A recap of my my first week in Brazil during the Summer of 2017. I truly encourage all students to spend time abroad if possible.
Y’all, I was not supposed to end up in Brazil…
Upon sending in a last minute Global Gateways Application for the Rio de Janeiro 2017 trip, I had no expectation of actually being one of the fifteen people selected to go. My boyfriend had told me about the trip and application months before it was due, but ya know, you get busy with school, forget about things, and then you and up only having two weeks to work on an application for a very competitive program. God was definitely looking out. Even though I didn’t think that I would end up spending part of my Summer in Brazil, He knew that I would.
I really only had a few expectations of the trip – to learn more about Brazil, appreciate a culture different from my own, and to have fun. I also had some expectations of myself – to wear no makeup during the trip and work on better accepting my natural and beautiful self, make an effort to learn at least some basic phrases in Portuguese, and to academically excel in the classes that I am taking here while also allowing myself to be in the moment and enjoy my environment.
As soon as we touched down in Brazil, I was reminded of the fact that I would have no cellular service here in Rio, unless I was connected to wifi… so that meant no social media, texting, or phone calls unless I was in the hotel or at the study center (where my classes are held every weekday morning). This is serving as a much needed cleanse from constantly looking at social media, and it’s also forcing me to pay more attention to what is actually going on around me.
The first thing I saw as our bus took us from the airport to the hotel were massive walls next to the highway. At first, these walls prevent tourists from seeing all the poverty inside las favelas of Rio. Las Favelas are housing projects that are predominately up in the mountains. At first glance, one may admire their various colors. However, when looking at them one can see a small house stacked on top of another small house for what seems like an eternity up along the mountains. One can also smell the sewage from las favelas when driving by at certain times. Approximately 23% of Rio de Janeiro’s inhabitants live in favelas, and earn approximately $300 U.S. dollars a month on average. These walls that prevent tourists form seeing the reality of Brazil eventually dissolve away, and you realize that Rio is surrounded by las favelas. No matter how much Brazil may try to hide the poverty that exists here, the poverty is at such an immense magnitude that there is no way that the government could ever hide that much poverty.
I’m staying in a hotel along with the 14 other people in the Global Gateways program. The hotel is located in the Catete neighborhood, a place where middle class families reside. I am personally very happy that we are not just staying in touristy downtown Rio. There are actually very few tourist and English speakers here. The town has colorful housing with murals and graffiti cascading down the sides of their walls. Many of the building are reminiscent of Portuguese and Spanish style architecture.
As you walk the streets, you see the impact that Brazil’s economic recession is having on its people. The poor and homeless line the streets. Either quietly keeping to themselves, or selling candy in front of stores. However, even during a time of political turmoil and economic recession, Brazilians are still some of the kindest people that I have ever met. On my third day here, seven of the other girls in my program and I went out to dinner. Upon our return to the hotel, we decided to stop by the park across the street from our hotel. When we first walked by the entrance it seemed like the police officer was waving us off as if to say that the park was closed, but he was actually waving us in. We entered and as we walked in you could hear instruments accompanied by clapping hands, and the voices of women singing. As we got closer to this group of older people who were dancing and playing music they gestured for us to join them, and to sit and listen to the music. One woman was even kind enough to offer us coffee. As I looked around, I saw people of all different colors who were just happy to be together, and were enjoying a beautiful night. I think that gathering probably could have been a postcard for capturing all the different colors of people in Brazil. It was beautiful to see so much joy during a time of economic turmoil in their country. These are scenes, that are not as easily found in the U.S. While I have done a lot of site seeing within my first week here, this is still the most memorable and impactful experience that I’ve had here so far.
Also, update on my skin after one week of no makeup… it is poppin and glowin folks. S/o to my roommate Fatoumata for joining me on this no makeup journey!