Monday, August 31, 2009

PUC-Rio vs. Brown

So I'm officially the worst blogger ever. This is really disappointing to me -- and probably to some of you as well -- since I found enormous success with my previous critically-acclaimed blogs. But apparently now that I am on my own, without a blogging partner to push me along (miss you Emily and Cecilia!), I'm a total failure. I've actually been avoiding blogging because I know that I never fully described Salvador, and I promised to. But I decided that I'll just post my pictures on Facebook, with captions that will be just like a blog entry cut up into little pieces, and that will allow me to move on with my life. I'll post the link once I've done so.

So, moving on....

The big news is that school started! Actually I guess I've had about two weeks of classes by now, so it's not really news anymore. But anyway....

PUC-Rio is about as different from Brown as you can get. First of all, it's not a residential campus, so all the students still live at home (or have families of their own -- there are a lot of middle-aged people here). This can make it sometimes feel like high school, as people drive or take the bus to school -- or even get dropped off by their parents.

It was a bit of a surprise, my first day of class, when I sat alone in the classroom for about 10 minutes before anyone even arrived. Everyone was still crowded downstairs, gossiping in their little cliques. (When students finally started arriving, I hid my head in a newspaper so no one would talk to me.) The professor was even later. Apparently this is the norm in this country. There's no official break between classes at PUC, so students and professors make one themselves -- often fifteen minutes both before and after each class. Even with this informal break, students sometimes show up in the last hour of a two-hour class. And the professor just says, "Tudo bem?" If I were that late to a class at Brown I'd be too embarrassed to even show up at all, or I would come with a damn good excuse.

Turns out I didn't need to worry about people talking to me -- everybody already knows pretty much everybody in all of their classes, so it's not just my pale skin and light hair that make me stand out (although I am getting tanner, I also am unfortunately getting a bit blonder). Students here only take classes in the department that their major is in, and Brazilians can't seem to grasp why, for example, you might take a literature class if that's not what you're studying. (Though I did make a spur-of-the-moment decision upon arriving in Brazil to add a comparative literature concentration to my public health one. So I can feel pretty legitimate taking classes in the Letras department.)

So, long story short, nobody has been standing in line to make friends with me. And I have been too overwhelmed lately to try to initiate friendships. Not that I'm good at doing that in English either -- how did I make friends back in the U.S.? Luckily there are plenty of awesome international students here, so it's not like I'm wandering the streets of Rio alone....

I'm glad I have American friends for another reason: they can marvel with me at the ridiculousness of some of the things Brazilians do. Let me point out a few:

First of all, professors give out a programa on the first day of class. This usually has a short description of the class as well was a bibliography. Well, turns out that you don't need to buy the books on the bibliography. In fact, it's most likely not even a complete bibliography. Each class, the professor will write on the board a bibliographic entry for a random reading that wasn't on the programa and suggest that you do it for the next class. That's right, suggest. Plenty of my classmates don't do the reading, and don't even show up with the text. Maybe that's because getting the readings is impossibly annoying.

Each class has a pasta, a file folder where the professor puts the readings for the next day. This pasta may be located at one of several Xerox places on campus. There, you ask for your pasta number, sort through the pile of texts in the folder, and chose the ones you want copied. They copy them for you (though, infuriatingly, not double-sided), and you pay a few reais, depending on how many pages you had copied. I'm not sure why no one has introduced to them the idea of a course reader, bound and ready with all the readings before the semester even begins. Not only do you not have to get the pasta after every class, you don't need to scrounge around for change, and you always know what reading is coming next! You Brown kids can tell I'm missing Allegra Copy.

(Obviously this whole system was impossible to figure out on the first day of class. I sat there trying to remember if I knew what pasta meant, or where such a thing would be located. Fortunately my professor was kind enough to show me the ropes when I went up to her after class and told her I had absolutely no clue what she was talking about.)

The next obstacle was using the computers. Sarah and I both had to print something out one day after class, so we went to tackle it together. When we went to the window outside the computer lab, expecting to sign up for a computer, we were told we needed to go to the window upstairs to choose a new password. We already had passwords which we had used to register for classes (which was a whole 'nother story) but apparently a second one was required. With new passwords, we went downstairs, typed in our matricula number (which inexplicably drops the first number, adds a G to the beginning, and adds another number to the end when you are using a computer) at the window, and were given receipts that assigned us computers.

I found the document I wanted to print. I went back to the window to ask how I could do so. The man there told me that I could do it on the computer itself. DUH! I'm no idiot. I asked him if I had to pay, and he told me that I got 100 free pages per semester, and that I could pick up my document at the end of the hall. So I pressed print and went to the end of the hall. Where I saw a stack of divided shelves, each one labeled with a number 0-9. On each shelf were stacks of paper. I rifled through some of the papers but was at a complete loss for how I would find mine. I went back to the help window. "Umm, how do I know where my paper is?" "It's in the shelf labeled with the last number of your matricula." DUH! 

I went and looked in the "6" shelf, and sure enough, my document was there. Only attached to the front was an extra piece of paper with my name and matricula and time printed and other random and completely unnecessary information. Every document printed there has this extra sheet stapled to the front. So yup, I'm definitely missing the SciLi too.

It's a good thing that I don't actually need a lot of books because the bookstore is just as impossible. There is absolutely no order to the place. Sure, books are organized by genre, such as "literature" and "psychology," but that's it. Harry Potter might be next to Os Lusíadas. I tried to look at every single book spine to find the few books I do need, but it's impossible when they are neither ordered by title or author. (I'm sorry, Mom, for ever criticizing your plan to alphabetize all your books.) Brazilians can't even agree on which direction to write the title on the spine, which results in a lot of head twisting. Furthermore, the bookstore doesn't even have all the books students need! Which is fine for some of my literature books, since I can just find them at another bookstore, but what random bookstore is going to have the textbook for the health class I'm taking? One of my classmates mentioned the fact that the bookstore didn't have the textbook to my professor; she knew nothing about it and suggested we all use the library's copy. I'm definitely missing the Brown Bookstore, which has every book you need, organized not only by department but also labeled with what class it is assigned for.

So yeah, there's a lot that I miss about Brown. I kind of want to send Ruth Simmons down here for a year and shape this place up. But PUC-Rio is one of the best schools in Brazil, and I can't really complain -- after all, I'm planning on going to do some reading at the beach tomorrow in between classes. You definitely can't do that in Providence.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Hate Brazil, part 2

So, here’s where I left off: Marco beckoned me back down the now-empty hallway (I suddenly feel like I’m writing myself into a romance novel, or a horror film – the reality was definitely closer to the horror genre).

It was now a little after 4:30. Marco brought my file over and laid it on top of a file cabinet. “Do you understand Portuguese well?” he asked. That was not a good sign.

He told me that I was supposed to have registered myself before 30 days were up. I tried to convince him that it wasn’t my fault, that it was really the fault of the Brazilian Consulate in Brazil. He was having none of that, however. He told me that if he sent it in then, the file would go to Brasilia and be sent right back. SHOULDN’T THEY ALREADY HAVE ALL OF MY INFO IN BRASILIA? I wanted to ask. But unfortunately that is not how things are done in Brazil. I couldn’t yell and complain my way out of things – I needed a friend in Brasilia, or a federal police agent boyfriend, or some other ‘in.’ I had none of the above.

“Here’s the thing,” Marco told me (I am paraphrasing). “You are probably going to have to pay a fine.”

“OK,” I said. I had been prepared for that. I brought extra money. I just wanted to get out of there.

“But,” Marco said – and this was a big ‘but’ – “you need to talk to the person over there.” He pointed across the hallway. Nobody was sitting at the desk. “But” – yet another ‘but’ – “she already left for the day. You are going to have to come back tomorrow. Very early.”

“I have to come back tomorrow?” I asked, hoping that my Portuguese comprehension wasn’t actually as good as I had thought. “Tomorrow? Very early?”

“Tomorrow, get here early and go talk to the woman who sits over there. Then come back over, find your file” – he stuffed it in the ‘L’ folder as he spoke – “and I’ll be able to finish it.”

I left the office wanting to cry. I actually almost went into the bathroom to do so, but I was worried that I would miss the next bus and what I wanted most of all was to be back in Copacabana. By now it was 5 pm and the sun was preparing to set (It's winter here!). I had lost the whole day waiting in the waiting room, only to be told I had to come back the next day.

So, after returning to Copa and complaining to anyone who would listen (except for the annoying 'hairdresser to the stars' who sat next to me on the bus and who I just wanted to shut up about his own problems he was encountering in trying to marry a Brazilian in order to get citizenship), I went to bed, prepared to wake up even earlier the next day – I wanted to be first in line to get a number. And I was; after getting on the bus before 7, I made it to the airport and explained my situation to the man in charge of the numbers, who sent me straight in to talk to Rosângela, the woman in charge of the fees. Things were looking good.

Then, as she was plugging my information into the computer, she asked me if I had my entry form. "What?" I asked, confused not just by the Portuguese but by the fact that I needed to have yet another form that I hadn't been told about. Rosângela pulled out a example of the customs form that I had filled out on the plane over a month ago -- and that I was almost positive I had thrown away with my boarding pass and baggage claim receipts all the other unnecessary papers I had accumulated over my 24-hour long journey. "No," I told her, with certainty.

She looked at me like I was an idiot. "But this is an official document," she protested. "You need to have it. Or else you will be fined."

I felt like crying yet again. I was absolutely sure that all my friends who had gone to the federal police in weeks past hadn't needed such a document, and that Marco hadn't told me the day before that he was missing anything. I told Rosângela this, and she shot back at me with: "Well then I am absolutely sure your friends were fined. It's an official document."

I wished I were in the US right then, where not only would I have complete command over the language to tell this woman off (though my Portuguese apparently improves with anger), I would also know the right way to get around this. She obviously held the power in this situation, and I didn't know what the Brazilian response would be -- I wanted to just refuse to pay, but I thought she would just see me as a stubborn, stupid American who thinks she's always right. BUT I WAS RIGHT.

So I let it be for now, and she made me fill out several forms to which I knew very few of the answers (and didn't understand the Portuguese legal jargon), and which she ended up ripping up several minutes later. She told me I could pay the fees when I was leaving the country, and she stamped "Did not pay fee" in my passport. Then she sent me out to the waiting room to wait for Marco.

And Marco didn't come. Rosângela had explained to me that he would be parking his car, and that he liked to sit down and have a cafezinho before coming into the office. But time passed and Marco still didn't come. By the time it was almost 9:30 I got fed up and sneaked back down the hallway without a number, ready to pull my file out of the folder and hand deliver it to Brasilia myself. 

I pretended that my number had just been called and went up to an open desk. I explained to the woman there that I had been there yesterday, and where my file was, and that I had just needed to talk to someone about paying a fee and that now I was all set. She started putting my data into the computer; once again, things were looking up.

Not so fast. Rosângela was called over, and the fees were discussed, and after I joyously listened to the new woman explain to her that I DIDN'T NEED MY ENTRY FORM (I wanted to say "Haha, I told you so" but wasn't sure how well that would translate into Portuguese), my hopes of getting out of there soon were dashed yet again.

I was sent back over to Rosângela's side of the hallway, where she prepared even more forms, so that I could pay the fee on the spot. I pulled out my wallet; she laughed at me and told me I had to pay it at the bank. So I went to the other side of the airport WHERE THE BANK WAS CLOSED. Not for long, luckily, I just had to wait for 10 minutes outside its doors for it to open at 10 o'clock.

Fee paid, I went back to Rosângela, gave her my receipt, she crossed out the "not" in my passport, and I went back across the hall. Though Marco finally arrived at work at almost 10:30, my form was still with the other woman and I had to wait as a French family with four children who had been living here for five years sorted out their immigration issues with her.

Then, suddenly and anti-climatically, with no teary goodbyes to Marco or Rosângela, it was over. My information was on its way to Brasilia, my passport was in my hand, and I was shooed out the door. The sun was directly overhead as I climbed onto the bus I had come to know all too well, and I settled into a seat and closed my eyes, ready to sleep my way back to Copacabana.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A (Not-So) Brief Interlude Of Hating Brazil

(Be prepared for a rather long and angry rant about Brazilian bureaucracy. Sorry if you don’t want to read it; I’ll be back with more Salvador and other exciting happenings soon.)

I’m sorry I haven’t been blogging lately, but I was afraid if I blogged about my experience with the federal police in the midst of it, my blog would no longer be appropriate for children on account of the amount of swearing.

I realize that saying I had a horrible experience with the federal police makes it seem like I got arrested or something, but don’t worry, I just was registering myself with them so that they wouldn’t come after me and arrest me.

Let me start at the beginning: Every foreigner staying more than 30 days in Brazil must register at the Federal Police before those 30 days are up. I knew that I would have to do this, as the command was stamped in my passport when it was returned from the Boston Consulate with my visa. What I didn’t know, however, was that in order to so I would need my original visa application form. This form was returned to me with everything else I had sent to the Consulate, including letters from my school and from my parents, a bank statement, a certificate of good conduct from the Brown Department of Public safety, and other documents.

So what would have made me think to take my visa application out of that pile of documents and bring it with me to Brazil? NOTHING. I can’t think of one good reason why I should have to bring my visa application with me…. To prove that I applied for a visa? Well, duh, I obviously applied since I HAVE A VISA IN MY PASSPORT. When I arrived at Brown first semester of freshman year and it was time to sign up for classes, I didn’t have to bring my application with me – obviously I applied! I got in, didn’t I? And it’s not like I wasn’t in their computers – they even sent back my handwritten application the first time I applied and made me reapply through their online form. So they should have this document somewhere in their computer system, right? WRONG.

So, as soon as I found out that I would need my visa application to go to the federal police, I sent an email to my parents asking them to send it to me, which they did, after spending hours trying to scan it in case that would work instead (but apparently a copy wouldn’t be accepted). So I waited and waited for the envelope to come, but my appointment with the federal police came and went (the international office at my school organized trips for groups of students). Finally the document arrived, several days after it was supposed to, and the night before I left for Salvador. While I was in Salvador, however, I would reach my 30-day limit. Once I was assured that the police wouldn’t hunt me down and that I would just have to pay a small fine, I resigned myself to visiting the federal police after returning from Salvador.

Last Tuesday, I went into school (though classes were cancelled) to talk to the international office about visiting the federal police. I went with a friend from the program who also had neglected to bring her visa application with her, but who wasn’t in as much of a hurry since she had arrive two weeks later than I had. Unfortunately, at the office we were pretty much told that we should go by ourselves, and there were blue busses that ran along the beach that would take us to the airport, where the police office was located. And we were told that we should go early.

So the next day I went across the street to stand on the beach at 7 in the morning and wait for the bus. And I waited and waited and waited. Forty minutes later I was about to give up when I saw the bus. I flagged it down and got on. Almost an hour and a half later I was at the airport, but was suddenly at a loss for what to do. My instructions had pretty much ended there. Should I get off at terminal 1 or terminal 2? I went with my first instinct and chose terminal 1 – though once I entered I once again had no idea where to go. I managed to find the military police office (so many different types of police in this country!) and asked where to go.

Once I found the federal police office, its waiting area crowded with Brazilians and foreigners alike, I went to the desk and got a number, 808. Currently the counter was at 761. I figured I was in for a long wait, but I went to get fingerprinted ahead of time so that I would be all ready when my number came up. Getting fingerprinted was actually the highlight of my day – though I apparently was a little tense, since the guy kept telling me to “relaxar” as he inked my fingers a couple of times each. Despite the excitement involved, I hope that was one of the few times in my life I need to be fingerprinted (though unfortunately it will now be a lot harder to get away with any crimes I choose to commit).

After washing my hands, I sat down and waited. And waited. And waited. When, two hours after I had arrived, they had still only been through 6 numbers, I went to go get a cup of coffee and a salgado. Unfortunately there isn’t much to do at the airport in Rio, so I soon went back to the waiting room and tried to read my book. Stupidly I had only brought the book I am reading in Portuguese – and I’m no good yet at reading in Portuguese. It couldn’t keep me occupied for very long so I took out my notebook and thought about constructing a crossword puzzle. After hearing some people speak French, I got jealous and wrote a short essay in French on how much I hated reading in Portuguese and loved reading in French, and how much I hated Brazil and loved France (the second part is actually not true – no offense, France, but I think I kind of like Brazil more). By 3:00 I had been there for six hours doing practically nothing and was considering drafting a suicide note.

The worst part was all the women and families with babies who kept going in EVEN THOUGH THEIR NUMBERS WEREN’T CALLED. I found out later that the federal police meet with one number from the queue, then one “de prioridade” – i.e. with small children or who are friends of a friend of a federal police agent. I spent a lot of time wishing that I really had followed through with one of my many plans to steal a small Brazilian child, or that I had at least thought to pretend I was pregnant.

Finally, as the crowd thinned out, my number was called, and I joyfully went down the hallway that for seven hours I had been dreaming to walk down. I sat down at the desk of a man who I later learned was named Marco and signed several lines on a form, and glued two pictures of myself to the form. Then he told me to go back to wait outside, and I left all my documents with him.

Though I was upset at being made to wait again, I knew it would be nothing compared to the time I had spent waiting earlier. The office was supposed to close at 5, and it was already 4:30. So when Marco came out holding several passports in his hand, my heart leaped.

However, I soon realized that none was the dark blue of my American passport.

He handed the other passports out and then pointed: “You, come with me.”

Duh duh duh duh … TO BE CONTINUED

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This Is Why I Haven't Been Responding To Emails (part 1)

I got home tonight and found that the wireless internet now requires a new password, which ruined my plans to catch up on my emailing tonight (sorry to everyone whose emails and facebook messages I have been neglecting – I will get on that soon).

Anyway, instead of reading, conjugating verbs in Portuguese, or doing anything that would be helpful in my life, I found myself watching John Tucker Must Die. Dubbed over in Portuguese.  While you all know how much I love this movie, I realized that I could do something else at the same time: blog. So here I am, writing in a Word document which I will figure out how to post tomorrow.

I was supposed to start classes tomorrow morning. However, while on our weeklong vacation in Salvador da Bahia (which I will get to in a moment), we found out that the beginning of this semester had been postponed until next week! As a public health student, I’m not exactly a fan of swine flu, but as a Brazilian student, I think it’s probably the best thing that could have possibly awaited me upon my return to Rio.

So, Bahia. Wow. A lot happened, and hopefully I will be able to get to it all, though it may take more than one post.

We flew out of Rio the first of August. The flight was a lot different than a domestic flight is in the U.S. First of all, I didn’t have to take my shoes off at any point. I carried my water bottle right on the plane. The plane was significantly late without much fanfare, as if that kind of lateness happened all the time (which it does). There were some drunk men sitting just a couple of rows in front of me playing drums on their armrests and singing loudly. The flight attendants wore weird white sleeves that weren’t connected to their shirts.

Arriving in Salvador, we found a huge screaming crowd waiting to greet us. Just kidding. They were waiting for the arrival of a soccer team from São Paulo, who came out of the terminal right behind us. One little boy started crying when he managed to sneak under the police barriers and get the autograph of one of the players. And this was the visiting team!

The hotel we stayed in was a nice one, with a delicious buffet that included pasta and scrambled eggs (depending on the time of day), two things I had been craving for the past month.

In fact, the hotel we were in was nice enough for Angela Davis as well, as she was staying there almost the whole time we were. I sat near her at breakfast and tried to spy on what she was reading on her computer (her breakfast companion/colleague was reading “Is It Ethical to Study Africa”) and on what she was eating for breakfast (peanut butter). I also sneaked around the hotel lobby trying to take a picture of her while she sat at the bar but I was too shy to talk to her (though several of us studied her Wikipedia page in case the need to have an intelligent discussion with her ever arose).

Ok, I have to wake up to go register myself in this country in just a couple of hours (I’m finally going to be legal! But I’ll get to that in another post), so I’m going to end here. I will be back later with more on Salvador.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away -- Or I will

This has apparently been the rainiest July in the history of Rio. Or something like that. And this is supposed to be the dry season. I'm beginning to think I'm back in Providence. At least I've never seen the temperature slip below 16 degrees Celsius (61 Fahrenheit). Unfortunately, now that I've spent four weeks in Brazil, a rainy 17 or 18 degree day is cause for some serious complaint, and daily (or twice-daily) hot chocolate.

The hallways in my apartment building are all outside, which means that they get rained on. I know this is hard to picture and doesn't make any sense (and I'm not doing a great job of describing it), but rain comes in through the top -- like above where a courtyard would be, only there is no courtyard -- and falls sideways into the pathways that lead from apartment to apartment on each floor. The halls have drains in them, but the rain still manages to puddle up!

It's finally looking like a sunny day in Rio this morning -- and I'm leaving. I'm headed with the group to Salvador da Bahia, in the northeast of the country. I know it's going to be warmer, and I've heard that the weather report predicts sun as well.

I wish I had time to write more, but a taxi is picking me up in front of my apartment in 13 minutes. I will report back on Salvador after I come home next Saturday -- and after that real classes start!