Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When life sounds like the teacher from Charlie Brown

You know that teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons who sounds like “Wa-wa-wahwa-wa-wa-wa?” Well, I’m pretty sure that’s how the kids are viewing life right now. It is obvious that we are not going back home any time soon and that this living in a strange land with people speaking another language is their reality and they are not particularly pleased with the situation.
Brian is fluent in Portuguese and is the reason we are here in the first place (on sabbatical from Boise State, to do some research, a Fulbright helping fund our time here). I have lived here one other time but should be much better at the language (for me it sounds a bit more like “wa-wa-a word or two I recognize-wahwa-wa,” as I smile and nod, but for Bas and Ginger, it might as well be a cartoon for all they understand at this point. Now that the novelty of our move is behind us, the real part of living abroad begins.
The kids had their first day of ‘school’ this morning. After spending last week visiting pre-schools in the area (public education does not begin until first grade), we discounted all that required the kids attend daily for 4 1/2 hours or more as well as requiring students to wear uniforms. As far as I can tell, most middle-class families have two working parents, so the pre-schoolers play with their maid in the morning, and attend a more ‘academic’ program in the afternoon. We really don’t see the need for our 5- and 3-year old to be asked to sit at a desk for such long stretches so opted for the morning session of the one school that didn’t have a uniform requirement (at least not in the morning session) about 20 minutes away by foot. As one parent described Colibri, it’s ‘after-school’ but before school, meaning one big playtime in the morning (their academic segment is in the afternoon as well). Once Bas and Ginger realized that they would be attending something akin to ‘kid-watch’ at the Y or Ginger’s Mom-and-Tot class at Wesleyan, the kids were quite happy to spend the morning romping around the playground and going in and out of the dress-up playroom and the like.
The one major drawback is that there aren’t many kids there in the morning. The director of the school says it’s because it’s cold season (there are signs everywhere about N1H1 and the importance of washing your hands and covering your mouth when you cough), and as the weather warms up and kids are in better health that there will be more kids in the morning session. We’ll see. But at least we have a place for the kids to begin to hear Portuguese from others and attempt to make some sense of it in a nice, safe place a couple of days a week.
On the plus side, we spent last weekend out in the country to celebrate Brian's birthday. It must have agreed with the kids, because Bas said 'I didn't like coming to Brazil, but I like this (spending the morning walking along the rocky banks of a river with lots of little waterfalls).' It's a start!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

We made it!

We made it! 29 hours from Davis door to Belo Horizonte hotel door. Even with a two-hour mechanical delay on our overnight flight departure in Chicago (which then meant we would miss our domestic connection in Brazil and have to wait another 5 hours in the Sao Paulo airport for that flight), the kids rocked. It helped that the Brazilian under-19 basketball team (just having participated in Portland’s Nike International Challenge) was on our overnight flight and the charismatic and English-less leader, 17 year-old 6 foot 10 ‘Bebe’ took a shine to Bas and Ginger and rallied the rest of the team around entertaining the kids during the delay. Brazilians are known for being a gregarious and boisterous bunch, and this team proved so. The head flight attendant even had to make an announcement for our gaggle of hoopsters and our kids to calm down and take our seats. When the captain made yet another announcement to say it would be at least another 20 minutes before we could depart, Bebe quipped in Portuguese that, after all, they were Brazilians, and that 20 minutes delay was nothing to them. This remark would prove itself true time and again. I should probably learn from this but I think it’ll take me months to let go of my American punctuality.
Once in town, it also helped that Brian had set up an appointment for the morning after our arrival with the one rental company that had fully-furnished apartments for under a year’s lease in our price range in the area of town we wanted to live. This was harder to find than it sounds considering most places here require a year commitment or, in some cases, a three-year lease. And that the Brazilian economy is booming (the US dollar has lost 15% of its value to the Brazilian real in the last three months) while the US economy continues to wallow didn’t help our cause either. Landlords aren’t exactly falling over backwards to meet our needs as renters.
As luck would have it though, the one apartment we all looked at is well-situated (4 blocks away from the central park, 4 blocks in another direction from a well-known plaza, easy walking distance to the central market (think indoor flea market meets animal portion (fish, dogs, chickens, ducks, peacocks, parakeets in small cages, stacked several cages high) of the county fair), the main public library which has a small children’s section, and an American-style (and American gourmet-priced) grocery store); has two bedrooms (the kids will be sharing a room and a bed for the first time in their young lives); and more space than our apartment when we lived in Madrid (now we have a whopping 720 sq. feet). We’re pretty pleased at how fast we were able to make this happen – arrive in Belo Horizonte on Wednesday evening, look at an apartment Thursday at noon, move in Friday afternoon. Besides a soft mattress, scratchy sheets and lumpy pillows (the pillows have since been upgraded), we’re doing really well and are now exploring the area and are on the look out for a school for the kids to attend a few mornings a week.
And a bit about the kids:
Bas has done amazingly well thus far. He is willing to interact with strangers, even those speaking another language. He is really taking things in, studying how and what is being done. He is trying new food and walking everywhere (this is a really hilly city), all without complaint. He even says he’s ready to start school immediately (I think he misses his friends and is hoping to meet some kids his age soon for lots of rough and tumble playtime).
The first thing Ginger asked upon waking up on our overnight flight was if we were in Brazil yet. When I opened up the window cover to allow a large blast of morning light into the dark cabin and pointed out the window, saying “That’s Brazil!” Ginger smiled and said, “I like Brazil!” I hope that stays true. She hardly ate the first two or three days here (an amazing thing for those who know her) but seems to have found her appetite again now that we have a ‘home.’ And her fashion creations draw quite a bit of attention. She loves wearing her butterfly flamenco pants with a tank top, finished off with a bikini top over that. Wow. And I’m not completely sure Ginger has actually touched ground in Brazil…she much prefers that I chauffer her around in the stroller (which again, draws lots of looks since even kids who are just learning to walk are walking!) in this very hilly and very not-smooth sidewalk city.
I’ll write more later about discovering the city and our search for things comforting.
We miss you all and would love to hear from you now that we have an internet connection in the apartment and can check email!

Friday, August 7, 2009

On the Road

We’re finally in motion! After months of planning for our trip and weeks of packing up, stowing away, giving away, cleaning up and clearing out our house for the renters who will move in this weekend, we are en route to Brazil, via California, where we will eventually fly from Sacramento to Chicago to Sao Paulo to Belo Horizonte next Tuesday.

But before that very long day of flying, we had another long one in the car. Yesterday we had a twelve-hour drive, starting before dawn, to Brian’s parents’ house in Davis. Five hours in, Ginger announced that she was ‘done being in the car.’ Weren’t we all! But the kids did an amazing job entertaining themselves and us for that many hours.

Some high-lights on the road…
Seeing the street sign ‘Chicken Dinner Road’ outside of Marsing (makes me want to take that right turn and see what’s down there)
Driving through southeast Oregon at dawn, as the high desert was cast in light and shadow, while we listening to the Star Wars soundtrack. It was more on the annoying side when Bas requested the same album for the tenth time in Nevada. Although slightly endearing that Brian could describe what was happening in the movie based on the music.
Bas asking questions like “Where does the sky begin?”
Ginger requesting then serenading us to the Gourds’ “Country Girl” (wake up wake up! We’re going to the country…)

Arriving to an empty house - Brian’s parents, JoAnn and Dave (who just celebrated his 70th birthday in late July) are out hiking a chunk of the Pacific Crest Trail this summer - we quickly shed our road weariness for a dip in a public pool then dinner out at the fantastic evening farmer’s market in downtown Davis. Now we’re spending the next 4 days at the family cabin on the Russian River, just chilling with the kids. We’ll even get to spend a few days with JJ, Kira, Sophie and Leo.

You forget what a fortunate situation you are in to be able to pick up and try something new for awhile until it’s time to say your goodbyes. That’s when friends and random folks who hear of your adventures away tell you how envious or happy or in awe of your life they are. We were lucky enough to spend our last evening in Boise with some wonderful friends. The children ran around while we sat and chatted over glasses of various concoctions and talked about random things.

It’s bitter-sweet to say goodbye to the good life you are leading at that moment. You have to hope that the one you are leaving it for is just as rewarding in its own way and that you’ll be welcomed back to the fold when you finally come back home.