Monday, June 27, 2011

Morro de Prazeres, a Brazilian afternoon, and the Botanical Gardens

Hey all!

I've been having quite a variety of experiences these past couple days. On Thursday I went to visit Morro de Prazeres, a favela (slum) on a hill not too far from the area where I'm staying. Some of the young people from the favela guided us around the steep, windy staircases that lead all throughout the concrete houses that make up the favela. Near the top of the hill, MTV had re-vamped a soccer field for something they filmed there, and the field was being put to good use! We also were shown two short films made in conjunction with people from Prazeres, which won some awards in Brazil and Europe. It was an eye-opening experience, mostly, I think, for the fact that it seemed so normal. Favelas have this image of being full of crime, and grime, and misery. This favela was pacified—the drug-lords replaced by peaceful police officers, and now it's just the home of very normal daily life. I don't know much about the relative socioeconomic status of the residents, but I felt no divide between my privileged life in the US, and that of the guides or the kids playing soccer. We chatted with them, talked about our likes and dislikes, and enjoyed the view. Although I did feel a little strange taking a tour of someone's neighborhood, it was a good experience.

On Friday I met up with Sam, a brazilian friend of one of my friends from college. We had lunch at a nice restaurant, toured around the historical center, and then went to Leblon—one of the most upscale neighborhoods—to wander around a mall there and then see a brazilian movie. It was great to speak portuguese with Sam and talk about some of the differences between our languages. Seeing the brazilian film was also great fun, though it was hard for me to understand many of the jokes and puns. The film was made in Rio, so it was great to recognize some of the filming locations. We even passed by one on the bus on the way home! By the end of the day, my brain was tired from working in portuguese all day, but it was wonderful to be able to speak portuguese all afternoon!

Saturday I went to the circus and helped out as usual, though my help was needed more than usual, since one of the coaches was away for the week. After helping out with rehearsals for the upcoming show (this Thursday), I got a haircut, trying hard to remember any haircut related vocabulary in Portuguese :).

Yesterday I took a trip to the Botanical Gardens, which were beautiful, as expected. I took a stroll around Lagoa, the big lake in Rio, and then headed back to Leblon for lunch.

Today it's rainy and overcast, so I'll probably just take it easy.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More kids, more beaches, and some other adventures

Life as a Carioca (person who lives in Rio) continues to be nice. I've been back to Ipanema (on Monday... my fourth time there, already?), but have yet to go swimming. That will change, over the course of my stay here.
The soccer game on Sunday was certainly an experience. I found that most of the time it was more fun to watch the crazy crowds or the landscape visible through the stadium than to watch the game (no one scored). Nevertheless, it was good fun. The director of my volunteering program is a big fan of the Botafogo team, so we all wore black and white and sat in the Botafogo fan stands (they were playing Flamengo, another one of the big Rio teams).

On Tuesday morning I went to the grocery store, where I have been discovering more interesting Brazilian food (they have more than just guava paste!). I also had the pleasure of seeing a cockatiel grocery shopping (on the shoulder of its owner). I wonder what people in the US would think if I took Mel shopping with me?

Later I went to the circus. The kids will be putting on a show in a week, so we've been working on their acts. The structure of rehearsals has lessened the craziness a bit... but not too much, of course. I'm really enjoying getting to know some of the kids—the little ones are quite cute, and I think they're getting to know me better. Yesterday there was a meeting with the parents (mostly moms) of some of the kids, so I got to spend some time with them. I didn't have a chance to talk with them much, but it was good to meet them briefly. Whenever I'm working with the kids, I often wonder what their home lives are like.

Yesterday morning I took a short walk around Santa Teresa, the neighborhood where I'm staying, and visited the Parque das Ruínas. It's a small park at the top of the hill, centered on a ruined house that used to belong to a carioca socialite at the beginning of the 1900s. It was nice to walk around the ramps in the house and picture it full of guests dancing or eating or chatting. The roof also has a beautiful panoramic view of Rio! In addition, right next to the house is a small circus rig, put there in memory of a famous Rio circus artist. I love how much circus there is in this city!

Later, I had a nice lunch with two other girls staying in my house (from the US and South Africa), and then wandered around Saara, the "bazaar" area in Rio. It's made up of narrow streets that are packed on either side with stores selling anything and everything—food, bags, shoes, etc. I didn't buy anything, but it was enjoyable just to walk through it.

Ps. I apologize for the title. Can't think of anything more interesting at the moment :)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Some reflections after a week in beautiful Rio

Things I love about Rio:

-monkeys (they live in the tree in my guesthouse)
-the tree the monkeys climb in is an avocado tree, with avocados the size of my head
-new tropical fruits (and the paste-stuff made from them)
-living in portuguese (trying to figure out the brazilian accent)
-beautiful majestic old buildings, many of them in a decrepit state that turns them even more romantic
-walking past cafés yesterday, with people sitting and playing music
-cute stray cats and capybaras (I believe) in a park
-rice and beans
-cooking in my pousada, in a kitchen on a terrace
-cute kids at my program asking how to say things in english
-watching the professional program's end-of-semester circus show
-áqua de coco (stick a straw in a coconut and drink)
-the beach at Ipanema
-caipirinhas (in moderation)
-warm sun, even in winter
-kiosks and carts on the street selling anything you might need (nail clippers and mittens, anyone?)
-wandering around Rio, sipping an açaí smoothie
-o bonde (tram that comes up to Santa Teresa, the neighborhood where I live)
-The Praça Floriana, where I catch the metro to the circus. It is bordered by the beautiful national library, national theater, city hall, and Odeon cinema.
-women-only metro cars during rush hour (that's just kind of funny)
-buffet à quilo (mentioned before—fill your plate at a buffet, pay by weight—in the business district near my metro stop, it's really cheap)

Yesterday, to celebrate my stay of a week in Rio, I was a film star! Ok, kidding, but I was in a short film. My circus program usually has practice on Saturday mornings, but yesterday practice was cancelled so a small crew could come in and film a clown performing a routine. The kids from my program were dressed in colorful clothing, hats, and jewelry, and were given popcorn to chew (or devour), and then we were filmed as the "audience" watching the clown act. We were filmed separately, so the clown told us when to laugh or clap. I hope my debut in brazilian film turned out ok! (I didn't learn what the point of the film was, or what it was to be used for).

Afterwards, I sat in on a coaches meeting, where they discussed how to deal with the chaos mentioned before. It's definitely a different environment from Smirkus camp, and difficult for me, since I was always a student and never a teacher. But I'm trying to think of activities that I enjoyed while a circus student that could be applied with my noticeably crazier brazilian kids. It'll be a challenge, but a good one.

Today I'm off to a football (futebol) game! I promise not to get trampled; I hear they get pretty rowdy.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

First day at the circus: Bem-vinda ao caos (Welcome to chaos)

Tuesday, after a morning of lazing around the guesthouse, I headed down to the Praça Floriano, a nice square near the center of town that is surrounded by the majestic National Library, National Theater and City Hall of Rio de Janeiro. I stopped for lunch in a "buffet a quilo"—a type of cafeteria where you serve yourself a plate of food, buffet-style, and then pay by the kilo. I've certainly added that to my list of things I love about Rio. Along with the guava paste I had at lunch.

After enjoying my lunch in the square I hopped on the metro, and rode a couple stops to my program site—a circus tent in the middle of Rio. The tent is relatively large and oval, and contained some rough-looking mats, a trampoline, and aerial equipment surrounded by bleachers. A few kids were running and tumbling on the mats, but most of the kids hadn't arrived yet.

I met the coaches—there are three coaches for around thirty children (seems like an ok number, right? Wrong.), who range in age from about 5 to 20. One of them toured with Ringling in the states for 6 years, so it's quite possible that I saw him in one of their shows.

Anyway, the kids arrived, and chaos began. They are all quite cute, but full of energy and very loud. We formed a semblance of a circle, and then I was introduced, though my introduction was often cut off by the kids' chatter.

For the rest of the afternoon I wandered around, trying to help the coaches keep the kids in control as they worked on acrobatics, trapeze, fabric, stiltwalking and unicycle. Most of the time, I was just trying to prevent them from landing on their heads or each other.

Despite the fact that I was trying to herd cats, I did enjoy it. Many of the kids are quite talented, and it's fun to watch them having fun. They called me "tia" (aunt—which is what they call all the volunteers) and asked me about where I was from, what my t-shirt meant (it said Macalester) and tried out their knowledge of a few english phrases (that was certainly fun to try to decipher).

Near the end, when the kids had abandoned their stations and were running around the tent (this culminated in some giant fluorescent lights falling from the ceiling...) one of the coaches turned to me and said "Bem-vinda ao caos" (welcome to chaos). It's true, but that's why I'm here to help. Hopefully over time I'll get to know the coaches better, and can become part of the team.

Yesterday I had a day off, so I wandered around the center a bit, and went grocery shopping. I went into the national library hoping to sit there and write in my journal, but it's only open for guided tours and people who need to check out books. I'd better think of a book to check out... my nerdy side was absolutely heartbroken.

Last night we had a pizza dinner with all the other volunteers (I made polenta, since I don't eat wheat), and then headed to Glória for a night out. We ended up in a square that was full of people surrounding a jazz band. The music was fine but the band was hidden from view by the hoards of people. I ended up trying a caipirinha—Brazil's national drink, made out of cachaça (sugar-cane alcohol), sugar, and lime. After drinking about a third of a cupfull, I had had enough—it was quite tasty, but it's pure alcohol that goes straight to your head! I handed my drink off to another one of the volunteers who had joined us; one third of a caipirinha was definitely enough for me.

In half an hour I will head out to my second day under the big top. Looking forward to it!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The [American] Girl [in] Ipanema

Well, I have been in Rio for two days, and I have already been to Ipanema twice. How's that for a start?

My voyage across the equator began with a short flight from Boston to Charlotte, NC, and then a 10 hour flight to Rio. Rio is only one time zone away from the East Coast, so it was somewhat strange for me to fly all night, and not get stuck with much jetlag. After a quick drive through Rio, I reached the house where I'll be staying for my 7-week stay. I'm in a dorm-style room with 4 other girls, all American except one Canadian. The other volunteers I've met are from Ireland, Germany, Norway, Denmark, and Puerto Rico. It's a nice group; most of the volunteers are slightly older than I am. The guesthouse is located in Santa Teresa, which is a hill near the center of the city best known for its trams, which woke me up a good number of times last night as they rattled by.

After a bit of unpacking, I went out with a few of the other girls from the house, and we took the metro to Ipanema. The beach was beautiful—the water is a beautiful shade of greenish-blue, and there is a great view of sugar loaf (the famous mountain) and some of the islands. At Ipanema we strolled along the beach and enjoyed some fruit smoothies; Rio is full of stands selling fruit juice, many times made out of tropical fruits I've hardly heard of.

That evening I collapsed into bed around 7:30, and, as I am known to do after long plane rides, slept 12 hours.

Today I went grocery shopping (eating yesterday was difficult, as I didn't have any food...), then had a brief meeting with the volunteer coordinator from my program, who will take the six new volunteers to our volunteer placements tomorrow. Next, we took a super long bus ride (albeit with nice views of the city) to Ipanema, where sat on the beach for a while. The beach seems to be perpetually crowded, and there are lots of soccer balls flying around. There are also stands every hundred yards or so selling drinks (picture a straw stuck into a coconut) and snacks; I ended up trying a sort of sweet cornmeal folded in a cornhusk.

Since then, we took a shorter bus back home, and now I'm hanging at the dining room table at the guesthouse. I'll probably cook a bit of the food I bought this morning and call it a night. It's already getting dark at 5:40 here, since of course on this side of the equator, it's wintertime! (Still beach weather in Rio, though).