Category Archives: Traveling

Winter Festival in Guaranhuns


Last weekend, I had the great opportunity to travel to the city of Guaranhuns, Pernambuco, which sits up on a hill about an hour away from the capital, Recife. Every July for 23 years, Guaranhuns has hosted a Winter Festival (Festival de Inverno): ten days of music, art, cinema, theater, literature, dance and workshops. The most incredible part is that all events are completely free.

During the three days I was there, I mostly stuck to the music scene—the main attraction, there being five separate stages for music. I was able to see some incredible and quite diverse performances: from Caetano Veloso to the Orquestra Contemporânea de Olinda to pianist André Mehmari. Believe it or not, I even saw a medieval/baroque performance group (Grupo Allegretto), complete with traditional instruments, dance, and miming.


Caetano Veloso

The festival was, in a word, fantastic. In Petrolina, sometimes one falls into the habit of forgetting that higher culture exists when surrounded by arrocha blaring out of every bar. The festival was refreshing in that sense, presenting an impressive spread not only of MPB, folkloric/alternative, pop and forró artists but even, as I mentioned, extraordinary pianists and other classical and instrumental music. The mood is one of deep cultural appreciation, and the crowd looks the part—lots of long flowy skirts, handmade leather goods, and colorful scarves. (And did I mention beards? Guaranhuns is relatively cold compared to elsewhere in Pernambuco.)


Furthermore, apart from the seriously inadequate number of bathrooms near the main stage (and I do not deny that this is a major problem), I was extremely impressed with festival logistics. Programming was made widely available through pamphlets, large posters at every major event site, and even a smartphone app with a map function. Event areas are clearly and attractively identified, and overall not too crowded—exceptions to this were only to be expected; what else could happen when you offer a free Caetano concert? Glass bottles are not allowed into the main stage area, but empty plastic ones were provided free of charge at the entrance for visitors arriving with wine or other alcohol. (I asked the guard if the bottles were recycled—he said no, they were new, which is not surprising for Brazil which hasn’t developed much of a recycling culture. Certainly I would recommend that option for future years.)

Finally, I have to mention the festival art—this year’s logo and other promotional art was simply stunning, with bright colors and animated figures all in a traditional folkloric theme.

Obviously, the “Brazilian party” to which most tourists are attracted tends to be Carnaval above all others. But for those who insist on local and off-the-beaten-path kinds of experiences, I would highly recommend the Festival de Inverno.

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Adventures in Geographical Shock Treatment

Posted from Los Gatos, California

The great American author Wallace Stegner once wrote: “Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” While I cannot claim experience to the first part of his comment, I am certainly one of those “uprooted” who has come to understand even better the notion of home since leaving it for Brazil. I knew the U.S. was my home since I have lived here my whole life, but until leaving I’d not been able to see as many other reasons why. I came to greatly appreciate, in their absence, a number of things I might have overlooked otherwise, from holiday coffee drinks to awkward handshakes—yes, while I do love the opened-armed hug and kiss that define Brazilian greetings, I also found myself missing that particular type of earnest look and terse “hi” that come with a handshake.

Travel adventures - backcountry skiing at Mt. Hood in Oregon.

Travel adventures – backcountry skiing at Mt. Hood in Oregon.

I’m being a little silly—and there were lots of silly little Americanisms I missed—but let me give a better, real-life example. Cara and I had the pleasure of working closely with two American families, Baptist missionaries, to coordinate and realize our first English Camp. I was thrilled to meet these other Americans and shake their hands with an earnest look, and over the course of the camp I came to like them all very much and look forward to more company and collaboration in the future.

I wonder if I would have had the opportunity for this in the U.S. There are significant religious and political gulfs between me and my new American friends, gulfs that are hard to cross these days in such a polarized home country. But being outside that country gave me a chance to step back and appreciate what indefinable things make us all American in whatever ways we are. Some people I know talk about emigrating out of the U.S. if this-or-that happens in Washington. I wasn’t expecting that being in Brazil, where there is universal health care and better gun control and an extremely broad social welfare program—all with their faults—might make me a little more tolerant of my own country’s shortcomings and where we need to grow. As Stegner suggested, being uprooted from home allowed me to comprehend a little better exactly what my home is all about.

I recently exchanged a few emails with my friend Caiti about Stegner’s quotation, and she offered forth this little gem of her own: “How strange it is to aspire to uproot oneself.” It might sound like a judgment at first glance, but I don’t read it that way and I don’t believe she meant it that way. Rather, it is a frank acknowledgment that some of our greatest, truest aspirations can sometimes be—well, difficult. Uncomfortable. Even unpleasant at times. Leaving homes and families in New England and California, when it came down to it, seemed ludicrous to me in certain moments.

Home adventures - sharing the wishbone with Mom.

Home adventures – sharing the wishbone with Mom.

But an aspiration is not only a desire; it’s actually a goal. The process of achieving goals isn’t always pleasant, but the best goals simply are and must be, and can’t be escaped when the going gets tough. The aspiration to be uprooted from a comfortable environment is a particular kind of need to grow and change through geographical shock treatment. No matter how much I missed home, in both superficial and deep, cutting ways, it was worth every moment away to learn the perspective and independence that I gained from being uprooted. And when I embraced my uprootedness, my new Petrolina friends rooted me again, making a new family and a new home.

Another friend recently made an excellent point about leaving the places you call home. Often, the fear of leaving is a fear of change—losing touch with friends or family, or losing your place or status in an important community. But some kind of change is inevitable no matter how rooted you are. In light of that, perhaps an effective way to handle that inevitable change—especially when young and unattached—is to initiate some of it rather than watching it happen unwanted. As I sit in my parents’ house back in the States, I have no regrets about uprooting myself. In fact, I’m embracing it a bit longer—I’ll be back in Petrolina beginning in mid-February. Until then, I’m finding the last of the holiday coffee drinks and searching out as many earnest handshakes as possible.

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Petrolina is Calling You

… Pick up!

But seriously– come visit C² in Petrolina.

This Holiday season, I had the immense pleasure of hosting my dad, William, and twin brother, Nathaniel for a weekend.  As I approach year two of life in Petrolina, Pernambuco, they came to see what the hype was all about.  Should you, too, choose to venture into the Sertão, which I highly recommend you do, here are some places you may go and people you may see.

In the morning I'll make you breakfast and you can drink out of my special mug.

In the morning I’ll make you breakfast and you can drink out of my special mug.

We can head to the São Francisco river, where you will get your first introduction to bode, the Portuguese word for goat.

We can head to the São Francisco river, where you will get your first introduction to bode, the Portuguese word for goat.

We'll take a ferry boat to the rodeadouro island to spend the morning coolingeating delicious river fish.

We’ll take a ferry-boat to a near-by island, Rodeadouro, to spend the morning cooling off and eating delicious river fish.

... and sunning our you-know-whats.

… and sunning our you-know-whats.

In the afternoon we can have a churrasco, a Brazilian bbq, at my best friend Jeziel's lovely home.

In the afternoon we can have a churrasco, a Brazilian BBQ, at my best friend Jeziel’s (pictured here) lovely home.

You can meet some of my closest friends.

You can meet some of my closest friends.

And, if you are lucky, get a arrocha or forró-- two regional dances-- lessons with  Petrolina's finest!

And, if you are lucky, get an arrocha or forró— two regional dances– lessons with Petrolina’s finest teacher, Jessica!

The day after we could do a VIP tour with wine-specialist, Professor of viticulture, and very dear friend of mine -Ana Paula Barros at a vineyard where she worked called Ouro Verde (Green Gold).

The day after we could do a VIP tour with wine-specialist, Professor of Viticulture, and very dear friend of mine  – Ana Paula Barros at a vineyard where she worked called Ouro Verde (Green Gold) in the state of Bahia.

Here in Petrolina is the only place in the world where you will see a variety of grapes growing at all four stages at the same time.  Thirteen hours of sunlight and  the hot, dry, climate year-round allow up to four harvests per year.  The growth of grapes is at the complete whim of irrigation cycles creating, as my brother noted, the perfect conditions for science experiments.

Here in Petrolina is the only place in the world where you will see a variety of grapes growing with all four stages of development happening at the same time. Thirteen hours of sunlight and the  year-round hot, dry, climate allow up to four harvests per year. The growth of grapes is at the complete whim of irrigation cycles and pruning, creating, as my brother noted, the perfect conditions for science experiments.

Wine science... yummmm.

Wine science… yummmm.

Being with Ana Paula, we got to see the process every step of the way, from the growing to the aging...

Being with Ana Paula, we got to see the process every step of the way, from the growing to the aging…

Being with Ana Paula, we got to see the process every step of the way, from the growing to the bottling.

…to the bottling

To the best part, which is, of course, the tasting of innumerous distillates, liquors and wines all produced in the San Francisco Valley!

…to the best part, which is, of course, the tasting of innumerable distillates, liquors and wines all produced in the San Francisco Valley!

My personal favorite is the brandy, a distillate of wine, that uses the Spanish mark Osbourne, but is made right here in my back yard.

My personal Ouro Verde favorite is the brandy, a distillate of wine, that uses the Spanish mark Osborne, but is made right here in my back yard.

Quick stop at the hydroelectric damn in Sobradinho to see the impressive largest artificial lake in the Americas.

We make a quick stop at the hydroelectric dam in Sobradinho to see the impressive largest artificial lake in the Americas.

After a tiring day of wine drinking you will probably want to relax in my hammock with Chels' and my lovechild - Liverpool (and the mosquito racket handy).

Then home, where after a tiring day of wine drinking, you will probably want to relax in my hammock with Chels’ and my lovechild – Liverpool (and the mosquito racket handy).

Em fim, we can say our até logos (see you laters) to Petrolina by eating mouth-watering goat at the bodoromo (the goat drome).

Rested?  We can say our até logos (see you laters) to Petrolina by eating mouth-watering goat at the bodoromo (the goat drome).

So, tempted to sojourn? You should be.

I can’t wait for you to visit!

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Take me home, Northeast Roads

Our English Immersion Camp at the Ilha do Tesouro was a grand success! We want to share two special items: first, a heart-warming video of our campers singing “Northeast Roads” (a version of John Denver’s “Country Roads” that we invented at camp); and second, some inspiring quotations from our camp evaluations.

The goal of our camp, ultimately, was to provide something that doesn’t exist in the sertão of Brazil: a full immersion experience in English. Our students were challenged to speak English the entire weekend; each one had a bracelet that could be taken away by another camper or teacher if the student were heard speaking Portuguese. (Needless to say, many bracelets were lost and gained again.) We are thrilled that many of our evaluations point to the importance of this immersion experience, as well as other benefits of the camp: motivation to study, learning new vocabulary, and good new friends.

“I would recommend this camp because there isn’t this kind of experience around here, and it’s really important if you want to learn English.”

“I know myself better. Now I know what I have to do to improve.”

“It couldn’t be better, I learned so many expressions I didn’t know yet. I spoke 90% in English and as I wanted to do a trip to the USA but I don’t have enough money, it was an exchange program in Sobradinho!”

“My English was automatic, even when I forgot that I should speak English, my mind was ready to speak.”

“I am only a beginner in English and this camp was very stimulating for me. I will definitely study with more motivation now.”

“I would definitely recommend the camp because it is an incredible opportunity to meet new people, improve my English, and develop various skills!”

“It is an opportunity to learn English while having fun.”

“This experience helped me a lot because it made me practice my English, which I had left to the side for a long time.”

“It was a great experience, aside from being an opportunity to grow intellectually, the camp transformed unknown people into good friends.”

Up next: a special Treasure Island fairy tale (nonfiction!)

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Stereotypes Continued at English Week in Salgueiro, PE

As a follow-up to Chelsea’s great post on stereotypes, I would like to continue and expand on the theme by sharing an activity about stereotypes during English Week (May 21-25) in Salguiero.  Inspired by her first American Club’s meeting about stereotypes, I decided to also touch on the theme, this time focusing on stereotypes we hold regarding the USA and Brasil.  The dialogue was lively and the results were fantastic.

I began the lecture with printouts of 4 provocative pictures.  In groups of 3 students and staff worked together to write opinions, descriptions and questions on the back of the photo.  When I said switch, they were to exchange pictures with a group who had a picture different from theirs and repeat the process.  After the third switch someone from each group was called to stand up and read the comments on the back of the picture (comments written by groups other than their own).  After each group spoke I revealed who the people in the picture were (see the included power point presentation… but before reading the answers, try yourself!): 1 an American boy scout; 2 Japanese-Brazilians in São Paulo (the largest city in Brazil in the state of São Paulo); 3 Brazilians in Rio Grande do Sul (another Brazilian state); 4 Mexican-Americans celebrating 5 de mayo.

Groups talked amongst themselves about stereotypes – definitions, when they are helpful vs hurtful, etc. and then we watched the first 4 minutes of a clip from an episode where the Simpsons go to Brazil, which you can watch by clicking here or by clicking on the slide in the power point presentation.  They wrote down the stereotypes made evident in the clip, we talked about it as I wrote their comments on the white board (shown in the image below).  Then all together we named some of the stereotypes people have of Americans including fast food, capitalist, warmonger, etc.

But my favorite part was the discussion that followed when I provoked “ok, so we all know what we don’t want people to associate with Brazil, but what do you want people to think about when they think about Brasil”?  I started them off with some of the things I associate with Brazil such as a thriving democracy, warmth and hospitality, athleticism, diversity and openness.  They added many more including nature, gastronomy and lots of music and dancing from the North East .

Student Feedback: on the left, some of the existing stereotypes and on the right, are some alternative visions as expressed by the participants!!

The group present in the classroom represents mostly people from the interior of the North East region of the country.  Yet Brazil is physically massive with extreme regional, cultural, environmental and even linguistic diversity.   With the World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016) coming up, Brazil will be spending millions on selling  its (whole) self, and I for one and thrilled to see what they will come up with!

So, readers, what do you all think about Brazil?  How about the USA?  I’d love to hear from our multi-cultural readership–have Chelsea and I made you think twice about any stereotypes formerly held?

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Poor, Ugly, Uneducated?

Last month I took about a week to travel to Curitiba, in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, and then to Foz do Iguaçu, in the same state on the border with Argentina and Paraguay. Accompanied by three other lovely ladies from the Fulbright ETA program, I relished the chance to see a bit of southern Brazil and reflect on my time thus far in the Northeast.

(One of my travel companions, Christina, has a blog about her experiences in São José do Rio Preto. She posted a fantastic three-part summary of our trip: Londrina and Curitiba, Puerto Iguazú, and Foz do Iguaçu.)

It was a week full of new sights, laughter, more rain than I’ve seen in three months, and a new stamp in my passport (hello, Argentina!), but for now what I want to talk about is the very real divide that exists between the north and south in Brazil. I was surprised, even at times shocked, by the strength of the stereotypes that exist between the regions.

To give you a quick idea, here is one of the first interactions I had with Curitibano (person from Curitiba).

Me: “I’m living in Petrolina.”

Him: “Where?”

Me: “Pernambuco.”

Him: “Oh, I’m sorry.”

In the course of just two days in Curitiba, I heard a number of variations on the following topics: Petrolina is an ugly city; Northeasterners are ugly and lazy and illiterate; the Northeast is sucking up all the money that the southern states generate.

Shocked by these first interactions, Cynthia (the ETA in Curitiba) and I decided to bring up the topic with her students in a more structured setting. In her conversation class, we asked the students about regional stereotypes in Brazil. To my relief, their opinions were nuanced, sophisticated, and intelligent: they recognized the stereotypes, explored why they existed, and recognized that in spite of the stereotypes, they didn’t actually know very much about the Northeast.

Encouraged by the success of this conversation class in Curitiba, I returned to Petrolina wanting to ask my students some of the same questions. Using a presentation that Cynthia had made about US stereotypes, I talked briefly about the preconceptions that Americans have about each other—for example, fast-talking New Yorkers, pot-smoking Californians and the concept of the “flyover states” in the middle of the country. Then I turned the question around to the students: what about Brazilian regional stereotypes?

Our conversation followed a similar vein as the class in Curitiba. My students recognized stereotypes that they had about other states in Brazil: people from the South are unfriendly and rich (and white—the issue of race deserves a whole new blog post); people from Rio are beautiful and spend their time partying and on the beach. (And what about the North and Center-West? Talk about “flyover states.”) They admitted that these stereotypes are unfair and often inaccurate generalizations. Yet even though some of the stereotypes about the southern regions are negative, the fact remains that the Southern and Southeastern lifestyles tend to be more admired—as just one example of many, virtually all news anchors on TV are light-skinned and have Rio or São Paulo accents.

Perhaps most interestingly, my students are also very aware of the stereotypes that exist about them, “nordestinos,” and expressed a kind of quiet frustration that they could be so prejudged when the experience of life here is so positive compared to the devastating image that the stereotypes paint.

I think I will inevitably keep having—and should keep bringing up—these kinds of conversations. Brazil is a huge country, and naturally regional rivalries and preconceptions exist just as they do in the United States. Now that I have some direct experience with this regionalism, I see it more clearly in the country’s politics: for example, the recent debate over a bill that would relax standards of forest protection in the Amazon, which President Dilma recently partially vetoed (the New York Times has been giving this topic significant coverage: start here and here). It’s fascinating to learn these ground-level politics by living them—particularly in a region that bears some of the worst stereotypes in the country.

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Schedule for English Week in Salgueiro

Cara and I are so excited to be assisting and teaching English classes this week at the IF Campus in Salgueiro! Cara is already on campus working with the students, and I’ll be heading there tomorrow morning. See the schedule below:









  07:30 – Participação de Cara na aula de Inglês Instrumental do curso de Tec. em Alimentos.


09:oo  – 10:30





09:00 Participação de Cara na Turma do MI Agro 2º ano










09:00 Participação de Cara na Turma do MI Info e MI Edif.  2º ano







14:00 – Chegada de Cara ao Campus.


15:00 – Apresentação de Cara para todos os Servidores (aproveitar aqui para falarem em inglês)


16:15 – Apresentação de Cara às turmas




13:30 – Participação de Cara no FIC da turma de Campinhos


12:00 – Almoço no Chamas Grill
















16:15 – “Talking” com Cara (os profs de inglês) com todos os servidores que queiram participar










15:00 –







16:15 – Colóquio com a Americana Chelsea sobre a História do Brasil.



13:00 Participação de Cara na Turma do MI Info e MI Edif.  2º ano




19: 30 –

Apresentação de Cara às turmas


19:00 – Participação no FIC de Inglês para Professores





20:00 – Pizza no Ponto de Encontro, coma a presença de Cara e Chelsea.



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Brazil– Where Leisure Time is Productive

 One of the first things I learned in Brazil is that as a Fulbright Scholar and an American, my job is to represent not only myself, but also my country, my language, and my people.  As such, in everything we do, Chelsea and I are always working.  We travel, we work; we dance, we work; we go to the bank, we work; we eat, we work; and so on.  We have “official” teaching jobs here, which often do require a lot of work in the traditional sense, but we also spend a good amount of time doing, as some might say in the US, “nothing.”  While at first this bothered us, we have come to understand that even our leisure time here can be productive.

In Curaça, from left to right- Me, Tony, Tio, Maick and Chelsea

This weekend we were invited to the home of Maick Menezes, one of my students (and top Rugby players), who is going to live and labor for the next 18 months in New Jersey for a US-Brazilan import-export mango company.  Hopping on a bus headed to Curaça, in the state of Bahia the only directions we had were “Maick´s house,” and so we got slightly lost.  But all along the way people stopped to talk to us, ask where we were from and what our country is like, and then help us find our destination.  We get lost, we are working.

We backtracked to Irrigation Project 1 Curaça, where we were met by Maick´s cousin, Tom Tõem (Tony).  En route to the Project, traveling the best way to travel (three deep on the back of a motorcycle), we stopped for sweet agua de coco and to take pictures with a group of gentleman admirers who had never met Americans.  We drink coconut water, we are working.

Fresh green delicious cocos!

We were the last to arrive at Maick´s house, where we were met by 20 more of my students from the IF-Sertão Pernambucano. We drank our cerveja bem gelada,  really cold beer (in Brazil the quality of beer is measured by how cold it is—the colder the better), and everyone sat around saying all the words in English they knew.  We drink beer; we are working.

The project had a party that evening, with some 300 people from the surrounding areas of the interior of Bahia (the state where Curaça is located).  We danced forró  and pagodão, and represented our country.  We party, we are working.

Here in Brasil, our lesiure time is productive.

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Friendship and Hospitality, Brazilian Style

I had spent barely a day in Petrolina before Cara knocked on my door bright and early to whisk me away on a weekend trip to Pilar, Bahia, where we’d been invited to stay for the weekend. Pilar is the hometown of Ana Paula, the viticulture professor at the Instituto Federal – Zona Rural. As I said, I had quite literally just arrived in Petrolina. I barely knew Cara, let alone Ana Paula, let alone her entire family. Yet, as I was learning very quickly in Brazil, these things mattered very little.

We arrived in Pilar, a heat-baked small town laid out grid-fashion in the Bahian Sertão, just in time for lunch. Ana Paula’s mother gave me a couple kisses and hugs and handed me a plate, barely acknowledging that I still fumbled with fluency in Portuguese greetings. Bahian cooking is a miracle in transforming bland base ingredients into delicious and sustaining meals—beans, rice, and manioc flour (farofa) mutate into feijoada and pirão and vatapa.

Our first meal in Pilar: bode (goat) and pirão.

Something in Pilar made that verbal expression of hospitality, “make yourself at home,” which Brazilians translate into fica a vontade (do as you please), a reality. After initial greetings, the formalities that often remain when visiting the home of a friend—especially an aquaintance—disappeared. Rather than a polite investigation of my career goals or current occupation, dinner conversation was a banter about this and that as if we were all old friends. Writing teachers often advise us to “show rather than tell,” and just the same way, in Pilar I felt that the family got to know me through experiencing my presence rather than asking me to explain it.

We spent Sunday enjoying a "churrasco" (barbecue) with the family.

That first night, Cara and Ana Paula—the two people who were my closest links to the family—went to bed early. Our friend Rafaela and I were still awake, and Ana Paula’s brother asked us if we’d like to go out on the main street with him and two of the younger kids in the family. The lovely evening we spent chatting together amongst the other Pilar inhabitants showed me something that has been proven again and again during my time here so far: in the Northeast of Brazil, hospitality comes first, and details come later.

These kinds of encounters happen relatively frequently, and I think the reason why it still catches me off guard is because I am accustomed to such unreserved hospitality being something generally reserved for friends. Here, the order is almost reversed: hospitality is what invites the possibility for friendship.

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