A cartao postal from Brazil
Becky Newman '13 is spending the semester in Brazil.
In what was probably the latest start date of all spring semester abroad programs, I arrived in Brazil at the end of the first week in March. Since then, it feels like I have been making up for lost time, and it’s useful to begin with the beach. The ocean borders Fortaleza on both its northern and eastern sides, and many natives here will tell you their favorite activity is to “vamos a praia.” In a valiant attempt at cultural immersion, the other students on my program and I “vamos” there as often as possible as well.
The natural landscape surrounding the beach is stunning, and the dunes in the east side of the city provide simultaneous views of the endless Atlantic and an immense metropolitan skyline, with a river and its tributaries and Fortaleza’s equivalent of Central Park filling the space in between the two. Last Friday night, independent films were projected onto the dunes, followed by live music—just another day living in a hipster’s paradise.
Yet this vida tranquila by the sea is often disturbed by a fascinating phenomenon witnessed in many developing countries, and Brazil is no exception: optional traffic laws. Here, the bigger you are, the more right of way you have, from pedestrians to public buses. Crossing any two-way street to get to the bus requires attentiveness that’s generally difficult to muster in this heat, but despite these difficulties, I always know it will be a good day when I see a mule with a cart pull up to my bus stop amongst the Fiats, Volkswagens and Land Rovers.
Unsurprisingly, the orthodoxy of futebol in Brazil inspires fierce piety in many Brasileiros to their respective teams, so beware of the potential post-game fight in the barrio. Preparation for the FIFA World Cup is a major engine of change here, and a favela close to my home is currently being displaced to make room for newer public transportation from the airport to the nicest hotels in town for 2014.
The language barrier is a lesson in smiling and nodding, waiting for the occasional recognizable word, most likely a cognate in English or French. Despite my comprehension level, people here are incredibly open, vivacious, interesting and willing to talk for hours about Brazilian music, history, culture and geography. One semester is not nearly enough time to explore a place this fascinating, and with a lot of time and fewer responsibilities I’d probably be heading south on a motorcicleta for Rio Grande do Sul. But saying yes and doing as much as possible in these three short months is working out pretty well so far.
–Becky Newman ’13