Several weeks ago I walked out of an airport in Curitiba, Brazil with mixed feelings of doubt, excitement, curiosity and homesickness. I have experienced a lot since then, yet those same feelings persist. As I crossed the threshold into a new country, the atmosphere felt surreal. I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, expecting to encounter sun and warmth. Instead the temperature was barely 50 degrees Fahrenheit, with clouds heavy with rain hovering above. I, along with the five other Tufts Fellows, headed to a hostel where we were able to climb a rock wall, race on a rope bridge/obstacle course and go on a small zip-line. After spending another night at a different hostel, we were promptly sent off to our host families for a three day weekend including the Brazilian Independence Day.
I met this transition with equal amounts of anticipation and anxiety, thinking I would be mentally shocked. I quickly began to realize that these feelings were unwarranted as I was welcomed into the home of my host mother Selma and her twenty year old son, Marcelo. Selma is an excellent cook and made sure that I had snacks, delicious meals and my favorite foods (ice cream of course) available to me. She speaks enough English for limited communication with me, and her son, who completed a foreign exchange program in the United States, is fluent in English. Most weekdays, for the two weeks which I spent in this city, I made a short trip to SESI International School to take a Portuguese class and a culture class with the other fellows from Global Citizen Year. In short, between the fact that I lived close enough to only take a single, simple bus everyday and had a candy bowl repetitively refilled on my nightstand, I lived in comfort. During this period of my experience in Brazil, I could not help but to repetitively think, “what the heck am I even doing here?”
Two days ago I boarded a bus which brought me to the island of Florianopolis, and my life until April 2. I met my new host family, who speak practically no English, and we proceeded to my small community. Though I had been told that Lagoa da Conceição was a tourist destination, I was unprepared for its beauty. Right down the street from my house is the lagoon, along with all of its shops and restaurants. Partially surrounding the lagoon are picturesque mountains begging to be climbed. A short walk past the lagoon and over the following ridge brings you to the ocean. Sand dunes towered above as I walked along the road to the beach, dune-boarders descending their vast expanses. Directly within their view, surfers paddled among the towering, chilly, antarctic waves. This all seemed glorious, but I was still wondering, “what am I even doing here?”
This morning I entered R3 Animal, and that question was answered. Before I even passed through the “authorized personnel only” gates, I could hear the calls of the animals within. R3 Animal partners with the Brazilian Environmental Military Police to rescue, rehabilitate and reintegrate animals into their natural habitat. Nearly all of these animals have been victims of illegal trafficking or human action. During my first three hours here I met an amazing number of animals from a variety of species. So many questions bubbled in my mind but so few Portuguese words surfaced to be able to form them. I was in awe to observe and get to see some of the inhabitants including owls, penguins, a baby ocelot, a baby seal, tortoises, LOTS of birds, many monkeys, some kind of tiny baby marsupials just removed from their injured mother’s pouch, a blind fawn, etc. I was in heaven. I was even able to hold the ridiculously cute baby Bugio (Howler Monkey). Though the aforementioned feelings I felt upon arriving here are still present, I am beyond thankful for this opportunity I have been given.