Of the Amazonian Ibiza, Political Clowns, and More

Sairé: The Amazonian Ibiza

Ohhhhhh crazy times in the Amazon. Thousands of Santarenos, gringos, and Brasileiros from all over flocked to Alter do Chão this weekend for the annual “Festival of Dolphins.” (aka three-day slice of Ibiza in the Amazon). I’ve never been to Spain’s world-renowned party island, but if it’s anything like the past weekend…it must be a pretty cray-cray.

LONG story short, we left the city Friday night and headed to Alter for a weekend of fun in the Amazonian sun.  Dan the Fishguy had introduced us to an American ex-pat named Troy a few months back who’s teaching at UFOPA and we ended up throwing our hammocks up at his place all weekend.  Gotta love the hospitality.  Gorgeous beaches (it’s beach season in the Amazon after all), cheap drank, delectable food, cool peeps…it definitely was a weekend to remember. Only unfortunate event that occurred was me getting torn apart by Brazilian fire ants as I was changing into my swim trunks at the beach. As always…if you don’t laugh…you’ll cry. Chalk the three days up as a CHECK +++++++.

UFOPA: 180 out of 188

…you can’t make this stuff up…

UFOPA’s reputation took a serious hit recently. On September 2nd the “Folha de São Paulo” (One of Brazil’s major newspapers) published its first ever in-depth, comprehensive evaluation of universities in Brazil. The ranking looked at Brazilian universities in terms of teaching quality, research productivity, reputation in the marketplace, and innovativeness.  Certainly decent metrics (much better than the US News and World Reports annual college rankings I might add).  That said, UFOPA placed a paltry 180 out of 188 in the rankings.  Not good…to say the least…

This harsh bit of reality for our nascent university brings three things immediately to mind. First and foremost, UFOPA has a TON of work to do if it’s ever going to be able to deliver a proper higher education experience to its students.  The school is light years away from adequate at the moment and hopefully this negative publicity will force some self-reflection on the part of politicians, professors, students, and STRIKERS alike. While resources may not be in abundance, there is also no excuse for a lot of the local political garbage that handicaps the school on a daily basis.

Secondly, you really have to question the sagacity of splitting UFOPA off from the Universidade Federal do Pará (UFPA) at a time like this.  UFPA was ranked a solid 24th in the rankings and it’s hard not to think about all of the resources UFOPA cut itself off from in 2009.  Although the Tapajós statehood movement had something to do with the creation of UFOPA (politicians thought having an independent university in western Pará would advance the movement), the decision continues to shoot students and professors in the foot.  With the prospect of statehood looking increasingly far away, it’s hard to see what purpose splitting off from UFPA has really served.  I can’t help but question, might this demonstrate that the Tapajós region is currently ill-equipped to be an independent state? Moreover, how can you say that the resource-rich eastern part of Pará isn’t an asset to Santarém?

Finally…educational inequality much? The raging and tragic inequality between the Brazilian north and everywhere else couldn’t have been more vividly encapsulated in the rankings.  UFPA was the north’s highest ranked university at #24…and the next highest was the Universidade Federal do Amazonas in Manaus at #43. Pretty absurd. Although the northeast of Brazil did reasonably well, I’d also note that basically all of the elite universities were located in south and southeastern Brazil. Welcome to the harsh reality of the Brazilian north-south divide.

The political clowns are out in full force…

The big local elections are on October 7th…and the political hacks are definitely out and about making a ruckus all over town on a daily basis.  Usually by 8 A.M the streets are filled with loud-speaker equipped cars blasting awful, corny music touting the “greatness” of whatever clown they’re campaigning for.  Given the fact that Brazil has a law requiring citizens to vote (yes you read that correctly), the popular strategy appears to be shoving the names of politicians down peoples’ throats to the point at which the politically apathetic citizen will just cast a vote for somebody who’s name they’ve heard 1 million times.  I think my favorite campaign slogan has to be “Alexandre Vom é Bom” (literally “Alexandre Vom is Good”)…what political genius ever came up with that brilliantly creative saying?

And yes…I did actually come across this in Alter…

Other happenings:

  • Amazing how a few idiots with a video camera could manage to piss off half the Muslim world and get people killed.  Not sure what I found more disturbing…the video itself…or the unlawful, ragefilled backlash from protesters calling for the director’s head. My take: you can’t punish somebody for speaking his or her mind. Whoever made the anti-Islam video had a right to do so.  While ignorant and hateful, the video was in no way an illegitimate form of expression. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and people will realize that targeting American public servants is not only disgusting…it threatens the very ideals of Arab Spring to begin with.
  • Our classes officially start up this week. Donovan and I came up with a great lesson plan earlier this week and I think our vision for our course is really taking shape. We’ve already had well over 50 people register…ready, set, teach!
  • Ohhhhhh the new iPhone 5 looks tasty.
  • Finally caught the Avengers this past week…pretty darn solid flick. The superhero nerd in me just couldn’t get over the fact that Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, and Thor were all together…fighting on the same team! Nerdus maximus!
  • Belém…Cirío…in less than 3 weeks…what?!

I’d like to pat myself on the back for 30 straight weeks of blog posts. If that’s not consistency…I’m not a Gringo. Get ready to hear more Amazonian intrigues next Monday. Until then, have a good week!

Gringoly,

Andy

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