Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Vitoria - Ocean Edition

It was almost a year ago that we took a little vacation in Vitoria. We went to the beach for nine days straight. Nine days. My poor, white, American body was red by the time we left. Like lobster red. Can't sit down, can't stand, don't touch me, where's the lotion red. But it was a blast. We're hoping to travel to Bahia this year but the economy is really suffering (which means our income is suffering), so we'll see how it goes.

Speaking of sunburns, we made sure the kids were heavily lathered in Banana Boat sunscreen every day (which is obnoxiously expensive here). As I mentioned earlier, I am a Cotz Face Sunscreen addict. It's broad spectrum SPF 40, has a sheer matte finish - no need for foundation - and is free of preservatives and chemicals. On other days I use Olay Regenerist Regenerating Lotion with Sunscreen, broad spectrum SPF 50. I'm trying to keep this face as healthy as I can because the sun is no joke here.

We also buy the kids' swim clothes that have UPF protection built in. We're fans of the Carter's swim sets, but Alessandra's currently using iPlay rash guards and reusable swim diapers which are UPF 50. We also have a reversible iPlay bucket hat for her. Her blonde curls don't do much to keep the sun off her scalp and I hate putting sunscreen in hair. So far we've been able to keep the kids burn-free!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Welcome to the Crazy Train(zinho)

There's a little piece of entertainment here that is every bit amazing as it is structurally dangerous. Have I mentioned that there's very little to do in our city? Oh yeah, I just wrote three blog posts on the singular children's park/nature reserve. The trainzinho (there are two or three actually) is a ride that drives around the city blasting music and blinking neon lights. Think double decker bus with only two seats and an invitation to certain death. The walls are chest high and there are polls to cling to. It's really more like a party bus met a welding torch and continued on its way. 

It's actually pretty fun. The bus drives around the city blasting funk, popular Brazilian hits, and English dance hits at whatever volume a thousand megaphones is. It's R$2 to ride and lasts somewhere between 30 minutes to an hour (I've never clocked it). Of course my kids inevitably fall asleep because despite the noise and lights, if they're in a moving vehicle for more than six kilometers, they're out. 

Last night's trip came with a bonus act in the form of a very drunk man and woman. I saw the blow up coming and I was in full mama bear mode. We were on the second floor, but at the very front there are five steps that descend to something like a lowered observation deck. It's a popular spot for girls to grab the poles and show you everything they're working with. We noticed one woman who was really going the extra step and giving us a free anatomy lesson. Then I noticed the guy she was with. Or who was trying to be with her. She alternated between dancing and sitting. When she was dancing, he was slapping her ass; when she was sitting, he was grabbing her arms. 

We sat down because the kids were getting tired and the couple sat down in front of us. I saw him grab her upper arm and she shrugged his hand off. I was trying to size them up at this point to figure out their relationship. Was this a drunk couple just being obnoxious? Are these two strangers and is he preying on her? Then he grabbed a handful of her hair at the back of her head. She pushed him off and put a water bottle to his face yelling, "DRIIIINK DRIIIINK." The bottle wasn't so far away from us that I couldn't tell it was alcohol. At that point I thought they must have been a couple who got on the trainzinho and drank way too much and now they were experiencing the melodramatic outcome. Mind you, children are on this ride. It took every ounce of me not to reach forward and hit this guy when he pulled her hair. But, when I'm with my kids, their safety comes first and I can't involve myself in something that might get them hurt. I did wonder when security would show up. Apparently someone had already thought of that, because security jumped in front of them about ten seconds later. Then shit hit the fan.

Drunk guy grabbed drunk girl by the back of the hair again and dragged her out of the seat. Oh hell no. I screamed "STOP!" in Portuguese and everyone else who was paying attention started yelling at them as well. Security tried to grab the guy and he pushed the woman down the stairs onto the observation deck. This ride is all metal, guys, and she landed on her back/neck/head. Okay now is actually when shit hit the fan. Security was pushed out of the way as another passenger knocked drunk guy into the seats in front of us and started punching him anywhere a blow would land. I screamed stop again and pushed Alessandra onto the floor so the back of the seat in front of us would become like a guard for her. I reached across our seat and put my arm over my nephew and son to block any blows from coming their way and to give them a sense of security. Drunk guy's hand was clinging to the seat back in front of my face and I worried that either the blows or his body would cross into our seating area.

Then everything erupted. People ran to the back of the trainzinho, but I was blocked in by the seats. Without having any idea where these people came from, I looked forward to see five or six guys straight up beating drunk guy's ass. He was now lying on the floor in front of the seats and being kicked and punched from every direction. I couldn't see past them to where the girl fell and I worried that she was seriously injured. Very quickly, more security came and dragged drunk guy down to the street where passengers continued to assault him. After a few minutes, security grabbed the woman and carried her off, a guard carrying each limb. She was drunkenly rambling about being kicked off the ride, but security had had enough of the bullshit from both of them. I thought they really should have driven to another neighborhood to drop her off. I was concerned that drunk guy would continue to attack her in the street. I couldn't see what was happening behind the trainzinho after they were both off, but I believe the irate passengers disembarked as well to finish doling out their street justice. After a few minutes, the trainzinho bolted forward and we continued the ride as if nothing had happened.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

You Think Your Police Are Bad..

This weekend I experienced something that I had never experienced in the States. Fear of police. I'm not ignorant to the fact that for a lot of minorities this is a common experience. But as a white, middle class-ish female, this was new territory for me. It's not like I was physically threatened or in any way purposely intimidated. Back home, two of my friends were police officers. (And we're actually good friends with one here). Once, while picking up some Chinese take-out, an officer let Maicon sit in his car and play with the lights and siren. That's one friendly incident in a lifetime of community outreach and "hey kids, the police are good guys" programs. But in Brazil, the police aren't your buddies. Here, the police have a job to do and don't give a fuck if you like them or not. They don't have time to waste on your perception. But the bigger issue is that corruption is rampant among officers and you, the average Joao, better guard your interaction with every one of them.. just in case.

Which brings us to last Saturday night. Our upstairs tenant is headed to Portugal next month, so she wanted to spend some time with her boyfriend. We have a one car garage, but my husband parks his motorcycle into the enclosed alleyway (for lack of a better word) past the garage and her boyfriend has left his moto there as well. So when she asked me to pull the car out so her boyfriend could bring his moto in, I thought, "No problem." Except that her boyfriend pulled in and left his moto in the garage, blocking my car from entering. I noticed, for the first time, that he was a policeman (the uniform was an obvious giveaway). I had only seen him in regular civilian clothing previous to tonight. I asked if they could pull the moto into the alleyway so that I could bring the car in (note: my husband hates the car being left outside because we live on a busy street and have been keyed before). He waived me off saying, "Oh I'll only be 20 minutes." 

This seems like a small issue, right? And in the scheme of life it surely is. But our tenant knows that we prefer the car in the garage and she knew she implied that I would pull the car back in after her boyfriend arrived. There was no "lost in translation" moment about that. Now what was I to do? Argue with this officer that I didn't know? Demand that he bring his moto in or take it outside? They had already ascended the stairs which was some pretty clear body language that he wasn't moving that moto. Instead, I said, "Ok.." and left it alone. Because in that very moment I realized that this guy had the potential to make my life very difficult and very expensive at best. I feared retribution for a perceived slight. And as a foreigner, I live in a legal grey area where I'm unprotected by US laws and only partially protected by Brazilian laws. I don't have the full rights of a citizen, nor do I understand the system in any way that would give me confidence to stand up to this officer. His girlfriend was soon leaving, so there's no motivation on his part to keep things civil if I offend him. 

I thought to myself, "Now I can leave the car outside and deal with my husband's pissy attitude about it or I can tell this officer to move his moto and potentially face retaliation." Damned if I do. There is a very subtle understanding that opposing officers here is not a good idea. I don't know this guy. I don't know what his reaction will be. I'm a strong-willed, independent, outspoken American woman, but I was silenced by fear. I was reduced to a timid, subservient yes-man. That's how corruption and fear work. I didn't even have to be threatened. The fear of being threatened (justified by a centuries-long history of corruption culture) was a threat in and of itself. Of course the type of police corruption the average Joao is more likely to encounter is a simple infraction (usually vehicular) that can magically disappear with a little dinheiro. But I knew this guy had the plate numbers to our car and motorcycle and quickly imagined being pulled over every time I left the house. And since I'm driving without a license, that's something I'd like to avoid. But that's a corruption story for another day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Parque Natural Municipal - Part III

I promise this is the last post on the park. The last of this series, anyway. This place is so massive, it was easy to make three posts out of it. 

The park has a small food and drink area where you can purchase P I C O L E (we're going to need massive assistance for the withdrawals if we ever give it up). You can also purchase chips, other small bagged snacks, sodas, water, and they just started selling rice and tropeiro. We haven't tried that yet as I like to take the kids home for lunch and then the inevitable nap. Praise be to the nap lords. The picole is a little expensive, starting at R$2.50. For reference, the street venders' prices start at R$1. 

There is a building that is supposed to house some type of educational center for the kids, but it's been closed every time we've visited. I hope we can check it out at some point, but in Brazil I've learned not to hold my breath.

One of my favorite little spots in the park is a garden area that they've recently expanded. It started with a paved floor featuring an overhead structure and mosquito nets completely encompassing the area. I didn't get any great photos in there, but I think it's supposed to demonstrate all the different plants that can be grown here and what they can be grown in. Some of the pots are actually tires, soda bottles, and old crates. 

I've been trying to get a small garden up and growing at our house, but when I created one behind our house, the lizards and mice ate everything. I have an idea to create a container garden on the third floor patio. However, that's been delayed by a lack of containers and dirt. It's actually quite difficult to grow anything here because the soil is almost completely sand. (Which I discovered doing this nifty little composition test.) We can purchase soil, but I've put it off as there always seems something more important to purchase. Looking at you, food. The economy is god awful right now. Rest assured, when our little garden is up and running, I'll document it all on here. For now I just visit the park and look longingly at their neat and bountiful display.

These sprouted in our compost area - can't wait to see what they are!