Reflecting on my experience in Brazil

Reflecting is very important so that I can process and remember my experience. There are many things that I learned concerning Brazilian culture. Some activities that are memorable to me are such as the Capoeira workshop/kids’ performance, the workshop of leaning to play African instruments such as the drums and shakers, our visit to the Remanso community Quilombo, our visit to Steve Biko and our visit to the Afro-Brazilian clothing studio.

It was interesting to learn about Capoeira’s history. Capoeira is a combination of dance and fight. It was used as a form of self-defense for enslaved Africans during the time on slavery. This knowledge of the history and background and significance of the moves made our encounter with Capoeira more valuable as we learned some moves during the workshop and as we watched the kids play it. Because Capoeira is now used only as an art form and not a self-defense mechanism, it would be interesting in the future to see if Capoeira ever changes significantly throughout time. It was interesting to play the African instruments. I have never played them before. I particularly liked the shakers. They are so simple, yet can make complex sounds. African things are impressive, even the “simplest” things are so beautifully complex if you look long enough. The visit to the Remanso community Quilombo, was also very valuable. It was great to learn about the strong communities that runway slaves created. I love hearing stories of resistance against oppression, we do not hear resistance stories often enough. It was great to hear from the brother and sister that spoke to us about their personal life-stories. I love listening to peoples’ life-journeys.

I will compare one of these activities to my culture, I am Kenyan. I will comment concerning the visit when we met Goya Lopes who talked to us about Afro-Brazilian fashion. It was very interesting to see the whole process of cloth-making, but one of the most enjoyable aspects of this event was seeing the final product after everything was put together. I have many African clothing but until then I had not had the chance to see how the process of putting the African prints onto the fabric works. This was a good opportunity for me. The process begins with an artist dreaming up an Africa-inspired print design. Then the artist draws the print design on paper. Then that drawing is transferred to digital form on a computer making it possible for the design to be reproduced multiple times and in desired sizes. Then another machine (I am not sure of the name) is used to copy the digitized image onto a nylon-saturated-screen which is then sprayed with water to clean off part that are not part of the design. The next step is for two individuals to put paint over the screen which is placed over the fabric copying the design onto the fabric. Then the paint is dried and stays on the fabric. The designs we saw made were typical African style. The different prints really give character to the clothing. Then the style of the outfit itself is the finishing touch of the art work. African clothing is so distinct and beautiful.

Like I said before, this was a good opportunity for me because I got the see the process of putting the African prints onto fabric. This experience complemented an experience I had in my study abroad in Tanzania last year. This experience I had in Tanzania is similar to what would have happened if I was in Kenya, let me explain. While I was in Tanzania, I got African-style cloths made by a seamstress. These cloths were not ready-made cloths that one buys at the store. These cloths were made specifically for me. I went to a store that sold African-style-prints fabric (like the fabrics we saw made in Brazil), and I chose and bought the fabric that had the designs and colors that I liked. Then I took the fabric to the seamstress. She measured my size, I gave here the style I had searched and liked, she took note and she together with her assistants made me the cloths. The cloths were beautiful and very well done. Like I said, when it comes to clothing, Kenyan and Tanzanian style and process of making are similar, that is why I said that this experience I had in Tanzania is similar to what would have happened if I was in Kenya. When people want African-styled clothing, many people prefer to choose the prints and fabrics they like then they personally go and get fitted and their cloths are made by the seamstress instead of buying ready-made clothing like in a mall. In Tanzanian (which is similar to Kenya) I got to choose and buy the print design and fabric I wanted, I chose the particular style of the outfit itself that I wanted (unlike ready-made cloths such as in malls). My experience in Tanzania (which is similar to Kenya) complements my experience in Brazil because while Brazil, I got to see how artists design the prints to the point where the print designs are put on fabric. While in Tanzania I saw how the customer chooses the print design they like to the point where they have the cloths made. These two experiences got me to understand the full process from the point the design is born in the artists mind to the point where the customer is wearing the designed clothing.

One of the difficult aspects of this event was the fact that the country’s economy had negatively affected the business making it impossible to have more artists working together. But one thing that was good to hear was the fact that the artist has workshops that expose people, especially kids, to her work to inspire them. At least that’s a positive thing despite the economic hardships.

African and African-inspired clothing (made in Brazil) is truly beautiful, unique and distinct. I am proud to own and wear my African-styled clothing. The clothing represents the beautiful imagination, creativity and artistic talents of my people. Although Brazil is not Africa, Brazil really reflected that for me. I felt at home in Brazil.

Here are some photos of my experience in Brazil:

Uplifting/heartbreaking aspects of Brazil

My aim is to explore Black people’s history and culture by visiting as many places with Black people around the world as possible. Coming to Brazil and specifically Salvador which has the biggest population of Black people outside of Africa has been very eye opening for me. This place is reminiscent of my country Kenya. As in Kenya, people in Brazil are outside interacting with one another. Marketplaces are loud and busy. Kids play outside, people buy food by the roadside, the streets are buzzing with activity. This is very different from Seattle. It is so beautiful and sweet to come and be so hugged and kissed by the host mom and by other people. Personal space in Brazil is minimal, people like to be close and personal. This friendliness and warmth is the same as in Kenya, except people do not kiss as part of greetings in Kenya. Although I was not able to interact with people of Brazil as much as I would have liked to due to the language barrier (unlike in my Tanzanian study abroad), I none the less learned much through observation and experience. I saw how lively and friendly the people are. From the taxi drivers to the cashiers to the street vendors to the people at the beaches. I experienced the genuine hospitality that my host family provided for me. My host mom was great. We were been able to communicate mostly via Google translator. Although communication was of a different nature (gestures and google translator) due to the language barrier, I still enjoyed my interactions with her. She really took care of me while I was sick. She went above and beyond.

Some parts of my experience in Brazil were heartbreaking and some parts uplifting. It was heartbreaking to hear concerning the cruel history of slavery and of the racism that is currently present. However, it was uplifting when we went to the Steve Biko NGO. It was great to hear of the hard work that people are doing to combat racism.

One of the things that Steve Biko NGO does that stood out to me was the class they teach that is focused on Black awareness. It is important that they are combating eurocentric education by educating the students about Black ideas, history and cultures. Eurocentric education is very damaging because it presents a skewed view that looks down on and minimizes other people such as Black and Indigenous people, giving undue emphasis on European points of view.

The difficult part of this event was listening to the experiences that people had concerning racism. The story about the black lady that was unduly asked by the boss to make coffee simply because she was black while that was not part of the job description. The other story was of the black professor who was barely recognized as a professor simply because of his color. I have had many conversation concerning race in the U.S. I knew what expect, however I will never be used to the heartbreak of these stories. Talking about race issues will never be easy. When it comes to my country Kenya, race is not an issue because most people are black (there are many Asian and Indian immigrants there now, but Kenya is majority Black people). The issues with Kenya have to do with ethnicity. People can be discriminated upon based on their tribe. I cannot elaborate much on tribalism in Kenya because I immigrated to the U.S when I was young, however, I do know that it is a big issue in Kenya. Just as in Brazil, there are organizations in Kenya as there are also in U.S that are trying to help communities overcome discrimination and help better the society.

In the future, I would like to learn if and how Brazilian history books will be corrected to present the correct unbiased non-eurocentric history. As long as people are misinformed, attempts to better the society will not work. Apart from lessons concerning slavery and colonization, Black people need to be taught about their great history and about their great contributions to society. This kind of education is necessary to act as a mirror example to show that Black people can be successful because they were successful in the past. This education is necessary in order for Black people to get a better and fuller understanding of who we are so we can be inspired to succeed more and reach to greater heights.

September 19-HOME

Going to Machu Picchu was amazing. It was beautiful to see the ruins and learn about their advanced culture. We had a guided tour for a few hours that went into detail about why the city was built the way it was and the general history behind their beliefs. We were able to then wader around for a few hours. I and a partner did both of the short, but free, hikes out of the city and back. We viewed the architecture and the sights of the beautiful city. Admired how good they were at making stairs (man there were a lot! Our knees were feeling it by the end of the day!). After spending 7 hours there we then hiked back down to Aguas Calientes because the line for the bus back down was so long.

This brings me to something that was incredibly obvious when we first got there. It was so incredibly touristy. Thousands of people are there daily, and it was kind of a shock after seeing a limited number of people for such a long time. I absolutely enjoyed my time up in Machu Picchu wandering the paths that people took so long ago, but I was very happy that the rest of our trip had not been like that. Anyway, after a lovely sunny day at Machu Picchu we all slept very well and then headed back to Cusco the next day for our adventure to come to a close.

Little did 6 of us know our adventure was not over yet! We were all supposed to fly from Cusco to Lima the night of the 21st and be home on the 22nd. Unfortunately our flight was canceled and we had to stay another night in Cusco. We were working off of little to no sleep but we managed to get our flights rescheduled home for the next day. We managed to make it home only 12 hours late (which was around 2:15 am on the 23rd!). We were all very happy to be home after a couple stressful days. It was a stressful ending, but this was an incredible once in a lifetime experience for me and I am so happy that I went out of my comfort zone to go to Peru and explore the incredible biodiversity that it was to offer.

Farewell Peru!

September 15- September 18

            The last part of our exploration seminar really focused on culture in Peru. We were back in Cusco for a day and back with civilization for the rest of the trip. I was excited to start seeing that side a bit more. We spent one day in Cusco visiting the San Pedro market and we squeezed in Plaza de Armas for some souvenir shopping!

   We headed out of Cusco and moseyed our way to the Urabamba Valley. We stopped did a lot of enlightening things along the way. We stopped and volunteered at a elementary school and met some of the children. We planted some flowers and started to help build their playground, but we ran out of time before it was complete. They were grateful for our help, and we really enjoyed spending time with the kids. We then got to view and be a part of an earth blessing by a local shaman that Ursula and Tim knew. That was incredible to be a part of something so spiritual. We then toured a large Incan corn farm to close out the day.

We followed this day with discussions about sustainable agriculture vs mass production of crops. It boiled down to people are doing the best that they can to be sustainable but still make a profit to survive. Completely understandable, but sustainability does need to become more of a prominent factor. All the people in Peru no matter their profession know climate change is happening, they have seen it growing up. This is a very large head start at achieving sustainability goals over the United because most of their citizens understand that the climate is changing and people need to start responding the crisis no matter what is causing the change.

We followed this busy day with more incredible packed days. We went to a women’s weaving co-op. We learned how to dye yarn and see how much hard work goes into spinning, dying and weaving. We got to buy some of their products (warning all these products are great and I spent too much money there J but I regret nothing!). We then went to tour the Salt Mines and WOW these were stunning. I had never seen anything like it. It was incredible to see the process and to be able to walk through it and see crystals forming.  

We went to a textile center the next day that produced a variety of clay products. This ranged from art to bowls and mugs. It also doubled as an animal sanctuary because the man’s son who started the business was a vet. That was fun to see because he had large german shepherds running around with a lot of ceramics at head and tail height, but they never knocked anything over!

We then made our way to Ollantaytambo where we then took a short train to Aguas Calientes and got ready to go to Machu Picchu the next day!!! I was very excited

September 10- September 14

We spent our last day in the amazon basin exploring how crops are grown with a tropical climate. We discussed sustainability and viewed sustainable agriculture expieraments that were put together by the researcher there. It was fun to hear about his plans for the future, because he had just taken it over at the beginning of the year. We also enjoyed a tour of some medicinal and more traditional plants that are used by natives in Peru. That was interesting to hear the natural remedies and shows that plants are capable of a lot of things!

We left Villa Carmen and headed to Wayqecha where we did data analysis for a few days for our research projects. Man it was cold up there in the cloud forest! Moving from the amazon basin to the Andes was a shock! I wore a hat, gloves, and many layers while we were there, and I actually enjoyed eating hot food and having hot tea and coffee (eating hot food when it is hot and humid is surprisingly hard). We explored the forest near the biological station and got to enjoy the amazing views while we did many nature walks. It was incredible to see the difference in habitats from what we had just come from.  

On our last day at Wayqecha we went on a hike to a suspension bride. We looked at environmental differences between the peaks and valleys of the hills along the way. We all got to cross the suspension bridge and see what the view of the forest would be like from the trees. It was a great way to learn about plant adaptations for a damp and cloudy environment.

Next thing I knew we were on our way back to Cusco! Time was flying by, and we were already saying goodbye to the rainforest as we weaved our way back to civilization.

September 5- September 9, 2017

Just a little rain

We had a rain and thunderstorm on the 5th. It was our first and only rain that we had, but boy; it rained hard when it did. We had started mist netting that morning, but had to close the mist nets and run back to the station when it started down pouring. The soil is so bad that the station flooded within the first few hours of rain (and it continued to rain intensely until late afternoon). It was fun to experience the rain, but I am glad that was not happening for most of our trip.

We finished up our bird research in the next few days, and then it was already time to leave CC. It went by really fast and I had gotten so comfortable with the atmosphere. It was really nothing like I was expecting. I was expecting every other plant and insect to be poisonous and most things could kill you, but it really wasn’t like that at all. I felt very at ease on my last days at CC.

 

sunrise on Manu River

We went on a night walk to the beach one of the last nights, and it was fun! It surprisingly wasn’t scary to wander around in the dark in the amazon. I felt curious and excited even though we had to get up early the next morning. I will most likely not go to CC again in my life, so I wanted to make the most of it. We saw lots of frogs, and moths, and insects like spiders and cicadas. Fun fact: Spiders eyes reflect light. So when you have your headlamp on at night, and you’re just walking through the woods, you can see a lot more eyes than you would expect. But again, it wasn’t frightening; it was just fun and exciting to see what was out there. Will definitely miss my time at CC!

We left CC and made our way to Villa Carmen Bio station. We got to sleep in beds for the first time in a while. I slept very well after a long day of traveling by boat and bus. It was still warm because we were in the amazon basin still, and I should have enjoyed it, because after Villa Carmen heat was not going to be an issue anymore!

August 31- September 4, 2017

Giant River Otter saying Hello!

Over the next few days we continued to learn more basics about our surroundings. We learned the dominant plant and insect families because they are both very important, and very abundant, in the amazon rainforest. They are equally as important for the ecosystems because they are the primary producers and primary consumers for the rest of the ecosystem. We also continued to explore the environment we were living in through nature walks or through canoeing in the mornings. The giant river otters came to investigate our canoes one morning!

Releasing my first bird

Later in the week we started discussing research techniques for ecology. One that was very important to me was mist netting because we were in the bird research group. We learned how to set up mist nets to capture birds and I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked doing it and I liked seeing the birds up close to take measurements and pictures. I would not have considered myself a bird person before this trip because I had no background with it, but they were starting to grow on me. We got further into our research project and our group got to start handling the birds a bit more and that was fun, but bird research is an early task! Birds are most active in the mornings, so we went to open mist nets at dawn every morning.

I was starting to get used to CC life, and I was really enjoying my time there. I was surprised my back wasn’t hurting from sleeping on my sleeping pad for so long, but it continued to be fine the rest of the trip as well. I was also getting used to the heat, and sweating in full length cloths all day. It wasn’t bad because everyone could relate to what you were experiencing. Once you started to relax about the atmosphere you were able to enjoy it much more. You could appreciate all the life around you and listen to all the sounds of the jungle. My favorite part was waking up in the dark mornings and listening to all the sounds. You would hear howler monkeys, birds, and a lot of bugs, but they all played together into this indescribable symphony. That is what I will miss the most now that I am home. The sounds were unlike anything I have ever heard before, it was incredible.

Band Tailed Manakin

August 26-August 30, 2017

Back from Peru and I would not trade that experience for anything. It was an amazing month full of once in a lifetime experiences that I got to share with many wonderful people along the way. I will be blogging about my time in five or so day chucks to try and go over some of my best memories and lessons I learned. A month is a long time to try to catch up on, so I will do my best (luckily we were required to journal for the program!). I am a very visual person, so my blog will be full of pictures! Enjoy!

 

August 26-August 30:

We made it to Cusco, Peru a couple days ago and had some time to acclimate to the elevation. Brianna and I slept a lot and drank lots of Coca tea to ease our aliments.  We met our group on the 26th at noon and got to know everyone a little more and get our schedule figured out. Then the next morning we were off to start our adventure!

The next three days consisted of our group busing and boating to reach Cocha Cashu Biological Station.  The first day was a 14 hour bus ride from Cusco to Atalaya where we spent the night. This is a picture of the view when we reached the highest point of the Andes we were crossing. Also here is a map to help track where we were!

View into the amazon basin from the highest point we would hit in the Andes

Then the next two days were 8 hour beautiful boat rides along the Madre de Dios and Manu rivers. The boat rides were full of bird and other animal’s sightings along the way. We also had a chance to talk about river dynamics which was fun to learn about while we were in it and navigating the shallow waterways.  We spent one night at a ranger station called Limonal where we camped, and then we were up early for another day of boat riding on the Manu River! Here are a few pictures I captured along my way to Cocha Cashu, there were a lot more, but these are my favorite!

Sunrise on the Manu River

Capybaras!

Oropendola nests

We finally reached Cocha Cashu (CC) late on the 29th and we quickly set up our tents and had dinner and we were off to bed. The first few night in the amazon were the hardest. It was hot and humid, and we were advised to wear long pants, long sleeves, and boots at all times of the day. Sweating was pretty constant at most times of the day. Our saving grace was the cold showers. That was my favorite time of the day because I got a break to be normal temperature for a few minutes!

Our first real day at CC was great. I saw spider monkeys in the wild! I was also stung by a bee for the first time in my life because I was trying to balance myself while taking off my rubber boots (Look were you put your hands!! They will tell you this over and over!). The amount of life here is unlike anything I have ever seen and we are so immersed in it because we are camping and limiting our needs for excess. Waking up and going to sleep to the forest sounds was unlike anything you could experience in the United States. The biting bugs I could do without, but they come with the territory, and really they aren’t bad except near water. I am excited to see what the rest of my time here will bring!

Spider Monkey investigating us