26 December, 2012

Rio Prep

I've been told no one does New Years Eve better than Rio de Janeiro.  We shall see.  For me, I've learned from experience over the years that this holiday is possibly one if the most over-rated of events.  Rio has a potential to change my mind, though I am purposefully setting my expectations to "lukewarm anticipation" in preparation.

Also in preparation for spending a week in this world-famous city, I watched a couple films.  The first was the award-winning Brazilian film City of God (Cidade de Deus) about the violent inner-workings of a large favela during the 1960's and 70's.  The second is the animated Rio, about a domesticated blue macaw from Minnesota (hey!) who ends up in the titular city and learns how to fly, literally and figuratively.

Based on these two movies - which were both great for different reasons - here is what I know and expect from my trip:
  • All birds speak English. (Rio)
  • Guns are as common as grains of sand and just as easy to acquire. (City of God)
  • Your camera will not get jacked if you are friends with a slum lord. (City of God)
  • Small break-dancing monkeys will steal from tourists at the Sugar Loaf. (Rio)
  • Small children from the favela ("runts") will steal your pot at the beach. (City of God)
  • I guess Minnesotans say "Cheese and sprinkles!" when we're exasperated.  So I should practice that. (Rio)
  • Small birds with bottle caps for hats are totally legit. (Rio)
  • Cocaine-addicted gingers are not to be trusted. (City of God) Probably all gingers as a general rule...
  • Being a chicken is a dangerous station to have in life. (Both)
  • Favelas are bad places filled with shady gangs who kill indiscriminately...and may deal in the illegal bird trade. (Both)
  • The beach is an awesome place. (Both)
  • Everyone loves samba - birds and ghetto thugs alike. (Both)
So, based on this information, off to Rio I go...Feliz Ano Novo!!!

23 December, 2012

Meet Me Halfway

Approximately six months ago I started a self-imposed challenge to read one book a week for an entire year.  Today marks the end of week twenty-six.  Halfway.  

It is not easy and I am not always on schedule, but I am still in the game.  And I have come across some great reads.  If you have any suggestions for where I should go from here, I would love them.  I do have a list, my Kindle, and few lent "real" books, but recommendations are always welcome!

Go Big Or Go Home

This is a capybara.

I often see them on some of my runs.
It may look cute, but they're really possibly the weirdest creature on the planet.  
Like a guinea pig you can ride.  

Capybara's are the world's largest rodents.  They can grow to be a little over 4ft in length and 2 ft tall.  One source I found claims they can weigh up to 170lbs!  

Makes me wonder why Ecuadorians waste their time eating those tiny little normal guinea pigs when they could throw one of these suckers on the spit and feed a small village?!?  
(Actually, Capybaras are eaten in Venezuela...but just for Easter.)

Capybaras live in groups, graze like cows and geese, eat their own feces, and can do this:

They swim.  A giant swimming guinea pig.  Awesome.
I think I'll stick to the running trails.

14 December, 2012

Drip Drip Drop (Part II)

Arctic tundra and tropical rainforest.  A mule and a bullet train.  E. coli and an elephant.  Frogger and...whatever it is my students are playing now.  Opposites.  Our privileged, well-funded school abuts one of Campinas' ghettos, or favellas.  There is a wall, however the members of this community - composed of rows of ply-wood and aluminum roofed homes and littered with abandoned  tire-less cars - know the societal level that attend the school; they hear the soccer games and playground squeals.  Some who happen to live in sturdier, two-story housing can even catch a glimpse of our students eating in the cantina and walking carefree to class along the beautifully green landscaping and manicured cobble-stone paths.

For embarrassment's sake, let's called it "awhile ago."  Awhile ago I wrote about a conference held in São Paulo for student social awareness clubs and groups called the Global Issues Network (GIN).  The students I co-sponsor in this Rotary-supported group - called SEED Club - presented a literacy program they have enacted in the Guaraçai favella behind the wall of our school.

A building exists, and in years past, it has been filled with shelves and donated books; computers with games; chairs, soft foot-stools, a plush reading chair, and other comfort-creating spaces; as well as a craft/activity room.  The students found it difficult to get the children of Guaraçai to become engaged in the "library" part of the building.  Thus was borne the idea of a reading incentive program.

The students created a secure check-out system with reward points for borrowing and returning books.  They also, with the help of the local Rotary club, took a story-telling workshop which has enabled them to better interact with the kids in the community in terms of literacy when we visit every Monday and Friday after the last bell rings for the day.

Below are a few pictures taken by a mother who has volunteered a lot of time getting donations, physical and monetary - from various multi-nationals as well as simple cataloguing of the books themselves.  At the end of the day, though, the students do a phenomenal job of running the show and doing their small part to be a positive influence on these children's lives.

A couple of high school girls help the community kids craft with clay.

A girl from the community browsed the stacks.

One of the senior club member teaches a couple
community girls how to play Twister

*All photographs by M. Burrows (c) 2012