quinta-feira, dezembro 29

Resolutions and Photos from Novo Riacheulo

Inspired by my fellow American lost in Rondônia, Titia Amor, I decided to do something I haven't done since the 2008/2009 New Year... I decided to make a New Year's Resolution. Back then, I promised myself that I would start a new chapter in my life, principally, re-discovering my spirituality and working on my health. Interestingly enough, within a few weeks, I met a man who shared many of my own opinions about what being "spiritual" means and enjoyed listening to meditation music, too! Within a year we were engaged, and today, we're married with a puppy! The whole "working on my health" part kind of fell to the wayside when I realized drinking long islands and dancing my butt off 5-6 times a week was just as effective as running and dieting... and although I have lost incredible amounts of weight since 2008 (about 25 pounds without really trying), I am still far from the body I would like to have, as I would like to increase my muscle tone. This is really hard for someone who sucks at sticking to any type of workout regimen... and endlessly frustrating when you live in a country that is insanely obsessed with how toned everyones butt and thighs are.

Anyhow, I just put down R$100 at the neighborhood gym today for their "three month for R$100" special. Their monthly rate is normally R$50, so this worked out to be a great deal, even if H and I find a new apartment (which I hope we do....) sometime soon. Of COURSE when I go in to register, the owner of the gym is one of H's old time buddies and there are also women in Lycra. There's also douchebaggy looking men staring at themselves lifting weights but hey, it's cheap, right? They're also open at 530am-Midnight. Super plus!

On another note, we've been enjoying the fact I am on vacation from the school to hang out on the farm as much as possible since we both love it (and Ice loves it even more, of course!) Ice manages to make friends wherever he goes, independent of their creed, color, or how many feet they have, or how long their tail is. When we are at my inlaw's, his friend of choice is one of the big pigs. He yanks his tail, nips his ears, basically does everything to get his attention to play. The pig loves it and eggs him on most of the time. Unfortunately, pictures have not yet been taken!

There are, however, pictures from the trip to the farm on Wednesday! Here we go!

Ice on the way to the farm

How can you say this is not the most beautiful place in the interior??
We're headed to Novo Riacheulo, about 1.5 hrs from Ji-Paraná.
There's no cell service, except on top of the mountains, and this is why I love going here. Urania (she's in one of the upcoming photos) was born in this town and her family basically runs the entire village, from the ice cream shop to the church, it's all run by her family. 

Ice and his two best friends in Novo Riachuelo. He gets sooo excited when we pull up!
They're both girls, too. He's a pimp.
Look at that tail!

"We're goin' on a hike! Wanna come??"

Checkin' out the Corn with H

This is why I live where I live.

This is what the Passion Fruit Flower looks like!

Ice with H, Urania (blonde, wife of H's cousin and my new best friend in Ji-Paraná)
and her cousin, I think... she's related to everyone in this town. 

This picture is for my Vovó! It's a "Quero-Quero"
Check out the wikipedia page in Portuguese!!! Get to translating!! 

Tuckered out after a long day of running around and patrolling. Within about an hour the other pup joined.
That's imported silk from Thailand that they are sleeping on by the way... thanks mom for the dog bed!!!

I'll take some more pictures tomorrow... as we are killing another pig for the new year. MmMmmMmMm I love me some pork. Diet? New Year's Resolution? Awww man... looks like I'm going to have to double up on my workouts and walks with Mr. Ice!

sexta-feira, dezembro 9

So, I'm finally announcing...

I'm going to be working at the local college next year! I'm so excited. Well, actually, I'm just going to be holding my own classes in their space, but it's going to be an interesting experience! I hope it all goes well as the extra cash will help me pay off my school loans... baah.

Anyhow, the official facebook page (in Portuguese, of course) is now up, www.facebook.com/inglesjipa and if you live around Ji-Paraná please send the info to your friends!

I'm going to continue working at the school I am at and do some private tutoring on the side (hopefully) so we will see how this all works out time-wise.. I'm sure I'm going to be exhausted, but exhausted and slowly becoming debt-free are OK with me, for at least a year, anyways!

quarta-feira, dezembro 7

Dogs, Rain, Fish and Cows... what else!?

So a lot has happened since my last update... first, I have landed a new and exciting teaching position for next year (I hope to continue at the current school I am at as well, meaning I am going to be working 12 hour days, but with every other weekend off, so hopefully I don't die.) I had this great idea when I was in high school about going to college... then after I finished that, I decided to continue on to graduate school. The result? I'm loaded down in debt and I've got to 1) figure out a way to pay it off ASAP so Humberto and I can really get serious about our "adult" life and 2) find a way to do it that is ENJOYABLE. I think all will be well :)

Also, we have adopted another bundle of joy into our home. His name is Ice. (When said in Portuguese it turns into Icey... and everyone goes HAHAH! That means GELO (ice in Portuguese..) RIGHT?! Even our vet was amused. You'll see why whey you see his photo.

Ice, in the flesh. A MinPin Mutt with a mean streak.
He's all black with a little white on his chest and little dots on his feet like he stepped in a puddle of white paint. In this photo we were at the café on the Avenida... he's that kind of dog. Of course I bought him a bottle of water and had his little bowl with me so he wouldn't get dehydrated.

The adoption was a big debate because our previous dog passed away from Distemper... a terrible horrible no good very bad dog disease that is common here in Ji-Paraná, mainly because most people don't vaccinate their dogs and we weren't sure if the disease was out of our home yet. After I put Zara down, I bleached the house, top to bottom, washed all our sheets in bleach water, everything I could possibly do because not only did I want another dog... we have lots of friends with dogs and the last thing I wanted was for them to catch this horrible disease. I have to say I think it is probably the worst disease to watch a dog suffer from, and most pet websites agree with me on that one. They just slowly deteriorate, then magically get better, then from one minute to the next they loose complete sense of where they are, who their owner is, become paranoid, then lose control of their own bodily movements. It tore my heart into pieces and I would never, ever, wish that on another dog owner. After talking with a variety of vets and consulting many websites, I just grew more frustrated. Some sites said within minutes the virus is dead, others said it took years for the virus to die. After doing some hard thinking, we decided at least a month of a dog-less house, with intense bleaching and keeping everything as dry as possible (similar to HIV, it doesn't survive well in hot and dry environments and since our temp here is always around 90F, I made the bet we were in the clear.)

Miss Zara
We've also entered into the rainy season. I have been having a lot of interesting conversations with the people who were some of the first settlers here in Ji-Paraná about how much the environment and weather patterns have changed in only 30 years. The rainy season used to be a continuous rain for 6 months. Now it's just a storm, or a drizzle at most, the lasts about an hour, and it doesn't hit every day. The water tables are all low... the rivers are all low... and everyone knows why. Deforestation. (Vovó, click on the link! You'll find it very interesting!)

From: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/

Back in the 50s until about the 80s and even until the early 90s, the government actually HELPED people to cut down the forest here for "development". Free land, incentivising clearcutting and highway development. The famous Highway 364 is the highway where my inlaw's farm is. It's true that you have to take down some trees to "develop" but at the same time Brazil did a horrible thing to itself... it stripped away a lot of its natural resources and now the climate is changing at rates that are being witnessed from year to year.  The new government restrictions (you must maintain 30% of your farmland forested and you can't burn anymore) aren't exactly abided by all of the time and enforcement is few and far between. However, people do their best to abide by these regulations because the penalties are heavy and potentially will cause the farmer or fazendeiro to lose their entire investment because of the violation.

However, yesterday it did rain. And it rained during my lunch break. Humberto took me to a wonderful restaurant under the big bridge that joins the two parts of the city together on the bank of the Machado River. 

The restaurant had the freshest fresh fish I have ever tasted in my life... I ordered mine fried with a creamed corn sauce... it was incredible (unfortunately I forgot to take a picture...) and here are some pictures of the restaurant... and of us!

Me and the love of my life... Well, part of me anyways.
And finally, later that day, while at a red light, I looked out my window and I had a bunch of eyes staring at me... let's see if you can see what was staring at me!

Mooooooooo! (or in Portuguese, MAUUUUUU)
Until next time! Beijos para todos!

sábado, novembro 19

Applications currently being accepted for the position of Hero

So today in class I started a discussion about Heros. You know, people who do incredible things. At first one of my students explained there are no such things as heros. That's just in the movies, she said. However, as the conversation moved towards defining hero as a person who has been able to make big changes in the world and help a lot of people.

Somewhere along the line Teachers as heros was being discussed and then of course the topic of how teachers are undervalued in Brazil. (Reminder: in applying for jobs I was actually offered the incredible salary of R$5.00/hour to teach English to small children 5-10 years old in a private school. Double reminder: I have a Master's degree.) This then turned to the conversation about how large amounts of money are lost between the federal government and the schools due to corruption, which lead to the sharing of a recent news story that I was still unaware of.

One third of the Federal State Representatives, or deputados, in Rondonia were imprisoned yesterday, along with about 30 other government officials on corruption charges. What makes this story even more depressing is that they were stealing money from the STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH! Also, they weren't just stealing fractions of pennies like they tried to do in the movie Office Space (even that didn't go over as planned) they were stealing huge sums of money. It is estimated that the total that was funneled away from providing GOVERNMENT HEALTH CARE SERVICES is more than R$120 million (about US$70 million).

This all reminds me of how last week I went to the health clinic, posto de saúde, with a friend of mine who had stepped on a nail to get a tetanus vaccine. After waiting about an hour, she was told that she had to go to the Municipal Hospital (for a free shot) or stop by a pharmacy to pay for one, about R$50 since they were out. We went to the hospital, waited another hour only to find out that their normal supply was also out. Luckily since my husband ran into a friend of his (who is in charge of stocking the medications at the hospital... and obviously not on top of his job) he liberated the use of the emergency tetanus shot for my friend. Well, after spending about a half hour LOOKING for said emergency tetanus shot it was announced that the emergency tetanus shot was also out of stock. So, of course, we had to go to a pharmacy for her to get the shot, then of course since it was the day before a holiday, the only certified person to administer the tetanus shot was on vacation, so we decided to just try the posto de saúde in the small town where we were going to spend our holiday and hope they had a shot on hand. I wonder if these vaccinations were overlooked due to the missing R$120 million?

Anyhow, after discussing this story, we were stuck in the circle of problems that faces Brazil that looked like the following. (maybe I should have used Word instead of Paint... anyways...)

The education system is bad due to corruption (funneling of funds to personal accounts, for example) and the government continues to be corrupt because there is a lack of oversight by the people. The people remain uneducated on how to vote because 1) they are poor and are more worried about having rice and beans tomorrow than the new credit card interest policies, 2) because of the poor education system that limits individual productivity and lastly 2) because of corrupt political and economic system that is historically based on patronage and clientism.

A law student in my class summed it up when she said, "The masses just aren't educated enough to know how to find out what rights they have and even less educated to know how to use those rights." She has a point. 

There are countless articles on how "poverty" has dropped drastically since the insane expansion of programs like Bolsa Familia, the topic of my Master's thesis and this article from the New York Times and this study by the IFPRI, but I still don't buy it. These types of programs, although they help to resolve immediate poverty (read: lack of cash to buy food) they have been overtly used as a pawn in the political sphere, which is the topic of this study written by two different research institutes in Brazil, one of which is the IBGE, the government statistics organization. However, with poverty such a pressing issue in every corner of Brazil (both rural and urban) what is the answer? If effective educational reform is made difficult by corrupt governors and the government assistance programs tend to just help keep people buoying between starvation and just getting by, what is the caminho certo to take? My students said they don't know what the answer is because every time corrupt officials are kicked out, such as what happened this week in Rondonia, just more will come and fill the vacancies. My soon-to-be-lawyer student says THIS is where education fails. The people aren't educated enough to know who to vote for... and are attracted by fancy Bolsa this Bolsa that programs. This is confounded by the fact that the vote is mandatory by ALL citizens in Brazil (and abroad for that matter). (Read: Vote-Buying) This argument of hers, I solidly agree with.

Is this new generation going to be the generation of change? Are these teens capable of changing a legacy of patronage, corruption and abuse of power? Or will they fall victim to the same trappings of political power? They are at least making some noise (see BBC article).

I think Brazil needs a hero. And this time, superpowers are required to apply.

quinta-feira, novembro 17

New Friends!

So, although these past few weeks have been rough for me, we've passed the 6 month mark since I have moved to Ji-Paraná, I was delighted by a package from my grandmother containing books, Reese Cups and  what else? ORGANIC FAIR TRADE CHAI TEA! It's the small things in life that make all the difference and my grandmother's packages always seem to arrive in tune with when my PMS is just starting to get out of control. Always!

Anyhow, the subject of this post is also the inspiration for this new post today. New Friends! Over the last few days I have been searching a website called gringoes.com, a site for foreigners who are living in Brazil) and managed to find ONE post about Rondonia. I quickly messaged the girl who had posted about her upcoming move to a city not too far from me and consequently I have made two new friends! The girl I sent the message to is on her way to Brazil within the next few months and she shared a website with me of a fellow American who is in Rondonia, a bit further away, but regardless, it made me overjoyed. I quickly went to her website (http://sixdegreessouthlatitude.blogspot.com/) left her a message and not even an hour later, I received a phone call from the other American currently lost in the Amazon, Jessica! We spent almost an hour on the phone talking about our lives, how they have changed since we moved here, our husbands, dealing with buracracy, working, teaching English and her new school which, although was set to open up on Monday, due to the national holiday, was moved to tomorrow. I have a feeling Rondonia's first American Social Club is starting to take root! ;)

I spent the morning planning out my next career moves and if all goes well, by the end of the month I may have some interesting news to share! Just stay tuned!

On another note, Rondonia is situated just close enough to the equator that we really don't experience much difference in weather except for the rain. There's the rainy season and the dry season. The dry season was almost unbearable at points due to all the dust in the air and the heat that never ended. I was so excited when the first few rains fell and have been announcing that I am excited for the rainy season to kick into full gear. However, little did I think this through. Mosquitos multiply in the rainy season. I've already started lighting up mosquito coils at night and am getting ready to order some Skin-so-Soft from one of my friends who is an Avon distributor. (My vovó swears that the body oil is the best bug repellant on the market!) One of the best things about the rainy season is how the landscape changes from dry to clean, crisp and green. This weekend I will take my camera along as I head off to our friend's farm to take some pictures of what I consider the most beautiful hills and mountains I have seen in Brazil. I need to do some more research on the geology of Rondonia because around her farm there are tons and TONS of big rocks. Just random huge rocks in the middle of nowhere. I'm extremely intrigued and now I want to know what type of geological past this region experienced to know why those rocks are there! If anyone knows of any books or websites, send them along!

That's all for now as it is already midnight. I went for a run tonight and am exhausted. Tomorrow I'm joining a gym. (Mind you, I have been saying this for over a week now...) I need to get some type of structure into my unstructured life and with the end of the school year not too far away (2 weeks!) I'm going to need something to entertain me!!!

Boa noite!

sexta-feira, agosto 26


It's funny how I spent my whole life trying to make my future happen the way I wanted it to be. Now, I find myself in a situation that doesn't even resemble what I had been imagining as I was buried underneath a stack of books at libraries, offices and apartments around the world. Never had I imagined I would be in the Amazon. Speaking PORTUGUESE at that. I have to admit, I thought the Amazon River was in Africa for the longest time. Although a year before graduation from college I included "Learn Portuguese" and "Live abroad for 6 months" in my bucket list, I had never imagined that I would be able to achieve both of those goals at the same time... going to Brazil wasn't even on my mind when I wrote "Learn Portuguese," I just wanted to get a few books and teach myself. Heh, how naive that seems now! Portuguese, from a BOOK?

Also, I am a teacher. I am a reference tool. And, my favorite job description is that I am a source of enthusiasm and motivation for kids, teens and adults. My goal when I enter into the classroom is not just to explain in a clear and concise manner the present perfect or past continuous, but to see my students smiling; I want to help them to forget about the things that are outside of the classroom, outside of their control. My goal is that every student walks out of my classroom with a smile on their face because, even if they DIDN'T understand everything, they know that WILL understand, someday.

Last week I had a particularly difficult class. The teachers and the director of the school explained to me that this class was "special," that I needed to be extra patient and be super carinhosa, or especially supportive in a physical way by hugging, rubbing their backs, etc... As the class commenced and the "I don't know, teacher" responses became unbearable I sat the students down to work in pairs on a few verb tenses so that I could brainstorm. However, I heard something I wasn't expecting. The students KNEW the material. They were teaching each other how to correctly put the sentences together. *BING* new idea.

After the students wrote a few sentences I had the pairs write on the board what they had come up with. I then sat down in one of the student's chair (and flopped my leg over the other student's chair) and explained now they had the Magic Marker that gives them the power of the teacher and had them explain to the class where were the verbs, what tense they were in, where the subject was, what the object of the verb was, etc... after a few moments of hesitation, the students took to this new method and blossomed before my eyes into confident English instructors. This wasn't a trouble class because they were slow learners, they just didn't have much self-confidence! Hugs and back pats can help with that, but I won't be there to coddle them when they are in Australia trying to reserve a hotel room. I felt like I had finally broken through a wall that has been established for the last three semesters.

It's incredible where life can take you. Sometimes I find myself wondering what the heck I am doing here. It's hot, there's mosquitos, ants, and all sorts of other bugs. I'm an airplane ride away from the nearest art museum, the "library" is about as pathetic as it could get and I can't even find bookshelves in the furniture stores. That's how much importance reading has for the general population of Ji-Paraná. Regardless, when I step into the classroom and I have a student run up to the board, "Teacher! I learned a new word, is this right?" I know I'm in the right place.