Back to work

So, I have to admit, my months of May and June were pretty boring. Between the time I arrived in Brazil in February through May 1, I was traveling all the time. Semana Santa, holidays, pipa, Belem…. And then the holidays stopped. Can you believe it? A whole month without a feriado? But I can’t complain. Part of the reason I asked to stay in Fortaleza is because I love Fortaleza, you know? 

So these past six weeks have been very work focused. The podcast I started with my students (which you can find here ) was officially launched after weeks of planning, I led two Saturday seminars with the IsF students, and have just been hanging out. 

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I know I’ve posted this before, but I love my work. This semester, I’ve mostly been working with new students, and they’re all great. I don’t know how many times I can post on this blog about UFC being amazing, but it is.  

And now, we’re at the end of June and wrapping up the semester. Last week, there was a picnic for IsF and it was tons of fun. We started off the morning with some icebreakers, including my favorite, get up and move, and then had some snacks. But, the real star of the day was Junior. He brought his Xbox and we ended the event with several fairly competitive rounds of just dance. It was tons of fun!  


Other than work, June was been tons of fun. June 4th was the holidays Corpus Christi but, instead of traveling myself, I had people come to me! Kelci spent like a solid day and a half here 😛 and my mentee Nour came from Teresina. We had so much fun! I went to the fish market twice, once with each of them, and it is so delicious. You basically walk up to a stand and get fresh-caught seafood, then wander over to a barraca where they cook it  for you. It’s also so cheap! Kelci and I got a kilo of clams and three small lobster tails for 20 reais, plus the 7 real cooking fee. Yum! 

   
  


Now that I think about it, this has really been a month of eating and being active. Just before gorging ourselves at the fish market, I went to this food park (or a praça filled with food trucks) the night before with Allyson. We had amazing gyros, craft beer, and more! It was definitely a success. 

In order to not feel guilty for eating so much delicious food, I’ve also been trying really hard to stay active this year. Luckily, along with regular dance , we’re now starting every rehearsal with 40 minutes-1 hour of working out! Tuesdays are musculação (or  weight training) and Thursdays are more aerobics. We’ve done ab days, arm days, step classes, and even last week we did what they call a “jump” class (essentially an aerobic workout on a mini trampoline). At first, I was really out of shape, so I struggled through the workouts, especially the aerobics ones. But now, they’re getting so much easier! It’s been amazing! Nour even did the workout with me when she came to rehearsal last week!

  

Natalie and I also discovered a place that rents sea kayaks and paddle boards right near my house. We’ve only gone twice, but it’s definitely one of my new favorite activities! I anticipate going a lot more between now and November. 

Finally, just last week, Natalie and I (and Gabriella, one of the Isf teachers slash our friend) tried out something we’ve been dying to do for months: beach Pilates. As the same suggests, it’s a free Pilates class on the beach! It normally meets on Saturdays at 7am and, we’ve tried going, but always dropped out at the last minute. Well, last Saturday was the two year anniversary of the project,  class was at 4pm instead of 7am, and I wasn’t going to dance rehearsal, so it was perfect! The first hour was a straight up Pilates class. I started doing Pilates at the rec center while I was home over break and I loved it, so I’m especially happy to have found a Pilates place I now love here too!

The second hour, we did, what they call here “neopilates,” or acrobatic stuff. It was super hard, especially considering that none of us have any arm strength.  We ultimately spent a lot of time falling into the sand, but it was so fun. 

   
I won’t be able to make it this week because I’m visiting my mentees in São Luis, but I will definitely go back. Even at 7am! 

So, that’s about it. These past two months have really just been a combination of working, eating, and trying to resist the urge to spend every free minute in my hammock.  As I said, I’m in São Luis now, but I’m officially caught up with this blog! My challenge to myself? Go back to updating every two weeks! The beginning of July will be pretty slow for me, but then I leave for São Paulo (for mid grant seminar), Argentina, and chile! But, never fear! Before that, I still have four more days here in SLZ, a trip to see my mentees in Teresina, and a July 4th celebration! 

Thanks for sticking with me, despite all of the poor updating and shameless plugs for This Brazilian Life . Next post: Sao Joao in São Luis! 

Beijos! 

 

 

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Reunited and It Feels So Good

If you take a look at my first post about 2015, I basically go on and on about our group of mentors. Right? Well I can’t emphasize enough how amazing this group is. Between our two whatsapp groups, facebook, and skype, we’re basically in contact at all the time: sometimes we’re discussing serious and/or work-related stuff, sometimes we’re just sending each other memes and screenshots from Tinder. And I love it. I couldn’t be more grateful to be spending 2015 with this group. Don’t get me wrong, I love my three co-ETAs here at UFC (another post on that at a later date) and my mentor group, the gatinhos nordestinos, totally kick ass. And I’m not just saying that because they might read this. I got SO lucky with my mentor group. But, again, they deserve a separate post.

Back to my point, as I said back at the beginning of this year, I came into 2015 knowing 3 of the other mentors really well, knowing 3 of them ok, and not knowing 3 of them at all. Since February, I feel like I’ve gotten to know all nine of the other mentors really well, and I find myself craving ways to get together IRL, as opposed to just talking on whatsapp. Well, in April and May, I found myself taking two super last-minute trips to do just that! While the trips, to Pipa (RN) and Belém (PA) respectively, were two weeks apart, they had a lot in common: both were planned super last minute on my part (something I’ll get to later) and both were focused on spending time, specifically snuggling, with other mentors.

PIPA, Rio Grande do Norte:

Back in March,  Kelci mentioned that she was flying from BH to Recife and then she and Charlie were going to spend a long weekend in Pipa around the holiday of Tiradentes (on April 21).  I decided to join them and then we kind of forgot because of Semana Santa. Suddenly, it was like the week before, my name was on the hostel reservation, and I had no ticket. Oops. So I bought my fight to Natal, knew I would take the regular inter-mipunicipal bus to pipa, and had no plans from there on out. In the end, I bought a bus ticket home pretty easily and it was nbd. And boy, was the trip worth it . 

Kelci, Charlie, and I were staying together but two of his co-ETAs from Recife (Daneel and Gaby) and Daneel’s roommate joined us in pipa. It was so fun. Pipa itself is a bit like Jeri, a small hippie-ish beach town where you can get away walking around in just a swimsuit or with no shoes. I was starving when I arrived, so we went out for pizza and drinks and, as we were wandering in the streets, bumped into a bunch of other fulbrighters! We ended up spending the night all hanging out together, including a little 2am swim in the ocean. It was great. The next day, we woke up early so we could walk to Baia dos Golfinhos (or Dolphin’s Bay) during low tide. We ended up renting a bunch of sea kayaks and, thanks to kelci’s waterproof case, were able to take some photos out on the water. What the photos don’t show, however, are the Dolphins! No one knows why, but during low tided, the Dolphins come very close to shore and just hang out near all the paddle boarders and kayakers! It was incredible!!! I may live near the beach, but it’s not everyday you’re out in the ocean next to groups of Dolphins! 

 
   

   
  

   We left and are lunch, ended up back on the beach, and enjoyed the rest of our day, that night, we went over to Gaby/Daneel/Franch’s airbnb to cook dinner. The intention was to go out after, but, Kelci and I ended up choosing sleep instead. Sorry? 

Our last full day in Pipa, we went on a jeep tour. We ended up on these beautiful cliffs, swimming in a tide pool, and sandboarding down a huge dune! We ended the day with sushi and capirinhas with the other fulbrighters we found. Our last morning, we went back to Baia dos Golfinhos. Most people wanted to just swim, but I was determined to try the stand up paddle boarding. I would punt say it was easy? But it definitely wasn’t as hard as I thought! Pagan, Kelci and I ended up paddle boarding alongside a bunch of dolphins. It was so cool! Paddle boarding is definitely now one of my new favorite activities (and Natalie and I have since gone twice here in Fortaleza). And, that was that! Everyone else packed into Franch’s car and drove back to Recife while I waited to bus back to natal. For such a lack of planning, it was an amazing time.

So how does that trip relate to Belem? Well, I  had originally planned to visit my mentees in Teresina during a long weekend in the beginning of may, two weeks before my visit (and over a month after I purchased my ticket), my mentees decided they wanted to travel. It didn’t make much sense to visit when they weren’t there (duh), and my original ticket was super cheap, so I ultimately cancelled my trip. Well, as it turns out, Kelci and Charlie both had tickets to visit Connie in Belem that same weekend! So, after checking to make sure Connie had space, while still in Pipa, I bought my ticket to Belem! 

BELÉM, Pará:

I First visited Belem last year for a conference and I absolutely loved it. Sop, when offered the chance to go back and spend time with Connie (and Charlie and Kelic), I jumped at the chance. I arrived just it I me to go out on Friday! Seriously! I arrived at Connies, immediately changed and it on some makeup, and headed out for a girls night with Connie, Kelci, and three of the other ETAs in Belem. We had a blast! Going to bed at 4 when Charlie was arriving at 9 may not have been our best idea, but it was totally worth it. 

Once Charlie arrived in Saturday, we had a pretty relaxed day. After a very lazy morning, we wandered down to Estação das Docas, the old docks in Belem that are now home to restaurants, stores, and a microbrewery! From there, we continued walking to the Mercado Ver-o-Peso, this huge outdoor market. We ate a typical local lunch of fried fish with açaí. It was amazing, I could eat fried fish with açaí everyday and be happy for ever. I’m serious. We needed around the crafts part of the market, goth some delicious fruit juice, and wandered home. That night, we went out with one of Connie’s roommates to this really cool samba bar. It was totally not-touristy. Just the way I like it! 

Sunday, we took a boat out to the island of Combu. We once again ate a delicious fish lunch and even tried shots of cachaça de jambu, cachaça made with jambu leaves that turn your mouth numb. It was good? Despite the question mark, I would probably drink it again. Sorry mom. After th enlarge ride back, we wandered to Manga, das Garças, this beautiful open park space. It was nice to just have a day to ourselves to wander and enjoy being outside. 

Our last day, we basically ate our way throug Belem. I’m seriously! We had São,e other plans, but, due to rain, we were literally trapped in Estação das Docas and ended up spending a couple hours just chilling, the food tour started with another delicious lunch at the market. Then, we stopped for ice cream at Cairu, this incredible ice cream place with tons of favors made from local ingredients, like tropical fruits, Brazil nuts, and açaí. I think I may even like it there more than 50 Sabore. Shhhh don’t tell anyone I said that. Finally, we chided to enjoy happy hour at Amazon Beer, a local microbrewery that makes delicious beer. We went with the intention of having just one or two rounds, but ended up staying for dinner too. Finally, we wandered back to Connie’s and snuggled until the three of us left for the airport around 2am . 

This trio couldn’t have been more perfect. Charlie and I had both been to Belem before, so there was no frantic rush to see and do everything, we were simply able to relax and enjoy each other’s company and I’m so greatefuk that I was able to join! 

   
          

 

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“Do you even work?”– a glance into my work life

“Do you even work?” This a question I get a lot. And the answer is yes! Brazil may have a ton of holidays (which I gladly aproveitar, typically by traveling), and yes, Fulbright only has us work 20-25 hours a week, but that doesn’t mean I don’t work. This year was admittedly a little slow to start. We arrived in early March but, between local holidays and Holy Week, it was hard for us to start working until early April. Our first few weeks were spent planning activities, registering students, and brainstorming ways to effectively use four ETAs this year at UFC. Slow? yes. An issue? Definitely not.

This semester, I’m still running conversation club and office hours, but, I have almost all new students! Office Hours are pretty relaxed, and usually just entail students coming in to ask questions. Some days are admittedly a little slow, but the days when I do have students are always great! As for conversation club, it’s also going great! We’ve played a lot of fund games so far (some favorites include taboo and apples to apples). We even had a day where we talked about our families and some cultural differences between the US and Brazil (living at home, staying close to home even once you move out etc.) and then, as any true cultural ambassador would agree, we watched two episodes of arrested development! The students loved it! Thanks Netflix!

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Enjoying Apples to Apples in convo club

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When discussing our families, why not watch a tv show about a totally dysfunctional one! 😛

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Lepy, the mentor mascot, watching as the students frantically try and fill in vocab for the board race!

Since April, I’ve also run three seminars specifically for IsF students on saturdays. Each seminar is presented twice, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The idea was for the IsF teachers to send their students instead of having normal class. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen because they have a lot to get through! And I totally respect that! In fact, the one time when all the IsF teachers did actually send all their students, it was pretty overwhelming! Our first seminar talked about University Life in the U.S. Many of the IsF students are hoping to study abroad through the Ciencias sem Fronteiras program, and, while they have many options, a lot of students end up the U.S.! Plus, our university systems (and overall university life) are so different! It’s really fun to talk about.

The second workshop was on slang and informal language. This one had less students, in both the early and late sessions, but it was still tons of fun. Our final workshop of the semester was straight up TOEFL-prep. I have to say, I think this might be one of the least-fun presentations I’ve ever made. It was just straight slide after slide of test-taking tips (both general to taking tests and specific to each section of the ITP). Plus, couple that with the fact that I had very few students (the first student for the morning session was almost a full half an hour late). It was definitely discouraging. But, at the end of the seminar, I felt that the students were able to take away concrete tips for taking the TOEFL and, if nothing else, felt more confident knowing these little tricks. So, it may not have been my most fun presentation, but it was definitely useful. And, who knows! I can always revamp it to make it more fun and try again next semester 🙂

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Notice the stereotypes about US university life: lots of parties, red cups, the girls are always hot….

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This workshop had close to 40 participants! It was awesome but a little overwhelming!

The last work-related project I want to talk about is a fairly new one. While I was home in december/january/february, I thought a lot about what I could do differently this year. Obviously I knew that I wanted to continue some projects, but I also wanted a) to leave some room for my ETAs to continue things or develop whatever they wanted and b) to try something new. Combine this with the fact that I started obsessively listening to Serial, and the idea for This Brazilian Life was born. The idea was to start a podcast modeled after NPR’s This American Life. Every week, we’d pick a new theme or topic and students would record their own stories.

I first met with a group of 7 or 8 students about the project in late April. The response was super positive! So where to start. We spent a few weeks planning–brainstorming topics, discussing tandem projects like the blog itself, starting a possible Humans of UFC modeled after HONY, etc– but then the moment arrived…It was time to create the record our first podcast. I was super nervous. So imagine how the students must have felt! Each student drafted their story on “what being brazilian means to me.” Then, after several rounds of edits, I brought my laptop to UFC, and we recorded the audio. It took me about a week to edit the audio (i’m technologically incompetent slash had somehow deleted audacity so we had to record on garage band THEN transfer to audacity. oy gevalt) But, once it was finally ready, I posted it. And then we waited.

The response we received for the blog was so overwhelmingly positive! Ok, I admit that I sent the link to my host professors (partially to humblebrag? but mostly to show off the students!!!). What I didn’t know is that it would get forwarded to the Comission and to people in Brasilia! *insert scream emoji here* Don’t get me wrong. I was super excited when I saw all the emails the next morning, but I now I definitely feel like the pressure is on! But, the six students on the TBL team are amazing, and I am fully confident in their ability to keep this project alive! And, let’s be real, I’m always impressed by UFC students, so I’m confident that we can keep up the good work. Click the link I posted above to check it out!

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Other than these regular activities, we’ve resurrected American Movie Night and Lip-Sync Karaoke, and Natalie has started a Game Night! It’s been a blast! We’ve watched Pitch Perfect and Dear White People (and we’ll be watching Selma this month). I admit that I wish the post-movie discussion had been a little more robust, but I can’t really complain. And karaoke? Well, it’s basically my favorite thing on campus. We host it in “the bosque,” this quad-like area in the middle of campus. Last month, we probably had close to 50 students watching! It’s amazing. Students can choose to sing or lip-sync, although the majority choose the latter, and the performances are phenomenal. Campus do Benfica is full of divas. Check out my IG for some short clips!

Game night has also been a ton of fun! I love board games and Natalie brought a ton from the US including taboo, apples to apples, bananagrams, and more! I unfortunately had to miss out in May, but the April event was tons of fun! I can’t wait for June!

That’s about it work-wise. I’m still dancing with Oré Anacã three times a week and I’ve been taking a French class twice a week too! So my schedule is pretty busy. But I love it! I do, however, wish I had thought about the fact that I’d be learning French from Portuguese before I actually signed up! Oh well. The teacher is a Letras Francês student who also happens to be taking IsF classes! I absolutely love it! I look forward to class every Monday and Wednesday morning! It’s pretty basic, but I feel like I’ve really learned a lot. I’m hoping to take the second semester class at Casa de Cultura Francesa next semester. Fingers crossed!

My last non-travel related updated (that will be in a whole separate post) is about my apartment this year. While she’ll probably never see this, I want to give a shout-out to Marly, the 60 year old I live with/rent from. The apartment is super spacious and open (my room opens to this huge balcony connected to the living room!) and she’s just wonderful. Last week, I came home from dance and we ended up sitting and talking for close to two hours! About everything! It’s great because I have a lot of independence (so it’s not a host-family situation), but we get along really well She also has the cutest dog ever. So, thanks Marly!

I guess that’s it for now! I’ll be updating about my April/May travels in my next post and then, this time, I promise promise promie, that I’ll actually get back to blogging twice a month! Can I use the broken computer* as an excuse? I hope so. So, if you’re still reading this, obrigada for sticking with me in my month(s) of absence. I promise to be better!

Beijos!

*my P key broke, along with a few other less important keys, and it took over a month to get my computer fixed*

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Semana Santa Sozinha: my trip to Chapada Diamantina

Disclaimer, this list is probably going to be pretty long! Feel free to just check out the ohotos!

Chapada Diamantina, a beautiful national park in the interior of the state if Bahia has been on my travel list since I first came to Brazil in 2011. I didn’t make it last year, so I knew that it had to be this year. What’s great is that I only work Wednesday-Friday, meaning that even though the holiday was only Thursday-Sunday, I could  add a few extra travel days. Yes! 

I talked to a few friends about going, but we nebere made concrete plans. Then, one Saturday, I woke up to messages in or mentor whatsapp group that all of the airlines were having mega-promoções and I knew I needed to buy my ticket. But, I was still living with Karine at the time and therefore had limited access to Internet. I found my way to UFC on Saturday, texted those same friends, and received the same response from both: “I’m still not sure of my travel dates but I’m definitely interested.” Great, but I couldn’t miss the promotion, so I bought my ticket anyway. Fast forward a little later that week and, despite trying, I ended up going alone. I don’t know if I mentioned this in my post about my trip with my family, but I spent two days alone in Manaus before they arrived and discovered that traveling alone just wasn’t for me. Despite meeting amazing people in my hostel (who I’ll talk about later), this trip confirmed 100% that traveling alone is not my ish. Happy mom? No need to worry 🙂  I ended up flying to Salvador, catching a cab to the bus stations, and waiting for my evening bus to the small town of Palmeiras. Now, if epany of you have traveled to Chapada before, you may be thinking,” wait, doesn’t everyone stay in lencois?” You would be correct. But, at the recommendation of several friends, I opted to stay in this even smaller town with even less tourist inastructure because of the prices and their glowing reviews about the hostel. I thought nothing of it at the time but, when every other gringo on bus (and three were many) got off in Lencois, leaving just me and a handful of locals, I got a little worried. I shrugged it off. The hostel was practically full when I booked, so it would be fine, right? I couldn’t help but feel this continued doubt as we finally pulled into lencois. From what I could see (around 2am, I might add), the town consisted of one fairly well lit, but deserted street. * I arrived at the hostel only to be told that I was the only guest, What had I gotten myself into? I reminded myself of my Brazilian mantra (and everyone’s mantras this country, I imagine) tudo vai dar certo, or that everything everything will work out just fine. I asked about passeios into the park and was told to ask the guy who works the morning shift around 8am. So, finally around 2:30, after close to 15 hours of traveling, I climbed into bed.

*i would later discover this isn’t true

It turns out that I was in fact the only gues in the hostel until the afternoon bus arrived. Since I was a,one, I decided not to do a passeio, hopped on the bus to lencois, and wandered around. After eating a delicious and crazy cheap ao-quilo lunch, I asked around about passeio prices, and found my way to this beautiful river where locals and tourists alike go to hang out. When I was to find the river, I expected, well, a river! This can only be described as a sprawling riverbed, filled with beautifully smoothed over rocks, and lightly running water. At certain points, there were some natural pools to sit in, and other places you just lay down and let the water run over you. The sun was hit, the water was icy, and it was awesome. Definitely a great way to spend my first day. 

 
By the time I arrived back at my hostel, two couples had arrived. success! Tomorrow, I would finally make it to the park. The first couple to arrive were Rolland and Barbara, an Austrian couple who I would soon learn were taking a full year to backpack around the world. The other couple were Claudia and Glauber. Claudia is from Natal and lives in Salvador , but Glauber is from…you guessed it, Fortaleza! We talked to the guy at the desk (and I ended up translating for the  Austrian couple the entire trip) and made our plans to go the famed Cachoeira da Fuamça and another waterfall the next day. I was so stoked. By the time we got ready the next morning, two more women (Isis and Eunice from Salvador) had joined our group and we took off! To get to Cahcoeira da Fumaça, we drove about an hour to the hippy town Vale do Capão,met our guide, and got ready for our 2hour/6km hike! 

The first full hour of the hike was pure uphill. It was definitely a challenge at times, but I felt great! I am certainly not the most outdoorsy person in the world, but I do really enjoy hiking (especially up mountais, weirdly enough). The views as we climbed were breathtaking. I know our guide had us stop to drink water and catch our breath, and the view was this spectacular prize. 

 
By the time we made it to Fumaça, it was a little past noon and it was hot. But, again, the view and the time spent up top totally made up for the heat. Unfortunately, it hadn’t been raining a lot, so the waterfall was a little dry, but I didn’t even care.

   

  

  

 We spent some time splashing in the river and cooling off before beginning the two hour hike back down. I couldn’t have asked for a better first day in the park, and we weren’t even done yet! 

  
After catching out breath, drinking tons of water, and possibly lying lying down on the ground, we decided to head out. Before heading back to Palmeiras, we stopped at another waaterfall, Riacinho.unlike Fumaça, we could swim in this one and we jumped at the chance. Literally! I was so hot that I took off my clothes and jumped right in (note: I had a bikini on under my clothes). The after was freezing and it felt so good. We spent an hour or so enjoying the water, napping on some rocks, and seeing a beautiful sunset. A great way to end the day.

We got back to the hostel and decided to shower and go out for pizza together. When we arrived, Adonai arena, the lovely older woman who owns the hostel, asked for some more translation help. Have I mentioned that not a single employee spoke english? No worries, I was told I could come back whenever I wanted and stay for free is I helped with the translating! While we were out, a young Chinese man whip live sin São Paulo, Jacu, arrived. I invited him to dinner with us and he ended up joining our group for a passeio the next day too. Dinner was tons of fun. Jacu spoke a little Portuguese, but Claudia spoke so fast that he mostly just smiled and laughed. Despite the barriers (I tried my best to translate, but we also wanted him to practice his portguese), dinner was tons of fun. Exhausted, but ready for another full day of passeios, we went to bed. 

Day two in the park was spent visiting Lapa Doce (this incredible cave), Pratinha (a beautiful clear pool with a zip line!), and climbing Morro de Pai Inácio. It was definitely more of struggle to translate while we were at Lapa Soce. The guide was so knowledgable about the formation of the cave and the different rock formations! Lucky enough, most of the geologic terms come from Latin and are the same in English, but it was still really tough. 

 
Next stop: Pratinha. Michell had mentioned this to me as one of her favorite spots, so I couldn’t wait! It should be no surprise that I was the first to get hooked into the zipline. Moreover, despite being told that I could simply walk off the edge, I chose to run and jump. Sorry mom! 

   

 We spent a couple hours enjoying the water, eating lunch, and enjoying the crystal clear waters. It was great! Finally, we headed off to Morro de Pai Inácio, another mountain. Thankfully we drive up most of this one and just hiked the last half hour or so ( although there was some serious agility required to get up this one!). The plan was to go for the sunset, but we ended up going a little earlier than planned. And thank goodness! The view was so spectacular, but it got really crowded as we got closer to sunset. It was nice to get some time on the mountain to ourselves first. It got cloudy just before the sun set, which was a shame, but it actually worked in our favor, we decided to leave a little earlier than planned because of the clouds. Thank goodness again! There were so many people on the mountain because of the holiday that there was a line to get down. And remember how I said it was tough getting up? Now imagine going down n the dark. By the time I was on the road, it was totally dark and thee was still a huge line to get down. On a separate note, I apparently seemed really confident in my descent, because I was asked by like three different people if I was guide. I guess that’s cool? 

There is no question that Morro de PainInacio was my favorite thing in Chapada. I would go back in a heartbeat. 

   
  
Unfortunately, most of the group (namely everyone except Barbara, Rolland, and I) were leaving at noon the next day and couldn’t do another passeio. We ended up going to Poço Encatado and Poço Azul, these two cool cvses with underwater lakes. It took us about 3 hours to get there on bumpy dirt roads and we arrived at Poço Encatado only to find out that you only spent like 20 minutes in the cave. I kind of freaked out. This was our most expensive passeio yet and a I had talked them into it! My concern dissipated when we arrived in the cave. Armed with helmets and headlights, we wandered about 85 meters into the cave where we saw this incredible blue pool. Our guide then told us that the pool was approximately 30 meters deep and you can see straight down to the bottom! What’s better, is that we arrived just at the right time to see this beam of sunlight enter the cave, reach the bottom of the pool, and reflect back onto the ceiling. In true Brazilian fashion, our “20 minutes” we’re really closer to 40, making it even better. The photos really don’t do it justice.

   

After returning our helmets, we ended up driving another hour or so , on even more dirt roads, to get to Poço Azul. We arrived and were told it would be 45 minutes to an hour before we could go in and that it would be a thirty minute visit (10 minutes down, 10 minutes snorkeling, and 10 minutes back up). Fortunately, our wait was closer to only 30 minutes and we ended up getting 20-30 minutes in the water because part of our group was late. Once again, we arrived at exactly the right time to see beautiful beams of sunlight stream into the cave. The water was so clear and blue, you could see straight to the bottom, which I was between 18-21 meters deep. One thing I have to mention is that I didn’t realize we would be snorkeling, and not swimming. I love swimming, especially in freshwater, but I have never liked snorkeling. I always swallow water and I feel super claustrophobic with the mask on. But, I have to report, that I went the whole time without swallowing any water. laugh if you must, but this really is an achievement for me. Once again, the phot really does not do this cave justice, but I had to include it. 

  I have never felt like more of a mermaid in my life.

My final day, I was by myself again. Well me and my awesome driver, Junior! We went to the Rio Mucugezinho and Poço do Diabo, another beautiful pool. Sadly, this zipline wasn’t open, but it didn’t matter. It was nice to have a day to sit by myself and reflect-on my activities at UFC, how to be a good mentor,and how to make the most of this amazing opportunity. I wish someone else , other than Junior of course, had been there to enjoy the beauty with me, but it was a great way to end my time in Chapada. 

  
I took the overnight bus back to Salvador, managed to get the last seat on an earlier flight home, and arrived in time to attend a belated Passover Seder with the synagogue in Fortaleza. Again, this trip was confirmation that I don’t enjoy traveling by myself, but I don’t regret going. Chapada Diamantina was just as beautiful as I had hoped and I met some amazing people along the way. 

Sorry this post ended up being so long. Thanks for making to the end and keep an eye out for more updates on my first month of class and a trip to Pipa in the near future! Beijos

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Mentorinhos bombando: the first month back

I thinks I said this in a previous post updating about my hiatus, but it’s still unreal to be back in Brazil. In fact, I’ve now been back for almost two and half months, yet I still have to pinch myself every so often as a reminder that it’s real. 

I didn’t write about my time back right away because, well, I thought the blog had been abandoned. Then, I decided to resurrect it, updated on the end of the year and my trip with my family, went away for Semana Santa, and then drifted off again. But no, this time it’s real. I’m reaffirming my promise to myself to update twice a month. 

So, what was my first month back like? Crazy, amazing, slow (but not bad), wonderful, and a whole slew of other adjectives. I spent a whirlwind 36 hours in Fortaleza to store my stuff before flying off to meat the other nine mentors for our “retreat.” Now, I put retreat in quotes for really one reasons. Yes, Fulbright encouraged the mentors to arrive early and settle in, and yes, we did actually use the retreat pretty productively to work on our programs for orientation. But, let’s be honest here, the retreat was mostly just an excuse to hang out. Coming back this year, I considered myself good friends with three other mentors (Michell, Kelci, and Abbott), really liked three although our interactions were limited (Stevie, Pat, and Erik), and had never ever met the other three (Connie, Charlie, and Shane). On some level, we were all connected: Kelci was super tight with Shane last year and I was super tight with Kelci. I knew Kelci, but Michell didn’t, etc. The second we arrived in Ubatuba (a beach town in the state if São Paulo), the anxiety melted and we immediately fell into a cohesive rhythm. In fact, you could barely tell that some of us had never met. Those few days in Ubatuba were amazing. We relaxed on various beaches, swam in beautiful waterfalls, and took a million selfies. I don’t really feel the need to detail our day today. I can only reiterate that our few days all together reminded me just how lucky I was to be here again and how great this year would be. Check out some pics of the family all together

   
    
After our few short days together, we split up again. Connie went back to her how at city from last year for a grad party, Charlie went to his former host city to see friends, and Pat and Abbot had plans. And then there were six. 

Stevie, Erik, Michell, Shane, Kelci, and I hopped on a bus to Paraty, a beautiful colonial town in the state of Rio, where we spent two days before heading back to São Paulo. Our first day, we wandered to the neighboring town of Trinidade, where we took a short hike to this amazing tide pool. It was beautiful. Our second day, we went on a passeio where we visited an alombique (or cachaça mill) and three different waterfalls. Two had rocks we could jump off of and one was a natural water slide. It was perfect 

   
    
We then left for São Paulo for some free time before orientation. Michell had plans to meet up wing friends, so we were down to five,  but it didn’t matter. We spent a morning exploring Liberdade, the historic Japanese neighborhood, while eating our weight in dumplings and fried food. Then, we hopped on the metro back towards Vila Madalena and wandered around the beautiful Beco de Batman, an alleyway filled with ever-changing street art. It’s one of my favorite spots in São Paulo. 

   
    
Finally, it was time for Orientation! We began working with Fulbright commission on some of the programming earlier in the year and we had been meeting with our groups via Skype since December. Now, we would finally get to meet our mentees in person! I was, admittedly, a little nervous. Talking about pre-departure info is easy. orientation is easy too. But would I be a good mentor? I guess we’d find out. On top of that, the ten mentors were reunited again. Even though we had been apart for only a couple days, it was really nice to be back together again. There was lots of snuggling involved. 

Orientation was amazing, or, at least, I thought so. As a group of 120 granted, we come from incredibly diverse background and have different experience in Brazil. This, combined with everyone’s general excitement for the grant to finally be starting, led to a number of productive and meaningful sessions. We also finally got a formal time to meet all as a group! My gatinhos nordestinos, a name I’m recycling from last year, are amazing. I am so thankful for them and am looking forward to the rest of our time together. All in all, I left orientation sad to leave my friends, but excited for the year at UFC. Moreover, it left me super excited for our mid-grant conference in July. 

   

  

  

 And now we’re back to Fortaleza. The first few weeks were a little slow to start, but this was something I’ve come to expect (and love) about this beautiful northeastern city. My co-ETAs have been great from the start and I could tell right away that we would work well together. Our first few weeks back at UFC were mostly spent planning. Planning activities, scheduling events, and brainstorming new ideas. We arrived about month into the semester and there were amillioannholidays in March (not that I’m complaining), so we decided to start everything after Semana Santa, the first week in April. 

Along with the time working, I got the chance to show Allyson, Natalie, and Charlie around the city, we enjoyed beaches, ice realm, and even a delicious churrasco in the mountains with Charlie’s host family. 

   

  

 I’ll stop for now, and leave Semana Santa as a separate post. If you can believe, we’re already having yet another holiday and I’m getting ready to leave for the airport. But, I promise I won’t wait another month to update you! Check back soon for posts on my trip to Chapada Diamantina over spring break, the start of our activities at UFC, and a recent trip to Pipa with some other ETAs. 

Beijos  

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Reifs go to Rio (and assorted other destinations) 

After months of planning, and years of waiting, to be quite frank, my family was finally coming to Brazil. When I first studied abroad in 2011, we tossed around the idea of my parents coming to visit, but it never happened. This time around, nothing was going to stop my from getting my mom and brother down here. As the first few months of my grant passed, my mom began planning, and, on November 16th, I anxiously awaited their arrival in Manaus. 

But I’ll backtrack just a little. Oftentimes, when foreigners talk about wanting to visit to the U.S., they mention plans for trips to New York, Miami, Las Vegas, LA, and Chicago all in one go. And we Americans thinks they’re crazy. Don’t you have any idea how big the U.S. is? That’s exactly the type of trip we planned. 

Our journey began in the Amazon. I knew that we would have minimal time in Manaus as a family, so I ended up going about a day and half early to see the city. It was my first time really traveling by myself, but I think I made it work 🙂 My first morning (my flight arrived around midnight), I woke up around 730 and signed myself up for a full-day boat tours to the meeting of the waters, to see some animals, and, to be honest, I wasn’t really sure what at else it involved. but I signed up anyway. In the end, it was a ton of fun! As advertised, we started our morning by visiting the famed Meeting of the Waters, where the rio solimoes and rio negro meet. Because the rives have vastly different temperatures and flow at very different speeds, they don’t mix. They simply meet. I honestly didn’t think it would be just as cool as it was. It was a gray and drizzly day, but as our boast slowed down and I poked over the side to out my hand in the river, I could feel the obvious so differences. Nature is a wonderful thing. 

  

Next, we visited a family on floating house that takes in animals for tourists. In th back if my mind, I was kind of like ” whatever, another tourist trap.” But then I stepped off the boat and saw Bea. 

   

 

Sorry to anyone I call a best friend. You were replaced (albeit temporarily) in that moment. The family also had a jacaré (caiman) and an anaconda for was to whole. Are you surprised that I was the first to volunteer to take the snake? 

Our next stop was to see the giant water lilies. I didn’t really get why we stopped, since they’d were out of season, but it was worth it simply to meet this other new friend:

  

Next we, traveled to our final stop, an indigenous ritual. Again, I felt that it was a bit touristy, but I could bel but love it. At first, I was bummed that it was too dark to take good photos, but I was later so entranced that it didn’t matter. You know those moments that photos don’t do justice? The ones where you simply want to take it in fort yourself? That’s how this ritual felt. It ended with them grabbing us to dance, and you know I can’t say no to that! 

   

 

As we pulled back into the dock, I found a super nice young couple from Curitiba who were at my hostel. We decided to walk back together, as opposed to taking the van, with a stop in the cathedral on the way. Everton and afrancine were so great! And it turns out afrancine knows basically all the ETAs who have been in Curitiba! What a small world! 

The next day, I decided to check out the opera house, the famed Teatro de Amazonas. Did you know it was the first building in Brazil with electricity? Can you believe that? An opera house in the middle of the Amazon was the fish building with electricity. I admit, I like the Teatro de Paz in Belem more, but it’s still pretty incredible. 

   

   

I spent the rest of the morning wandering around a weekly feria, our crafts fair, and frantically looked for something related to the boi-bumbá festival that I had learned so much about through Oré. I eventually found what I was looking for, but not after wandering the city and enjoying some açaí And fresh fruit juice! In the afternoon, I checked out if  my hostel and took the crazy cab ride over to our hotel to enjoy the pool. What can I say, it ws Sunday and nothing else was open! I only had one more thing to do before my family arrived: experiencing boi-bumbá for myself. I was in the wrong city (it’s from the island of Parintins, several hours uses away) and the festival is in June, but I couldn’t leave without the trying. The hostel staff were mystified: how could an American who lives in Fortaleza (not even in the North!) know about boi-bumbá? But, luckily, they knew of a place. I left my hotel around 6, ate a burger on the street (sorry Mom), and went to a country-clubs type clube where they play the music and dance every Sunday. Once again, pictures can’t do it justice. I may have been the only person in their who didn’t know the choreographed (we use official boi-bumbá music but choreography our own routines), but that didn’t stop me from trying! Viva cultura popular! 

Finally, around 2am, exhausted and sweaty, my mom and brother arrived. At that point, we were all a little exhausted, and we weren’t quite sure what time we were leaving the next t day (something unusual for us when we travel), but the trip had finally arrived! 

Since this is one of many posts wrapping up 2014, I won’t go into a detailed summary of our trip, but it was amazing. We spent four days at a jungle lodge an the Anavilhanas archipelago where we fished for piranhas, ate larvae (ok, Eric and I did), and saw more river dolphins than we could count. We ended with the same passeio on the river I mentioned before, but this time we got to “fish” for Arapaima (or pirarucu as they’re known here), the world’s largest freshwater fish. My mom was definitely the best at it!!!! Then, we spent a few perfect days in Rio, and boy, did it live up to its nickname as a cidade maravilhosa. We had perfect views from the top of Christ the redeemer and Pão de Açucar, enjoyed some relaxing beach time in Copacabana, and visited the beautiful tiled Escaderia de Selaron in Lapa. Next on our itinerary was Salvador. Our hotel was a beautiful colonial house in the pelourinho, just in front of the beautiful Igreja de São Francisco de Assis. We went on a beautiful walking tour of the pelourinho and Porto da Barra, ate delicious moqueca, and visited the beautiful Igreja do Bonfim, one of my personal favorite spots in Salvador. We wrapped up watching a performance by the incredible Balé Folclórico da Bahia and visiting Luize. It was tons of fun! Finally, we went to our penultimate destination: Iguassu Falls. throughout Rio and Salvador, my mom kept saying how much she loved it, but that at where couldn’t imagine anything beating the Amazon. That changed our first days in the Argentinian side of the falls. We wandered the trails, took a boat ride under the waterfalls, and had some interesting interactions with coatis. Our second day, we went to the Brazilian side of the falls and the Parque das Aves. It was beautiful. Our final destination was São Paulo. It was a little hectic, an definitely a culture shock for my family compared to the other places we visited, but we ended our trip with a nice dinner with my host siblings from 2011, Erika and Rafa. My mom and brother left early the next morning and I just wandered around Av. Paulista until is was my turn to go. Check out some highlights! 

   

                             

We had an amazing two weeks and I hope they come again this year (hint hint)! 

That wraps up my 2014 year in Brazil! I am so grateful for all of my experiences this past year, both positive and negative, and am looking forward to another great nine (errr eight as I write this) months in Fortaleza! Beijos

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USA at UFC (aka wrapping up the end of 2014 in one post)

it’s hard to think that this one post will wrap up everything from Porto Alegre (mid-September) through the end if grant in mid-November, but I promise it won’t be horribly long. 

Around May, the student council for the Letras department organized the annual “Semana de Letras.” I think I mentioned this at the time, but I ended up leading a slang workshop during that week that incindiered my  first big teaching achievement. Anyway, despite feeling great about my own presentation, I felt like the week itself was kind of a mess, no offense. However, that mess inspired the concept for an event of our own: an English immersion week in campus. Between that first idea in May and the actual event, the face (and name) if USA at UFC changed several times. In the end, my professors and I decided that a week was too ambitious for our first time and began planning a two-day intensive immersion event. USA at UFC was born. 

We began working on the event at the beginning of the semester in August, but the real work began in earnest the day I arrived back from Porto Alegre. I continued with conversation club and this American life, but usa at UFC (also known as my baby) was s top priority. Our vision for the event was an intensive cultural immersion involving opportunities for students and fellow ETAs to present. We invited ETAs from other parts of Brazil, invited advanced students to present their academic work, and developed mini-presentations for more beginner-level students as well. In the first day, we would conclude with lip-sync karaoke and on the last day, we would celebrate the end of the event with an American style Halloween style celebration, the six weeks between my trio and the event were hectic, to say the least, and the event certainly had its flaws, but I couldn’t have been more proud. Watching my students, and students I had never met, actively take part in the eta-led cultural seminars and engage their peers academically felt amazing, And it was all in English! This is where I need to pause with a few shoutouts:

To all the ETAs who came, thank you! This event wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without you, besides, at this point I think the students were a little sick of Laura and I.

To the students who came and participated. You rock! While not all 75 who signed up came, as is expected, I couldn’t be happier with those who attended. Ps: you’re certificates are in nucli! Go get them!,,,

To Bea and Weslly, I think silmara and I would have gone crazy without you. Thank you

To silmara, I don’t have enough ways to thank you for all of your support and hard work throughout the second semester. Illite rally nothing would have been accomplished without you. 

And to Manolisa and Glaucya, I can’t thank you enough. Instead of telling me the idea was crazy (disclaimer: it totally was), you encouraged me to pursue it and helped make everything possible. There would be no usa at UFC without you, so thank you. 

That’s it for my sappy bits. Now here are some photos from the event! 

   

         

The day after the event, despite my severe lack of sleep, Michell and I hopped on a bus to jericoacoara, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, just seven hours from Fortaleza. It was incredible. We laid in hammocks in natural pools, climbed sand dunes for beautiful sunsets, and slid down those same dunes on sandboards. Once again, michell was an even better travel buddy than I could have hoped for (and I’m not just saying that because I know she reads the blog. She’s really the best)

Check out our trip!

   

 

I arrived back in Fortaleza on a Tuesday’s around 6 am, just in time for my last official conversation club of the year. We watched arrested development. This, however, was not due to laziness pos-traveling! I’ve noticed that brazilians love American seriados, so, as a cultural ambassador, it only feels right to introduce my students to great American tv! Our very last meeting, that next Thursday, and we had a party. Despite the students best efforts, I didn’t cry, but I came close. Even now that I’m back, looking at the ohotos bring light tears to my eyes thinking about how amazing all my students were throughout the year. Everyone’s a winner in conversation club…

  

As I spent my last few days packing, cleaning, and getting organized, I was comforted by one fact: I was coming back. That’s right! My time with Fulbright wasn’t quite over. During our mid-grant seminar, the Fulbright staff mentioned that they would continue with the mentor program and we’re looking for ten ETAs to return for 2015 as mentors. I applied in September and, in mid-October, received word that I would be returning to Brazil in 2015. I then found out just before leaving that I would be staying in Fortaleza. My reaction was similar to being on  a roller coaster.  First I was super excited. That very next morning, I felt a rising panic as I thought about all the “adult” things I would be postponing my spending another year in Brazil. Then I was flipped upside down when my mom told be to stop being an idiot and to stay.* then I was back up again. I was staying and I couldn’t wait. 

* I’m paraphrasing 

So, after I packed up my stuff, hammock included, I ate my 50 Sabores knowing that it certainly wouldn’t be my last. 

*disclaime: this was written on a bus after 10+ hours of traveling. Sorry?* 

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