Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Uniforms are important in Brazil.   Almost all students wear school uniforms, and of course the teachers wear uniforms also.  Dora and Bea's school (Escola da Serra) does not require a uniform, and actually prides itself in the fact that they the students get to wear what they want and express themselves with their fashion choices.  When we first moved here, I thought "Great!  One less thing I have to spend money on."  Because, like most things in Brazil, school uniforms are pricey.  But the thing that I didn't really consider was that school uniforms are about the same price as clothing (jeans, shirts, etcetera), but it's okay if they don't look sparkling white, or if they get stained or little holes.  Because they are uniforms, and they are meant for those kind of things.  After a few months at their school, which is also known for it's great arts programs, I found that the children's clothes were taking a real beating.  Schools here love to have kids use Caneta Soft Point Ponta Porosa, and it stains their hands and their clothes like CRAZY.  And the sad thing is that it isn't permanent, meaning that the ink doesn't stay on books, plastic, pens, and other important things you want to label.
curse you, Caneta Ponta Porosa!

We lost several items of clothing to Caneta Soft Point Ponta Porosa. 

Then there was the roughhousing.  That cost Sebastian a few shirts (ripped).  Make-up day (stains on Bea's dresses, not to mention a rash to her sensitive skin).  The massive painting projects for various events.  The kids clothes looked pretty bad by the end of the school year. 

So I decided that 2012 was going to be different.  Sebastian has to wear a uniform at Maple Bear, so that was easy.  A little pricey up front, and we are still adding pieces to his wardrobe, but I already notice that his "nice" clothes are still looking nice.  Because he doesn't wear them to school!  Beatrice and Dora now have to wear school shirts to school, or old clothes.  We had purchased one school shirt for them for field trips, and from the various events (Semana Olimpica), they've built up a collection of school shirts.  I'm also noticing the different with them too!  Their school shirts look like junk, but the cute shirts that Grandma bought, and the nice dresses that we found for US$3 at Goodwill are looking great! 

And, I've broken down and I've now joined the ranks of the uniformed.  I requested that Maple Bear provide me with a shirt, and I got my own special ones:
Hi cute little Maple Bear, holding a Canadian flag!

oh yeah.

Not only do I get to save my clothes, but I get the respect of wearing the uniform.  I'm not just this random non-Portuguese speaking teacher that wanders around the school.  I am the music teacher.  I never would have gotten so excited about something like this in the states (I HATED uniforms, and never wanted to wear them unless I absolutely had to).  But here, it's part of the culture, and a way to get respect and be recognized.  And I'm liking it. 

Unfortunately, they only got me 100% polyester shirts.  This music teacher works up a sweat in my class, jumping, moving to music, handing out recorders, and generally just being busy trying to keep the kids under control.  And my classrooms tend to not be very well ventilated.  And now I'm wearing polyester.  I don't think my uniforms are going to smell very good for very long.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Verde Lazer Clube FAIL

Last post I mentioned that I was going to have a day of leisure and relaxation poolside at a "resort," paid for by a coupon we got with Peixe Urbano.  Peixe Urbano is the Brazilian version of GruopOn, or one of the many variations on a theme of online discount restaurant/store/hotel coupons.  You get a daily email with deals, and if you like one of them, you log in and buy the coupon.  We've purchased many things:  dry cleaning services, chocolate, meals at Restaurants, and so on.  Last year, we got 2 coupons for a day pass at place called Clube Verde Lazer, a camping club in a town about an hour away from Belo Horizonte.  We planned with some friends to go, and gave them the extra tickets.  I knew it wasn't a fancy place, but I thought it would make for a relaxing day.  We packed a picnic lunch, loaded up the swimsuits and sun screen, and hit the road.

It was a nice day, an easy drive (it was the same drive we took to the sitio we went to during Carnaval 2011, minus the horrible traffic).  We found it without too much problem (but it was thanks to our friends who had called to get the directions).  There were LOTS of people walking along the "road" (cobblestone/dirt one lane path is a better description, and that should have been a warning sign to me, but we kept driving along.  And then we pulled into the parking lot for the Clube and saw probably about 50 people waiting in line.  My husband dropped me off to get in line, and went to park.  There was quite a bit of confusion about which line to be in, and EVERYONE had a coupon from a different company (ClickOn).   Waiting in a line is a common experience in Brazil, so I knew we were going to be a while, but I didn't think too much of it.  After a few minutes, Beatrice had to go to the bathroom, so I asked one of the women wearing a shirt that read "Would you like to become a member?" tee-shirts where the bathroom was.   After Beatrice was finally done, I told her that we should go check out the pools.  We walked towards one of the 3, and I was overwhelmed by the number of people.  There were probably already 200 people at the pool, and there were NO places in the shade.  And it was hot.  Not a good sign.  Then I looked at the pools.  I didn't have my camera with me, but this will give you an idea of the color:

Oh yuck.  I immediately started imagining what kind of disgusting sickness was living in the pools.  Beatrice and I walked back to the line, and our Brazilian friends told us that we needed to get out of there.  Because of the popularity of the coupons, there had been a HUGE number of people visiting the Clube that weekend.  They had been so busy that they hadn't been able to clean the pools.  It was a 24 hour camping clube, and they didn't want to inconvenience any of the guests.  How about inconveniencing them with giardia? 

So, we drove back to BH, got our friends blow-up swimming pool, and made our own little pool party in our patio.

Thankfully the coupons were free (we had used a R$15 credit to buy them), and thankfully our friends were easy going and we were able to laugh at it all.  But never, EVER visit Verde Lazer Clube in Sabará. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cinemark Mania!

If you like movies, and if you like deals (and if you live in Brazil), you may want to check out Cinemark's new Mania Card.  For R$10 you purchase a card that gets you benefits such as
-R$2 discount on full price movie tickets
-discounts on snacks and food
-promotions.  Last week the "deal" was buy a movie ticket (duh), and buy a combo (large popcorn, a bag of Doritos, and 2 medium sodas), and pay R$1 and you get a free John Carter T-shirt.  Sounds like a lot of hoops to jump through, and you will end up paying probably about R$35 for everything.  But considering how much t-shirts are here, it sounds like a smoking deal to me!

But the best part is you buy the card, you register it online, and you get a free ticket!  So it essentially pays for itself.  Check it out!


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Working it out

I got pretty irritated this week.  My husband said that I should just let it go.  And I've tried, and I have become less annoyed.  But I'm hoping that writing about it will be some additional therapy.  So bear with me as I try to work this out.

In my last post, I wrote about how good our experience has been in Brazil.  It's not been without difficulty or frustration, but we've been able to figure how to "do life" and make a place for ourselves in a foreign country.  I try to use this blog as a place to focus on the positive, and remind myself that we are actually doing what I'd dreamed about doing.  And in my opinion, we've done a pretty good job at it.  We have friends.  We can usually communicate what we need in Portuguese.  We can get around, pay our bills, make phone calls, resolve problems, and plan parties. 

And what irritated me was that I had a conversation with someone who made me question my ability to do these things.  And the funny thing is that this person had been an expat as well.  I met this person about 6 months ago, and I should have seen the warning signs back then.  They were obsessively asking me questions about my neighborhood, schools, teachers, and philosophy on teaching music.  Don't get my wrong; this person has a great heart, seems like a great parent, and is trying to figure out what the best options are for their family.  Our paths crossed again, and we found out that we had a similar problem that needed resolving.  He offered to help me, but unfortunately, the info he had didn't help me.  I finally got things figured out, so I contacted him and shared with him the good news and suggested that perhaps this might be a good option for him.  And then, he started with the obsessive questions again.  And of course, there were some questions I couldn't answer.  He was really surprised that I would consider my solution to be a valid if I hadn't answered all these questions.  I could start to feel myself getting angry and defensive.  What I had done was use my resources to the best of my ability to find a solution that seemed the wisest based on my situation.  I had tried to use the information that he had given me to solve things, but websites didn't work, people didn't answer phones and my phone Portuguese is still pretty remedial.  But I had to figure something out.  And I did.  But they way that this person asked questions made me feel like I was dumb and that I had made an irrational decision.  And coming from another person with experience living abroad, it stung. 

The truth of the matter is that I still don't know how many important things "work" in Brazil.  I was not born and raised here, and I am still limited in being able to communicate.  And sometimes I don't do things right.  I don't pay at the right counter.  I don't get the school supplies in time.  I don't understand that Beatrice has not been held back at school (oops, that was a big boo-boo that we made).  I don't understand that I should save every receipt.  I don't know that you are supposed to open the door for a guest when they leave so that they will come back.  I don't know that you aren't supposed to give children cold water to drink.  And I don't know about laws, regulations, and procedures.  I know that Brazil has many systems in place to protect people, and for the most part they work.  Things happen.  People are protected.  The way this happens is foreign to me and mind bogglingly complex.  So, it is tempting at times to feel like Brazil is in chaos.  As an outsider, it just looks messy.  I did not break any laws with my solution, and I did not put anyone at risk.  But this person that I spoke to made me feel like I had taken an uncalculated risk, I should know better.  And I started to question myself, my decisions, and I started worrying.

In my opinion, worrying is not helpful but in fact self-destructive.  The reality is that life is dangerous and full of risks.  We get sick.  We get hurt.  We love people, and they don't love us back.  We try to do things to protect ourselves (and we should), but you can't manage and control everything.  As an expat parent, there are SO MANY more things you can worry about.  I could make a HUGE list of things that I've worried about.  But there has to be a point where you extend some trust, when you let it go.  It's a challenge.  But I have calculated the risks, and I ultimately think that we are coming out ahead. 

I probably shouldn't have let this get to me.  And my husband says that what I wrote isn't clear because I didn't give all the details for the situation.  But, it has helped to write it out.  And I'm going to move on:  we're driving to Sabará today with some friends to use a Peixe Urbano (like Groupon in the states) coupon at a "resort!" 

Monday, March 5, 2012

2 Years Ago Today

Today marks the 2 year anniversary of our (me and the kids) arrival in Brazil.  It's hard to believe it's been 2 years already.  I remember how hot it was that day, and how green everything was.  I remember dragging Beatrice past the security guard to deposit her in Daddy's arms, and then how I ignored the same security guard who told me I couldn't go back in to get my luggage.  I remember how amazed I was by our friends Marcio and Luiza and their family; they were so generous and hospitable, giving up beds and space in their tiny apartment.  I remember crying when I saw that all our luggage and totes had actually made it.  I remember the noise, the horns, the people talking in a language that I couldn't understand at all.  I remember thinking that the city was alive with sounds, people, music and energy.  And I remember that I was totally overwhelmed. 

I think that living an expat life requires a certain kind of "crazy."  Being an expat is not for everyone.  I love it, but I recognize that not everyone can do what we are doing.  Living this way demands flexibility, the ability to accept the unknown, to hold two opposing truths together simultaneously, and a huge amount of patience.  And perseverance.  The past two years have been full of learning, growing, and doing things that I never thought I'd really be able to do.  This experience has changed me, and changed our family. 

We moved from the desert to the cerrado (pronounced seh-rah-du, meaning tropical savanna).  There were many wonderful things about living in Arizona, and it was a hard, hot, dry place.  I'd like to think that our move has been metaphorical; that we had been in a harsh, difficult climate.  And now we are dwelling in a flourishing, abundant and fertile place, growing and becoming better people.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dishwashing soap: a bar?

In the US, we were blessed with a dish washing machine.  It was great.  Put dirty dishes in, fill with dishwasher detergent, turn on and voila!  Clean dishes!

Our first apartment here had a dishwasher.  It was tiny, and I was told by several people that it would be really expensive to pay for the energy to run it.  Since we don't have running hot water (I've yet to visit a house/apartment here that does), the dishwashers have to have the ability to heat up the water (like the shower heads).  This means running the dishwasher gets expensive.  So we just never bothered with it.  And as a result, we did lots of dishes.  

We moved to an apartment without a dishwasher.  And I still do lots of dishes.  I know that some say that the products here are made so that clean up is a breeze, but I disagree.  It takes a lot of scrubbing to get those pots and pans clean.  And it does require a lot of soap.  But a few months back a Brazilian friend of mine recommended using Ypê bar soap.  There are a couple different brands, but 
this one seems to be the best.  They are sold in packages of 5 or 6, and it looks like this:

I wouldn't necessarily say this kind of soap has revolutionized my dishwashing, but it is cheaper because the soap lasts for every.  You just rub your sponge on the soap, work up a lather and wash away.  It's a little less convenient, but it's one area in the household budget where you can save a little money.  And that's nothing to sneeze at!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Rebirth of Carnaval in BH

Apparently Carnaval is experiencing a renewal in Belo Horizonte. As I mentioned here before, we went to a little tiny bloco in Santa Tereza. But our Brazilian friends who were with us told us it was nothing compared to the blocos earlier in the week, and the one at Praca Da Liberdade. And the videos and pictures below give you a little taste:


 Who knows?  Maybe BH will become "the place" to go....I kind of doubt it, but it's fun to see some new and creative things happening in Belo.