By Yuwen Xiong, MPP’21, former Intern at UNDP China
Oi, tudo bem! In the past winter break, together with Latin America Matters and 22 students from Harris, I went to Brazil, the 5th largest country in the world. In this 8-day journey, being thousands of miles away from the U.S, fully immersed in the nature, sunshine, and a totally different language, culture, and lifestyle, I was deeply impressed by the pleasant and tranquil life Brazilian people have and their positive and rich attitude towards all the ups and downs in reality. I will never forget this amazing trip, all my friends, and all the crazy things we have done together.
First, I want to share why I wanted to go to Brazil. As a student from China, because of the far distance, I was not familiar with Latin America at all. All my knowledge about Brazil is from the news, trade between China and Brazil, soccer and volleyball. I know that people there love music, dance, and sports. I guessed they might have a different way of living, but I didn’t know anything. When presented with the opportunity of visiting Brazil with a well-organized group and Brazilians, I figured I would be able to understand the essence of the country, rather than a superficial glance of everything. I am glad to say it did happen.
The whole trip was divided into 2 parts: four days in Rio de Janeiro and the rest in the Amazon Jungle. Rio is the second-largest city and the most popular and frequent tourist destination in Brazil. It is a perfect combination of mountains, sea, beach, and city. You can see everything here, nature, history, culture, religion, so on and so forth. For sightseeing, Corcovado is my favorite place in Rio. I was amazed by the extraordinary view and did not even want to leave the mountain. In regard to culture, we went to Pedra do Sal and enjoyed a live samba performance. Pedra do Sal was a large slave market in the 1600s and is now one of the cultural and historic centers in Rio. Seeing all people intoxicated by music and dance, I was moved by people’s pursuit of freedom in their soul, their acceptance to misery and their hope for the future.
Of course, we did not forget that we are policy students. We had breakfast with Renan Ferreira, the Rio State Representative, who talked about his experience and encouraged us to devote to public service. I still remember how motivated I was when he said that “the most complicated problems are not really in the big companies, but in public schools, in government, in those regarding everyone’s life.” During this meeting, I reaffirmed my passion for public policy. I really appreciated him. We also visited Petrobras and had a policy meeting with Dr. Roberto Castello Branco (CEO of Petrobras). He explained the strategy that Petrobras is implementing and shared with us his understanding of the social problems in Brazil. The Institute of Public Security (ISP-Rio) analyzed the public security threat that Rio is facing and its ongoing attempted solutions of incorporating data into police work as an efficient decision-making strategy. With Prefeitura in Rio (Nudge Unit), we saw how behavioral economics is used for public policies.
After these days in Rio, we went to Manaus and took a boat to the Amazon Jungle. We stayed in the Acajatuba jungle lodge and were away from modern life for four days. Frankly speaking, everything in the Amazon was like a dream to me, as it was opposite to what I lived before. We tasted and made sweets, fruits and jam crafted by local people. I bought all four flavors of jam. They were so yummy! Our guide Gabriel and his family showed us the herbs they plant, how to make tapioca, tucupi, and local medicine, and we tried them ourselves. We fished piranha but only Jin caught one. They were so smart and loved sausage, which is quite surprising as they were supposed to be vegetarian and only ate plants and fruits. We also swam in the Amazon River. It was scary at first but so fun!!! We played with pink dolphins and tried to fish a giant fish that is half my length. The dolphins are so cute. They are curious about the boat and the people! The grey dolphins are opposite. They prefer to stay away from people. We walked through the jungle and learned about some plants. For example, the trunk of a plant can be used as S.O.S when you got lost. You could also write on a leaf using its stem. If you need food, you could also eat the worm as protein (I tried). I also learned how to make a crown and the bow and arrow with a leaf. We watched the stars, the sunset, and the sunrise. We did community service for the Acajatuba community. I painted the house and cut the board to make a flowerpot. This was tiring. Many of the things we did during this trip were a first in my lifetime, thus they are very meaningful and unforgettable. Being away from the city live and in touch with nature, I was able to live an easy life, feel peace and rich in my heart, and had a feeling of gratitude. We asked for so many resources from the nature and so many people have worked together to produce what we have in the city. However, it is so easy to take it for granted and even feel unsatisfied. By engaging with local people’s ordinary life, I saw how hard they are working to create a better life for themselves and their families, their connection and gratitude to nature, their understanding of the truth of life.
From my perspective, traveling is not only a way to see the world, but more importantly, a way to introspect and discover myself. I am so glad that I did not miss this great opportunity to see this incredible country, to meet with the hospitable local people, and to understand their culture and lifestyle. The country and its people have experienced a lot in the past. But they are always positive and optimistic, enjoying and gaining energy from the present moment instead of worrying about the future or unable to free from the past. This is what I need to think deeply and apply to my daily life. Moreover, I had a clear idea about what Brazil is, how big it is, how different it is between different areas, how rich the country is in its culture and history. It was an amazing journey in an amazing country. I really hope that more people would go to Brazil to get this kind of firsthand experience. I also hope that Brazil will become prosperous in the near future, and I believe they are able to make it!
Dear Eliana, Juan, and Andrés, thank you so much for organizing everything! It was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience! We are really lucky to have you! Muito Obrigata!