31 December 2008


In response to a writing prompt on Mama's Losin' It
“Describe a New Year's where you would have been better off just staying home."

I’m not sure if I should have stayed home that New Year’s Eve, but I surely could have used a bit of moderation and a whole lot of common sense.

Right after college, I joined the Peace Corps. I lived in a very small town in the midst of the Brazilian hinterland. Although the townspeople were having their own New Year’s Eve parties, I opted to take a three hour bus ride to the state capital for a hot shower, some night life, and to pick up my living allowance check. That New Year’s Eve, I was welcoming the year 1968.

The Peace Corps Volunteers who were stationed in the capital knew the best restaurants and night spots and were often invited by Brazilians to private social clubs.

Left to right: PC Volunteer Terry, Brazilian friend Marcus, PC Volunteer Bonnie(?), Brazilian electrical worker Eudes (?), another PC Volunteer David (?). Question marks indicate I am not positive the names are correct.*

One restaurant we particularly liked, Yara, was located in the park near the cathedral. A walkway passed under the second floor of the building where the night life transpired, but at lunchtime we sat at outdoor tables under umbrellas and palm trees and ate the closest thing we could find to American food ---ham and cheese sandwiches, fresh-squeezed orange juice or Coca Cola ---and topped off the meal with coconut ice cream.
I loved Brazilian food, but the locals ate almost the same thing every day. Breakfast was bread, fruit and coffee. It was a cattle region, so lunch ---black beans and rice ---was almost always served with beef, but sometimes with pork, chicken, or fish. Dinner was soup and bread. It was nice to eat something different when I visited the big city.
Terry, one of the Volunteers who lived in the capital, had a crush on me. A Brazilian guy named Marcus, who was trying to perfect his English ---he already spoke it quite well ---seemed to follow Terry wherever he went, like a shadow. On New Year’s Eve, the three of us visited the night club above our favorite eating place and later attended parties at a few other clubs.
South of the equator, we were experiencing summer in January ---and we were only ten degrees from the equator ---so it was quite hot. We danced to samba and bossa nova music and perspired buckets, so of course we had to replenish our fluids.
Although my parents didn’t drink at all, this was soon after I graduated from college, so one could say I had been “in training” for a few years. We started the evening imbibing Brahma Chopp ---Brazilian beer that came in liter bottles, slightly smaller than a quart. I drank three bottles of cerveja over several hours. Close to midnight, we started on champagne.
As the night wore on and the crowds grew, my mini dress was soon soaked from my arm pits to the hem. Finally we opted to leave the club at about 2:00 in the morning.
We decided the best place to cool off would be at the beach ---several miles outside of town. Luckily Terry had borrowed the only Peace Corps vehicle in the state, a jeep.
I look back now and think how senseless I was ---alone with two men, at the deserted beach, without benefit of bathing suits. We went skinny dipping, of course. Hey, we just wanted to cool off.
I may have been stupid, but I was also lucky. The guys didn’t take advantage of the situation ---or of me. Terry and Marcus turned their backs until I disrobed and entered the ocean up to my neck. They did the same when I exited the water.
In the cool water, the rhythmic waves, a refreshing breeze, I should have sobered up. However, my mouth and tongue seemed numb, as if I’d had a shot of Novocain.
Eventually, Terry and Marcus dropped me off at my pensão. I don’t remember being falling-down drunk, but then I don’t remember much between the beach and my room, except that I wanted to sleep for a week.
In bed, when I shut my eyes, the room spun and I felt like I was going to throw up. With eyes open, I sat on the edge of the bed until I felt better. But when I reclined and closed my eyes again, my stomach was on a roller coaster. I remained dizzy and sick to my stomach for at least an hour.
Finally, I put my suitcase between my back and the wall with the stingy pillow under my neck. Propped up, I sat with my eyes open as the dawn lightened the tiny room, until I simply passed out.

Surprisingly, I didn’t wake with the mother of all hangovers that afternoon, but I was famished and very thirsty. After walking to a restaurant for churrasco (charbroiled steak) with beans, rice, two bottles of water, and strong Brazilian coffee, I felt fine.

        However, for the next six months, I couldn’t stand the thought of alcohol. When I was finally able to partake again, I never felt like drinking more than a small glass of beer.

        Forty years later, I’d still rather knock back a tumbler of ice water than nurse a flute of expensive champagne.

A year later, 1/1/69, on New Year's Day, Marcus and I on a boat off the coast for the annual New Year's procession, the blessing of the waters.*

(story and starred* photos ©2008, C.J. Peiffer)


  1. "Forty years later, I’d still rather knock back a tumbler of ice water than nurse a flute of expensive champagne." I can relate! I could tell a couple of similar stories of nights spent drinking too much because I didn't realize how fast I would get drunk and putting myself into situations that could have turned out badly. The lessons of youth, I guess. That was a well-written cautionary tale!


  2. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=34381143378

    We've a Peace Corps Brazil Group on Facebook.

    Would like to add a link to your Blog from the exPCVs and Staff web site. Is that a problem?

    Gene Whitmer/webmaster

  3. At least they were good guys. Although I can only imagine how much fun clubbing was that night.

    - Kendall from Mama Kat's

  4. Yep, you named that post correctly: Senseless. But it takes moments of senselessness for us to begin making sense. Happy New Year!

  5. Senseless maybe...but it sounds like a whole lot of fun and what a great memory!!

  6. You were lucky, lucky to be with two peole who were such gentelmen. Thats a great memory, even with the foggy parts.

  7. If the room spins keep one leg hanging off the bed on the floor while you lay in the bed. It seemed to work when I was younger. Fun reading of your experience of senselessness. Cheers to the new year.

  8. Ola Carolina.
    Muito obrigado por suas palavras sobre esse maravilhoso país chamado Brasil. O meu inglês também não é lá muito bom, mas o seu portugues é bem melhor....rs rsrs ...
    Aracaju mudou muito desde que você esteve por aqui, e para melhor. Convido-a para voltar. Será um enorme prazer recebê-la. E, se precisar de um guia de turismo, fale comigo pelo email:
    Felicidades !!!!
    Faça uma correção no seu texto sobre a igreja na Bahia. O nome correto é :

  9. Obrigada para a correção. Pensei "dos Passos" mas encontrei "do Passo" no internet. Gostaria de visitar Aracajú outra vez. Talvez algum dia.