PORTUGUESE IS SO HARD! I don´t feel like a student of a foreign language. I feel like a chimpanzee trying to learn a human language. My colegas (work colleagues) are patient and take time to explain things, but the language barrier is still frustrating. I wish I could outsource the language centers of my brain to Google Translate. Portuguese shares a lot in common with Spanish, which I´m more comfortable speaking, but the differences are subtle and tricky and seemingly infinite. My friend who shares my homestay speaks both English and Spanish fluently as well as French, but she never took any Portuguese before arriving. We make a good team: she understands more than I do, and I can speak more than she can. It’s still pretty depressing how much effort it takes us to communicate. BUT. The challenges mean that I’m learning and being ‘stretched.’ With language learning, what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger. I think I’ll come home in August metaphorically buff.
Over the past week I’ve learned TONS about microcredit. I did site visits with the organization’s three credit agents on Friday. We visited three different groups, each of which included three small business owners. The first group represents the ideal borrowing unit. The three clients are men in their 40s who live within a stone’s throw of each other. They’ve each owned their own businesses for at least 20 years. The group’s leader, who runs a recycling outfit that amasses recyclables from aluminum soda cans to washing machines, is applying for his 18th—EIGHTEENTH—loan from my organization. That’s great news. We love loan renewals; they indicate reliable borrowers whose businesses are growing, producing income, and generating employment. He’ll borrow US$5,000, the maximum amount we loan.
The recycler took us to his partners’ enterprises, partly to show the way but mostly because any stranger is in danger in his favela (a poor neighborhood or slum, often without any public services). His compatriots own a restaurant and a convenience/beer store. The will jointly guarantee each other’s loans, which total US$11,000. Part of the loan evaluation process (in which I participated today) involves character assessment. The credit agents, smart and knowledgable women who have taught me everything I know, pointed out that the three have been friends and neighbors for 20 years. That close friendship earned them points on the evaluation. It seems that my organization, and perhaps group-based microcredit in general, both relies on and fosters trust, cooperation, and interdependence.
Anywho, social life here has been fun. I’ve seen capoeira, learned some forró (a traditional dance of Brazil’s Northeast), gone to a big reggae-samba-pop concert, and hung out on the street with the neighbors. Here’s a picture at the local church’s forró party with Luana, my lively 12-year-old neighbor; me; Yamira, my friend who shares my homestay; and Julyanna, a Brazilian from the interior of the state who lives at our homestay.
We live 10 minutes from the cultural heart of the city, called the Pelourinho. “Pelourinho” literally means pillory or whipping post; the area’s main plaza was the site of countless slave auctions and horrible abuse. Today guidebooks cite the area as the heart of Afro-Brazilian art and culture. Traditional music, poetry, dance, and food abound. Yamira and I are leaving right now for a open-mic poetry night at an African bar called Sankofa. Keep me updated on how y’all are doing, and thanks for reading!