Brasil, Oct. '11

I have dedicated a separate page of this blog to my trip to Brasil of September and October, because it was honestly one of the most moving experiences I have had. I would really encourage you to read about my visit, and please contact me with any comments or observations you may have -- I will always love to talk about Brasil.
 
Dia 28

My flight last night was fairly uneventful, but for my first Portuguese lesson from an awesome co-passenger! Mr. Chang was happy to hear that I have "finally" found a "productive use for socializing."

I read this morning's sonnet at the airport in São Paulo -- what a treat. Sonnet 28 is a continuation of 27, and together, they make up what is probably my favorite so far. Shakespeare records the phenomenon of losing sleep over a lover, but in a way that is precious and unique as he always is. The two are certainly worth a quick read: 

Sonnet 27: http://nfs.sparknotes.com/sonnets/sonnet_27.html
Sonnet 28: http://nfs.sparknotes.com/sonnets/sonnet_28.html


After a very scenic flight, we were in Brasília! The town was planned by the same architect who designed Chandigarh, where my Nani and Nanaji (maternal grandparents) live! Driving around town, I must constantly remind myself that I'm not in Chandigarh. It's eerie. And great.

When we came to our hotel, I (you guessed it) keeled over for a few hours. 

In the evening, Papa had a meeting, during which I exchanged a few messages with my brother Kenneson before venturing to a nearby mall. Since I am unable to so much as cross a street on my own, it was great to meet "guides" Vittoria (3 years) and her mom Norma on the way, and walk over with them. I wandered the 3 floors of Pátio Brasil before ending up in (of course) a book store. I was immediately drawn to a section with works by authors such as Plato, Ovid, and Shakespeare in Portuguese! I spent a few minutes reading a Portuguese translation of Ars Amatoria, up to the part I have translated in Latin thus far. It was a really neat exercise!

I walked back to my hotel and chatted with my sister Laura, who used to live in Brasília! (We find it just ludicrous that she is not here with me, but she too has some marvelous plans for her gap year.)

Soon thereafter, Papa, Cyprian Uncle, and I headed to dinner at Fogo de Chao, the original Brazilian steakhouse. (Steakhouses have great salad bars.) There, I got to meet Makhtar Uncle (who is the World Bank's Country Director for Brasil) and also see Sameh Uncle again! We had a lovely dinner, with my dad and uncles keeping the WB lingo to a minimum, and instead discussing the social issues being faced by Brasil, as well as Latin America as a whole. The challenges that emerged as most crucial are violence, drug use, teen pregnancy, and subtle manifestations of racism. Hearing about these obstacles in this hemisphere was especially relevant to me after having worked with children facing similar issues for the past few weeks at Sasha Bruce.

But our conversation was not all serious! I learned during dinner that Makhtar Uncle's son Mathias is taking Latin at Nysmith -- I hope to be able to meet with him (now dubbed "Latin Boy") soon and chat about this, as well as his other interests. 


The evening was a very enjoyable one, and I thank my uncles for giving me such a warm welcome to Brasil.

Dia 29

After Sonnet 29, a bit of yoga, and a breakfast of scrumptious fruits, I ran off to get ready for a bus tour of town. After Papa and Cyprian Uncle set off for a series of meetings, I met my guide, Auberto, in the lobby of the Melia, and we were Brasilia-bound! The first thing I noticed was how effortlessly he intertwined Portuguese and English, constantly alternating between providing background information to me and my three Brazilian tour-mates. It was fun to see how much I could understand of his Portuguese explanations!

Our first stop was Santuario Dom Bosco (Dom Bosco’s Shrine), which looks like a concrete box from the outside and a mystical planetarium from the inside. One feature of the church which I found really interesting is the confessional -- it is entirely transparent, meaning one would look his/her priest in the eye during confession, and also be visible to the entire congregation! (Auberto ascribed this design choice to the fact that no one in Brasilia sins.)


Second on the list was Memorial JK, the tomb of President Juscelino Kubitschek. We only got to see it from the outside, but I hope to go back tomorrow to explore the exhibits inside.

Third, we visited the Brazilian Military Headquarters. The space features an enormous acoustic shell (that round thing in the background), which allows words uttered at a normal volume to be heard as unusually loud by a grand audience standing in the space in front of the stage. (I really need one of these in my room. 18th birthday present, anyone?)


For our fourth stop, we headed across the road to see Burle Marx Square, designed by Roberto Burle Marx, who is said to have introduced modernist landscape architecture to Brazil. Howard Roark would be proud.

Then it was on to Catedral Metropolitana, a (literally) breathtaking cathedral which kind of looks like an onion from the outside. The area behind the cross is full of really neat birthing imagery -- there is a stain glass depiction of an embryo (yellow), uterus (blue), and pregnant belly (green). Wow.


Our sixth stop was Congresso Nacional, which is comprised of an “upside-down bowl" (Senate) and “right-side-up bowl” (House of Representatives).


Seventh was Praca dos Tres Poderes (Plaza of Three Powers), home to Palacio do Itamaraty (Palace of Arches -- Foreign Ministry), Palacio da Justica (Department of Justice), and Palacio do Planalto (Presidential Palace). In the middle of the square is an underground information center with an awesome model of the airplane- / butterfly-shaped town of Brasilia.


Our eighth attraction was Ponte JK (Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge), which crosses the man-made Lake Paranoa. The lake is a really pretty color, and I’m kind of tempted to go swimming there. We’ll see.


The last stop was Palacio da Alvorada (Sunset Palace), the residence of Brazil’s president. Dilma’s garden was home to a mango tree and tons of baby emu, which Auberto likened to both guard dogs and velociraptors. 


What a great overview of the city! Back at the hotel, I enjoyed a yummy Pizza Portuguesa and a great nap before re-editing the Annual Report article I had started looking at on Monday. I then had the pleasure of reading a really interesting essay by a close friend, and giving him my feedback. A lot of it was over my head, though!

When the men returned from their meetings, Papa and I headed to the hotel's peppy gym for what was a very invigorating workout. We then washed up and ran a few errands at Brasilia Shopping Mall before dinner. We ate at Universal Diner, a city-renowned restaurant whose chef has been voted "Best Chef in Brasilia" for the past 3 years. My curried shrimp dish certainly validated her title as such -- Mama would have loved it!




I now sit with Cyprian Uncle and Papa as they chat and I await a repeat of the delicious chocolate mousse I had for dessert yesterday. Boa noite!


Dia 30 

After consuming Shakespeare and produce this morning, I set off to delve deeper into the sights I had “skimmed” yesterday. Fabricio, my guide for today, was a gem of a guy, and his excitement about Brasilia really rubbed off on me.
We first headed back to Memorial JK, which I had seen only from the outside yesterday. Three things really stood out here. 1) The library. JK had a collection of over 3,000 books, including 8 really old Shakespeare manuscripts which I was dying to pore over. 2) Brasilia was founded on the same day as Rome! 21 April 1960. HOLLA. 3) JK’s tomb. It’s so futuristic and eerie. Modernism to the max.

Next, we checked out the Indigenous Museum, which was a nice appetizer to the experience I will be having over the next couple of days.
I am currently at the airport about to embark on an Amazonian Odyssey of big planes, small planes, four-wheel drives, river rafts, and choppers -- with the goal of interacting with a remote indigenous population at the end of it all. (!!!) Naturally, this means no internet.

After the museum, Fabricio took me to the TV Tower, where one really starts to appreciate the planning that went into the design of Brasilia. This bird’s eye view is akin to opening a map -- it shows off the unbelievable symmetry of the city spectacularly.




We then went to the National Museum and National Library. Here, in the process of trying to translate the titles of photographs in an exhibit on 1930s France, I learned that Fabricio is fluent in French, Italian, and Spanish in addition to Portuguese and English. And I thought I was a language scholar! What an amazing person.

Once the refined part of our tour was over, we headed to a supermarket. Random? This was the suggestion of former Brasilia resident Laura Kambourian, whom I would be judging pretty harshly right now, if I didn’t have a bit of a supermarket fetish myself. :) Walking through Carrefour was a very real way of “observing the locals,” and I’m really glad I went.
In the afternoon, Fabricio dropped me at the World Bank office, where I ordered a delicious+nutritious lunch, which I actually managed to finish! (I usually don’t eat much.) Even more exciting than this achievement, however, was the subsequent orientation we received on the WB project we will be observing in Acre over the next few days. We heard from Adriana Moreira, who proudly and passionately oversees a remarkable sustainable development project in a remote part of Acre. If I could be any more excited for our journey, Adriana’s briefing certainly made me so.

Following this presentation, I showed my 2 favorite sights, TV Tower and the Metropolitan Cathedral, to Cyprian Uncle and Papa. After this, I went for a quick run at the gym and shoved all my stuff in my bag just in time to leave for the airport.




Bye-bye, Brasilia!


Dia 31 

I will have to approach this particular post with a certain amount of care, as it may bring the writer to tears to recount the sublime events of the past few days in great detail.
We arose extra early in Rio Branco yesterday, heading to the airport in time to be picked up by the governor’s personal 12-seat plane. For someone who loves those few minutes of flights during take-off and landing when the world is visible in miniature, this 2-hour flight was a dream! Literally as well, since I did end up conking out for part of it. 
Upon arriving in Tarauaca (at my new favorite (one-room) airport), we were met by a group of Acre state officials and a brigade of pick-up trucks, all of whom escorted us on a 1-hour journey to the banks of Rio Gregorio, a tributary to the Amazon.
It was from this point that we embarked on an epic 100-mile boat ride upstream to the territory of the indigenous Yawanawa tribe. This leg of the trip lasted 8 hours. Eight hours in the heart of the Amazon, sitting upright on a hard bench, for the first two of which rain did not stop pouring. To find oneself alone with nothing but trees and thoughts for such an amount of time is terrifying at first -- but, in the end, I think I managed to have a pretty good conversation with “Hatna” (yet another pronunciation of my name, Portuguese this time).
After our tiring triathlon of photographs, guava juice, and soaked clothing, we finally approached the community of the Yawanawa -- and our journey was validated in a second. The sight before us was more overwhelming and memorable than anything I may ever experience again. Each and every member of the village stood lining a cliff high above us, wearing traditional clothing, and singing with one voice that reverberated  overwhelmingly through the still Amazonian ambiance. Never have I even heard of such a welcome. As we flopped out of our boats and headed up the hill, our slouches turned sprightly. We were energized. 

The villagers now formed two lines around our group -- one of women, one men -- and continued their haunting song. When we reached a circle of open space in the center of a village, they created a ring around us and continued to sing. I wanted to take a photo or video or something at this point, but couldn’t bring myself to do so. After many iterations of the song, they exclaimed jubilantly, “Yoohoo!” and the chief spoke his words of welcome. Alberto Costa Uncle translated: he told us that their tribe’s most important festival is to occur on the 22nd, and preparations for this have commenced. He apologized for the “small” welcome (about 50 people), but explained, “it’s all we have.” Cyprian Uncle then introduced us and thanked the chief for his hospitality. Papa responded to the chief by saying he has traveled to 70 countries and visited countless communities, but never seen anything like this. (More “Yoohoo!”s were exclaimed after this statement.) The chief told us dinner would be ready soon, after which we would gather around the fire for a traditional celebration.
After dropping my bags in the “ladies’ guest room,” or “Sala A” of the village school (how appropriate!), I joined our group and the chief’s family for dinner. Sitting at the candlelit table and eating the most amazing beef stew I have ever tried, I suddenly felt overwhelmingly at home. In this moment, I felt the same warmth and affection I experienced when I visited relatives in my ancestral village (Gheora) over spring break. The indigenous lifestyle feels so, well, natural. It really makes one wonder what we’re all running after. 
We gathered around a beautiful bonfire after our meal, and the chief offered everyone in the circle their local “healing drink,” said to have been used therapeutically before any contact with the outside world. Then began the singing! The Yawanawa formed a ring near the fire and walked to the rhythm of their powerful songs. We were invited to join, and I leapt up immediately (not something I would always do in a situation such as this). Having become a link of that ring, the words just came. When I tried to memorize and apply the patterns of the music, I would stumble. But when I just opened my mouth, I knew all the words. It was ineffably powerful and very, very uplifting. 
At a break in the music, I headed back to Sala A, where five hammocks mirrored the line of desks on the other half of the circular room. Magaly, a very sweet Acre state environment official, taught me the “proper” way to sleep in a hammock (diagonally!), and wished me “boa noite” before blowing out our candle.
I arose to the sound of cocks crowing. Tens of them. Continuously. I had heard the magical music float in and out throughout the night, once thinking it a wake-up call, but this was a true herald of the day. I folded my quilt, walked out of the classroom, and just stood there for a few minutes. Clotheslines decorated the houses spaced around the inner circle. Children ran about. Roosters shuffled around. What a sight.


I washed up at a big tub of rainwater behind one family’s house before joining the Yawanawa leaders in a circle where they discussed ProAcre, the World Bank sustainable development project which has been supporting them over the past few years. This first project helped them in constructing an administrative building in this village and a housing development in Tarauaca, as well as purchasing a truck to transport goods they produce. They now seek funds for small workshop in the village, that they may build furniture from trees which have already fallen throughout their 450,000 acres (!) of protected territory, “giving new life to trees which are already dead.”


This meeting was followed by a breakfast of tasty sandwiches and fresh fruits, after which we once again thanked them for their incredible hospitality, and shared with them that, regardless of the rest of the group, I certainly plan to return to their home. I am always welcome, they told me, and the wife of the chief presented me with a precious hair ornament make of stunning feathers and delicate yarn. Of course, by this point, I was about to cry, but I managed to squeak out an “obrigada” and a few hugs before our departure. 


Leaving was actually painful. I don’t do well with goodbyes. But I know I will be back.


Dia 32

October 2nd will go down in Ratna history as the Day of Five Flights.

Flight 1:
Reminiscing

I spent the chopper ride from the Yawanawa village to Tarauaca just missing them. It was difficult when our helicopter turned away from the village to depart. Papa could barely get me to say a word during the flight, and all I was really doing was holding my feather hair decoration in a way that it wouldn't get damaged by the wind!




When we arrived at Aeroporto do Tarauca, I slept on a bench for a while before going for a short stroll through town.
Flight 2:
Realizing

During the next helicopter ride (to Rio Branco), it hit me in a more real way that we were flying over THE AMAZIN' AMAZON!! I took tons of photos (mainly to show to Mr. Chanania's AP Environmental class) and meditated in the pristine surroundings.





They weren't all pristine though, as we passed many patches which had fallen victim to slash and burn deforestation. From above, it was also more stark than ever how much destruction is caused by roads! Deforested areas corresponded perfectly with places touched by the highway, a much more telling lesson than one read from a science book.


Flight 3:
Reading

From Rio Branco to Brasilia, I read some more of my bud Ovid's
Ars Amatoria.

Flight 4:
Recording

From Brasilia to Salvador Bahia, I wrote about our adventures of the past few days. (See my post about Dia 31.)




Flight 5: Relaxing

From Salvador to Recife, I . . . slept!  I actually had quite an embarrassing encounter: since we were to stay on the same plane for the next leg of our journey, I decided to sprawl over three seats while awaiting our new co-passengers to board. Being awoken by those whose seats I had "borrowed" was awkward at best. :)


(Lesson of the day: Why go for R and R when you can have
R and R and R and R and R with R?)

Dia 33

We checked into Beach Class hotel in Recife late last night, just in time for me to wolf down some dinner and whip up a blog post. We arose bright and early (literally -- the sun rises around 3 AM here) this morning, and met Ed Bresnyan in the lobby. Ed works on World Bank agriculture and rural development projects here in Brazil, and took us to see two very special ones today.We first visited the indigenous Xukuru community just outside of Pesqueira (about 3 hours from Recife, which gave me plenty of time to catch up on sonnets from the past few days). Historically, Xukuru people were victims of indentured servitude, working on large livestock plantations until as recently as 1988. This particular group has developed a milk collection and cooling facility, which benefits 260 of the 2,000 households there. We had a meeting with a representative who explained the community structure and beliefs before going into the specifics of the facility. Most evident were the trade-offs that had to be made in order for the facility to be feasible while still upholding the group's culture and heritage.

After the meeting, we visited one of the cooling tanks, before heading onward to a Churrascaria for lunch. From there, we were off to Vicencia (3 hours from Pesqueira). Just outside of town is the Quilombola Community of Trigueiros. (Quilombolas are descendants of escaped slaves, among the poorest and most remotely located rural communities in Brazil.) We approached the community via a dirt road through fields of sugarcane (which, of course, reminded me of Punjab).


When we arrived, we were greeted by a group of jubilant village officials in matching "Quilombola Pride" t-shirts. The leader of the group was a strong and friendly middle-aged woman, who gave each of us a big hug and an even bigger smile as we exited our car. A kindly older woman also gave each of us a tight hug. It was like coming home to family! They told us they had been waiting for us all day, and proceeded to give us a tour of their charming town. We saw the playground, school, lovely church, convenience store, and association office. In addition, they showed us a government-donated building which they hope to make into a multipurpose space using funds from the Japanese Social Development Fund (JSDF). After some delicious snacks in the office, we moved to the village square and had an impromptu open-air meeting. Cyprian Uncle thanked them for their welcome, and my dad mentioned the fact that 2011 is the United Nations Year of Afrodescendants. The two went on to emphasize that positive social development starts from small (yet crucial) communities such as that of the Quilombolas.
When Papa closed by thanking and mentioning how much at home I felt among them, they all turned to me and asked me to say something! Speaking ex tempore is harder than I thought!! But what I ended up saying was that I've taken a year to travel the world, and I'm going to India soon, to be able to feel the warmth and comfort I always feel there. Little did I know that I could find places that feel so welcoming and home-like in such a completely different part of the world. I'm sure Ed made this sound much more eloquent when he translated it into Portuguese for them, because they broke into applause. It was so cute. And then a young man asked my father for permission (imagine!) to have his photograph taken with me. Everyone stood around beaming as his wish was granted and then we said our goodbyes.

We were home in a few hours and I had to drag my exhausted self to dinner at Camarada, which turned out to be a lovely local seafood place. 


 And now -- to sleep, perchance to dream . . .


Dia 34 

I arose this morning to the sight of the beautiful Recife coastline.

 
After a shower and a blog post, I headed down to the lobby and met Evelyne Labanca, the Secretary of Management and Planning in Recife. Evelyne is an incredibly warm and bubbly person, and she spent the whole car ride this morning briefing Cyprian Uncle, Papa, and me on not only the resettlement projects we would be seeing today, but also on various and sundry subtleties of Recife culture and history. She had read the Involuntary Resettlement Sourcebook co-authored and edited by my dad, and was really eager to chat about it, and just learn as much as possible from him.

It was really cool to have my first “lesson” in resettlement today, especially because that is my dad’s specialization! The first site we saw housed a vertical resettlement (multi-story buildings) project for 352 families who had earlier been living in stilt-propped houses in Recife’s huge urban mangrove forest. The development is on centrally located land not far from the residents’ old residences, which allows them to maintain their previous livelihoods.




Next, we saw two projects, now completed, which Papa had seen as they were just starting to be built when he last visited Brazil 3 years ago.


Before
After

The last site we saw had double-story houses for each family. This allowed the living space to be separated from the sleeping space (unlike in the other 3 developments) and made the layout very pleasant.

After these 4 field visits, we stopped back at the hotel (where I showered off the day’s humidity and changed into plain plane clothes) before heading out to lunch. We ate at La Cuisine Do Mar, a charming seafood restaurant with impeccable flavors. My dish of rice with shrimp was to die for, Papa's salad was great, and the subsequent cinnamon ice cream I tried at Cyprian Uncle’ suggestion was delicious as well. Mama would have loved the meal, and Nani the dessert!



Post prandium, we connected with Evelyne again, to begin our second stretch of visits. On the menu were two schools -- my favorite! But first, in the car, Evelyne gave me a lovely present. She had taken her lunch break at the city hall where she works, and had stopped by a local jewelry store to get me a lovely ring in the shape of a turquoise and yellow (Brazilian colors!) rose. How very sweet -- thank you, Evelyne!

We soon arrived at our first stop for the afternoon, a state school participating in IDEPE. This project is a collaboration between the World Bank and the state of Pernambuco, and provides additional resources for schools that achieve excellence based on certain pre-identified criteria. The excellence was certainly visible as soon as we walked through the door and stood facing the school’s own radio broadcasting station, where students stream both music and school current events to the community. Next, we heard about a club which teaches dance as an alternative to crime and/or drugs. The AMAZING breakdance group performed for us, and even had one interpretive-ish routine which served as a commentary on violence in the community.



After a colorfully-clad choir conducted a cancion for us, members of the special needs class performed a short skit on bullying. A parent then spoke a bit about the school. His son, who is deaf and had to leave 2 schools prior to this, has been attending classes here for a mere 6 months. He has already started learning to speak, and is respected as an equal by his peers. Papa gave a closing address and we were off to our next stop.

A municipal school which knows the true meaning of “student governance,” Escolha Municipal de Bosco opened my eyes. Students here take part in a Participative Budgeting (OP) program sponsored by the state. Members come together to agree on 3 issues per year which are most critical to their schools, and the government then allocates school funding based on this feedback. Each class in the school elects one representative to attend these meetings, and the school as a whole chooses two students to lead the meetings within their school. In addition, the school can send a candidate to run to be the national delegate who represents his/her state. We had the pleasure of meeting Recife’s national OP delegate today!! Keila, a 14-year-old student of Escolha Municipal de Bosco, represents the needs of Recife’s schoolchildren. Watching her walk around and direct her fellow classmates on how to fill out surveys on the services provided by the school was deeply inspiring. I met a celebrity today!


http://www.vitalizing-democracy.org/index.php?page=detail_news&id_item=1886&menucontext=2&submenucontext=33


Truly heartened to see this kind of initiative and involvement at such an early age, Papa gave an inspiring address on how our future seems a lot brighter knowing there are kids like this out there. The students were super excited to hear this, just as they had been when I had mentioned to them that I am in Brazil because it is my dad’s favorite country in the world. They burst into raucous applause and exclaimed “ayyyyyyyy!” before jumping up and hugging Papa and me. A ginormous photoshoot ensued, which somehow came to involve me signing upwards of 20 autographs (I’m ok with this treatment!) and acquiring a bushel of email addresses and promises of Facebook invites. Keila’s co-president of the school’s OP chapter, Jarde, presented me with a heap of OP paraphernalia, which I will be sporting with pride! I wish I’d had more time to stay and chat with these amazing kids, and I look forward to writing to them as soon as I have a reliable internet connection and competent Portuguese translator -- Lauraaa?

From the school we drove to Recife’s airport, known for being the prettiest one in Brazil (I know better -- Tarauaca’s where it’s at). We discussed in the car how genuine Brazilians are. I had always heard that Brazilians were very friendly (and good-looking) -- but I never realized how true this (set of) fact(s) really is! As I commented in the car,
Brazilian people seem to like you for no other reason than that you’re a person. No wonder they are always in the top 5 happiest countries of the world.

Once at our gate, I browsed a few souvenir shops, ending up at a store with beautiful hand-embroidered clothing. The clothes themselves were very expensive, but I did make a friend and purchase a really nice hand-embroidered bookmark.


I now sit in the plane having finished Sonnet 34 and feeling ridiculously pumped for these next few days in rockin' RIO DE JANEIRO!


Dia 35

We got in late last night and checked into our 25th-floor room at Rio Othon -- a few blocks away from where Justin Bieber is staying right now!


I had two exciting linguistic adventures this morning. The first was Sonnet 35, which explores Shakespeare's indecisive feelings on forgiveness. The second was a "nerd-of-the-day" lesson from Laura Kambourian! She explained to me the subtleties of the Portuguese word "saudade," which cannot be directly translated into English. It connotes the feeling of missing someone or something, but what I find particularly powerful is that it can refer to something currently in one's presence. Too often we miss things we already have, but we have no way of expressing that in English. Laura sent me this Wikipedia article (whattageek!), and the third paragraph contains her favorite explanation of the term: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saudade

Over breakfast, I finally got to meet Flavia! Flavia is fantastic (and gorgeous), and has had a huge hand in helping to plan my time here in Rio (though she is from Sao Paulo -- competitionnn) herself. :) 
At 10, I met the off-the-wall energetic Patricia Riveras in the lobby. Patricia is a Fullbright Scholar, and has a double major in International Relations and Dance. She is half-Argentine and half-Dominican (such a cool mix!) and spent her childhood in Arlington, Virginia as well as the Dominican Republic. Pat has traveled to more countries than I can name. She speaks Spanish, French, and Creole in addition to English and Portuguese. Oh, and she plays the piano. Impressed yet? Patricia does research to examine the effects of violence in Brazil on females, a group often overlooked in academic studies.
"What do you wanna do? Wanna check out a favela?" This was one of the first questions Pat asked me this morning. Naturally, I was scared out of my mind! But while Patricia does work in some very violent favelas (slums), she decided to take me to see Santa Marta, the first one here in Brazil to be pacified. Throughout the van ride, walk, and açaí stop required to get to the favela, Patricia talked at 30 miles a minute, telling me all about the Fullbright program, her travels, and social issues in Brazil. I learned so much and was really tempted to take notes, but instead I got her email address and will be pestering her with questions for the next few months.
The first thing I noticed was the incline. While slums in other countries are found in low-lying areas, Brazilian favelas are steep and the ascent takes some major leg muscle! (Pat identified this as the reason Brazilians have such nice bodies.) We were sure to take frequent water-and-panting breaks.


The next thing I noticed was the solid waste management (i.e. lack thereof). The "sewage system" was basically a stream of water which flowed alongside the steps leading up the favela. Naturally, the lovely aroma added a lot to the ambiance.
The third thing I noticed (as we started to get higher) was the VIEW! Just stunning.


When we could climb no farther, we realized we had arrived at a monument to Michael Jackson, who filmed his video for "They Don't Really Care About Us" with the group Olodum in Santa Marta! There, we met Gilson Fumaca, a tour guide with whom Patricia spent 10 minutes talking about me (positively, I think) in really fast Portuguese that I couldn't understand. Pat did, however, translate for me that Gilson thought I looked like a "boneca" (doll) -- hah! When she told him I was 17, he said that, unfortunately, girls my age in favelas sometimes have up to 4 children! I sighed respectfully but couldn't really imagine it. Just then, a 16-year-old girl he knows walked up to the monument with her 3-year-old daughter (her other child was at home). Quite a wake-up call, if you ask me. Utterly spent, Patricia and I headed to the metro, where we sat and talked and talked and ate coconut popsicles and talked.


Around 1, we met up with Jim (a World Bank consultant) and his fiancee Anna Carolina. Jim and Anna are moving to Boston (YAY!) in a few weeks, where they will be married in January. It was great to get a chance to meet Jim before he went to a meeting and we three ladies headed off to lunch. Our lunchtime Portu-glish conversation was very entertaining!


After our meal, Patricia had to take our leave (she had dance and work this afternoon), and Anna Carolina and I set off for Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain). Jim had mentioned that Anna has 3 weeks to work on her English before moving to the States, and this became one of my missions for the afternoon. I soon learned, though, that it wouldn't be a difficult one, because Anna's English is actually very good! We had great conversations throughout the afternoon about all sorts of things, including linguistics (i.e. English is a farcical language), culture (both Brazilian and American), and how much of a CDF (nerd!) I am. The vistas from atop the hill were glorious, and we sat there in admiration for a good long time. Anna Carolina is a gem.
After 3 long hours of horrendous blog formatting (and some fun emails to Keila and Jarde), the day's meetings were over and we all went out for a fabulous dinner at Zaza, a Brazilian fusion place. There, I got to meet the famous Rodrigo!! Since he and I are going to be best friends, I don't need to write much about him now, but suffice it to say that it was great to finally meet him, about whom I've heard so much from my dad! 

Dia 36

I also got to meet Ana Claudia, a very sweet urban upgrading specialist who works with Papa. Over dinner, Ana Claudia gave me two very interesting things to think about. The first came up when we were discussing different fields in which I am interested: I mentioned environmental science and social issues (education, human rights, etc.) as two potential career paths, and Ana Claudia pointed out that the challenge often arises in connecting environmental work with social work. So this is my next challenge! The second was just a useful way of looking at things: Ana Claudia advised that one’s history and talents are the tools one possesses to address any situation. In this light, my experiences in Brazil and elsewhere in the world this year become more tangible “resources” for me to “access” later in life. 


Dinner was great as everyone exchanged stories about what drew them to Brazil, and we got to recount our adventures of the past few days again. Here’s to many more!


Today (3:24 PM, to be precise) marked the completion of exactly 1/10 of my gap year -- 36.6 days! And the day was beyond beautiful.

After a meeting this morning, we visited a favela (slum) called Babilonia, which connects with another one, Chapeu Mangueira. The latter is home to Bar do David (David's Bar), a boteco (cafe) which was voted the 3rd best boteco in all Rio (it was the first one located in a favela to enter the competition). The food was incredible, and I even got to meet David himself!



What I found most interesting about Babilonia was the green development plan which will be implemented there. Solar panels, individual meters, water reuse, and integrated solid waste management will all take effect through this program. Even as we walked through the community, we noticed that it was very clean, there were many "green" posters, and the recycling facilities were great. Rock on!



When we returned, I set out for the beach, armed with sunblock, Ovid, and remnants of Cancun-caused tan lines. Though it was not as hot as I would have liked this late in the afternoon, I still enjoyed a relaxing read. (Had Ovid been from Rio, I'm sure his Ars Amatoria would have mentioned the beach as a prime place to meet girls.)

Back at the hotel, I set up a blog page for my music (check it out -- 
http://365gapdays.blogspot.com/p/my-music.html) before hitting the sack for a bit. Then, Papa and I went for a run on Copacobana! The energy is incredible.



After a quick shower, I had the pleasure of meeting two of the kindest young ladies I have ever encountered. Mila Lobianco and Ana Claudia Fiod are undergraduate students doing research on favelas with Mariana Cavalcanti of the University of Chicago. After connecting at the hotel, we walked across the avenue to the beach and enjoyed a drink of coconut water as we talked about our respective experiences in working with different people here and elsewhere in the world. These girls are so smart, so driven, and so, so, so sweet. I had an amazing time with them and we plan to meet up again on Saturday. I really cannot wait.


In the evening, we went out to a great place in Ipanema. It was nice to catch up with Flavia, Juan Carlos, Sameh Uncle, and Cyprian Uncle at the end of the day.

Have I mentioned that I love Brazil beyond words?



Boa noite from the wannabe Carioca!


Dia 37

Breakfast this morning started with the words "Convince me to get a Facebook," spoken by Sameh Uncle. What ensued was a 40-minute tirade by me, making him promise never to get one. Hate that I love you, Book of Face.

It was a sad morning meal, because we had to bid the lovely Flavia goodbye! She is going home to her family in Sao Paulo, but I hope to meet up with her soon in DC.



Our field visits this morning were to two favelas (slums), Manguinhos and Alemao. Ruth, the head of Social Development for the state of Rio, was our knowledgeable guide.

Manguinhos is where my friend Mila works, and has not been pacified. It is one of the most violent and dangerous favelas in Brazil -- but we stayed in the safe part. The library, school, and community center we visited are extraordinary facilities. I was stunned to see the vibrant decorations, modern technology, and excellent resources of this government-funded library.



Ruth told us about a number of initiatives in place to make the development of the area eco-friendly. For example, there is a program whereby families who bring used cooking oil (which can be recycled) to a collection center receive free detergent in exchange. Another initiative involves Manguinhos women learning to make jewelry from recycled materials as a source of income. These programs prove that being green doesn't have to be complicated at all!


We then saw two films, one on the development plan for Manguinhos, and one about Alemao, our next site. A teleferico (cable car trolley) has recently been built there, ostensibly as an effort to reduce the commute times of favela residents. The actual reasons for its construction, however, are more convoluted, as many speculate this may be more for tourists than favela dwellers. In any case, the teleferico's view of the slum sprawling miles and miles is really eye-opening. The favela is bigger than many nearby cities.


At each station of the teleferico are mosaics made by the women of the favela. Sameh Uncle especially was really interested in this artwork, so we subsequently checked out a colorful exhibition of other pieces of their art.


Bye! Bye! Bye! The word that makes me cry.

We liked this work so much that we actually got the address of the local studio where these pieces are made. We went there, met the artist, and even got to see some women at work making these mosaics. The business model is really interesting. Children draw pictures, which Volmario (the artist, who lives in the favela) transforms into a blueprint for the work, and the women produce the final product. This is brilliant. It is a source of income for the underprivileged, which combines art with public service, while involving both women and children. Bingo.


After this packed morning, news of lunch was readily welcomed! We ate at a wholesome traditional steakhouse before returning to the hotel to rest up for our evening.

We went out to a great place in Lapa called Rio Scenarium, but I unfortunately felt ill at dinner. When three jackets and a thick pair of socks did not help, I decided to retire to the hotel for the night. Please pray for me! 


Dia 38

Today in a word:

My day was made the minute I woke up (feeling better), and read Sonnet 38, followed by a long string of heartwarming (and much more poetic) messages from my best friend Laura.

I spent the next 7 hours with the lovely ladies Ana and Mila. Ana met me at my hotel, from where we walked to Ipanema for an early afternoon of absolute zen. Discussing everything under the sun (literally), from linguistics to corruption, was unbelievable. I always knew that sand and sun were an unbeatable mix, but paired with beautiful people and a beautiful setting, they really made for a beautiful time.



At 4, we headed to lunch. (Yes, lunch at 4 -- I love Brasil.) We went to Santa Teresa, an artsy historical neighborhood, and ate a leisurely meal at a yummyyy seafood place called Sobrenatural. We were all really drowsy after lunch, but mustered the energy to walk up the street and peer into souvenir shops.



It is very heartening to me to know that people like the ones I have met in Brasil exist. Throughout my visit, there has been constant conversation of the myriad gilded social issues in this country. But I know that with the work of genuine people like Ana and Mila and the other incredible people I have met here, there is much hope for this remarkable place. There has to be.

Saying goodbye was really sad, but Mila's studies may bring her to the United States soon (I hope!) and I will be visiting Rio again soon to stay at Ana's apartment with her. Thank you so much, guys. <3

For dinner, we went to the lovely home of Teresa and Vitor Serra, old colleagues of Cyprian Uncle and Papa. They are amazing hosts, and I had a great time meeting their children Joao and Isabel. Though I have been feeling much better today, I don't want to push my luck -- so good night, World!

Dia 39

After watching the spectacular sunrise this morning, I went back to sleep. Awake again, I read Sonnet 39, in which Shakespeare posits that the one good thing about being away from his lover is that it gives him time to reflect on their time together. I sure hope this approach works for me when I am separated from Brasil!


Around 10, we walked a few blocks up the street to visit Alberto Ninio Uncle's delightful family. His mother, father, and brother greeted us at the door, and we even got to meet his adorable nephews and see his younger son from the balcony! They are all very sweet, and we promised to visit every time we come to Rio (which will hopefully be often).


Then, we embarked on a tour of the city -- via helicopter. It was really moving to be able to see from the air all the places where I have met amazing people over these past 5 days. Santa Marta, Pao de Acucar, Ipanema, and Santa Teresa brought memories of Patricia, Ana Carolina, Mila, and Ana Claudia, not to mention all of Papa's incredible colleagues I have met during this mission.


The sight of Cristo Redentor, the 130-foot statue of Christ which blesses Rio and its citizens every day, brought tears to my eyes. It goes without saying, but I am going to miss this place so terribly  much.

After our aerial tour, we visited Rio's famous Jardim Botanico (Botanical Garden). There was an interesting event going on there: the Festival of Art, Culture, and the Environment (I love Brasil). As part of this was a special exhibit on different "cool globes," interpretations of the planet from a variety of perspectives. This is a really interesting activity I hope to do with my Gyaan Ghar students.


In the garden itself, especially fun for us was the display of Amazonian plants, reminiscent of our 8 hours spent staring at the same. :)


We had our last Brazilian meal (on this trip) at a place called Terra Brasilia in Urca (at the base of Pao de Acucar) before returning to the hotel. From our 26th-floor room, we were deafened by the most dance-inducing music coming from Copacobana. Today was the day of a huge gay parade on the beach! It was pretty bad to have to leave the festivities to catch our flight. Boo.


I drank my last Guarana soda (on this trip) on the way to the airport, where we saw this plaque that sums up my feelings pretty well.


Adeus, Brasil -- você foi feito pra mim.