When small becomes global

In the spirit of the “listening project” this week’s post is about the story of PICKPOCKET®” and small business in Porto.

I spend endless hours searching for the perfect work bag.  It has to be large but I do not want to look like a bag lady.  I need wide handles and reinforcements to manage the weight of a laptop and student papers and books.  I like a pop of color and style.  I also don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars.  I usually end up with a bag that I tolerate rather than love.

That is, until I ran into André & Teo  at the market in Porto.  They create individualized bags and backpacks and wallets using locally sourced leathers and methods that they learned from elder artisans.  I am now the owner of a hip and functional work bag that didn’t break my budget and was personalized to my needs.  I feel as though I am carrying a piece of art throughout the day and that makes me happy.

When I picked up the bag I asked Teo to tell me the story of Pickpocket.  In many ways it is a story of the new model of Portuguese business.

When Teo was growing up in the 1990’s, Portugal experienced a building and economic bubble that burst.  The entry into the EU and the infusion of money led to an expansion in business and construction that could not be sustained.  When  this economic bubble burst, the process of recovery influenced the younger generation who lived through it to re-imagine the idea of sustainability and economic success.  Rather than go “big”, Andre and Teo made a conscious decision to go “small” and focus on quality and using historically authentic Portuguese methods, and collaborate to with other artists in a sustainable way.  They survived the most recent economic crisis and as Teo writes:

A thought about scale and growth:

Our reality is a bit more complex. Regarding our scale, (although small) it allows us to touch different markets, in a ‘’cirurgical’’ way, for example: in Germany and Spain we have like- minded collaborators that sell our products.  We are open for this kind of collaborations.

As a brand, we sell to an audience that is tired of “massification”, and has a desire to know where things are coming from, and how they are made. So, we end up, like you said supplying niche markets, but not just for the Portuguese reality, we also are supplying a global market.  And this is the point where we see our growth potential and expansion.

 This is not the land of Walmart. While I appreciate the scale of large business with its convenience and efficiency, I’ve come to appreciate how this model of “small” has advantages for the quality of life and the quality of the product, and how small can be global without “massification”.

I now have a beautiful and functional work bag (in University of Pittsburgh colors)  and a new acquaintance in Porto.  Now to find the perfect lined raincoat…..

If you are interested in learning more about their business model and products, this is the website https://pickpocketbags.netIMG-0133

Casa Ronald McDonald Porto: listening to play

When I think about the work that I have done professionally and as a volunteer, I realize that “home” and “family” play a large role in the narrative of my life and research.  While I’d like to think of myself as an “explorer”, I’ve realized in my time here in Portugal that “house cat” would be a better adjective.  I’ve come to terms with this and embraced it.  I’ve created a space here in Porto until I can return home.

Which got me thinking about how difficult it must be for families to be away from all that is familiar when their children are here in Porto at the Centro Hospitalar de São João (CHSJ) e no Instituto Português de Oncologia (I.P.O.) do Porto. If I found it difficult to be away from home and all that is familiar and routine, how much harder is it for families undergoing a medical crisis of a seriously ill child?  Because it is the largest medical center in the north, families come from small rural areas and towns across the center and north of Portugal so that their children receive treatment.  As in the United States, the Ronald McDonald house offers a home away from home for these children and their families, and the Porto Ronald McDonald house is on the hospital campus.   I volunteer there on Mondays and it is usually the highlight of my week.

 

So, what do I do?  Sometimes I help with clerical tasks or with cleaning rooms or public spaces.  Each of the families has a room and a bathroom and they share kitchen and laundry facilities. They have their own pantries where they can store food and they cook their meals and eat as a family.  There is a large library which I usually end up rearranging and trying to suggest reading material, but my signs of “try this book “ were not a hit here.  Maybe that is an American thing–they called it the “american experiment”.

But the best volunteer days are those when I get to play with the kids.

Play is the work of children, whether they are healthy or undergoing treatment for cancer or another serious illness.  My job is to follow their lead and play.   I think that this is particularly important exterior rmdduring a health crisis. Playing with them is made easier by the fact that I speak like a 2 year old and that I can’t “direct” their play.  I lack the language to do it. As a result, I listen and observe and follow their lead. Sometimes I am a T-Rex, chasing them  around the play room. Sometimes I’m in the play cozinho with them as they direct me to make  a meal.   Sometimes I push them as they ride bikes and trucks. They tolerate my horrible Portuguese as I read board books to them (I do great with the books that have English/Portuguese words).  Sometimes they just want to sit on my lap and read or watch a video.

I feel that I’m really learning how to listen when I’m at the Ronald McDonald House.

If you would like to read more about the program in the United States and in Porto:

http://www.fundacaoronaldmcdonald.com/Default.aspxhttps:

http://www.rmhc.org/ronald-mcdonald-house

Estar com os azeites

While tumbling out of the tree that I had climbed to pick olives, I thought “this had better be the best damn olive oil ever”.

I have never given much thought to the bottles in the grocery store, nor the olives in my salad.  Truthfully, I had never given much thought to my food period:  I shopped in large markets, occasionally using a farmer’s market in the summer, but I had a very superficial understanding of food and food sources.  I didn’t spend much time  in the kitchen or “at the table” and I would never wait in line for a meal.  I really did not care what I ate and I never questioned my food sources. Food was a source of energy.

My Fulbright time in Portugal has certainly changed this attitude and behavior!  Partly due to the delicious food but also the importance of food to family life:  I have come to appreciate how food plays an important role in both nourishing the body and the heart.  I’ve also come to appreciate how food is created and processed is important for the future of the planet

This was reinforced by a weekend of harvesting olives at the Almeida family farm (Katia Almeida, Portugal Fulbright, 1999–Lusofona University).  Harvesting olives is hard work when you are a small farmer without machinery. We used a battery-powered “picker” but mostly it was climbing trees and  brushing them with combs.  After all the 100 trees are harvested, the olives will go to a local press.  We joked that this was the most expensive  olive oil with olives picked by people with advanced degrees, and that probably people in New York City would buy it! It was hard and dirty work but there was satisfaction in seeing the olives bagged and ready to go.

However, the best part of my experience was being part of a family and being at the table with them, speaking in both Portuguese and English.  My tendency to “eat and run” has been greatly changed by watching people laughing and sharing stories at the table.   I can understand why in a world full of “business” that it is important for families  to make the time to come together to create a meal and to share it.  This may not be a revelation to many of you, but to me, it was as I looked around the table at 3 generations.  I also realized that if you are a pig in Portugal, you are not going to be herding sheep like Babe the Pig–you are going to be eaten. However, there is no waste in the food–everything is eaten, and what we did not eat, the cat colony did. IMG_0304

 

“Putting on the English”

I’ve been adopted by a group of PhD and post-docs in education at the University of Porto.  They invite me to lunch because they find my habit of working and eating lunch alone vaguely troubling, and help me when I lose my keys or can’t manage doors.  They also tell me about cultural events such as the film festival this weekend on racism and advise me about food and shopping.  They correct my Portuguese and answer my questions about the academy in Portugal.  As a stranger in their country, I’m grateful for their help and guidance in my daily life in the University.  It has greatly eased my adjustment to a new University life.

I’ve been thinking about language this week, and they are what started me on this thinking path—so bear with me. The name of this blog is “portolistening” not “portotalking” because I knew that my “talking” was going to be limited.  This week I did notice that something happened in my aural comprehension in that I was no longer just hearing “nasal incomprehensible  sound, word, word, WORD THAT I RECOGNIZE, nasal vowel that I can’t recognize, word and nasal sound.”  I started to hear and string sentences in my brain, so that while there were still incomprehensible words and sounds I understood sentences rather than individual words.  That is not to imply that I can sit through an entire TV show or movie and understand, but I did notice a difference.   It felt like a breakthrough after more than a month of nodding and staring at people’s mouths.  I do find Brazilian Portuguese easier to comprehend because it is what I am used to hearing, and it is slower and less “closed”.  In the North, there is also a difference in diction that makes it harder—more closed vowels and a slurring of words and fast tempo.  Sometimes I wonder if they ever take breaths when talking!

I’ve experienced a tiny break-through, but speaking is still challenging for me due to my innate reluctance to show my limitations.  I’ve been speaking English fluently all my life—it is the outward manifestation of who I am.  Words are how I make my living, how I show how funny I am, it is how people know me, and here to not to be able to express in words fluently what is in my head has been challenging.  I don’t feel really “known” here.  Which leads to a book that I’m reading….

Trevor Noah’s book “Born a Crime:  Stories from a South African Childhood” is a great book on several levels—I highly recommend it.  Because he is “colored” or what we consider mixed race, he lived in an “in-between space”—not black, not white but colored, which is a category in South Africa but under Apartheid, illegal.  One way he turned this in-between space to his advantage was to learn all the languages that he could including Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, German, English.  He was a linguist chameleon and could move from group to group and no one could figure out what he way really, and he made that work to his advantage.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a natural talent for languages so I remain “English”.

So back to the students who adopted me and how language can be transcended to some degree.  This week one of the students talked about how he took his English committee member to a restaurant and had a great meal in a place where the food is often indifferent.  One of the other students commented that “they were putting on the English” which made me laugh out loud—and got us talking about these phrases which indicate something other than what direct translation would imply.    This URL gives you some idea of them but we discussed our common sayings which are often descriptive of a state of mind or a future activity or a warning.

https://www.behance.net/gallery/24478537/Portuguese-sayings-that-make-absolutely-no-sense

There are lots of commonalities although Portuguese to English translation would probably not make sense.  For example “swallow frogs” in Portuguese is the same as “take your lumps” in English—both mean accepting something unpleasant but direct translations make no sense to a non-English or a non-Portuguese speaker.   But perhaps these visual metaphors help us to get beyond “words” to feelings. We spent a lunch hour laughing about this in English, Portuguese and Romanian.

So, here is hoping that my language continues to improve.  I certainly hope so because for some reason everyone asks me for directions!

“Calma Americana”

Metro_do_Porto.svgThis week my subway pass had to be renewed for the month of October.  As I was fidgeting in line thinking of ways to make this process more efficient than a monthly queue, annoyed that the machine was malfunctioning, the transit officer said to me “Calma Americana”.

If someone had written this in a facebook or in an email, I would have been very annoyed, feeling that I was being patronized, and I would have fired back some response about how much time people waste in lines and wouldn’t the GNP for Portugal be higher if this time was spent in more productive ways”?  But instead, I laughed out loud because his tone, his face indicated that he understood the frustration that I was feeling but that all would be well.  I got to my place in line, renewed my pass and we exchanged pleasantries and social chit chat in Portuguese and English.

In the last month, the biggest adjustment for me has been adjusting to this—less “efficiency” and more social contact.  While Portugal has progressed exponentially in wireless access since my last visit here, at the same time, face-to-face and social contact remains the primary method of communication.  I finally realized that if someone was not responding to my emails, that I needed to “make a visit” or “take a coffee” or just show up at their door.  Through in this process I’ve learned about their research, family and passion for their work. It’s pushed me outside my typical way of working with people, but there is much more to gained in this process than just “work”.

Senator Fulbright was prescient when he established these awards.  He may not have envisioned the day when we would communicate virtually but he did realize the value of face-to-face exchanges and time spent in a place so that you could understand deeply the culture and the social norms. When I was at the Fulbright Portugal last week,  I realized the scope of the work of Fulbright to bring this mission to life:  it extends from preparing young Portuguese to apply to American colleges, college students to do exchanges in environmental sciences and social entrepreneurship for a summer to graduates spending a year in the US in graduate programs.  I also realized the other side of the exchange beyond scholars and specialists, which are the American college graduates who spend a year embedded in a University of Polytechnic in Portugal teaching language and culture.  The Portuguese watch Fox TV here and I am afraid that they think we are all crime and forensics and car chases! So these exchanges and communications are what the Senator had in mind—we are all cultural ambassadors, teaching and learning.

Commit to the Crossing

crosswalk

This week I traveled from Porto to Lisbon for my orientation at Fulbright and at the American Embassy.

I will write a longer blog about this experience.  It was an amazing two days.  I am so fortunate to be an American here in Portugal at this moment in time.

I wanted to describe about the light in Lisboa.  I don’t know why, but the light is different there from any other city that I have been in, including Porto, San Francisco and other cities similar in geography.  It may be the white tiled streets.  It may also be that pollution is not a problem in Lisboa as it is in similar sized cities.  I am not sure of the science behind it but the light is sparkling in Lisboa. That sounds Disneyesque but it is true.  The sunlight sparkles and there is no good way to capture this in prose or photo.  You must visit it to see it yourself. 

Finally, —Thankfully I am in a country where the Embassy security briefing focuses more on theft and crossing the street than terror attacks.  But crossing the street is a tricky business here.  Some years ago, pedestrians were getting hit so the government instituted a strict rule on cross walks and drivers stopping.  As a life-long jaywalker, I’ve had to adjust my behavior to crossing at the cross walks.  However, the embassy and Fulbright staff told me that “once you decide to cross at the cross walk, you must be fully committed”. What that means is that when the taxi coming at you at 60 miles per hour (because people drive fast here on streets), that once your feet leave the curb, YOU CANNOT STOP—YOU MUST COMMIT TO THE CROSSING.   You ignore the commands coming from the most ancient part of your brain telling you to haul yourself back up onto the sidewalk because that car will kill you.  You must stride confidently into the path of the speeding taxi and not pause because otherwise he will scream at you “Nao paragem”!!!!!  (don’t stop) as he breaks the car a nanosecond before hitting you because you paused mid-stride and hesitated, seeing your life flash before your eyes.

Perhaps it is a metaphor for my time in Porto.  Fully commit to the crossing.

 

Being ill

 

Yesterday, as I was flat on the floor of my office because it was cool and not spinning, staring at the ceiling I thought “ I guess the nice cleaning person will find my dead body—she is really nice, I’m sorry to do that to her”. “How will Fulbright get my body home”?

Ok, a little dramatic, but being away from the familiar when you are sick is probably the first big challenge a traveler faces (aside from not being able to master the Portuguese skeleton key).   It is a reminder to me of how it is for freshman when the first cold hits in October, and to understanding and not being judgmental.  For me, it was nausea which I attributed to car sickness, followed by a sleepless night and then stomach problems (I will spare you), body aches and a massive headache.  A classic virus (despite my flu shot) profile.  I have no idea where I got this but I work in a university, I live in a home with a lot of people and I hang out with a 5 year old, so the possibilities were good that I would catch something soon.

My land-person, Carol, gave me some Brazilian tea which helped along with a side does of motherly sympathy which was greatly needed.   But nonetheless, I long for my bed, my cats and the sounds of my home. I had a fever-dream in which my daughter was about 10 again….it must be due to binge watching the Gilmore Girls while ill.  Perhaps I should switch to another show.  It filled me with a longing of saudade, the word for longing and melancholy when I woke up with a headache.

This will pass, hopefully quickly as I must be in Lisbon for Thursday and Friday at Fulbright!  But it is a reminder to me that  to simple acts of kindness can be lifesavers–a cup of tea, a concerned word from the barista when she notices that you don’t drink your coffee, a simple acknowledgement of our shared fragility.  thermometer

Praxe

As I was settling into a routine at the University, the students were also starting school.  Unlike the United States, the academic year starts mid-September and continues after the first of the new year.  Last week I wrote about the traditional uniform worn by the returning students.  The other academic ritual is “Praxe” which is from the Greek praxis and describes student traditions in universities, primarily initiation rituals for the freshman.  Praxe is a tradition that dates to the 16th Century and is intended to reduce social inhibitions and to welcome the freshman into the University community.  It is organized by the students and they do skits and funny jokes to break down the barriers between cohorts of students and to encourage silliness and fun.   At least that is the intention.  But like all rituals, things can be taken too far and praxe can result in humiliation and violence and a violation of the code and values of the community.   In talking to graduates, some look fondly back at these days of silliness and belonging while others did not participate in praxe at all (it is voluntary but nonparticipation has social consequences). Some departments refuse to allow it all.

  I view this activity through the lens of our American University fraternities and sororities.  I’ve witnessed students doing a lot of silly things at the University of Pittsburgh in the name of becoming part of a group.  I think that it is a human and evolutionary aspect of humanity to belong; we form groups for safety and companionship and for being part of a collective—a pack.  But like all activities, things can go too far, and have in Portugal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxe, as they have in the United States.

For the most part what I have witnessed is some silliness—running down empty sidewalks at 7:30 AM, a time no student, American or Portuguese, would willingly go out to run.  But I also witnessed something disturbing praxe activities this week .  One afternoon I watched students from one department kneeling on the cobblestones in a submissive position for more than 30 minutes wearing paper crowns and with senior students  in the uniform screaming at them to say “yes sir” repeatedly. This wasn’t the Weasley twins pulling pranks.   It was using power to humiliate and I’m not sure of the purpose other than to make one group feel superior over another for no reason other than the difference in the years that they entered the university.  These actions seem to set up a repeating cycle of humiliation and the desire to be the bully in the future.  Rituals have many purposes.  As Hobbs, the founder of a group approach wrote, rituals and ceremonies are important.  They provide continuity, a sense of belonging to something more than yourself.  They are a mechanism for older students to exercise compassion, inclusiveness and to model the values of the group.  But rituals can become twisted when people need to exercise power, often because they have experienced a sense of powerlessness.  It is student empowerment, but empowerment that is the opposite of what one would want in a community of scholars

If you want to build a community, give these intelligent students wicked problems to solve—how do engineers build water delivery systems so young women in Angola and Mozambique don’t have to spend hours a day getting water, and can go to school.  How can you convince students to not take up smoking—sounds like a great social marketing campaign for business students.  The possibilities for building communities are unlimited. But the changes will need to come from the student body.  I hope that the “anti-praxe” movement becomes the “alternative praxe movement” so that the next time I come back, I’ll see a different praxe occurring in Portugal. 

Cansado and Tuna

38c27d36ba557be8610405f427ee9d8b

I think that the reason that I am such a terrible listener is that it is so darn hard! Exhausting really. It’s far easier to talk than to try to understand words, intent, meaning and context.  This week I stumbled around muttering “estou cansado”—I am tired.  That is the tense of “temporary” but I wondered if I should have made it the permanent tense, as it felt that way all the time.  A great deal of it is the language as I’m still at a toddler level of fluency, but also focusing intently and trying to respond when you are not sure what someone wants takes a lot of energy.  Maybe that is why we find ourselves so divided on so many issues.  Trying to understand what someone is telling you, feeling helpless and maybe afraid –perhaps fear and anxiety is at the root of our difficulties in understanding another’s culture and perspective.  Certainly I’ve felt those emotions this week:  “what do they want”?  “am I not giving it to them”  “what is this about” “why is this so hard”; “can’t we do it the American way”

I CAN’T UNDERSTAND YOU, WHERE IS THE STOP FOR THE BUS?” (that was late Friday, when I had a particularly bad moment).

I can see how it would make one want to either dismiss people as uninformed and ignorant or feel like an idiot. which is where I was often this week.

I started working this week at the University of Porto .  I’m squatting in Rosa’s office (she is emeritus faculty) and there is a lovely tree outside of the office and the ability to open the window to catch the breeze.  The students are returning and  senior students are mentoring the new students. They walk them around the building and explain –it is a nice model of orientation. The building is located in a campus with other schools such as medicine, engineering, dentistry etc.

The more senior students wear robes and formal attire.  It’s a bit “Harry Potter” in it is rumored that J.K. Rowling based the Hogwarts robes on this tradition.  She also wrote The Sorcerer’s Stone here in Porto.   However, everyone wears black. I’ve attached a photo.  When they gather in the courtyard in groups is is visually very dramatic and quite a contrast to the typical student attire.  I asked a young woman about the purpose and she said “it is to embody to the new students the honors and traditions and ethics of our school”.  She also complained that her shoes were hurting her feet.  They wear it this the first week and then periodically during the school year.  There are also musical groups (Tunas) for men and women.  They are similar to our student Capella groups but they sing with instruments and play traditional Portuguese music.

Check out this short article with photos if you are interested in learning more https://www.theapricity.com/forum/showthread.php?192078-Portuguese-students-(from-all-over-the-country)

I had lunch with a group of graduate students in education who are PhD candidates and post docs.  It was interesting to hear of their process (which is similar to our candidate process), and their dissertation topics.  One is focused on strategies for keeping high-risk immigrant children in school; another is looking at women on public assistance and their educational trajectories.   However, the outcome for PhD’s is rather grim in Portugal.  Many of them work as research assistants or jump from grant to grant.  This too is similar to us, but in the USA there is a far greater chance of finding an assistant faculty position or a position in government or research.  I don’t fully understand higher education in Portugal but my feeling after this lunch was that this is a terrible waste of human capital for this country if you have intelligent and passionate young persons who cannot fulfill their potential and use their ideas to help civil society.  Is that a uniquely American perspective on the value and purpose of higher education?

Entry 1: A tale of two cities

I arrived in Porto on Tuesday morning after unremarkable flights from Pittsburgh, DC, and Frankfort.  After some initial culture shock and jet-lag I’ve settled into my B&B.  It is in Paranhos, a municipality of Porto about 2.5 miles from the University of Porto https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paranhos_(Porto), or 2 metro stops.  I’m the oldest “student” here in the flat, and the lone North American as everyone is from Brazil. The good news is that Brazilian Portuguese is what I was taught and is easier to understand, but the bad news is that I am not going to shake my Brazilian/Pittsburgh accent living with Brazilians.  For the most part I am doing OK with the language although I am at a toddler level with verbs and I have become adept at pantomime.  I try to channel Luana, my Portuguese I teacher in Hispanic Languages at the University of Pittsburgh who was great at using her body in communicating meaning.

I’ve been running and walking and learning the neighborhood and practicing my terrible Portuguese on the patient shop keepers of Paranhos. I’ve tried to master the art of getting a coffee WITH milk.  I’ve even managed to conquer the skeleton key and the six deadbolts on the flat door—keys and doors in Portugal require a YouTube video.   I have had some marvelous dinners with my friends Ana, Diogo and their family and went to a fantastic art show on the Foz do Duro https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foz_do_Douro (where the Duro river meets the Atlantic Ocean) which was held in a fort.  I’ve eaten three kinds of new fish, all of which still had the heads on.  I attended a conference with Rachel Fusco who was presenting and greatly enjoyed meeting Domestic Violence researchers from all over the world (note to self for the future—when sitting at dinner with the Irish, don’t let them keep filling your glass).

True to my “mission” of the Porto listening project, I’ve tried to listen and observe.  It’s been more than a decade since my last trip to Porto and it has changed in some dramatic ways.  Like Spain and Greece, Portugal experienced a fiscal crisis during the economic recession and it has taken some time to recover.  Part of the recovery has been the tourism industry:  Porto has a UNESCO site https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ribeira_Square and is one of the loveliest cities in the Iberian Peninsula.  It is also quite reasonable in cost for a European city, with lower risk of terrorism, making it a popular destination.  I was amazed at the number of tourists when I visited the Centro this past week.  German, French and a lot of Brazilian Portuguese could be overheard and the streets and the riverfront was packed. There are boat cruises and helicopter rides and a ski lift thing that goes over the Duro River.  This was very different from what I remembered.  Porto was “a working city” e.g. Porto works, Lisbon plays and Braga prays was a common saying.  But now the work seems to be centering around tourism.  The Porto natives have an ambivalence about the changes.  It was important for the economic recovery but the city doesn’t feel the same to them, and the housing prices have been driven up due to apartments and rentals for tourism which has become a critical part of their economy.  People speak of the “real Porto” and there is still much to be seen, but the sentiment by some is that it is changing and that may not be such a good thing. It has made me think of Pittsburgh and our own recovery from steel to “eds and meds” and now technology.  Although tourism is not a major economic driver, Pittsburgh being identified on some of the “best places to live” lists has certainly led to changes in neighborhoods and gentrification with some questioning about the stratification of the city and surrounding neighborhoods.

I’ve attached some photos of the ribeira and the foz .

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