Turning a Corner: A Week of Positivity in the Amazon

Sunset on Ponta de Pedras (45 minutes outside of the city) yesterday…Amazon beach season…deeeccceeennntttt.

Don’t call it a comeback…alright call it a comeback:

And…exhale. After being back in Santarém for nearly two weeks, I can happily report that I’ve finally turned the corner in the hot, crazy, at times maddening city that I’ve called home since March 1st.  I think it took being away from this place for a little while to actually appreciate Santarém on its own terms. It will never be Rio, São Paulo, or Belo Horizonte. That’s a fact. Traveling to those places definitely forced me to accept that undeniable reality and moreover recognize that I couldn’t continue vainly looking for big, multicultural city things in one of the most isolated regions in Brazil.  While my existence here might frequently resemble that of a pot roast, there are a good many positive things about life here that I plan to share with you in the coming months!

Taking charge at UFOPA:

To say that Donovan and I returned to UFOPA with a renewed sense of purpose is an understatement…to say the least. I’m not sure if it was Fulbright mid-year meet up or simply the stark realization that we only have three short months left here, but either way, we both landed in Santarém on August 29th determined to sort out our teaching situation once and for all. Although there certainly were accomplishments last semester (the radio show and PARFOR come to mind), the overall teaching situation has been unfulfilling and it was high time to make a change.

When we first met with Maria Luiza in early March she made it abundantly clear that “assisting” the English professors would be our main responsibility and time commitment as ETAs. Seeing as we were homeless, linguistically incapable of standing up for ourselves, and a bit overwhelmed, we acquiesced to her plan pretty quickly.  Well, as you might have ascertained from some of my previous blog posts, the whole setup didn’t work too well and was quite honestly a waste of everybody’s time. All of the fulfilling things that happened last semester happened outside of my time assisting Maria Luiza and Valdenildo. The strike certainly didn’t help, but I think irrespective of the strike, I really wasn’t making much of a difference in those gargantuan 40+ student, beginner-level classes.

That said, over the past couple of months Donovan and I have had many a brainstorm/venting session and eventually concluded two things: first, the professors don’t really want to include us in their lesson plans and second, we aren’t qualified to teach basic, elementary English grammar (as native speakers…we never had to learn the basics the same way as second language speakers). Given those two observations we’ve decided to evolve our conversation classes into a bigger project that will take up most of our teaching time down here.  We’re in the process of forming three intermediate/advanced level classes (each to meet twice weekly) from students throughout UFOPA that will be taught exclusively by Donovan and myself.  This will HOPEFULLY allow us give cultural talks, work on higher-level language development (i.e idioms, colloquial expressions, ect), and host class discussions.  We’ve opted for higher-level students because we realize that 1. we just aren’t capable of teaching English to beginners (we literally don’t have the training)  and 2. we could have a much larger impact on students who already have the basics down.

While it took a while to explain to Maria Luiza that the Fulbright program isn’t about sending Brazil ESL-experienced English grammarians (there is literally ONE Fulbrighter in our program who would qualify to teach beginners), I think we made our point pretty clear that it was time for the folks at UFOPA to change their expectations.  All told, I firmly believe we’ve come up with the best solution possible given the circumstances! Fingers crossed…ready, set, go!

Forgot to mention Goiânia last week:

Whooooops! I guess I was so excited about the Pantanal that I half-wittingly forgot to mention the last stop on our trip…Goiânia! Located some three hours by bus from Brasília, we headed to the productive, pleasant, clean, green, livable, COWBOYED-OUT capital of Goiás state after our adventures in the Pantanal. We hung out with our Fulbright friend Yamil and enjoyed a few days of internet binging before our return to the Amazon.

It was pretty amazing to see the difference between our respective school situations. Yamil and Nino (the other Fulbrighter who unfortunately wasn’t there) teach at the Universidade Federal de Goiás and really have a nice little situation carved out for themselves.  They’ve put on lecture series, held thought-provoking discussion sections, and generally been able to do a lot (I think it helps that their students are uber-fluent). I’d also note that they have monkeys…ALL OVER THERE CAMPUS. Their resident macaque population lives in the forest by UFG and makes it presence on campus known.  Apparently, they walk into lectures and discussion sections all the time. Hilarity…

Sete de Setembro:

I would like to take this opportunity to wish the happiest of birthdays to the Brazilian nation. Last Friday, Brazilians celebrated their independence day. LONG story short, 190 years ago Dom Pedro I declared Brazil’s independence from Portugal on the shores of the Ipiranga River in São Paulo after decades of Portuguese-Brazilian tension and 322 years of colonial control. There you have it…Brazilian independence in one sentence! Happy Sete de Setembro!

Other happenings:

  • BIG shout-out to Brazilians everywhere for being so interested in the Paralympic Games.  I’ve never once seen the Paralympics on main T.V channels back home in the states…but down here…they have coverage 24/7! It definitely seems like a big thing in Brazil. A wonderful thing to see!
  • Rocked out until the wee hours of the morning at a Brazilian reggae show last Thursday. So. Much. Better. Than. Funk. And. Forro. Period.
  • Crazy happenings on the Santarém ORLA last Wednesday night. An Amazonian version of “Drum Line” (if you haven’t see that charming film…see it…see it now) took place and mayhem ensued. The ORLA was filled with a solid 10,000 + people watching high school marching bands do their thang out on the riverfront. Teenybopper central.
  • I’m still many week’s away from making the major “stay or don’t stay” life decision…don’t hold your breathe people.
  • Two big thumbs up to the folks at the Paraíso Shopping Center for finally realizing that if your free wi-fi system can only sustain one computer at a time…you should probably fix it. Internet is “blazing” (by Amazon standards) these days…I may actually be able to Google Voice call people more than once in a blue moon!
  • While I loved Michelle Obama’s convention speech (she’s just awesome), I’m pretty disturbed by the media dubbing her “Obama’s Secret Weapon.” I really have to ask…Is the average voter seriously naïve (that’s putting it lightly) enough to vote for Obama just because they like his wife? Answer: Yes. I generally support the President…but my vote for him has absolutely, completely, and utterly nothing to do with his wife. Voting patterns in America are tragically comedic (or comedically tragic?). Sillyness maximus.
  • NFL season kicked off this past week. Patriots took care of business per usual. Definitely missing Sunday afternoons watching my beloved Pats on Tyler’s couch. Following ESPN Gamecast just ain’t the same. I’ll be back with my people for the stretch run and the playoffs…OH I’LL BE BACK. 2012-2013 Patriots…locked and loaded. Redemptions awaits.

That’s about all I have for this week’s edition. Hope you enjoyed it. Until next Monday…you stay classy San Diego.

Gringoly,

Andy

P.S Have a good week :)

P.S.S If you didn’t get that final reference…go watch Anchorman.

P.S.S Andyinhat.tumblr.com  was updated last night with some delectable content from the Pantanal and more. Check. It. Out. Facebook album from my Center-West adventures coming later this week!

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