Ever since I met my first Brazilian, it's been a goal of mine to travel to this beautiful land full of beautiful people. And guess what? The time has finally arrived!
After two wonderful weeks in DC, we finished up our site visits, our guest lectures, our lobbying visits to the Senate (picture of Al Franken's office below, and many hours bonding in the William Penn House hostel, we packed up and hopped on a plane to Sao Paulo, Brazil. We spent one night in a hotel before we were greeted by our host families whom we would be living with for the next 5 weeks. Each of us were paired up with one other student to live with, except there was one group of 3 girls, and one group of 3 boys. I'm staying with Barby (Harvard student studying Molecular Biology Stem Cell Research) and Chelsea (Brown student studying Public Health). Everyone was waiting in the hotel lobby room with our suitcases, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our Brazilian families. Glenda, our country facilitator, was calling out our names as our families would come in. After watching several of the students leave with their host families, our names were called. And I still can't believe how lucky we got!
Chelsea, Barby and I are staying with the Faria Bacchi Family. Our mother, Maria de Graça, is sooo sweet! She loves to laugh, loves to make jokes, loves to have people around, and she loves to cook! Then we have two host sisters, Lara (20) and Lisa (28), and one host brother Luigi (23). Lara and Lisa both live at home; Lara goes to University in Sao Paulo, and Lisa works in the city. Luigi we haven't met yet because he doesn't live at home. He goes to university a bit farther away so he lives in another city. Both Lara and Lisa speak pretty good English, but all three of us are trying to learn Portuguese as fast as we can! It helps knowing Spanish, and knowing a little bit of Portuguese from my Brazilian friends :) Lara painted all of our nails the first day (it's one of her passions) and she is absolutely hilarious. We've shared some great laughs with her already and she loves talking with us. We live in a nice neighborhood in Sao Paulo on the 18th floor of the apartment. And let me tell you, the view from up here is stunning! (picture below) Sao Paulo is home to nearly 11 million people. Let me say that again, eleven MILLION people. That's huge! It's not only the largest city in Brazil, but the largest city in the southern hemisphere! I look out my bedroom window here and I see buildings on building on buildings. As far as you can see, is the city. It just keeps going!! I can't stop staring at it, though! It's so amazing to me. Coming from a town of 20,000 people, Sao Paulo is gigantic. Even for someone coming from a large city, Sao Paulo is gigantic. I have several friends who live in Sao Paulo that I want to visit, but for me to say "Hey I'm in Sao Paulo!" is like someone saying, "Hey, I'm in the US!" Okay maybe not that big.. but hopefully you're getting the point that this city is huge and I'm simply amazed.
We live about a 40 minute walk from the medical university where we have class each day. The 3 boys from our group live literally right next door to the apartment building, so we've been walking with them to class. This way we 1) get some exercise in, and 2) we save money on bus/metro tickets. The food is delicious (beef, beans, rice and fruit), the people are so friendly, and the language is beautiful!
A typical day here: Wake up at 7. Eat breakfast consisting of bread, cheese, jam, fruit, and sometimes chocolate cake. Leave around 7:50 for school. From 8:30-9 we have Portuguese lessons. Then we have class, guest lectures, and/or site visit from 9 until 5:30. Then we walk back home, eat dinner, do our readings for class, and sleep! It's a long day. But we're getting to do some pretty exciting things! Today, we split into 5 groups and each one went to a different neighborhood in Sao Paulo. My group went to a favela (slum) called Vila Prudente (photos below). We were observing the health care access they had in the region and learning about the recycling program that they had started. This favela has just in the past 3 years gotten runnign water and electricity in all of the houses (they still have to pay for it though, so not all of them have it all the time). In Brazil, health care is a right for all Brazilians, so they have a free health care system. Although, those who can afford it, buy private insurance because waiting to see a doctor in a public center could take months. It's so interesting looking into their health care system and seeing the major changes they've made over the past 30 years. It's quite amazing.
I still can't believe I'm actually here, but already, it feels like home. I'm excited for the next 4 1/2 weeks. It's going to fly by!
Inside the favela