Tuesday, September 15, 2009

When a second glance becomes a stare of curiosity

So if the fashion and cultural center Rio is the Brazilian L.A., the business center Sao Paulo is NYC, and the capitol Brasilia is Washington D.C., that means unassuming Belo Horizonte is Chicago. BH (pronounced ‘beh-ahGAH’) is the third largest city in Brazil, but not many non-Brazilians know where it is or what it’s famous for (for the record, it’s the capital of Minas Gerais which is the size of France, which means it’s also the size of Texas). Minas is part of a huge plateau that runs across much of Brazil’s interior. As the name indicates (‘General Mines’), the area is rich in metals, both precious (gold and diamonds in the 17 and 1800’s) and other (mostly iron ore today). Because of this, the capital is quite wealthy and has done some pretty cool work to minimize hunger, raise the quality of life for the poorest, and lessen the numbers killed each year (no small task in a large city with such disparity of wealth).

In the month we’ve been here, the kids have quickly become urban beings. Riding our bike everywhere in Boise has become a distant memory. They are expert walkers, and in addition, now know how to wave down the bus, pay the fare, hail a taxi, safely jaywalk (or at least know that they need to run right next to me against oncoming traffic), help their dad rent a car so we can get out of the city on weekends, and can identify and understand what the homeless are. The thing that got Bas was not that these people didn’t have a home, but that all their possessions were in little bags around them. The kids also have an understanding what ‘favelas’ (or shanty towns) are. Since we live in a middle-class neighborhood of a city with one of the highest quality of life indexes in the nation, I sometimes wonder if the children have a true understanding of Brazil, a rich nation with very uneven distribution of wealth.

The kids are now going three mornings a week to their playschool, I have found a yoga class (Ashtanga) that I attend once a week, and Brian’s research is going gangbusters. He is being pulled so many directions, he’s like elastic man. I guess you’d say we’ve settled into a routine!

This weekend we attended a festival called Bonecos do Brasil (Puppets/Dolls of Brazil). There were 10-foot high ‘giant’ puppets leading a parade, yet I swear, we got more looks than these! I’m just trying to figure out when a glance becomes a second look becomes a stare of curiosity. I’ve had a lot of experience with this with travels in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It’s not our skin color… Brazil is an amazingly heterogeneous nation, race-wise. It’s not our speech or language… The stares come from too far a distance for us to be overheard. It must be how we dress and act. I’m the first to admit that I’m no fashion plate. Never have been, never will be. But I’m pretty sure I’m the only woman under 75 who’s not dying her hair to cover up the grey. I’ve seen so many shades of fake red, it could fill a paint palette. My use of a backpack and my comfy Chacos definitely add to the oddness. I am not sporting pants as a second skin nor ridiculous heels on these cobbled sidewalks. And as I’ve mentioned, Ginger truly has a style of her own. Other little girls prance around in matching sets with matching socks and shoes. Not Ginger. She is an original, mixing elephant tank top with butterfly flalmenco pants and a bikini top on top of it all. Oh and she usually wears plastic bracelets and three or more necklaces at a time. Perhaps this is what catches passers’ by attention. Regardless of the look, it almost always ends with a smile and then we wave and say “Oi. Tudo bom!” even from a distance. And adults, in passing, often reach out and give Bas’ or Ginger’s head a touch and a smile, something you would never see in the US.

Ginger moment: She always refers to our apartment as our hotel room. I wonder how long this will last considering this is her home for the next ten months…

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