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.