Friday, February 26, 2016

Homesickness

Homesickness is the worst "sickness" I've experienced here. It creeps up on me and there is no cure. I try not to think about the United States too much or to compare my life here to my life there. The feelings are difficult and it makes living here difficult. 

I was mopping my kitchen floor tonight and suddenly I had a vision of arriving in Miami International Airport. It came out of nowhere and was incredibly vivid. I imagined how white and clean everything would be. We flew out of Miami on our way here, so I had a pretty clear picture. 

Sometimes when I imagine us moving back to the States, I'm filled with dread at the idea of returning to the "nine to five" lifestyle. Having to work. Keeping up with the Joneses. Walking into Target and being unable to resist all the stuff. I actually did not sleep an entire night once because I couldn't stop worrying about it. But in this thought, I was just so happy to see the Starbucks and blinding lights everywhere. The overall feeling was one of relief.

And now I'm filled with a real sense of sadness, because as much as I love Brazil, I don't know when we'll see the United States again. It's not close enough for a road trip and round trip tickets for an adult and two kids is not cheap. We'd like to think that we'll be back in two years, but a lot of our situation is out of our control. We're going to take the kids out for ice cream tonight, so maybe that will take my mind off things a little bit. Even if the ice cream here tastes a little bit "off." 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Palácio Anchieta - Vitoria, Brazil

Some scenery as we head to the Palace

Our host's house is on the street behind the Palace. Here is the Palace on our right as we walked to the front of it.


My hubby and mother-in-law

Myself and the littlest expat

The view of Porto de Vitoria

Papai pointing out some birds to baby expat

Our host Zack giving a big thumbs up

You ride that fish, girl!


The neighborhood across Porto de Vitoria

I presume this is a church, but I think it's associated with the Palace. It's across the street to the right of the Palace.


While in Vitoria, our hosts took us to see their old house, which they were in the process of selling. Around the corner was the Palácio Anchieta, where the executive branch for the state of Espirito Santo functions. It's a beautiful, yellow building with a double staircase, lots of statues, and gorgeous fountains. Vitoria is an old city and the architecture is incredible! In fact, this building is located in Cidade Alta, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. The palace was built in the 16th century by Jesuits, common for a lot of the buildings in Vitoria. It was a college at one point but during one of the building's many renovations bodies were found (presumably some of the Jesuit Knights). The little expats loved running up and down the stairs and I loved checking out some of Brazil's history.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Visiting the Clinic

Experiences will vary from clinic to clinic and I have to add a disclaimer that my sister-in-law works here and we're acquainted with the doctors. So my experience may be slightly more favorable than others. I should also add that I think it's well in our favor that we're extremely polite, patient, and gracious for the free health care we receive. When I hear Brazilians complain about the wait times (when I had Zika I waited two hours from seeing the nurse to seeing the doctor - kids, pregnant, elderly, disabled, and the very, very sick all take precedence), I like to tell them about the time I waited in my OBGYNs for 1 1/2 hours before anyone came to my room. And then I like to add how much I'm pay for the privledge of speaking to a doctor and the additional cost of tests, exams, and medications.

So with that out of the way, it goes like this: I enter the clinic and go to a little window where I present my SUS (Sistema Unico de Saude) card and tell the attendant why I'm visiting the clinic. For this trip, I'm trying to obtain a prescription for the two migraine medicines I normally take in the United States. Before moving here, I received a six month supply of my medicine, but I'm almost out. The attendant gives my information to another person who brings it to a nurse. I wait in the waiting room until the nurse calls me.



The nurse asks me again why I'm there, my symptoms, and takes my blood pressure and weight. We discuss my migraine medicine and I explain that the bottles I've brought with me have generic names and offer the manufacturer names plus the names of the medicines here in Brazil. Thankfully Topamax is still Topamax and Imitrex is Imigran so it's not too hard to convince her of the translation. She tells me my blood pressure is really low, which I've been told all my life. I really like the nurse here. She doesn't make me feel like an idiot and helps me with my mangled Portuguese.

I'm all done and she gives my information to the doctor and I wait again in the waiting room. This is the longest part. This is where I get bumped further and further down the line. But I don't complain about it, because I remember spending hours in the US, waiting in a room by myself, wondering when my doctor would appear. And paying for it. Since this is free, I'm going to sit quietly and happily. 

Like everywhere in Brazil, the waiting room is loud and bustling. A man comes in selling round flour treats called biscotto de polvilhos in clear plastic bags. They're cheap, kids love them, and every time I've been here someone buys a couple bags and passes them around to everyone. The kids will all play together and the adults will chat because everyone knows everyone. The clinics are set up by neighborhood, so you have to live in this neighborhood to go to this clinic. In the US, I didn't see a lot of people interacting in waiting rooms. Maybe they tried to prevent the spread of illness by keeping their space. Maybe it's the cultural attitude of Brazilians - no space is personal space. Whatever the reason, it feels much more like hanging out at a friend of a friend's place rather than a sterile environment. I don't know if that's good or bad, merely an observation.

Biscotto de povilhos

When I see the doctor, a Cuban named Ariel who is working here with his wife (their two young kids are still in Cuba), I try to be quick. Nothing is quick in Brazil because it's culturally rude for any interaction, including a business interaction, to be in and out. You have to sit and chat and ask about the families. It takes time. But I know other people are waiting and it's something that's been very difficult for me to become accustomed to. I'm from the Northeast after all. I walk and talk faster than everyone here. Anyway, we muddle through information about my medicine and he issues me a new prescription that's valid for three months. This is a huge sigh of relief for me because I can't function properly without my migraine medicine.

Hallelujah!

If I were getting something like fever medicine, I could pick it up right here at the clinic's pharmacy for free. But because I'm getting specialized medicine, I'll have to purchase it at the commercial pharmacy down the street. It's about R$14/bottle or US$3.50. In the States, I paid $10 and up per bottle, AFTER also paying for health insurance. Without health insurance, the medicine is US$100 per pill. It would have been completely out of my price range if I had to purchase it out of pocket.

Overall, I've been very happy with our experiences with the Brazilian health care system, although I fully understand that we have been very lucky and that not all cities or even neighborhoods in our city are as well staffed and efficient as ours. 


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

We've Landed - Part II

It's been so hard to bring myself to finish this half of the post, but I'm just going to sit down and push through it. 


Touching down in Brazil, I was terrified of going through immigration and customs. I had no idea what to expect. The only other country I had ever been to was Canada, so I didn't have a clue what it would be like. I imagined that I would be separated from my husband and kids, since they were entering on a domestic passport and I was entering with a visa. Then I imagined customs would weigh and inspect and x-ray all of our luggage, tearing apart all my careful packing and charging us exorbitant import fees on our own belongings. We also brought a lot of cash with us (more than $5,000) and I didn't know if we had to declare that or frankly what would happen to it.

Thankfully it was all much, much easier than I expected. We arrived in Belo Horizonte and exited the plane to wait for the carseats, stroller, and guitar that we had gate checked. We gathered everything except for the guitar, which they told us was brought downstairs with the rest of the luggage. Cue small heart attack number one, because this was our first "okay, it's been stolen" thought. Spoiler alert: absolutely nothing was stolen or damaged during any of our flights - phew. I waited at the end of a long hallway with the kids while my husband collected everything, because we didn't want to block anyone's path. Also, we thought it would be easier if one of us concentrated on the kids and the other worried about our belongings. I give us a big thumbs up for the seamless teamwork and tag teaming during this whole move.

From there we headed down a long hallway and into an elevator (everyone else took the adjacent stairs, but we had the stroller) and down another hallway. At the end of the hallway were restrooms and directly after that was a huge rope queue line to go through immigration. One of these:





Thankfully, again, we were the only flight going through immigration and customs at the time, so it didn't take too long to get through the queue. It took us even less time, because in Brazil there are preferential lines for the elderly, pregnant, disabled, and for anyone with babies. Score! I was scared when they told us to go to the side, because I didn't realize they were putting us in the preferential line.

Immigration was SO easy. They just looked at our passports - the kids' Brazilian passports, my husband's Brazilian passport, and my American passport with my tourist visa. They opened the passports to our photos and looked at each one of us to match us to the photo. Then they asked us why we were entering Brazil and my husband explained that we were moving there after living in the United States for 11 years. They stamped my passport and we walked past the four connected immigration desks to the baggage claim, which was directly behind them.

Immigration didn't look this nice, but it did look similar, except the four desks were connected.


Entry stamp

Brazilian tourist visa


Cue heart attack number two. By this time we had been traveling for about 20 hours and the kids were in meltdown mode. Again, I stayed with them while my husband got the luggage. We were lucky to find an airport employee who grabbed a couple carts and helped load up our stuff. But before he arrived, we were jostled around in the chaos of everyone. It was really crazy and people had massive piles of luggage everywhere. It was my first taste of disorganization and pushing and shoving in Brazil (I'm pretty used to it now). There was some confusion about the guitar since we gate checked it but were picking it up with the checked luggage. We saw someone walk away with a similar one, so we started to get worried. We were delivering this for a friend after all. After what seemed like an hour (but was probably more like 20 minutes) an airport employee brought the guitar to my husband. So with some help, we took our carts and walked past baggage to customs.

I was really surprised by how informal customs was. I imagined a TSA style line where they tore looked through all your bags and decided what to tax or confiscate. But we had read that if you lived outside of Brazil for 10 years and moved back, you could bring anything (except cars) into the country tax-free for one year. So we had my husband's paperwork from when he entered the United States, to prove our case. Customs was actually one guy with a clipboard who stood in the hallway that was directly past baggage. Since we had so much stuff, he stopped us and asked us about our luggage. My husband explained that we were moving to Brazil with two kids, which was why we had three car seats and 8 bags. Which really is not a lot of luggage when you consider that 8 bags was everything we brought to Brazil. The guy wasn't convinced, so my husband showed him his paperwork and after a couple of minutes he said okay, you guys are good to go. WOW. wow. wow. wow. I could not believe how smooth everything had gone.


From here, we spent a few hours in the airport and met with Farley's aunt before catching our connecting flight to Governador Valadares. Since that was an adventure in and of itself, I'm going to detail it in its own post.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Convento da Penha

The walk/drive up to the Covenant

View of the city from the parking lot





A military area of some sort





A closer view of the city

You're beautiful, Brazil

A stage area in the parking lot

Hello friend

Alessandra wanted to practice walking up the long path

I thought this view from the monastery was beautiful, until I saw the other side

View from the walk

View from the stairs

We can never take a picture with everyone looking and smiling

The floor inside the monastery was beautiful

Inside the monastery

Close up of the... alter?

The walls were gilded and sooo pretty

The ceiling, swoon

I'm a sucker for art

Something about this picture moves me. I fell in love with it as soon as I turned around.

The sights were, to say the least, ethereal

No editing or filters on these photos

I'm not ashamed to say that I found this view so incredibly beautiful it moved me to tears

Add caption

While in Vitoria, we visited the Convento da Penha, which also overlooks Vila Velha. It was founded in 1558 by Pedro Palacios. My husband said that it was built by slaves, which is ironic since it's.. you know.. a place of worship. I think it's the most beautiful place that we've seen in Brazil to date. I asked my husband to watch the kids while I stood on the balcony for a long time and looked out at the view. It was so unearthly and spiritual (I'm not a spiritual person) that I cried a little. Visiting places like this is one of the reasons why I didn't hesitate to move here. It will without a doubt be a memory that I cherish when I'm elderly and considering how I spent my life.