Thursday, April 18, 2013

Foundations for Muslim-Buddhist Interfaith Dialogue

Hi everyone. Technically this blog post isn't about Brazil, but it's about the importance of dialogue between Muslims and Buddhists. (Since Brazil is a multi-religious country, the topic does have some relevance). The article was published on the Huffington Post this week. Check out the link here:

Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Discovering a Masjid in the world's largest Catholic country

Hi everyone,

This post can now be found on the Huffington Post: Religion at the following link. Please share with social media, or comment if you enjoyed it!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Carnival Reveals Much about Gender, Sexuality, and Culture in Brazil

Hi everyone!

This blog post was written as part of the Junior Year Abroad Network at Georgetown University. The link can be found here:

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

One month in Brazil!

Pun of the Post: What did Ipanema say to Copacabana when they got into a fight? Don't be such a beach. 


Fun Factoid: Be very careful with your Portuguese pronunciation, since small differences in tone make a huge difference in meaning. 


Example: Pão (nasalized vowel) = Bread, while Pau (not nasalized) = Wood (and a slang term for a certain body part). Serious advice: be careful how you pronounce the word for bread when trying to order it! 

Also, coco (accent on first syllable) = coconut, but cocô (accent on second syllable) = crap. 


I can't believe that it's been almost a month since I landed here in Brazil!  Since then, I've had some pretty interesting adventures exploring the city. One really cool place was the Botanical Gardens, which I mentioned in my last blog post. I uploaded an album of pictures on Facebook, so feel free to check it out! The place is absolutely beautiful, and it has plants from all over the world. It's effectively a "zoo" for plants; any person who thinks plants are pointless and boring should visit this amazing area.


Another interesting place is the Saara, a bazaar/marketplace located in the central part of the city. This place began as a marketplace for Arab and Asian immigrants almost 100 years ago, but now it is the main (cheap) shopping center of the city. You can buy almost anything here, from socks to backpacks to shirts to Chinese fans. You can still find great Asian and Arab food here, but it's not authentic since the restaurants need to cater to Brazilian taste.


Speaking of food, since my last post, many of you were wondering about the food here. 

Surprisingly, a lot of the food was actually very similar to the United States. Burgers, hot dogs, and fries are available everywhere, and they're often even more unhealthy than the USA because of all the ridiculous toppings. A common burger is called the X-Tudo (meaning "cheeseburger with everything") which includes bacon, presunto, eggs, mayonnaise, onions, more cheese, etc. All the foods seem to be in excess; stuff is extremely sweet, extremely salty, or more commonly, extremely cheesy (not like my jokes, but ACTUAL cheese). An American would have no problem getting used to other foods, since there is a strong Italian immigrant influence: you can find spaghetti, lasagna, and pizza nearly everywhere as well. Just make sure to drink LOTS of liquids because I don't think Americans are used to the amount of salt. 


However, there are a lot of differences, too. The main staple here is beans and rice. It's good, filling, and relatively cheap. Also, salads don't really exist in Brazil; if you order a "salad", it is basically 3 or 4 gigantic leaves of lettuce, and a few cucumbers or onions if you're lucky. I've been really wondering how Brazilians can stay in such good shape when the food is so unhealthy! It's probably the ridiculous amount of exercise they get by dancing in Carnaval and swimming at the beach.


I almost forgot to mention the beach, which is definitely one of the highlights of Rio.  One of the most interesting things about Rio is that almost every postcard or stereotypical picture of Rio beaches is actually what they look like. They are absolutely breathtaking; the water is free of pollution, there is a clear view of the mountains and the Cristo Redentor statue, and  But the most beautiful place would have to be Arpoador (my current cover photo on Facebook). This is a series of rocks that provide an amazing view of Rio and its beaches. We went there to see the sun set, and it's impossible to describe its majesty. In fact, I was so overwhelmed that I, out of nowhere, felt the desire to kneel and recite Sura As-Shams (The Sun) from the Quran. 


Unfortunately, it's been nearly impossible to find other Muslims here. (I went to the local masjid and found out it has been under renovation for about 3 years and is closed indefinitely). For this reason, I've made extra efforts to maintain religious practice at my homestay. It's been a unique experience practicing Islam alone (something I've never had to do before in my entire life), but it has definitely made me grateful for the supportive Muslim community I have back in the USA. 


Going forward, I'm looking forward to Carnaval, which starts on Friday. It's basically a combination of Halloween and Mardi Gras along with incredible amounts of singing, dancing, and overall insanity. Also, over the next few weeks I will be traveling to Minas Gerais and Maranhao, two other states in Brazil. I will try to post photos and blog posts as much as I can.

Thanks for reading!




Thursday, January 10, 2013

Rio de Janeiro: First Impressions

Pun of this Post: What did the two tree branches say when they didn't get along? Let's leaf each other alone.

Fun Factoid: Residents of Rio de Janeiro are called "cariocas," and are generally described as carefree, cheerful, and open-minded.

As I stepped out of the airport and got my first look at Rio de Janeiro, I realized that the most stereotypical aspects of the city didn't immediately come to mind. In my opinion, the most striking feature about the city (especially for me, a native of the American Northeast) is the staggering amount of lush vegetation! Rio is the complete antithesis of the "concrete jungle;" there are large trees everywhere, even in some downtown areas. This makes the air feel very fresh and free of pollution despite the heavy traffic and large number of motorcyclists. Some sidewalk areas of the city are even cordoned off with police-style yellow tape because falling jackfruits from the trees can injure pedestrians! People sell fresh fruit on many corners, and one particularly nice vendor gave me a free sample of a rambutan. I was even more intrigued to learn that the city has a 54-hectare Botanical Garden that also functions as a residential district. I live right around this area, and I definitely plan to explore it more once I get settled into university life. My homestay "mother" says that the monkeys are so docile that you can even offer them bananas! I'm not sure if I will try this out.

I've also realized that it is immensely helpful to know even a small amount of Portuguese. If you want to do anything in the city (buy things in shops, take public transportation, ask for directions, etc.) Portuguese is extremely helpful because many people don't speak much English. However, cariocas are known for their helpful attitude, and many cariocas will go out of their way to assist foreigners. Also, if you ask someone for any sort of help, they will make you feel that helping you completely made their day. Even if you don't speak Portuguese perfectly (and I'm FAR from that), Brazilians really appreciate your attempts and will usually be able to understand your intent. 

Also, in case you all are interested, one common stereotype about Rio involving the millions of very attractive people is (unfortunately) not true. (Disclaimer: I didn't visit any beaches yet, since it has been raining heavily and will probably continue for the next week. I might revise my analysis then.) Based on an assessment from walking around the university campus, riding the metro, and eating out, the proportion of extremely attractive people isn't higher than other major cities. My orientation advisor had the best explanation for this, "We might not have the most beautiful people on the outside, but we do have the most beautiful people on the inside." Everyone in the room applauded at this comment, and I think that's a great philosophy on life. Despite stereotypes about the culture of flirtation and close personal contact, Brazilians really seem interested in getting to know each other instead of focusing completely on superficial things like appearances. I hope to apply this philosophy to my entire experience in this city and focus on experiencing the authentic Brazilian culture instead of relying on preconceived notions and stereotypes.
P.S. So that was my first blog post! Please let me know what you think so I can improve throughout the semester. Also, are there any things that you want me to write about? Any questions about Brazil? I'll try my best to keep them in mind for future postings. Also, I will start posting pictures once I take some good ones. I hope you enjoyed the pun and the fun factoid (I will be doing those each time, as well.)