A few more experiences to share:
LANGUAGE & SETTLING IN: I assumed that Brasilia is full of embassies and consequently that most Brazilians here speak English but I guess that most diplomats don’t really integrate all that much with the Brasilia ‘street’. I have been to Portugal but I was spoiled there as I stayed at my friend’s house and he did all the talking for me. I did learn to say ‘obrigado’ = thank you. The first two words I asked my IPC colleagues to teach me where sorry and excuse me. Interestingly enough though it turns out that my semblance of French helps me to understand some Portuguese, especially the numbers. Although I can use hand gestures quite well to get my point across, I feel quite helpless in communicating. However, it does have its positives as I receive friendly smiles/laughs from the ladies working in the drugstore as I explain that I am looking for shaving razors by gesticulating to my face. They must be fascinated that someone who they think looks Brazilian has no idea how to speak Portuguese.
Chinese delegation visit: In my first week here I attended a meeting with a delegation working in the Chinese Ministry of Labor and Social Protection. They were interested to learn about Brazilian social protection schemes, especially Bolsa Familla (Family Allowance), which is a conditional cash transfer providing financial aid to poor Brazilian families; if they have children, families must ensure that their children attend school and are vaccinated. It is actually the biggest conditional cash transfer in the world! (Check out this World Bank site for more information: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/LACEXT/BRAZILEXTN/0,,contentMDK:21447054~pagePK:141137~piPK:141127~theSitePK:322341,00.html) Anyway, these Chinese guys asked us so many questions that there was barely time for us to get any information on the complex Chinese social protection system. All in all though it was nice to see their interest in learning from the Brazilian model. I guess that is what South-South cooperation is all about. There are many common problems that developing countries face. Although the solutions need to be tailored to a particular context, there is great scope for learning from others’ past successes and failures.
World Bank VC: I also got a chance to attend a University of Brasilia economics class that was held through a video conference with a World Bank official working on African economies. The lecturer, Shanta Devarajan, first laid out all the worrying signs in Africa but then recollected some anecdotal evidence to suggest that there is much room for optimism. It was refreshing and inspiring in some ways. However, his focus on macroeconomic issues demonstrated the danger of relying too heavily on data. A fellow intern originally from Rwanda shared some wisdom that the Rwandan government is too often unduly praised. For example, in order to increase urbanization figures, they force rural folk to move to urban slums! The devil is truly in the details. Nonetheless, I still appreciate data gatherers but maybe the real unsung heroes are data analysts.
Brazilian Style Busking: I have seen a lot of creative ways of begging in my time but I was impressed with the innovation of the Brazilian poor. Here, kids come into supermarket, pick out something they want (usually a sweet of some kind), and ask people to buy it for them. My mom is personally a big fan of giving food as opposed to money to beggars. I am not sure what I think about this but I am sure that something should be done so that these kids will be able to buy whatever they wish (within reason). Another more predictable yet still unique busking technique was juggling a football in the middle of the street behind a red light. That is Brazilian style busking for you. But seriously, seeing that guy with all this talents in juggling the football in unbelievable ways made me think how much potential is left untapped throughout the world. I am not saying that that particular person could have been the next Messi, but I do know that those living in dire situations rarely get to develop their potential. I hope that my work here and down the line can help to identify, foster, and harness some of this untapped potential.