Friday, July 22, 2011

Welcome to My Home

Since most of you won’t ever get to see my apartment in Lisbon I decided to give a brief tour. When you enter my apartment you walk into a horseshoe shaped hallway that leads to the living room, bathroom, kitchen, laundry area/turtle habitat, and a storage room. The hallway is a haven for unexplainably odd knickknacks. I will only show you a few. The hallway has no windows so it’s always a little dark and I apologize for the poor quality of some of the pictures.

I think the oddest thing in the hallway is a large painting that dominates one of the walls. I call it Snooze Button. As you can see, it’s a painting of a woman lying on the floor. I have deduced that the time of the painting is roughly 7:30 am on a Tuesday morning. The woman’s alarm went off at 6:30, but she repeatedly hit the snooze button on her alarm clock wanting to sleep for a few more minutes. She is now running an hour late and is struggling with the realization that she no longer has the time to do her hair in that cute way that she likes. She’s managed to roll out of bed onto the floor, but has yet to gather up enough strength to stand up and start the day. I can relate.

This is one of the many unexplained knickknacks. Obviously I expected to have ceramic animals in my apartment in Portugal, I just didn’t expect it to be an elephant. On a side note, furniture randomly appears in the apartment sometimes. One day a large chest filled with blankets appeared in the hallway and due to the darkness of the hallway I walked right into it. It was on the right side of the hallway so I turned the corner hugging the left wall assuming that I would miss any other items of furniture only to immediately stumble into a chair.

This mirror is in the hall right outside my bedroom. Every day I ask it who’s the fairest of them all. The only time it says that I am is on the days that I wear the clothes Ashlee and Ariel picked out for me.

This shelf is in the hallway and I think I'm the only person tall enough to notice how dusty it is.

After walking through the hallway you arrive at the living room which has no outside windows, but only one window that opens up to the laundry room. It’s always dim in the living room. When you turn on the light it is super-dim at first and takes about a minute to be fully luminescent. I didn’t even know light bulbs did that, but most of the lights in my house are that way. It must be a Portuguese thing.

Another oddity of my house is all the doors. Every area that could possibly have a door has a door. The only other time I’ve seen more doors in one place was on Monsters. Inc.

The living room has some random little tables and they all have drawers. One day when I was snooping around I decided to see what was inside. And they all had the same thing – keys. I couldn’t figure out why on earth there would be so many keys everywhere, but then I remembered the doors.

We have this weird table in our bathroom with gold and silver painted rocks inside of it. I understand the need for having a place to set things in the bathroom, but the painted rocks elude me.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the toilet tank is actually over the sink.

My kitchen is a pretty standard kitchen with a stove, plates, a sink, a message on the refrigerator written in permanent marker by the landlady reminding us to keep it clean, etc. However, for reasons that I have yet to understand we have a picture of a French girl flirtatiously eating a cracker. It must be an advertisement or something.

I have a chandelier in my room. Kind of tacky, but it serves its purpose (making me feel high class).

By far the weirdest thing in my house – the massage table. For more info on this weird room please refer to my previous post.

And that's my house. Feel free to stop by whenever you like.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Having descended from Schilatys and Smiths I have very good genes. From my mom I inherited my wonderful height, but that came with a price – my feet. I’ve always thought that my feet were ugly, but I think that feet are generally that way. I was so self-conscious about my feet that when I was 14 I wore my socks into a hot tub not wanting my friends to see them. It was a pretty ridiculous thing to do, but that’s how much I was embarrassed by them. Luckily I’ve out grown that feeling and I’m mostly just glad that my feet keep me mobile. My dislike for my feet (toes in particular) led me to not like open toed shoes. I think I’ve only ever owned two pairs of flip-flops. The point of all this is that I caved in and bought some open toed shoes on Friday. It’s not very hot here yet, but I still get a little over heated walking around for hours with a backpack on. I often just want to sit down on a bench and kick my shoes and socks off so that my feet can cool down. My new shoes were bought for this functional purpose. I wore them all day on Saturday and they’re awesome and led to hours of comfort.

Speaking of Saturday, I went to Évora with three girls from my class: Aurora, Cecilia, and Angélica. It’s only 90 minutes outside of Lisbon so it makes a nice day trip. Évora was a lot smaller than we had expected. We picked up a map at the bus station and walked straight to the main plaza and were pretty surprised when we arrived there after only ten minutes of walking. We saw everything we had wanted to see in a few hours, but had hours to wait before our bus left so we decided to check out a park we hadn’t seen yet. I led the group through the winding streets and when we arrived there I pointed to a very unimpressive park and said, “Well, here’s the park. It’s not very exciting.” Cecilia pulled out her map and said, “Everything looks so much bigger on the map.” Évora is very small and even though they're pretty, all the streets look pretty much the same.

My main reason for wanting to go to Évora was to see its famous bone chapel. Apparently a few hundred years ago some monks thought that building a room out of human bones would help them to contemplate life and death. An obvious conclusion, right? The chapel is decorated with the bones of thousands of people that they dug up from the local cemetery. It’s kind of morbid, well, really morbid, but cool to look at for five to ten minutes. I think that when I get home I’m going to decorate my room with pictures of obese people to help me contemplate the importance of exercising regularly.

A bunch of people from my class went on another excursion today to Mafra. They invited me too, but I went to church instead. And honestly, the idea of going there always made me laugh. No one else seemed to think that the name of the town was funny, but every time someone said “Mafra” all I could think of was the Japanese monster Mothra. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Mothra is a giant moth that attacks Tokyo when Godzilla is on vacation. Whatever Mothra is, giant moths were all I could think of as people talked about how excited they were to go to Mafra.

From left to right: Me, Aurora, Cecilia, and Angelica. Angelica does have a left arm, she just moved it as the picture was being taken and it disappeared.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hugo and Paulo

I have three roommates: Hugo (pronounced: OOO-goo), Paulo, and Maurice. Hugo and Paulo are from a Portuguese island called Madeira and Maurice is from Cameroon. I don’t see Maurice very much, but I see Hugo and Paulo rather frequently. When I first met Hugo and Paulo I didn’t realize that they were homosexual, but little hints started to pop up here and there: Paulo’s slightly feminine voice, Hugo’s love of theater, sharing a room that only has one bed in it, etc. As clues would start to emerge I’d discuss them with Ana during class which was really quite fun, but inconclusive. I’ve never seen them kiss or hold hands or even hug. However, I finally decided that they were gay.

Two weeks ago Hugo and I were chatting in the living room and he told me that he and Paulo were gay, but I wasn’t surprised because I’d already used my expert sleuthing skins to reach that conclusion on my own. Hugo has a twin brother who is also gay. I asked him when he found out that his brother was gay and he told me the following story. As a side note, Hugo is a very good actor and he told this story with a lot of great comedic timing so please try and image that. One day when Hugo was 18 or so he was out and about and someone that he didn’t know started talking to him on the street like they were old friends. The man mentioned something the indicated that Hugo was gay which was surprising since Hugo had never met this person before. Not only was Hugo confused, but the random man was confused that Hugo didn’t recognize him. He finally said to Hugo, “What’s the deal, Marcos?” and Hugo replied, “Marcos? I’m not Marcos. Marcos is my twin brother.” At this point I was laughing uncontrollably. I don’t know what went through the strangers mind at that moment when he realized his horrible mistake, but I can imagine it being a swear word. Hugo went home, talked to his brother, and they both admitted that they were homosexual and had a touching moment together. You know, the kind of moment that would happen on Full House or a Lifetime Original Movie. Side note: funny things are always funnier in a second language because the humor is magnified by pride in one’s self for understanding the joke.

A few weeks ago my friend Ashlee was in town. She had to catch an 8 am flight to the US and was just going to sleep in the airport. I told her to just stay at my place for the night and she slept in my bed and I slept on the living room couch. I had told all of my roommates that Ashlee would be staying the night, but I hadn’t told them that I would be sleeping on the couch. A little after midnight Hugo and Paulo walked into the pitch black living room without seeing me. I thought they might turn on the light which wouldn’t have bothered me, but I didn’t want them to feel bad for disturbing me. I decided to make my presence known and said, “Olá,” at which point Hugo took the Lord’s name in vain. Apparently my deep voice unexpectedly greeting someone in a dark room is cause for alarm.

Hugo and Paulo invite me to do all kinds of things, but I rarely go. A typical invitation usually goes something like this: At 10 pm, “Benji, do you want to get a Kebab with us?” “I’d love to, but I had dinner three hours ago.” I feel bad rejecting their offers so much, but it’s just bad timing. We planned to go to the beach together and I’m not much of a beach person, but I agreed to go. Their purpose in going to the beach was to get tan. As we were setting out our towels and lathering on sunscreen I rather politically incorrectly asked, “So, why do want to get a tan if you’re already brown?” and Paulo responded, “Because we want to be black!” and we all laughed.

Hugo and Paulo flew to London today and they come back the day after I leave so I won’t be seeing them again. I’m bummed that they’re gone and they’re bummed that they won’t get to meet my mom. They, more than anyone else, have taken care of me in Lisbon. They always asked me how I was doing and offered to help me all the time. When I asked Paulo where I could buy a DVD he printed out a map and gave me detailed instructions on how to get to the store. Honestly, I would have gotten lost without the map, but with Paulo’s help it was a cinch. Hugo speaks English really well, but when he found out I was here to learn Portuguese he only spoke to me in Portuguese and corrected me when I’d make a mistake which most people don’t do. I’m grateful for their kindness and their friendship. They made moving to a foreign city a lot easier for me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Awesome Eighties Movies

I all too often fit the European stereotype of being an uncultured American. I met up with Stephanie and Sofía last night for dinner and Stephanie took us to a miradouro that she really likes. A miradouro is essentially a little park with an excellent view and Lisbon has a ton of them because there are so many hills. Stephanie and Sofía love them and are always talking about new miradouros they’ve found. Last week I met up with the gang for dinner a block from my house and Stephanie took us to a miradouro that is only four blocks from my house. I didn’t even know that it was there. She was shocked to learn that I hadn’t gone up there and said, “Didn't you see the trees,” as if they would have been enough of an incentive to climb a steep hill. I said, “Well, yeah, but you have to climb up this huge hill to get to them.” We then trudged up the hill and I was instantly converted to the find-as-many-miradouros-as-possible crusade. Here are some pictures from the one we went to yesterday.

The three of us sat down to eat dinner at a delicious hole-in-the-wall restaurant. We were talking about what we had done during the day and their day consisted of visiting museums, and taking scenic boat tours, etc. while my day mostly consisted of going to the zoo and then slowly backing away from the entrance because it was so expensive and reading Harry Potter. Not wanting to seem uncultured I told them about a cool park I had found. I was describing where it was and they were a little confused because there isn’t a park there. And I said, “Well, it’s not a park, per se. There’s some business or something there and I just walked about the outside." A light clicked on in Stephanie’s head and she said, “Oh, you’re talking about the museum. Didn’t you go inside?” Apparently, I stumbled onto the lawn of the best free museum in Lisbon and hadn’t even gone inside. Stephanie has already been there twice. And so, the uncultured American stereotype lives on. Here are some pictures of the museum lawn.

At dinner, Sofía, Stephanie and I briefly complained about our classes. It appears that our teachers haven’t taken a second language pedagogy class in a decade or two because they teach us in a way that I would consider "antiquated." My teacher is better than Maria de Jesús, but still a little lacking. He talks for most of the class and we listen and take notes. Sofía brought up how on the first day of class Maria had talked about the importance of pronouncing words correctly. She said that we all needed to learn to roll our r’s. She then went on to describe how this sound is produced saying that it’s a bilabial sound. For any non-linguistics reading this, a bilabial sound is one made with both of your lips. When she said this I cocked my head to the side wondering if I had heard correctly and then I giggled inside as I pictured what a bilabial rolled r would sound like. Sofía and I had some fun at dinner trying to produce just such a sound which basically just ended in laughter.

Sofía went on to say to that as a university professor Maria shouldn’t be making such horrific errors in her teaching. I then said, “Yeah, after all, the only bilabial sound in Portuguese is the m,” to which Sofía responded, “No, Benjamin, there’s also the p and the b.” I quickly realized that she was completely right and that in one simple statement I had lost all credibility as a linguist.

Usually when I speak Spanish I’m speaking with people that speak English as well and I’ve developed a bad habit of throwing in English words when I don’t know the Spanish one. For some reason at dinner I wanted to mention the flux capacitor from Back to the Future. Stephanie speaks English alright and Sofía doesn’t speak much at all. So here I was trying to explain what a flux capacitor is in Portuguese with the two girls giving me polite, but confused looks. I finally just changed the subject because my flux capacitor comment wasn’t that interesting to begin with.

As we were leaving the restaurant, one of the girls commented that the restaurant owner was probably laughing his head off right now because of how odd our little group is. We spoke our broken Portuguese the entire time each of us with our own accent: Sofía with her clear, Spanish vowels, Stephanie with her French r's, and me with my schwas. We’re quite an unlikely group. As I thought about how we all have our different backgrounds and languages and nationalities, I was reminded of The Land Before Time and how five dinosaurs formed an unlikely group and made it to the Great Valley together. In our group I’m Little Foot, of course, because of my long neck. I don’t know who the others would be, but whomever we my represent we’ll all trying get to the our Great Valley together (the Great Valley being a metaphor for fluency in Portuguese, obviously). I'm glad that movies from the eighties are still relevant in my everyday life.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I ♥ being Mormon

This post isn’t funny, but I promise the next one will be. Last Thursday there was a huge welcome party at school for everyone participating in the Portuguese summer courses. I went and I had a good time, but I left feeling lonely and pitied. Since I’ve been in two classes now there are about twenty people that I socialize with and hang out with outside of school. They’re all great and friendly, but we’re just… different. My classmates will often get beers or coffees and I’ll simply get an orange juice or a water and no one seems to mind.

At the party there were free beers and whenever someone from my table went over to grab another they would offer to grab me one. They weren’t trying to make me feel uncomfortable, but I did. I think I felt uncomfortable because their offering to get me a beer meant that they were unaware that I was LDS and thus didn’t really know me very well. Stephanie and I have eaten meals together multiple times and she saw me decline multiple beer offers and finally asked, “Do you not like beer?” and I respond, “I’ve never tried it, actually.” She was visibly surprised by my response and proceeded with the obvious question of, “why not?” and I said, “for religious reasons.” I told her that I’m Mormon and don’t drink and then she asked me a question that I hadn’t expected. “Do you enjoy being Mormon?” The question caught me off guard because obviously if I didn’t like being Mormon I wouldn’t be, right? Stephanie’s question and they way she said it made me feel pitied, like she felt I was missing out on all kinds of fun because of my beliefs. Several people invited me to the “real” party after the party, but I declined. I walked home through one of my favorite parks thinking about what had happened and feeling rather alone.

My school runs on Portuguese time which means that class starts about 10 minutes late every day, but I still show up on time. My teacher, who arrived late, asked the few of us that were already there this morning what we had done that weekend. I said that I had gone to the beach and rented a bike, talked to my parents, etc. When I had finished saying all of this my mind flashed to when I was in Bolivia in 2006 and when my neighbor Walter asked me what my plans for the weekend were. I told him that I was going to church and invited him to come if he wanted. He said he liked to learn new things and would come. I’d invited my fair share of Hispanics to church at this point in my life and for every 20 people that say they will come, only a handful actually do. I then tried to talk him out of coming by telling him that it started at 9am and he’d have to be ready at 8:45 and that he’d have to get dressed up, etc. I was surprised when he was ready to go at 8:45 the next morning, I was even more surprised when the missionaries asked if they could come to his apartment and teach him, I was shocked when I went to his house with the missionaries and he was receptive, and I literally jumped for joy when he joined the church four weeks later. And all of that had happened because I begrudgingly and unenthusiastically invited him to come to church.

After remember this I realized that my favorite part of the weekend hadn’t been the beach, but when I taught Gospel Principles on Sunday. Hernan who has only been a member for a month thanked me after my lesson saying that he had really enjoyed it and that he was learning a lot from me. And that moment at church had been the highlight of my weekend. Back in the classroom, since it was still my turn, I quickly added, “Oh, and I went to church,” and we moved on to other people.

During our break halfway through class a bunch of us went out for coffee and I bought my favorite pastry, a bolo de Berlin. I eat one almost every day because they’re so delicious. While we were chatting, Patricia brought up that I had mentioned going to church and asked me which church go to. I said that I was Mormon and the generally reaction at my table was, “There are Mormons in Portugal?” which honestly isn’t a ridiculous question considering that according to an article I read, 97% of Portugal is Catholic. Patricia brought up the Book of Mormon musical and I was glad that I had read numerous articles about it so I had some informed comments to make. Sofía’s only knowledge of Mormonism was from the series Big Love which is quite good according to her. Once again, I was glad that I was informed and had things to say that weren’t just criticisms.

Letting my friends know that I’m LDS was very liberating and I’m glad I was able to do it. I didn’t feel pitied this time and I’m glad that they felt comfortable asking me questions. I feel more comfortable and at ease now. I remember a lesson we had at church once about how every Latter-day Saint is responsible for maintaining the reputation of the church and that people will view our religion by our actions. I took that to heart and have tried to live accordingly. Few things would make me happier than to know that years down the road two missionaries knock on Patricia’s door and she thinks to herself, “I knew a Mormon boy in Portugal and he was very nice. I’ll let these two Mormons in.”

I started out today like I start out every day in Portugal. I woke up early and took the metro to school. I got off a stop early, walked through a beautiful park, found a nice bench to sit on, and read my scriptures in Portuguese in the morning sunlight. It’s a great way to start the day. I love being Mormon.

Here are some pictures of my scripture park.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Cascais. Pronounced "Cashcaish"

I got moved up to the Advanced 2 class! I really like it. My teacher’s name is David and he’s tall and thin so I already feel a special bond with him. Are bond would be even stronger if he didn’t have a goatee. I also like his teaching style more than Maria’s, but I still get bored in class. What can I say, it’s hard to be as good as Ana. I do, however, really like hearing a man speak because I feel kind of dumb trying to use a Portuguese accent sometimes and it’s nice to know that men actually do talk like that. Here’s what makes me feel dumb: every syllable final s is pronounced like sh in European Portuguese. That means that the word estás is actually pronounced eshtásh. I hate it because it’s more work and sounds silly. But that’s how they talk and I have to do it. Sometimes when I’m listening to David talk I just want to say, “Really? That’s how you say that?”

Stephanie, Evelyne, Camilo and I decided to meet up this morning to go to Cascais. Cascais is a beach town about 40 minutes outside of Lisbon that I’ve wanted to go to for a while. Camilo partied a little too hard last night and decided not to come. Evelyne was out partying until 4am, but she still came despite being a little hung over. I went to bed at midnight after going to institute last night and woke up feeling like a champ.

I loved Cascais for one reason – free bikes. I love to go bike riding (giving away my Utah bike that was given to me last year was actually kind of sad). Cascais “rents” bikes for free to anyone and they have an awesome bike path along the beach. It was so much fun. The bikes were surprisingly nice considering they are free city bikes. Before we rented them, I told the girls that people always speak to me in English even if I ask them to speak to me in Portuguese. The bike lady was no exception. I told her right away that I’m here studying Portuguese and that she could speak to me in Portuguese, but she continued talking to me in her English that I would define as “comprehensible” despite the fact that I was talking to her in Portuguese. I just started talking to her in English because I try to follow the “respond in the language being spoken to you” rule. She even talked to Evelyne and Stephanie in English even though it isn’t their native language and they both speak Portuguese very well. Eyelyne and I by our bikes.

Once we got our bikes we hit the road and the weather was perfect. We had an awesome snack of fruit and cake that Stephanie brought along. Evelyne had heard that Americans don’t really eat fruit unless they’re from California. This led to my making frequent jokes like, “A plum, I’m never had one of these before,” or “wow, this is the first time I’ve had fruit in two years.” I’m a fan of David Sedaris and I particularly like two of his stories: one about the Dutch Santa Claus and one about Easter in France. Since I had a long bike ride with a Dutch girl and a French girl I decided to find out if these stories were really true. It turns out that the Dutch Santa Claus does live in Spain and arrives every year by boat and instead of the Easter Bunny, French children are given candy by a bell from Rome. I would like to discuss how ridiculous these traditions are, but unfortunately a flying sleigh, the North Pole and bunny might even be more ridiculous.

Stephanie said to do a swing dance move. I wasn't quite sure what to do and the 10 second timer didn't give me much time to decide.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Miss Ana

Much to my horror I found out last week that Ana is not going to be my teacher this month. She’s going to be teaching an intermediate level class and I’m going to be in the advanced class. We had our last class together on Friday and it ended with a tearful embrace. Well, not really, but I was bummed. What really bummed me out is that Ana is my best friend here and I’m really going to miss chatting with her every day.

We started class yesterday and I’m in class with about 10 other people and there isn’t anyone else in the class from North America. My new teacher is Maria de Jesus and I like her just fine, but she’s no Ana. She reminds me a lot of the aunt from My Big Fat Greek Wedding that can’t believe that the finance is a vegetarian and finally says, “Okay, I make lamb.” You know, the kind of person that doesn’t always listen. For example, there’s a guy in our class who goes by his last name. I can’t remember his name because it’s African and unfamiliar to me so I’ll just call him Steve Holt. After saying that he goes by his last name, Maria responded like this, “Your last name? No, in Portugal a last name is only to distinguish your family. We will call you Steve.” And she’s referred to him as Steve ever since.

We took a test yesterday to see if we were in the correct class. The test was harder than I expected and I was worried that I was going to get sent to an intermediate class. And now the awkward part. Maria asked for volunteers today to find out the results of the test. So in front of everyone she told us how we did and talked about our weak points, etc. I wasn’t quite expecting that especially since I volunteered first. The first thing she said, “I don’t know, Benjamin, I think you’re in the wrong class,” and I was instantly bummed and said, “I want to stay in this class if I can,” to which she said, “I think you should be in the advanced 2 class.” I hadn’t expected that. You see, there is a lower advanced and a higher advanced class and she wants to send me to the next one. No decision has been made yet.

And now for the fun part. I really like my classmates and have made some friends finally. We have a 30 minute break every day and today I got some food with Sofia from Spain, Stephanie from France, Evaline from Belgium, and Camilo from Colombia. Stephanie is really tall and quite pretty and was even kind enough to offer to share her beer with me (I politely declined). We all went to lunch together and went out for coffee, too. I had a Sprite and a piece of cake described as the best chocolate cake in the world. I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty delicious. Four of us even met up for dinner and it was a blast. The most surprising part is that we only speak Portuguese together. I haven’t spoken so much Portuguese since I got here and it’s really helping me even though none of us is fluent. We all speak Spanish so we throw in lots of Spanish words, but we all know what’s going on.

I would call us a group of friends, but I hope we become a clique. We’re too awesome to not be exclusive. All kidding aside, it’s nice to have people to spend time with. While I’ve met a lot of people here, they already have their establish friendships and my Portuguese isn’t great so we rarely get past pleasantries and discussing the weather. It’s nice to finally know people that are as bored as I am and want to do stuff with me. I’m glad I have people that want to hang out with me.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Portuguese Is Hard!

I’ve been asked to teach the Gospel Principles class at church. When I was asked to do it I was a little surprised because I don’t really speak Portuguese that well, but I love to teach and I knew it would help me speak better so I agreed to do it. Gospel Principles is a class for people who have been a member of the church for less than a year or who aren’t members. I’ve taught this class before and it’s a blast.

Today was my first day and the topic was the law of chastity. This is always a delicate topic to teach especially when you’re teaching people who may be unfamiliar with the concepts. Add to that the fact that my Portuguese is subpar and you’ve got a nervous Ben at 10:30 on Sunday morning. Before class I made sure I knew how to say words like procreation, sexual relations, pornography, etc. They were all pretty simple. I also tried to learn everyone's name but most of them are from Africa and have names that I'd never heard before. After asking them to repeat them twice, I would just smile and nod and act like I'd understood, but just refer to them as brother or sister because I still had no idea what there name was. I asked a woman who was baptized two weeks ago to say the closing prayer and she said, “Me? But I’ve never prayed at church before,” and I said, “That’s okay, I don’t know how to pray in Portuguese and I said the opening prayer in the first class.” She agreed to do it and did a fine job. On a side note, I get asked to pray all the time and I still mess up a lot. I really need to learn the subjunctive form of the verb to bless because it’s not close to the Spanish conjugation at all.

Class went well and my nerves went away once we got started. I asked lots of questions and people were surprisingly participatory. There were a couple of times when someone would make a comment and I wouldn’t understand what they were saying and when they were done I’d just say, “Thank you very much,” and move on. Hopefully I didn’t thank anyone for sharing blasphemous comments. There was one point where I tried to share an analogy, but I didn’t know the words I needed and it ended up just being confusing. After class, an American in the class told me that he could tell where I was going with it, but I just got blank stares from everyone else. Next week’s lesson is about temple work and eternal marriage and that will be much less daunting.

Learning Portuguese has been much harder than I had expected. I pride myself on picking up languages easily, but then I remember that I’ve only even learned Spanish (besides English, of course) and that was incredibly difficult. I remember when I was new in Mexico and my companion didn’t speak any English and no one we talked to spoke any English and I really just wanted to give up. I remember thinking, “Is it really this hard for everyone else?” and I assume it is. I just thought that it would be a lot easier. I remember trying to communicate in Spanish and the blank stares of people trying to understand me and how my companion would explain what I had tried to say and then understanding would dawn on their faces and I would feel useless. I remember praying almost all day long sometimes because I just wanted to talk to someone and God was the only person that could understand me. I remember getting home at night and spending every extra moment I could reading my scriptures in English and how good it felt to finally understand something. I remember for the first time in my life really needing the scriptures and feeling their power as I was reminded that I wasn’t useless and that I just had to be patient.

During my second week in Mexico I decided to use my poor Spanish to my advantage. We knocked on a lady’s door and my companion started talking to her and she was not at all interested. I jumped in and said in my bad Spanish, “I don’t speak Spanish very well, but if you listen to me I’ll let you laugh and me.” A smile crossed her face and she said, “Go on,” and I went on to tell her about how we are God’s children and He calls prophets to teach us, how Christ paid for our sins, how we have prophets today and modern day revelations, and how she could know for herself if what I was saying was true. She didn’t laugh at me, but she did agree to read a chapter in the Book of Mormon and let us come back again. She didn’t join the church, but I learned from that experience that I could do missionary work in Spanish.

I am not in the same boat I was in eight years ago when I started learning Spanish. I have the blessing of experience and language training on my side which makes learning Portuguese much more simple than learning Spanish was. However, I still thought it would be easier. I guess I thought that seven weeks would be enough for me to dominate this language, but now I realize that while I’ll be good at Portuguese when I leave Portugal in four weeks, I won’t be great. And that’s okay, I just want to get it the best I can.

On a completely different note, Ana and I went on a field trip to the coast on Thursday. We had an all-you-can-eat fish lunch which was … delicious. All the fish still had skin and eyes and Ana had to teach me how to eat each one because I was pretty lost. It was fun, though and I wish I’d taken a picture of my plate. Since I don’t have pictures of the fish, here are some pictures of the coast.


When Ashlee and Ariel were in Lisbon we decided to go see Cristo Rei which is a huge statue of Christ across the river. It's not as cool as the one in Brazil or as big as the one in Bolivia, but it's still worth seeing. It was a hot day and after we took a ferry across the river and a bus up the hill we were so tired that when we arrived at the statue we laid in the grass for 10 minutes before we even looked at the thing. I had trouble centering the camera.

The view of Lisbon from the other side of the river was awesome. Also, the girls helped me pick out some clothes and I proudly sported one of the shirts that day. I'm glad I have friends who will pick out clothes for me.

Last weekend Ashlee, Ariel and I went up north to Coimbra. We had originally planned on going to Braga, but it is considerably farther north so we changed our plans. Arriving in Coimbra last Saturday was awful because it was so hot, like 100 degrees hot. After waiting a very long time for our bus we got slightly lost looking for our hostel and went up an extra hill. I really liked our hostel, though because it had a great view and free cereal whenever we wanted it. I wanted it often.

The only thing I knew about Coimbra was that it’s home to the oldest Portuguese university in the world and is one of the oldest universities in Europe. I was excited to see it and had envisioned a place resembling Oxford or Hogwarts. Contrary to the graffiti on campus, it looked nothing like Hogwarts and looked like most of the European universities I’ve seen – in need of some paint.

However, it did have some funny statues like this one that looks like it’s going to slap you.

We attended the ward in Coimbra on Sunday and it was a blast. Everyone was super-welcoming and I got asked about 10 times if I'd served my mission in Portugal. I ran into a friend of a friend who helped me find a place to live in Lisbon and we met a really nice British couple that's living in Portugal for 10 months. The wife, Cathy, asked the three of us what we were doing for dinner and since we didn't have any plans she invited us over. After chatting for a few minutes she said, "I should probably ask you what your names are," and we realized that despite the fact that we were acting like old friends, we didn't really know each other. We ended up chatting with them at their apartment for a few hours and it was a blast. They're the kind of couple that reminds me of how awesome it's going to be to be married.

After walking up and down lots of hills in the heat we headed back to the hostel. There was one part we hadn't see yet that I wanted to see, but the girls didn't so I went there by myself. There was no one else in the park so I decided to sit on a bench and read my scriptures. While I was sitting there a white guy that looked a lot an American I had met in my ward in Lisbon walked by to take a picture of a fountain. I thought it was him, but he had looked at me, but hadn't said anything. I finally said, "Calvin?" and he said, "I thought that was you!" Neither of us knew that the other was in Coimbra and we laughed about the randomness of running into each other in a deserted park. He ended up hanging out with Ashlee, Ariel, and me for a few hours that night.

All in all, Coimbra is a beautiful place, but it can be seen in a day. Here's my other new shirt by the river in Coimbra.

Here's a picture of Ana and me at the Castelo Sao Jorge in Lisbon where we went for a field trip.