A Photo Voyage and Poem of Cusco, Peru.

image

As I walk on these streets, I see the past manifest itself in the weary face of the oppressed

500 years is visible through cultural transmission

And who am I? Who am I to be here? Visiting from my foreign land.

with my expensive yellow rain jacket and my cliché chompa, I scream privilege and tourist

image

And the prices, so cheap! The vendors understand the financial opportunity I hold..

Beckoning to me from their shops “Amigo, pase amigo.”

Initially I felt some obligation to attend to their incessant calls

Courtesy is valued in my culture

image

But after seeing them mutter these requests indifferently, I assumed the indifference

I now ignore, and lately have been answering those pesty vendors with random Spanish words

“Mattress, blue, stone, bus, sky.”

The look of confusion on their face is priceless.

image

But how can I blame them?
I make in an hour what they make in a week,

Economic disparities guaranteed by the powers that be,

granted me this luxury,

image

So deal with this I will,

With a smile on my face,

Be as they may colonial,

These streets are still beautiful,

And I find myself happy in these clouds,

Smiling with an open face towards those I meet,

And this,

For me,

is Cusco.

 

 

image

image

 

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

A Post From 4,000 Miles Away: My First Couple of Weeks in Remote Brazil

Holy Shit. Brazil is Hot. And Humid.

I’m talking 2-showers-a-day Hot and Humid. 3 if you’re lucky.

I mean, depending on the region of the country you’re in, this isn’t always true. But, since I’m living in the south of the Amazon, lately I’ve had this idea that staying clean for more than 20 minutes after taking a shower is about as realistic as seducing Brazilian supermodel Giselle (If you’re reading this, Giselle: Tudo Bem, Bonita ;)?)

For those of you who aren’t in the know, I will be living in Brazil for the next 8 months on a Fulbright Grant, a program through the U.S. Dept. of State.  I am working as an English Teaching Assistant at the Federal University of Acre (UFAC), in the city of Rio Branco, the capital of the state of Acre.

This place is remote. So remote, in fact, that there is a saying throughout the rest of Brazil highlighting its mythical status:  Acre não existe! (Acre doesn’t exist!).

Just to give you an idea of exactly how remote it is, here is a lovely illustrative picture from our Fulbright orientation in Brasilia:

map photo

So I didn’t end up getting placed in my first preference (and as I later found out, everyone else’s first preference…), but as you’ll see, I am coping quite well with wildcard Rio Branco.

Rio Branco means “White River” in English. And how shocked was I to find out that the river ISN’T WHITE?! Oh well…

As I hope to show you guys today and in the coming months, Rio Branco is a truly wonderful place, and it didn’t take me long to realize that this placement was a blessing in disguise.  These 3 weeks have been incredible and incredibly eventful.  Since so much has happened in the past 3 weeks, I will condense my first weeks into photographs with short descriptions after each one.

A PHOTO JOURNEY THROUGH MY FIRST 3 WEEKS IN A DEVELOPING COUNTRY.

Our Journey starts in the futuristic capital of Brazil, Brasilia.

IMG_20140216_144112432_HDRBeautiful Cathedral designed by Oscar Niemier, the architect of futuristic Brasilia.

IMG_20140216_144318559
Inside the cathedral.

IMG_20140216_160734415_HDRMe standing in front of important gov’t buildings. So important, in fact, that I forgot their names ;).IMG_20140216_162807721_HDR IMG_20140216_163917111_HDR IMG_20140217_100358742

Me with the American Ambassador to Brazil, Liliana Ayalde.

IMG_20140217_142941353Getting louco with best buddy, Missy. IMG_20140218_131857114Orientation activity where we had to create a collage of what we thought Brasil stood for. IMG_20140218_231015509

When this waiter found out we were American, he kept saying “suck my ass!”.  We decided to chant it in unison during what was definitely NOT an intoxicated moment for me

IMG_20140219_114127883    Brasilia was fun, but now it’s time for all 90 ETA’s to go to their respective destinations….. Nolan is PUMPED for Rio Branco!! IMG_20140219_151606731Getting off the plane at Rio Branco…. First impressions: Hot and humid, beautiful vegetation, and HUGE ASS CLOUDS!!

IMG_20140219_180900140_HDR

Our buddy Luciana takes us for a little tour of the center. That bridge is the Joaquim Macedos walking bridge.

IMG_20140219_181205899_HDR

Luciana and Nolan on the Joaquim Macedo walking bridge.

IMG_20140219_181800650_HDR

Shops and restaurants lining the river. IMG_20140220_162516743_HDRThe heads of the English department take us on a tour of the mini jungle on the UFAC campus! There are snakes, monkeys, and even mini-jaguars called  margays.IMG_20140220_183850925There are tons of cats on my University’s campus.  When asked why there are so many, I was told that someone just brought a couple cats here, they started reproducing, and people just started feeding them.  The rest is history. IMG_20140220_232305686Karaoke with the bros. IMG_20140222_164513179_HDRAn administrative building in Rio Branco shaped like a type of house indigenous people make. IMG_20140222_173450025_HDR

River and sunset.

IMG_20140222_174415052_HDR

Magic by the river.

IMG_20140223_134233412Brazilian steakhouse time!

IMG_20140223_134126271Ostrich meat, chicken hearts, wild boar, and picanha (some cut of the hind parts.) IMG_20140224_155621344_HDR

House hunting on beautiful brazilian streets.IMG_20140224_202203558_HDRThe Simpsons in Portuguese. IMG_20140227_155640127Capybaras on the UFAC campus!! IMG_20140227_164453631_HDRI told you: THOSE CLOUDS ARE HUUGGGEE!! IMG_20140228_211206001 Lines: a big part of Brazilian culture due to the notorious Brazilian bureaucracy. IMG_20140301_170547394

Random people roaming the streets during Rio Branco’s carnaval (Here it’s pretty much non-existent. Sorry folks. That’s the OTHER Rio…)IMG_20140301_203457371

The crew with our Australian friend who was just passing through Rio Branco. Here she’s eating Tacacá, an indigenous dish.IMG_20140301_203605090

What’s so special about tacacá is that, along delicious shrimp, you are served the leaves of the jambu plant, which make your mouth and tongue go numb while eating them (because of a chemical they contain called espilantol).IMG_20140302_175009670I was lucky enough to catch the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. IMG_20140302_175641832As I was saying…. IMG_20140302_180122684

And saying… IMG_20140303_122305471_HDRVegetation typical of the area. IMG_20140303_151107382_HDRBuying handmade furniture for cheap cheap cheap!!! IMG_20140305_161917616

Cool graffiti I saw in the city.

And with that we end the photo tour of my first couple of weeks in this incredible city.

  Do I love everything about my new home and culture? Absolutely not. But I have far more good days than bad, and I already feel myself growing and learning more about myself.  Every culture has advantages and disadvantages to it, and in the coming months I hope to give you all an interesting perspective of life abroad in a place very different from that which most of us are accustomed to.

Until next time, carpe diem!

My Spontaneous Poem from my ‘Artist’s Way’ Voyage

I’ve been in Brazil for the past month now, and while I have been working on a first Brazil post, this popped up in the meantime.

This was a spontaneous poem that arose from a daily exercise you do in the program: 3 pages of free-flowing thought you write down that allow you to let all of the internal chatter reveal its face, sometimes ugly, sometimes surprising, sometimes exactly what you thought it was going to be.  When I say it was spontaneous, I mean that I started to write these 3 pages, and before I even realized what I had even done, the poem was complete.

I hope you enjoy my first poem ever.

I feel unsafe in Brazil.

Disclaimer: This is not an official Department of State website or blog, and the views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program of the U.S. Department of State.

 

IMG_20140401_091242885[1]

Huge wall, razor wire, and an electric fence. No, this is not a prison. This is somebody’s home!

This post is not going to be funny.

Sorry.

But, my hope is that it will be significant enough to make you question things you might take for granted.  That something in particular is personal security.

It’s the feeling of waking up in the morning and more or less knowing that everything is going to be OK.  Back in my quiet suburban neighborhood in Pennsylvania, I never felt unsafe. I don’t think we ever had any violent crimes or thefts in our neighborhood; the most we ever had to worry about was neighborhood kids egging our house at night.  Yes, my life in Pennsylvania was very safe.

Capture

What my nice little neighborhood back home looks like. Oh, how I miss thee….

Brazil is a different story.  The first month in Brazil could have been smoother for the Fublright ETA’s (English Teaching Assistants) to say the least.  In only a month throughout their different cities in Brazil:

  • 1 ETA hit by a car while his roommate was being mugged; he broke his femur and had to temporarily return to the US for recovery.
  • 1 ETA was robbed inside his house by two armed men while he was entering the house.
  • Last but certainly not least, 2 ETAs were robbed on an interstate bus by armed bandits at 3am returning to their host city.

Thankfully, the state of Acre where I’m living is not too dangerous by Brazil’s standards.  The incidence of crime here is far lower than in the larger cities like São Paulo, or more dangerous states in the Northeast.

But, the murder rate in Acre is still 4 times higher than that of my home state, Pennsylvania, and the murder rate in Brazil as a whole is 5 times higher than that in the U.S.  However, it’s not murder that has me worried.  Theft is a much more real possibility, and is regularly on the forefront of my mind.  These are some examples of things I’ve heard happen in Rio Branco:

  • It seems that every other person I speak to has had their cell phone stolen in the past 6 months.
  • A couple of months ago in Rio Branco (my city),  my friend was driving through bad neighborhood at night, when turned onto a street with men who had blockaded the road with trash and other objects to trap motorists and rob them.  Upon seeing this, my friend slammed on the brakes and put that sucker in reverse, narrowly escaping what would have made for a not-s0-fun experience.
  • Last weekend three friends of mine were mugged at 7 PM by two men with gigantic knives.
  • This is one is pretty rare even for Acre, but I thought I would mention it because of how shocking it was: I found out one of my friends was kidnapped back in Februrary by armed men with rifles.  They approached her with a group of her friends, and told them to get into their truck.  There was a pursuit by the police, many shots fired, and in the end the truck ran off the road and the criminals escaped. Thankfully, neither my friend nor any other of the hostages were injured. Like I said, this is very uncommon for Acre, and my friend said the criminals were most likely from São Paulo based on her kidnappers’ accents.

Only within the past week or two have I begun to realize how naive I was about personal security here, and how much I took my American safety for granted.  And how much you’re probably taking yours for granted too.

But let me give you an idea of what is normal home security by Brazilian standards:  Electric fences, razor wire, shards of glass jutting out on top of walls, and guard dogs are all extremely common here.  Even in the good neighborhoods. And I live in a “good” neighborhood.  When I tell Brazilians here that in the U.S. people don’t need houses with have fences, walls, and 200,000 volts of electricity to protect their houses, they are absolutely baffled.

 

IMG_20140327_113252668[1]

Danger: Electric Fence. This is the outside of where I live, in my “good” neighborhood.

IMG_20140329_163208225_HDR[1]

Coke, anyone? Older houses have broken glass cemented into the top of walls to prevent thieves from entering.

That being said, my feelings about safety haven’t tainted the overall experience of being here.  I didn’t come to Brazil to feel safe, just like I wouldn’t go to red lobster expecting fresh fish.  I am extremely happy here. I don’t feel as anxious or as pressured to always be doing something. My mental state is wonderful, and even my posture has improved since living here.

IMG_20140401_092659[1]

My depiction of a naive first-worlder walking around a developing country at night.

But this different environment means I’ve needed to adapt.  Instead of walking around fearful all of the time, I have become more alert, as you need to be in these types of areas.  When I walk around at night, I am extremely aware of my environment and anyone and everyone who approaches me (this helped me two weeks ago avoid a late night bicycle rider who was cruising very slowly and suspiciously down my street; when he was approaching me from the other end of the street, I walked on the other side of a car parked on the road, using the car as an obstacle between us).  I don’t tell strangers I’m American, I tell them I’m Colombian (which gives them far fewer lucrative fantasies of robbing you).  If I have to walk home at night, my cell phone doesn’t leave my pocket (btw, in Brazil the same cell phone would cost twice as much and would be an unnecessary addition to my credit card bill.)

I know this is hard to do, but my goal with this post is to make those back home take a step back from their current situation and appreciate the relative security they have.  This is one of the things I took for granted the most, and I miss it dearly now.  But, while I don’t really feel too safe here, I’m super thankful I wasn’t placed in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.  THOSE places are supposed to be much much worse…

 

 

 

That Time I Made Everyone On the Plane a Valentine’s Day Card

I write this from an uncomfortable airplane seat at 3:48 AM on my flight from Atlanta to Brasilia. I can’t sleep, the reason for this most likely being the aforementioned chair and the little legroom, both of which actually make me debate whether traveling first class would ever justify the outrageous cost. But I digress.

When I realized I would be traveling on Valentine’s Day, I thought about first of all how ironic it was, since my 9-month journey to Brazil was the reason for my bachelor status, but then I began to think about all the potential hilarious scenarios that could ensue.  One idea that popped into my head was writing a love poem for my fellow passengers in which I would publicly declare to them my lyrical mediocrity and obvious insanity. ‘Roses are red, Violets are Blue, That’s right I’m that creep, who for the next 8 hours will be in the same pressurized cabin as you!’

Another idea I had was to write a speech listing my major life accomplishments up to that point in an attempt to swoon some lucky lady on Delta flight 221.  It would go something like: I know how to drive stick shift, I’m a college graduate, and I’ve recently been able to grow in some facial hair that could be considered post-pubescent by some (but not all…)

So yeah, I had a couple of wacky ideas about how to spend my Valentine’s Day in the air with 177 strangers. But here is what I actually did.

With the help of my awesome, creative 15-year old sister (and my Mom and my brother, kind of…), I made handmade Valentines for everyone on the plane.  And here is what I learned from it.   IMG_20140215_111137060[1]

Family is Wonderful.

IMG_20140213_211432818[1]

My sister didn’t only slave over the cards with me (#childlaborisfun).  She also helped give me the courage to do this.  Originally, the idea for the valentines started as a joke. But when I posted on my Fulbright Facebook group that I was going to do it, I received such an overwhelming response that actually made me consider doing it. I was still on the fence, though, for the same reasons anyone else would be.

Fear of negative judgment from others, that inner voice that was saying “But, but, but, what if they think you’re weird or don’t like you!?”

When I asked my little sister what she thought she said “You should definitely do it! I’ll help you!”  It was then I knew that this was something I knew I could do.

Strangers are wonderful.

Before my stop in Atlanta, I flew out of Baltimore.  As I was making my way through security I met two incredible strangers, a 22 year old special needs teacher and 60 year old man who is the father of a deaf son who organized bike rides across the country to raise money for cochlear implants for deaf children (that was a mouthful, but their organization is called ‘Jacob’s Ride’. Check it out!).

I don’t even remember their names. But that’s not important.  What will always remain with me is how we bonded at the security checkpoint and stuck together for the next 3 hours until their flight departed. We ate lunch, shared anecdotes and ideas, and laughed together.  And when I told them about my valentines, they volunteered to help write the messages for me. Such a serendipitous, positive event leaves me with such a great perspective of the human race.

IMG_20140214_140657490[1]

Then, on the flight, when I informed the flight attendant that I had some valentines to hand out, she asked me who I was, why I was going to Brazil, etc. Although at first I thought she was skeptically interrogating me, it turns out she gave me an awesome introduction to the plane over the PA system. Once the fasten seatbelt light went off, I would be free to roam and hopefully brighten people’s days up.

IMG_20140214_214120756[1]

Ding.

It was time to sink or swim.

airplane photo

People loved it! The majority of responses consisted of a smile and anything from “Thank you!” to “This is so sweet!”  Interestingly enough, the only two people I had refuse a card were two different old men in first class (I think that speaks for itself.)

I could definitely feel a warmer, more open vibe in the plane afterwards.

I could never have done this 5 years ago, or even 6 months ago. It is amazing to experience such progress and to feel I am realizing my true potential.  A quote that really helped me do this was

“In the end, It’s not the things you did that you regret, it’s the things you didn’t do.”

So on this day after Valentine’s Day, I ask you to contemplate this and come up with one thing that you truly want to do in your heart, and DO IT!

Remember:  Forget the Haters. Do your own thing.

Maybe I can get some rest now….ahhhhh, who am I kidding?