Thursday, July 30, 2009

Purines, balcaulhau, and life

Open me up and you will see, I'm a gallery of broken hearts, I'm beyond repair, let me be, And give me back my broken parts

The table was set for 20 people. We were a mixture of master students, professors, doctors, Germans, Portuguese, Brazilians and one elegant crazy redneck American. It reminded me much of what the last supper would be like. We were in a back room, the middle seats of the U-shaped table were occupied by the heads of the lab, who always called all the shots and the seats were full of all sorts of different people and personalities brought together through one common thread... purines. The unspoken rule that was accepted as we sat down was that despite this common thread we were not there to talk about work. We could have talked about the enzymes that were hard at work trying to metabolize the alcohol that was consumed, or even the areas of the brain that were firing signals to let us keep lifting the forks full of balcaulhau to our mouths. But that was all off limits. Tonight's dinner, like every other mea in Portugal, is strictly for enjoying the company of those you are with. For learning from them, not methods that are useful in the laboratory, but things ways of thinking, experiences, and what one expects of Obama.
The amount of portuguese spoken was directly proportional to the amount of alcohol induced. As the beers and wine kept coming the english decreased until I was the only one speaking my native language. I smiled and watched the faces that I have come to love.
There was Mize who was always the life of the party with a smile that makes the whole room sparkle, and Andre who would get a sly grin on his face and look my way with knowing eyes when someone would say something worthy of a "that's what she said", then Rita with her constant chatter that feels more like a security blanket than an annoyance, around the corner were my lunch buddies Vania and Diogo who always made sure I sat down to eat with them. Then there was the Professors Riberio and Ana, the heads of the lab who told stories of their children and hatred of TVs, then the ever-so serious Natalia and the mysterious Vasco who has an easier side to him that I love, but it is kept hidden. Then Sandra who always laughed at the "work" Andre and I did at the computer before coming to see what website we were perusing to pass the time. Then Claudia and Ricardo and Ana Rita, Tiogo, and Susane.
As I was watching the group finish dinner, the word family came to mind. These people work together, fight together, fail together, publish together. Their lives are forever entwined, not just because they share space on a published journal, or in the same building, but because they share their life with each other.
They have a hierarchal system that makes sure everyone knows their place, but tonight it was left in the lab. The directors talked with everyone, the professors with students and the ever feuding medical doctors with the Phd's. It was good to see everyone as people and not just as scientists.
Unfortunately tomorrow is another day. The system will be back in place, and I will be forced to say goodbye to my new family. But my life gets to be intertwined with theirs. My name will follow theirs on a journal article, i've worked in the same building, and i've shared my crazy american life with them. Most importantly though, they have a piece of my heart, and I have a piece of theirs.

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