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The Week I Was a Vegetarian
The summer of 2014 my mother remarried and held a big wedding reception. A few weeks later I learned our whole family would go back to Brazil to hold another wedding reception and introduce my stepfather to the rest of our distant family. We traveled everywhere in Brazil, visiting long distance relatives and family friends. We went to Sao Miguel Do Araguaia where my great grandmother lived and stayed with her for a week. When we arrived in the city my grandmother bought a knife and a few fishing poles to fish in the river with.
To me my grandma was always a normal tough house wife who lived on a farm for her childhood. When my friends met her they would tell me she's super nice, but that’s only because out of her limited English vocabulary are polite words. When I tell them stories of her, many are shocked at what she's done because she is not your normal old lady. She knows how to survive when it is necessary and get what she wants, now she really wanted to fish in her hometown river.
In Brazil it was winter, and that meant low tide for the river. She walked out of the car and stood in front of a restaurant facing the river. After checking for oncoming traffic she walked across the old concrete street and stood on the high bank of the river near a big tree. Looking down from the ledge, she observed the banks of the flowing water and looked down to her right where there was a small slope that lead to the water. She walked down the hill to a place that the water was closer and looked over at my stepfather while motioning for him to bring the beach chair.
"Aqui e bon para pescar, ven." Here is good for fishing, come. She was exited to fish, a pastime she enjoyed frequently even though I don’t think she knew what legal fishing was. Anywhere was fine with her as long as it had fish. After a few minutes of her and my grandfather fishing they had caught a substantial amount of fish and rotated with my brother and stepfather. I walked down the hill and looked out onto the low river. It was a deep green blue and you could easily swim the length of one bank to the other. On our way here I had been told many stories of the people who have died in this river. My grandpa’s best friend who was a swimming instructor, my grandma’s friend when she was a little girl, and one of our cousins who drowned when she was a baby.
"Tem muito bichos nesse rio. Muinto pessoas morreu aqui. Se voce nao quer morrer, nao vai para onde o rio e fundo!" There are many creatures in this river. Many people died here. If you don’t want to die, don’t go where the river is deep! My grandma was yelling at my brother for the millionth time. He loved to play with danger and she hated that he loved it. I stepped back from the river because I didn’t want to die that day and walked to the cooler they were keeping the fish in. I covered my nose to hide from the stench of fish. I hated that I was the only on that couldn’t eat fish. The others loved it so much but I couldn’t get over my gag reflex for it. There was another bag filled with fish. I stared at the fish until I finally asked,
"Vo?, qual peixe e esse?" Granny what fish is this?
"Piranha." I gave her a look of confusion and she returned it with a look of pride. Something that was almost like second nature to her was like insanity to me. I looked over at my younger brother who had his feet in the shallow part of the water.
“You know there are piranha in the river, right?” I asked him.
“Yeah, I’m trying to see if my feet will be extra bait.” He looked at his feet in the water and smiled back. I rolled my eyes, well at least I knew where he got the adventurous genes from. and walked back up to where there was a grill and a picnic table. My mom and little sister were sitting on the same side, mom was braiding my sister’s hair. I sat down on the other side of the table and she continued to talk about her childhood when she lived here. The fish was grilled and I ate everything but fish since I don’t like the taste of it.
After we ate we left for my great grandmother’s house which wasn’t very far. When we got there we entered the house and my grandma started calling out for her mother. She went out to the back deck.
The house was old, small, and poorly air-conditioned, but homely. You could swing on one of the several hammocks on the back porch while the overhead fan blew. The garden in the back was the size of a tennis court, only where the lines are. It was mostly dead because it was winter when we were there and it hadn’t been very well taken care of after my great grandfather had died a couple of years back and he was the one who constantly looked after it. The TV played the same shows from the last time I had visited three years ago. I went into the brick kitchen that was attached to the back porch. My grandma and great grandma were talking and cleaning fish for dinner.
“Sim.” Yes. They both responded simultaneously. We all laughed and I asked where we were all sleeping tonight. She said not everyone will be sleeping in a bed since there are only two bedrooms. I was fine sleeping on the couch while my brother slept on the other couch. We brought in our luggage and I swung in the hammock with my brother for an hour until dinner was ready. When it was time many people had already started filling the house. Neighbors, great uncles, cousins, family friends, and many people that I had never seen before came up to us and greeted us saying that we’ve grown so much and that they couldn’t believe that we were so big. I honestly don’t know how but my grandma had enough rice, beans, and fish to feed around fifteen mouths.
After, we all continued on the back porch to talk and catch up. My great grandma brought out her pet parrot who was mostly green with hints of red and blue on his wings. After that we all went to sleep around midnight because they all never stopped their conversation.
After spending a few days there my grandmother had dyed her hair, the garden had been cleaned up, and I ended up with more bug bites than I started with. Throughout those days all the meat we had during mealtimes were fish, so I continued to only eat grains and vegetables.
On Thursday, they began to prepare for the third wedding reception. Bags of rice and beans were brought into the pantry for the next night. My brother, sister and I were playing cards with my grandfather when my stepdad and grandma came and asked us if we wanted to go see some animals on my great uncle’s farm. We all hoped into the car and were there quickly. My siblings and I followed our parents onto the farm. We went over to see all the animals: cows, horses, chickens and pigs. My brother and I helped feed the pigs and were able to touch some of them. The adults were talking about the wedding receptions but I had been distracted by the pigs and cows to interpret what they had been saying.
We later went back to the house to prepare dinner. I was called to help chop vegetables in the kitchen. My great grandmother came in and smiled seeing me, my mom, and my grandmother in the kitchen at once. She came up to me and told me that now that I was growing up I had to learn how to be a ‘true woman’, that women need to be in the kitchen helping their family survive. I just smiled and nodded knowing that I didn’t agree with that because I had no talent for cooking and my brother was much better than me in the kitchen. Even today my cooking skill has not improved in the slightest. That night went quickly and morning was soon there.
It was Saturday and the day of the third wedding reception. People were all over the house, in the kitchen helping with the food, on the front porch setting up tables and chairs, and preparing the decorations and lights. My grandma and stepdad left and came back with one of the smaller pigs from yesterday. I looked at it and my jaw dropped. I couldn’t feel anything in my arms for a good minute. I turned to my brother who had the same pale spooked look masking his face. Grandma began to clean the pig in the sink that was right outside the kitchen. She seasoned it and popped it in the oven. She then began to round us up and told us it was time to go get ready for tonight.
Later on in the evening many people showed up, more that I had not known but they knew me. Everything was ready to go. With all the small preparations in place the party began. My dad, mom, and grandpa gave short speeches and thanked everyone that helped with everything.
“agora, atacar!” Now, attack! People rose from their seats and formed a line to eat. I only ate rice, beans, and vegetables that night. I couldn’t even look at the pig. The rest of our time with my great grandma was fine and she was happy that she could see her great grandchildren who lived a good life in America.
After we said our goodbyes to her we drove around saying goodbye to everyone we knew that lived in the town. That week I hadn’t eaten any meat that my family had tried to give me. When they had asked me what was wrong we had already left for Caldas Novas and the strange and slightly traumatizing week would be left behind.