Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Festa Junina

Festa Junina occurs around June 24th or 25th to celebrate the nativity of St. John the Baptist. It's worth pointing out that we're not Catholic and that Brazil is making large shifts towards Evangelicalism. But, it is still Brazil, so the country celebrates the Saints as national holidays. I studied the Bible quite a bit while in college - English literature connects back to it so often that it's necessary. But admittedly, I don't know a lot about the Saints. Long story short, St. John prophesied the coming of a messiah, i.e. Jesus. To be honest, I've heard nothing about St. John during all the Festa Junina celebrations. 

The party is really similar to a country fair in the States. It takes place in a large tent-type set up. At the little expat's school, it was in the gymnasium. The parties I've been to in the States occurred either outside with no cover, or outside with a tarp-tent set up (minus the walls). Men and boys dress up as "hillbillies" (or peasants/farmers) with checkered shirts, jeans with patches, and straw hats. Women wear "hillbilly" dresses (usually checkered again) and will wear their hair in pigtails or braids. People will paint on freckles and mustaches. The party features lots of dancing and music - a lot of the music is folk songs or children's songs - and of course fireworks. Brazilians will light off fireworks at 9:30am to celebrate a chicken laying an egg. Really, they set them off for everything. In our state, Minas Gerais, "Caipira" culture is displayed during Festa Junina. Caipira is used similarly to "red neck." It can be used as an insulting or self-identifying word. (It's also the root of Caipirinha.) Sometimes Festa Junina will feature a mock wedding with a silly acted out story of the bride getting pregnant and her father forcing the offender to marry her - a shotgun wedding. It's supposed to convey a little moral story to the viewers, but it's usually more funny than educational. 

At Maicon's school, the students and teachers wore traditional Festa Junina clothes and each class performed a dance in a roped off area in the middle of the gym. Maicon's class of 4 and 5 year olds featured a dance that consisted basically of jumping up and down in circles. But it was adorable and they all had a really good time.

Festa Junina is a little different in every state, but here is a great link to a comprehensive guide.  You can read all about the different dances, food, drinks, songs, etc. Although, it is in Portuguese. (Bust out that Google Translate app!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Apps We Love

(There is no sponsoring on this post - or on any previous posts - so the following are all 100% unbiased recommendations!)

We brought two iPads to Brazil. An iPad for Maicon and an iPad mini for me. I mean, we already had them in the States, but we knew they would be important tools in our "let's keep this new house uncluttered with toys" battle. Alessandra has since taken over the iPad mini because honestly these kids don't let me keep anything for myself. But it's worked out great, because now I have the Kindle all to myself to actually read books again. Both iPads have Garmin Survivor cases. (You can find them here. Again, no sponsorship.) We had a simple case on the mini while I was using it and surprise, surprise I dropped it and the screen shattered. Maicon's iPad has had the case from the beginning and has survived many plane trips, drops on the ground, and various liquids spilled on it. If you're going to put out the money for an iPad, you might as well put out a little extra for a cover to make it last.

The other great thing about the iPads - iTunes gift cards! As I've posted before, there's always a giant fear about receiving a tax note on presents mailed to us, plus the cost of shipping for the gifter. (It's around $50USD to send a 4 pound/1.8 kg box to Brazil). My mom recently sent Maicon some iTunes gift cards for his 5th birthday and he was over the moon. We usually allow him to download free games, but ones that cost money are off limits. Knowing he could download almost anything he wanted (GTA is still off limits, sorry five-year-old) had him acting like he won the lotto. 

To the apps! We've always loved the iPad for our kids because there are so many games for them to play that teach them things. They think they're playing, I know they're learning, win-win. We are huge fans of the Toca Boca Apps. We have Toca Doctor, Band, Kitchen, Lab, Hair Salon, Hair Salon Me, Builders, and Cars. Some of them are free, some of them cost money. If you watch the app store, the Toca apps come up once in a while as the Free App of the Week. We try to hold off on the $ ones until they're free, although we have bought some in a bundle before. The great thing about the Toca apps is that they are so interactive they really allow the kids to explore their imaginations. They also feature a lot of puzzles and problem solving games that are appropriate for both our one-and-a-half year old and our five year old.

One of the Toca Doctor puzzles. They're playing and learning. 

Then there are the Originator apps. We love the Endless Reader, Endless Numbers, and Endless Alphabet apps. They can be downloaded for free, but there is a limited amount of free content. To access additional words/numbers/letters, "packs" have to be purchased. (This is where those iTunes gift cards come in handy!) These apps are amazing in a few ways. Colored and patterned words/letters/numbers jump around the screen, while the middle of the screen features an outline of said figure. The kids touch the colored figure and drag it to the outline. While touching the figure, the figure wiggles and verbalizes what it is in a really silly voice. For example, while touching the word "all," the figure says, "All! All! All!" Every time Alessandra touches one of the figures, she ends up in a fit of giggles. I'm always amazed when I watch this toddler who learned how to walk only 6 months ago, putting letters together to complete words. I know she doesn't understand what it all means yet, but it's a huge start. And since we don't have easy access to a ton of books in English (we did bring some with us), I love that Maicon has exposure to sentences in English. I'm hoping that these apps will lessen the learning gap when we return to the States.

The colored words "funny," "in," and "the" bounce around the screen until matched with their outlines in the sentence.

Finally, they both have the Netflix and YouTube Kids apps on their iPads. They don't typically watch Netflix on their iPads, but it has saved us from a few meltdowns about conflicting movie choices. I'm really not a huge fan of YouTube Kids because of how addicted the kids are. However, it does allow them to watch a lot of English nursery rhyme videos - things they wouldn't have access to otherwise. The popularity of the ChuChu TV channel is awesome because all of the videos have an Indian overtone (the team is based in India and run by Indians after all). Indian culture and identity isn't well infiltrated in the Western World, so I'm happily surprised that the kids have some exposure to it via the ChuChu TV videos. (You can read an older interview with the ChuChu TV team here.)  And no YouTube Kids review would be complete without mentioning my "Family Finger song" PTSD. If I never heard it again, it would be too soon. Moms, dads, you know what I'm talking about. If you know of a petition to have the Family Finger songs banned from YouTube, pass along the info. I will gladly sign!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What I Love About Brazil

I've had some posts that discussed my frustration and annoyance with Brazilian culture, so I'm really overdue for telling you what I love about this country. 

The people. (Oh sure, just contradict yourself left and right, Jeanie!) I should say more specifically, I love the friendliness of the people. There is a community feeling that is very genuine. Maybe I'm biased because I lived in fast-paced, tell-it-like-it-is New Jersey. But when I interact with people here, even a passing hello, there is no underlying obligation of politeness.

My house is in a great location; two blocks from my son's school and one block from the grocery store. We're also within walking distance to the post office, clinic, the lotteria where bills are paid, and most things I need on a daily basis. Since we're so close to everything, I try to walk everywhere. And because our neighborhood is so small, I run into the same people every week. I know the moms at the school drop off/pick up. I know the grocers, deli workers, cashiers, and delivery guys at the supermarket. We go to the supermarket every morning to purchase fresh rolls for breakfast. As we walk into the store, the delivery guys say hello (one practicing his English with "Good morning!"). I call them Alessandra's friends because she's always so excited to see them. Sometimes she even blows them a kiss goodbye. The deli workers and cashiers love to hold her and Alessandra always waves goodbye to them. I know the old man who runs the office supply store. I know the two young guys who work at the internet cafe. I know my neighbors to the right, left, across, and down the street. I even know the neighbors on the whole route to the elementary school. I even know most of the neighbors in my mother-in-law's neighborhood. Governador Valadares is a city of 200,000, but the communities are tight-knit.

Everyone knows everyone. Alessandra is a mini-celebrity of course with her "exotic" blonde hair and blue eyes. I guess we all are. A Brazilian amiga of mine told me that when Americans would come to the small town her parents grew up in, they were celebrities, unbeknownst to them. I have experienced this at least twice. Once, I took my son to buy candy at a house near my mother-in-law's. I was told "Just knock on the green door." I knocked, it opened, and the woman said, "Oh you must be Farley's wife!" And just yesterday, I needed to buy a "hillbilly" hat for the Festa Junina party at my son's school (post on that to come). I reached out to a local Facebook group and after some conversation, a woman and I realized our children attend the same school. She said, "Oh yeah, I know you, the American." And everyone is always asking Maicon to speak both Portuguese and English for them. (Dance, monkey!) There are a lot of Brazilians in our city who used to live in the States, but I've yet to meet anyone who speaks both languages fluently. So it's quite the spectacle for adults to see him switch languages so fluidly. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

We've Landed - Part IV

When the jet touched down, we had to walk across the tarmac to get into the tiny, tiny airport. We were greeted by my husband's three siblings, whom he hadn't seen in 11 years. It was extremely emotional. I think I was in a state of shock at that point because I felt myself hyperventilating and clinging to the kids. Everyone was crying and hugging and moving around. It was very overwhelming. There were two or three cars waiting to take us to the hospital to visit my mother-in-law. My in-laws took over all of our belongings and threw them into the cars and at some point the confusion subsided and we took off. (Here is where I admit that despite my protest to install the car seat, I was told, "No, no the hospital is right up here, we have to go, there's no time!" And thus began a much longer than promised ride to the hospital with my nine month old daughter on my lap. There are, in fact, car seat laws in Brazil, but like all the other laws here it's frequently disregarded.)

Disclaimer: the following description is what I saw and felt when we first arrived. To say it was a culture shock doesn't even come close. Most of what I'm going to write will sound very negative, but I don't mean it to be. After living here for almost a year, a lot of this is normal to me now. But coming from the clean, well manicured lawns of suburban New Jersey, it was a lot to take in. So read what I write with a grain of salt. Brazil is not New Jersey and it's not the United States. Building codes are from what it seems like non existent; there are no laws that I know of against abandoning animals; and streets are not maintained by the city (okay that's not exactly true, there are street cleaning crews but it seems like they get to each street once a year). And of course there is the rampant "throw your trash on the ground" culture. So please keep in mind that this was my personal first impression and I've grown to love Brazil despite this first impression. Sigh. Okay. Here we go.

A lot of the roads are not paved. There are a lot of brick roads. There are a lot of pot holes. It's extremely bumpy. That was the first thing that stuck out at me. We were bouncing all over the road and even though we were only going 40kmph, it felt like Mario Kart combined with four wheeling. There are also a lot of random, very steep hills. I felt like we were going to crash at any minute. I still often feel like our SUV is going to roll right over when we descend the hills where my MIL's house is.

I remember thinking how dirty everything was. We live in a desert state and it's extremely dusty and dry here, which leaves everything with a fresh coat of dirt less than 12 hours after being cleaned. There was also actual trash lining most of the streets and in the grass and foliage. It's on sidewalks, in planters; honestly the garbage is one of the things I haven't gotten used to. It's a result of laziness and ignorance and it really bothers me that this beautiful country should be made so ugly. My kids have learned that my only response to littering is, "We will not trash this country like everyone else here! It's a disgusting habit and you kids will not do it." The lake at the end of our street was renovated with new light fixtures, separate paved walking and biking paths circling the lake, new sod, new workout equipment, and a new playground. The lake was dredged and re-stocked with fish. Less than a week after the re-opening celebrations, the whole place (including the water) was filled with litter. Just....why? (With the dirt and garbage and us arriving in a terrible heat wave, the smell was awful. Admittedly, I'm rarely offended by the smells anymore, but I have a terrible sense of smell to begin with).

The last thing that stuck out so clearly was how every building was smooshed into the next one. Any given block is a solid row of buildings connected to one another. Most of the buildings are two or three stories and feature a full patio on the top floor. Yards are cemented or tiled into oblivion. It's extremely chaotic and visually displeasing. Walking from one house to the next, each sidewalk features a different style of tile, and the sidewalks are different heights. It's nearly impossible to push a stroller or a wheelchair down a block. I see a lot of people walking in the streets instead. The small back or side yards that some buildings do have butt up against the concrete wall of the next building. The only sky one sees is if they look up. 

I'm interested to see what my first reactions are of the States when we return (if I have any reaction). I imagine I must after being here for so long. Either way, I've become accustomed to life here, and the roads, trash, and buildings all seem so normal now! I guess anything feels normal if you experience it long enough.