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.