My Swan Song

Headed out on my 30 hour, 6 city marathon trip back home at 4 A.M tomorrow morning…should be a doozy…

Putting it together (or not):

What did it all mean? As I sit here tonight, pondering this age-old question and trying to reconstruct the past nine months, I honestly must admit…I don’t know.  I think at times we all wish to think that whatever choices we’ve made in life or situations we’ve happened upon things worked out for the best.  This sort of retrospective, positive spin narrative tends to be remembered with rose colored glasses and makes us feel good about the past.  Indeed, many people have told me that I won’t appreciate the full impact of my choice to come down to Brazil and my subsequent experiences here until 10 or 15 years in the future. Yet, call me distrustful of future Andy, but I don’t think that boiling the last nine months down into a coherent story would ever do justice to all I’ve been through, all I’ve seen, and all the ways I’ve grown. Thus, tonight, with my proverbial swan song, I’m not going to even feign writing the “Andy in the Amazon Story.” What I will do, however, is take a moment to reflect on a few things I do know as I set off for home:

I do know that…

…this was the most challenging nine months of my life. Between the city, UFOPA, and my unsupportive coordinator, it would be fair to say that I was dealt a tough hand and this experience was by no means peaches and cream. There were some really really really hard times. I am proud that I ground through them and tried to learn from each and every struggle.

…I am an infinitely more patient person than the Andy I once knew. Life in Santarém tests your patience on an almost daily basis and learning to deal with that in a mature “taking it in stride” way has allowed me to survive here.

…our trip was an extraordinary adventure. Getting to know every region of Brazil in 40 days was a blessing.

…the Amazon is an amazing place, but we sure are destroying it.

…despite all the positive lessons learned, taking this Fulbright was an 18 month commitment and it was a mistake putting myself on ice for nine months prior to arriving here. I was working under the naïve assumption that the next nine months were going to be pure Brazilian bliss.  As I intimated earlier…my time here was anything but blissful…and I now realize that counting down to the next “big thing” is a surefire way of missing incredible opportunities in the interim.

…I’ve gotten pretty darn good at Portuguese and that’s awesome.

…I worked out a lot…I mean a lot.

…even if Donovan and I didn’t change people’s opinions of Americans (and America), I’m pretty sure that we created some cognitive dissonance (and hopefully a brief rethinking of stereotypes) for at least a few people we came across…and that’s about as much as a few Gringos could hope for.

…I slept in a hammock for nine months. Who do you know who can say that?

…I’ll take snow over Amazonian heat…any day of the week.

…I’m not going to sugarcoat it…Santarém was a pretty rough place to live.

…I’m forever grateful to Donovan and the Fishguy.  In the darkest hours, they lent an ear, let me complain, and picked me up. Isolated in everyway imaginable from my family and friends, I don’t know what I would have done without those two.

…adversity is the key ingredient to personal growth. When things go horribly wrong, you discover who you truly are and where you can improve. I faced more than my fair share of adversity here…

…it’s time to get on with the next chapter of my life.

The blog:

Writing every week has been an incredible emotional outlet for me and I will no doubt always reflect positively about my foray into blogging.  During times of excitement, frustration, and personal tragedy, this blog enabled me to work through my experiences and more importantly feel connected to my loved ones back home. It has also been incredibly gratifying to hear such positive feedback from so many of you.  Sharing my Amazonian adventures with such interested readers has been an absolute joy and a memory from the past nine months I will always cherish.

To the people who followed along: Hopefully you have enjoyed reading about my various experiences as much as I have enjoyed bringing them to you. I want to say one giant, humungous, GIMONGOUS (It’s my blog, remember?)…thank you.

Now for a poem to wrap it up:

One of the most brilliant (and misquoted poems) I’ve come across…

The Road Not Taken – Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The End.

Amazonically,

Andy

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Fishguy Farewells, Corruption, and Hell Freezing Over

This is my last blog post until MY LAST blog post when I get back from the jungle on November 29th…only two more to enjoy people so soak ‘em up!

Farewell to the Fishguy:

This gem of a picture about sums up the last nine months for these three gringos…

Donovan and I were forced to say goodbye to the Fishguy last Wednesday as he headed back home to New York. The three resident gringos have been together for quite some time and his presence down here in our final couple of weeks will definitely be missed.  Thank you Dan for the conversations, devolving English, insights into Portuglês (that’s our special version of Portuguese and English), and all around good company. To the man who once tried to convince me that “I don’t have how” was proper English grammar…I salute you.

Mensalão sentences come down: Paying for the “Big Allowance”

Bribery. Racketeering. Embezzlement. Conspiracy. The massive “Mensalão” (or in English the “Big Allowance”) vote-buying scandal that has rocked the Brazilian political establishment finally came to an ignominious conclusion this past week with several high level officials of former President Lula’s administration, including his Chief of Staff José Dirceu, being sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

If you aren’t familiar with the scandal, in 2005 charges of a cash-for-vote bribery scheme were lodged against the ruling Workers Party (PT) and a number of Lula’s closest political confidants.  The officials allegedly paid a monthly allowance of $12,000 to members of the Brazilian Congress in exchange for votes favorable towards ruling party legislation. Last Monday the Brazilian Supreme Court finally weighed in with a potentially precedent setting verdict that found Lula’s right-hand man Jose Dirceu guilty of bribery and unlawful conspiracy and sentenced him to 11 years imprisonment (although it remains to be seen how much of that sentence he’ll actually serve).

Many people down here see the case as Brazil at its worst. The arrogance, impunity, and utter lack of respect for the rule of law all exemplify the issue that almost any and all Brazilians you speak with identify as their county’s gravest problem: political corruption. Whether or not you agree (I have serious reservations), there is no doubt that corruption permeates all levels of Brazilian political life. Much of the analysis I’ve read in the local newspapers seems to suggest that the Mensalão verdict offers hope of a new day for the political system in this country. Many argue that never before has the Brazilian Supreme Court (a notoriously inactive body) stepped in and thrown its weight so forcefully against corruption. Moreover, these same people suggest that never before has the Brazilian public been so vociferously outraged by political corruption.

I can’t fully disagree with many of those arguments. Certainly, on its face, Monday’s verdict looks to be a positive step forward for this country. However, I also can’t get the stench of an even larger cover-up out of my nostrils. The larger than life, cult-of-personality figure known as former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva got off 100% scot-free from this political bloodbath and I find that…curious…to say the least. Call me a cynic, but when there is smoke there is usually fire. The number of high-ranking Lula confidants embroiled in the scandal is impossible to ignore. Common sense tells me that the former President MUST have known something. To assume otherwise would be to assume Lula the clueless leader of both his party and his administration. Suffice it to say that while the verdict certainly represents something significant in the history of Brazilian politics, in all likelihood a much larger fish managed to escape the Mensalão scandal un-fried.

Has Hell officially frozen over?

And I thought we started the holiday season early back home. Not sure what I found more amusing…Christmas decorations up all around town on November 1st…or a giant snowman in front of the mall. The world must be ending in a few weeks because Hell appears to have officially frozen over.  The snowman gets me every darn time.

Other happenings:

  • Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy the food for me…
  • Val took Donovan and I out to an all-you-can-eat Brazilian BBQ on Saturday…d.e.l.e.c.t.a.b.l.e.
  • Guess who went OFF on our rental company when they tried to charge us a $300 re-painting fee for our apartment…that looks identical to the day we got it? This guy. Finding professional, trustworthy businesses in this city is next to impossible. Why is it so hard to have an honest, straightforward business relationship? Unreal.
  • I watched both “Tropa de Elite” (Elite Squad) and Tropa de Elite 2 this week…brilliant movies that provide the “other” perspective in the never-ending war between drug gangs and police officers in Brazilian favelas. As much as I loved both, “Cidade de Deus” (City of God) still takes the cake.  Nonetheless, all three are ABSOLUTELY worth checking out.
  • Last Thursday was another public holiday. It was “Republic Day”…which officially marked the day that Brazil became a…you guessed it…republic. Hilariousness to the max. It would be the rough equivalent of Americans shutting all businesses down for “Constitution Day” or something absurd like that. Every two weeks is a work-stoppage holiday…practically without fail. When you ask people here about the significance of holidays they almost always look at you and laugh.
  • One of the greatest goals in the history of football. If you haven’t watched it…enjoy seeing a man literally defy physics…I bow to you Ibra…you not only had the audacity to try a bicycle kick from 30 yards…you had the quality to complete it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ck5P30zC3Z0
  • Things are quickly accelerating on the job front. That’s kinda sorta exciting. Hint: Whatever I do will most likely involve speaking Portuguese.  Honestly, between now and December 1st…that’s about all of Andy’s future plans you’re going to get.

This is officially blog post #40. I would like to once again pat myself on the back (maybe even brush my shoulders off a little bit). Go me. Seriously though, that’s all I have for now…until my swan song on the 29th…have a great couple of weeks!

Gringoly,

Andy

P.S You might even get some FRESH new content on Andyinhat.tumblr.com from my final excursion into the jungle.

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Elections, Giant Air-Breathing Fish Expeditions, Santarém History Lessons, and Other Happenings

The briefest of brief thoughts on the election:

I’ll try to keep it brief as 1. I don’t want to bore you and 2. You probably don’t care about my political analysis anyways. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the major event of the past week…also known as…the 2012 U.S election.  To be entirely honest the “big” night was more than a little anti-climatic down here in Santarém.  While the Brazilian media certainly covered the various happenings back home pretty closely in the build-up to November 6th (with almost nightly specials on Globo for the last few weeks), there was absolutely no way to watch the election results come in like always (the mall closed way early so I had no real access to good internet).  Nonetheless, given the fact that I wasn’t interested in waking up on November 7th and unpleasantly learning that Mittens was now President-elect (although Nate Silver made me 90.6% sure he wouldn’t be), I decided to bring my laptop out to the one hotspot along the city’s riverfront and set up camp for a few hours.  There I sat until 1:30 A.M when CNN’s live blog informed me that Ohio had been called for the President and…that…was…that. PREEEETTY darn exciting.

I have to say that one thing made me UBER-proud to be an American on election night: the fact that three states legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote and another rejected a “protection of marriage” amendment was a massive step forward for civil rights in our country. When reading about the gay rights struggle 20 years from now, I have no doubt that kids will ask us, “what were people thinking back in the day?” Times and social mores are a-changin’ people…and that is a monumental win for human dignity in our country.

Arigós: A short history lesson on regional migration…

It’s about time that I brought a little Santarém history to your attention.  This past week I finally got the low down on a quasi-pejorative term I’ve heard thrown around on a regular basis: Arigó. You would be hard-pressed to find the word in any dictionary…and you’d have just as hard a time finding a Brazilian outside of the western Tapajós region that has the faintest idea what it means. When I initially heard someone say “Arigó” I legitimately thought that they were just talking about “Ari Gold” from Entourage (we all have our Gringo moments). Yet, based on some conversations and a bit of online research, it turns out that the term actually has a deep and rich history that draws on long-held feelings of resentment towards outsiders and explains a good deal about socio-economic equality in Santarém.

During the 1950’s a number of states in northeastern Brazil (including Ceará, Piauí, and Pernambuco) were slammed by a multi-year long drought that took thousands of lives and pushed thousands more into extreme poverty. The region’s farming population, particularly in the interior of Ceará, were left with few options and eventually looked westward for new prospects and a better life.  Needless to say, the Amazon region had no shortage of water or opportunities (given it’s historical underdevelopment) and thousands of northeastern settlers flocked to the northern interior over the next decade.  Santarém, with its unique location along the Amazon River and relatively untapped resources, proved to be an immensely popular spot for the northeastern migrants. The city’s inhabitants named the industrious, hard-working new arrivals “Arigós” and the northeasterners quickly established a major economic presence around town. In the coming decades, northeastern immigrants came to dominate local commerce (today they are the city’s dominant business-owning group) and quickly ascended the city’s socio-economic ladder.

As you might have guessed, this mass migration was met with more than a little resistance and resentment from locals. Given the region’s long history of exploitation at the hands of outsiders, it is unsurprising that some viewed the new arrivals as a threat. Although many of the immigrants eventually integrated into the city and adopted local customs, the term “Arigó” never went away.  Today you hear many people use “Arigó” to refer to the descendants of northeastern migrants (who are often upper-class business owners).  While some argue that the term has no negative connotation, I have always found that it is used with a tinge of disdain and certainly doesn’t appear emotionally neutral. Irrespective of your position on the word, one thing is clear: northeastern immigrants have had a profound impact on both the local economy and culture in Santarém. Interesting stuff indeed…

A change of itinerary:

In light of a family situation for Dan the Fishguy back home that required his immediate return to the states, I’m going to spend my last week in Brazil in a community about two hours into the jungle doing some research/translation pinch-hitting. Dan is at the height of his doctoral research right now so hopefully we’ll be able to keep things somewhat steady down here for him.  I’m going to be assisting his PhD coordinator (who is arriving that week) with on-the-ground logistics in a community about two hours up-river where  a massive fish counting/analyzing operation is happening that week. The plan is to pull at least 30-40 of the monster (these things grow up to a couple of meters long and weight a few hundred pounds) air-breathing fish known as Pirarucu and gather data regarding the local population. I’m planning on returning to Santarém late on November 28th or early on the 29th before my 6 A.M flight out on the 30th so it’ll be a very quick turn around. Things are really going to wrap up fast around here in the next couple of weeks.

Other happenings:

  • Shout out to Renato Capobianco for guiding the Regis College Men’s Soccer Team to its first ever conference tournament…and conference tournament win this past week! Great to hear.
  • The internet has been a bloody disaster all over the city recently. There are some things that I will miss about this place…other things…not…so…much.
  • I had myself a cup of PURE sugar cane juice earlier today. Drinking it is a “thing” here…so it was definitely worth trying. Part refreshing/part too sweet…one thumb up.
  • Even though I have NO intention of passing another night in a hammock come November 30th, I am definitely going to purchase a rede to bring back home for a good nap from time to time.
  • I have TWO more blog posts to write…and that’s it folks. Completely unbelievable that three weeks from now I will be shamelessly vegging out in front of a T.V in Weston, Massachusetts.

That’s all I have for now. Until next Monday, have a gr8 week.

Um forte abraço,

Andy

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Turtle Feasts, University Corruption Lawsuits, and Much Much More

That time I ate an over-sized guinea pig and a turtle:

You have to love a good food adventure. Every once and a while Santarém provides one and although you initially cringe at what is being placed in front of you, more often than not the food doesn’t end up tasting all that bad. This past Friday (it was All-Saints Day and as this is Brazil…it was a national holiday) was one such occasion when Jose Luis invited us to his friend “The Colonel’s” (he’s a retired Brazilian army colonel) beach house for a day of Brazilian bbqing.

Yeah…the Colonel has a deeeeccccceeeeent view to enjoy everyday…

The day’s strange food events began when I was informed that our hosts were preparing some capivara for all to enjoy. If you don’t remember my blog post about the Pantanal, a capivara is a sort of humungoid guinea pig. In fact, it’s the largest living rodent in the world and is actually pretty darn adorable. We were told that one of the Colonel’s friends had caught a wild capivara the day before (which despite them not being endangered at all…is super illegal) and gave it to him as a present. That said, around lunchtime out rolled this delicious looking pot of stewed meat…

…other than having to get over the cuteness of the animal, it was pretty good. The meat more or less tasted like uber-tender chicken.

The day’s second (and slightly more traumatizing) “am I really about to eat this?” moment started when two of the guests (one was Jose Luis’ verbose friend Simon) strolled up from the beach holding a fairly large turtle (seriously…I just lol’d when I clicked on the link…DO IT) that they’d just plucked out of the river. They brought it over to Donovan and I and asked if we wanted to say “hello.” Following our introduction to the turtle, the two guys informed us that they were going to grill it. Suffice it to say, I assumed it was all just a lost-in-translation joke. Well, a few hours later they called me over to the barbeque and sure enough…roasting turtle…

…after two and a half hours of grilling, out the turtle meat came. Despite my initial reluctance to consume my recent acquaintance, I managed to chomp down on a few pieces and I must say…they were a delight. The meat tasted like a cross between top grade New York sirloin and chicken.  I would sum the whole experience up with Simon’s thought: “Unlike in America, where you have access to all sorts of high quality livestock, here in the Amazon we learn to eat whatever we find and it ends up tasting really good.”

Two “remarkable” things I learned about UFOPA:

As always with life as an ETA at UFOPA, everyday brings a new set of interesting insights into the politics, drama, and eye-raising decisions made at a three-year old university in the Brazilian Amazon.  I now present to you two insights I learned about our dear UFOPA this week that once again left me with a “?” expression on my face.

A Corruption Lawsuit at UFOPA: I touched on this a few months ago in a rant about the strike, but the unelected university president here is a fairly controversial figure.  He was installed by the Brazilian Minister of Education in 2009 and never had to go through a proper university selection process. This was allowed for by the fact that UFOPA was in its infancy and had no administrative structure. One of the goals of the ineffectual, four-month long strike was to put the president’s name up for a vote (I believe there is a committee at UFOPA that is charged with selecting the university president) to either give him real legitimacy or get somebody who wasn’t the stooge of the big shots in Brasília. Well, as you might have guessed, that didn’t happen. Nonetheless, the latest “news” around UFOPA is that in March the university student body filed a lawsuit against the president for stealing money from the university and the legal process is starting to “heat up.” I’ll let the absurdity of that sink in for a moment…

The students charge is that the president has been continually skimming money off the top of the school’s budget for quite some time. More specifically they contend that the administration has been filing operating costs as being significantly higher than they are, paying the much lower costs, and pocketing the difference.  As one of my students put it, “They say a white-board marker costs five reias, buy it for two, and take the three for themselves.” According to my students, this is the modus-operandi of more than few officials at public institutions across Brazil. While I cannot attest to the veracity of the students’ claims, I have to say that the case has Brazilian corruption written all over it…

Happy Three-Year Birthday UFOPA: I guess the joke is on Donovan and I. When we got here in March our coordinator Maria Luiza told us that the university was three years old…already. Well, that was just plain old false and misleading. First off, November 2009 to March 2012 is hardly three years.  Secondly, it turns out that before our arrival, classes at UFOPA had been in session for ONE academic year (i.e 2011).  Before that, the university only existed…on paper…

The implications of that bit of misinformation? The Brazilian Fulbright commission literally signed a four-year contract to place ETAs at a university that DIDN’T EVEN EXIST YET. What on God’s green Earth made that seem like a good idea? It’s hard not to feel that all of the struggles that we have had with the ETA program here at UFOPA are basically rooted in one basic, undeniable fact: the university is just too new and disorganized to receive us.  The Fulbright ETA program and UFOPA have never really been a good fit…that’s as incontrovertible as I am a gringo. What a nascent university in the Brazilian Amazon needs in terms of English teaching is just not what Fulbright can provide (this program is NOT about sending down ESL trained grammarians!).

At this point you might be asking yourself, how did a university that only existed on paper manage to get a program that universities throughout Brazil compete for? As luck would have it…insight #1 and insight #2 are connected. The following fact (which for months I’ve tried to selectively ignore) came to my attention at midyear meet-up in Brasília: The president of CAPES (the Brazilian higher education ministry that finances the majority of our funding) and the president of UFOPA…are big time buddy buddy. Given the fact that the only positive thing I’ve heard about the university president is that “he’s well-connected in Brasília and because of that…he gets us stuff,” it ALL makes sense now. There’s just nothing better than being a pawn in two crusty old Brazilian politicians back-scratching game. I guess the jokes on Donovan and I. As always, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.

Other happenings:

  • Tomorrow is the big day. Andy’s Prediction That Is In No Way Based On Nate Silver’s: Obama 303 electoral votes in a fairly comfortable victory. Facts are stubborn things…and unless the state polls are completely wrong…he’s got this thing wrapped up.
  • Remember that time that somebody came into our apartment area and stole a pair of shorts and a shirt that I’d washed and left out to dry during the day? Oh yeah…I do. Whoever did it…I hope you don’t come across me wearing a Kruger National Park t-shirt with a lion on it. Plain, old wack sauce. Period.
  • The climate in Santarém appears to be slowly but surely transitioning back in the wet season. We’ve had a 45 minute deluge of rain and a few mornings of cloudiness during the past week…thank the lord! And yes…those really are storm clouds you’re seeing…

  • The Fishguy invited Donovan and I to a “Pirarucu Festival” in one of the local communities next Sunday. The day will apparently be spent eating pirarucu, dancing, and drinking copious amounts of beer…should be a doozy.
  • Watched “True Grit” recently…while the plot leaves something to be desired, the acting in that movie is a joy to watch. Also, see “Ted” for a good laugh if you haven’t already (and particularly if you’re from Boston). I lol’d.
  • My calendar informs me that it is November…does that mean Thanksgiving is coming up? Ummmmm…what?

That’s all I have for now. If you haven’t already…GO OUT AND VOTE PEOPLE. Until next Monday, have a splendiferously good week.

Um forte abraço,

Andy

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The Lucky Unlucky Time I Was Held Up at Knife Point and Other Happenings

Yup…that happened:

I suppose if you’re going to have somebody shove a Freddy Kruger knife in your face and try to rob you…it’s probably best that you have ZERO objects of value on your person. Such was my lucky unlucky moment this past Friday outside my friend’s house. The good news is that nothing bad happened…the bad news is that even traquilo little Santarém obviously has its share of danger…

Long story short, it was 11 at night and I was walking to my friend’s house to hang out for a little bit. I’ve walked around the area about one million times (much later at night mind you) and never felt sketched out or in danger. That said, as I approached the front gate I felt somebody brush up against me from behind. Thinking it was just a neighbor trying to get in the gate I thought absolutely nothing of it. That all changed when I realized the person had grabbed me by the collar and was standing in front of me wearing a motorcycle helmet and brandishing a 10 inch (seriously…it was a big bleeper of a knife) knife. The kind gentlemen then proceeded to say “Give me everything you have or I’ll kill you.” Real nice…I know. Anyways, by plain, old random luck, I was TOO LAZY to change out of my pocketless soccer shorts when I left the house and I decided to leave my phone, wallet, and other items of value…at home (I only had a keychain around my neck). I demonstrated my pocketless shorts and proceeded to say, “Sorry…I literally don’t have anything.” To which he responded, “Ok,” let go of me, hopped on his partner’s motorcycle, and drove off. I guess he picked the wrong Gringo…

It still confuses me that the guy would roll so heavy with a giant knife, threaten to kill me…and then casually walk away when I informed him that I didn’t have anything. A peculiar assailant…to say the least…

Children’s Day spike in violence:

Brazil has a bizarre criminal justice system. Without getting to analytical (criminal justice reform is one of my major passions and I don’t want to bore you)…I have to say that the following fact I learned yesterday baffles me: For most major holidays a large number of inmates nationwide are permitted to pack their bags and spend time at home…100% unsupervised. While I’m immensely in favor of protecting (and expanding) prisoner’s human rights, I’m not sure how the law really does anything other than piss the public off. Indeed, unsurprisingly, there is a large incidence of prisoners fleeing during home visits and people frequently complain of crimewaves following major holidays.

That said, two weeks ago was “Children’s Day” (yes Brazil even has a national holiday for that) and the story around Santarém has been about the prison system’s 30 lost inmates and a major spike in violence citywide. Whether or not the situation on Friday night is at all connected to the recent events is anybody’s best guess…but the escapee debacle is certainly worth mentioning.

Well I’ve finally uploaded one of our radio programs for your listening pleasure…a classic from Bob Dylan! P.S Enjoy listening to my ever-so wonderful voice…I know you all have probably missed it…

http://soundcloud.com/dallosa/its-all-over-now-baby-blue

The radio show:

As I sit here reflecting on the radio show, I can’t help but acknowledge that “English Through Music” is one of our most significant contributions to date. While teaching has been at times maddeningly unproductive (a.k.a March-June), over the past eight months Val has really given us an opportunity to contribute to his project…and for that I am eternally grateful. The two to three hours we put into recording sessions every Monday afternoon are always chock-full of Valisms (a.k.a Val saying something absurd and everybody laughing), good times, and…dare…I…say…it…productivity. Without the show, I know I probably would have beaten my head into a concrete wall at some point in June 2012 so if nothing else…thank you for preventing that Val.

In other news, it was really exciting to here this week that plans are in the works to incorporate our shows into the PARFOR English curriculum. It’s nice to know that despite all of the teaching frustrations, Donovan and I will certainly leave a mark with the show in the years ahead!

Other happenings:

  • For my loyal northeastern readers: Happy Hurricane Day! Stay safe
  • November 6th is little more than a week away…HOW…DID…THAT…HAPPEN?
  • I’ve got a major job interview later this week…which was postponed because of Sandy…wish me luck!
  • Given the 1 million references to “Gagnum Style,” I finally watched the video yesterday. Although it took me 30 minutes to load at the mall, at least I can now say that I’ve seen it…I guess…
  • Jack Wilshere is officially playing first team football for Arsenal Football Club…I needn’t say more.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading this…IF you still have electricity/internet (Ha…a little slice of my daily reality in the U.S of A). That’s all I have for now. The end. Until next Monday, have a good week.

Gringoly,

Andy

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Of Missed Flights, Timely Embassy Visits, Soap Operas, and More

That time that TAM tried to steal my money:

Brazil Rule-of-Thumb: If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. I’ve said it many times…and it couldn’t have been more true last Monday and Tuesday. What should have been a rather quick, pleasant return to Santarém turned into a nightmarish 18 hours of constantly wondering “how does this country function?”

We arrived at the airport in Belém 1.5 hours early for our short flight west. Slowly but surely chaos enveloped the TAM check-in line and the next hour of waiting couldn’t have been any more Brazilian. Confusion, random check-in lines, ruthless cutting…you name it.  About 30 minutes before our flight we finally managed to reach the front of the line and encountered a wonderful (by “wonderful” I mean the worst human being ever) check-in lady named Georgia. She took one look at Donovan and I (probably realizing we were Gringos), called over one of TAM’s clueless stooges, and with no explanation had him escort us to the back of the line we’d just waited an hour in. It was at this point that I heard him tell another passenger in front of us “Sorry, you arrived here 30 minutes before your flight…there is nothing we can do for you.”  I’ll let you marinate on that for a second…

…It quickly became clear that TAM was about to pull a fast one and deny us service by claiming we’d arrived to the airport late and missed our flight (even as I write this…I’m still baffled). NEEDLESS to say, Andrew James Dallos does not roll that way.  Donovan and I turned around, marched up to the front of the line, and demanded service from Georgia.  Although she initially tried to ignore our presence, it became clear that we weren’t going to move and she eventually attended us. LONG story short, after some bickering, confrontation, and conversations with the supervisor on duty, they eventually told us our flight was full and rebooked us on a flight the next day and put us up in a hotel for the night.  Never an apology…never an acknowledgement of the f***edupness of what had just transpired. Blarg…blarg…blarg.

There are a great many positive things about Brazil and Brazilian culture, but professionalism, ability to deal with conflict, and admission of fault are not high up on the list. It is times like these that make me wonder…how in the world is this country going to cope with millions of foreign tourists in just 20 short months???????

…oh ya…the kicker: amidst the confusion Donovan left his passport with Georgia at the check-in desk…AND IT WAS NEVER SEEN AGAIN.

…if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.

Route 66: The U.S Embassy visits Santarém

As part of a new U.S State Department initiative in Brazil, over the next four years the U.S embassy is sending out Foreign Service Officers to 66 “less known” cities in Brazil and surprise, surprise…Santarém is on the list. This past weekend Donovan and I ended up hosting three folks from the U.S Embassy in Brasília and showing them around town (we were given three days notice to coordinate the whole endeavor).  We set up a little talk for them at UFOPA where they had the opportunity to meet our students, talk about exchange program, and discuss the visa process.   Despite my initial misgivings about the visit (it seemed haphazard and poorly planned), I think the weekend was a massive success for all involved. Our students really got something out of it and we actually had a pretty awesome time hanging out with the Embassy crew and picking their brains about life in the Foreign Service.

…the most amazing stroke of luck ever: the week after Donovan loses his passport, three officials from the U.S Embassy randomly show up in Santarém. GO FIGURE.  Literally, if they hadn’t come to visit, Donovan would have had to fly to Brasília and present himself at the Embassy to get another passport. You can’t make that stuff up.

Avenida Brasil Finale: “Bigger than the World Cup Final”

I admit myself somewhat embarrassed that I’ve been here in Brazil for nearly eight months and have yet to discuss one of the more curious aspects of Brazilian culture: soap operas. In case you’re wondering…soap operas are a very very very very very very very big deal here. Every night between 8 and 10 everybody and their uncle (and by “uncle” I mean aunt, uncle, grandma, grandpa, ect.) stops what they’re doing, turns on the T.V, and watches the latest juicy events unfold.  Brazilian soap operas are famous for their extraordinarily high production value and focus on the social issues of the day. In fact, you can find study after study arguing that novelas have had an immense impact on shifting Brazilian social values and significantly contributed to Brazil’s declining birth rate (many novelas  focus on small families and childless women for instance). Pretty fascinating…

Anyways, Avenida Brasil, the latest and greatest (it is literally the most popular novela in history) soap opera to sweep the nation, ended last Friday to great fanfare. The show focused on Rio de Janeiro’s urban middle class and has been a smash hit.  Many people feel that the focus on middle-class characters (as opposed to the typical wealthier urbanites) has allowed the show to resonate with everyday Brazilians to a much greater extent than past novelas. The Brazilian President even went so far as to cancel her major press event Friday night and the authorities predicted power outages throughout the country (luckily this fear wasn’t realized).  In the words of one news reporter, “The last episode of Avenida Brasil is bigger than the World Cup Final.”  Ummm…what? While I haven’t gotten super into the novelas (they are a nightly commitment that requires a…T.V), I must say that watching the city shut down for the finale was amazing to see.

…whether or not I think Globo, the producer of nearly every popular novela and all-knowing Brazilian news channel, should have the power to effect Brazilian culture and social mores the way it does…is a different issue altogether.

Other happenings:

  • Who’s ready for the Obama-Romney rubber match? Should be a THREE RING CIRCUS. Wish I could actually watch it. Also…if you haven’t seen this meme…lol…

  • Heh…Three…Ring…Circus…Romney…Binders full of women…see what I did there?
  • A vision of what Andy is going to do with his life in five weeks time has become slightly less opaque recently. That’s all you get for now…
  • I spent 8 hours at the shopping mall yesterday…doing absolutely…nothing. G.O.T T.O L.O.V.E I.T.

That’s all I’ve got for now. The end. I can assure you that I’ll have binders full of stories next Monday. Until then, have a splendiferous week.

Um forte abraço,

Andy

P.S Check out my Facebook album from the Belém trip if you haven’t already!

P.S.S Even if you don’t laugh at my corny jokes…I do…and that’s ALLLLLLL that matters :)

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Eastern Pará Part Deux: Of Amazonian Oktoberfests, Círio, Apple Crisp and More

Bragtown, PA:

After spending a few days chillaxing (that’s a combination of chilling and relaxing…in case you’re wondering) in Belém, we headed out to visit the two Fulbrighters in Bragança (or Bragtown, PA as it’s affectionately known). The city of 100,000 people is located three hours southeast of Belém and is known for its fishing industry and laid-back small town feel.

After arriving safely and without incident (which considering the driving habits in Pará is something of a blessing) in Bragtown, we made a quick turnaround and six of us headed to a beach located on the Atlantic about an hour outside of the city.  I have no trouble saying that the small town has one of the finest (and most unique) beach vibes I’ve encountered in Brazil to date.  We spent the night celebrating Oktoberfest on what felt like our own beach (it was midweek so it was deserted) and had a generally splendiferous time. Between the massive windswept beach, uber-cool shipwreck, and insanely low prices, I have to give the excursion two thumbs WAY up.  On Wednesday afternoon we packed up our things and headed back to Bragança for another day of eating and good conversation. A pretty darn fine three days if I don’t say so myself…

…I’d also note that we saw the famous “Jesus Fish” at the beach…it literally walks on water…

The cab ride:

Um what was that? 160 KMs/hour…passing on blind curves…laughing as he was doing it…?…?…? The cab driver we hired to bring us back to Belém from Bragtown was quite possibly the craziest “bleeper” I’ve ever had the misfortune of being driven by.  Nothing more Paraense than operating a motor vehicle with complete disregard for the lives of the people in your car and other’s on the road.  The three of us arrived back in Belém a little confused and in serious need of a stiff alcoholic beverage. Welcome to Pará.

Círio de Nazaré:

What a weekend. Círio de Nazaré is the largest religious gathering in the western hemisphere (and considered by some scholars the largest religious event in the world) and more important that Christmas to the average Paraense. In case you’re wondering…it’s a pretty big deal around these parts. Here’s a bit of background on and facts about the holiday for starters…

According to popular understanding, in 1700 a farmer and lumberman named Placido found an image of the Virgin Mary at the margin of a small creek in Belém. He decided to take the image home and according to legend the small statue miraculously returned to the place where it was found.  Gradually, word of the event spread throughout the Amazon region and believers from all over the Brazilian north began traveling to Belém to see the image.  Over time, the tradition of Círio developed and today millions of people flock to Belém on the second weekend in October (culminating with Círio on Sunday) to partake in the long procession of faith that follows the image through the streets of Belém.  The event is characterized by extreme religious devotion, emotion, and sacrifice and many people make a multi-day pilgrimage on foot from the Amazonian interior to participate.

I now offer you a few thoughts and reflections from a few Círio’d out days…

  • Three million people participated on Sunday…that’s what you call a “multidão de gente.”
  • On Saturday afternoon I finally tried the famous Paraense food known as “Maniçoba” at the UFPA Fulbright coordinator’s swanky Círio house party. The dish is made from manioc leaves, sausage, bacon, and…looks like the most disgusting thing in the world. They have to stew the manioc leaves for seven days to remove the extremely poisonous hydrogen cyanide in order to make the food safe for consumption. All told, I’d have to give one and a half thumbs up to eastern Pará’s most famous dish…delicious…but kind of weird.

  • Seeing hundreds of people walking in sandals along the highway to Belém (a few hours out by car mind you) was a sight I won’t soon forget. Apparently, when the travelers arrive in the capital they are offered food, water, showers and…foot messages…free of charge.
  • On Saturday night we all headed into the streets to watch the “Transladação” (or “Transfer” in English). Madness to the max. Surrounded by one million onlookers, people in the procession were fainting left and right from the incredible heat.  The combination of choral music, packed streets, and pain-stricken participants (who were carrying the 700 KG “chord” through the streets…in bare feet) made for quite the spectacle.

  • People crying as the image passed them by…pretty intense.
  • Círio T-shirts: Everybody and their uncle has them…and they’re kinda sorta hilariously awesome.

  • Drag show: As a form of political protest and plain-old-fun, Belém’s gay community set up a massive drag show right by the Transladação procession on Saturday night.  Considering both the Catholic Church’s official stance on and general Brazilian public attitude towards homosexuality, check plus plus plus to all involved in the event.

Trip conclusion:

Slam dunk. Great time. The end.

Other happenings:

  • I’m planning on heading into the jungle one last time at some point in the next few weeks to help the Fishguy out with his research. Should be fun..
  • Went to a movie theater for the first time in some eight months on Friday. Sitting in dark room with comfy chairs, air-conditioning, and a movie playing…glorious. Nothing like a good ol’ slice of America in the Amazon. Love it. Love it. Love it.
  • One of the Fulbrighters in Bragança is a baker extraordinaire and she whipped together chocolate chip cookies and apple crisp when we were there…again…a slice of America in the Amazon…yes please.

  • The Fulbright coordinator that graciously opened up her home to us for Círio has a pair of Dachshunds…I’m definitely going to miss falling asleep on the couch with one of them snoozing by my head.

That’s about all I have for now. Headed back to the ‘Rem in a few hours for the final stretch. Until next Monday, have a good week!

Amazonically,

Andy

P.S A full picture album of the trip will be up on Facebook at some point later this week…brace yourselves for that people!

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The Lost Children of Pará Head East: Belém Funtimes

Here is a little map of my nine-day eastern Pará adventure…

Eastward bound!

Oh hello Belém! Given the fact that I’ve been to over 12 cities and seen every region of Brazil, I feel somewhat embarrassed that it took me until October to finally visit the capital of my home state. Nonetheless, I couldn’t be more stoked about the nine days I have planned in eastern Pará.  Together with SEVEN other Fulbrighters, Donovan and I have put together a splendiferously fantastic itinerary that’ll give us a nice taste of the OTHER Pará.  Here’s a quick overview of where we’ve been and where we’re headed in the days ahead…

  • Belém Part Um October 6th – 8th: We flew into the capital on Saturday and have spent the last couple of days taking in the sights, sounds, and tastes around town.  Belém has three Fulbrighters in it and they’ve graciously offered to show us around town a bit.  In light of the madness that will ensue next weekend, we figured actually seeing “normal” Belém might be a wise choice for a few days.
  • Bragtown October 9th – 11th: Eastern Pará is home to not only three Fulbrighters in Belém, but also two more in the quiet little sea-side town of Bragança.  Located about 4 hours by car from the capital, Bragança has been described to me as a “little Santarem.”  Between the slow internet, unpaved streets, and toasty weather, it should be interesting to see how the girls are fairing out there.  We’re planning on spending the three days enjoying some beautiful beaches and drinking caiparinhas…I can deal…I guess…
  • Belém Part Dois October 12th – 15th: Círio, Círio, Círio. This part needs little introduction and even less explanation. Two million people in the streets…the largest religious festival in Brazil…should be craziness. MORE next Monday…

You may be asking yourself…why the title? Well, Donovan and I like to think of ourselves as the “Lost Children of Pará.” While the five Fulbrighters out east have gotten to hang out with each other on a fairly regular basis (spending weekends in one another’s cities) and formed a little Pará family, Donovan and I have been…chilling (would baking be the more appropriate word?)…isolated…in the ‘Rém.

The Capital:

Belém reminds me of Manaus…a lot. Much like “The Jungle City”, Belém mixes the rainforest, colonial architecture, and urbanity in an unmistakable and distinctive way.  Located on the Pará River (which is the southern arm of the mouth of the Amazon River), Belém is often considered the eastern gateway to the Amazon region and serves as a major export hub for the Brazilian north.  Since the first Amazonian rubber boom years of the 1860’s the city has gone through extreme periods of opulence and relative destitution that are very much reflected in the city’s makeup. Next to a gorgeous piece of colonial architecture you might find a totally dilapidated building.  Nonetheless, the city’s ever-expanding skyline has definitely given me a sense that Belém is a place that matters and has a bright future ahead. Here are a few observations, thoughts, and reflections (plus pictures of course) from my first three days in the capital…

  • Might as well be a different state…or country: Since Saturday it has never ceased to amaze me that Belém and Santarém are the two largest cities in Pará.  Culturally, economically, and even linguistically the two cities feel like different worlds and it is hard to imagine that they call the same state home.  The east versus west divide is more apparent to me than ever before. The 500 miles between Santarém and Belém don’t big to do justice to the cultural ocean that separates them.  Whether or not that is a good enough reason for western Pará to split off and form the state of Tapajós…is a different issue entirely…
  • Greenery: Parks, tree-lined streets…yes please. I’ve been in need of some greenery (as Santarém is totally devoid…ironically) in my life and Belém has delivered. The city is full of nicely maintained parks and pleasant tree-lined streets…glorious.

  • Rainiest city in the whole wide world: Well…that’s probably hyperbolic. But Belém is considered one of the western Hemisphere’s rainiest cities and one of the rainiest “major” cities in the world. There is literally no dry season. Just wet…and wetter (kind of like Santarém being hot and hotter). It rains in the afternoon everyday and…I’m loving every minute of it. The cooling rains make night pleasant and the temperature never gets to the point of being unbearable.
  • Architecture: Colonial to the max. Many of the city’s architectural landmarks look like they were cut straight out of 17th century Lisbon (which was apparently the inspiration for the early development of Belém). As you wind your way around the narrow streets of the “Cidade Velha” (or “Old City) you are transported to a different time and a VERY different place. Pretty cool.

  • Colors: I. LOVE. THE. COLORS. OF. THE. BUILDINGS. HERE.

  • Smelly: The city has more than a few stinky spots. Makes Santarém almost smell good by comparison. That takes some effort…
  • Donovan and I hit up the “Restaurante Popular” at UFPA (where two of the Fulbrigthers are working) earlier today…$1 dollar meal…of course we did.

  • Good internet: No explanation required.

Other happenings:

  • An Andy’s Bookclub Recommendation: Go out and buy (or Kindle download if that’s your estilo) yourself a copy of “Thinking: Fast and Slow” by psychologist (and co-founder of Prospect Theory) Daniel Kahneman.  If you have interest in understanding how we make decisions and try to navigate and make sense of the maddeningly unpredictable world, this is the book for you. Readable, informative, and thought-provoking, it constantly challenged me to apply its concepts to my own biases, assumptions, and judgments.  This is one of the two (along with Nick Kristoff’s “The Other Half of the Sky”) best books I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year…period. Get it…you’ll be glad you did.
  • Our Thursday/Friday English conversation section is really really really great. This week we focused on literature. The students wrote their own poetry and read/analyzed a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story…two absolutely successful classes. Just a joy to work with such a good group.
  • The Classico was bloody fantastic yesterday. Barca vs. Madrid turned into Messi vs. Ronaldo.  Let the “best in the world” polemics continue. Messi is the more unstoppable force…Ronaldo has had the better year. I’d vote for Ronaldo for the Balon d’Or…if my opinion mattered at all…
  • The idea of my imminent return to the states is starting to become a tangible reality…scary how time flies.

That’s about all I have for now. I’d like to once again pat myself on the back for another blog bost. Get ready to hear ALL about the madness of Círio next Monday. Until then, have a good week!

NotSantarémly,

Andy

P.S If you get lucky…you might actually get new Andyinhat.tumblr.com photos at some point soon!

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Of Quasi-infernos and Clownfests Down in the Rém

Weather forecast: hot, dry…with a 0% chance of rain

The driest and hottest two Amazonian months are finally upon us down here in Santarém.  Over the past few weeks there has been an unmistakable trend in the weather…more scorching heat during the day…NO rain at night.  When we arrived back from our trip in late August I’d have to say that I was a bit under whelmed by the climate.  Despite everybody’s dark and terrible predictions of a quasi-inferno, the heat honestly didn’t seem that bad to me.

Boy oh boy…the joke’s on this Gringo now.  Each and every day has felt toastier and more exhausting than the one before it.  I kid you not…it has not rained ONCE over the past month plus. Not even a drizzle.  I keep waiting to wake up to that good ol’ 4 A.M deluge…and I never do.  The weather has definitely been taking a toll on my energy level of late. I find myself sleeping 9-10 hours a night and rolling out of bed tired. I’m not sure if it’s the miles of walking throughout the day, dehydration, or a combination of the two, but what ever it is…it sucks.  Should be doozy in a month’s time…

Nonetheless, I will say that it’s been pretty amazing to see the river recede as rapidly as it has.  The boats that were once anchored a foot below the city’s retainer wall now have to dock a solid 50 yards away because where there was once 15 feet of water there is just sand. While I’d certainly never take a riverfront dip (that’s literally where ALL of Santarém’s waste is deposited…I s*** you not), the new sandy look to the orla has given the city a distinctly different feel.  Here is a comparison of the riverfront a block away from our house in May versus yesterday…amazing…

Four months ago…

And now…

…anybody catch that cheeky little poop joke right there? Nobody?

…well George Dallos just laughed…I’m sure of it…

Clownfest ‘12: Six days to go…and COUNTING…

Hip, hip…HOORAY! We now have less than a week to go until the local political campaign season  (aka Clownfest ’12) finally comes to an end.  I’m not sure what I find more troubling…the fact that the campaigns appear more like a high school student government popularity contest or that these clowns are seriously going to be the next elected representatives of Santarém.  Here are a few observations and thoughts from the latest developments…

  • Coming up with a song apparently gets you votes.  It seems that clever litter jigs are the flavor of the campaign season as just about everybody has one.  Nothing better than hearing really bad forro music blasted into your window at 7 A.M with the names of one jokester after another…
  • As I said a couple of weeks ago, people are legally required to vote.  If somebody doesn’t go to the polls on October 7th, they lose government benefits and are legally forbidden from leaving the municipality. The kicker: if somebody abstains from voting by casting a “No Vote,” their vote literally goes to whatever individual is leading the polls at the time. Pretty absurd. I’m all for encouraging voter turnout…but seriously…COME ON!
  • Most people you talk to seem pretty certain that they are going to support Alexandre Von over Lucinade in the mayoral race…but nobody seems to know why.  Everybody seems to hate the current mayor…but they all say her opponent is just as corrupt (if not more)…lovely options.
  • I have not seen one T.V add for any of the candidates suggesting why they would be a better choice than their opponent. The whole thing is literally a high school popularity contest. There is no debate about each candidates proposals…everybody basically promises more infrastructure, healthcare, and education. REAL original.
  • Watching this process unfold makes me feel positive about the state of American political campaigns (which is crazy…because our political process is totally, utterly, and completely bleeped at the moment).

Belém:

Yup, yup! Next time you hear from me I’ll be in Pará’s glorious state capital. Headed out east next Saturday…can’t believe the trip is already here! Where. Are. The. Weeks. Going?

Other happenings:

  • Big shout out to the Fishguy for smashing his fundraising goal by a solid $1000! Considering the fact that he was at 25% of his target with four days to go, I have no trouble saying I’ve witnessed an Amazonian miracle! For those of you who readers who donated (I know of one…other than me), GO YOU!
  • I downloaded the new Mumford and Sons album “Babel” over the course of two days (internet was on point as always) this week…all I can say is…get it…GET IT NOW! A seriously coming of age work for everybody’s favorite British hipsters…gotta love that folk music!
  • Internet has been pretty consistently terrible all week. I can’t imagine the twice or thrice daily power outages are helping the situation…
  • We discussed Americanisms and Regionalism in our classes this week. It seems our students think that most Americans are fat, doctor pepper drinking, Mac product using gun lovers. What a lovely image of the good ol’ US of A.
  • Met with the director of the Brazil Fulbright Commission earlier today to access the program…fun times.  More on that next week…
  • I would like to wish Jack Andrew Garry Wilshere a happy return to fitness. The finest midfield talent England has produced and the future captain of club and country is finally back after one year out from the game.  As a faithful Gooner…I couldn’t be happier. Arsenal on the up.

That’s all I have for now. The end. Belém…here I come. Until next Monday, you stay classy San Diego.

Amazonically,

Andy

P.S Have a good week!

P.S.S I’m going to upload one of our English Through Music radio programs on YouTube in the next couple of weeks so you all can hear my lovely voice…LOOK OUT FOR THAT!

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125 Days Later…the Strike Ends

Here is a link to the video I helped Dan the Fishguy put together a few months back regarding his research.  He needs to raise roughly $3,900 by Wednesday and I know even a small donation would make a big difference!

http://www.petridish.org/projects/tracking-arapaima-in-pursuit-of-management-and-conservation 

Dear Strike: Good Riddance

A. To laugh? B. To smile? C. To cry? D. All of the above? I’m not quite sure how to react to the end of 120 days of feckless negotiations that ultimately resulted in ZERO…ZILCH…NADA…gains for the strikers. Nonetheless, I can now report that as of last Tuesday the President and her minions stared the professors down and didn’t flinch.  Not. One. Bit. The massive disruption to the Brazilian school year was all for not and I’m now left to shake my head and wonder, WHY?

I think today I find myself more disappointed than anything else. It seems that the professors chose to not only sacrifice an entire semester of education to pursue salary improvements, but also couldn’t stick to their guns long enough to even make the sacrifices worth it.  Now universities all over Brazil are left to pick up the pieces and the academic year has been thrown completely out-of-whack. The word on the street at UFOPA is that students and professors will be left to finish out the final weeks of last semester through late-October. At that point, the powers-that-be will have to decide whether to start up this semester and have it take away all of the summer (we’re in the southern hemisphere…remember?) vacation or just cancel the semester and start fresh in 2013. Terrible options indeed. Although, given the fact that Brazilians aren’t generally keen on sacrificing vacation time, if I was a betting man I’d say that this semester won’t happen until the new year.

Andy’s Take: ?…?…?

…oh and apparently every bank and post office in Brazil are currently on strike…laugh…out…loud.

Getting’ my teaching on:

Well that’s more like it! Finally, after weeks of waiting and wondering Donovan and I got underway with our intermediate/advanced level English conversation sections. As I suggested in my blog post a couple of weeks back, we’ve opted for higher level students because neither of us our qualified to teach elementary level grammar and moreover we can make a much bigger difference with students who already have the basics down. That said, I have no hesitation calling our first week a consummate success.

Why? Well, for starters, our students can actually understand us when we speak in English. While there were still some blank stares (particularly in our Saturday afternoon section), overall our students’ English level was appropriately high to be speaking 100% in English during class.  I think one of the biggest challenges for English learners here in Santarém is that people almost never get an opportunity to practice the language in an English-only environment.  Thus, one of our goals is to create that environment for our students three hours per week.  At the very least, we want to give our students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the language and offer them some time to develop their functional linguistic abilities (i.e conversation, conversation, conversation).

Another wonderful component of our classes is that unlike “assisting” Valdenildo and the other professors, Donovan and I actually get to set the rules.  As you may or may not know, I do not have a particularly fond appreciation of classroom etiquette here in the Brazilian Amazon. Between the tardiness (45 minutes late to a 1.5 hour class), rampant cell phone/computer use, and constant side conversations, I have no trouble saying that I’ve been in more than a few classrooms here that shocked me. As you might have guessed, I’m not going to put up with that nonsense in my classes.  I think Donovan and I have set some solid guidelines that will create a safe environment of mutual respect for the students and that will hopefully contribute to some real English learning over the next 10 weeks.

More than anything else, I’m just uber excited to be doing something substantive with my time here. I arrived in Santarém some seven months ago expecting to be able to give presentations about American culture and host thought-provoking cross-cultural discussions.  Obviously, the situation on the ground at UFOPA wasn’t exactly conducive to that. Nonetheless, I finally have an opportunity to do some of those things and I feel that my ability to thrive as a teacher is actually being realized for the first time. Our discussion of American pop culture last week went quite well and I’m stoked to hear our students’ thoughts on issues such as gender relations, regionalism, race/ethnicity and more. It should be an interesting semester indeed!

Lights out!

The power has been going out around town almost daily of late. As the river continues to get lower, the ONE damn that supplies all of Santarém’s electricity has increasingly less water to consistently provide power to the city and outages have become a normal part of the day’s events. Although I’ve gotten quite good at just shrugging my shoulders when the power goes out, I’m just WAITING for that time when I’m headed up to my stomping grounds at the Paraíso…and I find myself in the elevator. That’ll make for a good blog post…I suppose…

Other happenings:

  • 47%: Mitt Romney…please get over yourself. I’m not sure what I find more curious…the fact that Romney is running to be President of ALL Americans and wrote off half the population…or that he some how failed to note that senior citizens (a major base of support) and military vets are within his “47%” of non-income tax payers.  I will tell you one thing for sure…with his gaffe prone style and asinine campaign strategy…I’m fairly confident he isn’t getting hired on November 6h…
  • Hats off to the UChicago Men’s Soccer team for a 5-1-1 start to the new campaign…dooooiiinngg work.
  • Watched the big UFC fight between Jon Jones (American, light-heavyweight champion) and Vitor Belfort (Brazilian) in a fairly crowded bar. Loved every minute of it. Everybody was pumped…until the fight actually started.  Took about 10 seconds to realize what a mismatch it actually was and the fact that Belfort had 0.0% chance of winning.  Thoroughly enjoyed throwing out a few “USA, USA, USA!” chants out there…particularly after all the flack I got when Silva smacked an American down a few months back.
  • I will be in Belém in less than two weeks…what, what?
  • Since when was it almost October?
  • It’s been about 1 million billion degrees the last few nights…the Amazonian dry season is fun…

That’s all I have for now. The end. Until next Monday…have a good week!

Amazonically,

Andy

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