If you were to arrive in the peaceful country of Portugal on the first day of carnival, you would be greeted by a land inhabited almost completely by clowns, cross-dressers and teenage boys dressed in teddy bear suits.
You also would have arrived just in time to slip on your costume of choice and begin the best five days of your life. If you like fun, dancing and complete chaos - three things I happen to be quite fond of - Portugal is the place to be during carnival. How did I get so lucky?
Having been welcomed into the small town of Acobaca in northern Portugal only three short weeks before, five days of utter bedlam was a backwards way for me to get my feet on the ground in my new home. However, as I pulled on my striped tights and adjusted my oversized suspenders in preparation for the first night of carnival, I could already feel myself becoming more comfortable. After all, the blaring Brazilian beats that had started to reverberate through the cobblestones barely permitted one to hear oneself think; my language barrier had suddenly become less of a problem.
The party had started well before lunch on Friday, with the tangible anticipation bubbling over into turmoil by lunchtime. At school, classes were a joke. I must admit that as an exchange student barely speaking the language, classes are always a joke for me, however this was different. Professors didn't show up to teach, stink bombs littered the halls, and numerous karaoke parties had replaced the normal classroom tests and lectures.
Looking around at the various groups of my peers dancing on tables and sliding down banisters, I realized all rules were out the window. I felt as if I was acting in some kind of Disney Channel "Kids Rule the School" special.
My little host brother, Pedro Arcanjo - not yet deemed old enough to witness his elders publicly make fools of themselves - had been whisked away to grandmother's house by the time I returned from school. He was far from disappointed though, as he knew cousins, chocolate and video games lay in wait for him. Adult supervision - even by grandma - was virtually nonexistent during the coming week. I was thankful for his absence as I could paint my face in relative peace, enjoying precious minutes of calm before the welcome storm soon to come.
Anxious to begin the revelry, my host sister, Ana Sofia Arcanjo, and I set out for the plaza at the disgracefully early hour of midnight. Clutching our five-day passes to the disco and smelling the wafting breezes of tobacco and sweat from blocks away, she assured me that we had many hours of socializing, dancing and merrymaking to occupy ourselves before we made it to the popular disco, Sunset (I found it funny that the majority of the patrons were clueless as to the meaning of this foreign English word). A little confused but ready to begin, I grabbed her hand and fell into the crowd of ridiculously costumed and far from sober Portuguese partygoers.
Arriving back home in time to eat a quick lunch and fall into bed to recuperate for the night to come, I was exhausted but happy. Being in Portugal wasn't so bad, and remembering the amount of smiles and enthusiastic greetings I had received in the previous hours, I felt like less of an outsider than I had in weeks.
Seeing my geography professor clad in fishnet tights and sporting red lipstick dancing down the cobblestones in the wee hours of the morning instilled in me a new confidence in the Portuguese culture.
Traditions are important here, as is obvious from Portugal's extravagant cuisine and stunning architecture, but celebration for the sake of celebration is valued just as highly, and I think we could learn a thing or two from the way these people throw a party.
Adrienne Bosworth is a high school senior on exchange in Portugal. She is graduating early, after completing her coursework within three years. For an independent study this spring, she is writing regular features about her experiences abroad for Ali McKenna's "Writing for Publication" class. She plans on attending college next year and is awaiting responses from schools.