One of the most amazing parts of the trip to Brazil is how Kwame Alexander arranged for us to tour historical sites of different Bahian cities through the Ministry of Culture.
I am particularly grateful for Paula Riberio (pronounced Pawl-lah), the student intern who accompanies us around on our travels. She is easy-going, helps us navigate the ordering of food, and participates in good-natured haggling in the market.
Whenever I travel, I like to visit with students and get their take on their country’s issues. Paula brought her friend Matheus along one day and I was glad to sit near him and have lunch. He is a business major at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, which is a highly ranking business university in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. I asked him what he thought the top five problems were facing Brazil.
“Education,” he replied quickly. He indicated it is the number one issue in his mind and talked about the disparity between those with wealth and children living in poverty. We also discussed the economy, hydropower, healthcare, taking care of the elderly, and homelessness. He was knowledgeable about his country and sincere about the concerns we discussed.
The poverty here is saddening and pervasive. In Cachoeira we went into the favela with João (he is a teacher) and walked through the section of the city where Afro-Brazilians who are poor live. Although they are living in substandard housing, their sense of community is strong. On the way home, driving through the countryside, I saw families gathered around outdoor fires, cooking dinner and listening to music under awnings.
|Favela of Cachoeira|
One evening we went to Itapuã and walked around through the barrio, a neighborhood marketplace. (Think: a food court, outdoors, with samba music!) It has the feel of a festival or fair each evening. People sitting at outdoor tables having a coffee (which is incredible here), greeting friends with a double kiss, and laughing into the evening hours. We befriended the family that owns an açai stand. The açai berry is from a type of palm tree and is very rich in vitamins. They make a sort of slushy sorbet from the berries and top it with chopped bananas and granola. It is amazing – eating açai is like tasting frozen sunshine. I could eat it every day.
Learning about the culture, history, and daily lives of the people of Brazil has been such a blessing…I feel so fortunate to be here!