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 café 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.