Monday, August 16, 2010

Sugary sugar, Religion, and Graduations

A new week of adventures under my belt! My friend Danielle and I attempted to make chocolate chip cookies but, ignorant of the intricacies of sugar, we used unrefined Brazilian cane sugar that made our cookies into solid sugar balls instead of what they should be. Oops! Who knew that Brazilian sugar was more sugary!? Later that week my host sister and I made a very successful strawberry cake however. Much more delicious.
This week I also visited one of the most famous churches in Salvador, the Church of Bonfim, and went to an interesting religious ceremony in the city of Cachoeira (which means waterfall in Portuguese), about 2 hours from Salvador. The church has a room full of wax body parts. These are offerings representing illnesses people are asking to be cured. Some of them were very elaborate and the room was a little bit creepy. The gate around the church is full of ribbons with the church's name. These ribbons, also used as bracelets, are used to make wishes. Each knot tied is one wish and when it falls off the wishes are supposed to come true. We'll see!
Wish ribbons on the church fence
Wax body parts hanging from the ceiling
Overlook at a fort by the Church of Bonfim
The ceremony in Cachoeira was a celebration of the ascension of the Virgin Mary, but a combination of Afro-Brazilian cult and Catholicism tradition. The Brotherhood of Good Death is the name of the group who perform the ritual. They are a group of older Afro-Brazilian women who practice candomblé, which often mirrors or includes many Catholic traditions because of Portuguese influence in slave traditions.
The statue of Virgin Mary entering the church at the head of the procession

I also attended a graduation ceremony for the Administration department at my university. Graduations here are VERY different than from the states. It was a private ceremony, not sponsored by the university, and those who chose to participate had to pay about $2000 USD. Needless to say there were not very many participants. It was a huge ceremony with everyone in very formal attire and the most european-looking Brazilians I have seen so far. It felt like a social status parade or show. Very interesting to see the differences from the US and Brazil. The family is the center of the ceremonial traditions here.
My host sister Luize and I in our apt before leaving
The stage

Well that's all I have for now. Again, send me an email or comment. I would love to hear from everyone back home! Many of my friends from Pacific are leaving for their year abroad this month and it's so exciting watching them prepare. Studying abroad is such an enriching and amazing experience. Good luck everyone! Much love from Brazil!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Brazilian birthday, Rainy adventures, and School!

Well hello world!

It continues to rain here in the southern hemisphere where we are currently experiencing winter! There have been a couple beautiful days, but my cold has kept me lazily indoors. Unfortunately, because of my hesitance to bring my camera around with me and seem like the average gringa, I have no pictures to go with my stories yet, but I will search for some from friends.

I attended the 15th birthday of one of the girls from the community library in Calabar on Saturday the 7th. Turning 15 is a coming of age for girls in most of Latin America and the parties thrown reflect that. Me and two other Rhythm of Hope volunteers were invited to the celebration which was held in the community center above the library. The orixá god paintings on the walls from the capoeira class that usually meets there were covered, as this was an Evangelical birthday party. The ceremony and tradition was much like that of a Mexican quinceñera. The room was elaborately decorated (for very poor people in a slum of Brazil I was blown away by the obviously huge amount of time and care put into the decorations) in pink with excessive amounts of delicious food and sweets. The birthday girl was in a legitimate white princess dress with hooped skirt and tiara. People danced for her, sang, cried, and then her dad came out to lead her into adulthood by taking away the symbolic doll she was carrying and putting on her a pair of high heels. Usually they then dance, but as it was an Evangelical no-dancing-unless-religious type of party they skipped that part. I had an amazing time surrounded by happy Brazilians and a lot of the children from the library who all helped out with cooking and decorating for the party. It was an amazing community event to take part in.

I have been to more of the organizations with Rhythm of Hope and the summer intern left so now it's just me. I'm uncertain as to what my role is going to be there. It seems like a great way to get involved here, but there is a lot of work and organizing required. I may need to wait until I figure out university business before I throw myself into it.

Speaking of university... I am attending UFBA (Federal University of Bahia) which is a public institution, unlike the Catholic university I attended in Rio. The education system here is very different than the United States and I think both require development and reform before they can truly serve the people. The public universities are completely free for students who pass the entrance exam (they are shocked to hear that public universities in the US charge!). That said, it is almost impossible to get into a free public university (which tend to be much higher quality than private institutions) without a very expensive, private elementary through high school education. Therefore the poor who attend public schools before college and generally cannot afford a private university are excluded from the universities they could afford because of their inability to pay for a quality education. A very interesting cycle of social exclusion.

Today was supposed to be my first day of classes at UFBA, but as is custom the professors and students did not show up to class. My friend Danielle and I decided to use this time to explore the campus, which is spread out all over the city. We walked a LONG way, usually in the wrong direction, in intermittent rain dumps but eventually found all of the buildings we were looking for. It took all afternoon. We did manage to make some new Brazilian friends and unlock some of the scheduling mysteries of the school (NOTHING is online. You have to go to each individual department/building. But if you don't know where that is and the campus is spread out all over the poses some problems.) This week I am shopping around for classes, but I'm considering some anthropology, gender studies, and political science.

I love you all and let's talk again soon! I love it when people write back, if you can find the time. Interactive blogs and journals are much more fun and make me want to write more!

I'm trying to keep balanced here in my new world of Salvador. Remember that wealth and status aren't all that matter! The world is full of beautiful places and people that will survive without capitalism, profit, and new business growth. Please save a free, clean, public beach for me!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Week One: rain, dancing, and volunteering

The rain has been cramping my exploration style, but it has noticeably gotten better this week. Every Saturday night there is live jazz at the Modern Art Museum, right on the bay. I went last Saturday because one of my gringo friends was invited to play. Despite the rain, there were plenty of people and musicians to make the venture worth it.

The next day I went to a dance lesson in the historical center of Salvador, called Pelourinho. The class was of orixá dances, the gods of candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion combining bits of Catholicism and African traditions. Each god, or orixá, has its own dance and during ceremonies members become possessed by the different gods and how they dance indicates what orixá is possessing them. It is much more common in Salvador than Rio.
Candomblé ceremony in Rio that one of my friends participated in so I got to go!

Tuesday night we went back to the Pelourinho to see the popular Bahian singer Gerônimo sing with another gringa from my program who was invited to sing with him. It was a great show and it hardly rained at all!
Gringos at the Gerônimo show
I have been walking and running around my neighborhood and discovered some great stores tucked away! An artisan ice cream shop and Mexican restaurant! I have also gotten in contact with an NGO that works with Brazilian community organizations within Salvador. Check them out at They help struggling groups network, brainstorm, fundraise, and find volunteers. I have gone to a couple of their organizations with the current intern and it looks like a wonderful program! Hopefully I will be able to get more involved as I settle in. I visited a capoeira class for street children and a community library that was hosting a poetry reading. I am going back to the library today, it's in a favela about 5 minutes walking from my house.

Coming to Salvador from Rio shows me just how diverse Brazil is! I'm so glad I took the opportunity to get to know to extremely different parts of the country. So much is different here: food, music, favelas, language, buses, people, universities, etc. I am trying to pick it up quickly and thank goodness I speak Portuguese already!

Normality does not exist.

To Do (for all of you): Read Half the Sky. I finished it in Chile and it was absolutely eye-opening and inspiring.