I have made it back to Seattle, replaced my camera with the Canon 7D and most of my camera gear, fixed my laptop, and have had a little time to catch my breath and reflect on what I have been through. Tomorrow I will fix my car, which also broke while i was away, work on my blog postings and start editing my film. Thanks for following along, and all of your emails. Sorry I was unable to respond to everyone!
Since we have been in this small town, I have had so much time to contemplate what we have experienced. Up until this point in the trip, and even my life, I have lived the only way I know how; very quickly. I never have really stopped to think about how I got to where I was, how my actions influenced others, and how others influenced me. We have been able to go into areas of Brazil where very few outsiders are welcome. I have talked to residents of Qulombos, Favelas, the streets of Sao Paulo, I have talked to kids who don’t have a family, who struggle to live one day to the next. I have experienced being robbed, and being eaten to death by bugs. I have tried foods that would never be served in the US, dances that are culturally rich, and music that would never get air time in the States. I have talked on a local radio show in Aracuai for a few minutes before realizing I was just a political pawn. I have picked mangos out of trees on the way to school. I have done so much more and everything I have done here can not be explained in small snippets because has begun to be intertwined into one amazing life changing story.
I sit here contemplating how I will tell this story, will it be one major blog post, email, or talk. Will I only have time to tell short stories, if so which ones? I fear that the story of Chloe will be told the most, shortened down to only bring bad light on a culturally rich, subculture.
Being able to reflect on what I have seen, done, and tried has been amazing; it makes me realize how lucky I been, and just how much I have experienced. However, it has made me… frustrated. Many of us live our lives in this fast paced, technologically dependent way. For those who knew me before know that I never left the home without my phone, music, or checking email, facebook, etc. When I left for Brazil I feared that I would not be able to survive without constantly being connected, but having experienced a culture that is based around human interaction, not technology has opened my eyes; I love it! I have not used a cell phone, left over 300 emails unanswered, not responded to facebook messages, and only a few posts for over one month. Part of me would like to keep this up after I return. Leave text messages unanswered for days, only return phone calls when I am alone, answer emails when I can and interact with people who are in the same room as me and value similar things. So often do we get caught up in “what else” that we let life pass us by. I know I am here with you but... my friend just texted me so I am going to respond to it, I know I only get to see you once every few months but my roommate wants to go do the same thing we do every night in hopes for a different ending... What else can I be doing other then here with you is such an americanized thought, (and kind of sounds like a song lyric) and something, thanks to the lack of mobile technology, I have been able to avoid for the past month.
My fear is that America does not work in any other way. We live in the fast paced life which evolves around mobile technology. We expect instantaneous responses, we expect to be called upon, we expect whats next and not whats now. Can I, while working in journalism, remove myself from technological dependency? I have written countless papers for school on the topic but never experienced this first hand. Maybe my professors knew what they were talking about, maybe those books had some validity, but maybe that truth is only obtainable outside the US. It will be interesting to see, and something I would really like to try.
So this posting is a little different then the rest, but as I sit here watching the sunset over this small Brazilian town, my mind is filled with life changing thoughts. Thoughts that I must consolidate and articulate next week while I write my final, final college paper. But I will write a few more postings before I leave Aracuai Sunday and prepare myself for my departure of Brazil and the return to Seattle.
If you are really wondering what I have done this week, the first paragraph has summed it all up. Ill articulate a few of the stories better later, but now its time to go to a BBQ, and relax with a few great friends to sing, eat, drink and dance the night away!
Today began like the day before. We woke mildly late, but fully refreshed. Unlike in Sao Paulo where you go out at midnight, dance until 5-6 am and then sleep until 10am, Aracuai is much much different. Here you start dinner and drinks with family and friends around 7pm and are in bed by 11pm. This will be the place where I am able to recharge, relax and contemplate what I have been through these past few weeks.
Before breakfast had ended, it was already really hot. It was a dry heat, but much hotter then Sao Paulo. All of us were about to get tan, sweat off about 20lbs, and understand the importance of constantly drinking water.
Arriving at the small school, we walked into the medium size room filled with tables and old chairs. Our group sat in the same place we had the day before and waited for our guest speaker. Looking through the open windows we saw small faces peering in. Little kids had heard our English and wanted to see what was going on. They are intrigued by you, our program director said. It is not everyday they get to hear English. As little heads continued to appear we all just laughed.
University of Washington professor Jonathan Warren arrived in Brazilian style... 20 min late. He had gotten to the country the night before and we all understood how he was feeling. Professor Warren began his lecture about his research on racial segregation in Brazil. It was extremely interesting to hear his research and theories about the country we were all beginning to love.
We spent a few hours talking about how Brazil has a very interesting reputation for their racial issues. Some people, think of Brazil being a racial democracy... but what did this mean? Some people view racism as, if you don't have a sign on the door that explicitly states something racist like No Blacks or Whites only, or if you explicitly state something racist then there is no racism. But our discussion uncovered something much deeper, especially here in Brazil. As Brazil tried to become white through interracial relationships, the world thought that Brazil had moved past segregation. However, a deeper look will uncover the belief that white is rich, power, and black is poor, weak. Many of the Brazilian cities are built after successful European cities, and much of their culture came from white cultures. As we all spend time here, we continue to contemplate the issue of race, within the context of human rights. I am interested to see how our views and ideologies transform over the next few weeks.
Finishing up our lecture, we were dismissed for our two hour lunch. I think I want to bring this back to the US. Everything closes, and ends at noon and stays closed until 2. Nothing is ever scheduled during this time. It is a time for family, food, and relaxation. Our lunch was the same as before, just different types of beens, rice, and meats. It was another amazing Brazilian meal and time to talk with Zuzu.
Around 2 pm lucas and I realized that we were late, once again, for class. We all met outside the ice cream shop in the town square. The ice cream shop is a place where most of our time and money will be spent. On a side note, they do not have vanilla ice cream here! They have flavors like mango, corn, acai (a purple looking berry that is suppose to be cleansing) strawberry, etc. Most of the flavors I have never seen before, and have been forced to try a few of them. I hope that one day they will have vanilla...
For class we went to the Minos Cinema. Minos Cinema was in the older part of town. A few decades ago there was a major flood which destroyed most of the city. As the city rebuilt it was built on higher ground, a few blocks away, creating the old part of the city. The water line could still be seen on some of the buildings, the roads were even worse and people had almost abandoned it. This is the main reason why it was built here. Not only did this group of kids want to give the community something they did not have, but they wanted to bring the old town back to life. It was mostly paid for by a large group of children who won 40,000$ for a cinema project and wanted to build a local cinema to teach children how to create films. What was remarkable about this is that none of them kept the money. In a town this poor, that is a lot of money, almost 1000$ per child. The cinema was really interesting. It was a small building which incorporated local artists work. The first room had a couple computers where workshops on video editing were held. The second had 130 stadium seats, and a large projection screen. This is where the films were shown. They make 1-2 min films every few months, and show them on TV, the Internet, and locally before every other movie. For Lucas and I, this was really cool to see.
On the way home we all stopped at a LAN house to access internet. 1.50$ for 1 hour, not too bad, and the only way to log online. We were going to need to talk to our family about internet access. Once we made it home and returned to our seats around the table and began talking with our family about America, Brazil, and life in this small town.
We woke to the sound of Laura, the extremely mature 12 year old daughter, yelling for us. Quickly getting out of bed, and jumping in the shower, we were once again greeted with a huge breakfast. So much food! Fresh mangos, papayas, breads and fresh juice onces again filled the table. Lucas and I sat and ate as much as we could. Eating fresh fruit daily is something that I will never get use to.
Food here has been amazing! Flavors are rich, fruits are abundant and meat is tender. We typically eat a small breakfast, take a 2 hour lunch where we indulge ourselves on beans, rice, meat, salad, fruits, breads etc. Then dinner is extremely late and very small. It usually consists of breads, fruits and “something” de dolce (random sweets).
After breakfast we made the short walk from casa de Zuzu to the school where we had a few guest speakers introduce us to the city. Learning the history of this city was one of the best history classes I have ever had. We had the opportunity to talk with the tribal leader, as well as a few people who have changed the political and social ideology of this town. One of which was Geralda. Geralda, an older woman who has lived in this town most of her life, spent a long time going over the very intricate and detailed history of Aracuai. Drawing a map on the old chalk board, we learned why indigenous people dispersed to the Amazon, Aracuai, and other rural areas of Brazil. Her story was not one you could find in a text book, but only obtain through talking to such a prominent community member.
That evening our “mother” returned from her business trip. Hugging Lucas and I, the short middle age woman welcomed us into her home and presented her family. Sitting around the tables outside drinking cashasa, beer and wine, we talked in broken Portuguese for hours. She was extremely energetic, open, funny. This is a family that Lucas and I will never forget, and possibly be one of the main reasons to return to this small, culturally rich town.
After a long dicussion, she asked us if we liked the fruits available to us here. Quickly saying yes, she stood and said with a laugh, vamos! We followed her around the house lucas and I were occupying to a small wire fence. Opening the gate, roosters began to crow, ducks quacked, and dogs barked. Walking through the threshold, a large garden appeared. Trees which produced almost any kind of fruit one could want had been planted and small animals were abundant. We stopped under one tree that produced a small fruit that looked like a miniature pumpkin in shape, had a vibrant red color, and tasted like nothing I had eaten before. With a smile she said she loved this tree, and had planted everything on the property years ago.
With a nod she turned and continued down the slopping hill, passing mango trees, orange trees, and a small group of baby ducks. We stopped under a tree that grew a rare form of berry. It looked like a elongated raspberry/blackberry mix. Pulling them from the tree, she said slowly, voce comer. (You eat). They had an amazing taste, and I quickly found myself pulling handfuls from the tree, not caring what bugs were on them, if they were totally ripe, or washed. Zuzu laughed when she saw our dyed hands. Telling us to be careful what we touch, she began to explain how the tree is really rare and produces a berry that is typically extremely expensive. A berry that very few people can grow here. She does not know why her family has been able to grow this tree, but thinks it is amazing.
One thing that was weird was the oranges. Here, oranges are green, tart, and small. Lucas always tells me that the chickens, cows and animals are not malnourished, they are just natural and not pumped full of MSG or other chemicals that make them look americanized. The fruit is the same. They do not spray the fruits with chemicals, or fertilize the ground, its just not needed. The redish-orange dirt has enough nutrients to grow almost anything you want, and then you do not need to wash or watch what you eat.
After spending a little while picking fruits, and eating as much as we saved, we headed back towards the house to see that other people in our group had arrived. We returned to our seats around the small glass table and began to talk. Leaning to Lucas and I, Zuzu said, people always come here, this is the best place to hang out. And it really was. My fear for not having much to do in a town of 40,000 had quickly died down. I was once again feeling at home, loving the culture, the family and this trip.
I wake to the sound of our professor’s voice, “We are here!” Looking out the window of the large tour bus I see dirt, motorcycles, and a few small buildings.
Population 40,000… a small change from Sao Paulo’s 11 million.
40,000…I can’t help but think of University of Washington’s student body. We have two weeks to explore a city the size of our campus. Two weeks to make new friends, experience a completely different culture, life style, and family.
Stepping off the bus, we were greeted with a camera flash, a hug and a new family. Zuzu; one of the most famous, wealthiest, and oldest families in the town. Zuzu; our new home. Lucas and I were greeted by two girls who were very nicely dressed and full of energy. “Lucas e Brian?” one asked. She was 12 years old and already more energetic then our entire group combined. “Sim” we simultaneously mumbled. With a huge smile, hug and kiss from her and her 16 year old sister we had made the awkward first introductions.
The Taxi ride to their house was short, bumpy, hot, and noisy. As one of the poorest cities in the country, it looked almost exactly how I had pictured it. The roads were broken cobble stones, the buildings close together and a little rundown. Colors had faded, cars were in disrepair, and the population seemed all older.
Pulling up to the Zuzu residents was a bit of a shock. We had been told at the bus station that we got lucky with our home, but at the time we were not sure what they had meant. The house reminds me of an old California wine villa. Oak color shutters cover the rounded window. The yellowish tan painted house sits on the top of a hill that over looks the city. The street is the family’s street; named after the great great grandfather, who was a very important doctor years ago. The family owns most of the city, and most of the city knows the family.
Lucas and I walk through the front door and are greeted by a young black woman who spoke no English. She beckoned us in to the kitchen where a large breakfast awaited. Papua, watermelon, breads, cheeses, and fruits I didn’t even recognize were laid before us. We sat, looked at each other tiredly and began to eat. Many of our group had told us about being fed tons of food, but for Lucas and I, this was all a new experience.
After we thought we had eaten all we could, Laura, the short energetic 12 year old took our hands and quickly showed us the house. It was very nice! The view was amazing and our quarters were even better. A few yards away from the main house stood, what could have been mistaken as a beach house. It had a real bathroom and bedroom. It was a little bigger, cleaner, and appealing. It was something we could quickly get used to. Above our room was a deck that over looked the city. It was an amazing view! The town reminds me of Spokane valley with the small green hills, California wine country with the fields and villa style houses, Arizona with the cactus and dirt roads. Staring at the view, we almost overlooked the best part of the house… a hammock; the place where I will be editing our movie, relaxing, contemplating life, deciding my future. A hammock; my savior in a town of 40,000 people, none of which my age.
When we thought the tour was over, we returned to the kitchen where a huge lunch had been prepared for us. Meats, beans, rice, pasta, breads, cheeses, and more had magically appeared. The woman we saw earlier was busy cleaning up. Our maid, Laura told us. Since their mom is always traveling for work and the dad is no longer in the picture, Laura and Louise are extremely independent and mature for their age. However, they do have a little help around the house, which is good because their age shows at times.
After a very large lunch we set off to see the town and watch the crowning of the new king and queen. All day we had been hearing fireworks going off a few blocks away, people cheering, and Church bells ringing. We had endured a 21 hour bus ride just for this festival, and I was excited to see what was going on.
We made the 3 block walk to a small wooden church. Painted decades ago in sky blue and white, the church looked its age. On the first floor were 20 rows of hand made benches filled with people. The cement floors could hardly be seen due to the vast number of people watching the ceremony taking place. A new king and queen were being crowned. Pedro told us that people just sign up for the honor, and each year a new one takes the crown.
No they are not real king and queen. They are the royalty of the church. Devoted to helping the church in any way they can.
After watching the ceremony for a little while we decide to set off and explore the city. Walking outside the church we are greeted with the defining sounds of the firecrackers. Looking at the source of the sound we found small children lighting, what appears to be, paper towel tubes on fire, holding them above their head until a big cloud of smoke appears and there is a loud burst of fire and light.
Something like this would never be legal in America, Lucas tells our tour guide and new friend Pedro. With a laugh he says in English, I know, many Americans come here just to buy fireworks.
We finally found some pizza, beer and ice cream before we make our way to bed. It was a long eventful day. I still can not believe the drastic change we had made from the big city to such a small town. Although this town is extremely rich with tradition and history, I hope we will have enough to do for the next two weeks!
One thing I have quickly learned here is how important community is. Rich and poor, old and young, indigenous and foreign stick to their group. Once you have gained the respect of a community, you have the support and resources at your disposal; favelas are no different. Favelas are like any other subsection of a community; families. “Family” in Brazil is one of the most important ties. It is not uncommon for a family to live under one roof while the children go through college, and until they get married. Fernando asked if it was common for a 25 year old person to live with their parents and grandparents, and if parents actually charge their children rent in America. When I said it was not common, and some parents do charge their children rent after a while, he was shocked. He could not believe this; how can one of the most important relationships in the world be held together and treated as though the people are strangers. I think this is one of the most enjoyable aspects of Brazil; the sense of community, family, trust and respect people have for each other. It is to the degree that I can not even begin to understand. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great family, friends, and community back home with very strong ties, but this just seems stronger. Even as visitors, the respect and trust given to us is enormous and unbelievable.
Our home-stay father, Alexandre, is a pasture at a church near a favela and agreed to take us to his church before we left town. In the past six years the favela he works near has begun to turn around. They currently have a 10pm curfew and strict regulations on their daily operations. There had not been an incident inside the favela for over four years and there had never been an incident involving a prominent community leader.
Our school, both the local one and UW decided that a favela tour without a community member was too dangerous and not something they could do, however they were okay with us traveling with a community leader like Alexandre because of his ties.
We left our house with Alexandre at 10 am, a time of day that would be the safest in one of the safer favelas in Sao Paulo. It was not a long drive, and when we arrived we were greeted with open arms. We parked the car at one of his friend’s house, got out and started to walk. People came out of their houses, some leaned out their windows, kids ran up and hugged Alexandre. It was an unbelievable sight. Here was a man who did not live in the community, who was only a pasture, and was being praised like a celebrity. Lucas and I were awestruck and felt extremely safe. We met and talked to a few people who lived in the homes, as we walked down different streets. Built on the side of a mountain, painted in vibrant colors, this was such a beautiful sight. Extremely steep crude stairs had been built in between homes, and makeshift sidewalks constructed. Kids were out in the street playing and adults working on their homes. It was just like any other community full of people. The only real difference was the economic status, their income and what the houses were built out of; materialistic possessions, something held in high regard by many Americans (myself included). When I was told about the community and the sense of family here, I did not believe it. I came with an Americanized mindset and methodology that told me that material objects were something to strive for, money could fix problems, and the poor needed to be helped by the rich. The walk through this area showed me how important it was that people inside the community work together, not people from the outside come in for one day, or a government throw money at them, drop food from an airplane, and then leave quicker then they came. But to succeed in this community, people needed to stick together, for long periods of time.
I hesitate to continue. So often are communities like this portrayed in a negative light. The term favela comes with negative connotation; thieves, poor, dirty, criminals, drugs, etc. Even as students we came to Brazil to study human rights, which makes may people believe there are numerous human right violations down here, or that people are barbaric, savages, slaves, etc. And when you mix the two, nothing good can come of it. What I have seen and experience so far is nothing like this.
One guy in our group is actually working with a few members of a favela for his project. He brought a few of the guys to our school and was immediately shunned. We heard whispers about how these guys would steal from the school, destroy classrooms, and ruin the chances of UW ever returning to the area. But the project went without a problem, the guys he brought in were kind, didn’t steal or break anything; in fact they gave to the community. They gave us gifts, and helped produce an amazing song.
How many times must stereotypes be proven incorrect before people, myself included, look at every situation separately?
This is why I hesitate to continue, because the story I am about to tell is very stereotypical. Furthermore, I thought I understood what community and family meant coming from America, but seeing inside some of these areas, I can honestly say I don’t know where to begin.
Back to the story… After we walked through most of the Favela, met countless members, and saw inside some houses, we got back to the car. It was still in one piece, and the people we had met said goodbye. We continued our drive to our home stay fathers church. Along the way we decided to stop at an overlook. The view was breathtaking. The steep mountain was blanketed in vibrant colored shacks. Cutting into view was an untouched hill covered in dense green trees. Peering through the windows was not good enough so we stepped out; nothing to this point told us this was a bad decision. As we began to look over the edge, a motorcycle drove up to us, one of the two masked men got off, while the other separated us from the car. Alexandre began yelling at the men in Portuguese as the one opened the car and began taking everything out. Lucas and I were stuck, we stood there jaws dropped, watching these masked men take our lives. Our sense of security quickly left, our sense of community drained, and our sense of trust vanished. In the matter of 30 seconds, all of the camera gear we had brought to Brazil as well as the other bags in the car were loaded on the motorcycle and taken away.
However this was not like any mugging I had ever seen or heard about. After they had gained control of the situation, the men actually became polite. As the three of us stood against a short rock wall that protected people from the cliff like edge, one of the masked men said he was sorry, and thanked us. They had us hold one bag while they loaded the others on. Before they left we heard a remorseful descupe-me (Im sorry). I would have like to see their eyes as they said this, but the tone and drastically different body language made it seem sincere. They were no longer forceful, rough or overpowering. They were just two men stealing everything we had; the common criminal.
We were told later that these men heard that two Americans were touring the area, and made a special trip across town just for us. No one in the community we toured knew who would hurt such a prominent community leader like this and promised to keep their eyes and ears open. Lucas and I know nothing will ever turn up again.
Thankfully we have our lives, our film is backed up on two different hard drives and we both are very well insured. All these men took were materialistic objects and burned that view into my memory for ever.
What I really want to know is why. I understand that these people are starving, dying, and struggling to survive on $100 a month. I came to the area knowing that some sell the oldest kids to feed the younger ones, or body parts just to get by. The temptation we brought had to have been hard. My only hope is that they use the money they made in those 30 seconds to feed their family, build their home and not to buy drugs.
We have been told that if we did not have those material objects on us, things could have gotten much worse. People think that all Americans are wealthy. This is a stereotype Lucas and I face even to this day. We talked with our home stay parents about how many people take out loans to get through school. Poverty is not uncommon in the US and only a few are super wealthy. American media is not working to our advantage. From Grays Anatomy and the OC, to Hollywood films, the images these people see of Americans is of wealth, prosperity, and more materialistic objects then they can imagine; so hearing two American guys telling them that debt is very common is a little unbelievable.
Yes if you take away the explanation, the background, and the fluff, you are left with a stereotypical story; I went to Brazil and got robbed near a Favela. All I can ask is that you take this story with a grain of salt, and remember this can happen anywhere, in Seattle, Spokane, Portland, New York, etc. In fact this is not the first time something like this has happened to me, and last time I was in a good part of Tempe, Arizona. If you feel the need to retell this story, please do so kindly. Brazil is a good place, with great people. I do not want this story to give people the wrong idea. Just remember to be careful where ever you go, across an American street or deep into one of the poorest areas in Sao Paulo. A story like this can happen to anyone.
I am just thankful I have my life, memory of the past, and a future.
PS everything was insurred and the insurance check is about to be deposited into my bank... not a big problem, just an inconvience.
This trip has been a roller coaster. One minute I am having everything I own taken away from me by masked bikers, and the next I am standing under a giant statue of Jesus. This trip has been surreal, life changing, beautiful, and inspirational. As I sit here and write this posting, Lucas is slowly packing up our room.
Even as small as it was, it was the room that we found refuge in. We came to talk about our experiences, reflect on the different culture. It was the room we came full of stories, with friends and recently empty handed. The tile covered, makeshift home was a lot more to us then just a place to sleep, and watching Lucas fold his clothes was not an easy task.
Although our trip to Sao Paulo has drawn to an end, the memories we have will never fade. From Fernando, one of the first people we met in Brazil who became one of our best friends, to Vinicious, the man who made Brazil a cultural experience of a life time, we have met some amazing people. You never know, we may be back in 2014 for the World Cup or 2016 for the Olympics… I do have a few places to stay!
Well today was interesting. We have spent the entire quarter learning random facts and sayings in Portuguese, some helpful and others not. I think it was more helpful being immersed in the culture and language. However, for me, learning Portuguese was no easy task and I don’t think I have a great handle on the language yet. Either way we took our final exam. It was not as hard as I had expected but it was no cake walk.
After we finished the exam all ten of us went to a large conference room where the university held a traditional Brazilian graduation for us. Looking back on the past few weeks, I am amazed by how fast it all went, and I can not wait to see what the rest of this trip has in store for all of us.
Today was our last Portuguese class, and tomorrow we have an exam and graduation