Striking…well sort of…
So the majority of professors at UFOPA have decided to go on strike in protest of their low salaries and inadequate teaching resources. Professors across the Brazilian public university system are on strike and unsurprisingly (our school gets less funding than just about any public university in Brazil) professors at UFOPA have followed suit. According to the “people in the know” the strike is likely to go on for at least a month or two and will turn next semester into a complete and utter “bleep” show. The vast majority of activities at school have completely shut down. As “luck” would have it, however, all of my classes are entirely unaffected by the strike…Val isn’t going on strike and Maria Luiza’s class is an extension program (plus “Andy in Charge” English conversation classes will go on…I ain’t got no beef with the government). Nonetheless, if the students and university administrators vote to support the strike this week (which they will in all likelihood), things could get a tad bit more interesting if students are no longer allowed on campus.
…Andy’s Take: Given the fact that we are one of the most underfunded and marginalized public universities in Brazil, the professors, students, and administrators have every right and reason to strike. Considering the Brazilian governments much ballyhooed “commitment to higher education”…it’s about time we see some investment up here…
Brief Introduction: Before going to the Candomblé service Donovan and I accidentally walked into a church auditorium full of 1000 or so adolescents being harangued about the sinfulness of premarital sex. When we got up to leave they blocked the doors and wouldn’t let us out… I’m not kidding. AWKWARDNESS all around.
Throughout my time here I’ve found that many of my best experiences have been both unplanned and unexpected. Such was the case two Saturday nights ago when our anthropologist PhD friend Aline invited Donovan, Kate (the ETA from last year) and myself to a Candomblé service. I’d never heard of Candomblé before and I definitely did not anticipate a night full of dance, food, and beer. However, what I expected to be a rather tame night dedicated to a bit of cultural learning turned into a plain ol’ good time and an eye-opening experience. I guess I should roll with the anthropology crew now because they clearly know how to find the little gems in Santarém. Here is a “brief” description of my experience and a few photos from it…
Let’s begin with a bit of background about the Afro-Brazilian religion known as Candomblé. For starters, Candomblé is thought to have originated in the northeastern cities of Salvador and Cachoeira, located in the state of Bahia, sometime after the arrival of African slaves in Brazil in 1549. African priests, who were transported to Brazil during the slave trade brought their language, culture, and various deities with them to the new world and the unique, polytheistic religion of Candomblé slowly took off. Over the next 300 years various sects/nations of Candomblé worshippers developed semi-independently on slave plantations in various parts of Brazil (although principally in the northeast). Today, Candomblé is practiced by thousands of people throughout Brazil and the world. The religion is characterized by small, intimate gatherings of worshippers taking place in the house of a high priest. The religion has two ritualistic components: the preparation and a public mass. The former is attended by only priests and initiates and the latter (which I apparently went to) is open to the general public. The public ceremony is known for symbolic dancing (done in a sort of trance-like state by priests) and a large banquet full of food and drink afterwards. The religion has had a major impact on Brazilian music and its characteristic rhythmic percussion can be found in various music styles throughout the country.
Anyways, now that you’ve got the history down…let me tell you about my particular Candomblé experience. When we met up with Aline she told us to follow her to the place where the ceremony was taking place. As I talked about earlier, Candomblé is practiced in people’s homes…not in large houses of worship. I was certainly surprised (I didn’t know about the house thing at the time) when Aline all of a sudden turned into some random person’s front gate and told us “we’re here!” What I found in front of me was a small little house decorated with flowers, smelling of incense, and bustling with people dressed in ceremonial garb dancing to the beat of a drum inside. Outside of the house there were dozens of plastic tables and chairs filled with family, friends, and neighbors just hanging out, chatting, and watching the ceremony through the windows. The whole scene made me feel like I’d been transported into a different time and a very different place.
After milling about for a few minutes and chatting with a few of the outside observers, I decided to poke my head into the main room of the house to get a full view of what all the fuss was about. Inside I found about 15 people, many of whom had a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other, dancing and singing in a circle. At the center of everything was a lady dressed in green shaking her hips to the beat and saying something in Portuguese I couldn’t understand. Upon closer inspection, my initial conclusion that the lady in green was in fact a lady came seriously into question. She stood well over six-feet tall, talked in a rather low pitch, and had gargantuan hands. I asked the person next to me about the lady in green and he said “Well she’s the lady of the house during the ceremony…and a man otherwise.” Pretty interesting stuff…although I’m still not sure what the significance of cross-dressing is/was to the larger Candomblé ceremony. Needless to say, while I had come expecting to see something new and different, cigarettes, beer, and cross-dressing weren’t exactly on my list of expectations.
At around 10 P.M a few of the people inside came around and told us it was time for a “cervejinha e comida” (“little” beer and food) and the banquet commenced. For the next two hours we hung out, drank beer (considering the copious amounts of beer they served “cervejinha” may not be the most apt name), and ate delicious, free.99 food. I even managed to meet the lady in green (who was apparently the high priest) and she gave me a bear hug and a kiss on each hand. All in all my experience at the Candomblé mass was both unique, memorable, and most importantly…fun. I guess you never know what you are going to get in Santarém…but I think I’ve learned that if I keep an open-mind and just go with the flow…things have a way of working out pretty nicely! A thought-provoking and fun experience all around…
It’s official…1 Dollar = 2 Reias!
When I arrived in Brazil three short months ago the exchange rate from U.S Dollars to Brazilian Reias was 1:1.54…today its 1:2! Unsurprisingly, the strengthening of the Dollar in relation to the Real has been all over the news down here. As the age old debate goes…some think (or at least according to the newspaper “O Globo”) the softening of the Real is a good thing because it will encourage exports (they also think it was horrifically overvalued), while others think it’s going to make imported foreign goods exceedingly expensive for ordinary Brazilians (plus inflation could get out of control if the economy overheats). Either way…I’m getting a whole lot more bang for my buck at the moment and I’m certainly not going to complain!
- One of Dan’s fish/conservation/environment researcher friends is in need of a few individuals to head out into the field with her for five days in June to collect samples and talk to local communities along the Amazon River. Opportunity to spend time in the jungle…for free??…YES PLEASE! It looks like I’ll be heading out at some point in June to get my environmental biologist on for a few days. Dan said it’ll be a lot of writing and speaking Portuguese during the day and a lot of hanging out with fishermen and the rest of the crew at night…should be pretty schweeeeet.
- Can I just say…I’ve been living in the tropics for nearly three months and I still haven’t gotten sunburned. I may have a splendiferous farmer’s tan…but I’m not a lobster. It’s amazing what a combination of umbrella(s), SPF 70, and turning into a shade-seeking missile will do. Who knew Dallos’ could live in the tropics and not get burned. Good for me.
- I ate a baseball-sized Brigadeiro last week…and I don’t regret one bit/bite of it.
- I also ate a bunch of “chocolate chip cookie dough-like” ice cream this past Saturday…and it was splendid. The shop is the only place that sells ice cream that is actually made in-store in Santarém. I’ve spent the past three months searching (in vain) for some top-notch ice cream here. My favorite flavor…of my favorite desert (well maybe it’s 1B…my Mom’s Half-Way bars are pretty delectable)…in the middle of the Amazon…ohhhhh happy days!
- Watching the Champions League Final with a couple hundred Brazilians on the big screen in the Paraíso Mall may not have been the same thing as watching it in the old apartment with my Chicago crew on our 65-inch TV…but it was pretty darn fun. My favorite part of the whole experience: the two old ladies sitting next to me, who had no affiliation with either Chelsea or Bayern Munich, going nuts every time their was a half-chance on goal for either team. True fans of the game…I have to say there was something really refreshing about it.
- Dan, Donovan, Milena and myself made an awesome brunch feast this past Sunday. Eggs, hash browns, fresh juice, coffee, cornbread, buttery toast…it’s been along time since I’ve ate a proper greasy, delicious, American-style brunch…small victories.
Get ready to hear about fetid flood water (and see some amazing before-and-after pics) in next week’s post. Until then…Happy Monday! Have a good week!
P.S Facebook album is up with the some the Matt/Julia/Peter trip highlights…I will publish all their photos (roughly 1000) on Flickr when…I get a chance/the internet at UFOPA isn’t moving like a slug.