Thursday, August 30, 2012

First Day of School--Take Two

What a wonderful day!! I awoke to the sun shining, the birds singing. (The sun always shines here. The birds always sing. But today, I savored it!) Tuesday, the sun was a glaring wake-up call, burning my retinas behind droopy lids. Today, glorious rays of light shone through my window; caressing my cheek, warming my soul. Tuesday, the birds' chatter was a nuisance; today, a lovely melody just for me!

Pretty dramatic stuff, huh? Ok, I didn't actually wake up in a magical wonderland created for the sole purpose of bringing me joy after a rough couple of days. But, I did awaken with a brighter outlook. The point is, the surroundings, and most of the challenges that face our family, have not changed, but one thing DID change--my attitude. It began to change yesterday (Wednesday). Yesterday, the washer broke while washing my ONE set of sheets (have you ever tried to rinse and wring out queen sized sheets?), the bathroom flooded, the dishwasher drained on the floor, Tom and I were thwarted in accomplishing a necessary task, etc., etc. Nothing seemed to go right. But, all in all, it was a good day. I felt happy. Why, you ask?!

I wish I could report that I was mature enough and insightful enough to realize that my happiness was a state of mind, not dependant on outward conditions. I wish I could say that. But, in all honesty, I cannot. I mentioned earlier that "most of the challenges that face our family have not changed"... This is true--we still have a lot of adjusting to do, a lot of growth to experience. But... one BIG challenge that faced me has changed--school.

We had thought it impossible for our children to attend school here. For one thing, the city isn't big enough to support an international school. Secondly, it is winter here right now. That means that it is the middle of the school year. By the time we leave, it will be the middle of the next school year. What grade would we put our kids in? What grade would they finish in? What instruction would they get in English literature and spelling?

And then a beautiful thing happened--we found out about an English/Portuguese elementary school here in the city. I was still doubtful. How would they transition the kids in the middle of the year, and where would they go next year when we get back to the States? Would they be able to meet the core requirements for Utah so our children wouldn't be lagging drastically behind their peers? I didn't even think it was worth a shot; but after Tuesday (see my previous pity party post), Tom decided to make an appointment with the administrators.

We went in a little skeptical, but the teacher seemed very competent. She and the administrators felt confidant they could provide a quality education for our children; working within our unique circumstances. It is a small school which will eventually go up to the 5th grade (Jaden's grade), but which can't support that right now. However, the head teacher is creating a customized plan for Jaden, as well as adding some curriculum for Tessa that is required in Utah, which they don't currently teach here at her grade level. Jaden will be individually tutored in the morning in math, language arts, and Portuguese. He will then join the younger class for art, history, etc.

In the morning, the instruction for the whole school is given in Portuguese; in the afternoon, English. All of the children and teachers speak English. They learn about different cultures that speak English, as well as about the Brazilian culture. Tom and I felt really good about the school, and the chance for the kids to have an immersive experience. We enrolled them.

Today was their first day. Keira has been sick, so she did not attend. Jaden and Tessa were very excited to go! We went inside with them to drop them off. The local kids were all very curious about the new students. ( blond hair/blue eyes?) The teacher thought they would be excited to practice their English on native English speakers. I was a little hesitant to leave. How would my babies do in this foreign environment?

Here are pictures in front of the school and with their teacher:

I had no need to worry. They came home excited. School was "AWESOME!" They met new friends. Everyone wanted to partner with them. And-- no complaints from Jaden about feeling like he was in a "baby" class. In fact, he seemed to be the leader of the pack--this could be really good for him!

They will wear a uniform (a T-shirt with the school's logo on it) which we ordered. The school is tiny. Only about 70 students. The building and grounds small, but adequate. The supplies somewhat limited in my estimation (I'm going to see what we can do about that--stay tuned).

What kind of education will they get? I don't know if the school will be able to deliver on their promises. But, they weren't going to get a very good education with me at the helm, splitting my time between the 4 grades; no clue how to deliver the content. And in the end, I don't think it will really matter. We can always catch up on English and science, but the education they are receiving merely by being immersed in a different culture, experiencing things that most of their peers will never experience, is priceless to me.

Just to let you know--Marissa is continuing with the online school. This is her first year of high school and she needs to get the appropriate credits. Today was a much better day; we finally are ironing out some of the creases, and she is getting the knack of this nontraditional school. Thank heavens she is a good student! We are looking into a dance class for her, and there are a lot of activities for youth in our church that she has begun to get involved in. She has a friend here in the neighborhood (Erika), and just made another friend tonight who speaks a little English.  We will continue to look for opportunities to help her immerse.

The clouds are parting again. (I know they will be back.) But, today was sunny. The birds' song was music to my ears. I can go on another day...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I just want to clarify something right off the bat. This whole experience has been REALLY HARD!!!---for ALL of us.  Would I trade it? Sometimes, I think, "yes... yes, I would". (Today, I was ready to buy a plane ticket.) But mostly, I know that it will be a wonderful, life-changing experience. You know those experiences in life that seem more golden the further you get away from them? Yeah... it's something like that.

I want to thank everyone for your wonderful comments and supportiveness here, on facebook, through emails, etc. I didn't think I could do this blog, but it has turned out to been really therapeutic for me. Somehow it helps me to write things down and find the humor in them, as well as realize the great many blessings I receive during the most challenging times. And your comments just give me that pat on the back and taste of home that I so desperately crave.

I was going to write this blog about the first  day of online school for my kids. But nobody wants to read that much negativity. (At the end of the second day, I'm still struggling to find the humor in the whole situation.) Let's just say I'm not cut out to be a kindergarten, 3rd, 5th, and 9th grade teacher, and leave it at that. We are looking into some other options. I'll get back to you. In the meantime, a few prayers wouldn't hurt, and in fact would be greatly appreciated!

Last night, after a particularly rough day, I told Tom, "I'm going downstairs to decompose." As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized what I had said. I started to correct myself and say, "decompress", but then I realized that, nope, I'd rather decompose right now.

As I sit here decompressing from the day's events, I am reminiscing about the awesome people I have met here, and the lessons that I have learned and would like to incorporate into my life--lessons that I otherwise wouldn't have learned (and I'm not talking about traffic rules here). Sometimes growth comes with growing pains. Nobody ever guaranteed it would be easy. I do feel certain it will be worth it. At times, that certainty is buried deep under doubt, but it always reemerges-- like the sun poking out of the darkest clouds-- just for an instant. These posts help me to part those dark clouds and see the brightness, and your comments help me to feel the warm rays on my back, and suddenly, everything is ok again. So, thank you! And thank you for putting up with this melancholy little post.

And speaking of clouds...I'll finish with a random funny story (although it was not at all humorous at the time)...

Today, we had a freak thunder/rain storm. I had forgotten that I had the "dryer" running. Let me repost a picture of my dryer just to refresh your memory:

Ha ha. Funny....

Monday, August 27, 2012

Rio Vacation Part II: There and Back Again

We arrived in Rio on Tuesday night during a very high traffic time. (It is always high traffic time in Rio. Good luck to you idiots planning on going to the World Cup and/or Olympics!) We stayed just outside the city, in Recreio, in a lovely apartment right on the beach:

The Condominium
The view from our apartment

The owners, Lilian and Jaime, who so graciously allowed us to use their apartment, were there to greet us with a wonderful goody basket, mattresses and clean linen for everyone, and of course a kiss on the cheek. Keep in mind we had never met these people before, but they treated us like old friends. Tom had met their daughter, Layla, once at a conference. The generosity of the people never ceases to amaze me!
We decided to go out for a "little drive" that first night. Ha Ha! It took us 3 hours to find our way back. But it was an awesome drive up windy, jungly roads, through tunnels, and along white sandy beaches. Rio is one of the most geographically beautiful places I have ever seen!
The next morning, we went to the beach and enjoyed the warm air and cold water. Tom and the kids tried boogie boarding. Keira did not care for the big waves nearly drowning her. Tessa loved riding piggy back on Tom, and Jaden and Marissa got pretty good at "catching a wave".

 It was a gorgeous day and a beautiful beach. Tom bought sand toys from a vendor on the beach and the kids played for hours.
I enjoyed just relaxing in the sun and looking at all the women (of all shapes and sizes) wearing "bum floss" and all the men in speedos. We stood out a bit. We are a peculiar people, we Higbee's. One memorable outfit was the old man walking along the beach with an election flier dangling from the huge straw hat on his head. He was deep bronze (kind of like my leather couch back home), wrinkly, and gray haired. He did not lack confidence, however, as he was sporting a loin cloth, of sorts, fashioned out of thin linen material and loosely wrapped around his lower region. I learned a valuable lesson that day. If you ever see an old man in a loose loin cloth coming down the beach in your direction, turn away before he walks directly in front of your beach chair. You do not want to see the side view.
Day 2 of our trip was a grand adventure, as we attempted to find our way to the world famous Sugar Loaf with no directions and a GPS that only worked some of the time. I was in the co-pilot seat on this little outing and, oddly enough, my navigational skills, combined with my Portuguese reading skills did not improve on entering a strange new bustling city. We had yet another unplanned tour of Rio de Janeiro.
No harm done. We made it--and it was well worth it! The views at the top are absolutely breathtaking! And we got to do a little jungle hiking on the mountain which was fun!


The next day, and after some serious begging, I finally convinced Tom to brave the streets to take us to see the statue of Christ (you can't go all the way to Rio and not see the statue of Christ!) I promised to be a better navigator. By this time, Tom had actually gotten the lay of the land, and we made it easily to the statue and back again--no "retorno"s for us!! The drive there was pretty cool. We drove up a very narrow and windy cobblestone street overhung with jungle growth. We had to park part way up and then ride a bus the rest of the way; taking us to the base of several flights of stone steps.
The statue was majestic, the views magnificent!

Tom wouldn't let me keep him.
Mean Tom!
If you looked straight up at the statue, it looked like it was slowly falling toward you because of the way the clouds were moving. It was a little disconcerting. I didn't look up much.
The last day was spent at a beautiful little beach just up the coast from where we were staying. We had a great time playing in the waves, digging in the sand, boogie boarding, even surfing (only Tom). All of the kids made friends. Again, people were curious about the blond haired, blue eyed strangers. In fact, on a couple of occasions on this trip, people asked if they could take pictures of themselves posing with Keira. So funny!

The girls playing with 7-year old Sophia
Jaden made a buddy, Gabriel, who taught him some boogie boarding tricks.
His mom, Raquel, spoke English. I LOVED her!!! 

Sophia's older sisters (?) hung out with Marissa
By the end of the trip, Marissa and I both felt a little homesick...for Sao Carlos!!  It is finally beginning to feel like we aren't just visitors here anymore. I think that was one of the best parts of the trip. Well, that, and the fact that the air conditioning broke on Friday and we drove all the way back (9 hours, mind you!) with the windows down, the breeze gently blowing through our hair:

I'm still trying to get the knots out.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Rio Vacation Part I: on the Way There

Well, we took our first grand adventure to Rio de Janeiro! All in all, it was a great trip! This was a road trip, and we were able to learn many important things along the way.

In the U.S. we are used to obeying several traffic laws. Of course, there are crazy drivers; those who think they own the road. In Utah, we call these "California drivers". Well, in Brazil, we have discovered that the traffic rules are really more like suggestions, and I think that even the California drivers would be a bit unused to the display. I will outline 6  of the lessons we learned here:

1. Trucks ALWAYS have the right of way.

2. The little white stripes are NOT there to delineate lane boundaries. If your vehicle can fit between two other vehicles, you have successfully created a new lane. Congratulations.

3. NEVER stop at a stop sign! We have been here for over 2 weeks, and I have yet to see anyone come to a complete stop at a stop sign, except when a huge truck is about to T-bone their vehicle (see lesson #1). If you do stop for no reason other than the false assumption that you need to stop at a stop sign and look both ways before carefully proceeding, be prepared to hear horns blaring from behind, and/or cars veering around you on either side--on a one lane road...(see lesson #2). Note: Some stop lights are optional as well.

4. Motorcycles can go wherever, whenever. This includes, but is not limited to: along the white line mentioned in lesson #2 (at times passing other motorcyclists along said white line), on the sidewalk, up over curbs, in the shoulder (traveling with or against oncoming traffic), and pretty much  along any space that looks like it is not quite big enough for the motorcycle to squeeze through (please keep hands and arms inside your vehicle at all times!) These can all be accomplished by driving at high rates of speed while continually honking the horn.

5. Crosswalks are NOT recommended for pedestrian use. It is my theory that these white lines painted occasionally at intersections and elsewhere are really more of a sort of target area. Pedestrians do not have the right of way at any time. It is my assumption that extra points are earned if a pedestrian is hit within a designated crosswalk area. I could be wrong on this.

6. Hitchhiking is permitted. This is an excellent way to travel; whether you are a vagabond, or a uniformed police officer.

Now that we have the basics down-- and we learned these pretty quickly--let's talk about the trip! It was about a 9 hour drive to Rio.  We saw many interesting things along the way (please refer to the 6 lessons learned above). We also learned that the gas stations have some really good food! (I'm not kidding here--it was some of the best we had!) The kids did an excellent job, even without a DVD player (thank goodness they all have Nintendo DS systems!)

The landscape is beautiful and varied. There are banana trees growing wild along the roadside. I could have reached out and picked a fresh snack (if I hadn't been afraid of those motorcyclists). We drove through one windy mountain pass that looked like a jungle. There were little stands all along the way where you could stop to buy fresh fruit. There were huge bunches of bananas hanging from the shacks, along with citrus and other unidentifiable exotic fruits.

All along the freeway, people were riding bikes or horses, or crossing the busy lanes of traffic on foot. In fact, there were designated crosswalks right on the freeway!:

What makes this even funnier, in my opinion, is the fact that there are signs all over that say "Never stop on the freeway". This just proves my pedestrian target game theory.
Along with those "Never stop on the freeway" signs, there are other signs with great tips: "Children should sit in the back seat", "Don't throw trash on the road", and my personal favorite: "Before building something on the side of the road, please consult with the authorities." I'm not sure who that would be, but it sounds like a good idea. Of course, you can have a "store" of sorts anywhere you like, it just has to be mobile:
This particular picture was not taken on the freeway, but there are vendors walking  up and down all city roads, highways, and freeways selling snacks  during times of slow traffic. I think it's a nice service. And now that I think about it, I've never seen one of these vendors in a designated crosswalk. Hmmm.......

Monday, August 20, 2012

Modern Living?

We have had to make a few adjustments to the type of living we have hitherto been accustomed. We knew this would be the case, but some things you just can't plan for. Meals have become much simpler, as we have only the bare minimum of kitchen appliances, cookware; even serving dishes. I'm learning to get along without all my gadgets, but I do miss a few of them. It does make for fewer dishes, however, which is a good thing.

I thought I could just do the dishes by hand, but I must admit that I was very grateful when Tom spoiled me and bought a dishwasher. It is one of the bigger models. It holds 8 place settings! (We can only fit 7 plates, but who's counting?) When we went to the appliance store to look at the dishwashers, I thought they were kidding when they started showing us the models. I had no idea they came in dollhouse size. I feel like Holly Hobby.

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but this model doesn't have a built-in garbage disposal like the one at home. I have to actually scrape the dishes into a garbage bag. I know--life is tough.

In the picture, next to the dishwasher (which doesn't fit in the kitchen), you can just catch a glimpse of our circa 1972 washing machine. Now, I'm not complaining about the age of the machine. It does an adequate job. I actually have one of the brand new HE front load models back home and am probably the only person in the world who would trade it back in a heartbeat for my old top load agitator. They just don't make some things like they used to! This machine is no nonsense: one speed, one program--on/off. We have to switch the drain in the back between the washing machine and the dishwasher. (We can't use both at once.) The washer leaks sometimes, but Tom finally figured out that we just have to push the clothes down after the initial spin cycle, or they get in the way of the water filling for the rinse cycle, and water comes spraying out the top. This could be fun on a hot day.

Here is my dryer:

Sorry about the underwear in the shot, but it's a fact of life--underwear does have to be washed and dried occasionally. It felt a little primitive at first to hang the clothes outside, and I was a little worried about the bird poop directly under the line. But, so far, our clean clothes haven't become a target, and I must say that I actually enjoy hanging them. Marissa and I have  made it into a sort of bonding time. Plus, I have finally figured out just when to put the fabric softener in the washer so our clothes don't come out crunchy. The first batch of towels could have stood in the corner by themselves. And who doesn't love wrapping up in a nice stiff, scratchy towel right out of the shower?

Speaking of the shower, we actually live in the lap of luxury with a real hot water heater! It's solar powered. We figured out the hard way that if you use all the hot water one day (for example, bathing all the kids on a Saturday night to get ready for church the next morning) you won't have any hot water the next morning. Thankfully, we have a shower out back with an electric shower head. I don't know if you've ever tried one of these beauties, but they are almost like the real thing! If you keep the water pressure as low as you can, ( just over a dribble), you are able to take a nice almost luke-warm shower. Tom thinks it's a great way to speed me up on a Sunday morning. And yes, we have a shower out back. It's an enclosed bathroom with a separate bedroom. We are guessing that this is in the event that one of the guests at any of our wild parties gets drunk and needs to "crash". I'll just have to remember when the room is occupied on a Sunday morning.

Our friends, Valeria and Tim, generously donated and installed a water filter in our kitchen. It is hooked up to a faucet next to the kitchen sink. Now we can refill our water bottles right from home! I admit, I was a little skeptical at first, but so far nobody has come down with the gombu. I do wonder, though-- if we can't safely drink the water from the tap, why am I washing and rinsing my dishes in it--the dishes that I eat off of? (They don't all fit in the dishwasher, believe it or not.)  But, we all seem pretty healthy so far, so who am I to question?

It may not sound like it, but I am actually very grateful for all of these appliances and realize that we are very fortunate to have them. But, does it make me a bad person to be more grateful to know that I can go back to my American conveniences when this adventure is over? 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Time For Some Gratitude

It is Sunday (Domingo) and we have had a good day. It started by going to church. We are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormon). Hereafter, I will likely refer to it as "the church", not to be snobbish, but just because of my laziness in typing. We have a beautiful (and small) new chapel here very close to our home.

I am always amazed when we move or travel at how instantly familiar and welcoming our church is. I have friends of other faiths who can take months "shopping around" for the right congregation when they move. We know that our services will always be the same, no matter where we go. And while it does take some adjustment to get to know the new members of the congregation, and to get the "feel" of the ward, it is all basically the same.This is true here as well. They follow the same format, sing the same songs, teach from the same manuals. The spirit is the same. The language....a little different.

Last week (our first Sunday here), we didn't yet have a car. But Tom had made a connection with a member here in Sao Carlos. He belongs to another ward (congregation). His name is Julio. He came to meet us Saturday night and brought a lovely orchid plant. He then made arrangements to pick us up in the morning for church. Keep in mind there are 6 of us. The next morning (church starts at 9:00am) Julio and his wife brought 2 separate cars to pick us up. They brought us to church, arranged a time to pick us up, and then drove across town to make it to their own ward. They were very generous in offering  to help us with anything we needed-and they really meant it!

We walked into the chapel, and the members all looked genuinely excited to see us. We were greeted immediately. Each of us was kissed on the cheek by the primary president. Tessa laughed about that for a long time. We aren't used to such physical contact by strangers. The bishopric got all of our information. Several members were trying to talk to us while Tom was giving the information. I used my standard greeting. After that, I  just smile and and wave.

We were sitting during the services, when the bishopric counselor presiding motioned for one of the young men to come up to the stand. He passed him a note and whispered in his ear. The young man walked back and handed Tom the note. When the speaker was finished, the counselor announced that Tom would bear his testimony. Now, that is getting the new members involved right away! I didn't understand what Tom said, but at one point I heard my name and everyone turned to look at me and laughed. Always the wise-cracker, Tom. It was a friendly laugh. I just smiled and waved.

Nobody spoke English on that first Sunday. The Relief Society sisters (the women's group) were very concerned about my comfort during the women's class. They kept trying to use as many random English words as they could think of. I just wanted them to ignore me. The sister on my left made a present to me of her manual (in Portuguese of course). I graciously accepted and have actually tried studying it since. Then I was invited to say the closing prayer. OK... I said it in English. They all raved at my beautiful words. Funny.  I was thinking the same about their words.

Today, we had our own car. So, in true Higbee fashion, we arrived a few minutes late. They were singing the opening hymn. We were still greeted at the door, and everyone smiled at us as we trudged up to the front. I didn't feel uncomfortable, though. I knew they were happy to see us. And I was happy to see them. It's a small ward. Last week, our family made the congregation fifty two. This week, there were more members in attendance (last week was a holiday). We probably had about 75 today. It's a little different from Utah.

We were greeted after the service and before Sunday School classes by several members, the Stake President, and the visiting American missionary serving from Boise, Idaho. I enjoyed speaking to him in English! Marissa was whisked off to class by a young woman (Cassi) who speaks English. She wasn't here last week. She was Marissa's teacher, so she gave the lesson in Portuguese and English. Yay for Marissa! The same Cassi came to Relief Society with me and translated some things. She was very kind.

After the meetings, Cassi's family invited us into a room. They told us that they had prayed about our family during Family Home Evening the previous Monday trying to decide what they could do to help us. They came up with a plan. They would have us over for dinner. They would take us places; shopping, to the movies, etc. Two of the daughters  speak English (the parents don't). These daughters would help our children. They offered to come and pick up the children tonight for a children's choir practice (which they did). They got all of our contact information. They asked us to follow them home so we could see where they lived. They asked us other things that they could do to help. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude.

Tessa just turned eight. That means she is old enough to be baptized. She had an interview with the bishopric today. Tom translated. We scheduled a baptism date for September 2nd! After the interview, the counselor told us they would like to have our family over for a barbecue and asked what we liked to eat. He also asked me what I would like to do as a job in the ward. Um...something without words? He said he would give it some thought. They are ready to put us to work. Pray for me!

Tonight, after dinner, our neighbors invited us over. Marlee and Marceo (sp?)--the parents of Erika and Renan. They gave us fresh juice and dessert and we sat in their living room and talked. (I mostly listened). I actually got a lot of what was being said without Tom translating. I still can't form a sentence to save my life. Marlee invited me to come over for cooking lessons. Yay!! She said we can use google translate on their tablet.  They also are going to help us get set up for a delivery service where we can order milk and fresh fruits and vegetables. I'm loving that idea! She also wants to take me shopping.

Meanwhile, our kids were down at the park teaching their kids American "night games". Now we have a little bit of Clover Ridge right here in Parque Faber! I walked down at one point, and heard Jaden counting in Portuguese. Funny. Everyone was laughing and squealing and having a great time. I smiled and said a little prayer of thanks.

I can't count all of the people who have helped us so generously, even before we arrived. The students from the university, and Celso, the professor, have spent countless hours preparing things for our arrival, so the transition would be as painless as possible. I shudder to think of how things would be if they hadn't laid all the ground work. For days before we got our own car, students Nassim and Valeria (and husband Tim) shuttled us around everywhere! They continue to help us daily. I just feel so grateful that, while things have been difficult, we have experienced so many blessings coming through the people that we have encountered. And I am beginning to understand what Tom has been telling me all along: the Brazilian people are a kind and generous people. At last, I am beginning to feel at home here with my South American brothers and sisters!  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

English 101

Just sitting down for a much needed (and earned) rest. I decided I was going to do something about the perpetually dirty floors today. I now know why they are always dirty! It took me 2 hours just to do the dining/living room area. I am drenched in sweat (sorry to all you sensitive readers)! We will never open the doors or windows again!!! Actually, I am going to find a maid, and I am going to pay her whatever she wants! (Thanks Tom!)

All joking aside, it was quite satisfying to take care of something that has been bothering me; and to see the buckets and buckets of filthy water go down the drain. They use these big squeegee things here. You just push a wet rag around on the floor with the long handle and then use the squeegee to pull up the excess (brown) water. It dries really quickly and it seems to get up more of the dirt that way. Maybe we have these in the U.S., but I've never seen one. I'm trying to figure out how to bring one home. (Hey! I found a Brazilian product that I like better than my American counterpart! Chalk one up for Brazil!!!)

The kids are all down at the pool right now with Tom. It is winter here. Really harsh (It's only about 80 degrees). We live in a gated community with armed guards. (It's really funny when they call the house to say someone is here and I am the only one home. We have some really great conversations.) Anyway, inside this community, and just down the street from us, is a recreation complex with a pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer field, and playground. It has been wonderful for the kids. However, that is where all the reddish brown dirt comes from. The playground is a big sand pit and the girls come home with pocketfuls of sand.

The second day we were here, I took Tessa and Keira down to the pool. We were the only ones there besides 2 little girls who looked to be about Tessa's age. They kept staring at us and whispering. (Apparently we are somewhat of an oddity down here.) Finally, I struck up a conversation with them using my no-fail greeting ("Hello! I don't speak Portuguese. What is your name?") --I didn't know how to ask this in plural. They looked like smart girls. I thought they would figure it out.-- Giovanna and AnaClara (it only took me 3 times to figure that last one out...they speak with foreign accents down here!!) To my witty greeting, I proudly added, "How old are you?"-- 9 and 8 respectively. Man, now I am really communicating! This is the point in the conversation I started using hand gestures. I introduced them to Tessa and Keira (who were more interested in swimming than being social). That's ok. My new little friends were having a lot of fun trying to talk to the crazy "Americano". They kept asking me a question that I could not understand. I used another favorite phrase: "Nao entende." ("I don't understand"). They giggled and then they ran off. I thought that was the end of that.

Pretty soon, here come Giovana and AnaClara again to the pool, this time with a paper in hand. They hand me the paper. It says, "On which street do you live?" Good question. I have no idea the name of my street. I begin pointing wildly in the general direction of our house. Then, I successfully asked them where they lived. I think I understood the reply. It is on the opposite side of the complex as us.

 Now they start talking about Tessa and Keira's eyes. I understand this much. But, I think they are referring to the blue goggles they have on (maybe they don't have goggles here?) Ever the teacher, I begin a little English 101 lesson with my new young friends-pointing to the goggles and saying "goggles" (slowly and loudly of course), I then hold up my sunglasses and say: "oculos do sol--sunglasses" (Try to picture me slowly enunciating each syllable). They just keep saying "Olhos azuis?" and pointing to their eyes and then to Tessa and Keira. "Yes, yes." I say. "They are wearing blue goggles."  (Haven't we already been over this?)  Finally- they are practically jabbing themselves in the eyes by this time- the "teacher" understands the "pupil". They are asking if the girls have blue eyes! I'm laughing now, "Sim, sim. Olhos azuis!" ("Yes, yes. Blue eyes!") I motion Keira over to the side of the pool and instruct her to remove her goggles. I wish I had a picture. There was Keira- head upturned, goggles on the forehead, eyes as round as saucers- and these 2 Brazilian girls perched on the edge of the pool leaning in as close as they could, staring into the eyes of my beautiful little girl. The amazement and wonder! They are so excited to see real blue eyes up close and in person! (Apparently, blond hair and blue eyes are somewhat of a rarity down here.) But that wasn't enough. Now, they want to see Tessa's eyes. I motion her to do the same. They are equally astonished by these unusual blue eyes! Now they want to see my eyes. And my husband--does he have blue eyes?! They just can't believe it! We must be quite the spectacle walking down the street...6 sets of blue eyes.

After the excitement dies down, Giovana and AnaClara want to know if the girls can play on the playground. Sure! Tessa readily accepts. Keira wants to keep swimming. I can see the playground easily from my seat by the pool, so I send Tessa with my blessing. They immediately teach Tessa a new game. It involves throwing sand. This is a big no-no in our family (what if the sand gets in your eyes?!) I watch Tessa pick up a handful and cock back her wrist. Just then, she takes in a quick breath and turns to look at me with that look of guilt in her eyes. I tell her to go ahead (with a warning to not throw it toward anybody's face). This goes against every over protective fiber of my being, but I am so incredibly happy to see my little girl with new friends in a foreign land--I'll overlook it just this once.

Meeting New People is Child's Play!

Whenever you move to a new place, there is always that thought of, "when will I meet people? long will it take until I have friends?" Well, moving to a foreign country is no exception...except that my potential friends speak a totally different language!!

 However, this is no ordinary foreign country--this is Brazil!! The people are very friendly here, if not curious about newcomers. We began meeting neighbors right away. There is something about the curiosity and unassuming nature of children. As I look back on all of the neighbors we have met, I realize we met their children first.

On our first afternoon here, after the students had gone, Tom met Renan (pronounced Hay'non), a 10 year old boy from down the street. Renan just struck up a conversation with the new man on the block. Then he took him to his house to meet his dad. I was unconscious upstairs- sleeping off the jet lag (I did not sleep on the 13 hour flight...but that is a different post for another day.) It was here that Tom borrowed a phone to order a pizza. He left money with the dad and later our pizza was delivered to our door by none other than Renan.

After I had resumed consciousness, and after dinner, (the kids didn't really care for the pizza...the first of many disappointing meals) the kids and I were hanging out in front of the house. Tom had walked over to the mall to try to get his cell phone set up. The little girl from next door (3 year old Manuela)came out and just sort of loitered on the edge of the lawn between our two houses. She kept staring at us, so I tried to think of all the Portuguese I could say..."Hello, I don't speak Portuguese. What is your name?" This has become my standard greeting for everyone. I feel very accomplished that I can speak in full sentences. I just keep my fingers crossed that the answer won't be more than one word. We went on like this for a while, me using every word I knew, Manuela smiling at me.( Hopefully I was saying what I thought I was saying.) She warmed up, and soon she and my little girls were playing-running up and down the driveway. Finally her grandmother, Lucia came out. She speaks a little English. Music to my ears!

We talked for a little while in the driveway. I noticed people walking up and down the street, greeting each other. It reminded me of my neighborhood back home. (We live in the best neighborhood on earth! Here's a shout out to all my Clover Ridge Peeps!!) I considered it a  tender mercy of the Lord that we were placed in a friendly neighborhood! My heart began to take courage. (Just hours before, in the bustling airport of Sao Paulo, I had thought, "What have we done?!!!!") Now I'm thinking, "I can live here. I can do this!" (I go back and forth daily between these two very different thoughts)

Later,I find Marissa out in the front yard talking to  Renan, his parents, and his 12 year old sister Erika (she and Marissa are becoming friends). None of them speak English. Thankfully, Lucia is out also and tries to translate back and forth. I get most of it. They are all so nice, so genuine.

Marissa and Jaden go off to play basketball with Erika and Renan. Keira and Tessa are playing with Manuela in the driveway. Of course, my loving Keira is hugging Manuela often. I think to myself, "laughing and playing, hugs and smiles- these are understood in any language." My children have friends on their first day here. My heart sings! Another tender mercy.

Later that night, after the kids are in bed (we ordered beds for the kids and 2 futon- type couches before we came. Tom and I didn't want to order our bed until we could lay on it) I was making up the futons in the living room for Tom and I to sleep on. Tom was in the shower. I hear a doorbell--is that my doorbell?! What do I do?!!! (This reminds of the time when I was at my new job at the Health Department. I was in the little procedure room when the phone rang. That phone had never rung before. I panicked. I called out, "The phone is ringing. What do I do?!" My co-worker, Candace, called back, "Answer it!" Doh!!) Anyway, I'm getting away from my story. I go to the door, glad that I have not yet gotten into my pajamas (my underwear), and I can't open it!!! The doors here don't have that little knobber thingy that you lock from the inside. No, you must lock and unlock these doors with keys. We have a whole box of keys for all the doors in the house and yard. Our door is a frosted glass door:

I can see Renan's parents standing out there, arms full of groceries. They can also see me. I hold up one finger and yell "uma momemto!" (For some reason, I think I'm in Mexico) I run in the kitchen and search the box of keys. I can't find them. "uma momemto! uma momento!" as I run up the stairs. They are looking at me like I have lost my mind. I shout at Tom, in full lather in the shower, "Someone is at the door! Where are the keys?!" He tells me. I run back down and find them. Now I'm fumbling at the lock when I realize they are standing out there in total darkness. Suddenly, I feel the need to turn the porch light on before I open the door and let them into the well lit house. There are like 20 light switches by the front door. I'm not exaggerating (maybe a little). I try them all, lights flipping on and off, finally finding the desired porch light with the LAST flick. They are still patiently waiting. I can only imagine what they must be thinking. After more fumbling with the keys, I am finally able to admit my guests. They hold up the sacks and say, "Breakfast!" in their finest English. I invite them into the house, unable to recall ANY Portuguese. I pantomime that Tom is taking a shower (perhaps a little too enthusiastically, thanks to the adrenaline surging through my veins- due to the trauma of being unable to open my OWN front door---FROM THE INSIDE!!!) We begin unloading sacks. They have brought 2 loaves of bread, cream cheese, sliced meat and cheese, chocolate milk, juice, cookies...the food just keeps coming. I'm overwhelmed. I feel the tears coming to the surface...tears of gratitude, tears of happiness. Now I remember one word which I repeat over and over: "Obrigada, obrigada!" ("Thank you, thank you!")

Friday, August 17, 2012

If I am still in the Americas, why can't I buy cheddar cheese?!

Well, I knew that moving to a foreign country would be an adjustment, but I had no idea...

My husband is a professor of Special Education at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. It's a small town, very sheltered, very American. When the opportunity arose to take a year sabbatical in Brazil (one year away from Tom's normal duties as professor), we thought, "Why not?" I mean, we have 4 young children ages 14, 10, 8, and almost 6; this is the perfect time to move, to see a little more of the world, to teach our children to appreciate all the abundance they have...right?! Even now, reading the words that I type, I'm thinking, "yeah, another opportunity like this will never come around again--go for it!"

Reality is setting in fast. Now don't get me wrong...I still know somewhere deep, deep, DEEP down inside that this is a fantastic opportunity. I'm just thinking, "Why does it have to be so haaaard?!!!" (Is the whine coming through in this font?) Everything is so different here--it's almost as if we moved to a foreign country! Wait...oh yeah...I'm not in Kansas anymore.

I think the difficulty started when we began trying to pack up our lives in 12 suitcases. I mean, what do you bring when you are moving away for a year? What can you not possibly live without? Simplifying is one thing, but going without the basic essentials is just crazy. The problem is, I am just now (after one week) realizing what is "essential" for our family, i.e. peanut butter, syrup, a garbage disposal (can you pack that?) This spoiled American is learning a few lessons already about doing without. And like any true- blue- blooded  spoiled American, I'm doing it with a lot of kicking and screaming!

We arrived to our destination-Sao Carlos, Brazil (it has a little squiggly above the a in Sao, but I can't figure out how to insert it...sorry) tired, but in pretty good shape. Some of the post doc students were here at the house to welcome us with a beautiful housewarming fruit basket:


You can't get most of that in the states! I mean, what the heck are those salmon colored things on the top?! It looks like something out of a movie. Apparently it grows on trees here...Actually, it's cashew fruit, and it's pretty good made into juice. The little cashew nut is on the top. And I always thought cashews came from the store. Weird.

Our house is very big and very nice. With the exception of the dirt floors and seat-less toilets. Let me explain...Apparently it is not uncommon for everything that is not bolted down to be removed from the house upon leaving. I was prepared for no appliances in the kitchen (I do watch House Hunters International) it just never really crossed my mind that someone would take the toilet seats. No problem. We can remedy that. As for the dirt floors...there is beautiful tile and wood under the dirt, your feet just don't come into contact with it. The house had just been cleaned by a professional-- that we payed for(!), so we began to complain (whiny Americans!) about our feet being black after a few hours of walking around indoors. We were then kindly informed that the floors are impossible to keep clean because the windows and doors are left open all day (air conditioning) and it is very dusty. It's a reddish/brown dust if you want to know. Everyone in Brazil wears shoes in the house; usually a special pair of house slippers to keep their feet clean. I smile when I think of all my neighbors back home who want everyone to remove their shoes upon entering the house to keep the FLOOR clean. ----hehe----we've had it backwards all these years!

The grocery store is a whole new adventure (this is how I have ALWAYS chosen to look at it...I NEVER complained about the selection!) For someone who is used to buying flour in 25 pound bags, the tiny 1 kilo bags were a bit of a shock. (Can I get one batch of pancakes out of this bag, or should I buy 2? oh, wait...there's no such thing as syrup here. Never mind.) I did actually find peanut butter in a tiny 3 serving size container for about $2.00 (US), but it tastes, of all things, like mashed up peanuts! Where is the sugar, the high fructose corn syrup, the wholesome additives and preservatives?! My kids won't eat it-and peanut butter is a staple at our house! That's it! Tom--I'm going home!!! (that was the first of my many melt-downs). In fact, I had a melt down in the store just today as I struggled to think of ONE meal that I know how to make that I can find all the ingredients for. This occurred while I waited for the hamburger to be ground. That's right, you pick a slab of meat hanging on a hook and they grind it up for you right there. Now, that's fresh! Actually, it made very good hamburgers which EVERYONE ate with high compliments! (even if there is no cheddar cheese)