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!


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Carnaval, what a show!

So I’m a little behind on blogging, but two weekends ago (the 8th) was Carnaval weekend in Brazil. Carnaval is a huge week long (sometimes two weeks) celebration where people dress up with masks and bright colors, street parties (blocos) go on every night with music and dancing, and there is huge parade on the weekend displaying all of the hard work that people have put into this event. People stop working for this holiday event, which is right before Lent each year. Some people spend almost the entire year preparing for Carnaval with the costumes they make, the giant floats they create, and the dancing routines they perform. It’s an enormous set up, and the results are beautiful. So Friday night, the entire group went to the parade. We got there at midnight. We weren’t late, that’s just when the parade started. Midnight. And it went on until 6 am. Gotta love the late night Brazilians. So the way it’s set up is that there is bleachers set up on a street specifically located for the Carnaval parade. You have to buy tickets in order to get into the parade area, and then there are different levels of bleachers where you can sit, depending on how much you paid for your ticket. Our location was quite ideal! We were high enough up that we could see all parts of the floats, but not so far that it was difficult to see the details in the costumes that they were wearing. Plus, with my 20x zoom camera, I could see anything and everything if I wanted. There were 6 different samba schools that were “performing” Friday night, and then on Saturday a new group of 6 schools would be performing. Vai-Vai, the samba school that we got to see rehearse a few nights before, was performing on Friday, so it was fun to see them and sing along with their song (we had learned it earlier as well).

This isn’t just a big fun parade,, though. This is a competition. Each of the samba schools in the parade are being judged on their costumes, their floats, their music, and they’re being timed. They have one hour to make it from one side of the bleachers to the other, and one minute plus or minus can cause point reductions. The prize for the winner is money. A lot of money. Which, they put towards next years floats and costumes. Apparently most people in Sao Paulo aren’t a big fan of Carnaval, and they’ll usually travel to other cities (mainly Rio, where Carnaval is HUGE) for the weekend, but even so, there were a ton of people at the parade and at all of the blocos, and the atmosphere of being there was awesome. Some day, I’ll make it to Rio Carnaval.

Until then, I am very satisfied with what Sao Paulo had to offer ☺

Fatima, Bianca, me and Niki getting ready for Carnaval

One of the Vai-Vai floats

My host mom all dressed up to go dancing!


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sabor Brasil

Two weeks into Brazil and I'm loving it more each day!

Last weekend, I was so lucky to be able to meet up with my friend Gustavo and stay with him for the weekend with 3 other IHP-ers. Gustavo and I were both exchange students in Denmark together and hadn't seen each other in almost 2 years. He lives about 6 hours north of where I am in Sao Paulo, so I invited Barby, Mike, and Nick to come along for the weekend so I wouldn't have to travel so far alone, and because Gustavo and his family live a 5 minute walk from one of the most beautiful beaches in Brazil, so it was bound to be a good time. We took an overnight bus and slept most of the way, and Gustavo met us at the bus stop in his city with his girlfriend, Natalia, and we drove to his house. And oh my goodness is it a beautiful house!
His family was so nice to let us all stay there for the weekend, and we had an amazing time! We spent all of Saturday at the beach; wave jumping, playing beach volleyball, exploring and taking tons of photos. I couldn't believe how beautiful the scenery was there! And not to mention it was almost 100 degrees and sunny the whole day. We stayed at the beach until sunset and then went back to Gustavo's for "hot dogs," which are a little different from what we consider hot dogs. The actual hot dog was cut up and in a little bit of sauce, and then you put that on the bun, and add corn, eggs, peas, and little potato chip sticks. It was good! Another delicious new thing I've found in Brazil is the AcaĆ­. It comes in fruit smoothie form and you can get it with bananas, granola, and sweetened condensed milk. I'm in love with it. On Sunday we went on this amazing hike up the mountail/hill/rock on the side of the beach and we climbed all the way to the top. And when I say "climbed," I mean more like spiderman-scaling the side of the steep rock

The view from the top was unbelievable. No camera could correctly capture the beauty. You could see the ocean, the beach, the town, and if you looked reeeally close you could the Cristo Redentor statue in the distance. I wish I could have sat up there all day, but we had to go back down eventually.

To make the day even better, we were walking around the city and ran into a group of Rotary Exchange students! There were a few from Denmark so I got to use my Danish again, which is always nice :) They were on their Northeast Tour (similar to the EuroTour that I went on for my exchange). Gotta love Rotary!

This past week went by pretty fast! We have class from 8:30 until about 4 or 5 each day at the Santa Casa Medical School. Since me and my two housemates live right next door to two other host families, we all try and meet up in the morning to walk to school. It's about a 50 minute walk, but it's a nice way to save money and get in some exercise. Our class day also includes guest lectures, site visits to hospitals, neighborhoods, and NGOs, and group community building. This week our focus has been on women's health and maternity, and HIV/AIDS in Brazil. Our professors are nice to give us 15 minute breaks often and an hour lunch break each day. This week we also went to a Samba rehearsal for one of the Carnaval groups that was performing at the big parade this weekend. They're called Vai-Vai, and are one of the best in Sao Paulo. We got to see some of the costumes and listen to the drums as they danced around. Our large group of Americans were easy to pick out of the crowd from the clothes we were wearing and the way we were dancing, and they must of liked it because we ended up on national Brazilian TV the next morning! A man had interviewed me and another IHP-er, Nick, about the whole experience, and lucky me got a quote in on TV. You can watch it here:

My Portuguese is getting better! I'm lucky for knowing Spanish so well, because it's easier to understand Portuguese. The speaking part is coming along a bit slower, but I'm definitely learning new words each day! We have a translator here (several, actually) who come with us on site visits and translate for some of the guest lectures, but they also hold a "Survival Portuguese" class for us every morning from 8:30-9, so that has been pretty helpful as well!

This weekend we celebrated Carnaval, but I'm going to save that for it's own post! We leave Monday (tomorrow) for our rural visit where we'll be staying for the week. After that we just have one more week here in Brazil! It's crazy how fast time is flying.

Here's a few more photos from the past week!

The view from the rooftop
Gustavo and me
The beach! The rock behind us is the one we climbed
On top of the rock