Friday, September 23, 2011

A day in the life

What is life like here?  Well, something like this.  At least on this Friday:

7:30 ish wake up.  I've become the kind of mom that wakes up when my kids wake up.  I really should wake up earlier, take a shower, get myself ready.  But, they wake me up in the middle of the night, and I'm not really a morning person.  Hence, they beat me to the punch in the morning.

8:00 Breakfast:  We've just recently moved out of our Pão de sal (little french rolls) and fruit rut.  We had been eating that pretty much since we moved here.  Now we do cornflakes (mixed with a little bit of Sugar Flakes) or eggs, or oatmeal.  I save pancakes or waffles for the weekends.  Thankfully on Fridays Irene comes (our empregada, or help), so I don't have to spend 30 minutes doing dishes (no dishwasher!)

9:00-11:30 The rest of the morning is an attempt to maintain order in the house.  This means keeping the children from attacking each other and screaming like crazy.  On a good day, I get some work done and I actually can prepare for my classes.  I also try to squeeze in some errands while Irene is here.  She will keep an eye on the kids while I go and buy fruit and vegetables, or go to the drugstore, or go out and buy birthday presents for the party that my kids just told me about.  Or buy snacks for the collective school snack that my kids just told me about.  All those fun last minute things that moms get to deal with...

11:30 Lunch:  On Fridays, Irene makes lunch.  We usually eat some meat (chicken/beef/sausage/pork), rice, beans and a vegetable or salad.  Recently we have been having yummy farofa.  Again, I'm VERY grateful that I don't have to spend an hour cooking, and then an hour cleaning up afterwards.  Thank you thank you thank you thank you Irene!

12:00 I meet my ride to go to work.  I teach one day a week at the campus that is 40 minutes outside of town.  I used to drive, but in August I realized that it was too hard on the Fusca, and I can carpool with the other teachers.  They pick me up at noon, and if traffic isn't too horrible we get to the school about 12:45.

1:00-2:15 Prepare for my music classes.

2:15-2:45 Teach the Toddler class.  I'm supposed to teach until 3:00 pm, but have you ever tried keep 14 little kids occupied for 45 minutes?  Good luck.

2:50-3:20  Coffee break.  Love this about Brazil.  You put in a bit of work, and then it's time for coffee. 

3:20-5:00 Teach the Nursery and Jr. Kindergarten students.

5:00-6:00 Prepare for the following week's classes while I wait for my ride back to town. 

6:30-7:30  Commute back to Belo Horizonte.  Friday traffic sucks.  But it's fun to talk to the teachers.  It's part of my social life.  Really.

7:30-?  Help feed the kids dinner.  We usually eat sandwiches, hot dogs or pasta for dinner.  Lunch is the main meal of the day, so "dinner" is just kind of a snack.  Then I help coral the kids to bed.  By 9:00 pm both the hubby and I are so exhausted all we want to do is veg out in front of a movie or TV. 

And that my friends, is Friday in Brazil for Shelley. 


Thursday, September 22, 2011

I Love Farofa


I had never ever even heard of farofa prior to moving to Brazil.  And I remember my first introduction:  a week after we had moved here we were invited to a churrasco (bbq).  There was a table of food to snack on, including things like olives, nuts, cookies, grape tomatoes, chips, candy for the kids, and this bowl of sand.



Then I saw the hostess take spoonful of it, put it in her palm and pop it in her mouth.  Later I asked about it, and they tried to explain it to me, but it made no sense.   It's toasted manioc (aka cassava or yuca) flour fried in butter.  It can be served plain, but is most often combined with little pieces of meat, onion, hard boiled egg, vegetables or even fruit (banana or raisins).  It can be eaten by itself, or with beans and rice, or to go with meat.  Most often it's served with churrasco--you dip your meat in the farofa to make a kind of coating.  I decided to try it like a Brazilian, and spooned it onto my plate and ate it plain with a fork.  I found it dry and pretty tasteless.  I must admit I just didn't understand. 

I tried farofa again on several different occasions, at restaurants, buffets, other parties, with espetinhos (kebabs).  I still didn't really understand what it was all about.  Our wonderful empregada Irene said something last month about how we never ate farofa.  I asked her if she ate it lots, and she confessed that she ate it every day, sometimes she even just ate the flour straight from the bag.  I finally remembered to pick up a bag at the supermarket 2 weeks ago, and asked her to make some.  Irene is a good cook, not GREAT, but good.

But I can't get her farofa out of my mind.

I'd never had warm farofa before, and there is something about it being fresh and nice and toasty that makes all the difference for me.  Even Beatrice is eating it now.  So next time you are in the neighborhood, come on over and we'll eat farofa together.  That is, if I leave any for you.
 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Squeaky Wheel

I've not written very much about our new apartment.  Overall, we are very happy.  The rent is less.  It is SOOOOOOOOOOO much quieter.  I'm growing plants and some herbs in our back patio area.  We painted the walls and are making it like a home.  There are many good things. 

However, there is a leak.

We didn't know about the leak when we moved in.  It had been painted over.  The person we hired to help us do some repairs before we moved in told us that it was probably going to be a problem.  And of course, within a few weeks, we could see the wet spot growing on the ceiling.  Now we have mold.  Yuck.

It turns out that this problem has been going on well over a year.  The sindica (the super) in our building has already been very involved because the leak has damaged the wall in the hallway, so it has become a problem affecting the building.  There are many layers of issues and problems, but it all boils down to the owner of the upstairs apartment.  It has been verified that the leak is originating in his apartment.  But he does not want to take responsibility and pay for the repair of the hallway and to repair the damage in our 2nd bathroom.  I've talked to the sindica and the owner of our apartment, but they both feel like they can't do anything.  So, it's time to get serious.

A friend of ours had a horrible problem with termites and is now helping me navigate the ins and outs of our contract and educating us about our rights as tenants, and the correct way to move forward.  We have to go through the imobilaria (rental company), and essentially nag them to fix the problem, and get them to deal with the owner.  It's all about being the squeaky wheel.  Because it really won't get taken care of unless we make it an issue (hence the fact that the leak has been happening for over a year, and nothing has happened).  This is a big difference here for me.  I'm used to being able to call a business, make a request for something to happen, and for it to happen.  When I call the bank because I was charged incorrectly for my groceries, they tell me how to fix it, and it gets taken care of.  Here (specifically in Minas Gerais and with rental issues, because that's what I'm dealing with right now, and have had numerous problems in this area), you call, you ask for something (a copy of your rental bill, someone to email you a statement, help resolving an issue with the gas or oven), and you get a positive response (of course!  I'll help resolve that problem!  I'm emailing you right now!) and nothing happens.  You have to call again.  And again.  And show up, and essentially bug someone until they get annoyed and do something about it. 

I realize that I'm speaking in broad generalizations, but this has been my experience with our past rental company, the past super in our old building, the maintenance guy in the old building (remember Miguel?) and our current rental company.  I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by this for a while, and angry, but I'm feeling better now.  I know what I will need to do, and I can anticipate all the hoops I will have to jump through.  Knowing this is helpful, and helps me feel a little less dread.  But I'm gearing myself up emotionally to fight this battle, knowing that it's probably going to be a long haul.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I ♥ Farofa

I had never ever even heard of farofa prior to moving to Brazil.  And I remember my first introduction:  a week after we had moved here we were invited to a churrasco (bbq).  There was a table of food to snack on, including things like olives, nuts, cookies, grape tomatoes, chips, candy for the kids, and this bowl of sand.




Then I saw the hostess take spoonful of it, put it in her palm and pop it in her mouth.  Later I asked about it, and they tried to explain it to me, but it made no sense.   It's toasted manioc (aka cassava or yuca) flour fried in butter.  It can be served plain, but is most often combined with little pieces of meat, onion, hard boiled egg, vegetables or even fruit (banana or raisins).  It can be eaten by itself, or with beans and rice, or to go with meat.  Most often it's served with churrasco--you dip your meat in the farofa to make a kind of coating.  I decided to try it like a Brazilian, and spooned it onto my plate and ate it plain with a fork.  I found it dry and pretty tasteless.  I must admit I just didn't understand. 

I tried farofa again on several different occasions, at restaurants, buffets, other parties, with espetinhos (kebabs).  I still didn't really understand what it was all about.  Our wonderful empregada Irene said something last month about how we never ate farofa.  I asked her if she ate it lots, and she confessed that she ate it every day, sometimes she even just ate the flour straight from the bag.  I finally remembered to pick up a bag at the supermarket 2 weeks ago, and asked her to make some.  Irene is a good cook, not GREAT, but good.

But I can't get her farofa out of my mind.

I'd never had warm farofa before, and there is something about it being fresh and nice and toasty that makes all the difference for me.  Even Beatrice is eating it now.  So next time you are in the neighborhood, come on over and we'll eat farofa together.  That is, if I leave any for you.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

another story of a family of 5 moving abroad

My husband is a religious reader of the New York Times, and recently came across this article about a correspondent that moved his family of 5 to Russia.  He enrolled his kids in school there without them speaking a word of Russian, and he writes about what it was like for them.  I've been thinking a lot about this article, and I'm remembering what a gift it is to our children to live here, learning how to solve problems, learning to cope, learning another language and to learn first hand about another culture.  This article has been very timely, as I've been worrying a lot about my children's education.  We worry if Dora is stimulated enough, has enough to read, or if she feels like she is being held back.  We worry about Sebastian as an auditory learner in a classroom with discipline issues and 15 boys, and we worry about him saying that he wants to go back to school in the states because it made him "better."  These are still concerns, but reading this article helps me have some perspective, and counter-balances many of the things that keep me up at night.  I hope you like it:

http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/15/z-is-the-first-letter-of-the-alphabet/

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Perspective

I've started writing this post about 5 times in the past few weeks.  It's not been an easy one to come together.  We've lived here almost 18 months now.  We've come through a lot:  the kids enrolled in  school, we lived without a car for about 9 months, we bought a car, we traveled, we made phone calls in Portuguese, we fought, we made up, we had issues with neighbors, noise, and culture.  We have figured out how to deal with car issues.  We've had visitors.  We've movedWe drove to the beach in a Fusca.  And we've more than survived--we've lived.  There were times when I wondered if I was going to make it (like when we got lost on the way to the beach), and times when we felt very alone.  But we've met some fascinating people, we've been able to take care of the things that need to get taken care of, and we've discovered things about ourselves that we never knew.

So now that the dust has settled, and now that we've more or less figured out how to live daily life (never without challenges of course), I've had some space to be able to ask questions.  What do I think about the quality of my children's education?  What are my friendships like?  What am I learning?  How am I growing spiritually and emotionally?  What do I like about this culture?  What don't I like?  These are good questions, but not always easy ones to answer.  I've been thinking about culture shock, and the stages of adapting.  I think that my "shock" has been cyclical, and even though we've in many ways adapted, the question that is weighing on my mind is, "how much more do I want to adapt?"  To be honest, it feels pretty lonely at times.  My Portuguese (or lack of) has seriously limited my ability form deeper relationships with Brazilians.  And I feel that if I really am to truly adapt and connect, I will need to form some closer ties to other Brazilians.  And as a working mother of 3 children, this is no easy task.  But we moved to Brazil, and that was no easy task (see this entire blog).  So it becomes a matter of will and desire.

I can't deny that there are days when I just want to escape this life, that I just want to move back.  But our jobs are here.  And jobs are harder to come by in the States right now.  But our families are there.  And I have no response that can truly compete with that one, especially in Brazil where families are so important.  But I'm understood there.  And I'm understood and supported here by the many, many expatriates and Brazilians who have lived elsewhere.  But literally, I'm understood there (in English).  And practicing my horrible Portuguese is helping my brain grow.  But, but, but.

So, what I've decided to do right now is to practice "being present."  I don't want to imagine another life elsewhere (that's what I was doing beforehand, and it ended me up here!).  I want to live in this moment.  I want to enjoy my children, even when they are fighting and all asking for my help all at the same time.  I want to laugh at work, when the children are not following directions and doing pelvic thrusts to "Zip-a-dee-do-dah" (true story).  I want to eat more mangoes.  I want to marvel at the Ipê trees.