Monday, June 29, 2009

Brasil rite of passage = bureaucracy

So I'll start with the good news: I'm going to Rio this weekend! I leave Wednesday night giving me three full days (Fri-Sun) plus part of Thursday. I only get part of Thursday because of the bad news: the reason that I'm going to Rio.
The story starts with my application for a visa to Brasil. When I got my passport back there was a piece of paper that I was to use to register with the Federal Police within 30 days. On this paper there was an error though (my parents' names were switched) and I, without even thinking twice fixed it. I'll keep the story short, but just keep in my mind that throughout this I've had to take a friend from the lab with me because they all speak Portuguese so fast and with such accents that I'm in completely over my head without a translator. To cut to the end I now need to go to the nearest US consulate (Rio) to get a piece of paper proving what my parents' names are so that I can register and pay $R200 for an identity card that I probably won't get until I'm ready to leave. In between there was taking buses all over the city for one afternoon, and a separate morning, going to a different office and being sent back to the initial one, trying to schedule an appointment with the US consulate only to find out that they were booked until this Wednesday, and oh yeah I'm being fined $R8 a day starting today until I get registered and this piece of paper costs $30. Sigh! And the really aggravating part is that if I hadn't fixed the error no one ever would have known or thought about it. I'm rationalizing all of this by saying that when I said I wanted to travel the world and experience new things I was committing to things like this so I can't complain too at least makes me feel a little better!

So other than this less than fun intro to Brasilian bureaucracy, things are going pretty well. Still meeting incredibly nice people and enjoying it down here. It seems like I've been here for a long time, but it's only been a month, and now the end is already in sight. I've been emailing back and forth with some former Fulbrighter's and starting to read up on Indo...crazy to think that in two months I'll be there! Until then I've still got plenty of traveling to do here! After this weekend Ouro Preto is still on tap within one of the 2 following weekends. And now I'm beginning to plan my week or so of travel right before I leave. That should be a real adventure since I'll be solo. This trip to Rio is with Juliano from the lab that has been serving as my translator and who has a (free) place to stay in Rio.

Ok that's enough for now.

Ate mais,

Monday, June 15, 2009

A fantastic weekend, and a travesty

Wow. I have just finished up a terrific weekend. There were a ton of opportunities for things to go disastrously wrong, but for the most part everything went very well. I'm traveling to experience new things and from that grow a bit (sounds cliche I know), and if that is the case, this weekend was perfect! I pushed myself out of my comfort zone (my first time for a solo trip in a foreign language speaking country, and I basically had no definitive plans beyond the flights) and was rewarded with a weekend that I think I will remember for a very long time!

I'll give a quick run down here, but I'm typing up a ton more details in a journal of sorts and anyone who is interested in hearing the full story/ies just email me and I'll send it on to you once I'm done.

The trip started with an early morning wake-up call and several bus transfers to get me to the airport. The theme of being on a bus and not really knowing where I was going or when to get off, and further, having difficulty talking to anyone to figure these little details out continued for the entire trip. I'd say navigating public transport in a foreign language speaking country (where English isn't even a second language) that does not have the greatest transportation infrastructure is a HUGE challenge. But, it's one that I managed to survive for the most part, and really enjoyed a bit. Getting lost on a bus is a pretty good way to see a city, though I would suggest knowing where the bus is going to stop, and not having a deadline of when you need to arrive. I can say that after I rode a bus in Salvador for nearly 3hrs (I wish I was exaggerating). At one point we went less than a block in about 30mins.

So a brief itinerary:
landed in Salvador, managed a bus to Pelourinho (the historical center of Salvador),but got fed up with the traffic and walked the last little part. I had heard a lot about the crime in Salvador and as I was a clear tourist and already stressed from the travels when I found myself in the middle of a sidewalk with people everywhere yelling and selling things, I was a little freaked out. I eventually got to Pelo, but I think largely b/c I was kinda freaked I didn't enjoy it as much. I looked around for awhile and eventually saw some other areas near by. After that my bus 'adventure' occurred, and I ended up at the bus station.
I took a night bus to Lencois and got in at 5am. Somehow managed a pousada and a tour for the day and got some sleep (at one point I somehow ended up in some guy's car getting driven to see the Pousada, I was pretty sure I was gonna be kidnapped at that point ;) Of course I was so tired and out of it, I didn't really care!).
The pousada was very nice, though probably more than I really needed (oh well it's only money!). The tour that day was great because it gave me a pretty good overview of what the area (Chapada Diamantina National Park) is like: Astoundingly Beautiful! The tour was great we saw a water fall, some caves, great landscapes, and I met a couple people. Two of the women I met, Luciana and Germana, proved to be great friends and I tagged along with them the rest of the time.
The next day, after some scrambling around, I ended up in a car with Luciana (who speaks next to no English) and 3 guys who spoke almost no English either, headed to who knows where, thousands of miles from home (yet another, what the hell am I doing moment!). But that day ended up being beyond perfect. We saw two waterfalls, one was HUGE, and the other may be one of my favorite places on Earth (it helped that I was in a very...introspective/exhausted mood when we got there).
After all of that I ended up on another night bus back to Salvador, got in bright and early and eventually took a public bus (much more successful this time) to see another part of Salvador (Barra) including some beaches. I ended up walking all the way up to Pelo again, and was much more pleased with it this time. I wish I could have spent an evening there as I would have loved to see some musical performances and tried a dinner (I did get some Bahian food though, an abara).

This reminds me, for all things Salvador, this website is a must, and will probably make some of what I'm saying make a lot more sense: .
While I'm posting links here are the picture highlights (I of course have a ton more):

I gotta say I didn't realize what I was getting myself into when I set this up (it was kinda last minute b/c I didn't realize there was a long weekend until about a week before I left), but I'm am so glad I did it. I surprised myself with my Portuguese at times, I met some very nice people, I saw some stunning sights, and I definitely took a couple steps as an independent traveler. Wow what a weekend!

Now to end on a sad note...
This blog is meant for my travels, but I have to say something about a huge tragedy. A dear family friend and a man that I have admired and looked up to my entire life has just past on. Doug Meek was more than just the father of my best friend growing up, he was a friend to me, and at times nearly a second father. That he was taken away from his family seems so wrong. He was a great man, and I really just don't know what to think right now. Sorry about the aside, but I couldn't in good faith not say anything.

Friday, June 5, 2009

One week in

Wow what an amazing couple of days. I've spent 30 minutes speaking nothing but Portuguese with Fernanda (she´s kind of an organizer in the lab) and I was actually able to express myself! It´s such a great feeling! I still prefer to speak in English because it´s so much easier, but it´s good to know that if I´m forced to, I can speak Portuguese.

Other things are going really well too. I´ve been doing things in lab, though the pace in the lab seems to be much slower down here in general. I guess I´m not too surprised by this, but it takes some getting used to. Part of it could be that I´m just starting too. The other thing I wanted to mention about the lab here was the open air layout. It´s obviously much different that the US where everything is so enclosed. Here the entire ICB (the bio institute) is open air. It´s really nice, but a lot different than what I´m used to. The other thing is the cramped quarters. There is hardly any room in most of the labs and the entire institute, but even the people here think there is too little room. They´re building more so that all of the classes will be in a separate room from the research.

I'm definitely connecting with the people in that lab too. Maybe it´s just because of the situation in the lab and the university, but it has seemed that, in general, people in Brasil are much warmer. I went Thursday night with Jarina and Ramon to a local bar (´New Tastes´) and had my first capirina; gostoso! We sat around for a couple hours and we were treated really well. This seems to be a really nice lab and they are very excepting of me. Taking me to see things, explaining things, etc. And of course some Brasilian curse words :)

Last night I spent some time planning out a potential trip to Salvador for next week as there is a Holiday on Thursday. We'll see if it happens, there are some issues. This morning I went around my barrio and took some pictures; got down to the lake and saw the famous Oscar Niemeyer church. The pics will get up eventually. Then tomorrow I'm intending to take the bus down and see the 'Hippy Fair'. We'll see how my first solo attempt with public transit goes!

Not everything has been going smoothly though. To you pay phones down here you have to buy prepaid cards. I won't bog down with the details, but I ended up buying the wrong one. I was able to trade it in after looking sad and pathetic for a while. It ended up costing me more than it should have, but at least I didn't lose all my $$. On the plus side I ended up meeting a couple people while I tried to make a call to Santuza.

Ok off to finish the laundry (everything is more difficult in a foreign language).

Monday, June 1, 2009

Meu escrevendo primero de meu apartmento

Bonus points to anyone who could interpret that VERY broken Portugese (and for those that couldn't: "my first writing from my apartment").
So as that suggests, I am officially in my own place now. I have a mini apartment all to myself which is nice, though I can't post from my room, as there is no wireless; only an internet room where I can take my laptop. That could get annoying, but I am getting a wireless signal here so maybe I can figure something out. The other down side of the apartment is that there is no stove, just a microwave so it looks like I will be going out some. Actually, I will probably be going for the Brasilian method of a big lunch and a light dinner since I can get food pretty cheap at on-campus restaurants for lunch. The food has been good thus far; rich, but tasty. Not a huge amount different from the US, just some different flavors.
Everything is going pretty well even if I am mentally exhausted. I have so much more respect now for any non-English speaker I have ever met in the US. It's incredibly draining to constantly have to be thinking about every word you want to say or hear. I do ok when I can get things in context, but a conversation is out of the question.
Santuza and her family took great care of me this weekend, showing me some things and introducing me to a variety of people. They also introduced me to some of the new foods: chicken hearts, gizzard, various other dishes I can't remember now (!). Both Santuza and Greg are great people. I think I will be around them a fair amount as my time here progresses, but that might change as I start to meet new people. Speaking of which, just met my neighbors...pretty sure they're gay, but hey theater majors are hard to read :)
It looks like this internship will be much less intensive on research science, and putting more of an emphasis on being exposed to a new culture. That isn't to say I won't be (and haven't been) exposed to a lot of science, just that it may be a lot more observing and talking to a bunch of people and simply exposing me to new things. For example, I have talked to a lot of Santuza's friends about their research and Greg about the differences between the hiring process for professors here versus the US. Then today I sat in on a graduate course Santuza was teaching (yes in Portuguese, actually I did better in that than you might expect because I could understand what was being talked about).
Here is a link to my first album of pictures, check back often as I haven't really put up what I have, just a few.

Ok this is getting long enough and my brain is drained.

Ate tarde (until later)

P.S. Oh, one more thing, for the Fulbright, I'm in the district called Sidrap. Still not exactly sure what town, but it narrows it down a little more.