Archive for the ‘Brazil’ Category


Monday, September 19th, 2011


I used to have a gratitude charm attached to my key ring to remind me of how fortunate I am to have the love and support of a large, extend family, broad circle of friends, colleagues, and neighbors, in addition to a challenging and fulfilling career that is more flexible than most and allows me to travel. Most recently, I spent a long weekend in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Although my trip included a whirlwind tour of the city, I was there to participate in a workshop on favelas – Rio’s infamous slums.

I was visiting Complexo da Mare, a conglomeration of favelas along the coast, when I encountered this young man preparing for a college entrance exam in calculus. He was studying in a community center library that was constructed by members of his community and intended to provide a space for Mare’s college-prep students. The center offers cursinhos, “little courses,” or test preparation classes. Because the quality of high schools attended by young people from the favelas is so low, completing a cursinho is critical for those who hope to gain university entrance.

Improving education and increasing the number of Mare’s young people who go to college is one of the key elements motivating community activists there. This fact is hardly surprising, given the association between education and income. Mare is home to 130,000 Brazilians who collectively experience the nation’s lowest per capita incomes. While most of those with jobs work outside of the complexo, residents staff a variety of  shops, restaurants, a health clinic, and schools. Others are engaged in the drug trafficking that has become synonymous with Rio’s favelas.

It’s a rough place, no doubt.

Yet it’s also an engaging one – rich and colorful, warm and inviting – despite the poverty. On Saturday afternoon, the streets were filled with people shopping, stopping for hair-cuts, and sitting down to lunch in eateries that spilled out of ground level “garages” into the street. Young couples walking hand-in-hand dodged motor-bikes and children racing. From my side-walk viewpoint, I could see women hanging out the clothes to dry and watched a group of men constructing another level of a characteristically substandard live-work space. I couldn’t help thinking that there’s a good case to be made that while the residents of Mare lack much in terms of healthy, physically safe, and secure living conditions, they share an enviable sense of community.

For a moment, I even thought, “I could live here.” I was certainly content to linger after lunch, people-watching.

Experiences like this one underscore my gratitude for the life with which I’ve been blessed, one that has been rich not only in terms of income, but also – and more importantly – in terms of family, friends, and the communities of which I’ve been a part. The young man studying calculus is more prosperous than he may know. My money’s on him.

Style Watch: Belem, Brazil

Sunday, February 1st, 2009

Third time’s a charm. While dining at the Docas (Estacao das Docas, former site of the Para Docks Company) in Belem, Brazil, we saw the third woman since our arrival wearing a short jumpsuit, one of THE hot looks for Spring ‘09: Notably, in this city – perhaps country – where the look is decidedly “fitted,” if not simply tight, the woman was a stand-out. She was wearing a loose-fitting, short jumpsuit in army green with the legs rolled up to about a 4″ inseam, and high, strappy sandals.

Admittedly a skeptic of the style, I have to say that it IS growing on me. It could simply be that this loose and lightweight style that completely covers the back, shoulders, upper arms and thighs, and tummy is appealing to me now because I’ve been living in tank tops and halters…and sporting a sunburn as a result. (Fair skinned and freckled, I burn and fade slowly back to “white.”)

Still every woman we’ve seen wearing the short jumpsuit has looked terrific. I suppose the longer, wider-legged versions also advertised in the West may provide more balance for busty and/or hippy women, but the short look is very cute. The women we’ve seen wearing the new look have all been average height and weight with fairly curvy, though not voluptuous figures. Note that the woman at the Docas sported the most neutral variation we’ve encountered. The others were very bright – one in orange and the other in yellow – and both were worn shorter, almost a “hot short” look. Yet all three were cut with a collared, safari shirt look on top; finally, they appeared to include self belts, though all three local “models” had added their own belts.



An American/North American World Social Forum?

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

For the uninitiated, or many of those simply living in the global North (No. Americans, Europeans, Australians, Japanese, etc.), the World Social Forum is a meeting of the global Left, organized in response to the World Economic Forum: This year, it’s in Belem, Brazil – gatway to the Amazon rainforest:

Keep in mind that today was DRY – not particularly humid AND it didn’t rain; yet, the room where scholars and activists (labor, Christian/religious, women’s, global justice, environmental, etc.) discussed the prospects for a North American (or maybe “American”) social forum was FULL. Carried out in three languages (English, French, and Spanish), it was clear that activists in all three North American nations regard the social forums that have occurred since 2001 to be successes, and regard the prospect of coordinating and collaborating at the continental level to be necessary. Oddly enough for an American (remember, even the Left in the U.S. is on the global Right), the group regarded the U.S. as the most ”progressive” of the North American nations.

Having just come from a session on scholar-activism, which included discussion of how to engage No. American and European students in social activism – if not in the course of creating activists, then in the interest of simply opening their minds – I have to say it’s a good idea. There is no classroom or high school/college subject or experience that can compare with forum attendance for exposing students to alternative, even radical, viewpoints and suggesting to them that they are part of a global culture. A “local” forum held in North America would provide an otherwise unavailable opportunity for Canadian, Mexican, and U.S. youth to participate in global dialogue. As participants indicated, such experiences may become increasingly important as we progress through the current financial crisis, which is forcing North America’s young people to face the prospect that they may need to find more in life than a “good job” and all it traditionally entails.


How NOT to Stay Dry in Northern Brazil

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Today, we thought we’d “beat” the rain. When the daily storm hit, we were safely indoors – discussing the role of academics as activists in the global social justice movement. Even better, the room was more or less air-conditioned. Dry AND cool at 3PM in the Amazon – what could be better.

I wish there was some way to “quit” while ahead in these situations. But no. Hours later, when we left the (World Social) Forum for out hotel, it had started to sprinkle. Not a problem, we thought, because it had ALREADY rained for the day, and in light of our vast experience here (four days!), we were sure it would do no more than sprinkle until we made it “home.” We even got out (of our taxi) before we reached the hotel, opting to walk the rest of the way so that we could check out the hours of operation for the Emilio Goeldi Museum:

Bad idea. The sprinkles turned into “rain” before we were within two blocks of the hotel, and was so heavy just a few minutes later that it was difficult to see where we were walking. Yes, once again, we were drenched when we walked through the hotel doors. (And I’m sure the door man was snickering.)

You’ll be glad to know that we DID NOT walk to the party we attended earlier this evening. With TWO pairs of shoes – each – still drying, my companions and I thought we’d take good care of our remaining shoes, keep them dry for tomorrow. Wish us luck – we’re expecting rain AM, PM, and “evening.”

The World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil

Thursday, January 29th, 2009


I’m here in Belem, Brazil for the World Social Forum (WSF): with four of my graduate students (in marketing, natural resource economics, and sociology, as well as political science) to study collaboration and networking among members of transnational movements, especially those concerned with the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment. We were actually interviewed today on our research by a reporter from an Argentinian radio station. Considering she hardly had to restate our comments – all in Spanish – for the (radio) audience, I think we did pretty well.


We are getting really comfortable here in the city and can navigate our environs fairly well, depending on our feet for much of our travel, and taxis for the rest. The forum kicked off two days ago with a march: (we’d hoped to VIEW, not PARATICIPATE IN) that we ended up joining in a DOWNPOUR! Honestly, the quickest route back from the docks to our hotel was along the “parade route,” so we fell in with members of various Brazillian political parties and group of gay and lesbian activists. Without umbrellas or Amazon-proof ponchos, we were soaked to the skin when we returned to the hotel. Those who wore sneakers for the event are STILL waiting for them to dry!


Yesterday was cultural day and we took our time scouting out the city’s historical sites – including palaces/museums, a fort, river front markets, and an upscale mall – and learning about some of the region’s indigenous peoples. Today is when we really moved into gear with respect to our research. Following a visit to the botanical gardens, we spent the day out at ONE of the forum venues – the “rural” campus, where most of the “whole earth festival – like” activities are being held AND 10s of thousands are camping!! Unbelievable. There is NO WAY I could have camped here in the tropics, especially when it would have required using an outhouse and “showering” in the daily rain.


Anyway, the vibe was chaotic. One of my students suggested “burning man in Amazonia,” if that gives you an idea. SO MANY people. We tried to walk/hike from the botanic gardens (a block size Amazon jungle IN the city) to the university, which is AT the edge of the rainforest, but it was ALL uphill and A LOT further than we thought. We ended up on a bus; thank goodness, Jingjing grew up in China and quickly figured out the cost, rules for getting on/off, etc. Once there, we joined throngs of people headed into the university for various events. Along the way, were vendors, tribal families painting native designs, people doing braids, etc., native dancers, small children in just “thongs” sleeping on the ground, etc. We fell in with Marxists and feminists from “here,” France, and parts of Africa.


What was interesting is that, in contrast to the participants we chatted with on the way here (many WSF folks shared one or more of our three flights here), everyone we met today was interested in environmental protection, if not actually a member of a relevant activist group. Until today, we’d engaged mostly with labor union reps and activists concernd with workers’ rights generally, some in the context of slavery, understood as agricultural debt.


Our preseantations are tomorrow and the next day – on the role that academics can play as activists for social justice, broadly understood – at venues on the main campus. Although it appears to be further from where we’re staying, we’ve heard it’s more urban. Perhaps that means more shelter from the rain, less mud, easier transport there and back??