Thanks, USA Soccer!

Months ahead of the World Cup people said that USA Soccer’s draw in Group G along with Germany, Ghana, and Portugal was a tough position from which to advance. Expectations were pretty low, but the team had a really good run, and it was fun to be here in Brazil watching.

I saw this guy in the park this morning. :)

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Why There Are Mirrors in Elevators

1.) To Soothe: Mirrors visually increase the size of a space, so people who are claustrophobic or generally scared of elevators feel less so.

2.) For Security: People who check themselves out in the mirrors when they think no one’s watching are pretty entertaining. Security people are more likely to pay attention to the camera feed if there are both a camera and a mirror in the elevator. (And the mirror also helps law enforcement get a better look at a perp.)

Last night on our way out, there was a girl already in the elevator when we boarded. We busted her doing some pretty heavy-duty preening, and in the very, very long ride from the ninth floor to the parking level she told us that she used to weigh 100 kg (220 lbs), and some other stuff I didn’t catch because she was talking so fast in a language I only half understand. She looked pretty good. I would have congratulated her if I had understood what she was talking about (and wasn’t thinking, Why is this crazy chick still talking to me? Did no one ever teach her the fine elevator etiquette point of “Shut Up and Intently Study Your Feet?”).

There’s no moral to this story. Just me musing “why” and relaying one of many awkward moments of my time in Brazil.

Corpus Christi in Brazil

Not being a Catholic, I always thought Corpus Christi was just a city in Texas named by Spaniards for the body of Christ. I didn’t know that there was a holiday until a few years ago. In Brazil, Corpus Christi is a moveable feast day, meaning that the date varies from year to year, just as the date on which Easter falls does. It is also one of thirteen national holidays, including three days for Carnival.

A quick internet search has only made me more confused about the actual original intent of the celebration of Corpus Christi, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that in thirteenth century Belgium when Juliania of Liège made it her life’s work to establish a feast day outside of Lent, she didn’t imagine there’d be so much drunken debauchery and so little Eucharistic Adoration.

Dress Rehearsal for The World Cup: Brasil v. Panamá

The World Cup starts in a few short hours and I still haven’t posted about the friendly match between Brazil and Panama that happened last week! Last fall, One and his family and I attended a match in Miami between Brazil’s national team and Honduras, so I got a little taste of what it was like to be in a stadium filled with crazy Brazilian soccer fans. Brazil trounced Honduras 5-0 that day, and there was so much celebrating that it took us almost two hours to get out of the stadium and leave the parking lot.

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Here in Brazil, flags and jerseys are for sale on street corners. In South Florida, I had to make my own flags to wave.

One of Brazil’s best stadiums happens to be in One’s hometown. It also happened to be the site of the open practice session required by FIFA regulations, and the venue for an international friendly between Brazil’s National Team and Panamá. In Brazil, they don’t wait for evening to play, so by mid-afternoon the parking lot was filling up with cars and a steady stream of fans in yellow and green were passing through security.

We arrived about an hour before the game was to begin. In my experience, Brazilians play fast and loose with time constraints. A concert that is scheduled to start at 10 PM will likely begin at midnight. However, this match was going to be televised and needed to begin promptly.

Here are a few pictures that encapsulate this very fun experience.

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Outside Serra Dourada stadium in Goiania, Brazil, news crews from around the world interview soccer fans. This news reporter shows her loyalty to the Brazilian National Team in a T-shirt that reads “Keep Calm and Vai Brasil.”

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After passing through a security barrier of dozens of Brazil’s military police force, fans line up outside the entry gates to Serra Dourada Stadium, the site of an international friendly between Brazil and Panama on June 3, 2014.

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Schools and many businesses in Brazil will be closed on days when the national team plays their World Cup matches. On a Tuesday a week and a half before the official start of the World Cup, Serra Dourada hosts a near capacity crowd for an “Amistoso Internacional” between Brazil and Panama. A break in the clouds leaves Brazilian fans squinting into the sun as they cheer on the national team.

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Rows of local military police stand guard behind the crowds of spectators at Serra Dourada Stadium.

A team of security personnel carrying bomb detectors circulates through the stadium, as shown in this blurry shot from my stealth cam. ;) The atmosphere is calm and friendly, in spite of the very conspicuous and abundant security measures. In this dress rehearsal for the main event, Brazil is careful to address criticism and concerns that it might not be ready to host the World Cup.

A team of security personnel carrying explosives detectors circulates through the stadium, as shown in this blurry stealth cam shot. The atmosphere is calm and friendly in spite of very conspicuous and abundant security measures. In this dress rehearsal for the main event, Brazil is careful to address criticisms and concerns that it might not be ready to host the World Cup.

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A peanut vendor does brisk business in the stands. While many fans wear the famous number 10 jersey, this family adds a twist and uses theirs as a platform to advertise the family business.

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A Brazilian soccer fan celebrates one of his team’s four goals against Panama. FIFA’s tough stadium safety regulations make it unlikely that Brazil’s famously passionate soccer fans will be permitted to bring giant animal horns into the World Cup matches. They must also leave their fireworks at home.

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One of the reasons players and fans include Serra Dourada among their favorite soccer venues is its intimate feel. The stadium is nearly 40 years old, and is not equipped with the latest in technology, but true fans don’t require bells and whistles. The layout of the stadium insures that every fan has a great seat. Here, a fan celebrates as Brazil scores a goal.

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Brazil is widely favored by fans and other players to win the World Cup. The results of the international friendly between Brazil and Panama support these expectations.

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It is winter in the southern hemisphere and the sun sets at 6:00PM. After the game, squadrons of military police watch as fans file out of the stadium. It is obvious that a show of security is of paramount importance to Brazilian authorities.

 

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A huge Brazilian flag is suspended between two cranes outside Serra Dourada Stadium in Goiania, Brazil. The city skyline and the sunset beyond make a striking picture for fans leaving the game.

Today the internet connection all over the country has been sporadic and weak. It has taken me nearly eight hours to complete this post, and the opening game between Brazil and Croatia is only minutes from beginning. So far there have been no widely reported incidents of violent protests in any of Brazil’s cities. While it is true that Goiania can be compared to one of the large cities in the midwestern United States and therefore might not suffer the same depth of social and civil unrest as Brazil’s larger coastal cities, if the “dress rehearsal” last week is any indication of how smoothly the games will go in other parts of the country, I think the World Cup will be a successful, fun experience for all.

This Monkey and I Have Something In Common

We’ve been in Brazil for two weeks now, and I haven’t seen any monkeys yet. I know they’re out there, so this morning I decided to walk a few blocks to a large city park where, after a 30 minute stroll, I ran into this little fellow.

Thankful101com-MonkeywithPaçoquinha-GoianiaBrazilIn the dappled sunlight I couldn’t tell what s/he was eating, but whatever it was disappeared within a few frenzied seconds. Then, without taking time to throw the wrapper in the garbage — bad monkey! — s/he scampered a few feet up an incline where s/he stood peering through the bars of the tall fence that surrounds the park.

Thankful101com-MonkeyLookoutGoianiaBrazilAnd then, s/he disappeared.

But not for long.

Thankful101com-MonkeyThiefwithPaçoquinha-GoianiaBrazilWithin 30 seconds, s/he streaked past me carrying almost more Paçoquita than s/he could handle. S/he climbed to the top of the monkey bars at the playground — an apropos place for a monkey to enjoy a snack — where s/he was soon joined by another thieving primate.

What a naughty little pest! I thought it was hilarious, but I’m sure the vendor wasn’t happy. I could write a whole post that outlines the societal implications of this incident, but I’ll just say that if I were going to steal from a street vendor, I’d steal Paçoquita, too. It’s delicious.

Is Brazil Ready for the World Cup?

The_Ant_and_the_Grasshopper_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_19994First, the disclaimers: 1) I profess to know very little about Brazilian futebol or soccer in general. 2) Anything that I write here is merely observational; any opinions I might form and share come from my own experiences and hypotheses and should not be presumed to be factual. I am a storyteller. If I get it wrong, or if you have something to add, please leave a gentle comment below. Discourse is fun. Being trolled is not.

Everyone wants to know if Brazil is ready to host the World Cup. The short answer is Yes, of course they are. Brazil’s national sport is soccer, and there is already a network of stadiums all across the country. Brazil hosted the World Cup 60 years ago, and could have easily hosted it again without much fuss or fanfare if they weren’t so concerned about appearances and making wealthy people from foreign countries feel comfortable for a few short weeks.

A little back story: in 2003, FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, announced that the 2014 World Cup would take place in South America. Of the fifteen countries in South America, only two, Colombia and Brazil, threw their names into the hat in a bid to be the host. When Colombia withdrew for undisclosed reasons, Brazil’s bid was uncontested and they were awarded the games.

That was 11 years ago, and — sorry, Brazilians — no one seemed very concerned about how much work needed to be done, or to have any idea how quickly technological standards would change, or to understand how unprepared they were to welcome an influx of visitors accustomed to cushy accommodations, fast, reliable internet access, and the ease of traveling on smooth, multi-laned highways.

My surface impression of Brazilians is that they are a people very concerned with appearances. Perhaps overly concerned. Women here wear uncomfortable high heels everywhere they go. When we are here, One won’t leave the house wearing even the most high-quality plain t-shirt unless he is going fishing or to the gym or to visit the most intimate and oldest of his friends. This is a place where people iron their jeans. (Side note: It’s a lot of pressure to visit a place like this. I always feel as if I am being scrutinized for signs of wrinkles and shabbiness.)

So, because Brazil’s leaders were so concerned about showing a pretty face— and probably also because some wealthy and/or corrupt people speculated on how they could become even wealthier — the politicians decided that the most important thing they could do was to renovate their best stadiums and to build some new ones. They also thought that the airports could use a facelift. They didn’t consult the people, although — again, sorry Brazilians — if they had asked in 2003 if it was a good idea to host the World Cup, most of them probably would’ve been enthusiastic about the idea. The whole country was giddy with hope, and popular president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva was only a few months into his first term.

Fast forward 10 years and hope had waned. Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, was bearing the brunt of the criticism for decisions that were made before she took office. The people thought their reais (R$) would be better spent on improving education, health services, and the country’s aging infrastructure and highways instead of being funneled into stadium seats and relocating people by force from their ramshackle homes near the venues. Groups like São Paulo’s Black Bloc began to rise up last summer in response to a 20 cent increase in bus fares, and have now vowed to disrupt the games which start in four days. Brazil is a country on the edge of its seat, and the world stands by, shaking its head.

But here’s the thing. It’s my simplistic opinion. Much like baseball and basketball in the US, modern soccer originated in empty fields and alley ways. Soccer requires so little equipment that the poorest of children in the poorest of countries are able to play. It has never been a flashy, showy sport, although sometimes the footwork is dazzling, and a parade of memorable personalities have been its stars. The game does not need to put on a pretty face to be appreciated by its most authentic fans.

Before all of the renovations and new construction began, Brazil’s existing network of stadiums was fine. They were perfectly acceptable, safe places to play and watch a game — which leads me to my second surface impression of Brazilians. Without fail, and without exception, the Brazilians I know have been exceedingly hospitable. They are a people who share their very finest things without hesitation, even when they know they are stretching their resources or overextending themselves. They are also a people who, without actually saying so, expect reciprocation and appreciation. They want to impress, but they want also to be valued highly enough that others make an effort to impress them in return. It is a complicated emotional bartering system, and I am afraid that the Brazilians will be sorely disappointed at the end of these games. The dignitaries, international superstars, and camera crews they are trying to impress are more prone to issuing complaints than praise.

The world is always in flux; today information and ideas flow at a never-before-known pace. The collective psyche of Brazil seems to be shifting from that of the playful, carefree grasshopper to that of the hardworking ant who understands that true prosperity begins with a plan and a foundation. There is more to Brazil than soccer and samba, and Brazilians are ready to show it.

The rest of the world would do well to remember that when we travel, we go to be invigorated and enlightened, to have experiences beyond what our daily lives offer, but more than anything, to accept and welcome — and sometimes be mesmerized by — the differences we encounter. The world would have done well to make Brazil feel comfortable to offer its modest finest, instead of making it feel as if it needed to over-extend itself at the expense of the welfare of its citizens.

The question has never been whether Brazil is ready for the World Cup, but rather “Are its guests ready to accept the accommodations they are offered with grace and gratitude?”

Things That Frighten Me More Than Anarchy in the Streets of Brazil

The other day I posted a picture of the exposed electrical outlet in our shower on the Instagram account and tagged it #ThingsThatFrightenMeMoreThanArarchyInTheStreetsOfBrasil. I have visited this country half a dozen times and have taken lots of showers in lots of different bathrooms, but all that water so close to live electricity hasn’t stopped freaking me out yet.

Now I have something new to worry about.

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When we arrived at vovozinha’s house for a family lunch, there was a cloud of tiny bees swarming around the tailpipe of one of the aunt’s cars. They’re attracted to the sweetness of the sugar cane ethanol that fuels a lot of the cars here. And they have a pretty potent sting.

Cool, but freaky. And hurrah, I guess, for bees!

Follow Us on Instagram!

My access to internet is sporadic and unreliable, but I am able to post to Instagram almost every day. If you aren’t already following Thankful101, and you’re interested in what’s going on here in the southern hemisphere, click the link in the sidebar to follow, or find us on Instagram at @AllSheWrote101.

Brazilians have been critical of the government’s overspending on the World Cup for awhile now, and enthusiasm for the event hasn’t reached the fever pitch the world expects from Brazilians. It’s going to be an interesting summer.

Hello From Goiânia, Brasil!

Thankful101com-GoianiaBrasilSkylineatSunsetNormally at this time of year, I’d be celebrating the end of another school year and looking forward to a few relaxing weeks of reading and traveling and sunbathing, but this hasn’t been a normal year. Last summer, after I spent a ridiculously stressful and demoralizing school year with angry and frustrated children who stole from me, threatened me with violence or death, and alternately insulted me or ignored me at every turn, One gave me the gift of his support and OK’d my desire to spend some time away from the classroom.

I love spending time teaching and listening to kids, but I was beginning to look at my students in a jaded and weary way. After Christmas break, about 60% of the students at the transitional school where I taught successfully met the conditions to return to their regular schools. Those who remained had stories that were heartbreaking and perplexing, and it seemed as if every week brought news of a new arrest. More than once, the police arrived to publicly handcuff and escort students from the school lunchroom. Their crimes ran the gamut from Failure to Appear to murder. Several different times, I spent quiet hours alone in my classroom because none of my students were in attendance.

One of my favorite things about teaching is having the opportunity to be a positive influence. After the kids who had been “rehabilitated” left, few of the remaining students cared what I had to say or show them. I was surprised at how quickly they were able to drain my energy and goodwill.

So … I took a break, and a year has passed. Now One and I are in Brazil again for the World Cup and to visit family. Internet is sporadic, but I am going to try to post a few of my thoughts and impressions of what is happening here this summer.