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Getting To Know Belém


Flying over the Amazon region for the first time.

I’ve never been anywhere like this before. When I was in 7th grade, my class went on a field trip to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where we watched a live satellite feed of a team of American scientists exploring in the Amazon. I remember thinking about how far away it all seemed. The Amazon was this whole other place that I read about in books and took special field trips to learn about, and now we’re here. We’re in it.

Brazil is comparable to the U.S. in terms of the country’s square mileage, and just like the U.S., Brazil has a variety of different climates all within one country. From the sandy coastal beaches, to the deserts in the south, to the rainforests in the north, the regions are known for distinct people, foods, and customs.

The city we’re working in this week is called Belém (The people here pronounce it “Beh-LANE”), and it’s in the far north of the country, nestled along the rainforest. It’s very hot and humid, and though we’re in a big urban area, the trees in the city are large and jungle-like, and it rains everyday.

On more than one occasion I’ve heard people here say that the north and the south in Brazil are much like the north and south in the U.S., only reversed. There are different accents, different weather systems, different histories, and attitudes, all existing within one nation.

On Saturday, I took about 100 photos and videos as we flew in over the region. You could see rainstorms all around, surrounded by areas of sunlight. All along the ground was green, with the vast, mud-colored river system slicing through the countryside.

When we landed, the airport looked like something from a movie. Many of the buildings and retired planes next to hangars along the runway were old and damp, with vegetation growing on them.

If not for the difference in language, the availability of coconut water (the kind you drink straight out of the coconut) from street vendors, and the rainforest, I’d say Belém is much like some American cities I’ve visited. It reminds me of a hybrid between Savannah, GA (for the humidity, and its old charm and age), parts of Los Angeles, CA (for its large urban areas and the look of the shops and sidewalks), and New Orleans, LA (for its vast open-air markets, reliance on the river for life, work, and economy, and its uniqueness among all other American cities).

Belém is celebrating its 400 year anniversary this year, and there is still some architecture from that era, alongside modern high rises, and cellphone and clothing retailers.

We were met by our new team of Embassy staff who all had to fly in to meet us from Brasilia. Karla, Conrado, Adelle, Antônio, and Julio are a wonderful team, and a great deal of fun to work with.


(From left: Lesleigh, Karla, Ben, Tony, Conrado)

Yesterday, we engaged in a cultural exchange where we talked about music with local music students, dancers, and artists. We were given a demonstration of the local dance and music form of carimbo and played a concert in the evening that went very well.

I’ve said it before, but people have been appreciative in a big way for the programming we’ve participated in thus far, during our American Music Abroad tour. We are learning more every day, and making friends along the way. I love my job.


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