4 Lessons from Tuning into the Other Side of the World

Old Satellite DishWe are without satellite TV. This is a big deal because in this small town there’s really there’s not much else to do most nights.

We used to have a pirated satellite box which decoded over 100 channels for us. When we got it the guy explained that some day, he couldn’t predict when, the satellite company would change the codes in a way that he wouldn’t be able to crack and the box would be worthless. It’s a gamble, he said. It cost us R$600 for 80-some channels compared to the R$150/month for the official service with approximately 30 channels.  So a fiscally probable gamble, but a gamble nonetheless.  This week the predicted disaster came to pass, and all our channels disappeared with no idea when the hacker gurus will be able to make them return.  Our box lasted us a just over year, so at least we got our money’s worth.

Now we are in withdrawal. No more American blockbusters. No more global news. No more Brazilian channels. We’re sitting on our couch at 8pm each night shaking like junkies I tell you.

My husband is suffering more than me. It’s Brazilian culture to watch the news and telenovela every evening. Deprived of his routine he’s not quite sure what to do with himself in the evenings. As a last resort he hooked the old, huge satellite dish to our satellite receptor. That thing is big enough to tune into the Mars land rover experiments, so his theory was that we should be able to pick up some satellite signals out there. And it worked!


What we got was a collection of Arabic-language channels (5), TV Cuba stations (3), TV Venezuela (Hugo Chavez all the time, every time), TV Galicia (interesting lessons in accents and the Catalan language to this Spanish speaker, unintelligible to my husband), and one Japanese channel we can’t make heads nor tails of.  No Brazilian channels. We’ve been getting our world news from the Spanish and Arabic coverage (the latter is often in English, interestingly).

We’ve learned a few interesting lessons from the experience.

  1. First of all, TV news reporting should pull fewer punches.  One of the Arabic channels is incredibly graphic with their portrayals of the bombings.  Do I remember which country, or who was bombing whom?  No, I remember a school bus of dismembered children.  And my husband and I both agreed that it’s better that way.  Clean up the news, make it acceptable for sensitive eyes, and suddenly we are all blinded to the effects of war.  Children are children, they don’t take sides.  A bomb is a bomb, and it doesn’t either.  Awful stuff.  Every time.  No matter what side you’re on.  Better that we never forget.
  2. Slapstick comedy is universal.  There’s this regular evening show of “gotcha” and hidden camera gags, where someone is tricked or surprised and hilarity ensues.  We think that it’s Canadian and originally recorded in French?  However its shown on the Japanese channel, and we love it even though we don’t understand a word, ever.  Who needs language when you have fake alligators jumping out of trash cans?
  3. Cuban TV is pretty good.  It surprised me to see a few older, very capitalist American action movies on the Cuban channels.  Also some very good talk shows and music programs, and re-runs of older Mexican telenovelas.  So some of the studio equipment is a little outdated and the news coverage is laughable in its propaganda–overall it’s pretty quality stuff.
  4. Telenovelas are pretty universal too.  So what if we can’t tune into the Brazilian telenovelas right now?  That’s Ok, because if we want our evening dose of drama, all we need to do is move on over to one of the Arabic channels.  We don’t understand a word, but the passion seems to be pretty equivalent, the plot lines pretty much explain themselves, and filling in the blanks is half the fun.  Telenovela Mad Libs.

So this is how we’re surviving the TV drought.  We’re in good company because half the town uses the same black-market system we do.  Everyone’s waiting for the latest decoded boxes to be available.  In the meantime, we’ll be tuning into the other side of the world.  Oh, and re-discovering that age-old TV: books.

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