The End is Near

The year is rapidly coming to an end. In some ways this is a relief, and in other ways there are a lot of "what ifs" left hanging. I am constantly concerned about whether or not we are taking "advantage of the opportunity" of being in Brasil. Every night we stay home, I wonder if we missed something, every time someone tells us about something and we don't go I feel guilty, and every Saturday night at home is a missed opportunity.

It is funny that I expect something different from my life here. It is as though everything should change because you are in a different place, but it doesn't. Life is life. We go out here as much as we go out at home (well, maybe a little less). It is complicated to live in a big city without a car and deal with public transportation. All of the little things add up to making life just a little more difficult on a daily basis. And where do these expectations come from? Why is it assumed that living abroad means living some extravagant lifestyle that you never had before? I am here to say that, it is not so exotic. Most of the time spent is dealing with the bills, going to the grocery store, and trying to find something to eat for dinner. Occasionally there is a great samba party or art festival to go to...much like home when there is a great dance party in someone's kitchen.

We went to Arte em todo parte in Olinda on Sunday and it was wonderful. All of the artist's studios were open and we had a chance to go peek into all of the beautiful old houses in Olinda. The art festival in Olinda is based on Portas Abertas in Rio that gives people a chance to visit the artist's neighborhood of Santa Teresa. I had the opportunity to go to Portas Abertas in Rio and it was a constant flashback to that time as I wandered through Olinda. All of the houses have a beautiful facade, but appear to be quite small from the outside. When you enter, you realize that the house is enormous and the outside area is expansive. Most of the houses in Olinda have giant backyards full of trees and beautiful plants. Yet again, I want to live where I don't.

I love the idea of being surrounded by people making art, music, dance, etc. Olinda is where all of the cultural action is, and I have to take a field trip to get there. It is a choice, to live where the action is and commute to work, or to live where you work and commute to the party...it is a tough one. I am beginning to think that commuting to work is the way to go. If we stay here much longer, I am going to start looking for a house in Olinda. I should note that I love my house and it makes living in Recife wonderful. Okay, wonderful is a stretch, but I can't think of another word to describe it. We live in a lovely little white house tucked away from the madness about 5 minutes from where I work. We are centrally located, but far from it all. Coming home makes everything all right. I get to eat lunch at home (2 hours!) and it is just a quick jaunt from work to the oasis. Aside: 2 hours is the right amount of time for lunch. It is civilized. It is enough time to go eat at home with your family, pay the bills, get your hair cut, etc, but it is not as excessive as the 4-6 hour Spanish siesta. I don't know if I will be able to adapt to the inane 1 hour or less US lunch again. Lunch is the main meal of the day and should be treated as such. Long and leisurely accompanied by a wonderful juice (or whiskey).

We recently had friends living with us for 2 months and it made the house come alive. Now that they moved out we have two empty bedrooms and it seems like way too much space. I guess this is an invitation for those of you who want to come, stay awhile...We are now lonely, and want people to visit! (up to 3 months is fine, after that, we negotiate)

As always, Brasil has got the best of me..this is my third time here. What is it that brings me back? Something is making is difficult to stay away.


North to South

We just got back from a wonderful (and cold) trip to southern Brazil. We went to the island of Santa Catarina. Beautiful, lovely, tranquilo, green, beaches, clear water, yummy fish, hiking, simplicity, NATURE are just a few of the descriptive terms to use.

The reason for the trip was a conference, I Congresso Latino-Americano sobre a Formacao de Professores de Linguas (I CLAFPL), where I presented. This was my first conference presentation and I had an unexplainable attack of nerves. Sam got nervous just sitting next to me. There were quite a few presentations happening at the same time so there were only about 15-20 people there. Despite the attack, things went well. People seemed interested in the topic (Critical Media Literacy: A 21st Century Teaching Tool) and I didn't throw up. They are going to choose 15 of the conference papers for a book so I need to get writing. I reached a certain point before the conference and just couldn't write any more. I am waiting for inspiration to strike in the next few days, if not it will be forced and painful. I made a few contacts, but mostly just sat by myself during the coffee breaks. I definitely felt like an outsider and it was difficult for me to start conversations with people--I have no idea why. Maybe it was the fact that we were all freezing.

Apparently, we showed up for the coldest November in 12 years and a serious "southern wind." (Which reminds me of the dead penguin we saw on the beach. They get caught in the southern current and are sucked up the coast). Of course, Sam was loving it. I had to buy a sweatshirt the first day. It was a nice change to sleep with blankets and feel a chill in the air. Of course, that meant no beach weather, but it was fine. We ended up walking on the beach and doing some gorgeous hikes through the mountains along the coast. I wish that I could post some pictures, but our camera is broken. I am going to keep saying that in every post because it kills me a little every time. It is pointless to buy another camera here ($$$), to get it fixed we would have to send it to Sao Paulo, and we are going home in about one month. Despite all of that, the idea of not getting any more pictures for the rest of the year is quite sad. We are planning a trip for New Years and my Birthday to one of the most beautiful places in Brazil. How can we not take pictures??!? We will figure something out.

Ahhh the south. Basically, I want to move there. Now. I told myself last time that I was here that if I came back, I would live in Florianopolis. Ha. It is becoming a very sad story that I want to live everywhere that is not Recife. I shouldn't be so hard on Recife because there are a lot of good things--like the Samba party until 4 in the morning last weekend...oh wait, that was Olinda. It is just the big city syndrome. If I can figure out how to make a living outside of the city, I would be there in a heartbeat. I was thinking about a doctoral program...of course there is no money in that! I was happy to get back to the nice perfect weather (70's and low 80's), my house, the dogs, and my students (ha). Actually, there are only 3 more weeks of school! I am excited for the semester to be over. Everyone is bored, including me. I can't seem to come up with anything interesting to teach so I am going to give them lots of activities for grades--quizzes, reading, writing, etc. Good way to end on a high note! Oh well. It will only hurt for a minute.

We are celebrating Thanksgiving at the school next week. How strange. It is just getting hotter and turning into summer--it just doesn't fit with Thanksgiving. Also, it isn't a holiday here. Just like the Halloween party we had. Just doing my little part for cultural imperialism. The same could be said for the weird fake plastic Christmas trees, lights, Santa Claus figures, and other Christmas crap that does not make any sense in a tropical climate but sells the "image" of Christmas.

So the moral of this story is that southern Brazil is a beautiful and a wonderful place to be a tourist and Christmas in the tropics should not involve all of the kitchy crap that goes with Christmas in the cold.


Favela 101

We just got a little lesson in how things work in the favela. Favelas are shantytowns in Brazil. In Rio, they are up on the hills, in southern Brazil they are outside of the cities, and in Recife, they are everywhere. It is one of the characteristics of Recife. Unlike the US where you have the good part of town and the other side of the tracks, in Recife the good and the bad parts are mixed together.

Our friends live in an area of town where there are quite a few favelas around them. They are very involved in the social movements here in Recife and have connections with a lot of people in these communities. It is common knowledge in their neighborhood that they are part of the community and "considerada." Yesterday as my friend was riding her bike; two guys on bikes came up behind her, pushed her off her bike, and took her bag. She was fine, but a little dazed and trying to deal with the implications of that happening in her neighborhood. So this is where Favela 101 comes in.

Everyone that saw it happen knows who she is, the information passed quickly through the favela, and a group of guys immediately got ready to go after the muggers to the other favela. Going from one favela to another requires having the right connections and knowing who runs things. Going in alone is not an option. This group of guys got their gear and were heading into the other favela when they saw her talking to the police. They immediately called off the hunt and decided to lay low. Her experience with the police was completely unhelpful. They went into the favela (the one the guys passed through but aren't from) and searched a couple of people, made their presence known, made her feel bad, and left.

Her husband came home and put in the calls necessary to all of his connections in the different favelas involved (about 3 in the area) and found out the names he needed. He let it be known that they could keep the money and the cell phone, but they wanted the personal stuff back.
This morning they went to the area with one of their friends from the area "to be seen." They walked around and talked to people and of course let these guys know that they weren't afraid and weren't hiding. Important if they are going to continue to live there and not be a target.

In case you haven't figured it out, information moves FAST in the favela. If you live on top of 200 other people, nothing is a secret for very long. They met with some guys who told them to go to the corner bar and talk to 2 guys there. At the bar, the 2 guys told them to come back at noon, but only her husband could go. Too many people who aren't from the area are too suspicious. He went back and through a series of different people and conversations ended up in another neighborhood where a friend of theirs had her stuff (minus the phone and the cash). He walked in the house this afternoon holding everything.

You can imagine the stupefied looks on our faces. It is such a crazy system of who you know, who you can mess with, and who you can't. If it had been one of us, there would be no recourse, but because she is known in the community, it was completely unacceptable. Other members of the community have talked to the guys who did it and they now know that she is off limits and that they crossed the line by mugging her.

The nature of the favela makes it such a different network of communication and community than what I know. People literally live piled on top of each other separated by cardboard walls or anything else that creates a semblance of privacy. Some live in the "matchstick houses" out over the polluted canals. There are a labyrinth of tiny passageways and bridges connecting people together defining a territory that outsiders cannot understand. There are 3 favelas in the area and they are all run by different people and have different rules about who is okay and who isn't. Our friends were connected to two of the favelas, but now they have the right connections in the third one because of what happened.

Out of all of this, my friend is able to humanize what happened to her by looking at how desperately those people are living. What I came out of this thinking is how much courage is takes NOT to rob people. There are many more people living in the favelas who are hunting their next meal and trying to scrape by who do not resort to violence than those who do.


Lula de Novo Com a Forca do Povo

Last night we went to Marco Zero to watch the election results and party. I guess it would be fair to say that we went to watch the party...All of Recife Antiguo was filled with people wearing red and yellow with flags everywhere. There were some small Carnival blocks, percussions groups, a big stage, and lots of frevo. Frevo is the beat that moves Pernambuco. Everyone knows all of the songs and the rhythm makes you want to jump around. It gave Sam a taste of what Carnival is like here...I am not sure if he is going to like it. The amount of venders that show up for the events is quite impressive--any kind of food and drink possible. My favorite was the guy walking through the crowd with a vodka bottle taped to an orange fanta bottle with the cups over the bottleneck and the bag of ice tied onto the end. The perfect party kit. There was another guy dressed up quite nicely walking around with a tray of cups of ice selling whiskey--very chique. Amazingly, enough we actually found some friends in the crowd and had a couple of caipiroskas.

Oh yeah, and the politics. Can't forget the whole reason for the party. Lula was reelected last night as president of Brazil (with more than 60% of the vote) and here in Pernambuco Eduardo was elected governor (I swear I don't know his last name! All of the campaign information just said "Eduardo." I wonder if it has to do with that scandal a couple of years ago...). This was the run-off election because Brazil being a civilized country (unlike another country that shall remain nameless) has a run-off election if the candidate did not win by more than 50% of the vote. Both of these candidates are PT (workers party). Lula is actually from the interior of Pernambuco so he has a lot of support in the Northeast. It is interesting to look at the map of Brazil for the October 1st election-- it is completely divided in half (Blue=Alckmin, Red=Lula) . A country divided?

The north voted for Lula and the south voted for Alckmin. I heard some people say that they were voting for Lula because at least he will think about development for the Northeast. Good point there. The north and northeast of Brazil are the poor neglected cousins of the rich south. The economy of the country is driven by southern industry while the northeast languishes in giant sugar plantations owned by the sugar barons of the past or giant companies. You drive through the countryside here and all you see is sugar cane. No houses, no agriculture, no food being produced, just sugar. The Movimento Sem Terra (landless farmers movement) has some shacks built alongside the sugar cane, but there is only work cutting cane for about half the year. The land reform movement never happened here and land ownership is still colonial with the plantation owners from the days of slavery still controlling giant tracts of land in Brazil.

I would also like to throw in a little theory of mine regarding the desserts here. I think that from the colonial days sugar = wealth and so that is why the desserts are so unbelievably sweet. Showing off your sugar, so to speak.

Sorry--agricultural and dessert side track

Lula has had some corruption scandals during his administration (nothing new in Latin America), but people really believed that the PT would change things. They promised a new Brazil, and so far, it hasn't happened. To be fair, 4 years is a short time to change such a messed up system. Lula has instituted some social programs like the bolsa familia and the cesta basica (basic food basket) that have helped many people get out of complete poverty, but without jobs they have no where to go. None of the corruption scandals has traced to Lula, but pretty much everyone else in his cabinet is dirty. Anyone remember the guy caught at the airport with literally $100,000 in his underwear? Small change. Also, apparently Eduardo had some sort of corruption scandal in the past. That happens all the time. Steal some money, let some time pass, run for election again. How frustrating.

Hopefully the next four years will bring better things for Brazil. The energy of the people working for change is amazing. That energy is moving all over Latin America...


The surfista

I just can't let this go by without a comment. About a month ago Sam needed a haircut, and instead of old reliable we ventured one street over to the place especially "For men." There were quite a few clues that should have sent us straight out the door, but you know how it is--once you are in, it is hard to leave. We are sitting there waiting and I notice a sign on the wall that says, "One free shot of whiskey with every haircut." Then the tiny haircutter man looks over and asks, "Are you here for a manicure or a massage?" We explain that no, he justs wants a haircut. The haircutter man then whips out the book and starts asking which haircut does Sam want, "The americano? The desperado? Executivo? None of the established haircuts seemed quite right, and after pushing the americano quite hard he remembered that the surfista was missing from the book. He quickly decided it was the surfista that we wanted and proceeded to get to work. I made sure everything was clear and then left for other beautification rituals at my salon (yes, the bikini wax). Later that day Sam came home with shorter hair. It wasn't quite what he wanted but it seemed okay. It wasn't until the next day that the awful truth was revealed.

The surfista is the haircut that your brother had in middle school. The one that is long all around the top until it gets below the ears. The rest is shaved really close. A mushroom might be the best image. Sam has been suffering the surfista until yesterday when we went to old reliable and begged him to fix the damage. I really wanted to post a picture but our camera is broken. The surfista will only live on in memory.


The Media Project

Last week during the Semana Nacional de Democratização de Comunicação Anderson and I presented our first media literacy workshop on critically analyzing advertising and propaganda. Anderson works with an organization called Ventilador Cultural (cultural fan) that works in the social communication movements training people in communication techniques, production, and now MEDIA LITERACY!! We did not have a big turnout (6 total), but it was a start. The whole format went well and with some minor adjustments, we will be ready to do it again. Of course after the workshop was over everyone said how interested they are and that we should give the workshop at their organization, blah, blah. Interested? Yes. Enough to come on a Wednesday evening after work? Not a chance. Some people have even asked to use our material in their own presentations (who didn't bother to come...) hmmm. Not sure how I feel about that.

On the other hand, we did get some more publicity by doing an interview on "Sopa Diario" on the University TV station. I have to say I was really nervous--not really about being on TV, but about being on TV in PORTUGUESE. How am I going to explain what media literacy is, the purpose of our project, what the workshop was like in Portuguese? Other than one obvious blank out moment, things went okay. Most of the feedback from people was that they were able to understand me...whew. We actually have received a few emails from people interested in what we are doing and collaborating on workshops. This feels like an important first step for getting things moving. The plan is to create a series of workshops on media literacy for the community and release the material as PDF's under creative commons. At that stage we would like to begin working more with teachers and NGO leaders to do some intense trainings with the eventual plan of creating a media literacy curriculum for the public schools. This is a seriously long-term goal that is going to require grant money as some point (so I can quit teaching English!). We are starting to make some connections, and the money is out there--we just have to find it.

The media in this country is so tightly controlled and controlling. The Brazilian world revolves around Globo and the 8 pm soap opera. Interestingly, Globo was started with the help of the US during the Brazilian dictatorship...there are still questions of US involvement. There was a British documentary made about Globo called something like "More than Citizen Kane" about the owner of Globo, but it was censored and the production was never finished. I downloaded it off of the amazing site www.midiaindependente.org/ which is a spin-off of the Indy media center http://www.indymedia.org/pt/. These site allow people to upload their own media. A lot of the videos about the social movements here in Recife are on this site. I saw a great shirt during the communication week that said (in Portuguese) "Hate the media? Make media!" Such an incredible movement of people. Is this happening in the US? I can think of a few groups in Albuquerque interested in the alternative communication movement, but it doesn't seem to be one of the major discussions around the water cooler. I guess it is not a big discussion around the water cooler at my job either--except for the 2 teachers that saw me on TV. But that was more shock than anything else.

There is another amazing movement called "Quem financia a Baixaria é Contra a Cidadania" This group targets how people are being represented on TV shows in regards to human rights. There is a strong tradition of local programs that display violence and poverty as entertainment while violating the rights of many of the people they show. In many of the poor neighborhoods, the need to be seen (acknowledged) is manipulated by these programs. The campaign targets the companies that finance these programs through advertising. They have been very successful at bringing this to the attention of the government and starting to create regulations (and consequences) for violating human rights on television. Their site is: http://www.eticanatv.org.br/


Public Space Invaders

Public space. The visual environment that urban dwellers share and exchange information with on a daily basis. It is the foundation of our environment, where we receive information about ourselves and others, the intersection of place and self, and it is dominated by advertisements and messages of consumer culture. A space that should be dedicated to who we are as a people, how to work together as communities, and understanding cultural differences is dominated by private enterprise always thinking of new ways to sell you something. Why is public art illegal but a corporation can put its mark anyway with complete disregard of a person's choice of what to see and not see. They are deciding my visual environment for me. This domination of space is affecting me more and more as I venture into the world of public art/graffiti and critical media education.

We have a local park, Jaqueira, that is a lovely retreat from the chaos of the city. There is a walking path, a bike path, numerous playgrounds for children, enormous trees, a place for different types of classes, a tiny church, and a BMX bike track with jumps. As of last week it is now "Nestle Park" with giant Nestle signs everywhere. There are different Nestle products painted at every 100 meter mark, all of the equipment was repainted Nestle blue and white, there are ice cream signs with misters along the paths,nestle stuff all over the children's play equipment, and two kiosks where you can buy Nestle products and drink Nescafe. Is the government incapable of maintaining this park so it turned it into a corporate-sponsored amusement park? Was it just easier to turn it over without asking people if they want to see advertising in one of the few "ad-free" zones? Is that the trend of public spaces?

Boston Gardens has changed its name numerous time to fit its latest sponsors name. We see shows at the Journal Pavillion in Albuquerque, the convention center in Recife is Chevrolet Hall. What about the integrity of the place? The history of what it is and where it is going? Where do we make meaning from our surroundings if the only meaning is created by branding?
I just keep thinking of what society could be. What if our public spaces really were public? What if the visual images surrounding us were not based on consumption but on a desire for creation? We have followed this model without questioning why and now it is so far gone we don't even notice. How did it get so out of control? How did it become so ingrained in our mental environment?

Adbusting and culture jammers remind us that these displays are not fixed and are not permanent. They are created just like everything else in our urban landscape. Our urban environment perpetuates the cycle of consumerism and unsustainable use--culture selling culture back to itself.

Graffiti long disparaged by the official rule makers of our society is an expression that is unwilling to accept what the urban landscape is supposed to look like. While I have definite beliefs about the difference between tagging and graffiti, it is all attempting to make your voice heard in a society that has silenced everyone but the corporation. When the corporation gained its right to be "a person" it became the great censure of all of its fellow "human beings." Mass communication is not communication at all. It is corporations giving information and people receiving. Communication implies an exchange of information between both parties. Where is the exchange? How did I become relished to being a receiver with no outlet for my voice to be heard? Who makes those decisions? Why are we so afraid of taking back that space? Why are we not insisting that we have some right to decide what we see?

I think that for every "bought" space that a company occupies it should provide the equal amount of space to the community. Imagine a city where the community decides what its public space should look like. It would be varied, strange, and possibly offensive, but it would be real expression and not constant messages of culture bought and sold. Or better yet, the company should leave that equal space for trees.



Sam and I are taking Forró dance lessons. Okay, stop laughing.

Forró consists of an accordion, a triangle and a drum. Okay, start laughing. It can get more complicated--full band, scantily clad dancers throwing each other around the stage, people descending onto the stage and flying around on wires, and pyrotechnics. The complicated
forró is "Forró Estilizado" or stylized forró. The basic 3-man band is called "pe-de-serra." I prefer pe-de-serra because the estilizado forró seems really sexist. I am basing most of this information of the exhaustive DVD collection of forró our friend Carlos has. I have watched hours and hours of all of the "greats" and been to a few shows. I can't decide if the dislike comes from the mostly naked women shakin it while the male vocalist fondles her ass or that the woman vocalist normally only chimes in for some moaning to accompany the male vocalist. There may be more to it, and I am sure that there is, but I have yet to see it. I prefer the old men in the Lampião hats with their accordions. Estilizado incorporates at lot of the lambada moves (yes, it was not just a movie). Lambada went out of fashion and forró became the thing--and still is.

Our teacher makes us "warm-up" to the same two Dido songs every class. What Dido has to do with forró I have yet to figure out, I also question how "warmed-up" we get pointing and flexing our feet for two Dido songs. There is a little side-to-side hip movement and occasionally a giant hip circle. Voila! Ready to dance forró. Our class is a strange mix of people. It is strangely comforting to watch Brazilians taking classes for what seems so natural for them. Everywhere we go it just seems like everyone knows how to dance. It is extremely thrilling when we are actually better than someone. This tends to only happen because we have been taking classes for a month and it is their first night. I take what I can get.

Normally the teacher shows us a new move and then there is a whirlwind of two minute dances and changing partners. I can't figure out how you are suppose to learn how to dance if you only do one move for two minutes and switch partners. W did this for a couple weeks and then finally asked if I could please dance with my husband. When we started dancing together things improved considerably. We are the only couple in the class so I don't feel too guilty about always having a dance partner while the other girls take what they can get. There was one class when the boys outnumbered the girls and had to wait their turn....I wonder if there is a dance class anywhere in the world where this happens.

The name forró comes from WW II (or so the story goes...) when the America soldiers were stationed in the Northeast they held dances that were "for all" and somehow with some accent issues it turned into forró (pronounced fo-ho). It looks like sexy Mexican ranchera dancing. The goal is to press as close to your partner as possible so that you move as one person in either a side-to-side or back-and front motion. We learned a new move tonight called the twist. Not a fan of this one. In couples dance position you twist (think 60's) and if things get really exciting you can click your heels together (think Kid 'n Play). The whole thing when done well it is quite impressive, needless to say that we are not doing it well. Sam is having to learn to lead for the first time in his life, and I am having to learn to follow for the first time in my life. A little give and take.

We have not ventured beyond the dance studio to see if we can make it in the real world. I think another month or so in the comfort of Dido might not be a bad idea.



There are two things that I have resigned myself to here in the Venice of Brasil: Dengue and being mugged.

Dengue is a mosquito born disease common in tropical areas that causes a high fever and makes your bones hurt as if they are being pulled out of your body. There are varying degrees of torture and if you take aspirin (or is it Tylenol?), you can die. Or so the stories go...they also say that this type of mosquito only bites during the day. I seriously doubt this one, but I take comfort in the idea because I am mostly attacked after dark. We sleep with a fan pointed at us in a mildly successful attempt to keep them away. We also purchased an air conditioner (that we have never used...electricity is expensive, but summer is coming). The purchase of the air conditioner was mostly because the parents were coming to visit. They have since changed their minds and now we have a giant hunk of expense looming over our bed. It also seems to attract mosquitoes. I now have a daily ritual called "shaking of the closets." Dark places are a friend to the mosquito so we try to make their little lives as uncomfortable as possible. I shake all of my clothes and other miscellaneous things in the closet at least once a day. On a good day, I get to dislocate about 20 of them--right into my bedroom. Sigh....

Mugging or "asaltado" is also a part of daily life here. It is also everyone's favorite topic. The middle class loves to make itself even more frightened (is that possible??) by telling the horror stories of someone getting asaltado over and over. Granted, everyone and their mother has a story that usually involves people with guns (or pretending to have guns) stealing their cars, their bags, their bikes, etc. I normally go about my daily life with little fear and a lot of precaution, but after a "storytelling" session, I have a hard time leaving my house for a couple of days. This used to happen more when I first got here, but now I just brush it off.

The other day I mentioned riding my bike in one of my classes and my students immediately started telling me, "Don't do that! It is too dangerous. They will mug you and steal everything. Don't leave your house! Stay home and eat chocolate." It makes me feel bad for them. Their lives are so insulated from reality. They go to school, their apartment, and the shopping mall. These are the only "safe" places for them and their parents.

I showed them a video about violence that some of the communities made and most of them had no idea that these communities existed. They had no idea what life there is like. They only knew the names from hearing them on the news in connection with violence. It is a weird thing to come to terms with--violence. Of course, it happens in the US, but somehow it is different. I have had my car stolen and broken into many times, and the police perpetrated the only personal act of violence against me. Here it seems more common ("normal" as my friend Claudia puts it) and more random. When I got here at the end of January, over two hundred people had been killed and not one person was charged with the crime. There are absolutely no consequences for crime.

The middle class are retreating to high-rise apartment buildings that feel more "secure." There are at least 8 thirty-story high rises being built in our neighborhood alone. We live in a construction zone and are starting to watch the buildings grow and the breeze diminish. When the next one gets a little higher, it will block the sun. Everyone is afraid to live in houses. When I tell people that I live in a house, they get a horrified look on their face...until I tell them that we have two pit bulls. I have to say that having the dogs makes me feel better, but I always feel safe in my house. Maybe it is the location, maybe it is the bars, maybe it is the pit-chi bulls; it feels like home. I think that is because of the hammock on the porch.

I have resigned myself to these things, but "graças a deus" I have not had to deal with them yet.


Venice of Brazil

I guess I should explain the name of this blog. Recife is marketed as "The Venice of Brazil" due to the many rivers and canals in the city. Most people in Recife mock this as the "venéreo de Brasil" (venereal). According to a friend of ours who works in the field of water treatment, only about 20% of the city (total pop: 3 million people) is on the sewer system. And the rest? You guessed it. They even have a riverboat catamaran tour that they promote as a tourist attraction. I have thought about it, but then I smell the river from about a block away.

Nevertheless, at the right time, in the right light, and from a safe distance, it can be quite beautiful. In Recife Antiguo, there is a place with a nice lookout over the river with the colonial buildings in the background, and if you squint your eyes a little, it could be Venice--kind of. The buildings in Recife Antiguo are amazing, and they are just waiting for you to discover them for the first time. Some have been restored, the majority haven't. Their neglect makes them and Recife what they are. It is a trip back in time without fancying it up for the tourists.

Sunday is my favorite day in Recife. I think last week I said that it was the only day I like Recife--about 52 days of the year. There is no traffic and it is possible to ride your bike anywhere without fearing for your life. Bus fare is half price and the city just feels calm. You can breathe and feel the city breathing. Last Sunday reminded me of a warm September day in New Mexico. There is a feeling in the air--a feeling I can only relate to being in New Mexico during my favorite time of year with chile roasting, warm days, cool nights, barbeques, driving around with the windows open, and a slight cool breeze under the warmth of the sun. We rode our bikes down in Recife Antiguo to Marco Zero. From there you can see the reef and the port. The reef has a lot of interesting sculptures by Brennand and a path that you can ride your bike on that eventually leads to Pina beach. The guys in the rowboats will take you and your bike over there for R$1.50. We went to the artesian fair in plaza arsenal and ate a coxinha (chicken wrapped in dough shaped like a teardrop that is deep-fried--delicious!), and finished off the day by riding around and taking photos of graffiti and a quick stop at the bookstore. That is one of the things that makes life wonderful in this crazy town.

Tomorrow is another Sunday (yeah!) and we are going to paint graffiti at the mutirão de graffiti. It is held on the last Sunday of every month at a different neighborhood in and around Recife. The mutirão is one of the events that the Rede de Resistencia Solidaria organizes. Different members of the Rede host the mutirão in their neighborhoods. It is part of the community liberation movement. It is a chance to connect all of these communities together and dialogue about different issues. They are working on making their own clothes, running their own stores, starting community gardens, and creating self-sufficient communities that don't have to depend on the city and the formal economy to get by. The Rede works on a horizontal structure--it is not an NGO or an organization; it is a collective of people who want to see things change in society. I think that we are going to a neighborhood in Olinda...but I am not sure.


Sam helped me make this. Do you think that he is bitter? I guess it explains how we ended up in Recife...

This is my third time in Brazil. I was here in 1999 as an exchange student in Forteleza, Ceara (north of here) for 2 months and again in 2000 on a surf adventure down south for a few months.
Unlike my previous adventures, this is my first time in Brazil as a "worker" versus a traveler. I am working at the US-Brazilian bi-national center in Recife, also known as ABA (to get away from the US association). As a worker, I have been able to experience another side of Brazil. It is interesting, but I have found that most of the pleasure of being in Brazil comes from being a traveler. All of the beautiful small beach towns, laid back beach culture, time to sit and bate-papo with people you meet... It is different living in a big city known for violence, poverty, and extremely smelly canals. Right now, we are debating the age-old question, "To stay or to go?" Like all of the age-old questions, there are no easy answers. The advantages and disadvantages to this experience, time, and place stack up and shift on a daily basis. The purpose of the blog is to "registrar" our experience here, observations about Brasil, and observations about us. I have been taking a course on Educação Popular at a local NGO, Auçuba, here in Recife and one of the most important elements is to write and reflect on your experiences as part of the education process. Teaching is a constant process of practice-reflection-practice. Documenting experience. It seems that many blogs come from this process. People outside of their environment and the need to somehow write it all down as part of the experience. It becomes possible to observe aspects of culture that become so obvious when compared to an "other."

Observation #1: Brazilian's do not touch food with their hands (for the most part). If you eat a sandwich, you should wrap a napkin around it. Pizza is a knife and fork affair. French fries? Toothpicks. Are Americans gross disgusting people who care nothing about the possible germ transfer between hand and food? I prefer to think of it as preventative germ transfer.

Observation #2: There are a lot of albinos in the Northeast of Brazil (I am hesitant to transfer this to the entire country--but we have been to various states in the NE). I think that I see an albino at least once a week. It is always quite startling because I have not seen very many albinos in my life before this experience. I have no idea why (genetics?) but I would like to.

Observation #3: I am surrounded by pregnant women. I think it kick-started the biological clock. Pregnant ladies and adorable children. Sam actually counts and not a day has gone by without seeing at least one pregnant woman. Maybe his biological clock it ticking too.