Thursday, May 29, 2008

The World, etc.

I'd like to tell you all about a tribe that's been found in the Amazon and photographed for the first time. There is apparently a term for groups like this: "uncontacted tribes." It refers to tribes that have never had contact with anyone from "civilized" society (latter term used loosely).

This photo was taken from a helicopter. You'll notice that all the men are trying to shoot at the helicopter with bows and arrows. That's because they don't know what it is, and they're scared. Alexandre found the article, and we had the same immediate reaction: they must have been terrified, or thought it was some awful bird, or a god, or something. We'll never know because we will absolutely never have the view on the world that the people in this tribe have. It's both sad and fascinating, especially because it's not that far away. I wonder how differently Americans would behave if we had people in our country that did not know that the country existed.

You should be able to see a bigger version of the picture, along with some other pictures, here. You can read an English article about it and see a cool slideshow here.

I spent some time reading up on this today. Brazil has more uncontacted tribes than any other country in the world-- even more than New Guinea, the linguistic stereotype for isolated cultures. It's estimated that there are about 100 uncontacted tribes in the world, and more than half are in Brazil or Peru. There's apparently a difference between "uncontacted" and "isolated" tribes: uncontacted tribes have sincerely never been contacted, usually because they are physically difficult to get to, while isolated tribes have, in fact, had some contact with relatively modern societies, and have chosen to deny their influence. Both types of tribes also make it physically difficult for other groups to reach them.

This research, of course, begs the following questions: if a tribe is uncontacted, how do we know it exists? How do we name a group of people that we've never spoken to or even witnessed? How can we know they exist if they don't know we exist? Is this tribe pictured above still considered "uncontacted" if they've seen the helicopter? The images were publicized in light of deforestation and in an effort to convince the Brazilian and Peruvian governments to recognize the tribe's land and privacy. Is it safe to assume that these uncontacted tribes want to remain uncontacted? What's our responsibility here, if anything? To actively avoid contacting them? I've never thought about anything like this before. I don't know how governments make decisions about this.

I read today that some of the evidence for uncontacted tribes are gaps in language trees (cool), as well as stories of the tribes that other tribes tell to researchers/trackers. Wikipedia has a long list, if you're interested (Jamie).

Yup. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this. Also I'm just vain and I love getting comments.

In the opposite/exactly the same vein (depending on your perspective), I made a cool video last weekend while we were visiting Alexandre's parents. The city has a giant Catholic church that was one of the first modern buildings in the area:
We were walking by it at noon, so I recorded a video of the bells.

I'll leave you with that sound and this picture of the tribe and their houses so that you can maybe reconsider who and what the world is made of.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ode to Food!

My last morning in the United States, I was with Danette and her (our?) friend Kurt. We had the monumental task of deciding on my last meal. In my abhorrent ignorance, I insisted that I wouldn't want to eat Mexican food, because I'd be eating so many similar things for the next few months. We foolishly decided on Subway.
The punchline? There's a Subway in every mall here (complete with chipotle sauce), and tortillas cost 8 bucks a pack in the supermarket.

So what can I eat here?

Below are the pictures of just a few of the delicious foods that Brazil has to offer:

These are called bombas. (Every time I eat them, I remember how Michelle's grandmother used to tell us that drinking cold drinks with dinner "crea una bomba en el estomago." :) This particular variety is sold at the market at the end of our street. The access is just too easy. That's frosting and crunchies/peanut butter on top. They're filled with custard inside.

This is a coxinha (pronounced [koʃinja] for the linguists and "co-sheen-ya" for the non-linguists). It's one of the first things I ate here. Typically, people eat it with ketchup, but... gross. It's pretty small-- a snack thing. It's breaded on the outside and has salty dough and dry, shredded chicken inside. Delicious! (In the little cup is chocolate milk from a Home-Country-Buffet-style dispenser. I sure do miss the cultural gem that is the free refill.)

This is some of the sushi from the fabulous hole-in-the-wall sushi restaurant (more like a bistro) that I mentioned before. Some of you may be pleased/jealous to know that we paid about 9 dollars for that plate (including the pieces that we gobbled up before I remembered to take a picture). Is that incentive enough for anyone to come visit? :D

We do cook for ourselves sometimes. This is chicken and rice, but not just any chicken, and not just any rice. I made the chicken-- a creative herb mixture that was tasty, if I do say so myself. Alexandre made the rice-- it has cheese, a ton of salt (of course), and palminhas... a vegetable that is the inside of palm trees. Desert kids, we gotta get on that. It's so juicy and flavorful! (...That's what she said.)
Since I've been here, I've also cooked my grandmother's stew, as well as her rib recipe, and tonight I made my mother's spaghetti. They were all only pathetic semblances of the real thing, what with the lack of talent and proper ingredients. I was also so excited to eat them that I forgot to take pictures. :(

I've saved the best for last! It's called "Casa do Pão de Queijo." For those of you that haven't taken five minutes of a Latin-based language class, it means "The house of cheese bread." If you're not already convinced, allow me to explain. Their most popular item is their version of a Brazilian staple, a dumpling-sized ball of soft bread that has a thin layer of cheese inside. But, akin to what Panda Express has done to (for) Chinese food, they have taken their cultural icon and beautifully mutated it. After you decide how many you want, you get to choose what I'll call "your injection." I call it this because the geniuses behind Casa do Pão de Queijo have a special machine. It has 4 creams: queijo cremoso, cheddar, mozzarella, or garlic herb. You choose the one(s) you want, and the machine's needle INJECTS it into your cheese ball, filling it with even MORE creamy, cheesy goodness. Words cannot express the joy I receive in ingesting this.

So yes. I hope I entertained you, or at least made your mouth water. Leave comments about which ones look appetizing and which ones don't. :oD

Friday, May 23, 2008

Learning Lots

So we're at the parents' house for what turned out to be a Catholic holiday weekend. We got in pretty late, so we just had a delicious dinner of Italian food last night and then some quiet time before bed, enjoying the fancy cable with a ton of English channels. As with our last trip, Alexandre's mom was nice and chatty and welcoming, complimenting me on all the weight I've lost, and asking me questions about my jobs and stuff. His father, whose English is limited to concrete nouns like "food" and "suitcase" and simple phrases like "hello" and "thank you," was again quiet during the evening. Even when I tried to speak to him in Portuguese, his responses were curt, revealing that perhaps the stoicism was more personality and less of a language barrier.

This morning, Alexandre told me that he had to go get some new dress shirts to wear at the hospital, and that we could go with his mom to the store. Then his dad, who is an ophthalmologist, asked if he could give me an eye exam at his office and offer me some contact lenses. He had mentioned the idea like, 3 times during the last trip here, and Alexandre had explained to me that it was very important to his father to do the exam for me. I agreed and thanked him, and made plans to go to his office after our trip to the store.

On our way to the mall, Alexandre's mom announced that she and her husband wanted to treat me to some new clothes, too, and to please tell her if I saw anything that I liked. I did my best to be gracious and not shy. The mall we went to was made up of the types of stores that are really small and that only display one example of each piece and where the two salespeople offer you cookies and coffee and stuff. Alexandre got his sexy white doctor shirts and jokingly tried on the bowler hats that the business attire store was also selling. As we continued on our way and passed the feminine boutiques, Alexandre's mom kept pointing out this shirt-overcoat style with big buttons, telling me how nice it'd look on my frame and how it's so in fashion right now. It wasn't something I'd typically be drawn to, but seeing as she was so enthusiastic about it, I tried one of them on.

In the dressing room, I was able to muse over how we decide what's in fashion and what's not, and how we decide whether or not we look good in a given outfit. I thought about how, for me, the overcoat thing was cute, but something I hadn't given any value to before. However, a 16-year-old Brazilian girl would probably be so excited to be in my place at that moment, and she would feel so pretty trying on an outfit like that in a store like that, especially after seeing it around town so much. At that moment, I remembered when I worked as a tutor for the Ethiopian family in Oakland. On my last day, Zalalem, the mother, tearfully offered me a gift. It was a hand-made traditional Ethiopian gown-- the white one with the red, yellow, and green stripes. She was serious and solemn when she gave it to me, and asked me to try it on. I could tell it was super important to her, and while I felt uncomfortable in the gown's foreignness, I smiled for her pictures and hugged everyone a lot. It meant a lot to me because it meant a lot to her. It was her way of showing me that I was important, and it was my responsibility to recognize it and appreciate it.

Which brings me back to the overcoat and the dressing room. When I put it on, I liked it. Not necessarily because I knew it was expensive and in fashion and it therefore made me more fashionable. It is really cute, and I kind of look like Madeline. But that isn't why I liked it so much, either. Alexandre's mom fawned over it-- or, more specifically, over me in it-- and eagerly announced to the saleswoman that she wanted to get a gift for her nora, and then turned to me to translate: "my daughter-in-law!" And there were bashful smiles all around.

After many "muita obrigada"s and a return back to the house, Alexandre and I went with his father to his office. He introduced me to the secretary and took us upstairs. I expected him to sit me in the chair and rush through the procedure casually, since I wasn't a real patient and all, but it was very different. He walked us through the whole procedure, even having us sit at his desk to fill out the info form so he could put me in the computer. During every part of the exam, he would explain to Alexandre what he was doing, and allow him to try out his own ophthalmology skills. In his office, Alexandre's father was definitely in his element-- comfortable, talkative, and pleased to teach and give. He gave me a battery of tests, and trained Alexandre how to use each machine and instrument. He was eager to show his son how he spends his days, and eager to show me that I'm important in the best way he knows how. (It was my first time reading the eye chart alphabet in a different language, which was a fun experience.) At the end of the exam, I got a free pair of contacts and a ton of cleaning solution, and again commenced with the humble thank-yous.

So, yes. culture is endlessly fascinating, but it's only because people are endlessly fascinating in their way of doing the same thing using a million different strategies.

(I'd like to end on one last point: Alexandre's mom is a gynecologist, which makes me very relieved that she and her husband have different ways of expressing themselves. ;)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Another Week (Closer?)

This is kind of like the end of the week for me, because tomorrow (Thursday) is another holiday. No one can tell me what, exactly... but everyone can tell me that we again get Thursday and Friday off work. Pretty good setup! All the fun and no cultural awareness required.

No big changes in the last three days. This entry is going to be kind of un-exciting. But I'm planning a fun “Ode to Food” entry that I'll be putting up next week once I get the final pictures that I need.

I've again had a lot of free time this week to waste watching TV and trying not to spend money. It saddens/enrages me that the worst parts of American entertainment are what make it to Brazilian TV. We have MTV, which is made up of about 80% American shows and music videos with Portuguese subtitles. (Yes, even the videos have subtitles, and yet! People still like the music.) There's this god-awful show where obnoxiously scripted tweens to twentysomethings select the best impersonator of their favorite celebrity. They choose this impersonator (“My very own [insert B-List celeb here]!”) from a group of equally obnoxiously scripted tweens to twentysomethings. If the favorite celebrity is black, there's always a token white contestant, and vice versa. I don't know what the show is called, because I've never seen it from the beginning and I've never been able to tolerate it long enough to find out. It's horrendous. I'd argue that it's worse than that “Next” show, where they even went so far as to turn “next” into a verb (“you've been 'nexted'!”). Angels and Airwaves and Rihanna are also wildly popular here. Sigh. To add insult to injury, Alexandre is a big fan of Jack Johson. I made the snotty observant comment that “Jack Johnson is so radio,” and Alexandre won't let me live it down. And then, yesterday, he compared Jack Johnson to Devendra Banhart and asked me what the difference was. My god. My ears. They were bleeding. Oh, the perils of dating a non-native English speaker. But I guess his being tri-lingual makes up for it (Michelle).

I had a sort-of bonding session last night with one of my 1-1 tutoring students. Turns out she is obsessed with Irish folk music (Joanna introduction pending) and has irrepressible desires to save the world.

My boss (from EnglishSchool, the good school) kept me after work yesterday to again pressure me to quit my other job, and to again ask me how long, exactly, I'd be staying in Brazil. He explained that they are planning to open a new school in the next town over, and that there'd be a need for more coordinators (!). He's a big talker, so I didn't take it too seriously, but I made some vague, non-committal comments about how I'd look into staying longer and how I'd stop putting off the “long-term talk” that Alexandre and I eventually need to have.

I was up early this morning with nothing to do, because my 1-1 tutoring student (from GetSmart English, the less good school) decided not to show up to his 8:00am class for the third time. I was looking into my options about extending my visa and stuff. I basically learned that I can easily stay for another three months-- I have to go to a local federal office and probably pay a fee-- but after I'm here for 180 days, it gets a bit more complicated. I can essentially either:

a) get married; or
b) possibly get this thing called a “temporary residence visa.” My boss would actually have to apply for the TRV first, offering me a job contract (with a length of time that he determines). These seem to be less coveted than the straight-up work visas, which require employment in a partner American-Brazilian company and which I've read are very difficult for companies to acquire. But I couldn't figure out if he has to pay a lot for it or important details like that.

The problem with my visa research is that I'd only get so far until I'd be sent to a webpage that was written in formal, legal Portuguese. So that's all I know until I crack down and bring it up with the Boyfriend. Said Boyfriend, however, is swamped with studying for his crazy week-long final exams (written and oral), and is too busy to even read this blog, let alone have a scary and serious conversation about Our Future. At least that's what I am conveniently assuming, because perhaps he is not the (only) one to consider the conversation scary and serious.

We're going to Alexandre's parents' house tomorrow morning, and staying there for a couple of days for the mystery holiday. We were going to leave tonight, but the bus tickets were sold out. I'm secretly pleased about this occurrence, because it means a) I get to sleep in a bed instead of on a bus; and b) I get to call in sick to work on Saturday (which will effect probably 3 of my 9 students-- the average that shows up). Tsk, I know.

Anyway. I probably won't write over the weekend, but look forward to the fun food celebration next week!

If you were here, I'd kiss you on the cheek.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Little Adventures

The week has been a bit wacko, but not in a bad way. I've been working a lot, and Alexandre had midterms of sorts. Then I caught a cold, so I've been spending most of my non-work time taking naps and watching House and Law and Order SVU on the English channel that we have. The result? A VERY messy apartment! We just cleaned it because we could smell the kitchen from the hallway...the one outside. Sometimes we're good at being adults.

On Monday we went to a place called “blue shopping,” which is basically a swap meet / street fair setup with lots of pirated treasures and copyright infringements:

Alexandre bought some burned video games (about 8 dollars each), and I enjoyed the funny English on all of the stolen brand name products:

“It's just not a game anymore!” hahahaha. Adverbs sure are tricky.

The busy-ness and the being sick has also caused us given us an excuse to eat out a lot. I've felt so American this week. We actually went in 2 drive-thrus! Boy, does this country know how to take an efficiency model and run with hit. Drive-thrus here feel like Disneyland. The McDonald's here has this elaborate system of runner employees that take your order while you're in line, then stick a little plastic number on the top of your car so the other runners can keep track of you. Another guy comes to take your money or credit card, and another runner brings the drinks (or sundaes, in our case! Ha). By the time you get to the window, you've already done everything you need to do, and the food is all ready. They just give it to you and take the little number off of your roof. Insanity.

The other drive-thru experience was an incredibly un-PC place called Habeeb's. Can you guess? Middle Eastern fast food. I tried to get a picture of the equally long and elaborate drive-thru /waiting line for The Jungle Cruise, but it didn't come out very well:

However, we did get some nice shots of the horribly offensive image that is Habeeb's trademark, which is equally Disney-esque in its blatant racism:

And we decided to jazz it up a bit once we got home (just for Natasha!):

At one of the jobs on Friday, we had a training from the Cambridge publishing company, the people who make our textbooks. Kristin, what a world of difference a training makes! We use the same book series that I used at my US job (Interchange), but now I actually know what the publishers had in mind when they made it. Also, I decided that the publishing rep has the best job ever. I want that job. Seriously. She gets to travel around Brazil and talk about textbooks, teaching theories, and classroom strategies with other teachers. I could do that in any Latin American country, and the US, for that matter. I'm going to look into it.

The other job has been pretty meh. My students are much older at this school (30s and 40s), and they have terrible attendance. I took some pictures of my empty classroom the other day, because no one came and I was bored:

I think part of it is me-- they're the introductory classes (think: “My name is ___. I am ___ years old. I live in ___”). I don't think they understand my effed-up Portuguese, and they probably think I'm a bit crazy. There's also the factor that they're busy adults with families and jobs; since the school is expensive, they're people with important, time-consuming jobs like lawyers and bank owners. Then, of course, there's the problem that the material sucks, and I'm not allowed to change it in any way. Blah. It keeps me from really being motivated.

This week, both jobs asked me what they could do (aside from a raise, because neither can do that) to convince me to quit the second job and be exclusively available for them. Heh. I'm being non-committal because I don't know who can actually offer me more, I'm just indecisive. I prefer the students and the boss at EnglishSchool, and I never have to teach before 11:00am. However, the other school is within walking distance, and doesn't require any prep work because they have the crazy-strict lesson plans. I'd really like to just keep working at both until one fires me for not being available enough. Opinions?

Things are going better on the friendship front: I give private tutoring to a 28-year-old psychologist, and she wants to go out for drinks next weekend with the boyfriends. (Alexandre's so excited: “our first couple-friends!”) I also met another teacher at EnglishSchool who's super nice but whose name is impossible to pronounce. We had that casual “oh, we should hang out some time!” conversation, which I suppose is the first step.

I'll leave you with a nice picture of the sunset that I saw after work today. I hope you all are well. Congrats to the graduates: Elena, Andrew!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Economy Things Big and Small

So according to my "Brazil Since 1980" book, Brazil has had a closed economy on and off since the 1960s. That meant no foreign imports in order to build up Brazil's industries. In the 80s, the government wanted to strengthen Brazil's computer and technology industry, so it put crazy tariffs on electronics imports. But that never took off, and the government eventually stopped offering low-interest loans and stuff. To stabilize the currency and reduce inflation, the government in the 1990s opened up Brazil to more international trade, particularly with surrounding South American countries. But then, apparently, in 1994 Mexico had an economic crisis that somehow affected Brazil. (This part is unclear to me.) To protect itself, Brazil put all the crazy taxes back on imports to protect jobs. These still haven't changed today. The result is good for Brazil when we talk about things like spatulas: a spatula sold by an American company (usually made in China) costs about 6 dollars. A spatula made in Brazil is about 75 cents. McDonald's hamburgers cost about 8 dollars. The problems arise when Brazil doesn't have its own industry to compete, but the taxes still exist. For example, a Toyota Corrolla is like, the pinnacle of a nice car here. It costs almost 30k. A microwave here costs about 200 dollars; and answering machine, about the same. Cell phones are hundreds of dollars. Of course, these things aren't vital, like food and medicine, but they do define “standards of living.” These laws also make my mousse for my hair cost 18 dollars. But if people can't spend their money on these products, they spend them on Brazilian products instead, right? Is it really better in the US to have all of our stuff made overseas, which lowers the prices but makes us wasteful? Are our lives really better when we can buy a new cell phone every year? (Or every 3 months, in Patty's case? har har.)

Similar questions arise when I talk about Dona Vera, the maid. After a long and interesting conversation with Alexandre about the status of maids in the context of the Brazilian culture and economy, I lost a little bit of my guilt. (I still wash my own underwear and empty the bathroom trash before she comes, but shit, I'm not gonna change overnight.) He explained that the pay is much better, and there certainly isn't the stigma that people have toward being a maid in the US. He pointed out that he felt really strange in the US to have someone bag his groceries in supermarkets and open doors for him in restaurants. He asked why those jobs are more “socially acceptable” in the US, even though the pay is just as low-- is it just because you're working for a company, and not another family? Is there some degree of removal when you throw in the idea of a “company” as your employer instead of a peer of sorts?

We also discussed wages and labor law protection in Brazil. (My boyfriend is smart, by the way.) There is a federal minimum wage, but it's awful, and useless. However, maids are still protected by it, unlike in the US. If their employer refuses to pay them at least the minimum wage, they can go to the courthouse and require it, including the back pay. Our maid makes about 3 dollars an hour. Sounds terrible, but to put it in perspective, public school teachers make about 5 or 6 dollars an hour, and I make about 8. Alexandre said that, combined with her husband's salary, our maid makes enough to send her kids to private schools, to have a cell phone, and to live in a safe part of the city. Yes, it still bothers me that the system is inherently unjust, that many people—citizens, not immigrants-- are maids because they were denied access to education from the start. It represents and encourages an underlying problem of income inequality that is alive and well in both countries. It's just that the US hides it better.

All of these facts are helpful, but I can't deny that culture shock takes awhile to wear off. Even if I understand better the philosophies and economic history of maids, I still don't get the logistics. This may just be me being an American brat, but I'm really uncomfortable with someone else in my house, seeing all my mess. I'm messy sometimes, especially when I spend the majority of the day by myself in the apartment. Sometimes I wait until 3pm to shower. Sometimes I spend 4 hours at a time in front of the computer. I don't have a desk, so sometimes the couch gets piled with papers for work and my dishes from lunch, and I wait until 10 minutes before Alexandre's going to come home to clean it. I like having control over who sees the messy side of me: no one (ok, Danette, you're cleared). And this is me being an American with a conscience riddled with the guilt of slavery: I feel really ashamed that I sit and type away on my computer while an older woman washes my dishes. I really worry about what she thinks of me, and that she's offended in some way. In this context, is it inequality or not? How much control do I have over the situation? Sure, I could frantically clean the apartment before Dona Vela comes, but is that the right thing to do? And what if I don't want to wake up at 6am to scrub the floor before she gets here so that she doesn't have to do it even though she's getting paid? In short, I don't want to make my bed, but that doesn't mean I want someone else to do it.

Do any of you think you'd have the same mental ping-pong game going on if you were here?

I guess I can end it on a fun note: when Dona Vela came in today, she brought... a helmet. Because she drives a motorcycle. Who knows? I just might learn something here.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The One-Month Mark

So this week's been pretty slow-- just getting accustomed to lots of new classes and spending a lot quality time... with myself.

Lots of things have been reminding me of Danette these last couple of days, partly because this is going to be our first birthday apart. I saw the infamous Danette yogurt that is in like, every country except for the US:

Then I've been buying these napkins because they're cheap and they have the cutest elephant logo:

And I also have a really funny student who enjoys creating English words the way Danette creates Spanish words like “relaxate.” They learned the word “homework” last week, and he says he's going to call it “carwork” because he always does it in the car on the way to school with his brother. Har har. We were studying the possessive ['s] today, and the example in the book was “Alex's Personal Profile.” This is confusing when you see it for the first time in English, since the word order is so different from Portuguese. I translated it for them as “O perfil personal de Alexandre.” And then I said, “here, Alexandre, or “Alex,” in English, is possessive.” And the student asked in Portuguese, “and your Alexandre? Is he possessive?” I had to laugh-- it was so clever, especially for someone so new to the language. That group is a bunch of jokesters... they're all close to my age or older, and yet I spend more than half of the class telling them to focus and stop giggling. Ridiculous, but at least it's never boring.

I've been picking up classes here and there at the primary job, but I'm still not sure which ones were just subbing and which ones are going to be permanent. My boss has the attention span of a gnat. A lot of this trip, the job included, has gone really against the grain for me. Everything is planned in the very short-term. Things happen in BrazilTime, which is often late and non-committal, but understandably so. I realize how American I am in such situations. I always expect long-term talks, introductions, overviews, objectives....the “so, now what?” I rarely get it-- not because people are at fault in any way-- but just because that's the standard here, and also because I simply don't know how long I'm staying here yet, and therefore can only plan so far. It's just that the short-sightedness can be stressful, sometimes.

On Thursday night, Alexandre and I went to a sushi dinner with some of his friends from a different medical clique whose distinction I'm still a bit unclear about. The sushi was delicious. I'm not a fan of fish, and I only enjoy sushi because the rice and soy sauce hide the uncomfortable fish texture, but this stuff was amazing. Even better, it was an all-you-can eat setup. So we ate... a lot. This group was very different from the friends that Alexandre runs with most of the time. The girls were kind of...exclusive. But I do appreciate Alexandre's friend Lander, who I had already met. He always makes a point to talk to me, and to translate things into English when he knows a good equivalent phrase. He's hilarious, and he learned the etymology “ebonics” and thinks it's the most ridiculous word in English. This is mostly true. (After hearing (one too) many a drunken rant from me about language stereotypes in America, Alexandre heard Lander's comment and had to intervene to protect Lander from... me. Haha.)

I'll admit that this week was a bit taxing for me. I hit the one-month mark yesterday, and I'll say it: Although I'm really enjoying myself here overall... I'm lonely. I am a social person. I'm never the quiet one in the group when it's in my native language, or hell, even in Spanish. I'm used to being constantly busy, with a purpose and with a plethora of friends to choose to hang out with, and often to combine them so my friends can be friends with each other (yay!). I'm used to having more control over my day-to-day life, but even simple things, like buying batteries for my camera, become an ordeal here. I don't do well with so much alone time. I mope. I dwell. I feel useless. I talked about it with Alexandre, who reminded me that it's a process, and who promised to set up more nights out between me and his female friends. I expected this, but that awareness doesn't make it much easier.

I promise that the next entry will be less wallow-y and more country-reflective. I'm gonna go around tomorrow and take pictures of some stuff in the city, and tell you about some interesting economy things.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Internet! Pictures! Work!

So we finally got our new internet. It's one of those fancy packages that comes with a TV and a telephone! The TV has lots of shows in English. Happy day, as Michelle would say.

If you're willing to call me, email me and I'll give you my number. Yay. The grandparents called already, so nice!

Since we have real internet now, I was able to put pictures up on Flickr. (For those of you that don't know, it's a website where you can store pictures. Its layout makes me look much more talented than I actually am.) You can see them here. If you click on the word "detail" under the picture of the goat, it will show descriptions of the pictures. If you click on "slideshow" in the top right corner, it'll make them bigger. :D

I also picked up another class at one of the jobs, so I'm up to 20 hours. Progress! I've taught a couple of groups at each school now, and it's going great so far. Good students! Very different groups.

I still have way too much free time, so I need to do something about that.

Here are some more cutesy pictures of us:

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Lesson/Rant

So I have a class of three students this evening who are all studying molecular biology at one of the universities here. My boss asked me to find a biology-related article or topic to discuss with them this evening, so I decided to get some information from them about biofuels, mostly because the articles about diseases and cell reproduction were way too confusing for me.

Some of you may already know that, in Brazil, many of the cars run on alcohol. No, it's not beer (I was so confused at first); it's sugar cane. Brazil is covered in sugar cane, and the government has invested lots of money (controversially) in making the alcohol production more efficient over the last 30 years. Whether or not people thought it was a good investment in the beginning, Brazil is now the largest exporter of sugar cane in the world, and 40-odd% of it is used for energy, not cookies.

Since I've been here, I've learned more than I ever thought I would about energy production. Though the alcohol is less efficient than gasoline (30% less, in fact), it's half the price here in Brazil, and that's without any subsidies on sugar or tariffs on oil. (The only laws that exist about it here are that car engines must be specially-made to use the sugar cane, and all oil sold for cars must have at least 24% alcohol.) The most successful car companies here use engines that have sensors that detect the ratio of alcohol and gasoline, and run accordingly. People choose these cars, because it gives them the option of buying regular gasoline (which Brazil also produces, but mostly imports) if the prices change.

It seems like the majority of the problems caused by the sugar cane production are a) political corruption and fights for power over the companies; and b) chemical pollution from the pesticides used to kill bugs and snakes on the crops (problems that America already has).

Of course, when I started learning about how great this is, I wanted to know why, exactly, the US wasn't importing the alcohol from Brazil or producing it on US soil. I learned that the US is actually the second-largest producer of sugar cane, after Brazil, even though it can only grow in a few southern states and Hawaii. So where does all of our sugar go?? I then learned that the US puts crazy tariffs on any sugar-cane-related imports, thanks to lobbying, not only from the less-efficient ethanol peeps, but also from people who make high fructose corn syrup. The companies that put all the sugar in American food don't want any possible competition from other countries. Though the article didn't write about it, I can guess that there is also a lot of lobbying from gasoline companies in the US, too.

I'm not an expert in this stuff by any means, and I can sometimes fall for conspiracy theories pretty easily. All I know is what I can barely understand from the news, what I read in my “Brazil Since 1980” textbook that I bought myself, what Alexandre tells me, and what I read on news sites and on Wikipedia. But what I do know is that the food here doesn't contain nearly as much sugar. I've lost a lot of weight already. I know that I spend a lot less money to use Alexandre's car. I do know that, even though Sao Paulo is the second largest city in the world, it doesn't have nearly as much pollution as a place that is as relatively small as LA.

I do know that, when you have to choose between hanging out with 2 friends-- a rich one who is self-destructive, with all kinds of problems, who secretly hates you and who always puts you in danger, or a poor one who had problems but is making his life better and who wants to work with you to make your life safer, too-- it's a no-brainer as to which friend to choose, even if he doesn't buy you like, TVs and Hummers and stuff.

Then I found this article about an Emeryville company and a Berkeley professor (go Bears!) who are trying to work with Brazil to make an even better sugar cane alcohol that can work in the same engines that are used in the US. I'm going to read and discuss it with the students to see what else they can teach me, and maybe teach 'em some English at the same time.

Ahhh I'm totally freaking myself out with big-picture mode here. I'd better go run around the block or something.

If you know anything else about this topic, please enlighten me.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


They picked me! They picked me!

After two fabulously successful days with the jobs, I'm now up to about 17 teaching hours per week between the two. This is great news! I have an income! It's certainly enough to live on here-- it's maintaining payments for my American life that will kill me. We'll see.

Umm I haven't written because I've been busy at trainings and orientations, and because our internet is so damn temperamental (read: crappy). But, hallelujah, we're getting new internet on Monday.

On Thursday (the holiday) Alexandre and I went on a little adventure to the outskirts of the city where all the farms and factories and greenery are. We saw cool things and took great pictures. It was one of the first times where I really felt like I was IN Brazil, ya know? I'll put up the pictures after I photoshop them and attempt to make them all artsy, and also when it doesn't take 5 minutes (literally) to load a webpage.

I taught my first class this morning, and it was tons of fun. I was sooo worried because it was a very introductory English class, as in, their first time to ever formally study English. But of course, this is Brazil, a place where American culture has thoroughly saturated the society. They were already excited to tell me all the English they already knew, such as “My name is Bond. James Bond.” and “I am her boyfriend. Loverboy!” One really bright guy puts “do” in every sentence, and adds “ing” to way too many verbs. I also realized that I actually speak a LOT of Portuguese! It's one of those things where, when you're forced to do it, you find that you can.

It's been cold and rainy the last couple of days (well, cold for Brazil-- like 60), which means... mosquitoes, the bane of my existence. Sweet Jesus. How can something so small have so much power? There's also the problem of Dengue, which puts Alexandre in papa-bear-mode. Michelle, we bought the spirals! :oD For the rest of you, the spirals are these incense-like...well, spirals, that you light from the outside in and that work like gold in fending off the little devils. He also bought this stuff that you plug into the electrical outlets.

I'm three weeks in, and while the missing of things is strong, I'm, overall, very happy.

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