There are little moments lately when I just stop and take account of exactly what I'm doing. I'm swimming in the most perfect water and laying out on a beautiful beach in Brazil. I'm making lunch for children in an elementary school in the favelas. I'm dancing at a Brazilian nightclub with my friends. Everything just feels surreal.
So far, I'm learned more than I thought I ever would about Brazilian history – almost 500 years in a 2-hour lecture, the various religions practiced here, Afro-Brazilian dances, and capoeira (a form of dance and mixed martial arts). I'm gotten to see famous moments like Farol da Barra (a lighthouse that protected a bay in Salvador) and Bomfim (a gorgeous Roman Catholic church built in the 18th century). I also went to a super fancy churrascaria and Pelourinho, an old historical site, for samba night.
I'm here in Brazil to learn, volunteer, and have fun. I'm "on vacation," you could say, but I can't help but to make observations about Brazilian society – at least what I see in Salvador. There's more to Brazil then beaches, Carnaval, beautiful people, soccer, and drug trafficking – the general things that people think of. It's paradoxical almost because I'm experiencing two very different sides of Brazilian society. I'm living in a nice neighborhood with an upper middle class family. It's a comfortable life in the cidade alta (upper city), and there are museums and theaters close to where I live. In my free time, I go to the beach or hang out in a cafe with my friends. At the same time, though, I'm volunteering at an elementary school in the favelas. The situation there is not great. The teachers are working without wages and trash water is currently seeping into the cafeteria. There's a cemetery near the top of the favela, and skulls sometimes washed down when it rains. The children play with the skulls like they're toys...
Although it sounds terrible and morbid at times, the situation in Calabar – the name of the favela – is actually inspirational. I don't think I've ever encountered anything like it. There's a public library run by the community. There's also a community radio station with programs like music, local news, and one that empowers women against domestic violence. I had my pre-conceived notions of what a favela would be like, and some of those notions were disproven. It's safer than I thought – at least during the daytime. What surprised me the most was that almost every house had running water and color TVs. Drug trafficking is still a problem and we definitely heard gun shots, but we haven't encountered those things directly. (There's a police base there, and things have improved greatly). What really sticks in my mind about Calabar is the strength of the community.
These pictures are from our first and second day at Escola Aberta. The children are always happy and have SO MUCH ENERGY. I was crouching down talking to a little girl when a little boy jumped onto my back and demanded a piggy back ride. We even had a race with all the children. They are adorable and will melt your heart. Those children are so fun and talented. I mentioned earlier that there's a problem with people throwing trash near the school and the health problems associated with this. To raise awareness of the problem, the school had an environmental parade around the favela with all of the children. The children sang songs that they made up – one boy played the tambourine and was basically a professional percussionist – and we handed out flyers to people in the community.
The problems that Escola Aberta are encountering right now...the challenges the school is facing and the hoops the teachers must jump through to keep the school running… just plain suck. Excuse my eloquence. It's frustrating to hear about the governmental problems they must deal with in addition to running the school on no public funding. My mind is already racing with how I could possibly help Escola Aberta, but I just feel overwhelmed with helpless. I feel like there's nothing I could do to the improve the situation when the government is fighting against the school…
Other than that, I am fully enjoying my time in Brazil. I'm still soaking everything in. I know Brazil is already changing me. Com corteza.