Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Snooping around

Yesterday marked the third time that I was walking from my shower to my bedroom and I encountered a woman unexpectedly in my in my hallway. The first time was a woman that I’d never seen before and haven’t seen since, the second was my landlady’s mom (whose name I really need to learn), and yesterday was my landlady, Margarida. I would expect a woman who encountered a man in a towel in a house that she didn’t live in to react by saying something like, “Oh my goodness, I’m sorry!” and promptly leave. However, they usually go something like this: “Oh hi, Ben! How are you? How was your trip? Boy, the weather’s sure getting warm, isn’t it?” Yesterday I responded enough to not seem rude, but got away from the situation as quickly as I could quite puzzled by the fact that I had felt super-awkward while Margarida didn’t seem to care that I was nearly naked.

I was explaining this to Ana at school yesterday and she thought it was way weird that Margarida and her mom were in the apartment so much. I explained to Ana that there is a bodega in the hallway. She responded by saying, “They store wine in your apartment?” Silly me, I thought bodega meant storage room, but it actually means wine cellar, apparently. I then explained to Ana that my apartment has four bedrooms and four tenants. I originally thought that each of us had our own room, but I have since learned that Hugo and Paulo are gay and share a room. That leaves one extra and unexplained bedroom. Maybe they have two storage rooms, but that seemed like a bit much. Ana told me that I should sneak into the room to see what’s in there. I didn’t really want to because it’s not my room, but she insisted that I live in the apartment and deserve to know what’s in there.

Today, when I was home alone, I decided to find out what was in the mystery room. I turned the knob expecting it to be locked, but it wasn’t. For those of you who haven’t seen my apartment, it’s a little old. I wouldn’t call it rundown, it just has a lot of character. Everything in it (except for the Ikea lampshades) is old and all the walls could use some paint. When I opened up the door to the mystery room I was greeted by a room that looked brand new. It has new flooring, new cabinets, and a nice coat of paint. In the middle of the room is a massage table covered in a nice white sheet. I was more than a little surprised because a massage parlor was the exact opposite of the dusty furniture filled room that I had expected to find there. I snooped around a bit and saw oils and a robe and all the stuff I’d imagine a massage parlor to have.

As I was snooping around I remembered a conversation I had with Margarida when I moved in. I asked her what she did for a living and she told me that she’s a massage therapist and wants to take classes learn to do people’s nails and stuff like that as well. Being a massage therapist is all well and good, I just hadn’t expected her massage parlor to be in my house. But now I know why they come over so much and I assume that the girl I saw that one day who I didn’t recognize was probably just a client. From now on I’ll just get dressed in the bathroom. I should snoop around some more and see what else I can find.

P.S. I went to Coimbra over the weekend and Sintra on Monday. I’ll upload pictures and stories later.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Fairy Godmother

Before I left for Lagos to meet up with Ariel and Ashlee my landlord’s mom told me that she would be cleaning my room on Tuesday. I told her that I would be gone and that my bedroom door would be lock. She said that that wouldn’t be a problem since there are extra keys to everyone’s bedrooms in a drawer in the hallway. I considered explaining to her how keeping an extra copy of everyone’s bedroom key in the hallway completely defeated the purpose of locking our doors, but I decided not to.

When I opened my bedroom door upon my return on Wednesday night not only was my bed made with clean sheets and the floor swept, but there were a lot of unexpected surprises. For example, I keep my loose change in a pile on my desk. What had appeared when I returned? A coin dish filled with all my coins. I keep a mug in my room for drinking water. What had appeared when I returned? Not only was my mug still there, but an extra glass was on my desk, too and they were both placed on nice little saucers. I read a lot in my chair and somehow grandma knew that. What had appeared when I returned? A little table to set my books on and a reading light. I don’t have a drawer to keep my socks in so I just put them in a pile on a shelf. What had appeared when I returned? A shoebox covered in puppy wrapping paper filled with my socks. And not only that, but she lined my shelves with Lightning McQueen wrapping paper.

After finding all these new things that I hadn’t even realized I wanted, I had a thought. I had hung up a few shirts that needed to be ironed that I planned on ironing in the future, but hadn’t yet. I opened up my closet to find that they were all ironed. What a pleasant surprise. However, my pillow case was oddly absent and after a lot of searching I decided that it wasn’t in my room. It didn’t return until the following day. All of this was nice and all, but I was still a little weirded out that grandma had gone through so much of my stuff. Still, none of it is missing and my room has never been tidier. I came home tonight and there was a new dresser and a new bookshelf in my room. I can’t imagine what will turn up next.

On a completely different note, I’d like to explain my biggest Portuguese blunder so far. The problem with my learning Portuguese is that there are so many Portuguese words similar to Spanish words so when I don’t know a word I just throw in the Spanish word. It often works, but sometimes doesn’t. Last week I was explaining to Ana how I love to read in the parks around town, but that the pigeons there bother me while I read. The word for to bother in Spanish is molestar, but it can also mean to molest someone. However, in Portuguese, the verb molestar only has the sexual meaning while the verb irritar means to bother. So I told Ana that the pigeons were molesting me in the park and her confused expression informed me that I had done something wrong. I won’t make that mistake again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I remember very clearly the first time I met Ashlee and Ariel. I met Ariel the first day of Spanish syntax class. At the time, if you had told me that we’d become super-good friends I would have said you were crazy. Who would have thought that I’d become friends with a 19 year old who takes syntax classes for fun? I met Ashlee around the same time in an Old Testament class. We were both going to audit the class, but neither of us ended up going much. In short, the three of us are great friends. I’ve had almost all of my class with them for a over a year and we share an office together and seeing them again has been great.

We met up on Monday in Lagos on the southern coast of Portugal. I got there a day early and did a lot of reading. Once we met up we made lots of linguistic jokes that few people would understand and fewer people would laugh at, but we did. The best part of the trip was the swimming. Lagos has some awesome sea cliffs and we went swimming around the cliffs and under arches and a man driving a boat blew a conch shell at us and it was spectacular. Definitely the coolest thing I’ve done in Portugal so far and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I wish I had had a waterproof camera so you could see what I saw.

After swimming we went on walk along the cliff ridge. We thought it was going to be a leisurely walk, but it ended up being more of a hike and we were pretty tired at the end. We walked down this long staircase to the sea and there was a sign advertising grotto tours in four languages. Apparently the way to say “grotto tour” in German is Grottenfahrt. That has become our new favorite word of the trip. That, and the fact that I say “kabab” like a British person and they say it the “right” way. The timer on my camera was a little quicker than Ariel.

This morning there wasn’t time to go swimming so we just wandered around town. All the sights cost money and we didn’t feel like paying because nothing was interesting enough to warrant payment. But we did get a funny picture outside of the slave museum.

All in all, I’m so glad that Ashlee and Ariel are here and I’m glad that we have even more Portuguese adventures planned for the rest of the week in Lisbon and Braga.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ana Margarida

I don’t have a picture of Ana Margarida yet, but I’ll post one when I get one. She’s my teacher and she’s so awesome. One of the requirements of the scholarship from the Department of Education that I got was that I attend 140 hours of language classes this summer. The program I’m attending is only 80 hours long and begins in July. To complete the 140 hours requirement I arranged to take 60 hours of private lessons from the university. The university charges 27 euros an hour for the lessons which is far more than a normal person would ever want to pay, but the Department of Education agreed to pay it.

While I was worried about finding a place to live in Portugal and not being able to talk to people, the thing that worried me the most was spending 60 hours one on one with someone that I didn’t like. When I first met Ana Margarida I was immediately put at ease. Not only is she kind and funny, but she is a fantastic language teacher. I know lots of language teachers and I would say that she’s just as good as a Leigh Cherry or a Rob Martinsen which is really saying something. We do a lot of different activities to break up the day and it’s a blast. We start out every class with me telling her what I did the previous day and asking questions about things that I didn’t understand. Like, “Is it normal for my landlady’s mom to do my laundry?” or, “My waiter didn’t bring me my check for 40 minutes. What’s up with that?” We usually end up chatting and laughing for the first 30 minutes of class before we get to any real work.

On the first day of class I was a little jetlagged and started to get really tired after three hours of class. She asked me if I wanted to end early and I did. I said, “I’m sorry, but five hours is just such a long time,” and she said simply, “Yes it is.” The next day I told her how relieved I was when I met her because she was so fun and such a good teacher. She confessed that she was relieved when she met me, too. You see, she didn’t realize that I had a scholarship that was paying for the private lessons. She thought I was some uppity American that was willing to pay 27 euros an hour for private lessons and she was worried that I would complain if we didn’t have five hours of perfect language instruction. She was incredibly relieved to learn that I didn’t want to be there for five hours either and that I was just filling a requirement and we’re both glad to have a laidback atmosphere. So since we have to be together for five hours a day, we’re going to start sightseeing together next week and I’m super-pumped. I’m so glad she’s my teacher.

I really enjoy how we just chat in Portuguese every day. I’ve shown her pictures of my family and she’s shown me pictures of hers. On the second day of class we were talking about how I learned Spanish and I told her that I was a missionary in Mexico. She was surprised to learn I was Mormon because she thought Mormons lived in isolated communities without electricity and wore bonnets. She’d never met a Mormon before and didn’t even know that there were Mormons in Portugal. She asked me what the Book of Mormon was and, in Portuguese, I explained how it was written during the same time as the Bible, but in the Americas, how it was written on gold paper, how Moroni buried it in the ground and Joseph Smith took it out of the ground and rewrote it in English (those are the actual words I used because I didn’t know words like “plates” and “translate”). My vocabulary was really limited and it took so much effort to say it. Ana could tell that it had been difficult for me to explain everything in Portuguese and when I was finished we looked at each other and in unison we each took a deep breath and leaned back into our chairs.

Reflecting on this experience, I realized just how long it’s been since I’ve told someone about the Book of Mormon and how much I miss doing that. And I left out so many important details like Christ’s visit to the America’s and the First Vision and just the fact that the Book of Mormon has changed my life. I’ve spent the last two years at BYU where I go most days without ever even seeing someone who isn’t LDS. And now here I am, on the other side of the world, and my only friend is someone who’s never met a Mormon before. I’m glad to be here and I’m glad to be in a place where I’m reminded that I don’t live my religion just because everyone else is, but because I want to. I hope I get the opportunity to explain to Ana the important parts that I left out of the Book of Mormon because I didn’t do the book justice. And I also want to explain the Joseph Smith story because if she’s heard of Joseph Smith, she’s probably just heard a lot of incorrect and negative information. As much as I love the safety of BYU, I love being able to teach people, too and I’ve missed that.

Here’s a story that I had to write for class. I had to use some vocabulary words (try and guess which ones). And, of course, the original version is in Portuguese. As I read the story to Ana there were a few times that we were laughing so hard that I had to stop reading. That’s how we spend most of class—laughing.

Once upon a time a girl wanted to be the Queen of Spain. The problem was that she was from Portugal so she couldn’t be the Queen of Spain unless she married the Prince of Spain. She didn’t like him very much because he was ugly and a bookworm. But she had a goal so it was all good. She went and talked with the Prince and he liked her and asked her to marry him. She thought and realized that he was so ugly that she couldn’t marry him. But she didn’t want to give up on her goal so she said to him, “Wait one minute,” and she went outside. She went looking for a miracle. She found a beehive and asked, “Is there anyone there that can give me a miracle?” but no one responded. Then she ran into an anthill and asked the same question. An ant came out and said to her, “I can grant wishes.” She replied, “Very good, magic ant. I want you to make me blind so that I never have to look at the Prince.” And so it was and she never looked at the Prince again, but she married him and they lived happily ever after.

And lastly, here of some pictures of the places I studied today. Since it was Saturday I went all over the city and read for an hour and then went to a new place. The first picture is my failed attempt to stage a picture. I doubt I'm the first person to forget to set the timer on my camera.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fitting in

I felt very out of place when I first got to Lisbon, but now that I’ve been here for a few days I’m starting to feel more like I fit in. However, I can’t escape the fact that I stick out like a sore thumb. I was talking with Margarida, my teacher, today saying that I was getting frustrated with so many random people walking up to me and speaking to me in English. Do I look so American that people can tell my nationality just by looking at me? Apparently I do. I told Margarida that I’ve seen people here just as tall as me, just as white as me, with my same hair color, and with blue eyes. She responded, “Yes, Benjamin, there are tall people in Portugal, and fair skinned people in Portugal, and people with brown hair in Portugal, and people with blue eyes in Portugal, but you’re the ONLY person in the whole country that has all four traits together.” I’ve been paying more attention and she appears to be correct.

Lately when I’ve looked at myself in the mirror I’ve thought, “Whoa, I am tall and my limbs are so unnaturally long.” I’ve gotten so used to seeing mostly short people that seeing a tall person like myself reminds me of looking at giraffe. I remember when I was on my mission and I was getting ready in the morning one day and noticed how blue my eyes were. I was so used to seeing dark brown eyes that seeing how blue my own eyes were was kind of surprising.

Yesterday I finally got my metro pass and I’ve been using the metro like crazy now that I don’t have to pay for each individual ride. I’ve gotten off at random stations and walked around just to see a different part of the city. It’s particularly fun because Lisbon is such a diverse city that I’ll walk out of the metro at one station and I’ll be at a super-modern mall and at another station I’ll be surrounded by crumbling buildings older than the US. It’s fun to be able to do that. But this is the main reason I like my metro pass—it makes me feel like I fit it. Almost everyone has a metro pass and people typically keep them in their wallets. Instead of removing the pass from their wallets, they just slide their entire wallets across the scanner to get on the metro. I do the same thing. It may sound weird, but it makes me feel like I fit in.

Even though I like my apartment, I don’t spend much time there during the day. The weather has been so nice that I usually just go to a random park to read for a few hours. When I get, I eat. When I get thirsty, I buy some water. When I get tired, I go home. I really do love all the time I have to read here and it’s so refreshing to read for fun.

I love my Kindle so much!

Crumbling buildings.

I was going to wait for that lady to walk out of the shot before I took the picture, but my impatience got the better of me.

This picture is just to prove that I'm actually in Portugal.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Home for Ben

I found a place to live! And I did it on my second day in Lisbon, too. I live with three students: two from Portugal and one from Cameroon. We each have our own rooms and I haven’t seen much of my roommates because they mostly just hang out in their rooms. Hopefully we’ll become friends soon because I don’t want to spend my summer alone. The apartment is obviously very old, but I like the character it has. My landlady was super-worried that I’d be too long for my bed. I fit okay.

Margarida, my landlady, is so nice and I can understand her pretty well which is great because Portuguese is much harder than I had anticipated. Unfortunately, I’m still a little slow and don’t always get her jokes. She was showing me how to lock my bedroom door and apologized profusely because to lock it, you have to pull the door pretty hard. As she was showing me how to lock it she said, “This happens to new doors.” I just responded with an “uh huh,” but then realized that she had made a joke and pretty funny one at that considering the fact that my door is probably older than Mao Zedong. The two big keys are to my bedroom door and the front door. I didn’t know that such big keys still existed in places outside of Narnia.

My house has some other quirks. For example, I used the toilet for the first time last night and was going to flush, of course, but I couldn’t find the handle. It was nowhere to be found. I examined the entire area around the toilet, but still, no handle. I was about to timidly ask one of my roommates for help when I realized that about four feet from the toilet there was a water tank over the bathroom mirror. There was a chain dangling from the tank and when I pulled it – whoosh! For the first time the sound of toilet flushing signaled my success.

Overall, I love my apartment. I have a hamper that looks like a penguin, a chair in my room that promotes good posture instead of being comfortable, and a mirror that’s high enough on the wall for me to see my face. I think the placement of the mirror in my room is the weirdest thing since the Portuguese are typically small and there’s no way they’d be able to see themselves in that mirror. I’m enjoying being here and the “what the heck have I done?” and the “why did I think going to Europe alone would be fun?” feelings have gone and I’m pumped to settle in and feel more at home here.

P.S. I was going to upload more pictures, but the internet is my house is so slow (like, dial-up slow).

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Take an item, leave an item

My good friend Jordan drove down from Salt Lake for one last visit before I head off to Portugal. We went to this cool art exhibit at the HFAC where you take one of the items on display and replace it with an item of equal value. That’s the idea, but people apparently are a little cheap since some of the items there now are candy wrappers, pieces of paper, and half used bottle of Pepto Bismol. We took my old license plate.

We exchanged the license plate for a VHS that didn’t have a label. We took it over to the library to watch it and Jordan noticed some posters that she designed a few years ago. They’re pretty faded, but they’re still there.

We had no idea what was on the video.

When we played it, we discovered that it was a tape of a boy asking a girl to prom. It was kind of weird and he did a lot of random impressions. I don’t know if Tyler and Kimberly went to the dance together, but I’m assuming that they’re not together now since Kimberly gave the tape away.

With the mystery of the unlabeled VHS solved, we headed back to the exhibit and traded the VHS for a slightly tacky hair clip that Jordan wore with style.

We then went to Starbucks to use a $10 gift card that I’ve had for five years. I would have used it sooner, but I didn't know of any Starbucks in Utah Valley. It turns out there's one in Orem. While the hot chocolate and pumpkin bread were delicious, I don’t think they were worth $10.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Portuguese, Please

As a language teacher, I often warn my students that they will say something embarrassing without meaning it. Everyone does it, everyone feels silly, you just accept it, don’t make the same mistake twice, and move one. I’m going to Portugal in five days and I have accepted the fact that I’ll make a few blunders while I’m learning Portuguese. However, I didn’t expect that I would make a fool of myself even before leaving the US.

I’ve been in contact with the program secretary, Teresa, for a few months now. Teresa recently put me in contact with Margarida who will be tutoring me for three weeks in Portugal. Margarida told me that Teresa would be reserving a classroom for our lessons, but she wasn’t sure if Teresa had yet. I emailed Teresa this morning and asked her if she had reserved a room for Margarida and me. And that was my blunder.

You see, I used word “quarto” which I thought meant “room,” as in an enclosed space with four walls, but actually only means “bedroom.” The word I should have used was “aula” which means classroom. I basically asked the secretary if she had reserved a bedroom for Margarida and me. Teresa is a funny woman and she wrote back, “I haven’t reserved a bedroom for you, but I have reserved a classroom ;)” The winky smile eased my embarrassment and made me glad that Teresa knew I had made an honest mistake and wasn’t some American creeper. I’m sure I’ll embarrass myself much more frequently when I’m actually in Portugal.