Monday, March 11, 2013

Brazil: Week Two-Bureaucracy, Thunderstorms, and Higher Education

Today marks two weeks in Brazil.  Most of this past week was spent dealing with bureaucratic things, which are a doozy in this country.  I'll leave those for the end of this post, in case you rather read about the less mundane things that happened this week.

Entrance to the UNIRIO campus

I visited the university I have my affiliation with, the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO), for the first time this week.  The daughter in the family I am living with here, Julia, is a music student at the university, so I went into campus with her one morning.  Julia is a native of Rio, but spent a semester studying in the US at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, CT, and she told me that I would be "in for a shock" when I saw UNIRIO.  The buildings and facilities are old, crumbling, and not very attractive, and most everything is concrete.  I went with her early in the morning, leaving about at 7:15am, because she likes to grab a practice room before they all get taken.  She found me one as well, but unlike every practice room at every university I've seen in the US, she had to sign in and get a key for the rooms.  My piano was a baby grand, but some of the keys stuck and some were out of tune.  Around midday, I finally met with Sergio, who up until a few weeks ago was the head of the graduate music program at UNIRIO and has been my contact at the university.  He was very nice to me, showed me around a little bit and introduced me to some other very nice professors who I also went out to lunch with. (By the way, while the UNIRIO campus isn't anything spectacular, it is located in the Urca neighborhood and is just a 5 minute walk to the gorgous Praia Vermelha ('Red Beach') which is beautifully framed by steep rock cliffs and the Pão de Açúcar ('Sugarloaf') mountain.  I made my first beach outing there yesterday.)  I was also given access to the computer lab in the music building where I figured out how to print and scan documents, which will be very helpful to me for my project.  I also checked out the library, as Sergio had gotten the secretary to write up a declaration that said, even though I'm not an enrolled student, I should be given access to all the resources that students are allowed to access.  
The Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf) mountain
One of the music buildings at UNIRIO,
which is shared with the Theatre
Department (hence Shakespeare)

Figuring out all these little things, mostly on my own, has been very challenging and always exhausting.  I decided to figure out how to find and access musical scores in the library, as I've been itching to get my hands on some Brazilian classical scores that I haven't found in the US.  First off, at the library, I had to sign in, and leave my backpack in a locker.  I found the section for "partituras (musical scores)" upstairs in a separate room in big stacks, but it looked as though they weren't available to just browse through.  I eventually realized that I had to go to the card catalogue (haven't used one of those since I was probably in elementary school!) and write down the numbers for the scores I wanted to see, then get the attendant to go retrieve them.  Then, after conversing in my not-very-good Portuguese, I found out I wasn't able to check out the scores or take them out of the room, unless I left an ID of some kind.  Then I could go make photocopies of them downstairs.  So I left them my University of Colorado ID (holding on to that has definitely come in handy!) and went off to try to find the photocopy machine, which, after asking someone where it was, I realized was in a room where you give it to a person behind a counter to photocopy them for you.  While in there, the lady had her back to me working on photocopying some other things and was talking in Portuguese that I didn't understand.  Was she talking to me or herself?  I had no idea, so I didn't say anything until she came over.  She eventually made my copies and I apologized for my poor Portuguese (although I must say, I do appreciate it that most people do not seem to assume or think just by looking at me that I'm a foreigner.  I had someone come up to me yesterday while at the bus stop and ask me about what bus to take in Portuguese.)  Then somehow I realized that I probably had to pay for these photocopies.  But after I was all finished, I was pretty proud that I had figured this out on my own, but it is exhausting!  Though everything is easier the second time around after you know what to do and expect. 

Praia Vermelha (Red Beach) close to UNIRIO
A few days ago, Marcelo, the father in the family who is a professional flute player, invited me to a free concert at the Villa-Lobos Museum (Brazil's most famous classical composer and a native of Rio) not too far from here, and it happened to be Villa-Lobos's 126th birthday (he's not still living, in case you were wondering) and the National Day of Classical Music in Brazil.  Perfect for my first concert in Brazil, I thought.  So at 8pm we walked outside, after a hot sunny day, to notice that it was starting to sprinkle, so Marcelo went back for an umbrella.  We left again for the bus stop which is a two minute walk away, but by the time we got to the bus stop it was pouring rain in what was a massive thunderstorm, and he said we have to go back.  Within 5 minutes, there was already a couple of inches of water flooding the streets, and Marcelo said within a half and hour it could be up to our waist.  I became completely soaked as we ran back to the apartment building, and Marcelo told me that when it rains, everything stops in Rio and everyone takes cover as the city is poorly designed to handle all this water.  I then remembered hearing a few years ago about landslides in Rio that killed hundreds of people, and understood how this could happen.  I also thought of the great tune by Tom Jobim "Águas de Março (The Waters of March)" after now having experienced them first hand (but in the moment, I struggled to see "a promessa de vida no teu  coração (the promise of life in your heart.)"   

Hey, I found Chopin at the beach!
So here is the bureaucratic fun I was subject to this week!  I am required to register with the federal police within 30 days of entering the country, I believe because I of how long I'm staying and the kind of visa I hold (so anyone with a tourist visa coming to Brazil, I'm pretty sure you don't have to do this).  This consisted of an entire morning of filling out some forms online (all in Portuguese), which would have been a whole lot harder without the help of the instructions in the "Guide for Fulbright Students" given to us by the Brazilian Fulbright Commission.  I also had to figure out how to make my appointment with the federal police, which wasn't explained in the Fulbright guide.  Then I had to go to the Banco do Brasil (Bank of Brazil) and pay the fees for two forms and I'm done with that for now, until I have to go to my appointment next week.

I also spent plenty of time this week trying to obtain a CPF number.  This is similar to a social security number, as everyone says, but I guess is supposed to do more so with taxes here.  The reason I wanted to get one is that it is asked for when purchasing many things here, like a cell phone, plane tickets, etc.  From what I read, it's supposed to be pretty straightforward to get, and once I got one I'd never need to get another again, so I figured I'd get that out of the way now.  I'd also read you could get one at the Banco do Brasil, so I figured I could get both the federal police fees paid and get the CPF in one visit (I was wrong!)

So off I went to the Banco do Brasil.  Banks in Brazil seem to be a bit different from the US.  Of course, so far my experience is only with banks in Rio, but when you enter there are usually a whole bunch of ATMs for people to use (probably 15 or so in the ones I went to).  Then if you want to see a teller or sit down with someone, you have to go through a metal detector and past some police officers (apparently the security is much greater because they tend to have more bank robberies).  This was no problem, but once I got past security, I saw that people had "senhas," basically a code you get and then you go up when your "senha" is called, just like the deli line when you take a number and wait for it to be called.  So, I was going to go back through security, and the police officer saw my plight and asked the other police officer on the other side to get a senha for me.  This officer gave me a strange look as to say, "How could you forget to get your senha?" and I said "É minha primeira vez, desculpe. (It's my first time, sorry.)" He got me the piece of paper with the senha and toyed with me, sliding it in between the planks of glass between us and pulling it away every time I tried to grab it.  The officers had a good laugh at it, at my expense.

After finally getting it, I took my seat.  During about an hour of waiting, I watched several people, mostly older ladies, complain about how long it was taking to meet with them.  This happened every time this week when I was waiting in a line like this, I saw Brazilians complaining about it.  Brazilian bureaucracy is excessive and inefficient, but that definitely doesn't mean that the average Brazilian likes it or wants to accept it, despite how much more lax their sense of time is here.  I also realized that I was in the waiting area and had a senha to sit down with someone and not for the bank tellers, which I thought is where I should be.  But finally my senha was called and I said I'm here to pay for my CPF number.  The man was kind of confused and told me that as a foreigner I had to go to the Receita Federal (The Ministry of Finance, I think) to get my CPF number and that he couldn't help me.  Plus he said I had to go to a teller to pay the federal police registration fees, and luckily he was able to give me a senha for the tellers right there instead of me having to go back out through security and get one from the machine out there.  I finally met with a teller an hour later, paid the fees and asked about the CPF number (I figured 'why not' while I'm still there) and she let me pay for it and gave me a receipt.  Then I went to the nearest Receita Federal, with it turned out didn't do CPFs there, so I had to go to another one, which seemed to tell me that I had to do it at the Banco do Brasil!  So I gave up on that day, and finally received it when I tried two days later, but not before going back to the Banco do Brasil, by chance seeing the same bank person I'd seen two days earlier who said I couldn't do it there (just my luck!).  Then I went on to another Banco do Brasil, finally saw someone after an hour of waiting who filled out some forms and things (it seems there are no hard and fast rules, you just have to get lucky with the person you happen to interact with), then I went to the Receita Federal again and finally received my CPF, but not before waiting there for two and a half hours!  I don't think I'll ever complain about waiting lines and bureaucracy in the US ever again (I'm sure I will.)  

This past weekend, I also emailed the two El Sistema inspired programs here in Rio to see if I can come visit with them, so hopefully next week I will have some good news about when and if I will be able to work with them.


piano elf said...

When I was at the University of Minnesota, they had the same practice room key policy. You had to sign in, LEAVE YOUR ID, and get a key card to swipe open the room. And then you had to return it when you were done in order to get your ID back.


Keane said...

But these were real keys, not swipe keys. Most things, except the computer lab, was what we would consider low tech.