Thursday, February 26, 2009

Obama Reverses U.S. Position on LGBT Issues at the UN

You may have missed this bit of obnoxious gay-bashing by then-president Bush.

In late December, 2008 the United Nations General Assembly held a symbolic vote on a statement calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. France spearheaded the resolution, which was a 13 point declaration "to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention."

The statement received 60 votes in support, mostly from Europe and South America. Opposing the resolution, were the United States, the Holy See, and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. At the time, the Bush administration couched its objection to the measure in legal technicalities.

Read more with detailed links here.

Earlier this month the Obama administration reversed that position and the United States of America now stands in favor of such a resolution.

The efforts to include language on discrimination based on sexual orientation ended up failing for lack of support from non-western countries. But at least we are on the side of equality for all - for a change!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Carnaval in Rio: Beija Flor de Nilópolis

Talk about high energy. It was the last rehearsal before Carnaval and the whole community was in the streets and in the rehearsal hall getting pumped up in anticipation of another first place championship for last year’s winner: Beija Flor.

Nilópolis is a suburb of Rio, a little less than an hour from our apartment. It is the proud home of Beija Flor, who has been the first-place winner of Rio’s Carnaval five out of the last six years. The folks there know how to come together for a cause.

In two cars we arrived some time after 10 p.m., parked in an off-street lot very near the rehearsal hall, and bobbed and shuffled our way up two long blocks crammed with celebrants, vendors, families and the occasional security officer (few tourists make it out this far to experience a Samba School rehearsal). I love this stuff. Everybody smiling. The smell of meat on the grill. Grandmas holding grandbabies dressed in matching outfits of blue and white (the official colors of the School.)

R$10 admission for the ladies and R$15 for the guys. We bought our tickets, but then stayed out in the street for a few rounds of beer and some churrasquinho. It wasn’t yet 11:00 p.m. and things surely wouldn’t be getting whipped up inside for at least another hour.

Once inside the first thing that hits is the heat. In spite of the 20 or 25 industrial-size fans panning back and forth the ambient temperature is easily in the high eighties – and we don’t yet have 3,000 people dancing! I have my trusty terrycloth miniature hand towel to keep me from drowning in my own sweat.

We buy a few beers and position ourselves along the side of the practice parade route that loops around the center of the cavernous space. Announcements are coming from the stage and people are being called to assume their positions in the order they will parade on Monday night.

While waiting for things to get underway Luiz and I speak with some of the older women in the Baiana ala. Every School has a Baiana ala that features essentially the grandmothers of the community. Their costumes are typically some variation of a large-hooped dress with some flamboyant headdress. Their standard choreography is to twirl around in one direction then the other while sort of lifting their arms up in an alternating fashion. It’s so cute! Anyway – we were asking the women how many times they had participated in the Carnaval competition. We heard 5, 12, 30 and 35 times/years!

Finally all (firm) reminders to arrive on Monday two hours before liftoff are completed and the bateria shatters the buzz of the crowd with the samba music from last year’s championship performance. EVERYONE begins to dance and shout out the lyrics.

For the next couple hours people are dancing/moving nonstop, moving in a huge circle, singing this year’s samba, rehearsing their choreography and keeping their formation in straight lines, both forward and back as well as side to side. Nothing will ding your scores like a disorganized and sloppy contingent screwing up the visual from above in the Sambadromo.

Unable to resist, Lilia and Zanza jump into a Community ala to go along for the ride and make one loop around the hall. Their excitement and smiles coax all of us to join in as well. Now we are all crashing the party, squeezed between two sets of folks who obviously know we are ‘extra’ participants. I did my best to keep in line and smile broadly whenever the “Harmonia” coach came by to check on our required high level of enthusiasm.

Finally, after we have hopped back out of the parade and cooled ourselves with a few icy beers we get to the end of the rehearsal. It’s about 2:30 a.m. The bateria stops on point and the crowd applauds their hours of effort keeping everyone’s feet light and happy.

While the party in the street will go on past sunrise, we give in to the necessity of getting at least a little sleep before folks have to be at work in the morning. Once back at the apartment Luiz and I shower off the salty, sweaty evidence of a great night out and fall instantly to sleep.

Qualidade de Vida indeed!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gringo skin vs. Brazilian sun

Man it’s hot. I havn’t spent time at the beach – or even been in direct sunlight all that much but I am breaking out all over with a heat rash.

I’ve been to the dermatologist twice and all she says is, “Yep, that’s a heat rash. Stay out of the sun. Try to keep it dry.”

[No pictures – too nasty.]

Today I was waiting for a bus to get to an English class I am teaching (now teaching four classes and five individual clients a week) and I had to share the thin strip of shade from the telephone pole with two other commuters. It’s been like an oven.

At the street party I posted about earlier the local government had workers spraying the crowd down with fire hoses. It was great – until one of our friends got home and discovered her cell phone had been soaked and no longer functioned.

One the bright side – it is Carnaval, which means we take naps during the day and play throughout most of the cooler nights.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Carnaval in Rio: Samba School Rehearsals

What so many people do not know is that the big Carnaval parade spectacular in Rio is actually a fierce competition between long-established groups/communities reaching for the grand prize of champion. Samba Schools (so named for their early days of rehearsals in the logical big open space of school soccer fields) compete to be the best in costume, choreography, parade precision, music and theme realization.

This is serious business. For us simple folks who just love the show, we start saving for our tickets for next year’s event the month after this year’s extravaganza is completed. For community members dedicated to participate next year – they double down and save even more each month.

As Carnaval approaches there are weekly rehearsals to help participants practice their choreography and learn to sing the samba as second nature. Most Schools look for opportunities to practice down large boulevards that simulate the Sombadromo parade route. “Harmonia” coaches (precision police) encourage folks to pay close attention to pace, alignment and alegria, all of which will be scored during their Carnaval performance.

So we find ourselves at the Viradouro rehearsal down main street in Niterói.

The vendors assemble way in advance. Lots of people means lots of food and beverage sales. Plus maybe some balloons or costume accents as well. So entrepreneurs claim their spot and set up shop.

Popcorn, balloons, sunglasses, hot dogs, BBQ, beer – you name it. Carnaval is NOT about unfulfilled desires!

We come every Sunday. But today is the last rehearsal before the big parade. Energy is high. Participation is at its peak. Smiles, friendliness, inclusion and a deafening dance-a-thon ensues.

We are DEFINITELY not in Kansas!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Carnaval in Rio: Blocos

Unbeknownst to too many visitors to Rio during Carnaval is that the local backbone of this party season is the neighborhood bloco. Blocos are essentially block parties. Neighborhoods explode in celebration during Carnaval because the big event at the Sambadromo just simply can’t hold and give voice to all the revelry people bring to the season.

Many, many neighborhoods throughout Rio and surrounding suburbs and cities host a prideful bloco in the run-up to Carnaval. This past weekend we went to one of them in Niterói: Banda de Ingá. Ingá is a neighborhood very near our own. We went with our friends Marco Aurellio, Lilia and their daughter Bianca and Victor, Zanza and their daughter Anna Clara.

Perfect weather, great crowd and terrific music. The neighborhood gathered (for 4 or 5 hours) in a one block area, then following the astoundingly loud band/musicians/trio electrico the crowd proceeded to parade through the neighborhood for a few more hours.

No rules. No hurry. Just fun, frolic and dance. And a few beers.

Check it out.

The music truck.

Folks on the #32 bus wern't going anywhere until several thousand revelers had their way with the thoroughfare.

Even with thousands of people in the parade and hundreds of people walking the beach to avoid the crush on the street – there was an otherwise independently placed Candomblé offering on the beach that was delicately assembled and completely untouched by everyone walking on the sand.

Best advice for tourists: don't forget your sun screen!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Job search paying off

My current job search has been surprisingly easy and quick with results. I’ve been to about 7 or 8 schools (having taken only one competency test – scoring 147 out of 150) and have already been adopted as the in-house native English speaker at one school and have been recruited by another to conduct their daytime conversation classes.

What has made the search such a hoot has been the utter lack of ANYONE who speaks English at these English language schools! I’m sure there are teachers who can manage a conversation, but the front office staffs at all of the schools I have been to – without exception – were completely unable to understand my opening request: “May I speak to the person responsible for hiring teachers?”

Comical, but let’s be fair. I am looking for a job in Portuguese-speaking Brazil after all. So I switch to Portuguese and am understood. But it still makes me chuckle.

When I got a call to come in for an interview (message left in Portuguese) I wisely took Luiz with me for the meeting. The school owner with whom we met does not speak English at all. No matter – Luiz charmed him up one side and down the other. I just smiled and nodded occasionally. I got the job.

This is not a get-rich-quick career. Teaching English is rather notorious for being a relatively low-paying job. Long term strategies for making a living as an English teacher include breaking into the private instruction for adult business professionals niche or better yet being picked up as the in-house teacher/trainer for a multinational company needing to bring their staff up to speed to work globally.

There is quite a road ahead for myself, training-wise. Just being able to speak the language does not adequately prepare me to be an effective teacher. If I am really to make my way in this profession I’ll most likely be taking a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) course.

For now I can easily lead conversation-only classes (completely in English) and/or be trained by a school in their method to teach more beginning students. But again, the more flexible and financially rewarding job options will come from being a private teacher.

Once again Google is the master of the universe. An hour or so on the internet reaps great lesson plans and vocabulary lists for my students. So far so good.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Who is hoarding the chocolate?

I know they are here somewhere... but where?

Believe it or not I cannot find chocolate chips anywhere! Maybe they are here right under my nose - but I don't think so. I've been to numerous super market chains, chocolate specialty boutiques, and "K-Mart" or "Target" -type stores. Nothing.

I'm dying to make those super-delicious "Toll House" chocolate chip cookies to knock the Havaianas off my friends. But I can't locate the KEY ingredient!

[Havaianas: the ubiquitous Brazilian flip-flops.]

Any Brazilians reading: please send me a tip if you know where I can find chocolate chips.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Summertime flowers

Summertime is a burst of flowers and vibrant colors in Zozó and Tonico’s garden/yard in Itaipu.

The Haliconias just keep on coming week after week.

Beautiful red ginger blooms defy the scant attention they get and burst into view.

An antherium plant we added several years back is constantly in bloom. Is that natural?

Luiz has been cultivating an orchid ‘garden’ on the trunk of a tree in the middle of the yard. They bloom like clockwork every year.

It’s not a big yard – but there are flowers everywhere this time of year. A real getaway retreat (pool included).

Friday, February 6, 2009

After ten years together - Are we married or not?

Luiz and I say in solidarity: Please don't divorce us.

By Maura Dolan and Jessica Garrison
February 4, 2009

Reporting from San Francisco -- The California Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it would hear arguments March 5 over the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the November ballot measure [in California] that reinstated a ban on same-sex marriage.

The court's decision in the case will come within 90 days of the three-hour hearing, which will be held in San Francisco and broadcast live on the California Channel. In addition to hearing challenges to Proposition 8, the court will consider the fate of 18,000 same-sex marriages that occurred before the November election.

Can't we all just get along?

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

One step at a time with Luiz

We just had a health blip. Luiz has been fighting a cold for a couple weeks. Living with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia means you have a lessoned ability to fight these things. He had been taking an over-the-counter med, but it was not making an impact.

So I emailed his doc at INCA with the details. She suggested we come in for an exam.

To our surprise his unscheduled visit was remarkably short and (not to our surprise) he got terrific care. They saw him, referred him for blood work and an x-ray of his lungs. Then within the hour we met with a doc to discuss the results and next steps. In all: an unscheduled exam, two tests, another exam to discuss findings, then picking up meds -- "in and out" in less than 3.5 hours (and everything free, including the meds.) That's break neck speed for a public hospital in Brazil!

Luiz is fighting a common flu but as a person with a compromised immune system he needs a bit of a boost. So the docs prescribed an antibiotic for the growing bacterial infection.

While going to a public cancer facility can be trying – seeing the dramatic situations people are living with – we have repeatedly seen the advantage that the team approach at INCA brings to Luiz’s care.

We’re back home and Luiz is doing fine.

Monday, February 2, 2009

US auto maker to spend TARP money in Brazil

Hey thanks US tax payers! It turns out General Motors is going to take a billion dollars of the TARP monies bailout and invest it in their operations in Brazil. Check this out:

General Motors to Invest $1 Billion in Brazil Operations -- Money to Come from U.S. Rescue Program

By Russ Dallen
Latin American Herald Tribune staff

SAO PAULO -- General Motors plans to invest $1 billion in Brazil to avoid the kind of problems the U.S. automaker is facing in its home market, said the beleaguered car maker.

According to the president of GM Brazil-Mercosur, Jaime Ardila, the funding will come from the package of financial aid that the manufacturer will receive from the U.S. government and will be used to "complete the renovation of the line of products up to 2012."

"It wouldn't be logical to withdraw the investment from where we're growing, and our goal is to protect investments in emerging markets," he said in a statement published by the business daily Gazeta Mercantil.

Meanwhile, he cut the company's revenue forecast for this year by 14% to $9.5 billion from $11 billion, as the economic crisis began to cause rapid slowdowns in sales.

GM already announced three programs of paid leave, and Ardila added that GM Brazil "is going to wait and see how the market behaves in order to know what decision to take" with regard to possible layoffs.

For Ardila, the injection in Brazil's automobile sector of 8 billion reais ($3.51 billion) recently announced by the federal and state governments of Sao Paulo "has already begun to revive sales," which fell by 12% in October.

The executive said that the company will operate a "conservative" scenario in 2009 with an estimated production of 2.6 million units, and another more "optimistic" that contemplates sales of 2.9 million.

This year sales will reach 2.85 million vehicles, which represents a growth of 15% over last year.

Click here to watch a Detroit News video about Ford's state of the art plant in Brazil - the most advanced auto assembly plant in the world.

So how's this for a theory: The big three auto makers use the financial crisis in the US to essentially go out of business in many places in the US - thus busting the United Auto Workers' union in the process. Then they play up the bold new fuel efficient vehicles they ALREADY HAVE IN PRODUCTION in places like Brazil (and where they are making record profits). Soon GM and Ford (I've yet to read about Chrysler) are IMPORTING sporty little flex-fuel vehicles to the US market.

No union, no legacy costs, no heavy burden of health care costs. Just a lean new start.

Hey auto workers -- thanks for your loyalty! Tough luck.