Friday, May 1, 2015

Gatinhos para adoção

My friend Wilton and I were walking back from the university cafeteria a couple weeks ago and we heard this high-pitched mewling. We both thought it was a strange species of baby bird and dismissed the sound. But farther down the trail, this tiny kitten, all black and covered in brambles and dirt comes meowing out of the bushes.

In Rio Grande we have a stray animal problem. A lot of people don't fix their pets and abandon the unwanted litters. We have a ton of street dogs. TONS. FURG must have at least 30 stray dogs that wander around campus. There are hundreds throughout the city. Often people abandon pets on FURG's campus because they know that we're a bunch of bleeding hearts.

The two kittens Wilton and I found were most likely abandoned from another part of the city. They were only 30/40 days old - definitely too young to be out on their own... I don't want pets at this point in my life. They're a lot of responsibility and I'm not very responsible right now. But I couldn't leave these tiny abandoned kitties defenseless in the wild! So Wilton and I got a cardboard box and took the kitties to class with us the rest of the day and then took them home. Our Physical Oceanography professor was surprisingly chill with the arrangement and the kittens were on their best behavior until about the last half hour when they peed in the box and I had to excuse myself to go find a new one.

We took the kittens to Wilton's house and bought food and flea and worm medicine (they were covered in fleas). I named one of the kittens Fumarola which is the Portuguese word for hydrothermal vent or black smoker - a vent on the ocean floor that emits black smoke and strange gases and metals. The other kitten we're still debating what to name him.

Unfortunately on Friday, Fumarola got very ill. We called a vet and did everything we could but he died on Sunday. :( The other kitten is happy and healthy and tearing apart Wilton's house. hehe.
a box o' kittens in oceanography class


Wednesday, March 4, 2015


I arrived in Brazil on Sunday and I'm very excited to be back! Rio Grande feels exactly the same. I've already seen lots of my friends. I'm just happy as a clam. The only thing missing is a certain someone way up in Michigan. :)

My total travel time to Rio Grande was 28 hours. Unfortunately, when I arrived in Rio de Janeiro, my suitcases did not arrive with me. Either they jumped out of the plane somewhere over the Caribbean or they were chilling at the Miami airport.

It's day 4 without my bags. I think my patience for the astounding ineptitude that is American Airlines wanes as the only outfit with me becomes increasingly saturated in my sweat. I'll just leave that image there...

Yesterday it reached 100 degrees and today it was 94% humidity. I'm not sure that my hair ever dried this morning after I left the house. It was either wet from my shower or from my sweat. The only clothes I have are a pair of jeggings that I've worn for the past 5 days and some tank tops that my friends let me borrow so I'm struggling to remain positive about my delayed luggage.

Other than that, I've just been running errands. I'm trying to register for classes at the university but first I had to register with the federal police. There's a lot of paper work involved. 

I've moved into a new house here in Cassino. I like it a lot better than my house last year; there's more natural light and it's closer to the main avenue.

The view from my bedroom window

My roommate also has a kitten named Penny. Penny and I have been getting along well, even though she's a bed hog. She's a weird little cat: she likes coffee, oatmeal, and taking showers.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Estou voltando pro Brasil :O

I'm returning to Brazil in two weeks to continue the research I began last year. I'll be doing a masters of Physical, Chemical, and Geological Oceanography at FURG this upcoming year.

The greatest obstacle to getting to Brazil this year was acquiring a visa. For those of you who have already been through the process of applying for a Brazilian visa, you likely feel my frustration seeping through the page. *Deep breathing exercises* The consulate in my jurisdiction is in Houston, which is 10 hours from my corner of Arkansas. There were ~ 20 documents required for my visa application, which included an FBI background check and bank statements with the balance of my checking and savings accounts, among other things.

Unfortunately I can't begrudge Brazil their intense immigration/visa policies because the US takes the cake on being jerks about immigration (though France comes in as a close second - just google 'Marine le Pen' and 'Front National' or read this). Brazil, like many other countries, has a reciprocity policy. So the visa fees Brazil requires of US applicants are equal to the fees the US requires of Brazilian applicants. It's just so... fair!

I'm excited to return to Rio Grande but it's always hard leaving home.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Maior Praia do Mundo

Recently, we had another Fulbrighter visit the oceanography department at FURG. She’s doing a Faculty Fulbright in Jericoacoara, Ceará (a state at the northeastern tip of Brazil). Jean's visit was awesome. She helped me develop some of my project for my masters on sediment transport on Ilha Trinidade and explained how she uses fluid dynamics to calculate rates of wind-driven sediment transport. Basically, Jean is a boss and I can't adequately describe how cool she is in this post. 

Jean, my advisor, and I went on a field trip along the beach towards Uruguay. Here in Rio Grande, I live on the maior praia do mundo (the largest beach in the world)!!  But I'd say when discussing beaches one should put more importance on quality rather than quantity. Because our beach here is big, it's also a whole-lotta ugly. There's a running joke about our terrible beaches in Rio Grande do Sul.

The trip was a unique opportunity. There are no houses, towns, or roads that run parallel to the beach. It's deserted for miles. To see the shoreline, you have to drive on the sand along the ocean until you reach Uruguay. It's also the most dissipative beach I've ever seen. I'll explain why that's interesting: A dissipative beach means that the energy of the beach is spread out – in other words the waves break beginning very far from the shore and continue breaking until they reach land. In this way the energy is dispersed. Whereas the opposite would be a reflective beach, where all the water comes crashing up to steep rocks or sand very suddenly. On a dissipative beach you could walk into the water very far and still just be shin-deep because the beach becomes deeper very gradually. It was strange to see the waves crashing constantly as far as half a mile out and continue to where we were standing. One of the most shocking things about the trip, however, was the quantity of dead animals that we saw: dead seals, dead penguins, dead fish, dead sea turtles. It was horrible. They were everywhere rotting along the beach. I’ve never seen anything like it. I have no idea if it’s normal but it made me sick to look at. It was a little eerie- kind of an overcast, deserted graveyard of sea animals. Along the beach are huge nonfunctioning fields of wind turbines. I can’t help but think of the turbines and the dead animals next to them as a juxtaposition of human development and its consequences.

I’ve included some photos.
Jean studies dune formation - she pointed out this formation of a barchan dune

dead sea turtle... there's nothing to scale it, but it's definitely larger than me

wind turbine in the background

old shipwreck

The sand was moving crazy fast the day of our field trip.


As part of the ETA Fulbright we have to develop a side project for when we’re not teaching English classes. When I came to Brazil I had a vague idea that I wanted to do something with oceanography. And although I love teaching and I find it fulfilling, I don’t want to teach English forever. So one of my highest priorities when I arrived was developing my side project. 

There are some weird things you have to go through moving to a new country. There's a lot of doubt and... pontificating- Am I doing this correctly? Was that rude? Where does the toilet paper go?? Hmm spandex is popular here, should I wear some?

When I arrived, I didn’t understand how things worked at the university. I didn’t speak Portuguese that well. I wanted to work with the Oceanography Department but I had no idea how to go about getting what I wanted. Fortunately, my (wonderful) host professor introduced me to professors in the Oceanography department and they let me audit some classes. I liked the classes but what I really wanted was to work in a lab. So I asked around a lot about opportunities in research labs and was actually turned down... quite a few times, which was really discouraging. It’s really hard to show up in a professor’s office and ask for a job or guidance.

My now-advisor wasn't so reluctant. He agreed to work with me almost immediately! He did his PhD in Virginia and loves New Orleans so we were fast friends. He’s running a project right now on Ilha Trindade, an island about 4 days off the coast of Espirito Santo. I was really looking forward to going on a research trip to the island but I think my grant will end before I have the opportunity.

I’m working on the sedimentation part of the project. What I love about sedimentology in oceanography is that you can look at tiny grains of sand and learn so much about the history and formation of land. You can estimate the strength of waves depending on the size of sand they deposit. You can tell if sea creatures live nearby depending on the percentage of calcium carbonate in the sand. You can tell if the land was formed by a volcano. You can make hypotheses about the topography of the ocean floor based on the variance of grain sizes. It’s a riddle where you try to glean the most information out a few seemingly-boring rocks.

I've included some photos from the sedimentology lab. 
I love this picture. You can see samples of sand from beaches all around the world in the tiny glass jars along the wall. The cylindrical stacks are for measuring grain sizes and weighing the mass of each grain diameter. 

This is heavy v. light mineral seperation. The funnels are full of sample sediments and Bromoform which has a density of 2.89 g/cm3. The density of pure water is about 1. The Bromoform separates the heavy particles from the light ones. The light ones float in the dense solution while the heavy ones sink to the bottom. After we separate the minerals, they're sent to Porto Alegre for analysis. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

É como não sentir calor em Cuiabá

Full disclosure: This post is from October but I forgot to publish it on my blog until March.

I just got back from a trip to Cuiabá, where I participated in this event called English Circus. Julian and Armen, the two ETAs in Cuiabá, are go-getters; they're kind of the poster children for what a Fulbright ETA should be - we always hear about something new and exciting that they're doing. They organized this multi-week series of talks by other ETAs about topics of our choice. My talk was called "Cultural Literacy through Music", which combines two things that I love: music and social/political commentary through art. My talk was inspired by this class I took at Tulane with Dan Sharp (the coolest!) called Brazilian Music and Citizenship. We traced the evolution of Brazilian music and social movements. In retrospect, the class probably prepared me more than anything else for my move to Brazil.

My talk examined the cultural and political references in popular (that term is used subjectively) American songs. We discussed Amazing Grace, Born in the USA, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Civil War by Guns N' Roses, Where is the Love?, and Words I Never Said by Lupe Fiasco. I'm really fascinated with the distinction between basic communication: Where's the bathroom? Can I get a beer? and cross-cultural communication: understanding the history and experiences behind a language that gives it meaning. The first steps in learning a language are almost mathematical. You learn characters, place them in patterns to achieve a result. But more advanced language learning is about understanding nuance, cultural references, etc. I think listening to English music and discussing the meaning and history of songs helps my students communicate in English more deeply. It also prompts great discussions on history, race, war, social class, etc.  I read an article recently that reflects on language and culture more eloquently than I do here.

After the talk, I was free to explore the area. And thanks to Julian, who hosted me, I had an amazing time! First, I think it's necessary to explain the weather in Cuiabá. Cuiabá may be one of the most difficult placement cities. After spending a few days there, I have so much respect for Julian and Armen.

Cuiabá is a city located way inland in the state of Mato Grosso (literally translated: thick jungle). Hot. It was so hot. Julian didn't have air conditioning so we putzed around dripping sweat. I mean, exerting absolutely no energy whatsoever, I was losing a lot of water. It would get so hot in her apartment that at night we took showers in our clothes to stay cool enough to fall asleep.

Look at that!! 7pm. It's dark outside and it is 97 degrees! And look at Friday-Tuesday - over 100! It's like that year round. 

I had low expectations for Cuiabá. I thought it would be kind of like Montana.. not that I've ever been to Montana. But that there wouldn't be a lot going on. I was wrong. Cuiabá is a big city; it's clean, well-organized. The highways rival those of Texas. It was a world cup host city and quite chic. It seemed wealthy. There were luxury brand shops everywhere. I think the money comes from these very wealthy landowners, farmers, and cattle-raisers that own obscene amounts of land throughout the state.. and are arguably.. very sketchy people. The area around Cuiabá is protected. It's part of a giant wetland. Unfortunately, in Brazil there's a lot of strife between landowners and anyone enforcing protection on lands. To get a taste of what I'm talking about, read this.

Cuiabá's proximity to the Pantanal (that giant wetland I mentioned) is a lot of the reason I wanted to go there. It has some of the best birdwatching in the world. I went with my friend Catherine, another ETA, and her friend Fiona. We rented a car and spent the day with a tour guide. Our guide was very cool and knew so much about the wildlife. But we did have an unpleasant encounter with one of the aforementioned landowners. Our guide, used the landowner's driveway without permission to show us an emu and the guy came barreling down his dirt road and cut us off so we couldn't leave. He was bright red and spitting mad and cussing at us. It was uncomfortable to say the least.. and might I say, a tad overreactive.

The guide dropped us off in the middle of Cuiabá and hilarity ensued. The problem was that I was the only one of us 3 that drives stick. And originally (when we rented the car) I was like no sweat guys, been doing this for years! And then as my time to drive approached I became more and more preoccupied with driving in a foreign country with a foreign car where I don't know the traffic laws, etc. But don't worry! It was all good. I only stalled out a few times in a crowded parking lot (ugh felt like such a noob). And I couldn't figure out how to put a Volkswagon in reverse so at several points, Catherine and Fiona had to get out and push the car out of some parking spots... with an audience.

Here are some pics from the Pantanal:

Termite mounds
The entrance

This is Catherine giggling because the neighbors gave her a Jaca fruit on her way up to the apartment. Jaca fruit is huge and smells terrible. It tastes better than it smells but that's not saying much. Some people really like it, but the texture is a little slimey for me, personally.

Kingfishers are some of my favorite birds :)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September showers bring October flowers

I have come out of hibernation. I haven't ranted about the cold in my blog. I had every intention of whining about it for a few posts but I got busy. I also like to keep an upbeat vibe going in my blog. Here's the thing though: Rio Grande gets really, really cold in the winter. My sister made fun of me because she lives in Chicago and thinks anything above zero is Spring weather. And I was complaining about 5 degrees Celsius (~40 degrees Fahrenheit - ugh the most impossible word to spell. Who even remembers where that second "h" in Fahrenheit goes??). And I get it - in the South a few snow flurries send everyone to Walmart in a panic to stock up on groceries for all of winter. So my definition of "really cold" is dubious. And admittedly anything below 60 pretty much zaps any intention I had of leaving the house.

But here in Rio Grande we don't have the infrastructure for cold. Most houses don't have heating or insulation. There's just a wall of brick or wood that stands between you and the great outdoors. When I take a shower and I look at the cutout for the drain, I can see the earth under my house in the gap between my tile floor and the pipe. The temperature of that tile is the temperature of the ground outside. I have proof.

When it's 37 degrees F outside, it's 37 degrees when you're shivering under the lukewarm-drip of an electric shower head. Here in Rio Grande, we spend most of the winter in five layers under blankets in our house, sipping on some chimarrão, and canceling plans because it's either too cold, too windy, too rainy or all of the above.

But alas, the mean cold has been chased away - thank you Earth's axis! And now instead of cold, windy, and rainy, it's just windy and rainy! Just kidding. Sometimes we have nice days. Actually the weather in Rio Grande is totally unpredictable. I've included photo evidence of the weather variability here.
What it looked like this morning...

By 1:00 in the afternoon

The warmer weather has made me altogether a much more agreeable person. I'm more punctual. I feel more motivated. Today, I rode my landlady's bike to the farmer's market in short-sleeves.

I swear there is nothing more tranquil than riding your bike to the farmer's market. The bike is a big deal because I used to walk to the farmer's market (feira), which was a 2-hour ordeal. It's now a 30-minute trip and no longer takes up all of my Tuesday morning. The market has really interesting fruits and vegetables. Here are a few examples:

bergamota - this word is specific to my state. They say mixirica everywhere else. It looks like a clementine, tastes like a clementine, but is not a clementine. There are a bunch of types of oranges here -  some just for juice. Maybe we have lots of oranges in the US too.. but acho q não.
mamão - papaya
goiaba - guava
maracuja - passionfruit. I know we've all had a passionfruit flavored something but when was the last time you saw a passionfruit at a market??
mandioca - I really don't know how to translate that. Brazilians often fry it and it tastes kind of like a potato. But it can also be ground into a flour that they call tapioca in the Northeast. It's a main ingredient in polvilho, which is what makes pão-de-queijo.. which is duh-licious. Mandioca is basically a staple of the Brazilian diet: Ireland's potato. I'm not really the best person to get into food. I've never been that into food. I've been working in restaurants too long so all food joy has been sucked out of me. You should check out my co-ETA's blog, though. She's much more into food.

Stay tuned!