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Sunday, November 20, 2011


Lately, I've been roaming around Brazil. Enjoying my last month here and its bittersweetness is getting to me. I remember people telling me before I left that I would come back a different person, that I would learn so many things by leaving my comfort zone and that my perspective on things would begin to open up once I experienced a foreign country at its fullest. Now, with just 2 weeks and a half left in Brazil, I can say that I've definitely become more aware of societal problems and cultural differences different from the ones I've always known, but I still don't consider myself changed or scarred from the experience, just awake. There are so many things about the world people usually don't think about or if they do, they don't know the actual truths behind the situation.
Last week I traveled to Salvador, Bahia, one of the poorest regions in Brazil. Before going there we were warned several times about the ways of the people in that city, but the things we heard were just basic. "People will ask you for money,"and "don't take your money with you," or "don't stay out too late." What no one told us was that despite the high poverty rates, the only beggars I encountered were kids under the age of 10, who were mostly crack addicts and homeless, knowing this I can only assume they rely on being part of a street gang or just part of a group of kids with the same problems relying on crimes to survive. Mentioning this it is obvious that the poverty rate in this city is above average and absolutely nothing like I expected.
My parents are going to kill me for doing this, but the point is that I am alive and nothing happened. But while I was in Salvador, my Australian guided m3 around the section of our hostel and invited us to see a favela, yes, it wasn't a paid or planned tour, but during this "tour" we were walking inside of it and it was literally a labyrinth, up and down, little streets and alleys with houses smaller than my bathroom, once we reached the top my heart was beating really fast knowing that all the stories I had heard and the pictures I saw on what I believed were fictional movies were true, a very deep feeling of frustration followed by realizing that these people have little options and their only resort is to live on top of two more houses with little roof. Once I reached the top, across the street was a very tall apartment building with a private entrance and a view of the ocean... when they told me that the class difference was very noticeable, I never thought it would mean me standing in the middle of a street in between two different worlds within a walking distance.
The first thing they told us when we got to the hostel was, come here we'll show you the map, mind you this was the safest part of the city. Nick, our australian host takes out a map and starts circling little by little all the sections around our hostel except 3 streets, all he said was don't go here or here or there for 3 minutes... it was only a matter of taking the wrong turn and we would end up in the most dangerous part of town or the safest one. It's a sad reality we were forced to face, but still we really couldn't afford to get scared of the culture we've already been emerged in for almost 4 months, the only thing left to do is be cautious and trust the advice we were being given.
The weather was absolutely great, it was too hot to breathe in but it was exactly what we were looking for, the type of weather that allows you to be lazy and just lay on a hammock in the sun or on a tapestry at the beach and after passing out for a few minute wake up to the bell of the ice cream man passing by only to find your favorite fruit popsicle (goiaba) waiting there to hydrate you... yup very corny, but that was my life for a few days. Going to an island with deserted beaches and cheap caipirinhas and people doing capoeira on almost every corner can also be added to the list.
Salvador, was by far the most cultural aspect of my study abroad experience. Seeing little kids asking for food or money just to exchange it for crack money or big Brazilian men stopping us in the middle of the day acting like our best friends only to give us a handshake and say that they will happily be our drug dealer for the remaining of our trip was the extreme I was missing from living in Florianopolis. This extreme left me shocked at times and left me wanting to understand these people's lives more, understand why it is that they are faced with certain circumstances. By far the most outrageous experience I was faced with was the day we were relaxing at the most crowded beach I've ever been on and in front of us there was a kid running like a gazelle and then we see a man running after him screaming, "ladrao" or thief. At that moment it was as if the entire male population at the beach stood up to chase that boy, but it wasn't long until he was kicked on the side with a capoeira kick by the same man that started chasing him, later he was being trampled by the rest of the men at the beach... did I mention this happened less than three feet behind me? No cops around or at sight... 15 minutes after being beat, there were still no cops. Later, the same men take him 'captive' to who knows where and the last thing I see is a kid, could've been 14, crying and bleeding. After commenting this with a local, he answered very serious, "Yeah, we hate thieves here in Pelorinho. If people get a hold of him it's almost certain he'll get killed." These are the type of things that make me think that criminals really don't have a choice sometimes, if a tourist knows about what can happen if you take the risk of stealing a local must now, but still it's survival. If they can't get a job, food, money or even a place to live in, their only option may be to steal with the possibility of getting killed... they must really have no choice.
It was a shock to be in this city for an entire week. But it was a great experience overall. I learned more about the Brazilian culture or at least another spectrum of it. Even after seeing the other extreme of Brazil, I still love this country and its diversity, although I still don't know half of what I came here to learn about it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

It's based on understanding

When I think about it, the world is a very big place. But for some strange reason people always find themselves either trapped or living in a really small world. Similar acquaintances, similar interests, same group of people around you week after week, routines never seem to end and a very big percentage of people refuse to allow change in their lives and minds due to the effort it takes to readjust to those changes. And when I say change, I'm not referring to a spontaneous life with no direction, I think I mean that it's hard to accept that everything is not what it seems, that our worldview is not another person's worldview and that we can not impose our opinions on others due to the different scenarios and circumstances the other person's life is currently experiencing. I would say that cultural differences are the only barriers between people, symbolically of course, I could be a literally meaning and the list would go on and on. But the only thing separating an American from a Mexican is the lack of understanding of the difficulties the other culture lives, whether it is the absence of governmental authority causing chaos in one's life or the frustration that comes along with that leading to emotional and psychological complications. Same as to an African and an American, how is it that an African will ever be able to comprehend the american lifestyle when it comes to the amount of food consumed compared to their country? And its not that one culture is right or wrong, but the misconceptions or the idea that the problem is out of our control, projects hopelessness to the concept of change. How can we make a change when we don't realize we are living in a world with people that are less advantaged than us or that simply need help? Because mostly, advantaged people are on the spotlight creating a perfect visual world while it blocks and distracts us from the real problems of this world. Why do we concentrate on being rich, studying more to earn more or being better to make other people proud? Why don't we focus on the world as a whole, instead of just our world, and its problems to obtain a balance?
I read an article today, it said that this monday, our world will reach 8 billion people living on Earth. Just fifty years ago we had 5 billion people less living here and in fifteen years we'll have a billion more. How are we supposed to live in a world where we are consuming all its resources in the hopes of having a more successful business or a more comfortable life?

But Earth is still a place we all call home, I think its time we start acting like we are an actual family with different cultures and issues. I don't mean to get hippie or like i am in a kind of drug, but I think we are all the same, just different appearances due to our environmental adaptions. Cultures are so complex that they mislead us into thinking that we are from a different species. But the truth is we are all in it for the joy of living a life that who knows, maybe its could be our only life, we all have different purposes, but we still all deserve the right to live without being misunderstood and due to that not being helped.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Last friday I had my plane ticket printed, no hostels booked, 100 reals in my pocket, my backpack and my camera. I had nothing planned and neither did my friends James. We got on the plane scanning through a tourist book to at least help us get to the bus we needed to take to go to downtown and 30 minutes later I was unconscious sleeping in a very uncomfortable seat because I slept 4 hours the night before. An hour later we arrive to Belo Horizonte, its pouring rain and I only have flip flops, shorts and of course, I forgot to bring a jacket once again. Meteorology is horrible in Brazil. But it was fine because I didn't have to worry about it for at least one more hour, the duration of the bus ride from the airport to downtown area.
I have always considered myself a pretty lucky girl, luck always finds my way and this weekend proved it once again! It didn't rain once we got to downtown. So we began our backpacking experience. My friend is majoring in history and economics; the city is the third largest city in Brazil and is essential to Brazil's economy; I was just looking for something different to do during the weekend and the mix ended up being perfect for me, I had a free tour guide in a city with a lot of things to do.
The first day we basically walked around in circles looking at buildings, eating good food, getting on a boat that was very much sinking and could clearly NOT fit three people in it, yet the "boat man" said it was totally fine, as long as he could get another 3 reals more from the gringos, but everything was fine, we all survived the boat ride, no one got wet and most importantly, my friends got to rest from me screaming, "Please stop rowing. Please don't turn!" That day I came to the conclusion that I don't like being on a boat at the verge of sinking. Still, the adventure continued. We still had no hostel and we had 3 hours until it got dark. First, we stopped at the most expensive, luxurious one with the hopes that they would like our personalities and give us a discount and then after an hour of looking for a place to sleep in we settled for a cheap, under-construction, cute hotel in front of a park. That night we celebrated the fact that luck was with us in this trip and we headed to a very popular bar avenue in downtown, I mean we were in Brazil's bar capital, it would've been wrong if we didn't and it was great!

On our second day, after a long night of not sleeping because our room was facing the LOUDEST street in the city. We were out and ready to visit all the museums, monuments and once again look for a place to stay in. It was raining, so the walk was not very pleasant, but the museums we went to were breathtaking and the city was beautiful. After drinking some coffee, we called the hostel and they had two beds available for the night, so naturally, we went to another museum and waited until the last minute to check-in, we took the metro ( interesting transportation method) and the view that welcomed us was terrifying, two huge abandoned buildings taken over by low income families, one was burned and the other was in "stable" conditions, we had hopes that the reviews in were right so we continued on until we found the hostel. Let me say this with all honesty, best hostel ever! Ran by a french couple, free internet, cute books to read, amazing view of the city and most importantly it smelled great!! That night, we went out once again, but with the strangest man as our companion. Too serious, too knowledgeable and so difficult to take seriously at the same time... it was a fun night after a couple of beers.
For a city that most Brazilians called ugly or the last place I would visit in Brazil, it blew my mind. The history of it was scouring out of the walls and buildings transforming it into a very likable city. The friendliest Brazilians live there and the magic of it will only make me want to go against most of the Brazilians I know by saying, "I really recommend you visit this city."

Monday, October 17, 2011


I flew out of my niche here in Brazil and lived in Rio de Janeiro for 5 days. I say lived and not visited because the experienced woke me up and made me feel like I was still not at home. I am really moving around a foreign country which I still consider the opposite of what I've always known and feel comfortable experiencing life as I know it to be a random journey that never ends.
When leaving Floripa, I was named the light-packer of the group with only a backpack and my camera in hand, my money hidden inside my bra and my ipod on the go. I was the first to get in the plane and pass out as soon as I sat down... it was 7 am in the morning meaning I had to wake up at way-too-early a.m. But it was all good because after an hour and 30 minutes I was in Rio de Janeiro.
On our way to our hostel, I didn't say a word. The city hypnotized me. It had wide streets and huge trees everywhere tunnels going under huge mountains and, bad drivers and people everywhere (I fought for my life every time I crossed a street.) And then there was a big red house where the taxi stopped, marking the beginning of my first hostel experience... it was great! Great people, great breakfast, bedbug-less and clean bathrooms, although I did get in trouble for being to loud at 3 a.m. once, but I shared my Gioba juice with the receptionist the next day and we made peace.
The first day, I spent a little too much money on food, but it was worth it when you're sitting in front of Copacabana beach, drinking caipirinhas with good friends and eating the best real meal in probably a month an a half, only to get ready for one of the biggest street parties I have ever witnessed. We got there in a taxi cab, keep in mind that this taxi has 10 seats and we were 25 people in it... they allowed it and it was cheaper, also, they were driving really slow. And as soon as we got there we lost half of the group, people from all over the world bumped into us every 10 minutes, tequila shots were being sold at 2 reals and the vendor took one with the customers every time, a big brown mr. clean carried one of my friends out of nowhere saying that she was a beautiful black princess in portuguese and just to balanced the good and the bad here, one of my friends got mugged. I guess, you can't really trust street parties or people that grind on the floor when they dance Funky.
I could really go on and on and on and on, but the point of my trip was that it was the first and best trip so far. I saw the Christ Redeemer; it's really incredible how a statue can make you feel that you are part of the world and not because it made me religious, but because it is a symbol of the world and the people, in my opinion. After, I went to sugarloaf the best view I've been lucky enough to see in my life, I had all of Rio in front of me at sunset and I could just feel the energy of the moment I was living. I knew at that moment that I am living a life that is beautiful and unusual.
The next 3 days I spent them at the beach burning my skin until everyone was sure that I was indeed Mexican and brown, eating fruit ice cream while I saw bare asses everywhere in front of me; women wearing thongs, no matter what the body type, and men wearing speedos, again no matter what the body type, all they had in common was the BUTT... they are all huge and me and all my friends were all depressed because of it. So to feel better... we went out the last night and danced samba, yeah most of us sucked at it, some people stared, but we all had fun and we were all feeling Brazil in our blood.

I guess all that I really want to say about Rio de Janeiro is that everyone should experience it and put it on their bucket list.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Getting rid of cultural misconceptions.

Being a middle school teacher has never been on my plans. The thought that comes along withboys and girls all together in the same room at the time in which their puberty is expellinghormones and drama has been enough to make me disregard that career option completely.Still, I thought it would be interesting to volunteer and teach Spanish for a day, especiallybecause that meant me having the opportunity to visit a new city called Tijucas, have free mealsworth 20 reales instead of the 6 reales meals I am accustomed to, free transportation and hotel, and did I mention being worshipped by kids because you are a foreigner?
I know that last one may win most people over, some people really find it appealing to be idolized by 12 to 15 year olds and then having your facebook invaded by numerous friend requests and making it necessary to block your wall due to the constant postings from them. But that was not the reason why I loved volunteering at a middle school. No, I am not that conceited... although I am mentioning it in here so maybe I am just a little. Instead, the reason why I loved volunteering so much was because it gave me the chance to learn about the kid's perspective on foreign cultures and learn about their own culture as well by listening to their everyday issues. It was interesting to understand their concept of Americans and Mexicans and how they are not that closed minded about what goes on outside Brazil. In fact, I was a little bit embarrassed when I realized that the 13 year-olds were actually more knowledgeable about political, economic and cultural issues in the US compared to what I knew about Brazil's issues before I came here, maybe the tremendous and constant influence that American media has here makes it harder to avoid them, but then again they seemed to have lost all stereotypical judgements about Americans and simply got informed about these issues and were genuinely interested in these.
It was a great experience to talk with Brazilian kids about how they see their own country and to just be able to talk to them about anything they wanted to without having any formal barrier in between our conversations. And I was shocked when I was being asked questions about sex and drugs and the teacher would just say, "It's fine, they're just curious and so am I," again... these kids were 12-15 years old and some of these answers I learned a year ago.
In conclusion, the bus ride was very comfortable, food was amazing, the hotel experience was horrifying, but in the end all that I brought back with me was knowing that I was able to inform kids about the world they don't know or have experienced, but what I do know for sure is that I learned a whole lot more from these kids than from my Brazilian culture class here. Which is why I am doing it again this weekend at a city called Rio do Sul. I realized that if I want to learn about this country, I am going to have to do it on my own by talking to people and traveling and not so much siting in my classroom being taught anthropology by a teacher that can barely speak English and misses class every other day.
I may not want to become a full time teacher, but I sure do want to volunteer a whole lot more and hopefully in different countries so I can loose my own misconceptions about foreign cultures and attempt to get rid of cultural barriers. Because if there is something I have learned in my two month stay here is that by knowing the places and people of another culture you learnt to loose all stereotypes and cultural misconceptions. The world is bigger than we believe it is and there are different people from us with different world views and all of them are right in their own way and when trying to change something into something that is not the solution to create a neighborly world becomes harder to attain.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

All I did today was lay on a hammock, listen to music and think about life.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sunset in Floripa

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.