Monday, May 30, 2016

Nine Months In

We're approaching the nine month mark on our five year journey in Brazil and I'm feeling... humble. In the States, my husband and I worked a million hours a week and were constantly dealing with the stress of two kids, a mortgage, living hours away from family, and everything else that comes with life. It was easy to get caught up in the stress and most of the time I felt like I was treading water with my head barely above it. No matter how hard we worked or how hard we tried to stay on the good side of karma, it often felt like we weren't making any forward progress. We were house poor, our kids were a handful (albeit the main source of our joy), and every step forward was met by two steps backwards. It was easy to feel like we were in it alone.

It's not like living in Brazil has been a breeze. We're sick all the damn time, there was a drought that led to the city cutting off water to our neighborhood for three days more than once, then a major disaster that poisoned our water supply all together, our house flooded, I've been unable to find work, and there's the ever-present cancer battle that my mother-in-law is fighting.

But despite that, our family and friends have shown time and again how much they support us. We've received care packages - beauty supplies from my mom, peanut butter and an Amazon Firestick from my coworkers. My uncle and aunt took care of our mail and property until it was sold. They've mailed some items down to us that I realized we needed (I'm not going to go into the accompanying tax note, oiiiiiiii). My brothers have accepted some Amazon packages and forwarded them down to us. My best friend has been a rock, reminding me that I'm a good mom and that the difficult times don't last forever. And on the day that I'm writing this, a bunch of people from Facebook did me the huge favor of clicking on some blog ads to help me earn a tiny income. It's not lost on me that all of this takes time, energy, and money. 

I care a lot about others and I try to show it. I know in the past five years I haven't been there as much as I should have been for my friends and family. It was nearly impossible for us to take the little expat anywhere for the first few years of his life. I've missed weddings, graduations, barbecues, invitations to hang out. Still, our friends and family are there for us. I feel so incredibly humbled and moved that people care about us enough to make our life here just that much easier/more comfortable/peanut butter infused. So here's a huge thank you, thank you, thank you!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cachoeira / Waterfall

The view looking away from the waterfall.
The water is so shallow, it's perfect for kids.

The sister-in-laws and youngest cousins.
"Our spot"
The grill and table set up. Nature's finest! 

The littlest expat developed a taste for lipstick (literally) and my sister-in-law's rings.
Crossing the stream to get back to the car. 
Nothing like a long day of swimming and eating to tucker out a little expat.

About thirty minutes from our house is a waterfall that costs R$2 to visit (boo, it's not free). It's one of my favorite spots in Brazil, even though it's just a small waterfall frequented by locals. When we go, the whole family goes. That's my mother-in-law and her boyfriend, my three sisters-in-law and their three spouses, my husband and myself, and five kids. Soooo, yeah. We always bring a portable grill and my mother-in-law will bring her rice cooker full of hot rice and beans. And we always have plenty of cold beer and water. The water is so shallow that it's really safe for kids. Although, there are no lifeguards or anything, so our son always wears a life vest. Even though we had a pool in the United States, he couldn't get the hang of swimming (too scary for him). Thankfully, it's only deep right under the waterfall itself. We stay there for hours just swimming and eating and relaxing. When it's so hot in the summer, I actually prefer spending the day there to sitting inside with the air conditioning on full blast. I'm always exhausted by the end of the day because the kids are so much work, but it will be nice in a few years when they're a little older and more independent. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Elementary School in Brazil

[I can see from my husband that the system here is lacking in a lot of things that I consider common knowledge. He's an incredibly intelligent person - I'm amazed sometimes by the gambiarras and other things he comes up with. However, he knows very little about how the human body works. Very little about sciences. (TMI, I'm sure, but when we were dating and I had a yeast infection he was absolutely horrified. He didn't understand what it was or how I got it, accused me of not cleaning well enough or cheating. It caused such a huge argument that I forced him to call his sister - who works in a clinic - to explain it to him). He believes that somersaults will break a child's neck. Walking on cold tile with bare feet will cause you to become sick. And a plethora of other "wives's tales" type misinformation that we were educated about in middle school.]

My son attends a municipal school that is two blocks from our house. The school day is from 8am to 4pm. There are 15-20 kids in his class; he has a teacher and at least one aide every day. There is a lot of good to say about the school, but a lot of bad too. There have been some "holidays" where we showed up to the school to find it closed. Brazilians love a four day weekend and have holidays for every tiny occurrence. I mean really, one of the biggest holidays here celebrates a "holy" statue that some fishermen found. (Okay I'm not religious in any sense and I find the Evangelicalism here insane so excuse my blasphemy). 

Last year the school decided that they would renovate and re-vamp it into a proper elementary school. They also created an age cutoff, so now only 4-8 year olds attend and the older kids attend a newly built school in a developing section of the city. There was a big meeting at the beginning of the school year to address the changes and we parents had to sign a type of contract that listed health and other information about our kids. We also had to identify who would be allowed to pick up the kids after school and were told IDs will be created for those people. The principal said that they would no longer allow other kids to pick up the children (I mean seriously, there were 10 year olds picking up 4 year olds). She also said that they would crack down on pick up times - because apparently some parents weren't picking up their children until 6pm or later - and wearing of the school uniform. Every school in our city has a t-shirt uniform; our uniform is red and grey. We opted to buy the sleeveless version, since the schools do not have air conditioning. Now that it's getting colder, I might buy one with sleeves, but he usually just wears a sweater in the morning. I love the t-shirt uniform because a lot of the kids are extremely poor and I think it helps equalize the students and take the focus off of "who has what." (They already do that enough with their backpacks and shoes). I wish all schools in the US had the same requirement. 

One thing they mentioned at the meeting was that they wouldn't allow the parents to bring the kids into the classrooms for drop offs any more (it was taking too long for the classes to begin and too many students were crying for their parents). After the meeting, the parents would have to drop the students off at the doors and for a few weeks they would have escorts for the children. There were not a lot of parents at the meeting and I told my husband I had no doubt that there would be some angry parents the next morning. And naturally there were. I even heard one woman yell, "Oh I'm going in. They think they can stop me, but they can't." And I couldn't help but think, "Well lady, if you're so concerned with your child's schooling, maybe you should make it to the meetings." But that's Brazil.. Anyway, I was very pleased with the meeting and all the changes to the school because it feels like the school is taking itself more seriously.

They don't get any homework, so I have no idea what he's learning. I do know the classes are by age, so this year he is with all 4-year-olds and next year he will be with all 5-year-olds. I also know they sing songs and do small art projects. His favorite song is about an alligator who will bite your ears off if you don't hide them. You can listen to the song here. So very Brazil. We always ask what he learned today and one day he told us, "We learned not to kick our colegas (colleagues), not to bite our colegas, and not to hit our colegas." I don't know if that was a part of the curriculum or need-driven learning, but it's good stuff to know!

My son will only be in school here until he is 9 and my daughter will only attend for one year. Since we don't know what he's learning at school, we do supplement at home. We have a few pre-school workbooks and we're working on reading with some Dr. Seuss books. I try not to stress out about what he's learning now because he's still very young. He also has (undiagnosed) ADD and I know he won't get the proper attention he needs here. Special education programs are non-existent at our school. But, being in school all day really helps because it keeps him occupied and helps him exert energy. (Which makes the both of us happy). I'm more concerned with him developing social skills at this point. So we'll take it for what it is and work on the important stuff at home. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Positive Me

Someone recently asked me if I'm anti-American and accused me of being pessimistic. That really came as a surprise to me, because I'm never been as genuinely happy in my life as I am now. For a long time I wanted to be a positive person, but stress really held me back. Living in Brazil, in a culture that values family and spending time together, and being able to be home with my kids every day has made a world of difference.

But don't think that my life is any easier here than in the States. In a lot of ways it is much, much more difficult. On Thursday it rained something fierce here. It started overnight while we were asleep, which means we hadn't plugged the sewage/water drains in our bathroom and rear patio. I awoke to my husband yelling my name. As I walked through the kitchen to the back patio where he was, I realized the floor was covered in water. I opened the door to see about half a foot of water flooding the patio. So we spent the rest of the night shoveling bucket after bucket of shitty water into the garden and any container we could find. But instead of being pissed off or feeling sorry for myself, I thought, "Well at least we didn't lose any property or people. Just get the job done and tomorrow is another day."

I've always had great endurance, whether it was long distance running (disclaimer: I've never been a fast runner, but I can run forever), ten years of military training, dealing with an ADD child, or moving halfway around the world to a third world country I'd never been to. But I've often trudged through things thinking, "Why me? When is it going to get easy for me? Why can't my life be like so-and-so's?" Something in me snapped and all that went away. I don't know if I can put a finger on exactly what prompted the change, but closing down my Facebook and deleting my Imgur and Reddit accounts went a long way into helping. Cutting out the constant negativity of anonymous internet assholes as well as the "picture perfect" people allowed me to refocus on myself and my family. I spent so much time immersed in a fake internet world that I'd lost sight of reality. I've become much more connected with the world by disconnecting myself from it.

And I have a theory that the most patriotic people are expats. Experiencing a completely different culture and lifestyle is the perfect foil to help one really understand and appreciate their own culture. Much in the way that disconnecting myself from the world allowed me to see it, "disconnecting" myself from the States has really allowed me to see it. I mean... do you truly and enthusiastically appreciate your clothes dryer and clean water? Or are they just there? When you purchase McDonalds do you eat it slowly, savoring each bite? Or do you scarf it down in the car because you've got stuff to do? Is a trip to Walmart a chore that you just have to get through or an exciting adventure because you can finally purchase peanut butter, which you haven't had in eight months? I love living in Brazil, but I miss a lot of things about the States. I appreciate American culture in a way that you can only appreciate when you don't have it. So if you hear me say things like "Americans are complaining about sharing a bathroom and Brazilians don't even have clean water #firstworldproblems," it's because I believe Americans should appreciate things rather than complaining about the silliness of the week. America is truly the "land of opportunity," so don't degrade it by arguing over petty issues. If your biggest gripe is that you don't want to share a bathroom with a transsexual, then you live a pretty amazing life. Recognize that.