THE WEEKLY BLAB
Volume 8, Issue 5 – September 16, 2013
Before the Trip
I’m back from a week in Brazil and a pleasant week it was. The time before you go on a trip always fills up with meetings and other stuff that you’re trying to squeeze in. The week of the 2nd was no exception. It began with Labor Day, of course, and included meetings on varied subjects such as programming for SPSU’s newly purchased building on Rose Drive, the Distance Learning Task Force, interviews with various candidates for the Library Director and for an analyst position in Business and Finance, and a meeting with the High Museum Partnership Committee. In addition, I had the pleasure of attending the interesting First Year Programs Lecture given by Ben Echols from Georgia Power on Electrical Transportation. Also adding to the rush was the fact that the Jewish High Holidays snuck up incredibly early this year—Rosh HaShana began on the evening of September 4th, and there hasn’t been one this early since 1899!
All the while, I was trying to complete a bunch of last minute details for the trip to Brazil—pulling together informational materials about SPSU, gathering some small gifts for the people to be visited, and so on. I only got my packing completed on Saturday morning. Then it was off to the land of the Samba.
Panorama do Brasil, Part 1
The trip began with a flight out of Atlanta for Brasilia, the capital. I’ve flown from Atlanta many times of course, but never from the new international terminal. The first challenge: where to park. I went to the parking lot I usually go to on Camp Creek Parkway, but when I asked if they drop off at the international terminal, the answer was no. So, I figured I’d drive to the international terminal and park there. Back onto I-285, then onto I-75, then onto a series of back roads—much farther than I had anticipated. I finally got to the international terminal and was surprised to find there was no long-term parking there—just hourly. I exited the terminal’s road, and finally found a parking garage nearby. I found a space right at the front of the garage and hopped onto the shuttle taking me to the airport.
Since the flight was at 8:56 PM on Saturday, security wasn’t a problem—the whole operation took about one minute. We were supposed to have an orientation meeting at the VIP lounge by Gate F5, so I went down the gate—no VIP lounge. I asked one of the desk attendants where the VIP lounge was, and they said there wasn’t one—I must mean the Delta Skymiles Lounge. So I walked down to it, but they had no idea about any orientation meeting. Fortunately, Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves had provided us with an emergency contact number, and when I called it, they assured me that the VIP lounge was indeed by Gate F5. I actually walked by it twice without noticing it—it was a regular sized door with a tiny sign saying “lounge” on it. I knocked, and that was indeed the place.
I was one of the earlier ones to arrive—President Carlton Brown of Clark-Atlanta University was already there, as was Stephanie Evans (chair of Clark Atlanta’s African-American Studies, Africana Women’s Studies, and History department), and Patricia De Souza, our program director. Over the next few minutes, the rest of the group came, many of whom had the same trouble I had finding the door. The others included Cara Snyder (International Admissions Counselor, Agnes Scott College), Bryan Mitchell (Dean of Science, Math, and Health Professions at Atlanta Metro State College), Nancy Krippel (VPAA at Brenau University), Nicole Daniels (International Recruitment Coordinator, Clark-Atlanta), Cimona Hinton (Center for Cancer Research and Therapeutic Development, Clark-Atlanta), Jun Liu (Associate Provost for International Initiatives, Georgia State), Melody Carter (VP for External Affairs, Fort Valley State University), Jann Adams (Prof. of Psychology, Morehouse College), Nicole Maddox (Asst. Director of Admissions Operations, Young Harris College), and the organizer of the program, Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves.
The orientation went smoothly and we were then off to the gate to catch our flight. I originally got a middle seat, but was able to change it for an aisle seat at the check-in desk. Even better, there was no one in the middle seat, so I had a little stretch room. The flight took about nine hours, and we were in Brasilia on time at 6:53 in the morning. We collected our bags and went through immigration without any problems. We rechecked the bags for our next flight, where several of our group ran into a problem—the weight allowance for the internal flights was only a total of 32 kg, whereas the weight allowance for the flight from the US was 64 kg (32 kg per bag, two bags allowed). The excess weight fee was quite high, so it was lucky that my bags weighed a total of 31 kg. Some of our group got hit for excess weight on multiple flights.
Our connecting flight to Salvador, 1500 km away, didn’t leave until 11:04, so we had a few hours to kill. Several of us went to the ATM to get some Brazilian currency (Reales, 2.40 to the dollar), looked around the airport, walked outside a little, and waited. Internal security for Brazilian flights is a little different—they don’t open the gate until about an hour before the flight, and you go through security then. You don’t have to take off your shoes unless there’s metal in them, and the procedure is pretty efficient. The flight for Salvador was supposed to be at one gate, then another, and finally wound up being at a third. Brasilia’s airport is too small for the traffic, with gates mostly reserved for international flights. To catch most internal flights, you have to take a bus from a gate to the plane, which was on the opposite side of the airport.
The flight to Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia was uneventful—about two hours, with a snack served. The bags arrived promptly, and a bus was waiting to take us to our hotel—the Sheraton da Bahia. The hotel was quite nice, located in an upscale part of town (though not near the ocean).
View of Salvador from the Sheraton Bahia
The location was also the site for the Bahia Gay Pride Celebration, taking place that day. There were a couple of large buses carrying dancers and celebrators, with tremendously loud sound systems—the pressure from the bass felt like someone was thumping on my chest. Fortunately, the party broke up at about 10 PM, because I could hear the music quite loudly in my room and it would have been difficult to sleep.
Music Bus at the Gay Pride Parade, Salvador
Our first trip was to the Escola Aberta do Calabar. Calabar is the oldest favela (poverty district) in Salvador, consisting of structures (some jerry-rigged and some more substantial) densely jumbled one atop another. The Escola Aberta is a private school funded by donations from locals in the favela, that teaches students pride in their African heritage. Since it was a Sunday, no children were there, but two teachers showed us around. The school was attractive in a modest way, but clearly being operated on a shoestring. Each member of our group had brought some school supplies and gifts from their university to leave for the children.
Escola Aberta (inside the white walls, bottom), Calabar favela
That evening, we drove by the Fonte Nova Stadium—one of the new stadiums constructed for the upcoming World Cup and Olympics, both of which will be in Brazil. We then went to dinner in Pelourinho, the historic center of Salvador. The center was quite lovely, with narrow cobblestoned streets meeting in a square with classical buildings and churches on each side. The restaurant was excellent—in fact, pretty much everywhere we ate was quite good—with nice samba music playing in the background. On the walk back, we got to enjoy listening to some local musicians playing outside other restaurants.
On Monday morning, we met with various government officials from Bahia, as well as with representatives from universities in the state. One of Bahia’s goals is to increase opportunities for Afro-Brazilian students, both in Brazilian universities and within the Scientific Mobility Program (SMP) that sends Brazilian students abroad (from which SPSU currently has four students). We Georgians all made presentations about our universities and the programs we offer that tie in to the SMP. Georgia State had a student named Victoria Wallace currently studying in Brazil, and she stole the show by giving a brief presentation (in Portuguese) about her impressions of the country and how she was enjoying their hospitality.
Representatives from various Brazilian universities then introduced their schools. Universities in Brazil are broken into four basic categories: federal universities, state universities, private universities, and for-profit universities. It’s easy to get confused about degree programs in Brazil, since degree programs are called courses, undergraduate programs are called graduação [graduate] courses, and graduate programs are called post-graduação [post-graduate] courses.
Universities present included the Bahian School of Medicine and Public Health (known as Bahiana), the State University of Feira de Santana (UEFS, with programs in biology, engineering, and the health sciences), the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA, with 27,000 students, programs in most disciplines, one of the top 10 universities in the country), the Bahia Federal Institute of Education, Science and Technology (IFBA, focuses on engineering and sciences), the University of Bahia (UNEB, 24 campuses spread across the state, focusing on environmental sciences, engineering, and agriculture), and Uni Bahia (a private university focusing on engineering, accounting, public relations, and education). Most were interested in receiving students from the US as well as sending them through the SMP, as well as carrying our faculty exchange and research.
After lunch, we met the governor of Bahia, Jacques Wagner. He gave us a brief discussion of the history and geography of the state, and we then presented him with small gifts. One surprise was that when it was my turn to meet him, he said my name and then asked if I was Jewish. When I told him I was, he said “me too”, and we wished each other a happy new year. He presented each member of the group with a bar of Bahian chocolate.
Me and Governor Wagner of Bahia
We then drove to an area along the shore where there were a number of small restaurants and shops. The sunset on the shore was quite beautiful. After about 30 minutes there, it was off to dinner and then sleep.
We began the day with a trip to the polytechnic campus of the Federal University of Bahia. The college has about 4,000 students, almost all majoring in engineering. The labs had an interesting mix of modern research equipment as well as some balances that looked like they were made in the 1920’s. Right in the center of the building was a five-story high distillation tower from a simulated petroleum plant. Pretty cool!
In the afternoon, we went to the Steve Biko Center—an after-school center that teaches students about their African heritage, and helps encourage them to pursue higher studies in science and engineering. Several graduates of the school were there as well as current students. One of the graduates was doing research on Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and we had a nice discussion about it and how it was related to my own research in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy. The students were very supportive of the Biko Center, all saying that it had changed their lives. Many were interested in coming to the US to study if they could become part of the SMP.
Students at the Steve Biko Center
In the evening, we met with several leaders of the Afro-Brazilian empowerment movement at the Cultural Center in the old section of Salvador. Outside the center, we were greeted by the Olodum troupe of drummers, whose original leader, Neguinho do Samba, is credited with developing the Samba Reggae music style. This is the same troupe that played with Michael Jackson on the video “They Don’t Care About Us”, which you can see by clicking here.
The drummers were great, and speeches were interesting. Bahia was one of the first areas of Brazil to be colonized, due the excellent harbor at Salvador. The area was a center for the production of sugar cane, and a vast number of slaves were brought in from Africa as manpower for the effort—more than 37% of all slaves were sent to Brazil. Today, the residents of Bahia are descended from those slaves, the Portuguese colonizers, and several other groups that came to the area. As a result, most of the population (63%) is of multiracial heritage (called pardo or more popularly, moreno), with an additional 21% being classified as white and 16% as black. A major political issue is that the majority is determined by how the multiracial group is split. The classifications are quite complicated, with a survey done in Rio de Janeiro indicating that 38% of those classified as white saying they have some African ancestry and 66% of those classified as black saying they have some European ancestry.
On Wednesday morning, we left Salvador on a short flight to Recife, capital of the state of Parnambuco. We collected our bags quickly, and a bus was waiting to take us to the Transamerica Prestige Hotel, across the street from the beach. Our adventures in Recife will appear in next week’s BLAB.
Last Week’s Trivia Contest
Last time’s trivia challenge focused on the number eight. Our winner was Jonathan Lartigue (CS), who continued his winning ways from last year with a fabulous five right. Also getting all five (but a little later) were Rich Halstead-Nussloch (IT), Ronny Richardson (BA), my sister Drorit, John Stephenson, and Bill Prigge (VP, Business and Finance). Here are the correct answers:
- Eight, in “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Maids-a-milking.
- Only Beatles song with “Eight” in the title. Eight Days a Week.
- TV comedy-drama running from 1977-1981, it starred Dick Van Patten. Eight is Enough.
- Movie released in 1988 about the Chicago “Black Sox” scandal. Eight Men Out.
- Four examples out of 20 are: “You may rely on it”, “Outlook good”, “Reply hazy, try again”, and “My sources say no.” Answers from the Magic Eight Ball toy.
This Week’s Trivia Challenge
Today’s trivia challenge focuses on the letter “Z”, with which all answers begin. No looking up the answers now! SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO email@example.com, since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!
- Some include Pisces, Aquarius, and Virgo.
- This bold renegade carves a “Z” with his blade.
- They were first introduced by the post office in 1963.
- Spice islands off the coast of Tanganyika.
- Movie star who appeared in the silent version of “A Little Princess” (1917) with Mary Pickford, as well as in “Finn and Hattie”, “Life with Father”, and many other comedies. Her last film appearance was in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” in 1963.