Lessons in Hospitality

March 31, 2006

I am constantly overcome with all that has come into my life while visiting this country. One of my treasured souvenirs that I hope to return home with is the sense of warmth and hospitality I've been shown by Rodrigo and his family. Since the day I arrived, they have stopped at nothing to make sure I am well fed, comfortable, and have everything I could want or need. When I had friends visit, they extended the same courtesy to them. If I had visited for a week, I think it would not have been as apparent, as it's easy to mold yourself around a visitor for a short amount of time. But I've been in and out of Rodrigo's house for going on 3 months now, and I know I will have a hard time returning the multitude of favors I've received. Most things I've been able to do while here are because of some contact of his. Now that Rodrigo has returned to studying for his law exam, I often go out with his friends. I mix in with them, and they accept me with no questions. The other night I came home late and we were up late recounting some family stories until I was literally rolling on the floor from laughing. I'm smiling just writing this sentence. I've never had a brother, but if I am so fortunate in another life… I hope it will be something similar.

The other night I went out for drinks because a friend of mine, Dani (who I met in the Salvador apartment during Carnaval) was having a birthday. I went into the night knowing 3-4 people, and came out with a multitude of new friends, and a number of invites to come to Rio Bonito… a town about an hour away. As evidenced by my ever expanding Orkut account (wildly popular here)… I am constantly meeting new people who invite me to new places.

This morning I spent learning how to cook some black bean and chicken dishes a la Clarice. Sigh… despite copious notes, I don't really have the confidence I can replicate her culinary works of art at home.


Life in Niteroi

March 28, 2006

This photo is a good look at how I travel. Notice the tendency to pack more books, balloons and running shorts before making room for anything else. Sigh. At least it's in line with my priorities…
Today I had the good fortune to get in touch with two of my best friends back home. It was great to catch up, and I realized how lucky I am to be torn between my wonderful Brazilian surroundings and the excitement of what awaits me back home.
I'm relaxing into my normal life here… which includes some studying, planning running, working out, going out hanging out with friends, playing the guitar, talking in Portuguese… and recently learning to cook from Clarice. Weekends are a whole other matter.
Brandon said he might do the return trip from Louisville to Seattle with me… which would be stellar since he's always game for anything, and we could knock out some national parks along the way… Maybe even hit that coaster park in Cedar Point that I've had my eye on…
Meanwhile, I've been making it to the Creche (daycare in the favela) quite often. My perspective on life there changes every time I go. I'm now comfortable going on my own, which seems to surprise some people… but the kids recognize me in the street now and come running, which makes me feel at home.
The disparity between the options I have at hand back home, compared with the reality surrounding me at the Creche is shocking. The world is so unjust.

More pictures from the Creche (at the bottom)

Maracanã and around Niteroí

Visitors and a Witness

March 23, 2006

Today ends a string of visitors, and tomorrow I will go back to a more tranquil Brazilian life here in Niteroi. Katie was here for three weeks and we fit quite a bit in, but managed to keep it decently low key so she could get a chance to see what my life is like over here. We fit in a few more churrascos before she left, along with a quick trip to Teresopolis, a game at Maracanã, a trip to Porcão (churrascaria) and a good bye lunch with all her new friends.

Katie enjoyed the National Park…
…I enjoyed the pool at her friend's massive house outside the park.

The same day that Katie left, Bijal and Kavita, some friends of my sister arrived. They were only here for two days, but we managed to fit in Pão de Açucar, Ipanema, Copacabana, Fortaleza de Santa Cruz, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and another game at Maracanã. Whew!
The Fort was amazing… the treatment of prisoners during war time was atrocious. They were put in prisons without light and air holes the size of straws… some prison cells were to small to stand, and after moving them to progressively smaller cells, they were hanged, but instead of the normal Hollywood version, were made to stand on a small pedestal in the sun until they fell off and hung themselves.

I've managed to set up regular voluntary work at the daycare in the favela near Rodrigo's house, so now that normal life will resume, I'm anxious to start there again. The kids are beautiful.

Unfortunately, last night, I had the unfortunate experience of witnessing a mugging right outside my friends' building. We were leaving at about 10pm to get some pizza down the street, and I heard a women shriek across the street. Three men were around her and I saw one pick up her cell phone and the others grabbed some shopping bags she was carrying. I must not quite be Brazilian yet, because my instincts caused me to turn toward her, while my friends took the opportunity to run. I took a step and was promptly yelled at by my friends, so I turned and caught up with them. We hurried into the pizza place and watched the men run off. I felt terribly bad for not helping, but everyone convinced me that there was nothing to be done… we weren't the only ones to witness the crime, and I guess everyone realizes it's just safer to leave the stuff and take off. I didn't see any guns, but in all probability they had a few. The lady mugged was not physically hurt in any way, she just lost some belongings. Sadly, it is almost certain the men live in the favela where I work (it's very close by). I've been there 4 times now, and I can almost understand their desperation. If there were not other honest hardworking people living in the same conditions, I could almost sympathize with them.

Here's a photo from the doorstep of my friends building. The lady was mugged near the white pole.


March 14, 2006

Last weekend was marked with two parties, both churrascos in Steve's Mirante do Atlantico house near Itacoatiara beach. Friday night was mostly the friends I've met through Rodrigo, and we had Sally (Rodrigo as well, buy known by his last name… pronounced "Sah-lee") making his specialty on the grill.

The night included dancing, drinking and lots of grilled meat and cheese… so it was a typical brazilian party. (and a few balloons, by popular request).

Everyone enjoyed the amazing view from Steve's house, and a few used the pool. Again, if you ever come to Rio… stay in one of Steve's houses. If you're in a group, even better, you can't beat the price, or the experience of Brazil.

This is a shot that was ordered by skin color. Rodrigo was ecstatic to not be on the end.

Saturday night was a bit smaller, and a lot of the friends I met in Salvador during Carnaval came, and I got a look at a bunch of the pictures everyone had taken. Again, there was much dancing, meat and drinking, and as Katie would say "a good time was had by all."

On Monday, we took another trip into the favela near Rodrigo's house. After nearly two months of asking about voluntary work, I got through to the head lady of the daycare that sits atop of the Morro. It is paid for by the government, and provided free of charge for kids too young for school, who have working parents. We arrived a bit late, but made some balloons for kids eating lunch, and watched as the rest of the kids were put to sleep. It was adorable, and I was struck again by how similar kids are at that young age, no matter what the environmental conditions are. It's sad to think of the lack of options they will experience as they grow older. It's almost certain that some will turn to drugs and crime… at yet at the current time, they are as innocent as can be. I can't wait to go back. I'm going to look into what materials are most needed and then donate some money, if anyone reading this is interested in donating, please let me know.

More pictures from the churrasco.

More pictures from Morro do Cavalão.

Back in Rio

March 8, 2006

Katie arrived last week, and we have been moving around a bit, exploring Rio. It's interesting to see it again through her eyes… I've almost forgotten what it's like to be here and not speak the language. My Portuguese has taken another jump, and I find myself understanding alot more in the last few days. Partly because I think I'm forced to really understand everything so I can translate.
We attended the Parade of Champions on Saturday, which is the best of the Samba parades in one night, the Saturday after Carnaval. It was beautifully extravagant, and a different energy than in Salvador. Carnaval in each city is very different, and I'm glad I got to experience a bit of Rio as well. I once again, must mention how well things work out for me over here, thanks to my amazing friends. We stayed at the Sheraton for the first two nights when Katie arrived, since I had free nights there through my credit card, and I wanted to stay in Rio for a while. While there, I asked the concierge about the Parade of Champions and I was quoted R$300 for nosebleed seats, meanwhile, a friend of mine picked up much better seats for me for R$85.
After wandering around Rio, then staying with Rodrigo's family for a bit, we are now staying in a beautiful house in São Francisco, owned by my friend Steve who runs a company called Rio Holiday. (www.rioholiday.com). If you ever come to this part of the planet, forget the Sheraton… stay in one of Steve's houses instead (see the view in the picture above). It's placed much better, is a much better deal, and gives a much more Brazilian experience. It's funny how different things seem when I'm hosting, compared to when I'm exploring them for myself. It really gives me a sense of feeling at home here.

Katie has started a blog as well, (under no influence of mine, I swear)… and she recently wrote about her first week here: www.theworldisyouroyster.blogspot.com

Here are pictures from her first week…