10/13/09

It is hard to believe that my time in Brazil is already one third finished! While I have already gained so much from being here there is still a great deal that I want to learn about and experience. As of today I have been at home in Belem for four days and things feel so normal and comfortable that it’s like I haven’t been gone at all. Since I wrote last my schedule has been jam-packed with new forest-related and cultural experiences that I can’t wait to tell you all about!

The first thing I want to mention is the incredible opportunity I had to experience the rainforest canopy last Thursday. Our group visited the Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (one of the world’s leading Amazon research centers and a part of a world-wide project to understand the earth’s ecosystems) and toured their complex scientific facilities. As our last stop of the day we were led to a 150 meter tower in the middle of the forest (made completely of metal bars) and told that we would be able to climb the tower in order to get a different view of the forest. Different was such an understatement. In groups of four we climbed the countless steps holding our cameras as tightly as possible trying not to look down. When I reached the top and took a deep breath I was so in awe of the beauty I was experiencing. The tree canopy is by far the most unexplored area of the rainforest and arguably the second most unexplored area of the world (the first being the deep sea). As you can imagine there are very few ways to reach the canopy, let alone study it, and therefore many researchers never even get to see it. It was truly one of the most breathtaking and exotic vistas I have ever had the privilege of viewing, not to mention the gratitude I felt for being so lucky to have the chance to see it at all. Seeing the rainforest from such a different perspective and getting the opportunity to have a more tangible mental picture of what a segment of rainforest really is caused me to feel an even deeper love for this peaceful and precious ecosystem.

With tons of valuable experiences under my belt, I returned to Belem extremely worn out (a few friends and I had spent our final night of the excursion dancing Samba until all hours of the night) but absolutely excited to see my family. I was greeted by my loving sister, mother, father, brother, and friends and even able to sleep for a few hours! But it wasn’t long before I was confronted with the reality that overtook Belem that weekend: Cirio 2009. Cirio de Nazare is the largest Catholic procession in the world and takes place on Belem’s Presidente Vargas Avenue. During the main procession which takes place on the Sunday morning of the weekend a small statue of the Virgin of Nazare enclosed in a glass case and adorned with flowers travels for five hours through the streets of Belem eventually arriving at a large church called Basilica de Nazare. Over two million people from surrounding towns and countries come to the procession and many participate by following the saint and holding onto a long cord symbolizing the unbreakable link between the Saint and her people. My entire extended Brazilian family went to the pre-procession on Saturday night and together we joined the sea of people downtown and attempted to catch a glimpse of the beautifully lit case holding the Virgin statue. Though we only saw it for a minute and from a long distance, we could never be disappointed as we simultaneously watched probably the most extravagant display of fireworks that I had ever seen.

The next morning I forced myself to wake up at 7 am to accompany my father  to the main procession (everyone else in my family had rejected the invitation claiming that there were too many people and that it was unbearably hot – I told them that there was no way I was going to miss the main event!). Leaving so early we were able to score a prime spot on the sidewalk of Presidente Vargas and we waited for over two hours as people continued to fill the streets to the brim. It was so crowded that looking around literally all you could see was people and as the procession began (primarily consisting of tons of people moving through the streets holding onto each other for dear life) we were often confronted by the mass of men and women being pushed into the already tightly-packed crowd of observers. It was intense to say the least; my father asked me if I knew where the car was parked in case we got separated – I laughed to myself at the impossibility of navigating the streets of Belem and took even greater care to stay as close to him as possible. When the Virgin came into view every arm shot into the air praising her and I saw how monumental this event was for Catholics in Brazil and all over the world. I am still shocked that I had never seen coverage of the event in the States.

The next day I was desperately in need of some relaxation and fun and with perfect timing I ended up having one of the most fun that I have had in Brazil to date. Spontaneously my sister, brother, brother’s fiancé, and cousin decided join Forrest (another guy from my program) and his brother and sister on their day trip to Mosqueiro Beach. Our families had never met before but we found that they quickly got along really well and we were all able to joke around and hang out easily. Basically we spent the day hanging out at the beach drinking, eating, and swimming in the five and six foot waves (trying not to drown is probably more accurate) that somehow existed despite that it was a river beach. Later we went to a restaurant that served solely various types of tapioquinhas (tapioca grains cooked in a frying pan until they form a tortilla of sorts wrapped around everything from guava jelly to ham egg and cheese) – probably the most delicious invention of an eatery. It may sound like a relatively normal excursion but to me it was kind of a turning point in my experience with my homestay family and Brazilian culture. That day I realized just how comfortable I really feel with my life in Brazil and that I am honestly a part of my Brazilian family and that I am becoming very accustomed to the culture that I am surrounded with here in Belem. My comfort level started out with enjoying going out on the town with my sister and has turned into hanging out at the kitchen table which is filled with the cartloads of food my Brazilian parents have bought at the supermarket and joking around with them about the names of local fruits and how I enjoy every traditional food they make me. I feel so lucky to have been placed with a family that has been so welcoming and friendly while at the same time not going out of their way to alter their lifestyle in order to accommodate me in any way. Every day I am excited to come home from school and see who is home and what new unknown foods have appeared in the cabinets. I am definitely looking forward to many more fun experiences with my family as well as to the brazilian routine I have come to call my own.

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Barry (dad) said,

    Carra, Once again you have expressed yourself in amazing fashion! May the rest of your journey be as fulfilling as the beginning! Thanks for sharing! Love, Dad


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