Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chicken Babies

I know it is horrible because I don't even want to know the crazy ways I am saying things in Portuguese. But I really love when people say things in English that don't quite match up. Today in class we learned the word for a chick (pintinho, i think) and our professor called it a chicken baby. it was adorable.

Note: as I was typing this post I thought I might go ask Claudia if I was correct with pintinho...and the way I formulated the question in my head was "what is the word for the child of a chicken." I imagine this would have been hilarious...I can't help that I have a limited vocabulary, ok!

Classes, even aside from chicken babies, are going really well. I was moved up to the new group on Monday. It is no longer too easy - in fact it is incredibly difficult. But, I think I am improving and I think I need to have more confidence. I think I am better than I think I am...hrmmm. I am also trying to work on thinking more in Portuguese, which takes some concentration. A fun game I play is to translate whatever song is in my can be pretty funny, especially when I try to sing it out loud!

The BEST part of my day happened on the subway (btw, the subway has a women only car (o carro das mulheres) at certain hours in the morning and the evening and it is pretty much awesome). I was 1 stop from mine and the man next to me looked over and asked me if Ipanema was the next station. I shook my head no and was already starting to reply when I realized that he had asked me in Portuguese and I had understood him. This caused me to trip up a little, but I managed to recover and tell him no, what the next station was, and that Ipanema was after that station. I am sure it was incredibly broken Portuguese, but I am still pretty pleased about it!

Work is going. Some things are really frustrating, but I think that is actually helping me learn to adapt to different situations.

I am still trying to run a lot, and I think it is going well - I am running faster and farther, and I really like challenging myself and coming up pleasantly surprised!

Paulo and Claudia arrived from China today, and before they did I expressly said that I we are done speaking English at home. It is REALLY hard, as even when I do understand what the heck people are talking about I usually can't form a response at all, let alone quickly enough to be part of the conversation. But, it will happen eventually, I think. I keep (and Paulo, too) having to remind Claudia and ask her again to only speak Portuguese with me. I imagine it is really frustrating for her to have to speak to me so slowly and try to understand what the heck I am I hope to improve so it is easier!

Off to study more...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Dish: Kaki

Saturday Morning Breakfast
Now, you might be thinking to yourself -- Sandy, that is so weird that you would eat a tomato for breakfast. And you're be right, it would be weird. But this, my friends, is no tomato. It is a crazy new fruit I just tried called Kaki.

On Friday night one of the girls from my Portuguese class mentioned it to me and told me to find out about it from my house mom and ask her to help me find some to try. Well come Saturday morning when I reached for the fruit bowl in the fridge to find breakfast, I found something that looked like a tomato. I asked about it and found out that it is Kaki -- the fruit of the Japanese Persimmon Tree.

Here is a better look (note: the unsliced one I added to the plate so you could see it whole, I did not eat it dirty like that!)
I think it is always hard at first to eat something that you expect to taste differently than it does. But after a few bites, I discovered that I really liked it! It was sweet and really light! I have NO idea if they have it in the US (has anyone seen or tried it before?), but I hope so -- I already thing it is going to be a breakfast and snack staple!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

bad blogger...good brazilian

So, I know that I haven't blogged in a while (which I imagine is just devastating for my 4-7 regular readers), but I think I have a good excuse -- I have been busy living life :)

I started Portuguese classes on Monday, and things really have been going great for me since then.

I am enjoying my classes so much. I am learning and getting in a ton of practice -- I have even found that I really enjoy it and I have been seeking out as many opportunities as possible to practice speaking with people! The only problem I have is that I think my class is a little too easy (i know, who would have thought...) so I asked the director if I can move up to a more challenging class. I have also been hanging out a lot with some people from the school - they are all foreigners, too, and we can practice speaking with each other all the time. We eat lunch together every day, and go out to bars some nights. Today we spent the whole day together at the beach, and tomorrow we plan to hit up the botanical gardens here in Rio.

We had a really big event for our work on Thursday as part of the "Digital Inclusion Week." It was at a huge venue here and was really fun - they had all of this different entertainment. The most interesting was the rap battle. Some kids from one of our schools in a favella came and did a rap battle around the topic of digital inclusion. I thought it was extremely strange, and from what I understand they made some pretty disgusting sexual as it turns out I not only don't understand rap in English, it is a universal thing. After the event I went out to celebrate with some people from work, and it was a really fun time. I was sitting between 2 people who speak no English, and I managed hours of conversation (with only an occasional interpretation) with them. My growth in the language has allowed for the people I work with to get to know me better and I am enjoying that.

More to come soon, I promise!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I found a great video that helps to explain what CDI does - in case anyone is interested in watching it, head on over and check it out. Rodrigo is our founder and the other woman that appears is one of our directors.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Dish: Black Beans

I can't even tell you the amount of black beans that I consume daily; it would border on embarrassing. I actually googled "how much black beans is too much." [note: when googling, grammar doesn't count] I didn't find an answer, but I did find a soup recipe I want try out when I get back to the US and my crockpot. The point is, black beans are the staple of my diet here. I think they're pretty OK for you - but if someone knows otherwise please tell me before I wake up 900 lbs heavier!

Brazilian meals usually include black beans and rice (arroz branco com feijao preto). This works out awesome for me. For at least 1 meal each day (and often 2), I make a salad of lettuce, tomato, onion, carrot, maybe some cheese, whatever decent meat there is (if at por kilo - a salad bar where they weigh your food and you pay by weight...VERY common here - there often isnt a good meat choice because it is all fried or covered in sauce and whatnot) and any other veggies there that seem appetizing. Oh, and then I cover it in black beans. My logic is that black beans have to be better for you than ranch dressing so it all works out OK.

I stick with the salad route to stay away from all of the rice and potatoes that are usually served with the meat -- there is rarely a vegetable served, which I think is odd. But sometimes I do have just rice and beans and it is SO good. And even when I don't have a salad or meat for lunch and I have just yogurt and fruit or something, I will usually still have a bowl of black beans. It sounds like fruit/yogurt wouldn't go so well with black beans, but I think you would be surprised (or maybe grossed out)!

The beans in our house are cooked with onion and garlic, which are pretty much my cooking staples (I quadruple the amount of garlic called for in any recipe. Thank you, Biaggi's!). I think (hope) black beans will be something I continue eating once I am back in the US (I want to learn how to make black bean burgers...anyone have a recipe?).

Forced Portuguese

Tomorrow, Claudia and Paulo leave for China for two weeks. Here to stay with the kids are Claudia's parents. I don't know their names yet. What I do know is that they speak Portuguese. Only Portuguese. So begins my complete immersion into the Portuguese language. They can't speak English to me, and the kids don't really speak to me much anyhow(especially not in English), so it looks like I have to speak and attempt to understand Portuguese for the next 2 weeks. I know this is really for the best and will help me learn faster, but the idea of it is still daunting.

They arrived tonight and straight away Grandma started telling me that she doesn't speak English but that she'll speak slowly to me and use a lot of hand gestures (I actually completely understood her saying that in Portuguese). A little dinner conversation in both languages went nicely too. But after dinner, Grandpa pulled out a newspaper and started talking to me about how people don't use paper money anymore and the serious evils of buying on credit (a popular topic here). The fact that I understood any of this is ridiculous. I followed very little of the conversation, but I nodded, smiled, and secretly rejoiced that I at least understood a little of my first financial discussion in Portuguese. Point, Stipp.

So I think this is going to be really great for me. I have been trying to get the folks around here to speak only Portuguese to me for weeks now, but they mostly fall back into English quickly or simply respond to my Portuguese attempts with English in the first place. So, hopefully by the time Claudia and Paulo arrive home I will have advanced a bit and we can continue on in an English-free household.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Dish: Shrimp Pad Thai

You see what I did there? Get it?

So I rolled out what will hopefully be a series of posts on some of my observations of The Brazilian Way of doing things, and this post will hopefully start another series...about food! Whether it is good or bad, food is something we naturally encounter every day and where it is good or bad or different, I want to note it. Plus I really like to cook and I don't get to do that a lot around here, so this can be my outlet.

So I know Pad Thai is a bit of an unconventional way to start a blog post about food in Brazil, but I had some last night and it might have been the best Pad Thai I have had. Ever. In my life.

Quick background: Growing up with a picky eater as a mother did not lend itself to trying food from other regions of the world (except Mexico...the woman loves Mexican food like nothing you have ever seen). Thus, I didn't experience Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Indian (the list goes on) food until I was much older. I guess I feel the need to make up for lost time, because I love it now! Imagine my excitement when I found out (upon arrival because, you know, I never have any clue what we are doing at any given time until we are already doing it) that we were going to a Thai restaurant.

Part of that excitement stemmed from the prospect of having some really spicy food! One thing about Brazilian food that strikes me as odd is the lack of spiciness. I guess I assumed that all Latin/South American food would be good and spicy. #stupidamericangeneralizations. I was wrong. Before last night, I hadn't seen a pepper since I've been here. Don't get me wrong, Brazilian food is good and usually really savory with a lot of flavors...just no spice.

The restaurant is called Sawasdee -- there is one in Buzios that did really well, so they decided to bring the show to Rio (and Sao Paulo too, I think). We had a couple of small starters - a shrimp satay and some other awesome peanuty flavored chicken bite-sized piece of goodness - that were very tasty. The sauces that came with the starters were amazing - one really spicy chilli-oil and another rich peanut sauce.

For my main dish, I decided on the Royal Pad Thai for 2 reasons: (1) Even though there were descriptions in English, sometimes you just never know if, say, a green curry in Brazil is going to be what you expect it to be, and (2) I wanted to compare a little and pad thai is a dish that I know well.

I was blown away. The shrimp was cooked perfectly and there were plenty of chilli flakes to make the dish as spicy as I wanted! The peanut sauce has a really good consistency - sometimes I find that its so thin that it is totally absorbed by the rice noodles, but here it was just thick enough to be present without being overwhelming.

It really was the best pad thai I've ever had!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Brazilian Way: Driving

Riding in a car here is not for the faint of heart...or stomach. To start, the traffic is horrible in Rio (though, admittedly not as bad as in Sao Paulo). If you're turning onto a street, you really just inch the car out and insert yourself into the lines of traffic. And speaking of inches, after some serious observation I would estimate that "assured clear distance ahead" here means something in the range of 2-6 inches. And that's being generous.

Once you are in traffic, the lines on the road really mean nothing at all. For example, if you're in traffic and inching forward, usually a third lane will open up on a two-lane the middle. This is especially true when an ambulance or police car comes through; the cars barely attempt to get out of the way for the emergency vehicle and as it slowly makes it through traffic, cars just form a line behind it and 2 lanes become 3. And when you actually get moving, it seems that the lines on the road are merely suggestions for a region of space that might be nice to drive in. This is particularly troublesome because of the motorcycles. As in any city with a lot of traffic, motorcycles are incredibly popular here because they can slide in between cars which is so dangerous, especially given the lack of a driver staying in his lane. On the way home from Buzios a month ago (wow, I have been here for over a month...) we saw a fatal motorcycle accident; the body was covered and laying on the side of the road as the police waited for an ambulance. At least almost all motorcyclists wear helmets, but still...

Buses and taxis are their own special kind of ride. The buses can make you physically sick with the way they accelerate quickly to high speeds and then stop so abruptly you are flown forward. And because the roads here are very bumpy and the pavement incredibly uneven, when the buses go so fast you are flying up and out of your seat! Riding in a taxi here is similar to in any other city, I think, but the drivers are incredibly friendly and talkative. They ask for your input on the route they are taking, and they always strike up conversations. I like riding in taxis here as I consider it an educational tool; I have created a Portuguese learning game I call "faking it with the taxi driver." From the moment I get into the taxi, I try to go as long as I can before breaking down and having to tell the driver that I don't speak Portuguese. I can tell him where I am going, and when he asks my opinion on the route I tell him to go whichever way he thinks is best. I can even manage conversations about the weather. And when he starts in on something I don't understand, I start pretending. I use non-verbal clues as to what he is saying and I just agree and nod my head a lot.

Driving late at night is interesting, too. Nobody obeys red lights at night. You approach it and slow, but if there is no car coming you can proceed through. I think it is technically against the law, but they do it for safety to avoid getting robbed on the side of the road while you are sitting there so I think the police overlook it (the other thing they overlook is the people selling things (coco water, soda, snacks) on the side of the highways...and in the middle of the highways...because though it is illegal, it keeps them from selling drugs in the favelas). The other interesting thing you see driving at night is the sobriety checkpoints. They take drinking and driving very seriously here -- there is a no-tolerance policy so if any alcohol is detected, you go to straight to jail. And they set up sobriety checkpoints on all of the major roads that take you to different parts of the city. It seems to work, too, as when I have been out with friends I have heard people say they are not drinking because they know they have to drive home and they might get stopped at a sobriety checkpoint. As I am against drunk driving, I think this is a great system.

The funniest part about how scary their driving is here is that the driver's education system is fairly intense. They can't get a license until they are 18, and they have to go through a lot of classroom and practical training.

So I guess that is my take on driving...sometimes it is best to just look out the window and try to concentrate on something else!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What am I doing here?

Before I got here, I couldn't have answered that question! I knew I'd signed on to volunteer with an NGO called CDI, and I knew roughly what they did -- but like all of the rest of my experiences here, I didn't really know what I was in for until I started!

CDI is a Brazilian-based non-profit that brings education about information technology to low-income areas in 13 different countries around the world. That is what I knew before I arrived. And it is the best way to describe what CDI does in a general sense. But I have learned a bit more since I've been here...

So CDI forms partnerships with existing community and social groups and then implements a school within the existing group to teach members of that community computer skills (and some citizenship...). We have that group discover some leaders in the community to become teachers who are trained by CDI in different computer and technology practices. Then, the teachers hold classes (the space is donated by the community organization and the equipment and methodology comes from CDI -- we acquire the hardware and software through partnerships both big (Dell) and small (local organizations)) to educate the community.

The method used is interesting, too. The teachers research and identify key problems in the community. The classes are then taught around those issues and aimed at trying to fix the problems through the use of technology. For example, a CDI school in the Amazon rain forest was able to take on Peruvian drug dealers stealing timber from the across the border by using their new found internet skills to mobilize amongst themselves and reach out to the federal government/secure the assistance of the Brazilian air force to patrol their territory. In another city, a group traced funds that were supposed to be used to build a gymnasium. They used what they learned from CDI in power point to make presentations in their community and got that money released. Now, with the proper use of that funding, the spot has been transformed from a place where youth would do drugs into a healthy and productive community center.

CDI is currently operating in 13 different countries, and in the recent years has grown faster than it knows how to handle. Enter me. I am here to head up a project to develop and implement a global structure for CDI. So far the job is really interesting and I am working with great people -- there are lawyers on my team from firms in the US and the UK. We are looking at many issues like organization registration in different countries, practical management and control, trademarks, and the flow of finances.

So overall, I really like what I am doing -- the work is interesting and challenging. However, sometimes it can be frustrating to work in such a different atmosphere. I don't know if it is working for a non-profit or working in Brazil...maybe it is a little of both? Forward progress on anything here comes slowly and is hard-fought for. Sending an email or making a phone call with a request doesn't usually cut it; usually you need to physically go to the person several times and ask for what you need. I also find that I am often just waiting for people to get back to me with answers that I need before moving forward. So I do find my days a little slow at times, and wish I had more to do!

But our office is cool(very have to walk outside to get anywhere!) and the people are nice. When there is a birthday we all go to a restaurant for lunch and there is always cake and singing in the kitchen. Maybe Feb/March are birthday heavy but we do this at least once a week. I joke to them that all they do in Brazil is eat cake. Everyone speaks English to me, which I am trying to change...but it is hard to leave behind something so comforting. I know it is necessary though; I am pretty sure they all think I am a very quiet person that keeps to myself...and we all know that just isn't true. I want them to get to know me better!

So that is what I do and where I work -- some pictures below!

Getting some sunshine going from one part of the office to the other = :)

My desk/table. I'm not a huge fan of my current sitting situation, but there isn't a ton of space and I am a temporary volunteer. One guy is leaving and I've already voiced my interest in his desk...

Rodrigo Baggio -- the man that founded CDI. He turned his computer so you could see the CDI logo. I have a picture of the 2 of us together but opted to not post it as he didnt stand up so I was doing that weird, crouchy thing.

Donal form Ireland -- another volunteer...he is also helping me with some of my project. This is the veranda where we have a lot of meetings and phone calls.

My friend Natalee and her boyfriend Tim. They have nothing to do with where I work, and they aren't even in Brazil (they live in Ohio). This picture was just in the same folder and I saw it and I miss them. I like looking at them, so I thought you would too ;)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Settling In

So I know that I said a while back that I would do a post on what exactly it is that I am doing here in Brazil - and I will! This week, I promise! But I for now it is enough to say that really like my work so far, and I have been keeping quite busy with it. Last week I had to lead a call on Friday with our team of lawyers in NY and London, so the entire week was busy with preparation. We are moving forward with the project I am here to work on, and progress feels good (especially in a place where getting people move forward is NOT easy)!

I have also been developing something of a daily routine and that has been comforting. I walk on the beach often in the mornings, which is a great way to start the day. I have learned how to take the subway and the buses (it is a bit different in the US in terms of purchasing the tickets and knowing where to go). Luckily I work on the same bus line that takes you to the Christ statue and so if I ever ask which bus, someone recognizes that I am foreign, and we can usually figure it all out by holding out our arms in a Christ statue imitation which leads to me getting onto the right bus. I have been running along the lake most nights after work, too, so I am trying to be outside as much as possible! After dinner I usually watch Viver a Vida (a novella here everyone watches) with Claudia and then get some work done (though sometimes work actually means read the internet) and/or study some Portuguese. I usually read for pleasure then and head to bed (if you care, I am currently reading Love in the time of Cholera and really enjoying it).

The description of that pantomime above should be enough to let you know that I still can't speak Portuguese! No, I actually am capable of asking which bus goes to that particular neighborhood, but I am still struggling with learning the language. Every day it gets better, though, and I have confidence that I will get there!

We had a party here on Friday night partly to celebrate Marcello's acceptance and start at the Medical School and partly to celebrate Claudia's birthday. It was a really nice time and everyone I met was super friendly and enjoyable to talk to. I spent most of Saturday with some friends -- we went to an open market with both a produce market that was amazing and also many stands of art, clothing, and jewelry. We spend the rest of the day at another friend's house just hanging out and preparing a really nice "lunch." Oh yeah, they called it lunch. even though we ate it at approximately 5:30 or 6p.m. I was starving on account of I didn't eat lunch since I thought we were going somewhere for lunch. I wonder if I will ever figure out when to eat and when to not eat in this country!

We had a nice day, but when I was ready to leave at around 9:30 I found out that I couldn't. There had been a huge rainstorm that left much of the city flooded and taxis couldn't get through. Some other people that were visiting at the same house had been trying already for an hour to get a taxi. At around 11, they got a taxi to come for me, but on the way there it went through water and broke. No joke. Finally I was able to get a taxi at 12:30.

I hope all is well with everyone back home -- it sounds like the weather is getting nicer for you!

There aren't even words to tell you how amazing these spices at the market smelled!

At the fera (Market) -- there is a square area where you can buy a drink and usually there is a band there

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dead Fish

Most of the weekend was uneventful. I went to dinner and then to a nightclub on Friday with a girl from work and some of her friends, and I had a really nice time. I hope I continue hanging out with them. Though, the whole not going out til 11 which leads to not coming home until a ridiculous hour makes for a rough Saturday! We found out on Thursday that Marcello (the son in my family here) passed his exams to get into the University of Medical School so we had a nice lunch on Sunday to celebrate -- and he already had to start classes today!

The most interesting part of my weekend came when I went out for a run on Sunday morning. I headed down to the lake and the first thing I noticed was the stench. Then I noticed the buzzards. I put it all together when on the bank of grass between the running path and the shore I saw several huge piles of dead fish. I made it about 200m before bailing.

Apparently (and news outlets/the citizens of Rio all have very different opinions on this) something happened to drastically drop the oxygen levels in the lake (the canal connecting the lake to the ocean was too dirty, there is too much algae in the lake sucking all of the oxygen out, some theory about the recent rainfall that I don't understand) and tons fish died. Literally, tons. Some sources are saying 40 tons, some are saying 80 tons. Either way, that is a crapload of dead fish. Seriously, look at this picture someone took. They have sanitation workers literally raking fish into piles on the shore.

Naturally, with that many dead fish comes swarms of birds of prey. And because I am terrified of birds, this was like a glimpse of a scene from my own personal version of hell.