Tuesday, September 13, 2016

One Year Later!

Today marks one year since we arrived in Brazil. Most of my days here are uneventful, even bordering on boring. Wake up, make coffee, take Maicon to school, hang out with Alessandra, clean the house, pick Maicon up, make dinner, sleep, repeat. Other times we're visiting breathtaking sights or learning about rural farms or meeting Amazonian natives. And then there are the disasters like trying to figure out how to get to and use the emergency room when Maicon splits his nose open.

Last week was one of those disaster days. When we moved here I stopped pumping breast milk for Alessandra because my supply had dropped incredibly during the move and more so in the month that followed. When she started drinking formula, she had trouble digesting it. We tried formula after formula for three months until she was old enough for milk. Then we started dealing with a whole new wave of digestion problems. As per her doctor, we tried brand after brand, full fat, zero fat, zero-lactose, and a slew of digestive medicines. Finally around 7 months later, and without the doctor's help, we realized soy milk was the only thing she could digest. (Let me add that the reason it took us so long to figure it out is because although we live in a city, it's a very remote city. We had a hard time finding soy milk and when we did, it was very expensive - almond milk is even more expensive and she hated coconut milk, which we did try. Forget hemp milk, that's not even a thing here). If I knew then what we would go through, I would have fought to keep pumping, but I at the time I thought 9 months was a good accomplishment.

Because she was so incredibly constipated by the milk, she was drinking a lot of juice at the time. You would think that natural juice is abundant here, but unless you make it yourself, it's not. Even the popular fresh-squeezed juices are either orange juice loaded with added sugar or sugar cane juice. Instead, the cheap juice "drink" packed with a pound of sugar is what we bought. At the time it was sugary drink > extreme constipation. Unfortunately, the sugary drinks led to bottle rot. So now we had to find a dentist for her, but we were told that they wouldn't work on her teeth and that they prefer to let them fall out.

Let's recap the difficulties of being an expat - A simple problem, a milk allergy, was exacerbated by unfamiliar and unavailable products (formulas, milks, medicines). It should have been remedied by a trip to the doctor and if I had been communicating in my native tongue, I could have been more demanding about advocating for her health. This simple problem led to bottle rot and the culture here meant her teeth would continue to rot until they fell out. Am I painting a picture of how simple problems can be really huge issues for an expat?

Fast forward to last week. While playing with Alessandra I hit her in the mouth with a toy (ON ACCIDENT) and knocked her front tooth in half. It was still connected, but when I put orajel in her mouth I felt the tooth bend back completely, even though the top of it was still firmly in her gums. So I knew her tooth was broken, but not broken off. Queue the worst mom guilt you can possibly imagine. I felt so god damn bad I wanted to throw up. I immediately threw Maicon and his cousin in the car and dropped them off at my sister-in-law's so that I could take Alessandra to the dentist. I rushed to Farley's work and told him what happened. Together we visited three different dentists who said, "Sorry, we don't treat kids." We were given the name of a pediatric dentist and sped off to her office. But of course, her office was closed for the day (because this seems to be our never-ending bad luck here). We'd have to schedule an appointment the next morning and who knew when we'd even get in. (Spoiler alert, everything is okay. We found an amazing pediatric dentist the next day who performed an emergency root canal and informed us that the other dentists were wrong, wrong, wrong - they do not prefer to let the teeth fall out. She had two teeth capped today; now we just have to get the rest of her teeth capped).

Dejected and heartbroken, I drove Alessandra back to my sister-in-law's to pick up Maicon. My sister-in-law told me about how her son had broken all of his front teeth as a toddler and that everything would be okay. She reassured me that it's difficult to accomplish anything here even for native Portuguese-speaking Brazilians. I was so grateful to have a support system, I started to feel slightly relieved and the nausea began to subside. Alessandra was laughing and playing with their dog, and I was further relieved to see her behaving normally. When we returned home, our neighbors were sitting outside telling jokes and as soon as they saw the kids, they called them over for hugs. We sat with them for a few minutes and I felt grateful (again) to be included in the conversation. Everyone shared stories of their own experiences with bottle rot and broken teeth and dealing with a difficult Brazilian system. Soon a family walked by and my kids took off with theirs to play on a stage next door. (The restaurant across the street uses it to host musicians). Alessandra was running and laughing. You would never have known that she just had a root canal.

Brazil is a very difficult to place to live if you're not living off of foreign income. But the community is unlike anything I've experienced in the States. The extended family has extremely high value and adult children normally live in the same house or neighborhood as their parents/cousins/aunts/uncles. They are physically affectionate - kisses on the cheek accompany "hellos." Children are treated as equals and are included in adult activities and functions. Sociability is important and expected. (I'm often told, "You disappeared!" if I don't socialize for two days). All of this adds up to a support system that has been a saving grace for me. In the States my family was scattered, Americans are more formal with personal space, children are not welcome in many settings, and introversion and individualism are normal. There were many, many difficult times where I felt that I was "going it alone." There was a never-ceasing, underlying stress to my life. I would basically get through one problem only to become embroiled in the next and it seemed like my body and spirit were always tense. It felt like I was always treading water but my mouth had already sunk below the surface. That's not to say that I don't feel stress and anxiety here. Which should be obvious if you read the beginning of this post. But the community here is genuine and supportive in a way that allows me to de-stress and relax in between problems. There is always a group to say, "Hey we've been through that issue too, it will be okay" without a hint of "but you should solve your problem this way," or judgement, or shaming.

So in some type of summary: the past year in Brazil has been difficult, but the community has made our journey an experience instead of a disaster.

I know this post was long and rambling and possibly incoherent at times - but that's a perfect reflection of life in Brazil! Thanks for sticking with me for this first year. Here's to year two!


  1. Perfect. Everything is gonna be fine :) sempre acaba em pizza, lol

  2. I have felt the support of community more here, in small town Goiás, than where we used to live in the bigger town Rondônia where I felt more judged than supported. I guess it really depends on where you live in Brazil. I have been told that bigger town are different and more individualist too, but I haven´t had the chance to experience life with extended family around either. I guess that will change soon! Can't wait! :)
    Happy Brazilianniversary! I'm glad I've "met" you!!! :)

    1. Glad to have met you as well! I think there's a special kinship among us expats.

      Our city has about 200,000 people, but my mother-in-law was VERY active in the community, so it feels like a small town to us. And it helps (?) that we're cut off from other cities. When we lived in NJ, every town blended into the next.