Balancing Contradictions in Brazil

July 16, 2012 | Carolyn, ECH, AFS, Brazil, Centro Integrado de Estudos e Programas de Desenvolvimento Sustentavel (CIEDS)

With one month left, I am feeling slightly stressed…

I am having a really hard time getting through the days and even more difficulty unwinding after them. Sometimes I am in really sketchy places and I find it really frustrating; dangerous is the most obvious level, but it is also annoying to have one’s liberty so constrained, stressful and exhausting, and angering since I feel this way because I am a woman, which relates directly to my work!

I have been over-analyzing everything. I cannot shut it off. For example, when I get dressed in the morning, I think: I want to look professional enough that the women in the favelas respect me and feel that I am respecting them as colleagues – but not too professional as to say, ‘I’m a foreign student who knows more than you’. I do not want to wear any jewellery because I do not want to attract attention along the way (robbery, kidnapping etc.), but once I arrive at my meeting, I do not want the women to think I took off all my valuables to meet with them…

I feel stressed in part because I have a lot of things left to do and people to visit, but also because I got what I wanted; I am in charge of formatting, creating, and executing the presentations for the community forums that are being conducted all this month and into August – even after I leave. I was so focussed on getting real experience, not a useless job that a foreign intern might have, that I forgot that I am a foreign intern.

Thus, I am working a lot. I visit a lot of different places and meet with a lot of different people. Sometimes I am working in an office that has computers and security people, other times in the government assistance stations or health posts. Sometimes in a shack made of sheet metal and no floor, outside of the city limits.

One thing is constant; I am way too serious. Language barriers aside, I forgot that cultural barriers are pretty intense. Brazilians joke a lot. It comes naturally for them to play with words, with situations, with stories. They stroll into meetings half an hour late and I am sitting there sweating, probably abrupt and curt by their standards. I have to consciously remind myself to add a little joke and “calmaaaa”. In the shower I think of little jokes about what I saw on the news because like the Brazilian Samba gene, I have no Brazilian joke-in-the-second gene (Please note: My English skills are deteriorating rapidly).

So, with one month left, I need to:
1. Joke more.
2. Produce presentations and translations like a super hero.
3. Relax better.
4. Find a job for August. Find an apartment in Ottawa. Apply for jobs in Ottawa and Brazil.
5. Lose my gringa, ‘office tan’ = the blue tinge of terrible lighting….

This trip will be remembered as Balancing Contradictions in Brazil.

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