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  • May 25, 2024 12:09 PM | Bill Magargal (Administrator)

    Yasnim with friendWhen I got home around 10 am, I realized I had less than two hours to rest before a meeting I had arranged with Valentina, the Servas coordinator in Rio.Valentina had plans to go on a hike to the Cachoeira Waterfall with some friends and their kids in the Municipal Park of Rio. I met Valentina at a cafe by her house where we ordered fresh mango juice and coxihna, a popular Brazilian street food consisting of shredded chicken covered in savory potato dough and fried. She is an anthropologist and was able to give me a little more insight on race relations in Brazil. We talked about colonization and how it has impacted the way people express their identity. In Rio people proudly claim the identity of “Preto” or black instead of “Moreno” which is brown. We talked about how it’s more common to experience micro aggressions if you are native [moreno] or preto rather than overt racism. Yet racism is still prevalent especially as evidenced in the way the police act in black communities just – as it is in many other parts of the world. The park was gorgeous and fairly secluded. We were five adults and three kids. I later found out the kids were from the Vidigalfavela.andlearned that it was common for favela kids to be looked after by people in their community since everyone knew and grew up together. The hike to the waterfall took around 40 minutes. The trail was littered with jaca - or decomposing jackfruitThe smell was potent and the fear of a jaca falling on my head and taking me out mid hike was real. When we reached the Cachoeira, we split off into different pools and baby waterfalls to swim, rest. and soak in nature.  

    After the hike, Carol, who had been part of our group, invited us over for dinner at her home in the Vidigal favela. Since she had to pick up a few things, Valentina, her partner and I arrived early and sat on her front steps. Every single personwho passed us greeted us with a “Boa Tarde.” In Rio, everyone was always super friendly and kind. In the favelas, there is a strict code of ethics enforced by the governing cartel and one of the most important rules is to never steal from your neighbors and to always treat them with respect. I felt completely safeWhen Carol got back from the market, we began making the most delicious vegetable Moqueca or Brazilian stew with fresh coconut milk and tomatoes. We took turns helping scrape the coconut meat out of the coconut to make fresh milk. My favorite part of the moqueca was the sweet plantain, which I could eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. After dinner, we wound down with a game of Dixit, a traditional Brazilian card game. Although Carol's house was in the favela, it looked like a modern air bnb with a balcony with the most gorgeous view looking out on the ocean. 

    Yasnim with FriendsWhen it was time to leave Rio, I felt sad and experienced a sense of withdrawal. The city was so vibrant, and diverse. The Cariocas, or people native to Rio, were so kind, unique and welcoming. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving. Luckily for me, I’d made some friends who just so happened to be headed tFlorianapolis, too. Floripais a beach town, and the capital of Santa Catarina state. It was a place to relax after the excitement of Rio. We spent our time going to the beach, hiking trails to waterfalls, and attending late night rap battles in the city center.  

    On my last day in Floripa, I met up with a Servas day host who has been a member for more than 20 years. I met him and his family friends at a resort where we all got day passes so that their kids were able to play, swim, and eat. We met at the buffet. One thing I learned about Brazilians is they really love buffets. You can find one anywhere you go and it will be crowded. I spoke to Fernando how he knew all of his friends and was shocked when he told me that they had met each other through having the same doulas and midwives. (A doula is an emotional support person who works with pregnant woman and moms who have recently given birth. I took this as a good omen because right before my trip, I had completed a Doula training program as the first step to becoming a certified Doula. My dream was to be able to travel and do holistic birth work around the world. Meeting Fernando, and this community was the exact inspiration and reassurance I needed to know that my dream is possible. 

    All too soon I left my Floripa friends, got in a blablacar, and headed to Curitiba, in the Southern state of Parana. It was there that I met my kind host Jandira, she showed me around her house and my room and told me to get settled and rest up. After a few hours of rest, her twin daughters knocked on my door and introduced themselves. Nayarais a gymnastics coach for young girls, and Raquel is a veterinarian. We are close in age and got along wonderfully right off the bat.We had nachos, for dinner talked about how Brazilians typically eat light dinners and a heavier breakfastwhereas in America, every meal we eat feels unnecessarily large. 

    The next day, Jandira took me to the Eye Museum, and the orchestra. On Friday, it was time for Jummah Prayer or Friday Congregation at the mosque. I found a nearby mosque, or mesquita, and Jandira dropped me there.It was the first time I went to a mosque alone in a different country but being away from home for so lhad me craving spiritual community. There were only two other women in the mosque that day. After prayer I asked the younger of the two if she could explain the speech someone was giving. It turned out to be a politician pandering for votes. We ended up speaking more about my visit, and she invited me to have lunch with herWe went to a nearby shawarma shop where she told me how she was raised Catholic but had been coming to the mosque for about a year because she found it peaceful. We talked about religion and travel and Palestine. After the mosque, Raquel and Nayara picked me up so that we could head to the Jardim Botanical, the iconic tourist attraction of Curitiba. We ended the day with a stop at anAçaí shop. I got the Açaí with cupaçu, a slightly tart berry I fell in love with Aracaju. I really enjoyed my time with Jandira, Raquel and Nayara. They definitely made me feel like part of their family and Ihope to visit them again. 

    Overall, my time in Brazil was my most magical and eye-opening travel experience. It was my first Servas trip. It was the longest I had ever traveled solo. It opened my mind to the avenues, methods, and experiences I could exploreon longer trips. There were even people I met in one city that I ran into again in another. I made lifelong friends. All my Servas hosts were kind, flexible, and welcoming. My Portuguese got infinitely better after one month fully immersed in the culture. I am grateful to Servas for the opportunity to participate in SYLE would 1000% recommend the program to anyone interested in learning a new language through cultural immersion. 

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