Thursday, March 28, 2013

I got 3 packages in the mail!

What an exciting week!  We don't get much in the mail here.  In the US there were days that I could hardly get my mail out of the mail box because it was so jammed full of flyers, grocery store advertisements, bills, magazines, and whatever else.  Here, we get next to nothing.  We might get a bill once a week at the beginning of the month (when the bills are due), but that's it.  So you can imagine my excitement about receiving 3 packages in the mail this week!

1.  Replacement battery.  My cell phone battery started acting up in January.  My phone would power down and refuse to turn on, and would go from having 50% power to nothing all of the sudden.  When I lived in the states, I probably would have just gone to Verizon and requested an upgrade to a new phone.  Or better, I never would have been in that situation because I would have already received a new upgraded phone on the one year anniversary of my contract.  But in Brazil, we repair and get new parts, and the earth thanks us.  Unfortunately, my phone is not a super popular model here, and I was told that I could not find a replacement battery in Brazil.  Bummer.  I decided to try shopping online, even considering having a battery shipped to the US and then delivered to Brazil by a visitor.  But then I found the website  I found my battery (or at least a Chinese version), and I could pay in Reais, and reviewers said that they had indeed received batteries in Brazil.  I ordered on January 31st, and it arrived March 25th.  They ship it as a gift (from Singapore), so that is how (I think) I was able to get it without paying taxes.  Plus it was valued under R$30. Yay!

2.  Replacement end cap for our AeroPress coffee maker.  This little coffee device is amazing.  It's fairy inexpensive, small, and can make even bad coffee taste decent.  But unfortunately we lost the end cap.  I think it accidentally got thrown away with the used grounds.  I had a friend who was willing to bring me one from the US, but since the part is shipped from Canada it wouldn't make it to Arizona by the time this friend was returning to Brazil.  I called the company, and a very friendly man named Dave assured me that they had successfully shipped to Brazil, and it would probably come in 6 to 8 weeks.  And it did!

3.  Package from my parents with birthday presents!!!  This is the best by far.  My mom has learned how to send packages:  indicate that the value is less than $50 USD, and write things like books on the content list.  I almost cried when the mail man brought it.  

So why is this such a big deal?  I have heard many stories about expats who have not received packages, or who have had to pay exorbitant taxes to get their stuff.  So it's seems like a gamble to have things shipped to Brazil.  With the first 2 items, I was desperate, so I figured it was worth it.  If the items didn't come, I'd be out about R$50, but it was worth the risk.  Thankfully, the risk paid off. And (knock on wood) we've actually received almost all of the items I've had shipped.  The only thing I never received was a book I ordered within Brazil, and that was during our first year, and I just gave up trying to talk to someone at the company to get it or get my money back (chalk that one up to bad Portuguese).  What about you?  Do you have any stories about receiving packages?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Reflections on culture: School Performances

I realize that many of my recent posts have been rather on the "fluff" side.  So I thought I'd venture into the subject of culture.  I realize this is a rather larger topic, with potential to irritate readers.  But I feel a bit irritated, so you can join me.  I'm going to focus in on what I've perceived as one cultural expectation that I have perceived in Brazilian private schools.  Here we go.

As y'all know, I'm a music teacher at a Brazilian private school.  I teach in English (thank God!  Can you imagine the mess it would be if I were to teach in Portuguese??!)  I love my job, and I love the opportunity to influence students, to enjoy music with them, and even sometimes hear them say "that was fun!" or "I learned something!"  One thing I DO NOT like about my job are the performances.  After 3 years of wanting to pull my hair out from the frustration that I experience with these performances, I finally this week realized that it may have something to do with Brazilian culture and expectations.  As an American (and as a parent and educator), I do expect that my children would participate in some kind of performance at their school.  My expectation for preschoolers (age 3 to 5) is that they would hopefully be able to stand in front of a small group of parents and family members and just do something.  Clap.  Move some body part.  Shimmy or shake.  MAYBE move their mouth and have some kind of sound come out.  But for me, just seeing them doing something is enough.  Since I am American (and a parent and educator), I bring these expectations with me to my job here in Brazil.  My first year teaching, I was asked to help the Kindergarten class prepare for their graduation.  Naively, I agreed, making the assumption that it would be a cute little song with some motions performed for the families.  Boy, was I wrong.  I should have known by the professional invitations, professional memory books, and tailored caps and gowns. 

My culture says school performance 

educational, enjoyable for the children, simple

Brazil private school culture says school performance 



School performances (from my perspective) in Brazil are not really about the children.  They are about pleasing the parents (after all, who is paying the bill).  And parents want to see their kids singing and dancing.  Even though their 3 year old doesn't speak in complete sentences and will only obey when bribed with cookies, somehow the expectation is that their little João Felipe Pedro II is going to be AMAZING.  There will be live music! There will be props!  There will be elaborate choreography!  

Obviously, I can't get on board with this.  For 2 years, my mantra has been "developmentally appropriate."  It's not "developmentally appropriate" to expect a preschooler to perform in front of a group of 500+ strangers.  It's not "developmentally appropriate" for young children to be able to sing songs written for adults.  It's not developmentally appropriate for preschoolers to sing and dance simultaneously.  But all my talking has been for nothing.  Because I'm dealing with culture. It is part of the culture to have/value/participate in "shows."  It's part of the culture that celebratory events would be extravagant.  And it's especially part of the culture that you plan for something WAY bigger than you can pull off, with the hopes that it would miraculously come together (and often times, it does!)  All this didn't become crystal clear to me until I had the chance to speak briefly with a Canadian education specialist that has been visiting the schools.  She shared about this same phenomena occurring at other Maple Bear schools in Brazil, and how she has finally had to realize that these expectations are part of the culture.  And even if the expectations are crazy and developmentally inappropriate, they are culture.  We North-Americans working in Brazil can't expect research and logic to trump culture.  I suppose it would be like a Brazilian going to the US and scheduling a major test for 2nd graders on November 1st.  It might be the best time to give a test, the children might be ready, and it might be convenient.  But there's no way that any parent would deny their child the chance to participate in Trick-or-Treating or a Harvest Festival or whatever celebration your family enjoys on October 31st.  

So, here I am.  I'm trying to figure out how to operate within this culture that I have chosen to live in. By no means do I want to try to whip these little 4 year-olds in to shape so they can be singing like Mary Poppins.  And by no means do I want to work myself to the bone in the next month.   I haven't quite figured out how to merge these two cultures, so right now I'm just hanging out in the clash.  But I'll keep you posted.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Horsing around

Yesterday I got a ride home from one of my co-workers.  We were coming from Alphaville/Lagoa dos Ingleses to Belo Horizonte.  The traffic was bad (normal).  We were slowly creeping down a road with 4 lanes of traffic, when we came upon 2 horses crossing the street.  No saddles.  No owners.  Just 2 horses, out for a walk in a large city in Brazil.

I probably wouldn't have found this blog-worthy, except that 2 weeks ago, I came home from the Clube with the kids, and we found this in front of our apartment:

Yep, that's a horsey.  He's pulling a cart of scrap metal.  Our neighbors were doing some work, and a guy came up in his cart to pick up some of the leftovers.  Stray horses causing traffic and a horse drawn cart parking outside our window remind me that I just never know what I may encounter here!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Oh my.  It is hot.  I've always told people that Belo Horizonte is the San Diego of Brazil.  The temperature generally is around 75 degrees.  But this past week has been miserable.  It's been hovering around 30º Celsius/86º F, and we had rain last week, so it's been horribly humid.  The thermometer may say 85º, but it feels like 95º.  Keep in mind that air-conditioning is very rare.  There are some stores, the mall, the movie theater, some university classrooms and some cars (thankfully ours!) that are air-conditioned.  But for the most part, we just have to suffer through it.  Fans help a bit, but really, everybody is just sweating profusely.  

I'm NOT looking forward to going to work today.  First of all, I have to walk uphill with my backpack full of supplies.  I'd drive but parking is impossible, and besides, Matt is taking Sebastian to his futsal (soccer) practice.  Then I get to teach 3 classes of about 20 preschoolers in the morning, and then 3 classes of 20 preschoolers in the afternoon.  The classrooms are upstairs, and essentially saunas.  My classes involve dancing/jumping/stomping (think, "what do 4 year olds really like to do?").  But these 20 preschoolers are hot and grumpy, and so they tend to not want to follow directions and cause all sorts of discipline problems.  So imagine me with sweat pouring down my legs, hair all frizzed out, trying to herd a class of hot kids.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cooking from scratch

I have been in the kitchen all weekend!  Mostly this is by choice, but it also has to do with the fact that convenience foods ( i.e. frozen prepared meals, canned soups, good cake mixes) are a little harder to come by.  You can find canned beans (as in black beans) and various options of prepared items, but in my experience they are not always very good tasting, or they are loaded with MSG and nasty conservatives (which is also true in the US) but mainly they are just more expensive.  Although it is changing and becoming more expensive, there is still the option of hiring domestic help that cook for you from scratch.  Or you just eat out.

But I am not normal, neither in the US nor here in Brazil.  I like cooking and baking, and I like my family to eat healthy, home cooked meals.  But sometimes it gets a little crazy.  Like this weekend.

Friday night:  the husband went to bed early, so I made Overnight Coffee cake.  Very yummy, but too much sugar for my liking.  The kids ate it with homemade yogurt that I had made 2 nights earlier.

Saturday:  the plan was leftovers, but Bea's vegetarian friend came over, so ended up making fried eggs, farofa, and limeade in addition to reheating beans and rice.  We just had sandwiches for dinner. At night I made Yeast Waffles (I add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon) for the next morning.  Oh, and I should mention at the hubby made vanilla ice cream to go with a "failed" batch of Chocolate chip cookies that he had made.  The idea is to use the "bad" dough to make a pizookie.  Yum.

Sunday:  there was leftover whipping cream from the ice cream recipe, so I made a strawberry sauce  and whipped cream for the waffles.  I made baked chicken (without the sauce), pasta, and a white sauce for lunch, and served salad with homemade dressing.  (Well, I cheated on the homemade dressing.  It's Hidden Valley Ranch packets mixed with mayo and milk.  But I had to mix it!)  I currently have split pea soup cooking.  

Few!  Now I need a weekend from my weekend.  Thankfully Irene, out helper, comes 3 times a week to help with meals and clean up!

Here's a list of other things I make from scratch on a regular basis:
enchilada sauce
chicken noodle soup
pasta sauce (the husband does this one)
oat bread (the husband does this one too)
snacks for school (muffins, cornbread, etcetera)
taco seasoning (for ground beef)
maple syrup (imitation)
juice (squeezing oranges, watermelon, pineapple)

Anything else you fellow expat readers make?  It can be Brazilian or other....let me know!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Happy brazilversary to me

Tuesday this week marked three years since we arrive in Belo Horizonte.  

The day passed pretty unremarkably.  Matt went to work.  Dora walked to school (she now studies in the morning).  I stayed home with the other 2, but managed to squeeze in a few errands.  We had Strogonoff for lunch, which all the children like.  It is hard to find a meal that everyone likes here in the R-K household.  I took Beatrice and Sebastian to school, and then worked.  I combed through Dora's hair, because we have yet AGAIN another case of lice (the 3rd or 4th time for Dora).  I made sandwiches for the kids for dinner, and then went to a meeting at work, where I shared for 5 minutes IN PORTUGUESE about 1st Grade Music Class.  Then I came home and did dishes and laundry and went to bed.

Like I said, it seems pretty unremarkable, which is significant.  After three years of living here, we've been able to "figure out" how to do "it.'  By no means have we integrated.  We (Matt and I) are not fluent.  We are still very much strangers in a very strange land, and almost daily we are aware of just how much we don't fit in here.  But not only do we know how to do the day-in-day-out stuff, but we have figured out how to make a life for our family here.  I schedule play dates for the kids.  We call the Internet company and complain about our slow service, and after 3 weeks we actually get something accomplished.  I have learned to ONLY go to the bank before 10 am and after 4 pm to get cash, so I don't get stuck in the HORRIBLE revolving doors security system.  We have learned how to make the most of some bad circumstances (see all the mishaps tags), and we know that you should never really turn down an invitation to a party.

And what makes me proud is that we have done this ourselves.  We were not brought here by a big company that found us housing, paid for our kid's schooling, and helped us deal with the bureaucracy.  We are not married to any Brazilians, so we don't have family connections.  We are a unique situation, and we came here for unique reasons. And we have learned on our very own.  When I stand back and consider it all, I really don't know how we have been able to do it.  It really shouldn't have worked out so well.  But it has.  And it is good.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Help me identify this fruit

A while back, I took my kids to the Praça Assembleia (the Government Park) and I noticed some interesting trees with pretty flowers.  They also had these large, brown fruits, and in the inside was kind of white.  Anyone know what this is?  I've spent about 15 minutes searching online, and no luck. Thanks for your help!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Massimo Vitali photos in the NY Times

Massimo Vitali

Good Sunday Morning!  My husband faithfully reads the New York Times, and shared these photos with me.  They are beautiful! Nothing of Minas Gerais, but interesting pictures of Brazil.  Enjoy!