Salvador, Brazil: A Melting Pot of Culture & Race

Bom Dia! As the sun rose at 5am this morning, I began to reflect on the last eleven days here in Brazil.  Salvador is an amazing city full of old and new culture that overflows into their daily life, food and religion. This city is truly a melting pot in all aspects. From trying to communicate to my host mom to learning about universal healthcare, each experience has taught me something.  The more I immerse myself into this culture the more I get out of it.


We began our day by traveling to the Institute of Collective Health at the Federal University of Bahia where we learn about Brazil’s health disparities.  Professor Sheila Alvim discussed an ongoing epidemiological study funded by the Brazilian government to study the incidence and progression of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases to analyze their biological behavioral environmental and social risk factors. Chronic non-communicable diseases have become a major priority in Brazil as more than 85% of Brazilians live in urban areas. This study will hopefully continue to analyze the nature of these diseases within the population to future implement major policies of prevention and control.

This afternoon’s adventure consisted of learning about  Candomblé, an African religion that was introduced in Brazil during the slave trade in the 1700s.  This religion is still being practiced today by many Afro- Brazilians and Brazilians alike.  Our tour guide Simone took us to the religious territory called Ilê Axé Opó Afonjá where the high priestess and her followers still occupy the area and practice their religious beliefs.  We were able to tour the museum on the site and learned about the history of Candomblé and it’s impact on Salvador throughout the years.  Below is a picture of one of the Orixas, a spirit named Xango that was the protector of the founder of this community in the early 1900s.  The community still practices their beliefs today hosting festivals and ceremonies for their many spirits they praise.

IMG_3014After learning about this religion, we traveled to Pelourinho, the historic district of Salvador, to watch a Folk Ballet of the religious African culture.  It was amazing to watch how Candomblé was expressed through singing and dance.  The history of the religion is precious to it’s followers as slavery took a huge toll on it’s secrecy and practice.  Today, the Brazilian government has acknowledged this religion and has allowed this religion to be practiced freely after many years of persecution.  This ballet was a great representation of the years of struggle of Afro-Brazilians and their precious religion.


Traveling to Brazil has by far been the best cultural experience I have had.  I was hesitant at first, but everyday became easier as I began to realize that the United States isn’t the “right” culture.  I stopped comparing everything to what it was in the states and began to embrace my environment.  Brazil is definitely not a representation of American life, but it’s own oasis that is full of beautiful people, food, cultureIMG_2872, art and nature.




Connect. Reconnect.

IMG_6692   May 18th, 2015

Today is our second day in Lençois and our tenth full day into the study abroad program. It’s hard to describe all of the amazing people we have met, the beautiful places we have seen and the wonderful things we have experienced during our trip thus far. And it is really easy to get entangled with trying to update my family on everything that I am experiencing here. While trying to capture all these precious moments, I find myself struggling to find my camera so that I can create something tangible to hold onto these memories. But not today. Well, at least, not so much. I decided to be in the moment…to experience everything as it is in real time, undisturbed.

I appreciated the beauty of the cavern, from the colors in each sedimentary layer to the millions of years worth of history each stalagtite and stalagmite represented. I appreciated the cool breezes and the tiny raindrops that kissed my forehead. I, especially, appreciated the food that was prepared and the fresh water that was available for me to nourish my body. I greeted each new person I met today with a smile and showed my gratefulness to the guide who kept me from falling in the cave.

The cave was the first event on a list of things to do for the day. We met the director of Grãos de Luz e Griô, an NGO located in Lençois dedicated to educating children and teens. We were greeted with drums and singing and encouraged to sing as well. We sang. We danced. And we shared stories of our legacy and ancestry. Our thumbs were anointed with a sweet smelling oil to aid our attempt to connect with loved ones on the other side of the world or this life. We exited the establishment the same way came in with song and dance.

The finale was a capoeira performance by a group affiliated with  Grãos de Luz e Griô.  It was wonderful to see all of the performances and body challenging feats these children and young adults could do.  It was especially awe-inspiring to see one of our professors go into the ring and prove that superheroes can also come in small unassuming packages.

As I look back at the events of this past week and look forward to the things to come I, not only, challenge myself but all students on this trip who may read this post to not only document and record the events of the day but to be an active participant. We are nearly halfway through this adventure and while it is important to keep in touch with friends and family let’s not get so bogged down with taking pictures, texting and chatting. Let’s totally immerse ourselves here and not forget to experience all of the awesomeness that is hoje.

Boa Viagem!

8 Days/8 Lessons Learned with GSU in Brazil

1. Mothers are something special everywhere…but they are especially adored in Salvador (2nd major holiday after Christmas).

2. Drivers perform miracles-despite there being only space for a bicycle to pass through…somehow buses we rode in surpassed all odds to get us safely to our destinations.


3. You are never too old to be surprised, be in awe, be utterly speechless at the beauty found in nature, communities, and the friends we never knew one day we’d meet.

Bamboo Road

4. Young students do not mind taking a selfie or 2, 3, 4 at any occasion.



5. There is only 1 Clara Ramos in this universe-(you will have to travel to Salvador to know what I am taking about…believe me, you do). While it is obvious when a person has a clear passion for his/her profession, with Clara it is transforming, life-changing, and infectious.


6. The semantics of one’s degrees/training can blur the honest truth that many of us are dedicated to exploring ways to prevent suffering and improve conditions that lead to enhanced health of populations.

7. Food, dance, music, good friends and family, adventure, and of course, love…. is all we ever need. Making a sacrifice to leave our creature comforts may not be easy, but in the end, all that is gained from going outside of what is familiar is priceless.



8. No matter where one resides, he or she has a single origin, called home. This place is associated with great pride. So while there may be underwear drying in the kitchen or mofo on the couch—Brazil is undeniably special. Celebration of differences (versus criticism) is always the road to take….

O povo brasileiro vai mudar a sua vida – The Brazilian people will change your life.

May 17th, 2015

Resolvi escrever em português. Nao terei a mesma abilidade de descrever meus sentimentos, mas está bem. Preciso fazer-lo em português.

Para mim, eu sempre queria construir um tipo de intercâmbio que tería a possibilidade de mudar as vidas dos alunos – talvez o intercâmbio abriría um ponto de vista novo, mudar uma forma de pensar, criar oportunidades de ganhar amigos e amizades que duraríam muito mais de três semanas. Essas são coisas que eu sempre ganhei durante minhas proprias intercâmbios e espero a mesma para nossos alunos no programa.

Hoje foi um dia de viagem. Saimos de Salvador para Lençois. Subimos Pai Inácio. Jantamos num restaurante Fundo de Quintal.


Contudo, hoje foi um día dificil para mim. É o aniversario de minha filha e estou com muito saudades. A mudança mais grande na minha vida foi o nascimento de minha filha e estar longe dela hoje é dificil.


Mas eu sei que eu estou crescendo e aprendendo tambem durante esta experiencia. Eu estou lembrando a apreciar mais varias coisas na minha vida: meu marido, meus colegas, meus amigos e os alunos que estão tambem longe das suas familias. Pensei muito hoje nas razões porque estou aqui, por que eu decidi embarcar nessa experiencia? E durante o dia descubri que a resposta tem muito que ver com o povo brasileiro. Nosso guia de turismo Fred ajudava os alunos na subida da montanha. O chofer de ônibus Narciso parou quando os alunos precisavam uma parada extra. A dona do restaurante (Adriana) preparou um jantar especialmente para nosso grupo. É a gentileza das pessoas, o desejo de ajudar, as experiencias que nossos alunos têm nas casas brasileiras, que me ajudou não sentir tão triste hoje. E tudo confirma para mim que eu estou ganhando mais do que eu estou perdendo estar longe da minha família e vale a pena.


(Agora em inglês – with some minor changes from me)

I decided to write in Portuguese. I shall not have the same ability to describe my feelings, but okay. I need to do this in Portuguese.
For me, I always wanted to build a kind of exchange which would have the possibility of changing the lives of students – perhaps the exchange would open a new point of view, change a way of thinking, creating opportunities to make friends and friendships that last long over three weeks. These are things I always gained during my own exchanges and I hope the same for our students in the program.
Today was a day trip. We left Salvador for Lençois. We climbed the mountain Pai Inacio. We ate dinner in a restaurant called Fundo de Quintal.
However, today was a difficult day for me. It is my daughter’s birthday and I am very homesick. The biggest change in my life was the birth of my daughter and being away from her today is difficult. But I know I’m still growing and learning also during this experience. I’m remembering to appreciate more the important things in life: my husband, my colleagues, my friends and students who are also away from their families. I thought a lot today the reasons why I’m here, why did I embark on this experience? And during the day I discovered the answer has much to do with the Brazilian people. Our tour guide Fred helped students in the mountain climb. The bus driver of Narciso stopped when students needed an extra stop. The owner of the restaurant (Adriana) prepared a dinner especially for our group. It is the kindness of the people, the desire to help, the experiences that our students have in Brazilian homes, that helped me not feel so sad today. And it confirms to me that I’m earning more than I’m missing being away from my family.

Boa Noite! Lectures and AfroBrazilian Dancing in Brazil

Ola! It has almost been a full week in Brazil and I’ve already experienced more than I anticipated. This study abroad has opened my perspective on the dynamics of cultures, language, religions, health issues, social issues, food…and the list goes on. Our Maymester schedule has been as follows; Collective Health class in the morning; then lunch at our homestay; then Portuguese class and guest lecture or tours in the afternoon.

This morning we had the privilege of Dr. Ines Dourado speak about the HIV/AIDS and Health Disparities Research among Key Populations in Northeast Brazil. She is a highly intelligent woman who shows a passion for the health of MSM (men who have sex with men) and transgender population of Brazil. Her findings supported what we have previously been learning which is that the black population of Brazil is disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. I find this to be similar to the epidemic in the United States. And, I’m really impressed with Brazil’s initiative to reform their health system and meet the needs of vulnerable key population, similar to the United States. Though there are many similarities between Brazil and United States, there are also many differences.

One of the biggest differences between the United States and Brazil is definitely the dance culture. Today we had the pleasure to learn both the history and the technique of  Brazilian Afro dances. Our historian and dance instructor was Antonio Cozido, who instructed us in Portuguese only. Because I’m still a novice in Portuguese, I couldn’t understand everything he said but I think I got the gist of it. We learned about African dances from the religion, Candomble, and also the Samba. It was very inspiring to see the dances for the religion, the motions that we made with our legs and arms really depicted the idea of receiving the spirit. We were drumming with our feet on the stage and waving are arms around in loose motions. The drumming seemed like a summoning of the spirit and the waving of the arms seemed like receiving the spirit. I am a terribly shy dancer but I tried to feel the motions as much as I could and felt at first silly but then a peace like trance for a few seconds. We also learned a little bit of Samba, which has strong African influences because it was originally a traditionally African dance. It’s different from other Samba because of the African influences. The moves were influenced by the fast pace of the music which was mostly drumming and the dance focuses on characteristics such as strength and power. I really admire that AfroBrazilian dances have so much history and charisma and they are still popular to this day. I was able to witness this live a few days ago at a concert. I am so inspired that these dances are still part of the cultural norms currently in Brazil. In the United States, dancing seems to range from being oversexualized to monotomous, depending on the occasion. Here in Brazil, there seems to be a sense of genuine enjoyment, passion, and a sort of spiritual transference.

This study abroad trip has already changed my perspective so much in the past six days. My mind has not only been opened but I’ve also been informed of public health issues. I’ve been exposed to such a rich culture and have been educated on the importance of health on a sociopolitical level. When our professors said that this trip would change your life, I believed them but the extent of how it’s already changed my perspective is both unexpected and humbling. I am looking forward to being immersed more in the culture and public health issues of Brazil. I now anticipate that my perspective will be even more broadened.

Education, Reflection, Personal Growth: Another Day in Salvador, Brazil

Waking up at 6 am seems to be getting slightly easier four days into the start of class. My body has gotten into a perfect rhythm of showering, getting dressed, making the bed and grabbing my notebook before stumbling into the dinning room for breakfast. As Mae (mom) runs around gathering all the food in the house to present to me, I start to think of what this day will hold. As I reflect on the days that have passed, I have been nothing but amazed, challenged, intrigued, amused, and positively exhausted!

Our bus ride to UFBA (Federal University of Bahia) is nothing short of thrilling everyday. After almost a week in this country, I am still amazed at how the drivers manage these narrow streets, loosely followed traffic laws and crazy pedestrians!


Our topic of discussion in class today involved the Health Care System of Bahia: SUS (Sistema Unico de Saude). Following the end of a 20 year old military dictatorship, the Brazilian Constitution of 1988 wanted to ensure the rights and freedoms of the population was well protected. A major area of focus was improving the health care system. The formation of SUS has been greatly beneficial as 80% of the population now receive medical services through the system. Some of the objectives of SUS include formulation of the health policy, organization of the human health resources, sanitation and health vigilance, and occupational safety and health. Areas that still need improvement involve decreasing the queues at many units in addition to decreasing difficulties in schedule appointments.

Our second lecture by Prof. Paulo Barreto discussed education and affirmative action in Brazil. With a similar history of slavery to the United States, Brazil has a population that is not binary (black or white) but rather a spectrum. The inequality that exists between white and “negro” (em portugues) (black) Brazilians is appalling, still yet again very similar to what we see in the United States. Recently, the Brazilian government has looked to Affirmative Action as a way to combat this injustice. Public Universities are now required to fill a quota to serve students from low-income families and Afro-Brazilian backgrounds. Although the United States has abandoned its efforts with affirmative action programs, Brazil might stand to benefit greatly from the use of these programs.


We had a panoramic tour of Salvador on Monday. Tuesday night, we went to see the famous Jeronimo perform on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we walked up and down Pelourinho until our backs gave out. Today, however, was our first free evening. Nothing was planned; we weren’t expected to be anywhere or do anything or meet anybody. So what exciting adventure did I embark upon today after class?!

Nothing. Nothing at all. For the first time in a LONG time, I felt satisfied not having any plans or being tied down to a schedule. I felt okay with going home and kissing Mae on the cheek and getting in bed. I have welcomed this break from my hectic city life. The Bahian way of life is simple, yet so beautiful. I am not oblivious to the fact that the hardships people face here are very real, indeed; however, they persevere with such elegance.

I have noticed myself grabbing for my phone less and less as the days pass. I find myself asking what truly matters to me in this world: is it money? is it material possessions? or is it that calling to do something substantial with my life…to change the world for the better. As I ponder the more philosophical questions of my life, I am slowly becoming more and more mindful of my everyday thoughts and actions. I am reflecting more now than I have ever before. Salvador, my host family, my class mates, and this entire experience has been nothing short of life changing already….and it’s only the fifth day!

I hope each and every day that passes brings me closer to understanding my role as it fits into the mission of Public Health. I hope it helps me become a better citizen of the world!

Boa noite a todos!


Another view of Pelourinho Sao Francisco Church2

Boat pic Street Vendor making Dreamcatcher


P.s. Here are some of my favorite pictures from the trip so far! Enjoy 🙂

Oi, Brasil, Falo!: How Black Brazil Is Changing My Life

May 13, 2015- Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Boa noite, readers! Meu nom Roman!  At the time of this post, it is late at night and I am retiring from today’s adventures full of new sites and experiences. I am so happy. Today has been a truly transforming experience visiting Pelourinho because so much of Africa’s history is literally in the landscape. (The picture that you see below is one of myself in Pelourinho.)

It is a historical fact that Africans built the golden Catholic churches which line the streets of Salvador. Jorge Amado, one of Salvador’s most famous members and a prominent writer, once wrote of Salvador’s breathtaking beauty. But Salvador’s beauty is not something one can capture in a book: it is truly transcendent of time and space. The city’s people are multiracial and mostly the descendants of those who performed slave labor here harvesting tobacco, sugarcane, and cotton. Most of the crops were introduced here by the Europeans were harvested as commercial goods. Although Brazil is multiracial, Salvador has a distinctly black, or African, essence.

Blackness is found in the way the men strut with a handsome gait and in how Afro-Brazilian women model their afros with such beautiful grace and style. The people are gorgeous!

Brazil–the city of Salvador in particular– is black in the respect that is connected to traditional African spiritual practices. Candomble is closely connected to the Ifa Vodun tradition of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo. This religion’s deities came from the religion Ifa and include Ochala (Obatala), Oxum (Oxum), Chango (Shango), and Oxosi (Ochosi). Today, I was re-introduced to this information by our tour guide for the Pelhourinho visit, Fred. Spirituality is a celebrated thing here!

I am happy to have so many adopted family members now. My brother Nito returned home today. One of my brothers, Igor, (who is actually a leasee of my host mother), is also pictured below on the right with myself.

I’m having a blast every day!

Tchau tchau,



FullSizeRender IMG_0798

My new home



The view from my bedroom window

The view from my bedroom window



Prior to actually landing in Salvador, I spent plenty of time imagining where I would be staying. The thought of participating in a homestay was exciting and scary at the same time. Leading up to the trip it seemed like everyone was asking me about it. “Are you excited?” “Where are you staying?” I would explain the concept of a homestay, while imagining living in the Amazon with my new Brazilian family. So, imagine my surprise when we we got to Salvador and there were no houses. Never in my life have I ever been to a city with no houses. All I saw were high rises and skyscrapers. Salvador makes Atlanta look like Valdosta. It reminded me of a much larger and more cosmopolitan version of South Beach, Miami. It was more of a concrete jungle, than the Amazon. Either way this was not Atlanta. As my host mom was turning the door key, I was nervous as to what was on the other side. Whatever it was, it was going to be my home for the next 3 weeks, so I had to be ready. The first thing I see is this little dog with his tongue out and his tail wagging and my nerves just go away. Now, don’t get me wrong, the apartment is very beautiful but that did not even matter. What mattered was the family that lived in the apartment. They are awesome and I am eternally grateful for their hospitality…Also my host mom is like the best cook ever!

First Lectures at ISC Institute of Collective Health, Federal University of Bahia: Monday May 11

Monday May 11, was our first day at the Institute of collective Health, Federal University of Bahia (ISC or UFBA) and we learned a lot about the schools research initiatives and the background/history of the University. I found the information on their programs and research regarding nutritional diseases in youths, infectious diseases, and the impact of policies on health, to be really interesting.

When we learned about the history of the University, I found that there were a lot of similarities to educational discrimination that occurred in the US prior to the civil rights movement. For instance the Black population in Salvador is estimated at about 90% yet in prior years only about 10% of the students enrolled in the university identified as Black. A common practice was to administer admissions exams to the Universities. Black students usually did not pass these tests which kept them from being accepted into the University. This reminded me of the test that were administered at the voting polls that prevented Black voters from being able to vote.

Today we learned a lot about how social determinants such as income, education and race intersect to impact health. We also learned more about what collective health is. One of the administrators described public health as one component to collective health and gave an example of the government passing a policy that provided free HPV vaccinations for young girls. That was considered a public health intervention. The collective health approach would be to educate parents and youths on what the vaccine is, what HPV is, why it is recommended to be vaccinated, how HPV and other STDs can be prevented, etc. Collective health is the community response for health promotion and disease prevention.

Today was very informative, and very long. But a great start to our educational experience in Salvador.

Ate LogoPicture from Presentation

Day 1 in Salvador Brazil

We arrived in Salvador, Bahia Brazil safe and sound, and hungry! We needed to get checked in and settled, but food was on our minds. My first reality check was when I attempted to exchange money at the Airport. Myself and the lady behind the glass both spoke, shrugged, smiled, and said I don’t understand. It was a funny moment, but I knew there would be more encounters like that. She held up the calculator with the exchange amount displayed. I was thankful for the simplicity of her cooperation.

As we made our way to town, we took in the scenery. The land had greenery all over, including a bamboo archway that extends the equivalent length of a few street blocks. When we made it to the historic district, I realized that drivers drove on the right hand side, just like the US. Also, there are several extensive walking bridges for people to pass over main roadways safely. I’ve scene a couple of walking bridges here and there, usually by transit stations in the US, but feet apparently do a lot more walking in Brazil than in Georgia come rain or shine. When we finally made it to our day 1 destination, I ate good and napped hard. Beautiful and enthusiastic are the two adjectives I would use to describe day 1 in Salvador. My biggest limitation as of day 1 is the language barrier. I hope that by the first day of Portuguese class I can remark to people about how highly I think of Salvador, without turning to google translate first.

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