WAAG Week 5: Brazil Is Dangerous But Full of Miracles

Wednesday

Hot weather makes me sluggish, so while I’ve had some time to blog, I tend to just waste it away. Hence why Monday and Tuesday’s posts are missing. But I’ll do a quick recap. Jokes, this will be rather lengthy.

Yesterday I had my first day of work and it was… insane. I have two mildly terrifying stories to tell. Don’t worry, both have happy endings!

Scary Story 1

If you know me, you know that I don’t have the best directional sense. I could get lost two blocks away from my house (my Canadian one… If it was my Brazilian house I’d have to shorten it to half a block.) So I already anticipated that getting myself to the NGO would be the most challenging part of the day.

Getting there required a bus ride from the end of my street to the shopping mall at the centre of the city, and then a walk from the mall to the NGO. The bus ride was a little rocky because I didn’t know where t get off and ended up riding past my stop, but the stretch of walking is what really threw me off. I thought I knew which direction to walk, but I really really didn’t. After having made what I now know to be three wrong turns, I saw a man walking down the street, so I stopped him and asked for directions. (Just to set the tone for the story, he was a pretty built man with a lot of stubble – think lumberjack?) He didn’t understand English but told me he would bring me to a friend who did. He then led me down the street and through what appeared to be … a secured prison?! The only word I could understand on the granite sign was judiciaire, and there were armed guards posted at all the entrances. He nodded to the guards and motioned that I was with him, so the guards moved aside to let us in. My mind immediately leapt into panic mode: was this man taking me into prison?! Was I going to be kidnapped and sold in slavery? Were they going to sell me as a prostitute? All the scary stories I had ever heard were coming to life. Should I run? But there were guards at the entrances. Should I fake dead? No, that was ridiculous.

We went through three sets of doors (all of them were like the ones you see in the movies where you go into maximum security prisons), the last of which led to a room with a bunch of computers and a lot of guys wearing headsets. At this point, I was walking several feet behind the man, ready to bolt at the nearest hint of trouble.

Instead of suffocating me with chlorofoam (really what I expected at this point), he called out a name and another big man looked up from his computer screen. Smiling broadly, he indicated that the other man (let’s call him B) could speak English. When I explained my predicament, B googled the address for me, and then led me back outside. I had been walking in the wrong direction, so now I had to go all the way back. B offered to drive me in his car, but I politely declined, not only because it would take him away from his work, but also because you never really can tell when a person is a serial killer. Instead, he gave me extensive instructions as well as his phone number to call if I couldn’t find my destination.

Once I got to my NGO, I WhatsApped him:

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Brazilians are so nice ❤

Some pictures of my NGO (Instituto Agir):
    

After work, my fellow interns met up with some interns from another NGO close to us to go out for sushi. By the time we were ready to head home, it was 9PM.

Scary Story 2

My parents were concerned for my safety in Brazil, and they’re not wrong to worry. As I’ve experienced first-hand with my phone, and everyone here keeps reminding me, Brazil is a dangerous place, so you must exert caution. It gets dark very early here (5:30PM?) People here treat 6PM like our midnight… so 9PM translates to 3AM in the morning. And just as you wouldn’t want to walk on the streets by yourself at 3AM in the morning, walking any distance by yourself at 9PM is considered very dangerous. We all live quite far from each other, so the most we could do was walk each other to our respective bus stops. The walk from the bus stop to our final destination would have to be braved alone.

I had never taken the bus back home by myself before, and was extremely worried I would miss my stop. I sat at the front of the bus and kept a careful watch, waiting for anything familiar. I remembered that there was a green gas station next to my stop, so I kept looking out for that.

All of a sudden, a hand tapped my shoulder. I looked at the girl next to me, who said, “This is your stop.”

“What?” I told her my stop name, and she points outside. “This is your stop.” I looked out the window again, and sure enough, there was the gas station I’d been watching for, straight ahead! I ran to the doors, but the bus was already pulling out to the next station.

“How did you know to ask me right what my stop was?” She didn’t answer, just smiled.

I had to wait until the next station. This time the girl got off with me, and as I turned around to thank her, she told me, “Take a bus back. Do not walk. It is a dangerous time now.” I turned to walk one way, before realising that it was a dead end (#Fail), before doubling back. She was gone.

So, let’s get a few things straight about this girl:

  1. We had not talked at all this bus ride, so she didn’t know that I needed help going anywhere
  2. I didn’t have any device or map or anything in my hand, so there is no conceivable way she could have known what my stop was

Even though I’m Christian, my tendency towards Objectivism usually dissuades me from simply putting things I can’t explain into the basket of “God’s doing”. But I honestly believe that God sent me a miracle that night. If that girl had not showed me my stop at just the right moment, I would have stayed on that bus to who knows where. In fact, I have to believe that this entire trip to Brazil was an act of God. Even the fact that my phone was stolen may be god-given; without a phone that can use the regular navigation apps, I’ve had to resort to actually remembering locations rather than just following the GPS system like most of my fellow interns do. A week in, I already feel like I’ve been tested on skills I never would have exercised on my own.

Now it’s almost midnight and I’m utterly tired so I won’t really describe today in much detail. After work, A and I went to the mall to eat, and then headed to a nearby university to present to some university students who wanted to be hosts for more incoming interns. (According to J, in the next month AIESEC Recife expects to receive 100 more incoming interns!!! I can only hope that one day AIESEC Waterloo grows to this size.) The audience appreciated our insight into different cultures and were very proactive in coming up to talk to us individually after our presentation. It made me feel like I’ve given back to the AIESEC community abroad at least a little bit.

Let me conclude with some final thoughts of Brazil so far. Here’s a quote from my EP letter:

While there are areas in the city where the Human Development Index (HDI) is comparable to countries like Switzerland, in other areas the HDI is comparable to countries in Africa, like Ghana and Uganda. Sometimes the distance between the two scenarios is as small as one football field.

Before I came, I thought that this must have been an exaggeration – after all, in Ottawa we also have some areas which are a bit richer than others. But here, it so different: right behind a run-down shack you can see a beautiful industrialized building shooting to the sky. You can transition from a busy market atmosphere to a sullen desolate one just by walking down the block. I’ve never been more aware of why Brazil needs volunteers, and what our mission really is.

Thursday

One of the interns I met at sushi yesterday had a fever and went to the hospital. It turned out that he had dengue fever! This is a nightmare come to life: I’m so worried that I will get dengue fever too, because I’ve been getting mosquito bites left and right – my legs look like I’m wearing polka dot leggings.

At work today, D and I made a marketing plan and presented it to D2. He didn’t seem too excited about our ideas until we got to the Indiegogo campaign. To my surprise, neither D nor D2 had heard of Indiegogo, so I had a good time educating them. We spent more than an hour discussing the logistics of our project. I’m excited – I feel like I finally know how to make a difference!

Friday

N bought me a Brazilian snack the third day I got here, and I finally opened it today. I’m still not quite sure what it is, but it tastes like a milkier version of caramel?

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Saturday

I was supposed to go to the beach today with N’s aunt, but her uncle got sick with dengue fever (!!!!!) so the trip was cancelled. It actually ended up raining all day, so in a way, it was fortunate that we didn’t make the trek.

Interesting tidbit: Up until now, I kept getting told that while private high schools are superior to the public ones, the public universities here are a lot better than the private ones. In fact, only people who couldn’t make it into public universities would go to the private ones. It was a little hard for me to understand; why would the quality of public vs. private education change between secondary and post-secondary? Also, living in such proximity with the U.S. has kind of brain-washed me into thinking that private universities (hello, Ivy League?) always tended to be better because they have more funds with which to run their operations. But today, during my talk with G and her father, I discovered today that Brazil’s public universities are completely free. How absolutely crazy! Let’s add Brazil to the list of countries I wish I lived in, right after France.

Sunday

I went on a trip with to Antigo today, and got to meet some more interns! Most of them had just flown in a few days ago, so I felt like one of the veterans of the group. It was especially nice to meet people from other countries – the interns who arrived the same week as me were mostly from Canada as well. While it’s great to see your fellow Canadians abroad, I had gone on exchange to meet other cultures. This week presented a lot of diversity, with Malaysians, Singaporeans, French and Germans!

We had a full itinerary, and there was a lot of walking, so I’m exhausted and don’t really feel like writing. Instead, here are some pretty pictures:

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On the small island off Antigo
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View from across the river
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Pernambuco House of Culture. It used to be a prison, but has now been transformed into a souvenir shop, with each jail cell serving as a store. Here’s the one cell they left untouched, to allow visitors to see what the jail used to be like.
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An exhibit inside a museum (this is only a wall of it; it is actually a twisted tunnel). I originally thought it was like a house of mirrors, but it is actually composed of a bunch of computer screens which delay your reflection by a few seconds. There is also some slight whispering noises you only hear once you enter inside. It makes for an all around eerie effect. According to our guide, it is supposed to represent the devil’s temptation :O Definitely my favourite exhibit today
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Wall of the Frevo museum. (Frevo is a traditional dance that is unique to Recife.)
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Some costumes people have worn at the Carnival. SOME GUY DRESSED UP AS A WATERMELON. That’s definitely this year’s Halloween costume
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The streets of Antigo gets pretty busy on Sunday afternoons. I loved the hustle and bustle. Planning on coming back to do some shopping at the local markets before I leave 🙂
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OK, this isn’t a pretty picture, but the sun in Recife is real. I wore a t-shirt, and this is my tan line after getting home…

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