Saturday, January 30, 2016

Zika - Part II



Rain, rain, go away! Moments before it was sunny and hot. The rain pops up suddenly and is pretty fierce.
We squeegee the rooftop patio from time to time to remove freestanding water.

The streets are poorly paved (if paved at all) and there is no drainage system. Puddles sit on the edges of the road until they dry up in the sun and heat.
   
The Dengue Police stickers found in every bathroom.

The Dengue Police inspection sticker on the back of a bathroom door.

This is a newly installed door. You can see the gap between the door and the frame, which allows mosquitos to enter. Although that doesn't really matter, since most people leave their doors wide open to let the breeze in. Even in stores with air conditioning, the doors are left open.

A typical bathroom window. No screen to prevent mosquitos from nesting in the toilet or water on the floor of the shower.

A typical older style window, still found on many homes. No screens at all to prevent mosquitos from entering.

This is the window in my son's bedroom (as seen from the outside). It's a sliding glass window. We made the screen ourselves, since we couldn't find one to buy. Even with the newer windows, most people do not have screens.

Garbage waiting for pick up. The garbage is collected three times a week. No effort is made to collect any garbage that fell out of a bag or didn't make it into the truck. And it's sitting in a a rain puddle on the side of the road.

Garbage that was either never picked up, or carelessly thrown there by pedestrians. I wish I could say this is abnormal, but this is what every street looks like.


Repellent for kids is R$20.90 for 100ml (less than 1/2 cup).
Repellent for adults. 100ml again.

300ml of bug spray for about R$10.



From what I'm reading in the news and seeing on Facebook, people are either terrified of Zika or not worried at all. I think the truly obnoxious photos of Brazilians hosing down fields while wearing hazmat suits and the truly sad photos of babies with microcephaly are feeding the craze. 

My advice: if you're not pregnant, don't sweat it.  While I had Zika, my neighbors and I sat around a table outside discussing the fact that we didn't know a single person who had been infected. And apparently that's because the symptoms are often so mild, you don't know you've been infected. Half of the reason why I went to the doctor's was because I wanted to prove to my husband and myself that I could go alone. Otherwise, I probably would have experienced a few more days of joint pain and then it would have gone away without me being any the wiser. 

So, what's the point of this post? If you didn't already know this - Brazil is very, very different from the US. Climate and culture. Which results in a huge, daunting mosquito population and prime mosquito breeding conditions to continuously fuel that population. Brazil is a "trash on the ground" culture like China. It's one of my HUGE pet peeves about this country. It's so beautiful here, WHY are we throwing trash on the ground? Here's one way this thinking works: we were at a street party  and my son had ice cream on a stick. When it was gone, I looked around for a garbage can (elevated baskets on the sidewalk). My sister-in-law said, "Just throw it on the ground, there is a sweeping crew that will clean the street after the party." My gasp was audible from the other side of the city. And what if it randomly rains and all the trash is washed away? And what if the sweepers strike (since everyone is always striking here)? And if these sweeping crews are so effective, why is there trash all over the god damn place all the time? Because Brazilians are used to this "throw it on the ground, someone else will pick it up" attitude and haven't had environmental protection shoved down their throats. This is one point where I don't feel like I'm coming from a my-American-ways-are-the-best-ways holier-than-thou position. It's fucking trash, put it in a garbage can. 

Ok, sure we have the Dengue Police (see previous post), but it rains a lot, and randomly, and that leaves puddles everywhere. Puddles for mosquitoes to reproduce in. Puddles and tall grass. I haven't seen a single lawnmower here. I have seen street crews cut down grass with from time to time, but they use weed wackers. 

As for repellent, well I hope you have money. Let me remind you that the average Brazilian makes around R$50/day. It's R$10/can of Raid. R$20/100ml of repellent for a baby. And long sleeves/pants? Forget about it. It's almost 100F here every day - and remember what I said about air conditioning? Phew!

The point again? There is a climate and culture in Brazil that permits mosquito breeding on an unnecessarily high level. A climate and culture that don't exist in the States. So the small wave of mosquitos you will see in the States this summer? Spend those four months spraying down your yard with mosquito spray. Keep your trash cans clean and dry. Remove freestanding water. Use mosquito repellent. Hell, just stay indoors in the air conditioning. If you're not pregnant and you catch Zika? Well you might not even know it. Americans have the education and weapons to control the mosquito population in a way that we'll never achieve here. Summer is around the corner - enjoy it! 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Zika - Part I



The doctor confirmed today that I have the dreaded Zika virus. It's not that bad actually. It lasts about five days and I've already had it for four, so I'm on the way to healthy. I thought I had dengue, but I haven't had a fever, so we were kind of confused about what was going on. And ever the American, I delayed going to the doctor's with the hope that I would "just get over it" in a couple of days. I've had a hard time getting used to the free health care down here. In the United States, I paid about $370/month for health insurance and another $25-$30 co-pay for every doctor's visit on top of my share of the charges and $10+ for prescriptions. I told Farley once that every American mother is a pseudo-nurse able to identify the tell tale signs of step throat, the difference between the cold or flu, how to rotate Tylenol and Motrin to fight a fever, and how to combat the stomach bug. I mean we have to, right? Who can afford a doctor's visit every time a cold cycles through daycare? (And it will cycle.) So popping down to the clinic at the first sign of illness is something I'm getting used to.

I'm quite proud to say I managed the visit all by my big girl self. No husband to help translate. Okay, I may have used Google Translate a little bit, but only because I didn't know how to say "hives" in Portuguese. Anyway, I ended up waiting two hours to see the doctor because some children and pregnant women bumped me in the line. But I can't complain, because I've been that parent, and I've definitely waited that long in the States for service that I paid for. I saw the same Cuban doctor that we're acquaintances with. I'm starting to think he's the only doctor that works there during the mornings. Brazil has a serious doctor shortage and they've imported doctors from Cuba to help with the issue. (Here's an article from Slate and Time, respectively, addressing the crisis: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2014/01/02/brazil_imports_cuban_doctors_for_fill_healthcare_shortage.html  http://world.time.com/2013/09/04/latin-americas-doctor-woes-brazil-a-continental-giant-still-needs-to-import-cuban-medics/ ).

About Zika itself - the biggest problems with Zika seem to be a) the risk to pregnant women. If you haven't scare tacticed yourself into reading all about Zika, pregnant women who contract Zika pass the virus along to the fetus. The virus prevents the fetus's skull from growing, thereby preventing brain growth. We can all see how this is a serious fucking problem right? b) there is no vaccine or cure for Zika. Yellow Fever does have a vaccine and you bet your ass we all got it, but Dengue doesn't, so I think there may be a little scare tacticing going on with that as well. Not so much the government or any organization trying to scare the public, but more the public thinking, "Oh my God, there's no cure!" Well there's no cure for the common cold either. I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness of these mosquito born illnesses by pointing that out. I mean the Dengue Police (as we affectionately call the Ministry of Health officials) come to our house once or twice a month to check for mosquito breeding conditions, so obviously it's a concern. But I do want to say that Zika has caused me to have pretty annoying joint pain (so much that I couldn't squat one day or brush my hair another) and I had hives for two days as well as an annoying headache. That's it. I've continued to cook and clean and watch the kids. I even took my son to karate practice last night. As a healthy non-pregnant adult, Zika hasn't been that bad. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

We've Landed - Part I

This is the long overdue story of our journey and arrival in Brazil. Literally our journey - why we're here, etc. etc. is a story for another post. We knew we would be living in Brazil somewhere between two to ten (or forever) years, so we brought as much as we could. We read a lot of expat blogs, searched Brazilian stores online, and tried to figure out what were the most important things for us to bring and what we could buy once we landed. 

Since clothes in the United States are of better quality and can be purchased much cheaper, I purchased clothes for the kids for the next three to four years. We also brought tools, Maicon's small tv and Wii, a Kitchenmaid Mixer, my Mac, some of Farley's tools, Alessandra's stroller, three car seats, and other assorted items. We also brought a guitar for one of Farley's friends, to give to his friend's father. This resulted in us traveling with 7 large suitcases, one medium suitcase, three carseats, a stroller, a guitar, a diaper bag, a breast pump, and two carry ons. I was terrified of trying to get everything through the airport with a 4 year old and 9 month old. Actually terrified doesn't begin to describe the fear and anxiety I felt. What if they wouldn't let something through? What if we held everyone up and people started to get pissed? What if one of the kids had a meltdown? What if we arrived and customs wanted to charge us taxes on all of our belongings? How would we logistically even accomplish all of this?

Thankfully my adoptive father, Tony, drove us to the airport with all of our stuff in the back of his truck. And thankfully, when we pulled up the the curb of the airport, there was a guy waiting with a large cart. We piled everything on the cart and walked 20 steps inside to the counter. (Thank you Newark Airport for being so convenient!) I forgot to say that we re-packed and weighed  and measured our luggage about forty times each because American Airlines allows a 70lb weight allowance on flights to Brazil. And you'd better believe every one of our bags was 69.9999lbs. Even still, I was scared that they would tell us the bags were oversized. Then we would have to decide if we wanted to pay $100s in extra baggage charges or to leave something behind. (Remember, our entire life was in those 8 bags). Everything went through okay and we proceeded to TSA with a stroller (we gate checked it so it didn't lost and we also had about a four hour wait before our plane departed, so we thought it would be useful), Alessandra in the Moby wrap, the breast pump, a cooler of breastmilk, two carryons, a guitar, and a diaper bag. 

Here began the next terrifying phase. Shoes off everyone! Laptops and iPads and phones out of the bags and in individual containers! Stroller folded up and pushed through the scanner! Breastmilk pulled to the side and tested! They made me throw out the icepack because by that point it had melted. It had to be frozen solid to be brought on the plane. (More TSA logic - because it's not going to melt on an 8 hour flight??) I unloaded everything into about 11 of those tubs that get pushed through the scanner (I wish I was exaggerating). Then I walked through the scanner with Alessandra and they swiped our hands (as they always do when you carry a child through). Okay everyone - shoes back on, everything back in the bags, re-open the stroller, carry on. Honestly, we had been in the airport for less than an hour and I was exhausted, but very grateful that everything so far had gone without a hitch.

We continued on to our gate and got some extremely expensive, terrible tasting food from the Ruby Tuesday's there, and waited. I pumped while Farley occupied the kids' attention. I occupied the kids' attention while Farley ate. We charged and recharged our tablets and phones. We realized we didn't have enough wipes so we purchased 10 wipes for $5. GROAN. These were our last few moments in the States for we didn't know how long and we spent them in a crappy airport gate, nerves shot. Actually, we had a short one hour layover in Miami, so it wasn't really our last moment in the U.S. 

Once in Miami, we got everything off the plane (save for our checked bags), raced to the next gate, and waited with a group of mainly Brazilians for our 12am takeoff. We joked that this was our last chance to turn back. The kids were pretty tired, but generally well behaved (a miracle in our family). We boarded the plane and found our places among the three rows of seats. The fight was delayed shortly and we took off an hour late. I didn't sleep on the plane. I was too nervous/excited, plus Alessandra fussed most of the way. It wasn't very dark and Tomorrowland was playing. I put on some headphones and watched it on and off while tending to Alessandra and Maicon. I can't remember if they served dinner, but they did serve breakfast and a snack. Thank God, because we were starving at that point. The food was pretty good for airplane quality. My back was killing me by the time we landed because I had Maicon to the left of me, Alessandra in my lap, and Farley was across the aisle. The seats were typical airline size, which is to say not very large.  Despite my aching back, everything had gone well so far.

I'll detail the rest of our journey in the next post - stay tuned! 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Rain, Rain

It's been raining for five days straight. Non-stop, downpour, no-one-in-the-streets rain. Which is nice, because we live in a desert state. And hopefully all the rain will help flush out the contaminants that are still causing our water source to be undrinkable two months after the Samarco dam collapse. But because no one has a clothes dryer, my laundry pile is overtaking the corner of my bedroom. I can't wash my clothes, because I can't hang them to dry. Sure I have a line that's in our hallway and under a roof - but for some reason in the rainy air it takes my laundry three or four days to completely dry. Maybe it's an anomaly of our building and everyone else is carrying along as normal. Add it to the list of "things that make life in Brazil more difficult."

On the plus side, I've reclaimed my Kindle Fire from the kids (no sponsorship). It was a Christmas present from Farley two or three years ago. (Well, I picked it out and he paid for it. Brazilians don't seem to have a touch for gift giving..) Before we purchased Maicon's iPad - which is a gift from God to mothers of toddlers everywhere - he commandeered my Kindle and it went from mommy's electronic reader to Maicon's parent torture device. Queue the sounds of "Mommy download this game for meeeee! Daddy this game isn't wooorrkkkiinngggg!" I digress. Reading more has been on my to do list for a few years, but I never really had the time. One of the things I value about Brazilian culture is the slow, relaxed pace of life. So I downloaded Moby Dick (can you believe I've never read this classic?) and I have big plans to sit by an open window, listen to the rain, and get my read on.


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Immigrant Prejudice Goes Both Ways

I complained on Facebook recently about a "speak Portuguese or get out" rant I received. I was never the type of brash American that looked down upon immigrants or had the "speak English" attitude. Even before I met my husband. One of the things that I love about America is the conglomeration of people, culture, and language. I love walking into Target and seeing a Muslim couple from Turkey, a gay white couple, a black hipster, and a Latino family [true story]. I love hearing ten different languages as I go about my day. I should probably mention that I lived in the northeast, outside of Philadelphia, so your cultural experiences in the US may differ. There was very little "majority" where I lived. I want to travel the world, but I appreciate a world experience in my backyard. 

Which brings me to Brazil. Imagine my surprise to be on the receiving end of anti-immigrant sentiment? The first incident, summed up, occurred when we picked up our CPFs (something like a Brazilian social security number). The woman at the desk was visibly annoyed with our US documents and tried to make us leave before giving all of them to us. She wanted us to obtain a waiting number for each document, although other people were picking up multiple CPFs on one ticket. When I thanked her for giving us all the CPFs, she turned and left her desk with silence and a scowl. Okay, message received.

The second incident cut a bit deeper. We took our one year old to the clinic to receive immunizations. I've been working with our old pediatrician in the States, the US immunization schedule, and the Brazilian immunization schedule to try to make sure the kids don't receive the same immunization twice or miss anything. At the clinic I was speaking to my husband in English and he to the doctor in Portuguese. It's easier for us this way, because I don't want to miss anything, and with medical and technical terms, my Portuguese is not up to snuff. Also, when a lot of people are speaking or speaking quickly (as they do), I get lost quite easily. The doctor rolled her eyes at me and said (in Portuguese), "She doesn't speak Portuguese? You better learn it if you want to stay here. No one here speaks English. I don't know why you're coming in here if you can't even talk to us." Instead of being rude in return, I slunk back and held my daughter while she received her shots. Anyway, it was more important that I comfort my screaming infant at that point. 

I've been learning Portuguese for seven years. Completely on my own. On my own time, while also working and raising two children. It's. Not. Easy. My husband doesn't correct me when my grammar is wrong, as I've recently found out. I speak like a child. A child raised in the country by hillbillies. But I'm trying. I'm fucking trying. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to live in a country that communicates in a way you can only scratch the surface of? To be in a conversation and think you get it, only to have your contribution dismissed and be told you're way off? To have something to say and be completely unable to say it? To speak to someone and hear, "I can't understand anything you're saying." But... I'm speaking Portuguese. How do you not understand? To have to spend twice as long on every conversation because in your head you're translating what was said and what you're going to say? It's exhausting. Frustrating. Disappointing. And then to be told "Speak Portuguese or get out." It makes you feel devalued as a person. 

If you are of the "Speak English or get out" variety, understand that the immigrant you're belittling might just actually be trying to speak/learn English. But the belittlement and lack of patience is discouraging. Instead, try to speak with them. Use language that you would use with a child. Speak slowly. Allow them time to digest the words and search for the right ones to respond. Save your frustration for something more important.


*And I haven't even touched on the difficulty of pronouncing sounds that aren't in your native language. There is no "th" or "r" sound in Portuguese, no rolling "r" or "ão" in English.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Brazilian Manners, or Lack There Of

Brazilians are both extremely rude and annoyingly polite. Here's a perfect example: Brazilian have never heard of a queue. It's one of my biggest pet peeves. When I'm trying to cash out at a store or waiting for a clerk's attention, it's too common for someone to step directly in front of me. I see it everywhere. When I registered my son for school there were about four of us in line as only one clerk was working that afternoon. In barges a lady with her (by my guess) twelve year old daughter, who is by the way caked in makeup. The kind of too-young-for-makeup look that sticks out like a sore thumb. The shimmery pink lip gloss and eye shadows that are completely wrong for one's complexion and applied exactly the way a pre-teen would apply them. Yep. That. She walked past everyone, edged her way to the window, and waited. I turned to my husband and said, in loud clear English, "This is exactly the type of shit I'm talking about. Brazilians have absolutely no couth." He smiled and looked a little embarrassed and said, "I know." And yet no one said a word. (Other than me, but no one can understand me anyway).

Today I returned to the school to figure out who his teacher was and if there was a list of materials we needed to purchase - since, you know, they never informed us about any of this information. There were two women at the window and I got in line behind them. Soon another woman came behind me. She asked me a question and I told her, "Sorry, I'm not sure and I don't speak Portuguese very well." Then she asked one of the women in front of me, who didn't know either, and then asked them to ask for her. EXCUSE ME. I'm also here to ask a question. Is it too much to wait? The woman in front of me asked for her, then they both left. And I stood in line for another 30 minutes like a complete asshole to spend 30 seconds asking two questions and 10 seconds to be told, "All that gets sorted out at orientation on the first day." great. thanks. *BTW it's 99F and air conditioning in Brazil is a luxury not reserved for waiting rooms.

We recently spent ten days in Vitoria with my husband's family and at one point my sister-in-law said, "Jeanie has so much education." She had just poured me a glass of water, so it seemed like a random thing to say. Around the room everyone started agreeing with her and I had to ask what she meant by that. (Sometimes I'm not sure when I'm being made fun of. Like when I told my mother-in-law I need chocolate when it's that time of the month and she replied, "Oh, chic." I'm still not sure if that was a slight, but I'm not dwelling on it.) My sister-in-law explained, "You always say please and thank you for everything." My mother-in-law said, "She's even got me saying it!" I explained that it is considered rude not to do so in the United States and that saying please and thank you were a normal part of our culture and that we teach it to children. Even here my kids have to say please and thank you for everything. And when our nephew is over, he's required to say it as well. My mother-in-law always pays when we go anywhere, especially to eat, and I always make a point to say thank you in a very sincere way, because I know that money is not easy to come by here. I also come from a family where I pay/paid for everything (even if I was with my parents), so I understand how it feels not to be thanked. I fully understand that it's a cultural thing, but it just seems weird to not show appreciation for something.

Here's another one: the grocery store was packed because on Sundays the stores only open for a few hours. I'm in the "10 items or less" line with five other people and we all have one item. In front of us is a man with clearly twenty plus items. And yet no one said a word. It's this weird politeness that I think allows these people to behave in a manner that they otherwise would not.

However, I'll end this post with a Brazilian Justice Boner story. I went to the grocery store earlier to get some meat for lunch. Again I'm in the "10 items or less" line and a woman in front of me has twenty plus items. The cashier looked at me, then looked at her, and asked how many items she had. She said she wasn't sure. The cashier said the line was for 10 items or less and that she had too many. She replied, "Well I have three milks." Let me point out that she still would have been way the fuck over 10 items. The cashier said, "Three milks is still three things. You'll have to go to another line." JUSTICE BONER ACTIVATE!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Rice and Beans - The Brazilian Staples

This post is dedicated to my (jokingly) adopted dad, Tony. Like every Brazilian family, we eat rice and beans every single day. It's easy to make, cheap, and you can flavor it many different ways. When we lived in the states, I made rice in a pot and it was time consuming and tedious as I was trying to make dinner after a 12 hour workday (commute and day care drop off/pick ups included) while also cleaning and watching two hoodlums. When we arrived in Brazil, I realized everyone was using rice cookers and I almost strangled my husband.

Rice


Your standard rice cooker 
Measure how much rice you need. This is really dependent on how many people will be eating and if you will be having any for leftovers. Two cups is PLENTY for Farley, the little expats, myself, and a small amount of leftovers.


Rinse the rice until the water runs clear. You need to remove the starch, or the rice will clump together.
I like to season my rice with salt and minced garlic. I just add a small amount to the rice and water and taste until it's salty, but not overpowering. Then I add maybe two or three tablespoons of oil to the water.

Insert rice pot into rice cooker.
Wow... amazing... 

Close the lid - thank god I told you that. Last step is to press down that white button on the front. The light will turn from green to red and when it's green again, POOF, the rice is done.

Beans

Beans are very easy. Add a bag of dry beans to a pressure cooker, checking for pebbles, corn, etc. Rinse and fill with about three time as much water as there are beans. Heat on med-high to high heat depending on your stovetop for about an hour.

When they've cooled (good god wait until they've cooled. I was impatient once and jimmied the pressure cooker open - beans fucking everywhere.), I like to portion the beans out and freeze to be pulled out in the morning.

To serve, I boil the beans with a teaspoon of oil, a packet of Sazon flavoring, and salt to taste. I like to smash the beans up in the bottom of the pot to make the liquid thicker, but that's preference.
Do you like the smell of farts? Baby, I'm going to destroy your house.


Bonus: Linguica aka Sausage

It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to learn how to properly cook sausage. Did y'all know that you should poke holes in the casing and boil it before frying it? Now you do. We cook sausage a lot because it's cheap, quick, and the kids like it. Boil, fry, eat.



Extra extra bonus: there is construction going on next door (there is always construction going on in Brazil) and the workers are neighing like horses and crying like babies in between laughing. I thought you might like to know.