Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Last Weeks

Hello again!

I know it’s been a while, but I was unable to use Internet for quite some time, and then I simply lacked interest in blogging again. There are just so many emotions for me right now, and the thought of writing them all down in a way that would make sense just didn’t seem possible. But due to many requests, I’ve decided I would try to collect my thought from the past 4 weeks and put them together for you all.

Life in Islington continued on the same routine of going to class at the Wildlife College. Since the college is inside the Kruger National Park, we’ve been seeing zebra, impala, wildebeest, giraffe, rhino, and even a cheetah one day on the bus ride to school! We have an amazing bus driver, Emanuel, who picks each of us up at our home stay and then drops us all of at the end of the day as well.

We continued having class during the week, and on the weekends we had optional activities planned for us. First, we went to Moholoholo, an animal rehabilitation center. They take in and rescue animals that have either been injure and can’t hunt for themselves or that have been abandoned when they were young. We got the chance to see a baby giraffe, a leopard, cheetah, wild dogs, honey badgers, lions and lion cubs, rhino, vultures, and about 9 other large bird species, all extremely up close. We even got to pet the cheetah!

Another weekend we went on a safari in Kruger National Park. To add to our list of exciting animals, we saw a baby hyena, ostrich, water buffalo, hippos, and baboons everywhere. We finished the safari with a delicious braai (grill out) where we had impala and ostrich kebabs. On the bus ride out of Kruger Park, which was about an hours drive, we saw one of the most beautiful sights: An entire herd of elephant (there were probably around 40 of them) was bathing in the lake at sunset. They were splashing around and blowing water from their trunks and holding each other’s tails. It was such an amazing view, and something that I will never forget.

Back at my homestay, I was continuing to fall more and more in love with this family. They were they sweetest people, and they all worked so hard every day to make sure that everyone around them was happy. We learned new Shangaan words each day, and would use it as much as we could to communicate. My host grandma wakes up around 4am to start preparing meals for everyone, and also to start making mafenti, which are the fried dough balls she sells. Twice, Niki and I woke up before sunrise to help her make them. We struggled a bit with forming the dough into perfect little balls like our host grandma did so effortlessly, but it was great bonding time, and our grandma loved it when we would speak our broken Shangaan with her. We even got to help sell them to all of the school children who ran by the house to school in the morning.

One of my favorite parts of the day was when we got dropped off at our corner after school and Khanyisa (our 8 year old host sister) would be waiting for us there and run into our arms and give us hugs everyday. Then we would carry her inside and everyone at home would greet us and we’d all sit down for dinner and pray. After dinner we would sit and watch Generations, the popular soap opera, and then we often ended up having a mini dance party in the dining room. Khanyisa loved the Macarena, so we would play that on repeat, and even our host grandma would join in! Then they would play us one of their songs and teach us a dance, and so it went.

These people were some of the happiest people I’ve ever met, even though they had so little. There is no running water, and though they have a right to at least 25L of water per person per day, the government has not followed though with that. A water truck is supposed to come every week to fill up the big water container that to where more than 20 families go and fill up containers with water. However, sometimes the water truck won’t come and they’ll be without water for weeks. When it rains, everyone will set out every bucket they own to gather water, and some families will sell that water to make some money.

There is also no waste management, so trash is all in the rivers or in piles in people’s yards for them to burn. Land is another issue because during the Land Act of 1913 and up through Apartheid, so many blacks were kicked off their land and forced to live in “Homelands,” which are not so homey. Since Apartheid, the government has done very little to return these people to the land that they lost, or even to fix up the land that they were put on. Some families have gravestones of relatives on the land that they lived on pre-Apartheid, but often they’re still not allowed to go back on that land even to pray to their ancestors. Unemployment in Islington is about 70%, HIV/AIDS rates in this town are also extremely high, and going to school beyond high school is nearly impossible.

It’s so unfortunate because there’s not necessarily a lack of water or a lack of land, but there is a lack of action and lack of human resources to connect the people to the resources they need. But everyone in Islington cares about each other so much, and everyone is always willing to lend a hand wherever they may need it. It’s such a strong sense of community and one that I will never forget.

After some tearful goodbyes to the host families, we headed to Swadini Resort where we were spending our last week of the program together. The entire week was about reflecting on what we had seen and learned over the semester and what we were going to do with this information now that it was coming to an end. This program has been one of the most eye-opening experiences, but I feel like I ended up with way more questions that answers. It’s going to be so difficult going back to the US and adjusting to life back there. I won’t have 29 of my peers to talk with... and it wasn’t even just talking, because we would all get into the deepest discussion about what we were seeing and how we were feeling and what we wanted to do in life. And since we’ve all gone through this journey together, it’s always so easy to talk with each other about it. I’m secretly dreading coming home and trying to explain what I’ve done this semester. I don’t want to answer, “What was your favorite country?” or “What did you learn?” “What was your favorite part?” “How have you grown?” “How was your semester abroad?”

These typical questions will be some of the most difficult ones. Sorry Mom, but I can’t answer those right now. All I know is that everything that happened has been extremely influential and I clearly enjoyed it because I’ll be studying abroad next semester as well! I’ve been accepted into the SIT Chile: Traditional Medicine program for the fall, and I can’t wait to start another adventure.

All for now!


Oh yeah! P.S. I'm in Cape Town right now with 5 other girls from my program. We all decided to stay in South Africa an extra week after the program ended to explore. We've hiked Table Mountain, seen penguins at Boulders Beach, taken the ferry to Robben Island, gone paragliding, and had an amazing time in the beautiful city. I can picture myself living here. Cameron, you would love this place. I leave on Tuesday and will be back in Northfield on Wednesday!

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Well, we made it!

After a nasty spout of food poisoning (or some weird virus that a fourth of the group caught), the 7 hour car ride was worth it as we arrived at the Southern African Wildlife College. The college is located INSIDE the Kruger National Park, so upon entering, we saw several herds of impala, zebra, and wildebeest. We received a safety course on all of the poisonous spiders, scorpions, and snakes that might kill us, and they even taught us how to properly check our shoes for these critters in the morning. It’s absolutely gorgeous here and it’s crazy to think that this is where we get to have class for the remainder of the semester.

We stayed one night at the college before we met our new host families, and let me tell you, the dorms at this college are 10x nicer than my dorm at Wooster, PLUS we could hear lions roaring in the night. I might need to rethink my college plans… I am pleased to say that I have yet another amazing host family and have loved every minute with them so far. My homestay partner is Niki, a neuroscience major a Johns Hopkins and she’s great to live with. Living at our house is Grandma (who has 6 children), her daughters Tsakani (36) and Ntombi (32), her sons Goodwill (26) and Laurence (unknown.. maybe 30ish?), Laurence’s girlfriend and their 9 month old daughter who they call Princess, and Ntombi’s 8 year old daughter Khanyi. It’s a full, fun house, and I love having TWO little sisters.

Though Grandma doesn’t speak too much English, all of her children have learned it in school so we’re able to communicate. We also have Tsonga language lessons at school at each day, so I’m hoping to be able to communicate more with Grandma as the weeks go on. So far we know simple greetings and introductions, family terms, Thank you, and some meal terms.

Our first few days were just getting to know the neighborhood/town area and getting used to our new families and houses. Most of us live fairly close to each other, and I’ve got two other homestay families living right across the road from us. Meghan and Hannah are in one house, and Mike, Nick, and Jonathan in the other. Mike and Nick were also my neighbors in Brazil, so it’s really fun being near them again!

As far as food goes, I am SO excited for every meal here. For breakfast, Grandma makes porridge (either with oats or pap), and we have bread, peanut butter (yes, we have peanut butter!) apricot jam, and these fried dough balls called mafeti. Sometimes we’ll have scrambled eggs and fried ham slices, but not everyday. Lunch is packed, so we have sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, apples, bananas, and then I usually add some extra snacks that I’ve picked up throughout my trip (just because I’m always hungry, and lectures can get long..) And dinner is my favorite! We have rice and/or pap (oh yeah! Pap is this potato like substance, that’s made from millie miel, and it’s mashed and put flat in a circular shape…. it’s actually really hard to explain. Google it.) and then this delicious mixture of chopped onions, green peppers, carrots, and brown beans, and then usually either fried fish or fried chicken. The chicken here is so incredibly delicious, I can’t even describe it. I feel bad for the vegetarians on this trip. But sometimes as appetizers we have other random cooked beef that looks like it could be liver (based solely on the way it’s strung together) but it’s pure meat. And however they cook it is the way that all meat should be cooked. I’ll have to find out so that Dad can make it when I get home.

This past Saturday was probably one of my favorite days so far. We were at home most of the day, and we had given our homestay gifts at dinner the night before, so we decided to try out the Snow-To-Go that I brought, since none of them had ever seen snow before. Khanyi and Tsakani got out a bowl and some water and we watched the powder expand and turn into “snow.” The smile on Khanyi’s face was priceless, and she absolutely loved it. I showed them some photos of the snow in Minneosta (thanks for the photos, Mom!) and Khanyi then took the bowl of snow outside and started throwing it at the trees. She was trying to put snow on the trees so that it would look like some of the photos I was showing her. So she went to a few other plants, giggling, and plopping snow on the flowers in this 80-degree weather here in South Africa. Then she started throwing the snow on herself and asked Tsakani to throw it at her like a snowball. She was completely covered in “snow” and could not stop laughing. It made my day.

Schoolwise, we’re finally getting back into our routine of having school Monday through Friday from 9-5. Of course that also includes site visits to hospitals and clinics, case study time, guest lectures, and “community building” to keep us all happy.

This weekend we’re going to an animal rehab center called Moholoholo. Should be exciting!

All for now!


Monday, April 15, 2013

Spring Break Baby!

So We've actually left Vietnam already and have settled in South Africa, but I haven't written about my wonderful last week in Vietnam (which was spring break) so I figured I should do that. But first I want to let you know a little bit about where we are in South Africa.

After one of the students was thought to be on a blacklist and almost not allowed in SA, and another didn't have enough pages in her passport to get past Qatar, we all managed to eventually land in Johannesburg, South Africa. We're staying at a wonderful group hostel about 40 minutes out from the center of the city. I can't get over how fresh the air smells and how peaceful it is out here. Our country coordinator, Jan, takes us running every morning at 6am (yes, I've been getting up that early!) and yoga on the mountain is a fantastic way to start the day. They feed us well and are extremely friendly here. We leave on the 10th for Bushbuckridge, a very rural town about 7 hours north of here where we will be living with host families for the remainder of the program. Our internet there may be limited, but I'll try and do another blog before we leave.

Alright, Spring Break! Basically, we were allowed to go wherever we would like for our spring break week, we just weren't allowed to leave the country. Pretty neat. So we split up into smaller groups (traveling with 30 students isn't always the most fun thing) and planned out our week as we pleased. I traveled with 7 other students (Sam, Genevieve, Nate, Amy, Mike, Nick, and Anna)

A great group of adventurous friends who wanted to see as much as we could while still having time to relax on the beach. And that’s exactly what we did.

We started out by flying from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, which is basically traveling from northern to southern Vietnam. We stayed at this wonderful little hostel right in the city and it turned out that another group of us was also staying at the same hostel! So we got to hang out with them as well as we wandered around Ho Chi Minh City. Our first day there I walked around with Bianca, did some shopping in the markets, had our lunch paid for by a very kind Vietnamese woman, did some sight seeing, found an adorable cupcake shop, and then went to the night market. The following day was our last day in the city, so I went on a tour to the Mekong Delta with Bianca and Nikki. The delta is known for its huge floating market, but there’s a lot more on the river as well. So we drove about 2 hours to our starting point on the river, and took a small boat from there. We visited a coconut candy factory, a bee farm, a small island where you could feed alligators and ride around on bikes, and then we took even smaller boats to go around to different markets. We met some really cool people on the tour (other travelers) and had a fabulous time!

That night, we took an overnight sleeper bus to Hue, our next location. Hue is best known for its sand dunes and wind surfing, but we only did the sand dunes. Our hostel there was right on the beach, too! We only spent one night there before taking another overnight bus to Nha Trang, probably one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever seen! We got there at 7am, so we literally had the entire day to sit out and swim in the ocean. One of my Danish friends, Cecilie, was also in Nha Trang so we met up at her hotel and then we ended up getting a small room there for the day, to store our bags, to use the bathroom, shower, and nice place to come back for some AC. We ate dinner with Cecilie and her three other Danish friends, and then we took our final bus trip, a 12 hour ride to Hoi An. We arrived in Hoi An around 8 am and got to watch to watch the sunrise over the rice fields on our drive there. Hoi An is an adorable little town (Mom, you would love it!) with lanterns hanging from trees and on the side of the bridge, yellow buildings with coffee and ice cream shops, small streets, beautiful temples and a market right along the river side. We spent the day there shopping and eating some of the most delicious pho’ in all of Vietnam (by our own inference). We rented bikes and took them to the beach before heading out to Da Nang, the town less than 30 minutes away where our hotel was and where we would be for the remainder of break.

Da Nang was also the same beach town that the group we met up with in Ho Chi Minh City was staying at, so we got to hang out with them again. This is definitely a developing town that hasn’t quite turned into the tourist attraction they seem to be hoping for. The beaches were nearly deserted until about 3 o’clock when school got out, then all of the kids and their families would swarm to the beach and stay until the sun went down. It was a nice change not to be surrounded by tourists, though. Most days we just chilled at the beach and ate fresh seafood, but one of the days we rented bikes and biked up to the top of the mountain/hill that had the Lady Buddha at the top of it. Even though it was extremely hot that day and it was a pretty difficult bike ride (especially since some of the bikes were a bit broken…) it was a beautiful view at the top, and the statue is actually huge! It reminded me of the Christ Redeemer Statue in Brazil.

After a fantastic week’s break, we flew back to Ha Noi for two last nights with our homestay families. After a large farewell dinner and little bit of karaoke, we were back at the airport getting on a plane to South Africa.

It’s crazy how time is flying.

All for now!


P.S. I apologize for the lack of photos, but due to our Internet situation it is nearly impossible to upload anything more than this text. If I get to an Internet cafĂ© any time soon I’ll try and upload a few photos.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

We're not in Kansas anymore

Not that we ever were in Kansas... but coming to Sapa was like going to completely new place with scenes I've only ever seen in National Geographic.

Unfortunately, most of beautiful photos from Sapa were lost with my camera on the bus... I was devastated to say the least, but thank goodness for iPhones eh?

Sapa is a rural town in the northern mountains of Vietnam. If you google it, you'll begin to understand how breathtaking this place was. I could have spent the entire semester here (I really am a country girl..) but we only stayed for a week. It was really nice to get out of the super busy and crowded city of Hanoi. Looking back on it, this was almost like a pre-spring break trip, because our schedule here was so much more relaxed than usual. We spent the first few nights at a hotel in the actual town before heading to the smaller village of Ta Van where we spent 3 nights. It was such a crazy thing to be doing "homework" with this amazing view around us.

There were water buffalo, chickens, dogs, cats, pigs, and even a few rats running around the village. Casually. We talked with the village leader, went to a Hmong and Dao village nearby, and haggled with the man local women that came up to us saying "You buy from meeeee?"

It was a bit odd how much tourism had become a part of this village. There were tons of backpackers shops filled with knock off North Face jackets, Keen sandals, backpacks, snow pants and anything else a true backpacker might need up these northern mountains. It actually was quite a bit colder up here, so I gave in and bought me a new light jacket. Then I started bargaining a bit more and ended up getting a wonderful $16 backpack (which proved very useful for spring break!)

So after leaving Ta Van, most of us stayed in Sapa for the rest of the weekend. It was oddly foggy in the town, and then we realized that we were literally IN the clouds.

I took a motorbike tour with one of our translators and three other girls in the group and we got to see even more of this beautiful country side. We went up pretty far in the mountain area where most of our group was hiking. (Due to a sore throat I chose not got hiking). But motorbikes are a great way to get around and see stuff! We got to stop whenever we wanted to take photos, and they brought us to a waterfall and several other villages along the way.

There were also a TON of babies all over Sapa and the surrounding villages. Just about every woman had a baby on her back (which was a little weird as well..) But they were all so adorable! I even got to hold one for about 15 minutes while one woman was helping a customer. Made my day :)

Finished off the weekend by making it onto a Vietnamese reality TV show! It's always women who are trying to sell jewelry and bags on the street, and we really didn't see many men while we were in Sapa, so when this 20 year old man came up to us and tried selling us bags, we knew something was up. Then we saw the camera crew behind him, but I figured I'd just go with it and see what he wanted. So my friend Bianca and I chatted with him for a bit and humored him as he tried to sell us the same things that the Hmong and Dao women were trying to sell us but for cheaper. He claimed he was just trying to make money for a train ticket home.. But he was even dressed in the traditional clothing of the Hmong women! After talking with him and "bargaining" for about 15 minutes we found out he was a college student in Hanoi and was studying business, but he wouldn't tell us anything about the cameras. Bianca ended up buying a bag from him and then he headed off down the road, camera crew and all. While we were talking with him, some of the others from our group were talking with the camera men and they found out that they were filming a reality TV show and they gave us the youtube link for where the episode will be posted once it's done being edited. So I checked Vietnamese TV off my list and carried on with my night!

Some food we ate

The view from our hotel

Bianca, the Reality TV man, a Hmong woman, and a Dao woman

We took the overnight train back to Hanoi on Sunday night, and resumed our busy class schedule on Monday. Friday we left for Spring Break (that'll be my next blog) and this Monday (April 1) we leave for South Africa!!! Oh my goodness. So excited.

All for now!


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

We Got a Boat!

So last weekend, about 20 out of the 30 of us students went to Halong Bay for two days. The others also went, but they did a single day tour rather than an overnight. Halong Bay is one of the "must-see" sights in Vietnam, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The tale of the bay is that while the Viet people were fighting foreign aggressors, dragons came down from the sky and spat out pearls that changed into jade stone islands which knocked out the enemy. These islands are what now makes up the breath-taking view that Halong Bay offers.

So the twenty of us got a two day tour and spent the night on the boat. We basically rented our own boat for those two days, because it was only our group on the tour. We were picked up early in the morning from our school in Hanoi and took a bus/van 4 hours east to the coast of Vietnam. From there we took a small boat out to our private boat where we were greeted by Tiger, our tour guide for the weekend.

Not only did we have our own boat, but we also had a dining room with karaoke and a wonderful cooking staff that fed us so well while we were there!

And we had the whole top deck to lay out, read, and enjoy the beautiful weather with great company

After eating lunch, we were taken to a huge cave (it's a bit made up and touristy, but I'm not complaining) that we got to explore, and then we got to go kayaking in the sunset. While we were kayaking, Tiger took us through a little cove where the other side of the rock was where a large group of monkeys lived! They were swinging from vines and climbing on the walls of the rocks, making noise and throwing coconuts! I was hoping one might jump in the kayak, but no such luck...

We then came back to our boat, had dinner and stayed out on the top deck sharing stories and bonding even more (it seems like we'll soon be out of new things to tell each other because we learn so much everyday about each other's lives) Then we were soothed to sleep by the waves of the ocean :)

The next morning we woke up to calm seas being hovered by a light fog. We woke up early to hike up to a beautiful view, but because of the fog, we couldn't see much. It was still a great way to start the day though!

Then we boated along for the rest of the day, passing several floating villages and boat carts offering little snacks to eat. We bought some Oreos from this woman :) It was really cool watching the fog clear up as the day went on because other boats would emerge from the fog and I felt like I was in one of the Pirate movies. Unfortunately, Halong Bay is not well taken care of, and the water is getting more and more polluted with pollution from boats and trash from the people. It's quite sad that such an amazing place is becoming so polluted..

We were eventually dropped back off at the dock, and driven back to Hanoi. It was such a great little escape weekend, and luckily we left for our rural visit in Sapa a week after returning from Halong Bay. I'll write an update on Sapa in the next few days!


Friday, March 8, 2013

Update: VIETNAM!

As you can probably tell from my lack of blogging, I've been quite busy these past few weeks. Since there's a lot to inform you on, I'm not going to go into too much detail about everything that's happened, but here's a little wrap up:

- Last week in Brazil was fantastic. It was hard saying goodbye to our host families, our country coordinator, and our translators (who also became our very good friends)

-Took a 13 hour plane ride to Doha, had an hour and half layover, and then continued for another 10 hours to Bangkok, and one final 2 hour flight to Ha Noi, Vietnam!


-We were introduced to our new host families!! I am staying with Yenling, a student from Brown who is actually Vietnamese. Her parents were born and raised in Vietnam, but moved to the US in the 80s and this is Yenling's first time in Vietnam! She's speaks the language quite fluently (although she says she doesn't know much.. she's able to translate almost everything for me). We're living in an apartment building with our host mom, dad, and two younger brothers, 7 and 10. Our little brothers are pretty shy but they're warming up to us now!

-Our host grandma and grandpa live a few floors above us and come down for dinner everynight! Grandma is always smiling and giggling and loves it when I say the few words of Vietnamese I know: Thank you and It's delicious!

-Grandma also calls me Helen.. not sure if she just can't pronounce my name or if she thinks that's actually my name. She's too cute to correct, so I just go along with it.

-I brought "snow-to-go" as a gift for my host family, and the little boys are in love! They have a bowl full of "snow" and they told me this is the first time they've ever played with snow. They make little snowmen and are constantly playing with. It made me happy :)

-My host family buys Danish milk, Danish applejuice, and Danish laundry detergent. Why? Because "they have good products." Awesome.

-Woah Vietnam is awesome!

-Ha Noi is another big city, and there is SOOOOO much traffic. Meaning, a few cars, a few more taxis, several bicycles, and OH-SO-MANY motor bikes. Everywhere.

-There is lots of air pollution in Ha Noi. You know those face mask things that ill people sometimes wear? Yeah, just about everyone here owns at least one of those. It's a new fashion actually, and they sell them all over the place with cute patterns and different sizes to fit everyone's personal needs! They have carbon filters in them so they actually help too!

-Crossing the street is a very dangerous task because no one will stop for you. They will, however, swerve around you as you make your way slowly across the deadly road.

-Stop lights and lines on the street really don't mean anything. Why not go on when the light is red? Why not drive against the traffic? It's casual.

-Cars park on the sidewalk.

-I get lots of stares and points when walking down the street or riding on the bus. It's probably just my stunning good looks. But it could also have something to do with the fact that I look nothing like any of the Vietnamese people and I stand out quite a lot with my height as well. Not sure how I feel about all of this staring yet... The children smile and say "hello" at least!

-Food: CHEAP.

-Food: DELICIOUS. lots of rice, lots of noodles, lots of new muscles in my hand from using chopsticks 24/7.

-Food: Dragonfruit is my new favorite fruit. I eat it for breakfast every morning and I'm in love.

-School work has been pretty crazy lately. We dove right into assignments and papers when we got to Vietnam and it was a bit overwhelming. Things are calming down a little bit now.

-Went to the night market and bought tons of cheap clothes, bags, jewelry, and food. It was all worth it.

-Going to Ha Long Bay tomorrow for a weekend trip!

-Going on our rural visit to Sapa on Monday for a week.

-Spring break is in 2 weeks and I can't wait! My plan is to go to Ho Chi Minh City, check out the floating market, take a train to Dalat, check out the country side, then go to Da Nang and spend the rest of the time chilling on the beach.

Here's photos!

Lots of traffic

Dragon Fruit!

Yenling trying to cross the road (she's in pink)

Children on a bus, all very intrigued by the gringo on the bus next to theirs


Snail soup

Our host brothers, Hien and Khan

Just trying to walk down the sidewalk..

Yenling and I by the lake

Happy International Women's Day!

(Hope this update is okay, Mom!)


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Rural Visit

Barro do Turvo

This past week, we went on a rural visit to Barro do Turvo, a town of about 8,000 inhabitants, including a an Agroforestry Coop and a Quilombo (explain). It was about a five-hour bus drive Sao Paulo, and the scenery of the countryside we drove through was gorgeous. We started out with two nights at the Agroflorestal, an Agroforestry Co-op where, in order to actually get there, we had to take a small wooden boat connected to a pulley across the river that may or may not have had alligators in it. We went across, eight at a time, while our luggage was in a basket being zip-lines across above us. There was also a zip-line for people to get across, but for liability issues, we weren’t allowed to use them. After everyone got across, we walked up a small path before being so kindly greeted with fresh mango juice and an abundance of bananas. We slept in rooms lined with bunk beds, were woken up at 5 am daily by the rooster, got bitten by far too many mosquitos, and had the privilege of being surrounded by the most beautiful scenery. On the first day, Pedro, the owner of the Co-op, took us on a small hike to one of the hills. Barro do Turvo is known as being one of the poorest areas in the state, but Pedro said, “How can you be poor when you have a view like this?” It was such an interesting concept to think that the labeling of society was what was making them all think they were poor, but in reality, they had everything they needed and more.

All of the food we ate was as fresh as could be. Not only was there a table constantly full of bananas, oranges, pineapple, and guava, but we also got fresh goat milk to eat with our cereal and coffee each morning. It’s odd I should mention coffee, because I’ve never been a coffee drinker. However, the coffee here is so sweet, that I actually enjoyed having a cup or two in the morning! Several of the workers there were also yoga instructors, so I was overjoyed when I was also able to start out my day with some yoga.

Also while at the Agroflorestal we hiked to w nearby waterfall and got to spend a few hours bathing in the fresh water and enjoying the beauty. The day was topped off with one of my favorite activities, Capoeira. Capoeira is a form of dance and martial art that was created by the slaves in Brazil as a way to prepare them to fight while hiding the fact that they were learning to defend themselves from their owners. If you look it up on YouTube, I’m sure you’ll find some pretty cool videos. So a Capoeira group from the region came by to teach about the history of Capoeira, show us the instruments used for the music, and teach us some basic moves. They then demonstrated the practice for us, and invited us to join in. It was amazing to me how graceful they made it look, and how easily two people were able to move the way they did without touching each other or interfering. They stayed until dark, and the next day we headed out for the actual town where we remained for the next few days. But before arriving, we spent the afternoon at the local Quilombo, which is a free settlement founded by people of African origin, usually escaped slaves. Since Brazil was the last country to eradicate slavery, there are numerous Quilombos in the country. They made us a delicious lunch of all home grown foods, and so kindly showed us around their land and the banana plantation they had. We learned the history of their Quilombo, got to plant a heart of palm tree, played soccer with a few of the kids, got to meet the “medicine man” of the Quilombo, and had a wonderful time in their beautiful area.

Our last few days in Barro do Turvo consisted of site visits to the hospital, orphanage, and elderly home, class time, meeting with the Mayor of the city and the health board, and enjoying Valentine’s Day with this adorable little community. It was a town of about 3,000 inhabitants and had the most gorgeous view of the mountains. It was a wonderful little escape week from the crowded streets of Sao Paulo.

Photos below!