Rapidly Rising Rivers and a bit of T.A Reflection

Starting to flood:

Remember when I talked about how high the river was and the extreme likelihood that some parts of the city were going to fill with water? Well, a few weeks ago we received an email alert from the State Department (you can join their listhost for travel alerts when you are living or traveling abroad) to the following effect:

The U.S. Embassy in Brasilía alerts U.S. citizens traveling and residing in the Amazon region that due to heavy rains, the Amazon River is rising 5 cm per day in Manaus and is already over record-high levels from 2009. Extreme floods are predicted for this year, especially in light of the fact that the river normally reaches a peak at the end of June.  Civil Defense is already working throughout the region. Serious problems associated with the extreme rise and then fall of the water level include flash flooding, the spread of water-borne diseases, insufficient access to fresh food and clean water, and damage to homes and other personal property.  Stock up on bottled water and nonperishable food items. Leave areas at risk of flooding before it becomes necessary.  Take any other necessary precautions to keep yourself and your family safe.

…Time to get that ark finished? Should I start rounding up two of every animal? Since that time I’ve begun to see quite a lot of street flooding near my house.  If you walk one block towards the riverfront from where I live the street is inundated with absolutely fetid water (that stuff HAS to be a serious health hazard). However, the interesting thing is that the riverwall hasn’t actually been breached yet.  It appears that the water is quite literally seeping underneath the riverwall and into low-lying areas.  Even though we are heading into the dry season now (the rainy season peaked in April), apparently the river will continue to rise for at least another month due to continued water runoff from the surrounding rainforest (plus it doesn’t help that we’ve had torrential rain storms every morning at dawn for the past couple of weeks).  Wooden footbridges have begun popping up all around town (especially in the city center) to keep life moving along riverfront…pretty amazing to see.

Given the fact that my house sits a solid 10 feet higher than the riverfront, I think we SHOULD be safe.  Then again, one lesson life in Santarém certainly has taught me over the past couple of months is to always expect the unexpected here…on second thought maybe I should build that ark…

…just four weeks of water rising…before and after (second picture was taken three weeks ago). Stunning. Imagine what it’ll look if the water breaches the riverwall…

Three months of being a T.A…time for some reevaluation and feedback:

After nearly three months of being an English teaching assistant I can say one thing without equivocation: none of my students have markedly improved their ability to communicate in English since I’ve been here.  With the exception of my small conversation focused tutorials, all of the classes I have assisted and observed have felt to me (and many of my students as it turns out) like one big, giant waste of everybody’s time. Professors are going through the motions, teaching assistants aren’t utilized, and most importantly of all…students aren’t learning in any meaningful way.  As my UChicago soccer coach once (rightfully) asked our team after a spineless performance…why show up if nobody is going to put any effort in? I think there are times in life when you need fair and honest feedback (and a little time to marinate on your performance) if you have any hope of achieving your goals.  Needless to say, the English department at UFOPA could use a little self-reflection at present.  Luckily…it’s not my style to shrug my shoulders when I think something is wrong…things need to change down here and I’d be kicking myself a few months from now if I didn’t do anything to make that happen…

Over the past couple of weeks Donovan and I have been chatting and brainstorming about our respective teaching experiences thus far.  We’ve come to many of the same conclusions: Professors aren’t trying to get the students to speak in English (99% of my classes are taught in Portuguese…which…no matter the fluency level…MAKES NO SENSE), teaching assistants could (and should) be more involved, and most of the students are either not showing up to class or putting no effort in when they do.  The low level of English instruction and subsequent learning here is certainly a problem of Gordian complexity and we’re not going to be able to fix it overnight. However, I’m a HUGE believer in constructive feedback and I think the department needs to seriously reevaluate its curriculum in a substantive way.

That being said, Donovan and I have decided to develop a student course evaluation questionnaire for the English department over the next couple of weeks with the hope of administering, analyzing, and implementing the feedback into course planning (which we’ll be doing in early July with the professors) for next semester.

I’ll admit that over the past couple of weeks I’ve struggled with whether or not to go through with this idea.  I don’t want to come off as an entitled, out-of-line foreigner offering unsolicited advice. My hope is that feedback coming from the students themselves will be both less threatening and ultimately more useful. I also think that if nobody ever intervenes in a situation like this…nothing is ever going to get better…the professors will just keep doing what their doing, we (as TAs) will continue sitting around twiddling our thumbs, and the students will continue not learning. We’re going to meet with the professors in a few weeks about our ideas and proposal and my hope is that by July 1st we’ll be well on our way to figuring out what needs to change and where we all can do more to help the students grow as English speakers.

Another Dr. Dallos:

A major shout-out…congrats…thumbs up are in order for my brother Matt.  This past Thursday he graduated from medical school and can now officially sign his name Matthew Dallos, MD.  It’s always a little bittersweet not to be involved in big family events when you are living abroad…but that’s the life of an “ex-pat” I guess.  Matt: well done on graduating…a “forte abraco” from Brazil.

Other happenings:

  • Another major shout-out to my high school friend Will Newell for qualifying for the London Olympics this past week in rowing. An absolutely awesome accomplishment! Considering how hard he’s worked over the past few years…he really deserves it. Good luck this summer!
  • Jungle dates officially set: June 7th-12th I’ll be headed out into the varzia to help one of Dan’s fish researcher friends with data collection. We’re going to travel to a number of communities a few hours down (east) the Amazon River.  It should be a VERY different jungle experience than my trip along the Tapajos River a few weeks back with my siblings…mosquitoes, mosquitoes, and more mosquitoes! (The Amazon is a nutrient rich river while the Tapajos is nutrient poor…meaning you find A LOT more mosquitoes and other creatures in and around the Amazon…or so I’m told…)
  • Saturday and Sunday afternoons spent watching soccer games from across Brazil and the world at the Paraiso on the big screen with soccer-crazed fans…awesomeness.  The internet may be awful…but the football here is not. A bunch of people keep trying to get me to pledge allegiance to their Brazilian teams…I’m keeping my options open…but I think in a couple of weeks I’m going to finally settle on a team.
  • Even though Santarenos drink copious amounts of beer…I have to say…the beer here is pretty terrible.  There are about five different kinds of Brazilian beers one can buy here…and they all basically taste like a watered down version of Bud Light…yum.
  • Brazil Trip/Adventure/Extravaganza Update: I’m officially headed to Curitiba for two days after I say goodbye to my parents in Igauçu Falls (and before mid-year meet up in Brasilía). It is apparently “Brazil’s most livable city” and has a bunch of kewl things to see…beautiful botanic gardens, museums, and all sorts of other good stuff should make it a fun couple of days. Nine cities in four weeks…getting close!

That’s all I’ve got for now! Happy Memorial Day to my American readership (ha…“readership”)…have a good week!

GOOOOOOOOOOOOO CELTICS

Um forte abraço,

Andy

P.S Trying to live stream the Conference Finals…should be interesting. Considering the fact that it took an hour for YouTube highlights of Game 7 against the Sixers to load on Sunday…I should be up-to-date on the Heat series by the year 2013 hopefully.

P.S.S To all you Rondo haters out there (cough cough…Ryan Fitzgerald): You’ve. Been. Served.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Rapidly Rising Rivers and a bit of T.A Reflection

  1. Joanne

    Hi Andy
    Flood waters rising? don’t forget your malaria pills.
    From you ever vigilant mom!

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