Friday, June 18, 2010

World Cup and The Man With the Yellow Hat

Tuesday at 3:30 pm was Brasil's first game in the 2010 World Cup. We were over the top excited that we could be here for it!

Wouldn't you know, just one picture of all of us...and Gabs has her eyes closed!

Everything, with the exception of some restaurants/butecos where you could watch the game, shut down by 2:30 on Tuesday. With regards to Eric's work, the plant stopped the assembly line, the proving grounds stopped operations, everyone everywhere was sent home. I, for one, was not against my hubby being "home" 8 hours earlier than usual! We decided to watch the game in our hotel room, but go out for a walk after the first half and see what was happening. There was lots of horn blowing, whistles, yelling and general craziness before the game, but by 3:30 a rare silence fell over the city while everyone watched.

This was the scene at 4:30 Tuesday afternoon between halves. A typically very busy street, deserted. And everything locked up.

The only place you actually saw evidence of habitation in this city was anywhere with a TV. People filled butecos and flowed out into the streets - which was fine, since no one was driving around anyway.

One place we walked past had a young crowd that was particularly lively and obviously enjoying all the "special edition" cans of cerveja - and lots of them. Things got even livelier as we approached and a garbage truck came rolling up. They didn't seem to be actively collecting trash, more just cruising around and getting people excited. They stopped in front of the buteco and started blowing whistles like crazy. The crowd went wild, chanting and cheering, and one girl hopped on the back of the truck with the municipal workers.

And then, without warning, the truck driver took off at his usual lightening fast speed. With the girl still on the back! Her friends hollered and cheered and laughed, and all she could do was hang on and wave as the truck sped out of sight. (The truck eventually must have stopped and she got off, as we passed her walking back several minutes and several blocks later.)

(I should also mention we weren't the only ones with funny hats and headbands - I somehow managed not to get any of those in the "crowd shots" I took though!)

Brasil scored their first GOOOOOOL of the game while we were en route back to our hotel to watch the rest of the second half. The city erupted from its quiet slumber. Fireworks, horns, yelling, the entire city made one collective roar. And I nearly jumped out of my skin when some sort of firecracker was thrown into the street right next to me - it was really, really loud!

From the moment Eric put on the hat I had picked up for him, I couldn't stop giggling when I looked his way. He reminded me of someone, but I couldn't think of whom. Halfway back from our walk it struck me: The Man With the Yellow Hat!

He was less than thrilled by my comparison. But seriously, put Gabriela in a monkey suit and the resemblance would be too obvious to deny. Hmmm...Halloween?

Brasil won their first game, 2-1. But after all the predictions of a 3-0 shutout, everyone was pretty somber post-game. They get serious about futebol here, especially World Cup Futebol! So a less-than-stellar-win might as well be a loss in their book, it seems.

Brasil, as a whole, doesn't usually strike me as an overly patriotic nation. And I don't mean that as a criticism, more just an observation after living here 2+ years. BUT, when the World Cup rolls around every 4 years, that changes completely. Everyone is flying Brasil flags from their car windows, people who normally aren't even soccer fans (yes, they do exist here) are excited about the games, businesses and high rises are covered in green and yellow streamers and flags, green and yellow clothing and paraphernalia are everywhere. I have even seen flags that translate to "I am a Brasilian, I am a champion". For two years, Brasilians often looked at me in disbelief when I talked about how much I loved it here. For two years, I was frequently disheartened by what seemed like a national inferiority complex. So it is incredible to see Brasil so excited, so patriotic, and I feel incredibly lucky to get to be here for at least part of it and experience it firsthand. I can only imagine what it's going to be like when the games are hosted here in 2014!

Our trip has been extended an extra week, as Eric still has a lot going on here work-wise. The best part of that extension (not including 7 extra days of my breakfast being prepared for me each morning and 7 more opportunities to visit my favorite ice cream shop)? We'll be here for another game!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bare Arms and Dirty Shoes: The Signs of a Horrible Mother, Obviously

Oh, winter in Belo Horizonte. If it weren't that the pool water is too cool for swimming, this might be my favorite time of year here. Day time temps up around 80, and much warmer than that in the sun, with cool brisk nights perfect for cuddling under the covers with my Sweetie.

Long sleeves are a good idea at night and in the early morning, but during the cloudless sunny days it is pretty much summer-clothes weather. Unless you're from here. In which case you pull out the heavy winter coat, scarf, gloves, stocking hat, boots . . . you certainly don't walk around in jeans and a tank top. But if you're a 6 1/2-month pregnant gringa pushing a stroller all over the hills of the city in the middle of the day and if you're a 1-year-old who is constantly hot and sweating, then you tend to opt for the latter option: jeans and tank top.

And if you opt for the more skin-baring option, especially for your child, you better brace yourself for the incredulous looks and incessant comments. It doesn't matter than you're having to put sunscreen on her little arms and any exposed leg because the hot sun will cook her otherwise. It doesn't matter that her feet and back are sweating while riding in her stroller. It's June in Belo Horizonte. Apparently, you are only being a good mother if you have her in a sweatsuit, hat, and under a heavy blanket.

We hadn't been here for 2 hours before the comments started. And they have yet to cease. But Monday's concerned citizen really takes top honors for minding other people's business.

We had been out for a nice, long walk, and I stopped on our way back to the hotel to treat myself to a R$2.50 double scoop of ice cream in a waffle cone. (I'm pregnant people, I need the calcium.) Two blocks away from "home", I was waiting to cross the street when I was joined by a well-to-do-looking middle-aged woman dressed in a wool-lined jacket and leather gloves. (I nearly had a heat stroke myself just looking at her!) She leaned over to look at Gabriela in the stroller and told her how pretty she was but that her mother was "doida" (which I would generally translate to English as "crazy" or "stupid". I certainly never hear the word used in a complimentary manner here.)

I quit licking my ice cream cone and just stared at the lady for a moment. Then the signal turned green, and I started to cross the street. Concerned Lady walked alongside of me. And proceeded to tell me how cold Gabriela was and that I should really dress her warmer in this weather or else she would end up sick and it would be my fault and so horrible for this little child to suffer only because her mother didn't have any sense.

I wasn't exactly sure how, or even if, I was supposed to respond to that. So I just went back to licking my ice cream cone and picked up my pace a little. Concerned Lady stayed right beside me and continued on her completely innocent sounding, pleasantly-toned rant.

She told me how she was never blessed with children of her own, but that she is passionate about kids and just cannot stand to see them mis-treated. Then she asked me if Gabriela was walking. But before I could stop licking my ice cream cone to answer, she answered for me: Oh, she must be walking because look at how dirty her shoes are. She proceeded to tell me that shoes are washable, and I really should do a better job at keeping them clean. Concerned Lady told me of a woman she knows with four kids and how this woman never even bothers to give the kids a bath and how she sure hoped that, even if I didn't wash her shoes, I at least bathed the little princess.

And for an entire city block she continued to talk. As I listened, shocked at how a complete stranger felt the need to criticize, with such specificity, my mothering capabilities, my ice cream cone became more and more delicious and I stayed focused on it. I only occasionally glanced over to Concerned Lady and raised my eyebrows from time to time. No response I could come up with seemed quite right. So I walked, and licked my ice cream cone, and listened, thinking about what a fun story this would be.

After we crossed another street, I needed to turn left, Concerned Lady was going straight. She leaned down to tell Gabriela goodbye and how she sure hopes that when she grows up she won't be as "doida" as her mother.

I laughed out loud the remaining 1/2 block to our hotel. And then I laughed as I told the story to Eric that night. And again yesterday as I recounted the tale to my friend, Megan. I have never in my life been happier to be able to understand Portuguese! What a shame it would have been to have missed all that!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It's Not That Kind of Party

Alternate Title: What Happens When You Put Daddy In Charge of Naptime

Mommy knows to pull the hotel crib away from anything that Gabriela's little arms can reach before you put her down in it. Daddy hadn't yet learned that lesson.

But neither of us quite expected to find this when she woke up from her nap this afternoon:

I took Gabs into the shower with me after Eric got home from work (very early, since everything shuts down when Brasil is playing in the World Cup!) Then I handed her out to Eric to lay her down for an afternoon nap. It was warm in the room, so he just put her in a diaper and her swaddle (yes, the kid still loves to be swaddled when she sleeps).

Apparently, after she woke up, she climbed out of her swaddle, as usual, but then proceeded to pull down everything she could reach on the desk beside her crib, including a box of Eric's business cards, her pajamas, and a DVD. Then, she went ahead and took her diaper off.

When we heard her in the other room talking, Eric opened the door to get her up. But he stopped, immediately started laughing, and called me over. We walked in the room to our daughter standing stark naked in her crib dancing up a storm with a huge smile on her face.

Granted, it's World Cup, we're in Brasil, and they were about to play their first game. I can see how she might be excited. But really, this isn't that kind of party!

Monday, June 14, 2010

How The Gabster Passes Her Time in Brasil

Gabriela's been enjoying time in her homeland. Her bright blue eyes, constant babbling, and huge smile have been getting her a whole lot of attention in Belo Horizonte, and she's just eating it up. She acts like a movie star as we walk down the street or move through a crowd: waving at everyone, reaching out to grab people's hand as they pass by, smiling and laughing the whole time.

Here are a few pictures of how she passes her time...when she's not flirting with strangers, sitting through long meals with friends, or taking incredibly long naps (I think we've been wearing her out!)

Carrying home Papai's Guarana. (And nope, not allowed to have a drop of it.)

Playing in the grass at Vale Verde. (Yes, she walks like a pro now, but still loves to crawl too.)

Hanging out with her amiginha, gorgeous 6-month-old Leticia

A Sunday afternoon in Ouro Preto

Fun in the hotel:

Creating her own parade across the living room

Unpacking her suitcase, for the 132nd time (And trying to figure out how to put on her bikini top.)

Emptying Mamae's underwear drawer (Tossing aside anything cotton (seriously), but "wearing" the silky or lacy things. She also likes to pull everything out of Papai's drawer, but the only thing she deems nice enough in there to play with is his sunga (speedo))

Friday, June 11, 2010

She's Got Her Mama's Nose

Dr. Carneiro says that Bebe Dois has her Mamae's nose. That ranks towards the end of my list of features that I'd like to pass along, but what can you do? ;) The previously uncooperative child decided to lay traverse instead of breech on Tuesday evening and gave us a real nice shot of her hind end. Proving that Mama's intuition was all wrong: turns out IT'S A GIRL!

We're really excited! Since they are only going to be 17 months apart, it will be fun that they're both girls! Plus, I get to use all the adorable baby girl stuff again. And I don't have to feel guilty buying more cute stuff for Gabs since, after all, it is going to get used by at least two kids! (Eric really loves my rationalization. haha)

Got a fabulous report from the doctor doing the ultrasound. Bebe Dois is doing well. She's a little on the small side, measuring 1 week behind where I am in the pregnancy. But 10 days past due, her big sister only weighed 7 pounds. Turns out that maybe I just don't grow monster-sized babies like my Mama did. And that's not a complaint!

Placenta is posterior, just like you want it. Amniotic fluid levels are normal. Umbilical cord is perfect. Baby is active. At 25 weeks, she is about 31 cm long (12.2 inches) and weighs 709 grams (1 pound and 9 ounces).

The place we had the ultrasound always burns a DVD of the exam while they perform it. I'm excited to get home and compare this one to one we had of Gabs at this age. I think Gabriela moved a ton more than Bebe Dois. Bebe Dois opened and closed her fists and kept opening her mouth like she was yawning, but was generally pretty chill. I seem to remember them chasing Gabriela around my uterus during ultrasounds . . . it will be interesting to see if my memory serves me correctly!

Watch out world (or at least Eric)! We women are taking over around here.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Passports and Visas: Our Adventure to Get Into Brasil

(Random Note: The BabyBjorn is tough for me to wear a long time with 19 lb Gabs now - too much strain on my shoulders. I bought the Baby K'tan right before we came down. It can be used in 8 different positions, spreads out her weight a lot more, and can be used up to 40 lbs! Eric says he feels like a hippy wearing it, but I'm in love!!!)

I have a newfound respect for the United States Postal System. The Policia Federal in Brasil and I are getting along pretty well. But I am more annoyed than ever with the Brasilian Consulate in Chicago.

Eric's last minute 2-week business trip to Brasil and our decision for Gabs and me to tag along made for some hustle and bustle and the need for a laid back Brasilian attitude (to avoid shaving years off our life from the stress of it all). Eric already had a business visa valid for 5 years. I, on the other hand, had nothing. And Gabriela's Brasilian Passport had just expired.

We were going to be cutting it close with getting my tourist visa back from the consulate in time, but Gabriela's passport renewal was supposed to be quicker. After a little bit of busting our butts the Friday morning before my brother's wedding, we got all the necessary paperwork sent off. All we could do after that was wait and hope everything arrived back to us before Memorial Day, since we were leaving for Brasil on Tuesday.

We spent Memorial Day weekend at Eric's parents' house. His sister, Tanya, and her family were up from Florida and his baby sister, Kelly, had her high school graduation party that weekend. It was a fun, busy weekend! As of Saturday afternoon though, there was no sign of anything from the Brasilian Consulate in Chicago. Their website showed that both my visa and Gaber's passport had been processed and approved, but as of Sunday there was still nothing about our two Express Envelopes showing up on the USPS tracking website. (I had called the consulate on Friday during their "call center hours" to check and make sure they had mailed out our stuff, but I was informed in no uncertain terms that they do not answer any questions about visas over the phone and I would need to email them instead. Which I did. Without any reply.)

It's important to note here that to do anything through the mail with the Brasilian Consulate, they require that you send everything in an $18 USPS Express Envelope - they won't accept anything else that arrives there. They also require that you send a self-addressed and stamped $18 Express Envelope for them to return documents to you. No matter your time frame, they will not process anything from you unless you spend $36 on overnight mail. (Granted, in our case, we needed it to be rushed, overnight mail.)

By Monday afternoon, we had just about decided that our documents must not have been mailed yet, and we were going to need to skip our flight out of Cedar Rapids, drive early Tuesday morning to Chicago and be at the consulate when they opened to pick up our visa/passport, and then jump on what was supposed to be our second flight of the journey in Chicago. Eric and I both were amazingly calm about the whole situation and began calling the airline and seeing what it would take to change our itinerary.

We checked the USPS website once more and were ecstatic to see both envelopes in the system! Mine was in Iowa, and Gabriela's was lacking exact tracking info but did show up as having been through the Chicago sorting facility already. It appeared that it was going to work out just fine, just in time!

However, since we needed to leave Center Point by 11:30 the next morning, we needed to intercept the packages before they got sent out with the mail man for delivery. After a couple phone calls to people Eric knew who worked at the post office, we were told to call about 6:00 am and someone would be there to talk to us.

Tuesday morning at 6:00, we talked to someone at the local post office to alert them to the situation. By 8:00 am they confirmed that my envelope was there and they would hold it for us to pick up. They hadn't received Gabriela's though and suggested we call Cedar Rapids, since it would go through there on its way. As of 10:00 am, Cedar Rapids hadn't received Gabriela's but assumed it must be on a truck from Chicago scheduled to arrive at 1:00 pm. This is when we were informed that the reason our envelopes weren't being tracked properly is because the Brasilian Consulate in Chicago did not handle the Express Envelopes correctly. Instead of being handed to the mailman or taken to the post office counter so that the paperwork could be done and everything entered into the system to guarantee overnight delivery, they had just dumped them into a random drop box somewhere on the street. When that happens, the post office does its best, but your $18 envelope gets more or less handled as regular, first class $0.44 mail.

So Gabriela's passport was expected to arrive on a truck in Cedar Rapids at 1:00 pm. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:35. Much to our surprise, the guy we were dealing with at the post office said that he would do everything he could to help us out. He promised to have someone on hand waiting for the truck the second it arrived, and if our envelope was on there it would be immediately delivered to us at the airport. Talk about service!!! We were convinced it was all going to work just fine now.

So we jollily loaded up and left Eric's parents' house at 11:05 to go by the local post office and pick up my visa then drive down to the airport and get checked in for our flight. That's when we discovered that the post office in Center Point is closed from 11:00 am - 12:30 pm every day. Seriously. Locked up tight, no one to be found anywhere. My passport with my Brasil visa somewhere inside. That's the moment the vein in Eric's forehead started to bulge a little.

We couldn't wait until 12:30. So we went ahead down to the airport and asked Eric's folks to please pick up the envelope at 12:30 and bring it to the airport to us. The entire 25 minute drive to the airport, I'm pretty sure Eric had decided taking his family with him to make the two weeks more enjoyable was completely counterproductive. Combined with the unexpected 1 hour conference call he ended up on that morning where he learned that the progress he thought had been made the previous week was pretty much invalid, I can safely say my hubby's blood pressure was probably as high as it's ever been the entire almost 5 years I've known him. Had it not been for the giggles suddenly coming from the back seat, oblivious to the vein quietly bulging from her father's head, I'm pretty sure Eric would have had a coronary right there on I-380. Instead he smiled, maybe even laughed.

We managed to get Eric and Gabriela checked into our flight and bags checked, but they couldn't get my boarding pass issued until I presented a passport and visa. We barely managed to get Gabs through the system with her US Passport and her RG (Brasilian ID card). They asked for her visa, we told them she was a Brasilian citizen and didn't need one. They asked for a Brasilian passport, and we said she didn't have one. We were quite certain if we explained that it was held up in the mail somewhere they wouldn't let her board the flight, so we withheld that info.

The Cedar Rapids post office called us back at 1:00 to say the truck hadn't shown up yet but that someone was there waiting to rush the envelope to us the moment it arrived. Then they called again just as our flight was about to board to say that the truck was there, but the envelope was not. They had no idea where the envelope was.

We had already decided that so long as I had a visa, Gabs and I were going to go. We figured that a citizen, especially one in diapers, isn't going to be denied entry into her own country. We were quite certain the lack of a proper passport would get us held up in immigrations and it would probably cost us some money, but ultimately we knew there had to be a way around the passport. Especially since I had a copy of her birth certificate (the original had to be sent off with the passport application) and her RG (Brasilian ID card).

So on our way to Brasil we went. Flights were on time and fabulous. Gabriela did great the entire trip and slept most of the 8-hour overnight flight (waking occasionally to roll over and whimpering when she realized she was buckled into her carseat and couldn't, but then drifting right back to sleep.)

I got nervous for the first time as we approached the immigration desk in Belo Horizonte. Eric's passport was stamped, no problems. Mine got the Policia Federal Supervisor called over. Apparently they still had me in the system as holding a Temporary Resident (Type V) visa, which was expired. They also had no record in the computer of me ever leaving the country in December (their quick search for the stamp in my passport was in vain, as there are A LOT of stamps in that bad boy now.) Eventually they typed in some stuff, clicked a few buttons, and decided I was legal and okay. Then they flipped through Gabriela's US passport (we presented that along with her RG) looking for a visa. Eric pointed out her RG and said she didn't have a visa because she was born in Brasil. They looked at her RG and then asked for her Brasilian passport. Eric explained that her old one had just expired, that we had to send it to the consulate to have a new one issued, and that it was all currently lost in the mail somewhere. The Policia Federal guy said that yeah sometimes those things happen, looked at her RG again, and explained that it wasn't valid for international travel. Then he sort of shrugged, told the girl at the desk to give us back our documents, and told us to have a nice day. I wanted to kiss him. Instead I grabbed our stuff and skipped over to customs with a gigantic smile on my face.

The following day, Eric's parents received Gabriela's envelope containing all her documents in the mail. We're having it sent down to us so that we have it when we leave the country next week. I'm not sure we're lucky enough to have it so easy with Brasil Immigrations a second time!

The passport department at the consulate did email me back, after we had arrived in Brasil, to tell me they had mailed her passport on the previous Thursday. The visa department never bothered to get back to me. When I return stateside, I plan on getting something in writing from the post office saying that the Express Envelope wasn't mailed out properly, and then I'm filing a complaint with the consulate. Not that it will do a bit of good, but I'll feel better if I can scold them a little. I don't care if they want to just throw everything in a drop box, but it's ridiculous to require an expensive Express Envelope if they aren't willing to handle it appropriately.

But what matters most is that I'm in sunny Belo Horizonte. I'm eating fresh tropical fruit, pao de queijo, and having fresh juice for breakfast every morning. I'm having a R$2 (US$1.10) hand dipped ice cream cone at my favorite ice cream shop every afternoon (flavors like lime mousse, passion fruit, white chocolate, yum, yum, yum). We had an ultrasound for R$100 (US$54) and found out the gender of Baby Dois (to be revealed tomorrow!!!) I'm catching up with good friends. And most importantly, I get to spend each night with my Sweetie! Life is good.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Home Sweet . . . Brasil

There are few things more satisfying than falling into your own bed after being away from home. And while my comfy bed is in Iowa, I also get a sense of being "home" anytime I'm in my home state of Georgia. Something about pine trees and red clay and other people who say "y'all" evokes a sense of being where I belong.

Stepping off the plane in Belo Horizonte Wednesday morning and being greeted with a warm, cheery "Bom dia!" immediately brought about a feeling of "I'm home!" that I didn't expect though. I knew I loved our time in Brasil, I knew I wanted more time here, but I was caught off guard by how at home I felt. As I've walked the familiar streets of Lourdes/Savassi, eaten at some of my favorite places, and even visited my old grocery store, I've fallen in love with this place all over again. It brings a sense of calm and peacefulness even right now as I listen to a car alarm going off, the screech of brakes at rush hour, and people whooping and hollering at a nearby buteco (small bar).

Eric and I utilized grandma babysitting services on Monday night and took the opportunity to have a dinner date before doing a little last-minute shopping for our trip. We didn't realize it, but we think the last time we ate out without Gabs was our anniversary in August (despite plenty of after bedtime stay-in dates, we should really do better with going-out date nights)! With the opportunity to talk to one another uninterrupted during the car ride and over our meal, Eric asked me what I looked forward to most about getting back to Brasil for a visit. My only answer was, "Just being there."

Then I went into analysis mode and contemplated how and why Brasil would always be so special to me/us. Starting our marriage completely dependent solely on one another. Having pretty much zero responsibility/worries (i.e. living in a rented apartment with no yard/up-keep, being financially comfortable, not having any obligations with family, friends, or organizations, etc.). Our first child being born here. Each day honestly feeling like an adventure. These are some of the reasons that I know we will always see Brasil, and specifically Belo Horizonte, as a really special place and why it is so easy to forget the many day-to-day challenges and frustrations that we faced (and that you're going to face no matter where you are.) I suppose we'll always view this place through rose-colored glasses!

But even after having all those thoughts before we got here, I didn't expect it to feel so much like going home! I think I'm going to enjoy my two weeks immensely! (Thank goodness the Policia Federal let us into the country! But more on that later . . . )