Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Que Preguiça

Seeing as how it's been a while since I last posted, I figured that an appropriate title was Que Preguiça- What Laziness. For all those of you bored at work, I'm sorry I've failed to serve as a distraction for the past two weeks. Life has been full of outings and general busyness, and I'm starting to feel the pressure to take advantage of everything that has been going on in Rio for this last week and a half I have here!

The Daily Commute
When I talk to friends and family about my experiences in Rio, its usually for the purpose of giving updates or news. I rarely mention the daily rituals that have become so routine I forget they are unique to my 8 weeks in Rio. One of my favorite such routines is ironically the most dreaded part of the day for many: the morning commute to work. While the speedwalk to the bus stop is often harried and stressful (my sense of timing has always been Latin American, ie late), once I get on the bus I choose a window seat on the right side, pull my ipod out of my purse, and settle into 40 minutes of musical and visual bliss.

I stare out the window, listening to newly acquired Brazilian music like Manu Chau, that appropriately accompanies the scenic journey, or to American music like LCD Soundsystem, that brings back memories of good times had with great friends. To this soundtrack I pass by the beaches of Ipanema, where there always seem to be an abundant amount of people taking sick days, past the canal into a calmer and more elegant Leblon. The bus goes up a cliff and on to the entrance to Vidigal, a favela with one of the best beach views in the city, but a favela nonetheless. From there the bumpy ride continues along cliffs overlooking crashing waves of the Atlantic, through a tunnel and into San Corvado- a district with its own flavor, where a colonial whitewashed church plopped in the middle of condos never ceases to capitvate my imagination. After another tunnel we reach the sprawling Barra da Tijuca, where I'm convinced there exist more stores than people, and I reluctantly disembark from the bus and go on my boat ride to work.

Teeshing Engleesh
Entering into the final two weeks at Terrazul, Gaurav and I reached a turning point in our mini-internship. We are done with translation work, and the kids who participate in extracurricular programs are on vacation. We have for the most part contacted all the universities we think might be interested in sending students to Terrazul. In regards to future connections for Terrazul we are playing a bit of a waiting game as people slowly respond to our emails or demonstrate hesitant interest. Terrazul as an organization is also at a turning point: The Rede Arredores project has come full circle, and the team here is looking to expand iand renew partnerships with Uni-Med, a well as create a new partnership with Petrobras to further improve the quality of the Lake Complex.

Our coworkers are busy with end-of-the-year evaluations and strategic meetings for the several coming months, but have been kind enough to take us out on excursions all around Rio de Janeiro. I really can't rave enough about how generous and welcoming everyone at Terrazul has been. My only very inadequate way of expressing thanks to them is through more cookie-making, which will take place in the Terrazul kitchen tomorrow. We’re so lucky to get to see parts of the city that tourists never think to explore on our own. Last week we went into the urban rainforest; I felt like I could only see in different shades of green, but it was beyond beautiful and tranquil.

Recently we have been devoting most of our time to giving English lessons to our coworkers. Most educated Cariocas have taken an English course at some point in their lives, but many have never used it in practice. English classes in Brazil require years of grammar study before conversation is even taught, and as such many tire of the language before they are able to enjoy it. Teaching English has been my favorite task assigned at Terrazul, and I love seeing direct results from the work I've done. Even after only three days everyone already feels more comfortable with speaking out loud. It’s a weird sort of responsibility to teach others your own native language. I know I should be correcting people’s errors, but English with a Portuguese accent is so pretty that I’m secretly and ashamedly hesitant to try and make them sound so American. We’ve been teaching useful everyday phrases, general conversation starters, and environmental vocabulary. I think the majority of Brazilians know as many English swear words as I do. Thank you Hollywood for not letting me getting away with anything.

Aproveitando todo
The weekend before last my dad visited Rio prior to a business trip in São Paulo. As much as I love everyone I've met in Rio, it’s always great to see a familiar face, and share the place you love with a person you love. I also am not one to complain about high-quality cuisine or hanging out at the Hotel Fasano rooftop pool overlooking the beach. As Cariocas would say, I led a very chic (pronounced Sheeky) life that weekend. I’d also like to take the opportunity right now to put it down in writing that Dad agreed that to take the whole family back here for the Copa do Mundo in 2014. The next challenge is getting him to agree that purchasing a a beachfront property on Ipanema before prices skyrocket is an excellent investment opportunity. This is obviously just a completely unselfish and caring suggestion.

One of the things I’m going to miss most about Rio de Janeiro is the spark of anticipation I get before a night out commences. I never know who I’m going to encounter or what will end up happening. Rio is one of those cities where everyone is so receptive to new people that it brings out the romantic in everyone. I’ve met and had real conversations with people from the age of 16-30, who were from Bahia to Ohio to France. Who knows if tonight is the night were I meet someone who will become important in my life. Don’t worry, Mom, I don’t have a Brazilian boyfriend and I will be coming home in August…unless of course some thrilling turn of events occurs in the next week...teehee.

Some thoughts on departure
How cruel it is to be leaving Rio just as Carol, Gaurav, and I are becoming a legitimate trio, going on all-day and night excursions around the city. Maria Luiza has started to give me a daily breakfast reminder of our departure, mentioning how much she is going to miss having us around their homey apartment. It will be weirdly different to study abroad in London this fall and not having the same cozy and familial apartment to come back to when the day is over. Luckily Carol and several of her friends will be backpacking through Europe this winter, and one of their first stops in December will be London. Imagining five Brazilians and I gallivanting around London puts such a funny mental image in my head, but I'm already looking forward to seeing them there!

The other night we were out with Carol and her friends, and one of them asked me if, when I returned, it would be different for me as I now know and understand the Brazilian way of living. I hadn't thought about my return in that perspective, but I have to admit I will miss the passion for life and openness Rio brings out in people. On the other hand, I'm incredibly excited to see friends and family. I've missed more than anything American senses of humor and the giddy feeling of joking around about nothing at all while sitting at the kitchen table all night.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Uma Mensagem Curta

As I sit here writing this my eyes are a little glazed over, but Gaurav and I finally have finished emailing our contact list of colleges for Terrazul! So far most of our replies have consisted of “on vacation and out of the office” auto-replies and offers to forward the information to other departments, but hopefully we will get lucky soon!

Bem-vindo a Facebook
The facebook page for Insituto Terrazu is finally up and running. If you have a facebook please “like” the page at:!/pages/Instituto-Terrazul/133893369964785?ref=ts

I should warn you that it is all in Portuguese, but there are pictures up of the Festa Junina where the kids went around encouraging people to recycle, as well as a few other pictures and a video. At the moment the site has only five fans, two of them being Gaurav and myself, but I´m expecting a surge once the teens in the after-school programs obtain the link. The picture above is from one of the field trips we accompanied- active learning woo!

Yesterday afternoon we stayed at work an hour later than usual to sit in on a meeting of the youth production company. Discussion was heated as the group is now going to split into two units: one will film monthly news report segments called “Espremendo o cérebro” (Stretching the Brain) and the other will produce short videos and films for outside clients. To date they have no set budget or contracts that they prepare for clients, which has proved to be a problem in the past. There was actually a slight price discrepancy for the film made during the Festa Junina a couple weeks ago, and a misunderstanding about a film made in Tijuca National Park prior to this. I´m going to start working with them to get their business plans more firmly set.

Lapa and I meet again
Despite the fact that the last time I went out in Lapa I came back phoneless, tonight we´ll be making a return journey with Carol. We´ll be dancing Forró, a traditional Brazilian dance. I just youtube´d it here:

At least I´m no stranger to embarassment.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Chame-me Senhora Fields

Oi gente! Within the span of a week, I will have made four batches of m&m cookies. We made some for Maria Luiza’s birthday and have since had several requests for follow-up batches for friends and family. There is nothing sweeter (teehee) than bringing American desserts to another country. At least now I know that if all other plans in life fail I can make a killing opening a cookie stand in Rio.

There was something uplifting about making the cookies on the 4th of July. For the first time since arriving in Rio de Janeiro, I felt a little homesick for Lake Minnetonka, fireworks, Excelsior Commons festivities, friends, and barbeques. I made a playlist with assorted American songs (think Glory Days, Sweet Home Alabama, and Party in the USA) for my walk along the beach but there is something very un-American about a bunch of fit, tan people in skimpy swimsuits drinking water out of coconuts. In hindsight, this may not be a negative thing.

Words, words, words
Spending time in a country that speaks a different language forces you to constantly be thinking about appropriate word choices. As I learned in the first week, there is a sharp distinction between memorizing vocabulary and knowing how and when to use it. I wish I had taken a linguistics class before coming here. I find it so mind-blowing that thinking in a specific language can frame your worldview in a completely different way than another language, simply because each will have different ways of expressing oneself. There are some words in the English language that are so specific they’re impossible to directly translate. Take the word awkward- a word Americans (especially my generation) have adopted to apply to everything from a simple conversation that doesn’t flow quite right to a preteen girl who is just learning how to put on eyeliner and is doing so with a heavy hand- we’ve all been there: it's rough. In Portuguese, awkward roughly translates to difficult, uncomfortable, or embarrassing- but to me none of these phrases can capture a truly awkward moment. As Katie Conroy would say, some situations are just A-Q-U-W-A-R-D (sorry, I had to).

At the same time, the many Brazilians, intead of using “nos” the word for “we,” say “a gente,” as in "the people". For example, if someone is going to say we should all meet at 10, they’ll instead say the people will all meet, and you’re supposed to assume you are one of the “gente.” I think there is something about this that is more communal and inclusive than we Americans are able to convey. I can’t quite describe it, but the word puts everyone in the vague “we” on an equal level.

Joking about appearances? A-OK. Mama jokes? Not so much…
Brazilians also tend to address the appearance of those they are talking to very directly. If you’re dark, people will call you negrao- basically a much less offensive equivalent of “blackey.” If you’re fat, you can’t kid yourself by ignoring mirrors, because you WILL be called gorda. I’ve been called “branquinha” on several occasions, which is basically an endearing way of calling me pasty and reminds me that I need to start hitting the beach. This lack of political correctness was surprising at first, but it also puts people less on guard in terms of racism- what you look like is simply how you look.

Fresh off the boat… from work on the island
Terrazul is still going well- today we began emailing universities that we’ve researched over the web and are known for having strong environmental science or Portuguese programs. We’re trying to set up future exchanges for Terrazul, so they can establish contact with American universities, get more student interns, and connect their students with northern counterparts. It’s weird to think that we’ve been here only four weeks and are already essentially searching for our more qualified replacements.

I also created the beginnings of a Facebook page for Instituto Terrazul. I have yet to post any news, pictures, or links but it is all on its way. Fortunately, Brazilians excel at social networking (my home page is always full of Portuguese status updates) so I have no doubt that the page will be left in very capable hands.

Finally, today Marcos (the director) and I discussed the idea of having a “Mesa de Inglês” discussion table each week for about an hour, where people would just pick topics to discuss in English. A lot of people at work and in the community have studied English for years, but have yet been able to apply it to real-life situations. There are only so many times the phrase “John had to buy milk at the grocery store” (courtesy of Carol’s English textbook) can be dropped into everday conversation. Something tells me this endeavor will prompt me to make another batch of cookies