various meats on swords grilled over open flames… none of these restaurants disappointed.

We also had lunch one afternoon at the famous Modern bakery/deli in Ibitinga. It didn’t disappoint- especially the fried balls/pockets buffet. Perfect food after a long night.

Dinner was very similar to lunch. We did go to a pizza place for dinner one night for all-you-can-eat slices. They have some very interesting types of pizza there. Some were great…some…not. The hot dog pizza with the ketchup sauce and fried potato sticks… well…not so awesome. But it was fun trying it.

We did have a family style lunch at Teco’s house (one of Maura’s best friends and a teacher from Ibitinga). The meal was great- salads, an enchilada style entrée and plenty of interesting side dishes. It was nice to have another home cooked meal. One of the dishes was made by Grandma- it seems there is a universal, worldwide law when it comes to grandma’s cooking- it’s going to be awesome!

The weekend BBQ or churrasco was one of my favorite all time meals. If I could do that every weekend I would be a happy, happy person. There is nothing in the world like meat cooked over an open flame for hours and hours. Maybe it just rings that primal bell deep inside. Every slice was a little slice of heaven! They just kept feeding us and feeding us… It didn’t suck.

I have to say, with all confidence, Brazilian food is wonderful… down to the last heart of palm, fried pastry pocket of meat and cheese, and definitely every slab, hunk, and slice of meat grilled on a sword or over an open fire!

Next- The Final Wrap-Up


The Food! Brasilia

I thought I would pay a little homage to the food in Brazil…it deserves a section all to itself because it was one of the best parts of the trip. From our first day in Brazil the food was amazing. I didn’t know much about Brazilian food outside of going to Fogo de Chao (the Brazilian restaurant), their affinity for cooking meat over flame, and watching Anthony Bourdain’s take on Brazil in one of his episodes. I have to say I was more than pleased with everything I ate! It was meat-centric for sure (not a bad thing) but I saw a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, and salads.

We were treated to a great buffet every morning at the hotel in Brasilia. It had all the familiar offerings but the fruit seemed to taste a little fresher and the coffee had that nice dark bite to it. The culture is juice heavy for sure. They must have had 8 different juices available every morning. The standouts were the cashew juice and the chlorophyll juice. Turns out the cashew nut is just one part of the whole fruit, the ‘nut’ we eat grows out of the bottom of the fruit. Who knew? The fruit is harvested and juiced. The chlorophyll juice was, to the best of my summation, wheat grass juice with a little pineapple thrown in to cut the bitter taste. They were both great.

We had an incredible buffet the first day we were in Brasilia. I don’t think I have seen a better buffet anywhere. They had fresh fruits and vegetables in various preparations-raw, cooked, steamed, marinated, sauced- everything. Various shellfish, charcuterie, bread and cheeses made up the rest of the meal. It was too much to try everything. After the ‘starter’ buffet we had to choose our main meal. We had a choice of steak or pasta. Everyone pretty much agreed that the buffet was better than the meal.

Brazilian coffee is a wonder. Deep, dark, rich… I could just live there and drink coffee all day.

We had more meals for lunch at the hotel and all of them were quite good. I spent time trying things I have never had before and I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t pretty good. Not bad for hotel food! We even had lunch at the public school that was prepared and brought in for us… even that was good! We were on our own for dinner a couple of days and had some good things at local restaurants. Nothing quite matched up to the first buffet we had…

On our last day in Brasilia, we took a trip down to the lake district for lunch after touring private school. Gina took a few of us to a place know for seafood. We had a chili/coconut style seafood stew with rice. It was amazing. It came to the table boiling in earthen clay pots. It reminded me of a stew or gumbo. A couple of us shared the shrimp and fish version. I could eat this every day. We went to a coffee shop for desert. A perfect meal.

Another staple in Brazil were these little fried cheese rolls/balls called Pao de Queijo (pon de kay-joe). They are on the right side of the photo below. We pretty much had them everywhere we went. I think I ate more cheese on this trip than I have in my entire life.


Churrasco Weekend

The weekend was one of the highlights of the trip. We started Saturday morning walking through the weekend swap meet/flea market/craft fair that set up on the streets of Ibitinga around the center of town and the main church. We saw some amazing handcrafted items, some not-so-amazing items and a whole host of things in between. It was really interesting to see all the stuff and people walking around on a Saturday morning.

The rest of the day was even better!

Maura’s friend and fellow teacher, Edison, opened up his vacation house to have weekend party. The place was directly on the river, with a little dock overlooking the water. We were lucky enough to spend both Saturday and Sunday at the house with friends coming and going throughout the weekend. We didn’t stay there because there wasn’t room with all the people, so we left late at night and came back early the next day. Priscilla and I were a little nervous at first because the only person who spoke English was Maura, but soon a few others who spoke English and through broken English and really broken Portuguese we all seemed to communicate and had some real fun. We met some really interesting people throughout the course of the evening and night. This was the kind of culture Priscilla and I were excited about experiencing.

The next morning we met up about mid-morning and went to the store to pick up more supplies for the big barbeque or churrasco. Maura told us that Edison was supposed to be up by 6 am to put the meat on the grill. We figured he didn’t make it… but when we got there the meat was on. We later found out that he did wake up a little later than he wanted to. Again, people came and went- friends stopped by from the city, neighbors came by to say hi… it was so friendly. Eventually the meat and sides were ready and it was time to eat.

I will be dedicating an entire post to the food I ate while I was in Brazil later but I do need to mention that the meat we ate that day was sublime. I don’t know if it was just the meat and the way it was cut, seasoned, and BBQ’ed or it was the place, the people, and the mood. Obviously, it was all of it… the meat-from the burnt ends to the soft, red, rare, center and the multiple cuts were amazing. It was seasoned in a way that I have only experienced there and probably will only taste the same when I am there. Either way it was one of those meals that I will remember forever.

That afternoon, Conrado, a close friend of Maura’s and her neighbor, came over with his guitar and ukulele. We met him earlier in the week at the June party. He speaks perfect English and works for the election board in Ibitinga. We became fast friend earlier in the week and were quite happy to see him that Sunday- plus it was another translator! We spent the afternoon sitting on the dock of the river singing songs with Conrado, talking, and soaking up the perfect weather. It was exactly what Priscilla and I needed after a week of compression.

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The elementary school… the little girl… a question of hope.

Her question left me speechless. I have never been hit with words that have sucked the wind right out of me. I couldn’t even look the little girl in the face to answer. She asked it with that youthful innocence that only a child has. The answer doesn’t even matter because it is the asking of the question that matters. She asked it because she wanted and answer. She asked a question that was loaded with pepper spray and exploded on impact. It left every adult in range red-faced, watery-eyed and sniffling in front of a hundred kids… even the seasoned teachers from the school were casualties.

We started the afternoon by visiting a local elementary school. Maura explained that it was one of the poorest schools in Ibitinga and most of the kid’s parents were homeless, in jail, and/or drug addicts. We put our guards up and walked into the bright cheerful looking school. The students filled the hallways and were escorted outside to a covered pavilion and were seated. Priscilla and I didn’t quite catch what was going on but they had prepared for us a short program to say hi and welcome us.

We were welcomed by the staff and students with a great big “hello” in choral unison. They had prepared a Capoeira demonstration for us by a local master. He was part of an after school and Saturday volunteer program the school was starting and trying to fund. The program helped the students stay in school, learn skills, and ultimately stay off the streets and out of trouble. It had been successful at other schools and they were hoping it would work at this school. We also saw a kid play a song on the guitar that he learned in one of these programs. Apparently, the kid has a pretty rough life and has a learning disability. Since he has been a part of the program his grades have improved and so has his behavior. Music Saves…

Here is part of the Capoeira demonstration- pretty awesome stuff. I remember a really bad movie about this from the 80’s I think.

Here is the kid with the guitar. Awesome song!

After the demonstration the Capoeira master played a stringed instrument used by the sport as the soundtrack while they are moving. It was interesting. He then showed me how to play it… pretty cool. It wasn’t too difficult to get the basics on how to hold it and play it. Although I didn’t make it sound too great, I could see the basic idea.

After the demonstration they gave us a few gifts to take home with us. They had two of their special education children bring us the presents. The little girl that brought mine was partially blind and had a physical deformity. She gave me two kisses on the cheek and thanked me in English- she was very sweet.

I also snapped this picture of a little girl after I got her to smile…

We fielded a handful of questions from the students about life and schools in the US. They wanted to know what we thought of Brazil and the food. They asked their counselor, and Maura’s friend, Mirinha the question and she had Maura translate. Maura had already gotten teary-eyed a couple of times during the visit because she felt so bad for these kids because they didn’t have anyone except the teachers to care for them.

Then the last little girl stepped in line to ask us a question. She was about 10 years old with a little grey uniform dress on and her hair pulled back tightly into a ponytail. She wore very thick glasses and looked at the floor the whole time. When she stepped up to ask Mirihna it took her a second to understand what the girl said in Portuguese. When she looked up and looked directly at us, Maura’s face told us she had heard what the little had asked and she was starting to tear up… Mirinha was also showing signs of feeing the effect of the question.

“What did she ask?” Priscilla said…

I looked at the little girl, staring at the floor and waiting for an answer.

Maura told us in choked up English-

“She wants to know if parents in America like to spend time their children.”

My first thought was Gibson… and how utterly lucky he is and how much I missed him. Priscilla told me later that she thought the same thing.

We answered her because you have to answer a child’s questions- no matter how difficult. We told her that yes, some parents do and some parents do not- just like here in Brazil.

Each trip is a series of memorable moments or chapters, if you prefer, in a travel book that encompasses the entire experience. Some of these experiences burn a little hotter, cut a little deeper, and leave a little scar that helps you remember them when the others fade away. This was one of those moments. It will forever be emblazoned in my mind as a reality of life in this world for some people. I am thankful for it as much as it hurt me to see it.


Victor Maida Part II

Throughout the week we went to various classes throughout the day to see Maura’s students. Schools often have three different times for students to attend. They go for about four hours in the morning, afternoon or evening. They only take core classes- math, science, history, Portuguese (like our English), geography, and a language (usually English or Spanish). Our days would be similar if we didn’t have electives in our schedule. This is the single biggest difference between our system and theirs. Also, most teachers, like Maura, have to work all three shifts to be considered ‘full time’. She works a crazy schedule- some days morning, afternoon, and night, other days just two of the three shifts. Some teachers have to work at multiple schools to get paid like a full time teacher. It seems very complicated. But more on that later…

They had another reception during the week for us as well. This one was for local teachers to attend to see out presentations and ask us questions. We saw some Victor Maida students sing and dance to start the night. They were great! Priscilla and I gave our presentations and answered a lot of questions about America, our school system, Brazil and what similarities and differences we saw. And… of course…FOOD! Always food. Always good food! I met a couple of teachers that night who spoke great English and we had some good conversations about education, politics both in Brazil and America.

Here the students say hello and welcome in English… better than my Portuguese!

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Welcome to Victor Maida

Welcome to Victor Maida

The time we spent at Maura’s Victor Maida Middle and High school was amazing from beginning to end. Her school was our ‘home base’ for the week we were there and the faculty, staff and students helped make Ibitinga a great and memorable experience.

The reception we had the first day from the staff was awesome. They made one of the classrooms into a reception area with food and drinks for us. Priscilla and I got a chance to meet the other teachers and a few students. Only a handful of students were at school that day. They were preparing for what is commonly known as a ‘June Party’. The have them all over the country. They are like mini-fairs/school fundraisers supporting local schools. They dress like simple old-time farmers and have folk music, games, and food. The Victor Maida June Party was to help the seniors fund the prom and graduation. Things are the same all over when it comes to fundraising for senior activities!

Here are some pics of the reception and the June Party.

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Time to Ibitinga!

After a scant 11 hours of travel time, we made it to Ibitinga.

Actually, our flight landed in Ribeirão Preto where we met Maura, our host teacher and her friend Teco, another English teacher in the school. We stayed in Ribeirão Preto for a quick dinner before the hour and a half car ride through sugar cane fields to Ibitinga.

Ibitinga, we read, is the embroidery capital of Brazil. We weren’t sure what that meant exactly but we soon found out. It actually refers to bedding. Ibitinga is the bedding capital of Brazil. It manufactures thousands of styles of sheets, comforters, blankets, towels, and so on for people to buy, resale, export, etc. It is a giant Bed, Bath, and Beyond…On weekends tour buses converge on the city where people from all over the country come to buy in bulk and bring it home to sell.

The industry provides is a stable economy for the city. Between that and the sugar cane and orange juice (we later found out) industry, the city is actually pretty middle class. We saw signs of an up-and-coming city that is building new roads, improving existing infrastructure, beautification projects and new buildings. While the city is predominately lower middle/middle class, we did see the poorer aspects of the city as well as some of the wealthy. It was very interesting because the city is situated by itself and fairly far from any surrounding cities.

Maura drove us to the hotel and and told us we we would meet for breakfast the next morning. She wanted to get started bright and early the next day… It was time to see some schools and learn more about the education system.

Here are some pictures from my hotel window and taken around town-

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