Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Curtindo a Vida

Oi! It's been a while since I last posted (thanks for the reminders Mom) but it’s hard to stay inside on a computer when there are things to do and sunshine to take in. For those of you who are familiar with my OCD habit of checking weather.com every couple hours, you won't be suprised to know I've continued the trend in Rio... never before have I received such perfectly predictable results: 70's and sunny every day. I lead a rough life

News from the “office”
Work got off to another great start this week, as yesterday Gaurav and I accompanied two of our coworkers, Regina and Vivi, to a local high school. When we got there we were greeted by a very enthusiastic class of about 25 sophomores, where we gave brief presentations about lives in the US. The picture of cars parked on a frozen Lake Minnetonks elicited a great reaction, as did pictures of senior prom. One of the teenage boys asked me if prom had been just like American Pie… wistful thinking on his part. Following our presentations, the students had to analyze environmental issues while studying maps of the Barra da Tijuca area, and then brainstorm possible solutions. The students put my memories of high school science classes spent passing notes with Taylor to shame; everyone was throwing out proposals and debating ideas. They now plan to create and teach environmental education programs for elementary-school children. It was both refreshing and humbling to see all of them so passionate about what they were doing.

For the last 15 minutes of our visit we accompanied our new friends to their literature class; in this case their passion for learning was tempered. Everyone was talking over the teacher about the upcoming soccer game as she prattled on, apparently unperturbed. They only came alive when asked to spontaneously burst out in song - a Colegio Notre Dame original about the book they’d been reading, to the tune of “Baby.” Friends, it saddens me to inform you that Beiber Fever has hit hard in Rio de Janeiro.

Last week I finalized my proposals and reflections for DukeEngage: I now have a plan of action for the remainder of my time at DukeEngage. We also accompanied a different high school group to Marapendi, a lake and park area that very ironically means “clean waters” in the native Tupi language. While learning about the wildlife in the park was somewhat interesting (I'm trying to be green, ok?), the entire area reeked of “esgoto”… sewage. Big condo developments in the region have taken to ridding of their waste in the cheaper and more environmentally-damaging way, as opposed to the correct and legal way. Money isn’t just power, it kind of stinks. What is so amazing to me is that the 2016 Olympic Village is going to be situated so close to this pollution! What is the city planning to do about it? This example serves as a paradigm for one of Brazil’s biggest cultural problems: always putting everything off for the oh-so-vague future. Breathing in the putrid smell was incredibly unpleasant, but it did its job in creating a lasting memory in all those who went on the trip. Environmental urgency is easier to detect when it smells like poo.

Brazil bleeds blue
Last week Gaurav and I met some other Dukies that have been living in Brazil this summer: Amalia and Niti. It was somewhat surreal to be set up by Professora Leslie with two other Duke Laties in a setting so absurdly different from Duke’s. We became fast friends: they're fun, hilarious, and share our passion for caiprinha(s). It’s situations like this that make me gain a whole new appreciation for Duke. I’ve been lucky enough to meet tons of awesome Cariocas, but there is something indescribably comforting about meeting people who have shared similar experiences in life. It also doesn’t hurt that my sarcasm and jokes make more sense in English- what I imagine as clever in English tends to translate into nonsensical in Portuguese.

The girls have been staying at Amalia’s grandmother’s house in Santa Teresa, a beautiful artsy neighborhood set high on a hilltop with an unbelievable view of the rest of Rio. From there, all the lights in the favelas at night make the slums look like little Christmas villages (I’m apparently romantic as well as delusional). It’s one of the few hillside neighborhoods that contains nice houses, since it’s where the rich Portuguese settled when they first colonized Rio. Following dinner at the house in Santa Teresa we went out together in Lapa on Friday night. Prior to this point, whenever a Carioca asked me if I’d been to Lapa they all gave me the same two pieces of advice, which I can now attest to:

1. You have to go, it’s an unbelieavably fun street party with the biggest mix of people in all of Rio.
2. It’s super sketchy, don’t bring anything valuable.

Last week I was also able to reunite with my Kelly Williamson, one of my best childhood friends from Buenos Aires. She was on a volleyball tour in Brazil, and luckily for me the final stop was in Rio. It’s always reassuring to know that there are some people with whom you will always have fun with, no matter how many years you go without seeing each other.

Opa for the Copa
Monday was one of the most fun days yet I’ve had in Rio, as after “work” (aka a field trip) we headed home early for another great cup game. This time we went to Copacabana Beach to watch the game with a crowd of tens of thousands of people. Winning the game 3-0 made the atmosphere unbelievable. Whenever Brazil scored I experienced a sense of déjà vu for Duke tailgate, but on a much more intense level. Everyone jumped up and down, threw beer around the crowd, and hugged whoever they could get a hand on. After the game I partook in a night of celebration, cracking jokes, grocery shopping, and making fajitas in a new friend’s apartment. Sometimes Rio feels like a giant college town: if people are old and mature they are not about to show it after a Brazil victory.


P.S. The picture above is from the second cup game- Gaurav and I with Carol!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Faz duas semanas?!?!

Bom dia gente...
Two weeks into the trip and I'm already scheming: it can't be that difficult to pay off a Brazilian official to extend my visa, right? I'd love to remain in Rio as an expat for the unforeseeable future. My host mom, Maria Luiza, has made adjusting to Brazil a non-issue. She has the patience and mannerisms of a beloved teacher; every time she corrects my Portuguese or explains how things in their house work differently, I come out of the conversation encouraged, rather than feeling like I did something wrong.

This past Sunday I finally made it to the the beach and was able to bronze a little before the Brazil game at 3:30 (woohoo!). I kid you not, the first thing that came up on my ipod when I hit shuffle was “The Thong Song.” My questionable taste in music aside, I was impressed by the my nano's clairvoyance. As it was 80 and sunny, half the city was on the beach, and despite the fact that I was wearing my smallest swimsuit, it looked like a diaper in comparison to my surroundings (men included). The beaches by our apartment, Ipanema and Copacabana, are divided into Postos (lifeguard posts), 12 in total, which informally mark the meeting spots for different groups of people. Each post has a reputation: there's the hipster hangout, some sketchy areas, gay hotspots, athletic congregations, and family friendly stretches. The beaches are essentially a highschool cafeteria transplanted into paradise. My favorite people to watch are the old men playing volleyball who always end up screaming at each other. It may not be attractive, but it's grittily entertaining.

On the bench
Last week Gaurav and I finished our translation tasks and will be receiving more creative assignments in the coming days. Additionally, I received a pleasant surprise this morning in the form of a breakfast phone call-we didn't have to make the trek to work today, due to the fact that the whole office of Terrazul is currently out presenting their proposal for Rede Arredores (the water protection plan) to Brazilian oil giant Petrobras. I kept my fingers crossed for my coworkers today as I took advantage of the abbreviated work week by exploring more of the Ipanema and Leblon neighborhoods.

On Saturday Gaurav and I took the bus to a condominium compound in Barra da Tijuca, where we work, for a “Festa Junina.” Brazil literally celebrates holidays all year long, and apparently June is the month for small folkloric festivals that originated in the Nordeste. Traditionally, people dress up in old-fashioned costumes, stage a wedding, and participate in the Brazilian equivalent of a square dance. The Festa Junina we went to, however, was the modern sort, and I chose to immerse myself in Bahian culture by supporting their food vendors. We were there because Terrazul had a stand at the fair. The teenagers who do afterschool programs had to sport the ONG's t-shirts and meander the festival, stopping to explain to community members how to separate trash into recycling. A cooperative came by later to pick up the recyclable materials. I love the way Terrazul let's the teens take initiative at their events- it seems to lead to positive results for all those involved.

A slice of America
From the festa we walked back to our regular bus stop, and were able to see what Barra has to offer beyond our usual 100 ft. island radius. Whenever you mention Barra here in Ipanema, people tend to cringe and pronounce the name with disgust. While the buildings are undoubtedly nicer, it contains certain elements that are offensively tacky to Rio old timer's: there is a giant replica of the Statue of Liberty in Barra Shopping, one of their major malls. One of the paradoxes I've noticed while abroad is that however much people enjoy American cultural exports, many simultaneously dislike the fact that it is indeed American. Luckily people have been nothing but receptive to Gaurav and me, but I suspect it helps our case that we make an obvious effort to speak Portuguese.

Another eccentricity about Brazil that I find hilarious: Carolina and her friends LOVE the song “Kiss” by Prince. I think I’ve heard it at least 6 times in the past week- I've finally found Minnesota's selling point for Cariocas.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Minha Vida, Traduzida

Frase do Dia: Vambora Brasil!*
English translation: Let's go Brazil! I'm starting easy, but it's official: I'm a World Cup convert. The only thing that could have possibly made yesterday better was a greater margin of victory against North Korea. After a powerwalk along Copacabana Beach (yeah I'm a forty year old woman even in Rio), Gaurav and I set off for a half-day at work, grinded out a few translations, and left, only to discover that rush hour hit a little earlier that day. The whole city basically stopped functioning at 2 PM yesterday, which I discovered as I stood on the bus back to Ipanema smushed between five men in suits. Pleasant. That being said, Rio's atmosphere during a World Cup game is incredible. The whole city was decked out in green and yellow, waving Brazilian flags, with various noisemakers in hand. If a store didn't have a TV in it, it wasn't about to stay open. For the actual game we went over to Carolina's friends' apartment for a churrasco (Brazilian barbeque) on the rooftop. Música, futebol, cerveja, e carne? I feel like I'm living out every man's dream.
* Obrigada, Carol!

Further Back In Time...
On Sunday Gaurav and I accompanied Professora Leslie to one of the many cultural centers in Centro to see a dance-theater performance. I was expecting ballerinas, but instead sat through 90 minutes of screeching noises and grotesque scenes done to Mozart's Requiem. Clearly I am not cultured enough, as everyone else in the audience gave a standing ovation, but I think I'm a happier person because of it. In my own very theater-illiterate opinion, the best part about the "engrossing tribute to Goya" was that it only cost $5 Reais. I'm still undecided as to whether it was better or worse than the Sammy Davis Jr. Musical I went to over fall break.

Making Terrazul Bilingual
Over the past few days we've been translating a document Terrazul has prepared to outline the plans of Rede Arredores, their Lake Protection Project. It turns out that translating technical documents is much easier in theory than in practice; it's like taking apart a puzzle and having to put back all the pieces in a completely different arrangement. Because many direct translations simply don't exist, the people at Terrazul are probably giving us more leeway than we deserve as far as propagating their material in English.

Working for a non-profit like Terrazul makes you aware of how important the need for communication and publicity is. By virtue of being an environmental NGO, Terrazul has to create an informed general public that is willing to aide in protecting the area from pollution. This may be paraphrased from one of the documents I'm translating, but hey, at least it gives me hope that what we're doing will actually help the organization. I've already grown to really respect the people who work there. They are all kind, helpful, and know how to strike a balance between accomplishing the work they want to get done while still being relaxed and friendly. If this is the Carioca professional world, I want in.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cafe da Manha, Centro, e a Copa do Mundo

Boa fim de semana, hope all is well with everyone at home!

A Copa do Mundo
Ahh Sundays… the weekend may be almost over, but I have to admit I'm looking forward to the workweek. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Tuesday will be an abbreviated day at Terrazul, as Brazil plays at 3:30 PM- and when Brazil plays, working is sacrilegious. A Brazilian flag is currently sitting in my closet, waiting to be draped around my back, because even though my loyalties lie with the US, a Brazilian victory would be much more exciting (and probable).

Yesterday we went to a bar close to the apartment for the USA game, even though I shamefully didn't know a single player on the US team prior to the match (Bocanegra is now on my radar, olá!). Luckily many other Americans and Brits were at the bar, providing for a lively atmosphere. Even without our telltale accents, Americans are easy to locate; while the Brits were sitting and watching the game inconspicuously, there's nothing an obnoxious American loves more than a good USA chant, myself included.


Orientation day became orientation week, but I finally know what I’m going to be doing this summer. Terrazul is in the beginning stages of enacting a new project, called Rede Arredores, concerning water quality in the 5 major lakes situated in Barra da Tijuca. The way Rio’s population has geographically distributed itself over time is very pertinent to this subject. Most of the favelas lie on morros (hills), as these are the least desirable areas for home owners. The nicer areas lie in the valleys and beachfronts where the lanscape is flatter and more suitable for construction. This arrangement, however, has taken a toll on all citizens of Rio, whether rich or poor. Favelas often lack adequate sanitation and garbage disposal systems, ergo much of the neighborhoods’ trash ends up in the rivers, which then trickle down the hills into the lakes and waterfronts in the more upscale areas. Terrazul’s main goals concerning Rede Arredores is to monitor the water in Barra’s 5 lakes, improve the conditions, and implement environmental education programs so as to prevent further pollution.

Gaurav and I figure into this project by virtue of our “gringo” status. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays Gaurav and I will be translating Terrazul’s website, pamphlets, and movies into English. We’ll also be trying to contact American companies, NGO’s, and universities with an interest in funding the project, since they already have a pretty solid network within Brazil. It’s a pretty cool opportunity for us and funder’s alike; while its common knowledge that the 2016 Olympics will be held in Rio, most people don’t know that Barra da Tijuca, our neighborhood, is where the games will take place. Supporting the environment and getting some major advertising in the area where the Olympics will be held sounds like a win-win situation to me… so I guess this is my call to everyone who reads this blog to put me in contact with a company/organization who is interested in donating a sizeable sum of money. Eh, eh?

On Tuesdays and Thursdays my work is more hands on, which I’m very excited about. One of the after-school programs Terrazul offers the community is the opportunity for 16-18 year olds to run their own film production company. All the films they make have an environmental angle to them, but can pertain to anything from commercials to wedding videos. To this point, the business has been run without really accounting for a budget or a coherent business plan, so I’ll be assisting them in coming up with ideas and becoming more organized. Hopefully I’ll get to see some pretty cool films come out of this project as well.

On Friday Gaurav and I took off work to be tourists for a day with Professora Leslie as our guide. We boarded the metro and got off in Centro, the business and historical district of Rio. The downtown isn’t particularly cohesive; there are these skyscrapers from the 80’s alongside churches built in the 1600’s alongside ultramodern architectural buildings. In all honesty, it doesn't make for a particularly beautiful urban landscape. My favorite part of Centro was the historical district, which consists of a network of alley ways complete with shopping, restaurants, and bazaars that are always packed and full of people yelling and haggling. The coolest place I saw was a Portuguese library straight out of Beauty and The Beast- were it not for the people in there studying I think I would have leapt onto a ladder and begun to belt out "Be Our Guest."

Note to mom: I’ve gotten very accustomed to a bowl of fruit (with mangos, persimmon, apple, and other assorted fruits), along with a pot of coffee, French bread, and cheese being set up at a cute little table before I wake up every morning. To diminish the culture shock when I get home, this arrangement will have to continue. The food here is unreal, which is almost cruel considering that it’s a beach front city. If I keep eating brigadeiros (balls of fudge wrapped in sprkinkles), I may turn into one.

Frase do Dia:
I was going to begin doing a section on a cool Portuguese phrase I learned every time I post, but seeing as how most of the phrases I learned this weekend were some derivative of “filho da puta,” I may wait until next time. My vocabulary has extended largely due to Carolina and her friends, who’ve taken it upon themselves to make sure the two gringos know their street slang. Carolina has been pretty awesome to take us around everywhere and introduce us to all her friends. She hangs with a pretty diverse crowd here in Rio, as friend groups here are much less confined to a specific school like it is in the states. Even though the country lacks the same college scene as us, they undoubtedly know how to party. Carolina is pretty chill to hang out with; she has a sarcastic sense of humor and isn’t afraid to take authority around us, which is quite necessary given our level of clueless-ness. Whenever we arrive somewhere, we're announced as Carolina and her gringos.

Yesterday Carolina and I bonded over our common love of "True Blood"- apparently vamps are as popular in tropical climates as they are in their natural habitat. Coincidentally, it was o Dia de Namorados here in Brazil, meaning that I got to celebrate a single Valentine’s Days not just once, but twice this year. As I'm writing this I also realized that we watched "He's Just not That Into You" yesterday. Dear Lord, I'm such a cliche. I miss you all at home and elsewhere- write to me soon, I love recieving messages (hem, Kristen)!


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Conhece Tai-lo Sweef-chee?

Olá amigos! Having spent several days immersed in cultural exchanges (ie, struggling to explain how we do things in America), I've begun to wonder how I've performed as an embassador of sorts. Brazilians have proven to be incredibly inquisitive concerning other cultures. Consequently, I've prepared a list of C-FAQs (cultural frequently asked questions) and my responses. Any comments on how I may be misrepresenting the homeland are always appreciated.

1. De onde você é? Ahh... não o conheço, como é? Where are you from? Ah.. I've never heard of it, what's it like?

Trying to explain Minnesota to a group of people who think that 70 degrees calls for a jacket has proven to be quite the challenge, especially given my limited vocabulary. After explaining that the fair state is located in the north, contains thousands of lakes, and is absolutely nothing like Rio, I tend to find myself at a loss for words. While at school I usually fall back on the "It's paradise in the summer" argument, this route is difficult to take after explaining to a shivering group of people that our summer climate is similar to their winter. Guarav, meanwhile, gets to discuss all the similarities between Rio and Miami (a city most have actually heard of): beaches, cosmopolitan vibes, Latinos... to my dismay, Mall of America is only famous stateside.

2. Estados Unidos? Gosta de heepee-hoppee? Fifchee Cenchee? Lay-gee Gaga? Dray-Kee? Tai-lo Sweef-chee? United States? Do you like hip-hop? 50 Cent? Lady Gaga? Drake? Taylor Swift?

The United States might not have the best reputation worldwide, but our music is everywhere. I've learned to talk about artists in a Brazilian accent (as above) or I will not be understood. I'm especially surprised by how popular American pop is here, despite the richness of Brazilian music. Samba beats are infectious, but much of the population has renounced their own music for American exports. It's somewhat disarming hearing the 17 year old girls who don't speak a great deal of English enunciating "have a baby by me" perfectly. That being said, Rio has it's own musical movements going on. "Baile Funk," whose roots lie within the favelas (slums) has become an increasingly accepted form of cultural expression. By mixing samba and other Brazilian beats with pop music, "o funk-ee" attracts the dancing crowd.

3. Qual é seu curso? Que vai fazer depois da faculdade? Não sabe?!?! What are you studying? What are you doing after college? You don't know?!?!

Visiting Brazil truly makes one appreciate the American university system. After explaining that I am majoring in economics, minoring in cultural anthropology, and taking a slew of other courses, people tend to ask me what career path I'm headed towards. When I reply, honestly, that I have no idea what Im doing post-Duke (not that I'm planning on ever graduating/leaving) people tend to appear a tad dumbfounded. In Brazil, as in much of the rest of the world, students choose their career paths prior to entering university and then take specialized classes correlated to their choice of study. Even lawyers and doctors begin training immediately after high school. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the US is the greatest exporter of culture; the flexibility of our society, which trickles down to the education system, allows for people to truly explore their passions and take the time to learn about themselves. Imagine if we had the same system as Brazil in the US! if the proportion of people entering Duke and other colleges as pre-med had to remain in the field, we'd be a country famous for hip replacements and blood transfusions.

In other news...

High of the day: Being told I looked Brazilian by a Brazilian... and then I made the fatal mistake of opening my mouth and speaking Portuguese.

Terrazul's website for anyone who is interested (there should be parts that are translatable into English) http://www.redeprotecaopnt.org.br/terrazul


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Depois do primeiro dia de trabalho

Oí! Well, June arrived and I am finally here in Rio de Janeiro! It's only been a couple days but it already feels like home- thanks to Maria Luisa and Carolina (our host mother and daughter), as well as Professora Leslie and everyone at Terrazul. There is so much to elaborate on I don't even know where to begin! I feel as if I've been thrown into an episode of the Real World: we have this beautiful apartment blocks from Ipanema, an up-and-coming job, and the city of Rio to explore- but no worries mom and dad, there will be no Real World style antics coming from me... most likely.

Having always been a far cry from what one would call an environmentalist (as in shamefully unaware of anything "green"), I didn't know quite what to expect upon arriving to the headquarters of Instituto Terrazul. Actually, headquarters might be too strong of a word. The office is a tiny little house on the island of Gigoia (pictured above), a bohemian locale of 1000 inhabitants. It's just a 30 second boat right from Barra de Tijuca, a neighborhood outside of Rio de Janeiro nicknamed "Little Miami." As one can imagine, the commute is complicated. Barra de Tijuca is a beachfront community complete with luxury condos and shopping. Cariocas (native Rio de Janeiro-ans) generally don't seem to be ostentatious, but this neighborhood holds some of the exceptions. Anyhow, the fact that Terrazul's offices are so homey is slightly deceptive. Priscylla, who helps run the organization, gave Gaurav and me a two-hour overview of what Terrazul does as an organization. I can say without a doubt that there will be no lack of things to do for the next two months.

NGO's (or ONG's in Portuguese) face unique challenges down here, as much of the funding has to be private. The municipal governments that have the most power in the area tend to be disorganized and cover a large scope. While the idea of corporate responsibility is just getting off it's feet here, Terrazul has been recieving most of its money from Petrobras, an enormous part public/part private oil company. Terrazul serves as a community education center for high-schoolers around the area, as well as an NGO looking to protect a Floresta de Tijuca- the largest urban rainforest in the world, whose ecosystem has enormous effects on the entire city of Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro still is missing many services that people in the US consider ordinary fixtures, such as an effective recycling system. While on the one hand this is alarming given the fast rate at which the city has grown and continues to grow, it is also exciting. Rio feels like a city on the brink of greatness, full of potential and business opportunities that are literally waiting to be seized.

Today, following orientation, Guarav and I got to see the actual forest. It is absolutely amazing to travel from the beach, to urban areas, and then to a deserted rainforest all within the span of ten minutes- this has to be one of the most beautiful places to live in the world. Once we got to the forest we were abled to watch the highschool students (pictured above) make videos to promote Terrazuls projects. I am constantly struck by how friendly and welcoming Cariocas are. I spent most of the afternoon being taught slang (gíria) by the students- foi legal (it was awesome)!

More to come on the city, my host fam, and day-to-day life. Way too much to fit into one post!