Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Real talk though….

Everything in Floripa and in Brazil has been beautiful so far, and it has definitely been an experience of a lifetime. I cannot believe that it is already the 5th week, and that half of the program is over! I have certainly enjoyed the live music in the restaurants, tried many different foods, tried many different snacks, and I have also been blessed with the opportunity to travel to Rio for an international brain research conference next week! Of course, working in the lab and analyzing my data is keeping me extra busy, too :).

BUT, it never occurred to me how important the ability to communicate really was until I was not able to converse effectively in a different country, a different continent. Here I am, an Asian American that is fortunate enough to know one of the most widely known languages in the world, English, as well as the ability to understand my parents’ native language, Indonesian, because that’s what is spoken in our household. However, upon arriving the Brazil, the people spoke what sounded like an alien language, Portuguese. In some instances, it sounds like Spanish. But things can go completely awry when trying to translate from English to Spanish to Portuguese. Not only were things difficult for me to understand, but the people speak so quickly in Floripa, and apparently they have an accent. I guess the experience could be compared to a foreigner going to New York and hearing them speak with their accent.

Anyways, the inability to properly communicate my ideas really put things into perspective for me. I could not even buy a bus pass or print out business cards without someone shaking their head, sighing with frustration, or having a look of impatience on their face. It was hard to not get frustrated; it was as if I was a tiny infant that could only make sounds and wave my arms around to try and convey my ideas and needs. It made me think about all of the people that come to the United States hoping for “better” opportunities, only to realize that their inability to communicate hindered them from even getting the simplest tasks done.  

This experience also reminded me of my mom, who often has me check her grammar in different pieces that she writes. In the past, I would begrudgingly do it, groaning with each sentence I read and corrected. Now I understand what it’s truly like to live more than a week in a country where the language is completely different from your own, and you only have your family to talk to. Now, I understand WHY people tend to stick with people from their own culture and communities. Now I understand why people like to keep their cultural roots. Overall, I think this idea, this concept of the difficulty of foreign communication, has truly opened my eyes. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Uganda Team Goes on a Safari!

Driving down "Channel Track", this road follows along the Kazinga Channel

Came upon a big family of elephants while on a boat ride on the Kazinga Channel! They did not want to get close to the water until we finally left. Everyone needs their privacy,

We had a GREAT time on our safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park!

Ahh, enjoying the beauty of Queen Elizabeth National Park #retreatstyle. Nothing like a little vacay. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Trinidad Treasures

Hi from Team Trinidad! We are having awesome experiences, and it seems as though the time is flying past! I've included a few pictures from some of our many adventures for you to enjoy. I promise we do work hard as well (although the pictures may not show it) but for confidentiality reasons, I thought it best not to take little photoshoots during interviews and what not. So, please enjoy some of our adventures!
This picture gives a delicate insight into the St. Benedict Monastery we live near. The monastery is located on top a mountain overlooks most of the island. Amid the incredible natural beauty, I found this quiet space very moving and gripping. 

This is a picture from a hike we went on to a place called the three pools of Trinidad. It is located in Blanchisseuse, and we drove through a lot of mountains and rainforest to get to this trail. It was Itzel and I's first hike, so it was awesome to have Heather guiding us! The whole trip was stunning.

Homemade juice that would make you want to pack up and move to Trinidad & Tobago. It's that good.

Itzel and I went on a boat cruise and had a blast! This is us at the front the ship enjoying the wonderful breeze/ taking a break from all the non-stop dancing on deck. 

The van with the red stripe is a maxi taxi, and is our main means of transportation. The color of the stripe indicates which region of the island the van caters to, so be careful not to mix the colors!

There are many many more adventures and experiences to speak about, but I find these pictures give nice highlights of some pretty cool moments. Look out for future posts to keep up with us!



Serendipitous Traveler!

What a blessing it is to be in Brazil right now- to have learned so many amazing lessons and embark on such an awesome journey! The time here in Belém is just flying by so quickly, and I hate to think that the experience will only be temporary. Nevertheless, I have grown so much personally and believe that there is still so much more that this country has to offer me.

The one thing that won my heart here is the kindness and generosity of the Belém residents. You could literally meet someone today, then go to the beach and drink a beer with that person the next. You never know who you will befriend here, and that’s what has made this summer so exciting and eventful for me. I have met so many incredible people that are eager to spend time together, learn about our lives and share their stories with us.

Just this past week Erika and I traveled to São Luís, the capitol and largest city of the Brazilian state of Maranhão, with our friend Aline and her family.  It was a 17-hour bus trip filled with lively music, singing and dancing. While in São Luís, we attended a folkloric festival specific to the northeast region of Brazil called Bumba-Meu-Boi where a handful of groups retell a historic, theatrical Brazilian tale. The dramatic costumes, music, and dance made the night so remarkable! We spent the rest of the week enjoying the beautiful beaches and eating delicious regional foods. We even attended a reggaeton party where Erika and I met some Afro-Brazilians who taught us how to dance!  

Towards the end of the week, we got together with a few people through CouchSurfing and toured the old city.  While talking to one of the girls, I was shocked to learn that she recently gave up her job and entire life in Spain to move to Brazil. She had plans to travel the country, learn the language and simply live for the moment. She continued to say that the personal freedom that she received was much greater than any material possession she gave away. Although I’m sure none of us have given up any of belongings, her words led me to believe that this ideal is true.  Although we will be coming back to the states soon, I’m sure that I am not the only one who feels like I am gaining much more that I could have ever imagined- simply by stepping out of my comfort zone and integrating my life into Brazilian culture.

I hope everyone's experience is just as fabulous! Tchau ladies <3

Praça dos Pescadores- São Luís, MA 
 Playing with the Parrot at our pousada
 Relaxing at the beach!
 Shopping at the markets in São Luís

A Day in the Life Of Team Floripa as told by Ashley

I vaguely remember telling Aviva to wake me up by 8:30am the night before, but when I heard her familiar smooth voice say, “Honey, sorry to wake you but we’re running late it’s already 9:15.” I only grumbled a weak, “okay” in response, waited to hear the door to the master bedroom lock, and rolled back over in my bed. Two minutes later I was up and walking towards the bathroom to get ready for the day.

We had planned to go down to Centro to shop at the open market. However, it closed early on Saturdays and we had hoped to be there by 11am. However, Veronica and Cari still weren’t up yet it so we would be lucky if we arrived at the market before 2pm. I was still half asleep and the only things on my mind were: coffee and food. But I had just run out of my new favorite cereal (the Kellogg’s flakes, with granola, honey, coconut and fruit) the day before and there was no Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks in sight, this I was sure off.   

 I made the executive decision that the only way I could continue this day was if I had a good bowl of cereal in my system-whole milk to accompany it of course. So I started to dress for my journey to Hyper Bom, our local grocery store only 10 minute down the street, I figured a nice walk would surely help me transition into my day. So with all energy I could muster up I hooked my gear up. My outfit of the day included: a solid black tee, high waisted comfort pants emphasis on the comfort, two mismatched black socks ( one long one short I kid you not), and my solid pair of chanclas + Aviva who hopped on this trip last minute. I was ready for my adventure.

I opened the front door and it looked like the sky was greying, which was a sure sign of rain, but I had already stepped onto the mat outside the door so it was clearly too late for me to turn back for my poncho or an umbrella. We descended down the uneven hill, took a right onto the main road and crossed the street. A task that takes more skill that you might think because Floripa drivers are crazy and the streets are lined with dog crap. Ten minutes later we entered HyperBom. They didn’t have my new favorite cereal but I settled with another off brand Kellogg’s mix (which later I found out was one of the best decision of the day #secondfavoritenewcereal) and payed at the register. I also helped myself to two cups of what I consider the best complimentary expresso in Floripa. It’s like the little old lady that works in the register just know the perfect caffeine to sugar ratio. If I was to guess I would say 1:3.Anywhoo, after the first jilt of caffeine hit my blood stream I knew I was ready for the day.

Fast forward two hours and we all hop off the omnibus that left us at Centro. We follow the crowd and soon emerge at the site of the Old Market. There are stages to this market. The introductory stage includes the private vendors that sell children’s clothes, winter ear, string jewelry, and minor electronics like iPhone car chargers. These are the topnotch salespeople, if you even look at gaze at an item for too long they will start chatting you up about prices and todays deals. This place easiest to negotiate prices. As you move past makeshift rug stand you will become enchanted by a wall covered with bookbags and purses of all colors and sizes. It is so enchanting that although you are carrying a book bag as you walk towards the building you will wonder if you need a new bookbag. This is the entrance of what would be your typical indoor flea market in the states. Vendors there have permanent stand so they can open and close them every day without having to pack up all their goods. Here you will find major electronics like Cannon cameras, metal jewelry, the latest accessories, and of course knockoff purses( Michelle Khors, Luis Vuitton, and all their cousins). But I wasn’t there for any of that-actually I really wanted a black scarf but the going market rate was $25 reis, vendors indoors are less willing to negotiate and I knew I could do better than that. So we trudged on.

Behind the indoor flea market the cobblestone streets are lined with stores and vendors selling popcorn and balloons and street-meat. Aviva had went to the market hoping to find a bookstore a stranger on the bus had told her about and I was more than glad to accompany her. We had been discussing how our urge for a good book was growing and I was hoping to find a good read written in English soon. After asking three different people of the street we finally found the bookstore next to the cathedral (it was actually a whole block away from the Cathedral but within eyesight so I appreciate their reference). As Aviva (who I ‘ve come to refer to as my personal translator) spoke to the sales person about a flower book. I asked her to inquire about my English written section. Indeed they did have one and the saleswoman walked me over. I had no intention of actually buying a book because I am very peculiar with the books I choose to read. However as I was about to give up I saw a familiar title: The Secret and adjacent to it was the sequel, The Magic. I had always wanted to read the book but never got around to it. As I was flipping through the pages and reading the flaps of the book, my inner voice told me to buy it. However my brain and wallet told me no. I continued browsing its pages meanwhile my feet somehow walked me to the register and I purchased my new read.

I left the bookstore after that and waited for the girls on a bench. We all left together about fifteen minutes later.
That’s when I saw it: The Golden Arches. I had told myself I wouldn’t do it. That I would not be that American tourist. But all I had been craving for the past week was a regular beef burger processed to perfection. So we went inside and I ordered. I remember the moment they called my order. I opened signature McDonald’s carryout bag and stuck my hand in to grab a grease soaked fry and when I put in my mouth, I ALMOST CAUGHT the holy -ghost because it was that good. Fin.

So in lewd of today’s adventures and because The Magic suggest we make a daily gratitude list. Here is what I am grateful for today:
µMy parents for calling me just to check up on me.
µMy sister for keeping me entertained and updating me on the social lives of our friends & family at home.
µMcDonalds Corporation for unifying proud fatties everywhere-they have literally learned the secret to breaking cultural and language barriers.
µMcDonalds workers everywhere for continuing to not care if my burger looks anything remotely similar to the ads on TV- consistency is an good for homesickness
µMy roommates for taking me places (figuratively & literally).
µTapioca stands
µThe view of the ocean from the 330 bus on the way to Centro
µThe incense guy down at Conceicao, without you our house would smell damp.
µBeth for sharing the confidence that I would be able to run full experiments on my own-and I am.
µThe friendly people all over Floripa who are always willing to help us find our way even while we speak broken Portuguese. Full English. Spanish y Spanglish. But mainly use hand motions.