Archive for Brazil Face of Fair Trade

MamaShayna’s Musings is often a mish-mash of information, inspiration, and introspection.  Though my motivation for MamaShayna hopefully peaks through from time to time, it is particularly well-represented today on the Fair Trade blog, where I’ve been added to the ‘Faces of Fair Trade’ series.  You can read the interview by clicking here.


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Brazilian 10Ks and 10K of rain in Minas

The last week has been a whirlwind… starting last Friday with my colleagues calling me into the office for a special, urgent meeting, of which I had less than an hour to get from my house to get to in Recife´s morning traffic jam. Moreover I´d spent the week finishing up grad school applications, my final Fulbright report, and final report for work, and had been running on no-sleep and all-caffeine.

I arrive, and my colleague Sofia calmly says ´lets go get a coffee?´ I was too exhausted to process what was going on, but next thing I know the whole staff of Diaconia is in the kitchen with a spread of fruits and cake, wishing me a warm Brazilian farewell with hugs & kisses, a prayer, lots of food, and a beautiful card.  Which pretty much sums up the sweet experience that I have had working with this wonderful organization over the past six months.  I then ran home, cleaned my room in anticipation of my dad´s visit, and packed for the upcoming trip to Minas Gerais.

The morning before travelling to Minas my roommates and I ran a 10K in Recife. Originally scheduled for an afternoon along the ocean, for some reason the run was re-routed to start inland at the Jaqueria Park, my favorite local spot to jog, and was to wind through some closed off, main roads around the neighborhoods of Espinheiro, Casa Forte, and back to the park. Well, being organized in a very Recifan style, in the 8am, 90 degree heat we snaked our way around the neighborhood, running in the left lane of a busy street, skirting city buses and Sunday morning traffic, gulping down lungfulls of car exhaust, only to make it an hour later back to the park to down a few liters of water and agua-de-coco because the run only supplied 1 cup of water around the route! It was a fun accomplishment, however, as it was my first race since Chicago´s also sweltering 88 degree marathon in 2007.

Maybe I could make my next career jump to running in overly hot, uncomfortable race conditions.  I did meet a dude who ran the marathon in Madagascar´s heat, no rest stops or water stations, and being one of a few runners he even placed in his age class.

Post-race, post-hydration and carb loading, my dad and I jumped a plane to Minas, arriving in Belo Horizonte on Sunday evening and here in the stunning colonial town of Ouro Preto on Monday morning.  We´ve visited ex-slave-owned gold mines and incredible baroque style churches, and have been staying at a pousada (bed and breakfast) which has hosted the likes of Brazilian composer Vinicius de Moraes (he wrote Girl from Ipanema), who hid out here during the dictatorship, to US poet Elizabeth Bishop and her Brazilian girlfriend, to Henry Kissinger (Nixon´s Secretary of State) over 20 years later.   Unfortunately we´ve been hit up by tons of rain, resulting in a re-routing our trip from the National Park of Caraça to another mining town, Tiradentes,  but my dad is a wonderfully relaxed travel companion and is up for anything.

More to come… I can hardly believe that this has all been in the past 5 days!

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Just a quick quip. As a Fulbright Scholar, I’m expected to be a ‘positive representative’ of the US here in Brazil, and to this end, in my final Fulbright report I was asked to reflect on how I have positively contributed to the image of the US abroad — a vital task given the decimation of US image abroad by the Bush administration.

I think I’ve done a damn good job as I’ve traveled to regions of the country where Brazilians told me that they have only imagined what Americans are like from watching American ‘filmes’ (movies), and the impression was not always so positive. A woman at Diaconia, the organization I have worked for this year in Brazil, told me that meeting me and my parents totally changed her image of Americans, as her past experience with an American man left a bad taste in her mouth.

Then yesterday, as I was leaving Diaconia on my last day at work, a young girl who I had never met before grabbed me as I walked out the door. “You’re American, no?” She asked. “Yes, I’m from the US.” And this young, bright eyed girl (curiously dressed up in her Sunday’s best on a hot Friday afternoon) begins to well up and tell me about how awfully she was treated at the US consulate earlier that afternoon as she tried to get a visa to study English in the US. She had all the proper paperwork, she has a son in Brazil, the income to take a course abroad, and a steady job in at a good hospital here. She has no reason to want to permanently leave Brazil, but every reason to come back. And she had paid the equivalent of over $500usd in fees to Uncle Sam to merely have this one-minute meeting.

The guy at the consulate, who stood behind a glass wall and spoke to Michele through a postcard sized opening, asked, “Michele, you really think that you’ll be able to learn English in a 2 week course?” And she responded, “my intention is to increase my comprehension during this intense English course, and return to Brazil to continue my studies.” He looked her in the eye, said “I suggest you continue to study here in Brazil,” and stamped DENIED across her passport without explanation. The girl had paid $1000 reais for the meeting, which is the equivalent of two-and-a-half months of minimum wage Brazilian salary.  She had traveled about a day by bus to get to Recife, to the only consulate in northeastern Brazil. And, without further explanation, she was ushered out of the consulate with a very bitter taste in her mouth.

Now, I am not going to argue the merits of the visa process, as I have no real idea as to why she was denied. But it’s the way that she was treated that bothers me so much.

I have loved my Fulbright experience and am very grateful to have spent a year in Brazil because of it, but given the number of US consulate officials abroad, wouldn’t it be more effective for the US (in addition to programs like Peace Corps and Fulbright) to train consulate officials to treat people abroad with respect… and to really represent the best of our country?

I can only be hopeful that this brash US attitude will change with our energetic & respectful new President who, especially when it comes to foreign policy and diplomacy, seems to ‘get it.’

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Race: US & Brazil

“Despite Brazil’s social ease around race, many argue that its blacks simply moved from the slave quarters to the slums.”

This is an incredibly well-written article on many of the issues of race in Brazil, ones which, in the wake of Obama’s election, I have encountered more frequently during my conversations with Brazilian friends, taxi drivers, work colleagues, etc.  The article offers a good look at racial dynamics in Brazil as compared to the United States… from a common history of slavery and social exclusion to the non/evolution of a civil rights movements and the vast differences that our countries face as a result of post-slavery legislation.  Brazilian’s hope for Obama remains extremenly high; “Barack Obama represents what every black person in the world has been hoping for: that the fight of the dream for racial equality in North America can spread to the entire world.”

despedida-recife-2008-033Brazilian kids enjoying a sunday afternoon treat at the beach

Obama win forces Brazil to take a tolerance check Dec 5, 2008  11:44 AM EST
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – What struck the Brazilian woman most forcibly as she watched U.S. election returns on television was seeing Barack Obama’s two young daughters.

“I can’t believe those two little girls with hair like mine will be in the White House,” said 31-year-old Carolina Iootty Dias, putting her hand to her head, tears in her eyes as she watched the screen.

Black Brazilians such as Dias, a human rights worker, celebrated Obama’s election as giving hope worldwide. But the country that prides itself on racial mixing and tolerance is also being forced to take a reality check.

Though half of Brazil’s 190 million people are black – the world’s largest black population outside Nigeria – power remains firmly in the hands of whites. The country has few blacks in top political positions, and government studies consistently show blacks in Brazil earn half as much as whites.

“This Brazilian hypocrisy that says racism does not exist is one of the things that keeps the nation from advancing,” said Stepan Nercessian, an actor and Rio de Janeiro city councilman, who is white.

Latin America’s largest country has long looked down its nose at the racial discord in the U.S. – segregation laws, civil rights battles and a strained social dialogue that continues today.

But Obama’s election is making Brazilians look inward, with some arguing that an American-style struggle is exactly what Brazil is missing.

“I think it is important for young black Brazilians to know how the civil rights movement progressed in the U.S. and how it produced not just Obama, but blacks at the highest levels of American businesses,” said Edson Santos, Brazil’s minister of racial equality, who is black. “It is important that they have contact with this reality.”

Glaucia Carvalho Oliveira is one of those young people.

“All of a sudden, Obama has arrived and taken us to the next level,” she said, sweat glistening on her face as she assembled her snack stand on Rio’s Copacabana beach. “We black Brazilians need him as much as the Americans do.”

Brazil and the U.S. were two of the largest slave-owning societies in the Americas – some 4 million shipped to Brazil and 500,000 to the U.S. – and the two countries that benefited most from the slave trade.

Brazil freed its blacks in 1888, the last country in the Americas to do so. In that year it abolished all its race laws, while American blacks had to fight for more than 100 years after they were freed to gain full rights as citizens.

Black and white Brazilians mix easily in both marriage and social venues, from soccer matches to samba clubs. Beyond the half of the population that is black, most Brazilians are of mixed ancestry and have a census category, “parda.”

No such category exists in the U.S. census. Obama, who is half white and identifies as black, could call himself parda if he were Brazilian.

Despite Brazil’s social ease around race, many argue that its blacks simply moved from the slave quarters to the slums.

They are only 3 percent of Brazil’s college graduates. Only one senator among 81 is black, which mirrors the U.S. breakdown, except that blacks are only 13 percent of the U.S. population. Twelve of Brazil’s lower house’s 513 members are black, compared with 46 out of 435 U.S. house members.

With Brazil’s history of authoritarian governments and extreme poverty, blacks only started organizing in the last 40 years, said Reginaldo Lima, who is black and directs AfroReggae, which works on race and violence issues in Rio’s slums.

Six years ago the country elected its first blue-collar president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a white man who enjoys huge support among blacks. But only two of his 28 government ministers are black.

In 2003 Brazil appointed its first black Supreme Court justice, Joaquim Barbosa, whom some consider a future presidential candidate. Barbosa traveled to Washington to watch the U.S. elections.

Many whites play down the level of prejudice in Brazil, saying the inequalities are economic, not racial.

“We see people not as black or white. We don’t look at a black person and think they are not as capable as whites,” said medical secretary Liliane Lyra, 43. “It is more a social problem that separates the races here, a lack of opportunity for the poor.”

But Alannah Xavier, 26, says her black skin, not her economic status, keeps her from getting work as a model in Brazil.

“You know where I work the most? In Germany … a nation that is supposedly so racist with its Nazi past,” said Xavier. “Here in Brazil they only have work for blondes. Crazy, no?”

Since Silva took office, there have been positive changes, notably affirmative action in the university system, said Jose Vicente, director of Ciudadana Zumbi dos Palmares University, who is black.

Lima says Obama’s election will help that struggle.

“Barack Obama represents what every black person in the world has been hoping for: that the fight of the dream for racial equality in North America can spread to the entire world,” he said.

Others doubt there will be an “Obama effect.”

“This is a very racially mixed country, but all the elites are white. Things have been so bad for so long, I think people just accept it,” said Carlos Eduardo Antones, 21, a waiter and part-time student who is black.

Either way, Emmanuel Miranda is happy to savor the moment.

The 53-year-old Rio de Janeiro policeman, who is black, sipped an espresso in a cafe off Copacabana beach, lit his first cigarette of the day, and declared a new era.

“The U.S. is a country to dream about, and for us black Brazilians it is even easier to do so now,” he said. “God bless you and your beautiful country.”

Associated Press writer Marco Sibaja in Brasilia and APTN producer Flora Charner in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.

By BRADLEY BROOKS     Associated Press Writers

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Spot on.

I’ve been on a bit of an active blogging hiatus as I’ve embarked on the short but delightful experiment of living ‘offline,’ that is, no computer or internet at home. I’m finding that I have weekday time for stuff that’s usually reserved for the weekend; I started a book 2 days ago and am already halfway through, I’ve been cooking with my roommates, enjoying long runs at the park and evening yoga, cleaning out ‘stuff’ for my upcoming move from Brazil, and making hand-made holiday cards… all in post-work hours. 

But by far the best part has been sleeping… getting to bed early, soaring through crazy dreams (and waking up giggling yet without remembering the details of why).   Besides, between writing my final report on family farming & market access for Diaconia and finishing up grad school applications, my eyes are grateful for the break.

Anyways, I got to work early today to check personal emails and was, for the first time in a long time, very grateful for the cool blast of AC.  My Brazilian colleagues are even complaining about the heat and humidity, which was intense even when I left the house around 7.45am.  I was feeling particularly frustrated at having taken a shower this morning only to be covered with sweat and grime from the walk into work, when I opened my inbox to a timely message:

Here’s the Story of the Day:
Original Drawing #1724-Boxed Book Set
hot tropical sun aimed without mercy at those who have any ambition whatsoever

Spot on.

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Travel Tips to Brazil from a local-ized gringo in Olinda

Here’s an article from the traveler’s notebook, written by a friend of mine who has lived in Olinda for long enough to publish some damn good tips on Brazil.

– the traveler’s notebook –

10 Tips to Improve Any Trip to Brazil

Posted By ernesto-machado On November 29, 2008 @ 3:39 pm

Brazil is different from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and its other neighbors. Besides the language differences between Spanish-speaking South America and Portuguese-speaking Brazil, a noticeable cultural divide exists.

Brazil, a place where batucada and jazz, beach and jungle, and bikinis and Jesus coexist peacefully, seems to lie on a planet of its own.

Here are some tips for every traveler who intends to spend any amount of time in this, the largest country in South America. In fact, let’s start with that simple fact…

It’s a big country!

It’s easy to forget that Brazil occupies a large chunk of real estate, with the majority of the population and the tourist hotspots concentrated along the coast.

You won’t be able to “do” Brazil in just a few weeks (though it’s certainly possible to “do” some Brazilians in that time span).

Unless you have a lifetime to travel the country, you’ll always miss somewhere interesting. It’s always a challenge to decide which places to visit and which to skip, no matter where you travel, but in a country as large as Brazil you must think about distances. Assume that you’ll visit, at most, two places per week.

Keep in mind, though, that…

Bus travel isn’t perfect.

Don’t assume that buses will take you everywhere you want to go and don’t assume they’ll be on time. Be open-minded towards alternatives like vans (usually called “kombi”), private cars (called “lotação”, a sort of long distance taxi), and motorcycle taxis.

In places where rivers are more common than asphalt, you’ll need to consider boats of all shapes and sizes. Keep in mind that long distance buses often skip over the most interesting places you could visit, while overnight buses are often the target of crime, giving you two good reasons to avoid these long, overnight trips. Opt for shorter legs.

In spite of these long distances, you should definitely…

Leave the southeast.

Visiting the Iguaçu Falls, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro is the equivalent of going to Niagara Falls, New York City, and Miami: everyone and their mother visits these places.

Don’t get me wrong; all these locales are worthy of a visit. But it’s logical that large cities and popular tourist attractions are not the place to meet the “natives”, since locals are usually too busy to concern themselves with you, one in a long line of foreign visitors.

The “heart” of the country lies elsewhere; strive to find it.

Start by trying to…

Photo by [3] babasteve

Skip the hostels.

Though this piece of advice could apply to anyone who wants to get away from the hordes of backpackers in any country, there is another reason to avoid hostels in Brazil.

This appealing option is called a “pousada”, cozy and affordable accommodations usually run by families. Pousadas give you a real chance to connect with the locals, while avoiding loud hostels and expensive hotels.

Don’t pay attention to fancy things like signs, though. I have stayed in some great family-run pousadas that depended exclusively on word of mouth. I’d wake up the next morning to a clean load of laundry, a fantastic breakfast, and a tab smaller than the price of a hostel bed.

Wherever you choose to stay, you must…

Protect yourself.

And no, I’m not just talking about condoms, though I am talking about sex.

The advice here is quite simple: don’t take new love interests to your hotel, hostel or pousada. Brazilians don’t take them home; they go to motels, and so should you. Even if it means an extra expense, at least your belongings will be safe, and he/she/they won’t be able to track you down the next day.

Think of it as part of the Brazilian cultural experience: pay for the three hours and enjoy the motel room sex. And though a casual sexual experience is relatively easy to find in Brazil, a more meaningful relationship with the locals requires that you…

Learn some Portuguese.

Don’t assume that the average Brazilian knows English.

Only two types of Brazilians do: those who have attended the best schools due to their privileged financial situation, and those who work in the tourist industry. Of course, that second category includes all types of people, including some who are earning a decent living (like waiters and tour guides) and some shady characters you’ll want to avoid (like prostitutes and scammers).

In addition, don’t think that your high school or college-level Spanish will be enough.

Portuguese, though relatively similar to Spanish, sounds very different when uttered from the mouth of a Brazilian. Unless you are a native speaker of one of the romance languages, the recommendation is clear: try to learn some Portuguese. It will be the most valuable tool in your arsenal, more so than a guidebook, especially if you wish to interact with the locals (in ways that do not involve you getting ripped off).

Another way to avoid the touts, the thieves and the hookers is to…

Avoid urban beaches.

Except for Copacabana and Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro and, perhaps, Barra in Salvador, you shouldn’t budget time in your itinerary for city beaches. After all, the urbanized coastlines of Natal and Fortaleza and Recife pale in comparison to the charming, nearby towns of Praia da Pipa and Canoa Quebrada and Porto de Galinhas, respectively.

And these are but three examples; the same applies to every coastal capital between Uruguay and the mouth of the Amazon River. Unless you consider gawking at prostitutes an interesting cultural experience… unless you enjoy being the target of hawkers… you don’t have much to gain from metropolitan beaches.

Of course, to visit any beach you need to…

Get some sandals.

But don’t assume that flip flops belong exclusively on the sand.

Brazilians have made wearing flip flops an everyday routine, even though it might seem excessively casual in the eyes of other cultures. The mere variety of sandals for sale in Brazil speaks to this fact.

Wearing tennis shoes with shorts will immediately make you stand out as a foreigner. Men especially should try to avoid shoes unless planning a hike or a fancy evening out on the town. Flip flops are the norm, so head into any store and grab a pair of the local havaianas.

Of course, wearing sandals with socks is a stereotypical gringo ritual. But there is another common fashion faux pas that will teach foreigners that…

Futebol is king.

Travelers should not wear the replica shirts of local clubs unless they are able to hold their own in a conversation.

It’s a simple fact: though Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world, church takes a back seat to futebol on Sundays (and, in fact, all week). Brazilians love to talk about futebol, and any related paraphernalia is a lure for meeting strangers. It’s a fun way to get to know the locals, but they’ll quickly know to move on if you can’t converse about the nation’s favorite topic.

Naturally, once you’re done “making friends”, you’ll need to…

Stay in touch.

No gringo should travel in Brazil without an MSN Messenger account and/or an Orkut profile. Though you may be used to Facebook and MySpace, Brazilians have fallen in love with a different networking website.

Most Brazilians you meet age 35 and younger will probably have one or the other… or both. If you want to stay in touch with the people you meet, you’ll want to have accounts as well.

Simply e-mailing the people you meet is not a good strategy. I have learned, through almost two years of experience, that Brazilians are notoriously bad at keeping in touch via email.

These tips by no means cover every situation you encounter, but with these in mind you’ll be better prepared to handle yourself when Brazil presents you with a challenge. And, believe me, it will.

[7] Ernesto Machado

[8] Ernesto Machado is a native of Puerto Rico. After living in the US and Argentina, he found a home in Northeastern Brazil. He has reason to believe he’s not quite a gringo, though most Brazilians would disagree.

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Article printed from the traveler’s notebook:

URL to article:

URLs in this post:
[3] babasteve:
[6] 10 Best Venues and Shows in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil:
[7] Ernesto Machado: Machado
[8] Ernesto Machado:

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Brazil, through the eyes of a visitor

I’ve been so fortunate to have a barrage of visitors in the past month six months- fellow Fulbrighters, Oxfammers (former colleagues) & gringa sambistas, my family, and my best friend.  Seeing Brazil through their diverse eyes has reminded me of my own first impressions here.

Via my cousin’s sharp & observant eye emerged once again the sharp contrasts of Brazil’s northeast… hectic Recife, sleepy oceanside.  Shoe-less street kids, well-heeled crowd at the neighborhood pizza joint.  Endless options for sweet tropical fruit juices, endless sour caipirinha drinks.  It was fun to share stories as we went about the day – stories from past trips and lives abroad to reflections on day to day here in this city.


The cashew fruit (yes, this is where the nut comes from!). The yellow pulp can be blended into a delicious juice.

I’ve been reminded of many of the cultural differences between Brazil & the US, things that I had gotten used to over the past year, like just how nuts it is to ride a city bus here as the driver slams on the brakes and just as happily on the gas, leaving a sardine-packed bus full of riders to heel the blows.  Or the different noises that Brazilians use when they talk; instead of ‘um, yeah, mm-hmmm,’ it’s ‘e-ayeeee, ehhh, pooisss.’  And the unbelievable comfort level that people have with their bodies.  There are three sizes of bathing suits- xxxxxsmall, xxxxsmall, and xxxsmall, and though Brazilians comment about weight about as much as Americans, I feel generally much more comfortable here in my own skin then in many places in the US- especially the beach!

pb230330A kiddie pool on Boa Viagem beach in Recife.  The waves are strong and the shark attack threat real… so parents rent kiddie pools for their kids.  It’s brilliant.  I might seriously rent one next trip to the beach.

During my first beach trip with two Brazlian friends, I packed a book, magazine, two types of sunscreen, and a towel.  When I met them at the bus stop they looked at me, looked at my bag, and asked me if I was bringing a baby to the beach.  Since then I’ve left everything at home but 1 bottle of sunscreen and a sarong, which doubles as a towel and beach cover-up.  The main reason is that Brazilians simply don’t read at the beach- there’s too much stimulation!  “Caldinho, caldinnnhoooo…” is the most common call, young boys selling hot, thick bean or fish soup in plastic dixie cups in the hot sun.  “QUEIJINHOOOO QUENTINHOOOO,” the call of men selling cheese, toasted to perfection on a portable grill, slathered with molasses and oregano.  There’s boiled fish, shrimp in a plastic bucket, oysters with hot sauce and lime, and even sushi.  All on a beach whose average temperature is 85 degrees year round.

pb230332Check out the contents of the bucket.

But my favorite part of living in Recife, and what I’ll miss going back to the states, is the MUSIC in the streets.  Everyone who’s visited has gone to Olinda with me, and we inevitably bump into a street band or hear the beats of maracatu or samba as we get late afternoon drinks at the local bar.  And there’s always an artist from this region who’s visiting and offering shows at a great price- remaining loyal to their northeastern Brazilian roots.


All female drumming and dance group practicing their set on the streets of Olinda and getting ready for Carnaval.

pb220312At the show for the Brazilian super-rock star Lenine, who’s style is infused with beats from his native Recife.

pb220304Roommates and cousins at the Lenine show (I know it has nothing to do with Recifan culture, given that there are 4 gringos and a Brazilian in this pic, but I love my roomies and had to slip this one in)

For more musings from mamashayna’s visitors, click here


(Thanks to my visitors for lending the fotos, and their lens, for this entry!)

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