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I recently spent 3 weeks in Honduras, mainly because I wanted to work on my Spanish and this was one of the few Central American countries I hadn’t visited yet.

For my first week I stayed in the Lake Yojoa area and hiked and kayaked.  It was pretty and peaceful and exactly what I had hoped for as a quiet get-away.

During my second week and a half I lived with a super sweet host family and took private Spanish lessons for 4 hours a day in Copan Ruinas.

I also did a little sightseeing, most notably the large Mayan ruins site in Copan.

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During my last few days I went to Roatan Island in the Caribbean, which is surrounded by the world’s second largest coral reef.  I snorkeled and swam and spent a lot of quality time reading in a hammock.

 

Gracias, Honduras!

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doula (/ˈduːlə/), also known as a birth companion, birth coach or post-birth supporter, is a non-medical person who stays with and assists a woman before, during, or after childbirth, to provide emotional support and physical help if needed.

~ Wikipedia

I started fostering cats for the Animal Humane Society in September 2017, and have gotten to cuddle and play with about a dozen felines so far.  My most recent foster was a pregnant stray, who happened to give birth while I was home!  So exciting!!

The Humane Society gave me plenty of information about cat births beforehand, and in fact decided to start placing pregnant cats in foster care (rather than having them give birth in the shelter as had been their previous policy) because cat births are usually straightforward.

Luckily, my little cat April (aka Mamacita, aka Mamita) proved to be a textbook example.  She woke me up from a nap, which was nothing new, as she regularly woke me up once or twice a night for attention and cuddles. However, when I groggily turned and saw her walking away with a little amniotic sac starting to balloon out of her hoo-ha, I snapped to attention.  I bolted off the couch and told her “Come on! Let’s go to your cat room!” She immediately trotted into the room I had set up with her litter box, food, water, and nesting box, settled herself into the cat carrier lined with blankets, and started having stronger contractions.  I went to the bathroom, and she got up and followed me into the bathroom, laying down on the tile.  “Ok,” I thought, “you can have the kittens in here if you want.” I went into the living room to grab my phone, and she got up and followed me there, too.  I think she wanted me to be nearby, so I went back into the cat room and settled in there with her.

Kitten 1 came out and she did exactly what she was supposed to do – lick open the amniotic sac the kitten was born in and clean the kitten up, stimulating it to start breathing in the process.  She bit off the umbilical cord and ate the placenta (super gross), exactly like she was supposed to.  She then laid down and had more contractions.  Kitten 2 came out and she did everything perfectly again.

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Kitten 3 started to appear and I could see it was coming out feet first.  This seemed to be a little harder for Mamita, but she still pushed through like a champ and cleaned the kitten up.  However, instead of biting off the umbilical cord and eating number 3’s placenta, she started napping.  She seemed exhausted.  I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to step in and take care of the cord, but was prepared to tie it off with dental floss just in case.

A friend called me to Facetime because she wanted to see the kitties.  During our call, a fourth kitten started to appear.  The Humane Society told me they saw three kittens during in the pre-natal x-ray, so this was a surprise.  I hung up on my friend and made sure kitten 4 came out alright.  Mamita took care of the cords and placentas for both number 3 and 4, and spent the rest of the evening napping and nursing with her brood of teeny newborns.

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I only got to have them for 11 days because I started my summer travels (they went to another foster family and will stay there until ready for adoption), but it was so sweet to have a handful of brand new babies around and to see April taking such good care of them.

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I almost let this month slip by without acknowledging the 10-year (!!!) anniversary of my blog.

TEN YEARS!

I started this in May 2008 when was I about to embark on a cruise ship to teach English for the summer.  I taught on another cruise ship the next summer, then moved to Indonesia for a year, then Turkey for a semester, then Ecuador for the next two-and-a-half years.  Then I moved to Minnesota, bought a condo in Minneapolis, and confined most of my international travels to summer vacations, with the exception of moving to Brazil for a 5-month English Specialist project.  I’ve shared a lot of adventures here over the past 10 years.  But I feel sheepish boasting about them right now, given a series of conversations I’ve recently had with friends in Minnesota.

Let me preface this by saying that I know several of my friends and acquaintances in Minnesota are undocumented immigrants.  Probably more than I realize, because I don’t ask about those things and only know their statuses if they choose to tell me.  However, as I’ve gotten to know a couple people better, I’ve been appalled at the hardships they went through to get to the U.S.

One friend told me he chose to cross the border independently, rather than pay several thousand dollars to a smuggler to help him cross.  He and a friend walked through the desert for a month.  A MONTH!   He explained that it’s best not to cross from June through August because that’s when the snakes are the worst.  He then added that some people try to shoot at you, while others give you food.  I just stood there with my mouth open, utterly speechless.

Another friend told me that he and a small group of other immigrants crossed with a smuggler.  They spent about 5 days crossing, walking through the desert at night and sleeping during the day.  The group included two teenage girls, one of whom got sick.  She had a problem with her foot, she eventually stopped eating or drinking, and, ultimately, she died.

She.  Died.

The group had to leave her in the desert.  The remaining sister didn’t want to go on, so my friend carried her the rest of the way so she wouldn’t die as well.  When the group reached their destination, the girls’ father, who had sent for his daughters, learned of the tragedy that had befallen one of his girls.  He nevertheless thanked my friend for taking care of his other daughter.

Again, speechless.

Here I am writing about snorkeling and hiking and touring exotic places around the world in “The Adventures of Stephanie” when there are thousands of people going through REAL adventures.  Life or death adventures.  Risking-their-lives-for-better-opportunities adventures.

I’ve known for a long time that illegal immigration is risky, that thousands attempt it every year, and that hundreds also die from it every year.  (This compelling episode of Radiolab gives an idea of how and how many people die in the desert, and this episode shares the  stories of a couple people who attempted to cross.)  But now that I personally know some people who have gone through this, and have heard the horrific details of their stories, I am humbled, and somewhat embarrassed.  I cross borders all the time and write about my adventures teaching and living and volunteering and vacationing around the world.  But now, my adventures seem so frivolous.

I know I’m privileged, but I continue to be surprised by just how privileged.

As I write this, I’m in Honduras, on vacation.  I’ll have more self-indulgent adventures involving lakes, forests, Mayan ruins, and coral reefs, and will probably post more about them here.  But before I get to that stuff, I’d rather mark my 10-year blogging anniversary by acknowledging that my adventures, amazing as they sometimes are, pale in comparison to what many people on this planet go through.  I am lucky in ways that I don’t think I will ever fully comprehend.

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If you’ve been following my blog, you know I like to set goals before moving to a new country.  Spending 5 months in Brazil this year was no different.  Here’s a review of how I did:

1.  Take forró dance lessons.  I did!  I found a school near my apartment and had classes every Tuesday and Thursday night.  This was basically my only dancing outlet and I was sooooo thankful for it!  (And now back to my regularly-scheduled bachata and salsa obsession…)

(This video is from the June Festivals, before I had taken a single class.  One of the university employees offered to show me how to dance forro on the spot and I did NOT know what I was doing.  I got much better after I actually learned the basic steps – ha!)

2.  Visit Lençóis Maranhenses National Park.  I did!  Read about it here.

3.  See Iguassu Falls.  Yep!  Read about it here.

4.  Visit The Pantanal.  Check!  And I saw a few jaguars too!

5.  Enjoy some beach time.  So many beaches.  I went to Sao Luis, Jericoacoara (probably my favorite), Natal/Galinhos, and Joao Pessoa/Pipa.  Northeastern Brazil is known for having great beaches, and they did not disappoint.

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6.  See Carol.  Hooray!  When I was in Brasilia for the Braz-TESOL conference, I got to meet up with my friend from grad school.  So fun to catch up with her!

7.  Try cashew fruit.  Not only did I get to try cashew fruits, I also had cashew nuts, cashew juice, and cajuina (like a cider, similar to how apple cider is a stronger version of apple juice).

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I think this is the first time that I accomplished all of my goals for a country!  What’s next??

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Jaguar Camp

I stayed in Brazil an extra week after my contract, with my goal being to visit the Pantanal. This wetland area in the southwest of Brazil is a good place to see wildlife, especially jaguars.  I booked myself a 4-day stay at a Jaguar Camp, where we spent each morning and afternoon cruising the riverways looking for animals and birds.

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We saw jaguars 3 of the 4 days I was there!  One jaguar attacked and killed a large caiman in front of our eyes (super exciting) and on my last day we watched another one stroll and swim along the river bank for over an hour and a half!

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We also saw caiman, capybaras, giant river otters, a couple howler monkeys, some deer, a snake, some iguanas and other lizards, and tons of birds.  It was a fun trip.

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On my last day in the area, I booked a day hike to visit Chapada dos Guimarães National Park to see several waterfalls and a cave.  It was refreshing and pretty and made my legs ache in a good way.

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Such a great final adventure in Brazil!

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Notes on Brazil

A somewhat random collection of observations I made during my past 5 months in northeastern Brazil:

  1. Greetings (kisses). I knew that Brazilians, like other Latin Americans, kiss for greetings.  And I got quite comfortable with that in Ecuador.  The problem is that in some parts of Brazil, people kiss on the cheek once.  In other parts, they kiss twice (once on each cheek).  And I’ve heard that in some parts, close friends kiss three times.  Because I never know how many kisses the other person expects, plus the fact that some Brazilians know I’m a foreigner and therefore go for a handshake rather than a kiss, I had a hard time navigating greetings here.
  2. Plastic and packaging. Things here seem sooooo over packaged to me.  Napkins at fast food places come wrapped in plastic (and sometimes the napkins themselves feel like they’re made of plastic!).  Silverware is often wrapped in plastic.  When I get pedicures, my FEET are wrapped in plastic.  There seems to be a concern for sanitization in all of these phenomena.  It just seems to wasteful though.
  3. Relatedly, no eating with hands. I’ve noticed that most people eat an ice cream cone with a small plastic spoon.  Also, pizza places will give you plastic gloves to eat your pizza (this made me laugh and laugh and laugh) if they don’t have knives and forks.  People have explained to me that Brazilians are averse to eating with their hands, because it’s not clean.fullsizerender
  4. Many restaurants have live music. There’s usually a small cover charge included included in your bill.  I will happily pay a couple dollars to listen to talented musicians while enjoying some food or drink.
  5. Farofa is ground cassava (manioc, yucca) flour that’s sautéed in oil/butter.  It is a ubiquitous garnish here. People put it on grilled meats, beans, salads… almost anything.  I find it similar to saw dust – dry and tasteless.  I do NOT understand it’s appeal.
  6. Thumbs up. Brazilians flash a thumbs up for EVERYTHING.  “I understand.”    “I’m happy to hear you like the food.”  “I can fulfill your request.”  “Thanks for stopping at the crosswalk to let me cross the street.”  “I’ll do what I can.”  (I feel like I’m going to return to the U.S. overusing the thumbs up now.)
  7. Post paying phone plans. My cell phone is post-paid at the end of the month, rather than pre-paid at the beginning of the month.  Whaaaaa?!?
  8. The heat. Teresina is the hottest city in Brazil, and I was here during the hottest part of the year (“bro,” which means September, October, and November).  People from the northeast of Brazil, and Teresina in particular, are really proud of surviving the heat, similar to how Minnesotans are proud of being cold-hardy.  Another parallel: people here will start their car to turn on the a/c and cool it down, just like we in the upper Midwest start our cars in the winter to warm them up!  Finally, I am amazed that people wear jeans here.  It’s 100 degrees.  EVERY.  DAY.   Someone explained to me that if they didn’t wear jeans because of the weather, they would never wear jeans.  (My response:  I choose never to wear jeans!)
  9. Left turns are rare. At many (most?) intersections, left turns aren’t allowed.  Drivers need to go around the block, or to a roundabout (common here) to get turned around.
  10. Restaurant service. Brazil does not have a service culture.  Some places charge a 10% service charge, but, by law, you don’t have to pay it.  As a result, service can be incredibly slow.  It’s also acceptable to whistle for a server (I just couldn’t bring myself to do this, even when the service was terribly negligent or slow).
  11. Self-service restaurants. Buffet restaurants are soooooo common here!  Some of them are by weight (that is, you load your plate with whatever you want and pay by the kilo).  Others are “sem balanca,” or all-you-can-eat.  In some of the non-weighed buffets, you can be charged a fine if you take food that you don’t eat (which I think is a marvelous way to cut down on food waste).
  12. Garbage collectors work at night.  In my neighborhood, garbage is collected around 11pm on Fridays.  I find this incredible.
  13. “Recycling.” On campus, there are recycling bins for plastics, glass, paper, etc.  I was told that these were installed to promote the idea of recycling, but the university actually does not have any recycling program.  My apartment building does not have recycling, so once a week or so I carry my plastic and glass bottles across the street to the mall, where they do have recycling bins.  However, I’ve noticed that they are often all filled with garbage, similar to the campus bins.  I have no idea if my efforts to recycle are worth it, but I feel bad if I don’t at least try.
  14. People hold stuff for you on the bus. City buses can get standing-room-only crowded.  If you’re carrying items, it’s even harder to grab a hand hold to maintain your balance while standing on a lurching bus.  I’ve seen several instances where someone sitting in a seat will offer to hold items for a standing passenger.  In fact, people have done this for me a couple times when I was standing.  It’s so nice!
  15. Priority lines. By law, pregnant or nursing women, elderly, disabled, and customers with small children can “cut” in line at banks, post offices, stores, etc.
  16. Brazilians don’t watch where they’re walking. I am constantly on the lookout for others because if I’m not paying attention, no one is.  So many possibilities for collisions here.
  17. Ham and cheese. Croissants, sandwiches, pizzas, pastries, hot pockets… I was not expecting this to be such a prevalent flavor combo here.
  18. Crime is a part of life in Brazil.  Robberies, muggings, hold-ups, house break-ins… they’re very common.  Some businesses (restaurants, cafes, beauty salons, clinics, etc.) lock their doors during working hours to deter thieves.  It’s consequently hard to tell if some places are open or not during the day.  Also, there are armed security guards at many businesses and on my university campus.  During the summer vacation or evening classes, when campus is more deserted, the English coordinator asks the security guards to more regularly patrol hallways where classes are being held.  There have also been English classes that were held up – the thief walked away with everyone’s cell phones.  This is a sad fact of life here in Brazil, and one that I am confident raises everybody’s stress levels on a daily basis.  I’m looking forward to being able to relax more back in the U.S.

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Foz do Iguaçu

I took a weekend trip to the gigantic waterfalls that lie on the borders between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay:  Foz do Iguaçu (in Portuguese), or Iguazu/Iguassu Falls (in English).  On the Brazilian side I took my first-ever helicopter ride.

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I figured this would be a pretty spectacular view to see from a helicopter.  It was!

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Then I walked around the Brazilian side of the park, which is generally agreed to have better landscape views of the falls:

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I also took a boat ride under one of the 275 waterfalls.  It was even better than a water park ride!

The next day I visited the Argentina side of the falls, which is awesome because you can get closer to some of the waterfalls – right out on top of one of them.

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Seeing and hearing and feeling the power of so much water moving through one place, on either side of the border, was amazing.

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