Sunday, September 29, 2013

Brazil: Weeks 28, 29 & 30 - Brasilia

View from downtown Joao Pessoa out to the countryside
The past three weeks have been pretty disappointing in regards to my research, but otherwise they have been wonderful!  I was scheduled to visit 5 different PRIMA centers in the first week, but lots of things fell through and I only ended up visiting one, and that was only for about a half-hour.  The next week I was off to Brasilia for a conference with the other Brazilian research Fulbright Fellows, and I stayed there an extra week visiting a good friend of mine, plus I was planning to visit the new and very ambitious music project that is beginning there (which I learned a little about in Week 17).  Unfortunately, though, all my attempts to contact the people I was told to contact in order to set up visits fell on deaf ears and I never received any replies (most Brazilians are very poor about replying to emails) and never got to visit, but I suppose that's how things go sometimes in this country.

A student stays late after class to learn
 the basics of the cello at Alto do Mateus
The one visit I did make was to the PRIMA center in Alto do Mateus, a neighborhood on the outskirts of João Pessoa.  Like all of the other centers, it is in partnership with a public school.  However, the school lacks the space to hold the classes and is worried that the music-making will disrupt other classes at the school, so the PRIMA classes are held at a cultural center just down the street.  When I visited, they were also just in the process of receiving their shipment of instruments, although there has a been a lot of bureaucracy they have had to deal with, one thing being that because the instruments are state government property, they need to be stored in the state-owned public school and not at the cultural center where the classes are held.  The center opened in March, and the few instruments they currently have, some brass instruments, some guitars, and some recorders which are borrowed from the school's band, they weren't able to use until a month or two later, so they essentially have only been functioning for 4-5 months.  I talked to several of the teachers, and they expressed how hard it has been to teach without having instruments for the students and they were really looking forward to their arrival.
The heart of Brasilia at night, the view from my hotel room
Jabuticaba (delicious!)
The next week, I headed off to Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil.  Brasilia, which is a planned city, was created out in the middle of nowhere in the red soil of the Brasilian highlands in the late 1950s.  It is the largest city in the world that didn't exist at the beginning of the 20th century.  It certainly is a very interesting city, unlike any I've ever been to before, but I don't want to start a large discussion on how it is designed, its history, or whether it is a success or failure.  My biggest impression from the city was that I actually got a bit of a sense of autumn there.  My experience here in Brazil, especially as I have been travelling farther north closer to the equator and away from where you can actually experience a temperature drop in the "winter," has been that of an endless summer. Yet, I am someone who loves experience the changing of the seasons, especially autumn.  In Brasilia, I visited shores of the lake that reminded me of New Hampshire, grassy areas with trees and the crunch and smell of their dead leaves on the ground that at night under streetlights reminded me of so many college campuses back in the US.  Perhaps this sense is enhanced by the fact that I know the autumnal changes are going on right now back in the US and I am sad I'm missing it (or as the Brazilians beautifully say, I have "saudades.")

In the savanna of Goias, outside of Brasilia
The Fulbright conference in Brasilia was very enjoyable.  It was great to meet up again with the 20+ other fellows, almost all of whom I hadn't seen since our orientation back in February, and it was really interesting to share our experiences with our research projects and the challenges and peculiarities we have encountered in Brazilian culture.  We all also gave a presentation on our research projects so far, and it was wonderful to learn about the work that everyone else has been doing.

Santa Maria waterfall
Lazarus Waterfall
But now that the conference is over, I'm starting to feel a sense that this grand adventure through Brazil as a Fulbright Fellow is beginning to come to an end.  Yes, I still have almost another 2 months left, which is still a lot of time, but I've already completed 7 months, which is twice length of my previous longest stay outside my home country.  I'm beginning to get a sense of all the things I have done, the places I have been, the people I have met, the things I have learned, how much I have grown, and am starting to realize what an incredible adventure it has been.  Spending such a long time in a foreign country with a foreign language has made me grow in ways I didn't expect.  Of course, my Portuguese skills has improved tremendously during my time here, and I still am learning new words everyday (and for some reason, it seems every taxi driver I've had tells me I speak it well,)  but there are still many instances where I don't understand what someone is saying and I just don't know what is going on.  There is something about having to struggle and exert a lot of mental effort day in and day out with the language and the culture for months on end that changes you in a deep way.  It makes everyday an adventure; both a tiring struggle and an exciting thrill at the same time.  I'm also realizing how many things in this country I am going to miss once I leave, and all the things I have been missing that I will be coming back to again in the US.  I also feel that I am beginning to understand a little bit of what this country is really about, what makes Brazil so unique, although it's definitely something that I can't really put into words, at least not yet.    

I also during my time in Brasilia, I celebrated my birthday, finally found and ate Jabuticaba fruit, and got to take a trip through the Brazilian savanna and swim in waterfalls.  But now I'm back in Paraiba and it's time to get back to work!

Cajuzinho, mini cashew fruit, we ate them straight off the tree

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