Friday, 1 March 2013

"I imagine this is how the Beatles felt on Ed Sullivan."

This post is the reply of my friend/colleague, Colleen, after I updated my research group about my first two talks.  As you may guess, today's colloquium also went really well.  It was at the State University of Goias in Anapolis, about two hours away.  Ironically enough, the professor I mentioned last post who wouldn't listen to the data decided to join us.  Oh the glories of retirement- only then would one want to spend four hours in a car just for a free lunch and a talk they already heard!
The drive was a nice opportunity to see the Brazilian countryside- Goias is an agricultural state, known as the breadbasket of Brazil.  We also passed through Abadiania, a small town which has grown dramatically with the rising fame of "John of God", a self-proclaimed psychic surgeon.  Apparently, he gives his patients two  options: an invisible or visible operation, where for the first option, people just mediate in a room and often are prescribed a concoction of passionfruit herbs.  Supposedly, this guy is really well-known (he was on Opera, case in point!) for curing everything from Lou Gehrig's disease to paraplegia to a brain tumor and people come from all over the world to see him.  Gilberto actually said that he met someone through couchsurfing was hired as a nurse to someone who traveled from the US to Brazil to see this man.  Apparently the nurse decided the free trip wasn't worth stick with her sick friend, did some sightseeing around Brazil (when she met Gilberto) then went home.  So that was interesting...
It was hard to get a good picture of the countryside but here's a general idea
The University itself was built only six years ago and one of 43 state university campuses, offering undergraduate and master's programs in scientific fields.  Since this school is less competitive, English is even less common and when I met the director of the school, he didn't speak it confidently.  Originally my talk was scheduled to happen in a room slightly larger than a typical classroom so I started presenting there in a pretty full room- a dozen professors, mostly graduate students and some undergraduates.  Before I started, I tried asking them about their backgrounds to figure out why they wanted to listen to me speak but they were pretty shy and I didn't get much information but supposedly they all attended willingly.  During my introduction, the room started to fill and they had to bring in extra chairs to accommodate people.  As I started to speak, there was a growing crowd outside the door  that couldn't be easily squeezed into the classroom.  So they actually stopped my talk halfway through to move to a large classroom down the hall, people followed me into the room even though at this point they knew that I'd only be speaking in English and I ended up presenting to a crowd of ~60 people.  I got a few questions but the translator wasn't there and people were shy but everyone seemed to be listening intently and nodding so hopefully they understood what I said.

Delicious Brazilian lunch with University of Goia faculty and employees
 After that, the director, a couple professors, a couple secretaries took the Gargs and I out to lunch.  It was a nice traditional Brazilian restaurant with food by the kilo- I'm definitely a fan!  It's nice to be able to try a variety of foods and you only have to pay for what you want to eat.
I learned more about shall I say "ineffective" policies of the government.  Not only do students get free education, but supposedly many of these educational funds go to supplementing food and housing costs  and therefore the funds run out before improving quality of teaching or the facilities/equipment.  The students aren't competitive and high career aspirations typically aim to being a civil servant, which you can qualify for by doing well on an exam.  Supposedly, they are paid an annual salary of $100,000 (more than a college professor) to sit in Congress and do nothing and they can't be fired.  I was talking to a pharmacy professor about how I was surprised at the quantity of students studying pharmacy.  He said a degree in that here doesn't hold the same prestige as in American because Brazilian companies don't innovate- they just copy medications from elsewhere.  Near this campus was a Hyundai and Pfizer factory so graduates have opportunities to be employed but they aren't usually given opportunities to innovate or research.  Health care is also basically free but most of the hospitals are contained in big cities so the government reimburses distant ambulance rides to these centers but even these hospitals are too full to meet demand....  Generally, ineffective and unsustainable policies.
On the way home, we stopped at a rest stop/road side restaurant where we had "sugar cane juice" where they literally stuffed sugar cane into a machine and some sweet juice came out, freshly made.  I guess in India, they add ginger and lemon which sounds delicious.  The other professor ordered this mushed corn drink which we made he made me try.  It tasted like liquified corn muffin.  Interesting but I didn't want a glass of my own.
So I don't like to get into politics but it's all very different.  Just one weekend and one weekday left in Brasilia!  I've gotten settled in a nice routine- fruits, nuts and coffee for breakfast, learn Portuguese, work on my blog, delicious lunch (recently she's made naan, samosas, a couple pumpkin dishes, popular Brazilian cheese balls, this tomato, homemade mango juice and soybean stew... everything always from scratch), research, update blog, teatime with occasional meetings/interviews at the University throughout the day, followed by some sort of afternoon/evening adventure... but I'm also excited for a change of scenery.  I don't know how much I'm going to like the big city of Sao Paulo but I've got some people excited to show me around so that'll make it better!