Saturday, October 31, 2009

The (Three year-old) Wedding Crasher

What’s a girl to do when it’s Halloween and you’re in a country that doesn’t celebrate this wonderful occasion to wear a costume? You dress up (in your fanciest three year-old dress) and crash a wedding.

We live a block away from a beautiful cathedral called Igreja Nossa Senohra de Lourdes. On the odd Friday or Saturday night when we are actually out past 7, there is often a wedding getting under way. This is like eye candy for Ginger. Ginger and I have spent a handful of evenings watching the goings-on from just outside the gate as the wedding party gathers. She is absolutely hypnotized by the full-length gowns in a rainbow of colors that the women wear and the pageantry of the bride exiting the car and having the wedding coordinator re-arrange her train.

So it’s Halloween. The closest the kids have come to celebrating is Ginger wearing butterfly wings and Bas a cape on the way to the library this morning. Throwing the kids a bone, we let them pick out a restaurant as a ‘treat’ for the evening. No surprise when they select McDonald’s for dinner. (The ironic thing about McD’s is that it is not cheap. In fact it is rather expensive here. The kids just want the cheap toy). On the way back, we walk by the cathedral and notice the goings-on. Ginger and I make a quick decision that we’ll go back to the apartment around the corner, throw on some nice clothes and watch the wedding from the inside this time.

We slip in a side door and grab a seat at the back of the church. I give Ginger whispered directions about what is happening and what to expect. We inch to the center of the empty aisle for a better view. She is riveted when the main doors open and the parade of people pass inches from her. There are at least fifteen couples who walk down the aisle before the doors close again as the bride arrives and has last-minute pictures taken in the entry-way. The doors open again, the music swells and Ginger is in love.

I keep asking if she is ready to leave. There’s lots of the priest droning on and not much to keep my attention. But not so for Ginger. She’s soaking it all in. The most entertaining thing for me was when one of the photographers, in a rush to get the vows captured, tripped over the bride’s very long trail. Her head yanked back, but amazingly, she kept her poise and the show went on.

Ave Maria played when the vows had been exchanged. I’m not Catholic but hearing this song made me appreciate the fact that my workmate at the University of Texas had the Elvis version at her wedding. A Portuguese version of “And the Way You Look Tonight” played while the bride and groom had pictures taken before walking back down the aisle. Ginger and I took this moment to investigate a group of young girls who were dressed like a bride and her bride’s maids hanging out at the back of the church. Too funny.

As we left the church, the bride and groom were getting in their car to head to the reception. On the way out, we passed another bride in another car waiting to get her wedding under way.

Oh, and just to give you some perspective, Brian spent the afternoon in a favela (shanty town) conducting interviews. And so our life goes.

Friday, October 16, 2009

When Uniform-ity is Not to Our Son’s Liking (Bas the Rule-Breaker??)

It seems like everyone in the service industry wears a uniform here. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the bakery, the auto shop, the grocery store, the restaurant or the car rental place. Everyone has a defining outfit. Upon reflection, it occurs to me that the same is more or less true in the US but that I don’t notice it as much because I don’t see workers on the street, waiting for the bus like I do here. Americans jump in their own cars and head home. But the thing that is different here in Brazil is that uniforms are also required for people to belong to a school or club.

Who would have thought a bathing suit would have reduced my 5-year old to sobs of distress? Bas just started swim lessons at ‘Gota d’agua’ (water drops) Club this week and like everywhere, there is a required uniform. In this case, I had to purchase a Gota d’agua-brand Speedo. Bas was skeptical as I pointed out all the other boys and male instructors wearing the same style suit. But it was beyond the pale when he put it on. The tears quickly turned to sobs as he begged me to get it off him. “It’s too short! It shows too much of my legs!” he cried.

Fifteen minutes of his half-hour lesson ticked by as he refused to get in the water because of his embarrassment over the suit. I finally talked the instructor into letting Bas wear his swim trunks on top of the Speedo. She said o.k. but that this was not usually acceptable and that in the future, he would need to wear the required suit and bathing cap (another mountain to conquer). Oh, and they wouldn’t let him wear his swim goggles either. He had to learn to open his eyes in the chlorinated water. Geez. Do they want him to enjoy this experience or not?

And now a word about Brazilian bathing suits. Most Americans have a vision of some knock-out Brazilian model in a thong bikini strutting her stuff down Ipanema Beach. Yes, it is true that many women here choose this style of bathing suit (whether it is suited to her body type or not), but I have also seen women in a much more modest one-pieces (at least in the more conservative state where we live). Brazilian men tend towards a Speedo-style suit called a ‘tsunga.’ Like the women’s suit, the tsunga is not meant for all types, but all types wear it. I have had to quickly turn my head to hide my laughter when I’ve seen middle-age men exercising in their suits. Ah, the body beautiful! The ironic thing is that some of the younger guys who could actually carry off a Speedo are the ones who opt for the cooler surfer swim trunks. Where is the justice?

Oh, and just to add insult to Bas’ injury, Ginger coyly announced that when she takes swim lessons (starting next week), she’ll like her new bathing suit (a girls’ Speedo-style suit). We’ll see how this one plays out considering her fondness for the bikini.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Honeymoon’s Over... Bring on the Blind Dates

As in life, living abroad has its ups and downs. The initial time in a new place is often referred to as the honeymoon period. Everything’s different and exciting and it’s all a challenge to figure out, but hey, you’re living in another culture! Then little things start to get under your skin and you don’t feel so very amused by all the little quirks of the place. Alas, this hit hard for me a couple of weeks ago. Brian was out of town - the second time in two weeks, the babysitter canceled a half hour after she was supposed to be here so I could escape to a movie or just hang out in a cafĂ© or something away from the two people who dictate my life 24 hours a day (did I mention that they are both under four feet tall?), and the reality of having no friends here became a bit overwhelming. Poor Brian didn’t know what hit him upon his return.

So after a heart-felt conversation, a couple of things became clear. We needed family time away from the city and I needed to start meeting people. The first issue was ostensibly easier to master, although Brian wishes he had more hours in the day to accomplish all he has set out for himself. We sat down with the calendar and mapped out when and how often we could get away. In fact, we just spent the last weekend at a hotel-fazenda about an hour outside of town. It was fun and relaxing and Bas and Ginger had playmates in some older kids who were staying at this working farm/hotel as well. Did I mention that the big attraction was that 9-year old Andre and 11-year old Lorena spoke pretty decent English? The kids were over the moon. They’re lonely, too. We rode horses (Ginger loved it, Bas wasn’t so sure), ate way too much rich food, always followed by even more dessert, and splashed in the pool. We awoke to the amazing non-city sounds of cows mooing, horses neighing, and so many different bird calls, it was hard to tell them apart.

The second order of business was a bit more challenging. I have not been able to meet women whom I might be able to befriend here. As I have mentioned, most families have two working parents, kids from three years and upwards are in school and when not are taken care of by the nanny/maid, and on the weekends, most middle-class families seem to leave the city. So the people I have contact with on a regular basis are the folks working in the shops that I frequent and the twenty-year old nannies who watch the under two set here in our building. Everyone’s friendly enough but don’t know what to make of me.

I finally took the bull by the horn and started contacting the few Americans who are living in Belo Horizonte. I basically started setting up blind dates for myself. I met Julie, a Californian, down here on a two-year contract with the US Embassy to teach English, for a matinee on a Sunday. As I left the apartment, I felt a certain loosening of the shoulders that became a certain lightness of step as I exited our building and headed the couple of blocks down to the art cinema. Dare I say it? I was giddy. We met later in the week for a coffee date that lasted two hours, only ending because I needed to pick up the kids from school. Neither of us knew where the time went. It was such a relief to connect with another adult (besides Brian) and be able to talk about how our lives are being influenced by our new home in BH.

Tomorrow I have another ‘blind date’ with Emily, a woman from Iowa who has a 5-month old. Their family is moving back to the States at the end of the year, but I have heard that Emily has started an English book club that meets once a month, so I will happily attend the next couple of meetings before summer vacation begins. I also have in the works an English/Portuguese language exchange with Lea, an older woman who seems to have a lot of time on her hands as well as a lot of patience, a perfect combination for my language needs.

So now the only thing that needs addressing is how to get all the day-to-day things done, like entertaining the kids, grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking (egads, I sound like a 1950’s housewife) now that I have the beginnings of a social life.