Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Brazilian Saga

I remember my junior year in college when my roommate at the time went on a family vacation to Brazil over the winter holiday. She would IM me while she was there telling me about her fabulous Christmas on the Brazilian beach. When she got back she was obsessed - some kind of Brazilian fever. She was looking into taking a class in Portuguese so that she could go back to Brazil, find her a Brazilian man and make little Brazilian babies. She walked around wearing her wrap of the Brazilian flag around her waist, and everything, EVERYTHING always came back to Brazil.

Of course time wore on and her obsession faded as a passing phase, but I'm pretty sure she still has that flag wrap hanging up or draped across something, somewhere.

While romantic fabrications made up her image of Brazil, to me it has always been a distant land of beautiful black people full of a cultural life much different than what I knew in the United States that I just wanted to see and experience for myself. These people, like me, were descendants of slaves and their masters; ranged the same skin tones and hair textures of African-Americans; and though there were cultural similarities, there were so many differences. This fascination with people of the African Diaspora, such as Brazilians, inspired, fueled and shaped my academic interests. And then, this year, the opportunity arose to go.

The thing is, for myyy winter vacation south of the equator, preparing for it has been everything but a dreamlike experience. Participating in a winter study abroad trip is an expensive endeavor for someone whose expenses exactly equal her income every month. So initially, I decided that I would wait on it. But after encouragement from my professor to apply for a scholarship, I decided to at least see if they would give me some money to go on the trip because I did not want to pass up the opportunity. That's where the saga began.

I went into the study abroad office, requested to speak with the advisor recommended to me and said:
I really want to go on this trip, but I am a graduate student and I don't have any money. My tuition is paid for through my fellowship, I live off a monthly stipend and there is nothing else. The only way I can go on this trip is if you guys pay for it. Should I apply? If so, do you need anything other than this grant application? (which I had already filled out)
The response:
Well, I don't know if you'll get a full scholarship but you should definitely apply and see what happens. Here, I'll take the application and make sure it gets to the right people.
4 weeks pass by without a peep from these people. Yes, I call and email and check up on them on a weekly sometimes twice-weekly basis. The answer? We'll get back to you early next week.
Well, early next week - the week before I had to confirm that I would be participating on the trip - arrived, and I still had no idea if I was receiving any kind of scholarship! Finally I call and talk to someone who had a clue and they tell me:
Oh we didn't process your application because you didn't apply for the FAFSA.
Why didn't someone tell me that 4 weeks ago!??! After filling out the FAFSA and trying to figure out what to do next I set up a meeting with the study abroad advisor who I had been in consistent contact with about my situation since I applied for the program. I get into her office and believe me when I say this woman was absolutely CLUELESS about why I was there and what the situation was, even though I had written her personal letters and we had emailed back and forth.

Well, to be brief, financially things fell into place for me to go and then I had to travel back to Iowa to leave for the trip. It took me from 8:15 (east coast) yesterday morning to 6:45 pm (midwest) last evening to get home in Iowa. Weather caused flight delays which put me almost 5 hours behind schedule. And when I arrived, my luggage did not.

Tomorrow we leave for Brazil. And I don't have any luggage.

It's times like these when you just have to say to yourself, things could be a lot worse. You think, there must be a blessing coming, there has to be after this storm of frustration. NOTHING about getting ready for this trip has been easy. I know that the Lord doesn't give you more than you can bear, but I am certainly being tested right now. My needs for organization, knowing, and preparation are all being challenged and I have no choice but to just deal with it.

So I am praying, really really hard that my luggage shows up tonight. Won't you pray with me?

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