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Month: November 2012

Better Late Than Never

Better Late Than Never

Day 147

Thanksgiving dinner didn’t end up happening until Sunday night, but better late than never, right?  Keia and I got up and worked out on Sunday morning, planned a menu and then went grocery shopping to hunt down all of the things we would need.  Three supermarkets later we had our hands on some brown sugar, but unfortunately cranberry sauce never showed its face.

The Menu:

  • Roasted Chicken (it’s tough to get your hands on a turkey here)
  • Green Bean Casserole
  • Southern Cornbread Stuffing
  • Mashed Potatoes and (sort of) Gravy
  • Warm Apple Crisp with Vanilla Ice Cream

Our friends all gathered at Joe’s apartment, we put some “futebol americana” on the TV and made everyone go around the circle to say what they were thankful for before we ate.  The food all turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself, and it might have been the first Thanksgiving I’ve ever had that there were NO leftovers. (That is to say we ate a LOT.)

The days after our trip and leading up to Thanksgiving were filled with catching up on schoolwork, getting back into a workout routine, and hitting the beach to watch Joe do some surfing and Ribamar in a volleyball tournament.  Joe ended up participating in a surf competition down in Barra, but Keia and I didn’t make it out there on Saturday and on Sunday the rain came.  It hasn’t stopped yet either.  We’re looking at the sky to open up on Thursday at the earliest, and then there are some more specks but a fairly clear next week.

Fortunately, I kind of like to run in the rain, which is what I think I am about to go do next before I sit down to think about the projects we have coming up.  I need a topic for my simulation project and to come up with some interview questions for my personal research.  We’ve started to learn Arena, which is really neat simulation software that is great for statistical visual modeling.  We were supposed to be running another experiment for our Capstone project today, but the organizers at the library we were going to work with in Rocinha haven’t gotten back to us about scheduling a specific time.

Coming up in two weekends is an event called Startup Weekend here in Rio de Janeiro.  This coming weekend it’s in São Paulo, and they have these weekends all over the world.  The idea is that all of the participants and organizers gather together on a Friday evening either with ideas for a startup company or the will to help start one up.  No products or formal research are allowed to be in the works yet.  Those who have ideas present them, and teams are made based on where your interests lie.  Each team is given 54 hours and some resources to essentially kick start this company, and everyone comes together on Sunday night to present demos and be judged.  I’m sure one company wins a prize, and maybe some others win smaller prizes, but I have to do some more of my own research before I decide whether I want to participate or not.  Joe has already signed up, but the weekend it’s happening in Rio will be the 3 days leading up to an exam in our MLG class, and both our simulation and MLG project deadlines.

As of tomorrow, we only have 3 weeks left here, so send your Brazilian souvenir requests this way!   On our list of things we still need to do before leaving Rio are seeing a “jogo de futebol” (soccer game- the season is ending though, so hopefully we can find tickets for this Sunday) and climbing Pedra da Gávea (preferably for sunrise, but I’d be happy just to get up there).  I’m off to run, drop off my laundry, and do some grocery shopping before I get down to work.  It’s a lot easier to get things done in this city when the weather is bad, and I can’t just say “Forget it!  To the beach!”

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving themselves, and I can’t wait to see you all soon!

Love, Molly

On the Road.

On the Road.

Day 142

What a week it has been.  We got back from our road trip through Minas Gerais around 2am this morning.  It was definitely something different, and definitely a lot of fun.  Last Wednesday before we were about to leave I realized that our car rental hadn’t been finalized.  We hadn’t thought about the fact that car rental shops would also be on holiday that Thursday and following Tuesday for the feriados, so no, we could not rent nor return cars on those days as planned.  Keia and I ended up just finding a place by walking around and grabbing the last car they had for the cheapest price.  So there might not have been any power steering, but it had air conditioning, and that was better than what our pousada can offer. There were five of us going on the trip including Keia, Joe, and myself plus Leo (resident carioca) and Nuno (another exchange student friend).  It was a tight fit in the little four door sedan, but we managed to cram all of our luggage and some groceries inside and set off for São Thomé the next morning.

São Thomé das Letras is a small, mountaintop town in the south of Minas Gerais (the inland state bordering Rio).  It takes about five and a half hours to get there… if you don’t stop for an hour long lunch and take the small dirt road the last hundred kilometers.  7 or 8 hours after we set off, lots of biscoitos, a very dirty car, and a karaoke version of The Proclaimers famous song “(I’m gonna be) 500 miles” later, we arrived safely in São Thomé.  Really it was a miracle, because our little “shortcut” took us down some roads that car should just never have been able to make it past.  Once we finally arrived, we found the pousada we had booked for 3 nights, settled in, and went to explore.  The town is known for stone mining, extra terrestrial sightings, and cachaça.  We didn’t see any aliens, but the streets and nearly all of the homes there are made out of the local stone that is mined in the area.  We found a bar on the main praça that we deemed our own.  It had the best cachaça any of us has ever tasted in Brazil.  We all bought bottles of the Pinga de Figuinho (Fig Cachaça) to bring back home to the States, and we might even think about sharing some.  The next morning – our first real day in São Thomé – we walked to the praça again to find out what there was to do.  Because of the terrain in the area, the best way to see anything is by jeep or ATV.  We quickly decided to rent a couple of quads for the afternoon and a guide to show us around.  He took us to see four different waterfalls, which was perfect since we could pick out which one we liked the best and plan to go back the next day.  São Thomé is known for having a lot of caves (“grutas” in Portuguese) too.  Day 3 of our trip, we drove out to one – Gruta do Carimbado, to the end of which no one has ever gone and which legend says runs all the way to Machu Picchu – only to find that it was closed down and we couldn’t go inside.  Instead, we stopped by a grocery store on our way through town to fill up a bucket with some beer and a bag of ice, and drove out to one of the waterfalls we had been to the day before.  The water was chilly, but the sun was hot, and we spent most of the rest of the day lounging near the cachoeira and enjoying doing nothing.  At night and in the early mornings it got really cold in São Thomé.  On the last day there, I decided I wanted to see the sunrise.  Even the view from the roof of our pousada was gorgeous, so I knew the sunrise from the pirâmide or the cruzeiro (a couple of touristy monuments that sit atop the highest points in the city) would be well worth it.  Keia agreed to come with me, so we bundled up just before 6am and made it just in time to see the first rays of light peeking over the edge of the valley.  We climbed to the top of the pirâmide and watched the world wake up for a little while, then we found a padaria with some warm, fresh bread for breakfast.  The boys pretty much refused to wake up before 11am, so we went back to sleep for a couple of hours before waking the troops and leaving for Belo Horizonte.

Belo Horizonte is the capital of Minas Gerais and the 3rd largest city in Brazil.  There aren’t a whole lot of touristy things to do there, but our friend Amanda is originally from there and had gone home for 3 weeks to visit her mom.  After the 4+ hour drive there, we were so grateful to have a place to stay and to eat some real home cookin’.  I can honestly say that Amanda’s mom’s stroganoff is the best one that I have ever had.  We took it easy that night, and the next day drove about an hour and a half outside of Belo Horizonte to a historic, old mining town called Ouro Preto (“Black Gold”).  Back in the day, it was either the biggest or one of the biggest cities in Brazil because of its natural gold resources.  After all of the gold was gone, all of the people left, as they tend to do, and now the town thrives mainly on tourism and some other less-precious stones.  It turns out that Mondays aren’t the best days to visit the city, because most of the churches and museums are closed.  We were okay with that since the boys had a strict “no church tours” rule.  Instead we found a guide who took us to a R$13 all-you-can-eat restaurant, a slavery museum down one of the prettiest roads in the city, and an actual mine that we could enter across the city toward the top of one of the mountains.  The food in Minas is more stewed meats (often served in hot cauldrons atop a bed of flames) and the beans are lighter.  I liked it a lot.  The mine was neat, although a little anti-climactic.  It didn’t go very far into the mountain, and was safe to walk through pretty much standing upright.   Every picture I took in that town could be a postcard though.  We bought some gifts at the end of the day and went up to the “mirante” (overlook?) to get a view of the whole city before driving back to Amanda’s for the night.  Back in Belo Horizonte, we went to a samba rock bar with a live band playing in Centro.  Samba rock is so much fun!  Some of the songs were like samba versions of popular songs in the States right now, and others were just edgier versions of normal samba songs.  Either way, it was a lot of fun to listen and dance to.

On Tuesday we got a late starting heading back to Rio.  The drive is 6 or 7 hours long, but with rain, hills, having to turn around because no one had cash for the road tolls, stopping for dinner, needing to get gas and find a car wash, we didn’t make it home until around 2am (~12 hours later).  Today we had to snap back to real life and hit the ground running, now that we only have one month left before we go back to the States.  Keia and I are going to try hard to quit speaking so much English, and we have a lot of schoolwork to get through before the semester is up.

I keep forgetting that tomorrow (now today) is Thanksgiving!  We three Americans might try to pull together a dinner for our friends.  I hope everyone has a good one, we’re all missing you here.

Love,

Molly

Finally Making Lemons into Lemonade

Finally Making Lemons into Lemonade

Day 134

Shout out to Keia on her birthday! (technically yesterday, because now it’s the 14th..)

I’m pretty sure that last week was more or less relaxed, as I predicted it would be.  There was a jazz festival in Leblon on Saturday and our friend premiered DJing for the first time at a tiny venue in Botafogo while Sunday was another perfect day on the beach with friends.  I can’t seem to remember out-rightly much of anything before that though, because the last two-three days have been absolutely insane.  I once again remember what it is like to be so busy that you forget you had to pee, and I also remember how much better I function at that level of activity, weirdly enough.  I don’t know if it’s because I am more productive or social or too tired to care, but I always seem to be in a better mindset when I’ve slept 5 hours a night a few nights in a row after 10 or 12 hour days away from the house.  If that’s any indication as to what kind of job I’m going to have (or should have) I don’t know, but I’m still really torn about the decision I have to make for Deloitte by the end of this month.  My offer deadline was moved to November 26, which gives me just over 10 days to make up my mind.  I feel like there are still a lot of options I haven’t considered.  I feel like I have to choose between money and security versus certain skills and newness that I want.  Speaking of those skills and newness though, we were supposed to register for classes for next semester this past week.  I am not able to just yet since I have to work out a hold on my account, but I only have two more required classes to take for my degree so I got permission to take accelerated entry level French!  I can’t remember if I already mentioned that I started listening to Pimsleur audio tapes in French, but I am really excited to learn more languages now that I’ve seen how entirely possible it is to communicate without the need to be fluent.  The fact that learning a new language opens up the opportunity to communicate with a whole new culture of people is absolutely amazing to me.

As for this week, we got up early Monday morning to head to Fundão since we had a meeting with Professor Orlando and now have to attend his class on Mondays and Wednesdays.   We talked over our Capstone project, and today we had our first chance to make contact with kids here in Brazil and test some of our ideas!  Just for a quick re-cap:  our project deals with emergency preparedness and disaster risk reduction specifically related to urban flooding and landslides in high risk (generally favela) communities in Rio de Janeiro.  We want to develop a game (computer or mobile) that teaches principles of emergency preparedness to children ages 12-16.  A game called Stop Disasters Now (www.stopdisasters.org) was already funded by the UN for this very purpose, and the company that actually created the game has gotten lots of positive feedback about it over the years.  Our idea was to take this existing game in to schools and design an experiment to test whether this game actually accomplishes what it was set out to do by evaluating how much the kids learn while they are playing and what they like and don’t like about the game.  With an audience, some data to back the positive feedback, and a plan to expand the game to include Portuguese and a landslide scenario (currently only has flooding, wildfire, etc., but no landslide), we think there might be an opportunity to work with the UN and PlayerThree on this project in the future.  Fortunately for us, Bernardo’s mom is the director of the oldest school in Brazil (the emperor’s school).  She managed to pull a class for us into the computer lab there today so that we could test our plan, and it went really well.  We had to translate all of the instructions to Portuguese and print up a sort of pre-test and post-test survey for them to take.  (Printing and making copies is not only expensive here, it is difficult.  You know that when you almost cry because the guy who made your copies after you spent an hour getting them to print gets mad at you because he misunderstood you and you don’t know the word for stapler.)  We let them play the game, screen captured some of their play to analyze their decision making later, and interviewed a few of them afterward.  They all seemed to really like it and were very interested and cooperative.  We’re thinking we should probably go with less kids for the next run since our 33 was a bit much today, but it was an awesome first run and I finally feel like we are going somewhere with this project!

Tomorrow we have class with Professor Orlando and will share our results of the experiment with him.  We also have one more night class for MLG before the feriadão!  We have officially decided to go on a road trip and booked a car for Thursday through Tuesday. We waited a bit too long to book flights anywhere without paying an exorbitant amount of money, so I researched a little bit and created a sort  of loop we can take around Minas Gerais so that at least we will see something different and get to explore another state of Brazil.  The first stop is São Thomé das letras.  It is a city of stone and mountaintops and waterfalls and mystics that sounds really interesting and is highly recommended by the people I know who have been there.  We don’t know where we’ll go right afterward, but our friend Amanda lives in Belo Horizonte (the capital of Minas Gerais) and will be home that weekend so on Sunday we will travel there for stay with her.  From Belo Horizonte it is easy enough to go to the old mining town of Ouro Preto and back in a day.  On our way home Tuesday I think we’ll stop by the city of Tiradentes and explore a bit before making our way back to Rio.  We still have 3 nights of hostels to book and packing to do, but it will have to wait for tomorrow.  We were assigned a new project on simulation for Pesquisa Operacional II that we’ll need to look into when we get back and real life commences again.  Right now we just need to get through tomorrow.

Another random yet exciting occurrence is that one of Joe’s roommates will be moving out of his apartment the first of December.  I think Keia and I will probably move in, avoid having to pay a full month of rent at the pousada only to stay two weeks, get to see what it’s like being in an actual apartment for a couple of weeks, and have a laundry machine and air conditioning in-house!

I feel like I’m definitely missing some things from this post, but it      s around 4am here and we have another full day tomorrow.  I’m sorry that it’s been so long since my last one.  I’ll catch back up after the trip and make sure to include anything I forgot!

Love, Molly

A Semana Passada

A Semana Passada

Day 125

I think Sundays will always be my favorite days here.  Keia and I just got home from a relaxed dinner with live music and a lot of our friends.  Before that I woke up late and spent the better part of the day sitting in the sand on the beach in Ipanema as my friends trickled in, arriving, and talking, and kicking around a soccer ball until we all went for a chopp at one of the quiosques to do more of the same.  Our schedule’s seem to change a lot week to week, but Sundays are always this much needed reprieve that set the world straight before we begin all over again.

Classes at UFRJ, as of a couple of weeks ago, have officially started for this semester.  We’re still going to be taking or classes at ENCE, but last week we started going to Professor Orlando’s undergraduate class on Mondays and Wednesdays as well.  We’re still on track to create a game that will help teach youth who live in high risk areas about landslide emergency preparedness, but our Capstone project has a bit more direction lately.  We’ll also be assigned our final project for one of our ENCE classes this coming Tuesday, and last week we got back grades from our first exam in our other ENCE class.  The class average was a 3.5/10, and while we were right there with the rest of the Brazilians, Joe, and Keia and I are a little worried about what that means for us since we need 7’s at the very least to pass.

Summer is coming, and there have been a few difficult days without air conditioning in the past couple of weeks.  It is just going to get hotter, so Keia and I have been thinking about where we might be able to move.  I don’t think we really have enough time left for it to be worth it, but of course I’m saying that now in the coolness that comes with the dead of night.

I have been exercising a lot (running along the beach mostly – where I dropped my cell phone and cracked the screen, ugh) during the week and eating really well.  Starting Thursday with the birthday part of one of the Brazilians who will be coming back with us to the States, and then Friday with the gringo group from last week and the jazz band playing at the Maze up in Tavares Bastos, and Saturday with the dinner at Outback with the girls + Kevin, it is hard to keep to the same healthy lifestyle.

The week ahead should be a fairly calm one.  We’re still deciding how we want to use our 6 day vacation in the middle of this month.  Budget is going to be a big deciding factor for me, at least.  In the mean time I would like to start doing some interesting research to make the most of the time we have left here.  Right now though, it’s late and I’m off to bed. The time changed here a couple of weeks back, so we moved one more hour ahead of EST.  Today was “Fall back” at home in the States, so now we’re at a total difference of 3 hours apart.  I miss everyone!

Sweet Dreams, Molly

Todo mundo juntos, todos os domingos!