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By Staff | May 4, 2012

My email inbox recently held a message from a young lady who hails from Argentina. And no, she wasn’t offering me a terrific deal on a sheep farm in the Falkland Islands.

The Argentinean lady mentioned that she is currently working on a dairy farm in this country. She also offered some kind words regarding my efforts to fill this space.

You can’t imagine how relieved I was. I would feel awful if my writing caused an international incident. But it’s also cool to imagine having that kind of power.

This wasn’t my first contact with a South American woman. That honor belongs to Angelina.

When my sister Jane was in college, she had a foreign exchange roommate who hailed from Brazil. It was the dead of a Midwestern winter when Angelina landed on our snow-choked shores.

When she arrived, Angelina was apparently decked out for a Brazilian winter: open-toed shoes, a short skirt, and a jacket that had the insulation value of tissue paper. The climate change had to be a huge shock.

Jane took Angelina out to our dairy farm to show her around. One can’t help but wonder what she thought, going from a tropical clime that’s populated with svelte, dusky-skinned people to a land filled with blue-eyed blondes who were as pale as the surrounding snowdrifts.

Our parents fed her a typical Midwestern meal that included heaps of roast beef and mashed potatoes and gravy. As we ate we peppered Angelina with questions.

We quickly learned several important facts. One was that they speak Portuguese in Brazil, not Spanish as some may have presumed. We also learned that Angelina was here to improve her English skills.

This was a good thing as she had a great deal of difficulty getting us to understand what she was trying to say.

For instance, we asked how hot it got back in Brazil. Angelina eventually managed to communicate that it wasn’t uncommon for the temperature to soar up into the 30s and 40s.

We said that this didn’t seem very warm at all. Angelina shook her head and said “Celsius.” Oh. That’s another matter entirely.

Not that this did anything to further enlighten us. What the heck is Celsius?

Turns out it’s an exotic system for measuring temperature. Someone managed to recall scattered bits about converting it to American, something about dividing and multiplying and the numbers 5 and 9. Also, you had to add 32. Or was it subtract?

Angelina took a piece of paper and a pencil and quickly performed the conversion. So 40 degrees Celsius is 104 Fahrenheit That is a tad bit warm.

Jane brought Angelina around fairly often and we always enjoyed her visits. Not just because it was fun to learn more about Brazil, but also because Angelina was exotic and not the least bit hard on the eyes. She was not only out of my league, she wasn’t even in the same galaxy.

Angelina’s English improved rapidly, which was fortunate because none of us was working on increasing our fluency in Portuguese. I even heard Angelina use the word “uffda” in its proper context.

This is no small achievement, as “uffda” has approximately 27 distinct meanings. Some examples are “Uffda, that’s good pie,” and “Your mother’s staying with us for two months? Uffda!”

Our Midwestern tongues often tripped over her last name, which started with M then marched off into several unpronounceable syllables. She didn’t seem to mind when we simply began to call her Angelina Macaroni.

Angelina told us that her father was fairly well-off and that his holdings included a dairy farm. Being dairy farmers, our curiosity was thoroughly piqued. Numerous questions were asked regarding this topic.

They didn’t have Holsteins like we did, she said, instead opting for cattle that could tolerate the tropics. Their cows were allowed to range freely and were milked – by hand – just once per day.

This didn’t seem like a very productive way to dairy. On the other hand, they were in sultry Brazil. Certainly there is value in having ready access to Rio and its scenic beaches.

Her time in the states eventually drew to a close and Angelina flew back to Brazil. Jane continued to correspond with Angelina for a while. It was always a kick to see that “par avion” postmark and the epistle written in Angelina’s super-small, extremely precise script.

Angelina achieved her goal of becoming an English teacher. We later learned that she married and had a couple of kids. We lost touch shortly thereafter.

But I can imagine one of her children, after accidentally dropping his or her macaroni and cheese onto the floor, looking at the mess and muttering “Uffda.”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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