Now that I had a placement we need to find a place to live because it is infeasible to commute everyday. There is no online rent board nor newspaper classified, theres not even a real estate agent if you don’t count the “corretores” sitting on the corner under the mango tree. So we drove around and around, actually it was a great way to get to know all the neighborhoods, including where we didn’t want to live. Without any luck over a few of our day trips to the city each week. On the day before my first day at my practicum site we still hadn’t found anything and figured we would have to commute until we found a house. We gave it a last go around and found one semi-respectable house, fenced in, nothing fancy, on a nicer street BUT it was in a lot right next to an over-sized unfinished abandoned building, which creeped us out. It was the only thing we were finding so we got out and noted the number on the sign, gave it a call and nothing, no one picked up. It had been hours of driving up and down the unpaved bumpy city streets and it was getting late so we decided to find a hotel so at least I could get to the health center on time tomorrow. Just as we were finding our way out of the maze of streets we whizzed past a bright green house with a “For Rent” sign. I shouted “Wait, stop!” and Mr. P slammed on the breaks, we looked at each other, grins across our faces, and put the car in reverse. This was it! Walled in, place to park, made of wood but recently painted, ceramic floor (this is a luxury you know). We drove to the gas station where there is a payphone (we still haven’t gotten a Brazilian cellphone, I mean sort of useless with no signal). Mr. P called the number and the owner picked right up. He lived nearby and would come meet us in 10 minutes. I was so excited, you would have thought I had found my dream home (after living in a shack with my in laws it basically was my dream home)! The owner showed us around while I silenced the kids (NO ENGLISH or this place will cost us a fortune I hissed!) He said the rent was R$500, we haggled a bit but he wouldn’t budge and in the end we took it! He asked when we wanted to move in and we asked if it would be alright to stay over tonight! We had brought our air mattresses in case we stumbled across a house so we swept the house, passed a “pano” (washed the floor), and set up camp. How lucky, everything was coming together and I had my own space away from the dirt floor and MIL.
The whole city has been invited to a wedding. Yup you heard me, the entire city was invited personally with invitations and over the radio! A bit out of the ordinary but this was a special case of a young women who suffered a tragic accident (warning graphic!) involving loosing her scalp to moving tractor parts. Thank goodness she survived! While this amount of guests isn’t completely the norm I have found that rural Brazilian birthdays (when they actually have a party-not often even for children!) and weddings, at least here in the North, go all out with their guest list. Usually that means feeding and managing facilities for hundreds of men, women, and children! In a place with limited to NO facilities!
When this horrible accident occurred (before we came) the entire community pitched in for medical bills for the family and throwing this humongous party was their way of giving back to the town. We teetered on deciding to go or not, we were invited but it’s not like they knew us (doesn’t matter one bit come to find out), do we bring a present and where do we buy a present last-minute (again no one expects a present here), do I have to get dressed up (I brought nice clothes but they are stuffed at the bottom of my suitcase and how do you manage heels in the mud?) do I dare venture out of this place in the dark (maybe this Western town has a bad wrap from a few years ago (whatever you do, do not Google this town or you will think there are ax murderers living here, you think I’m joking but Brazilian news, on TV and internet, has literally NO sense of ratings or filters, or good taste for that matter) but today it is generally quiet (police are a new concept here so if you rob, cheat, or plunder you will meet with a quick justice and not by any civil justice system.)
In the end I could tell the in-laws were dying to go, get out, and party and the sociology major in me was a bit curious to see how a wedding goes down here, so at the last-minute we all piled into the car and went.
When we arrived the place was packed with people, the music was loud (thank’s to generators), and the BBQ was roasting! We made our way to the back grabbed a meter stick of meat. They had 6 cows roasting on an open BBQ pit, it was quite a site! They dig a hole about 20 ft long by 6ft wide, build a banana leaf covered tent (gazebo), and get a fire roaring early in the day until the embers are perfect for BBQing. The meat is cut up and saved in one of those big 1000 liter blue water tanks everyone uses for water storage (no refrigeration, highly unlikely to pass any health inspection, but since the meat is “made fresh” I guess it’s not that bad and no one got sick). Then they roast it on long spits (that’s what thy are called right). You go up, like it’s a bar, and order a meat stick and they hand over a meter long kabob of meat your supposed to share with family and all those around you. Everyone knew to bring their own knife and cup (like, from home!) to cut slivers of meat off this hunking kabob and have Dydyo (cheap coke) poured into your cup. The people who were helping out with the wedding would come around with bottles of coke and just leave them disbursed with different families to serve themselves. There was loud music, loud conversation, an over abundance of cowboy boots,and at one point the lights went out (opps, time to add more gasoline to those generators!) The bride and groom came in on a tractor, in full-out wedding apparel (they don’t let the dust, mud, and hundreds of dirty hands touching and hugging them (remember were eating meat off a stick with our hands and no sinks for miles, get to them.) Wedding apparel is always rented here, even the big white dress, which must make it an impossible business (imagine the pile of brown tulle these poor people deal with every weekend!) We never got to the “buffet” of rice, beans, farinha, and other staples of the Brazilian diet, because B started to get whiny and demanded we go home (at night she is a home body and inflicts her own bed time on all of us, always has since birth!) They sent us home with another stick of meat and we made the long bumpy journey home as B whined and finally fell asleep. It was quite an experience but it will be a while before I bring the kids out at night again!
This has been a long almost two months. Going from middle class American to some weird in between. I came from a dizzying amount of activity, driving the kids around, working, grad school, elementary school activities to doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. When I say nothing I mean NOTHING. Most of the day I sit on an uncomfortable bench outside in the shade because 1) During the better part of the day it’s too hot to move, 2) Living with my MIL she still cooks and cleans for her family like before we came and she’s a bit territorial, like when I start sweeping I get the evil eye to let her do her own thing (this turns out to be SUPER funny because later in this wild story I find out she told all the neighbors I did nothing around the house like a princess, luckily they sided with me after seeing everything we went through (and knowing my MIL’s personality) and told her strait back that if I were their DIL they would have helped me not made things more difficult (that part comes later in the blog so stay tuned), 3) precedence requires I sit on the bench, meaning that’s what everybody does all day long (when my husband gets the initiative to actually do something around the farm he takes flak from the rest of the family (no wonder they have lived here over 8 years and there isn’t a single fruit tree planted!), and finally, 4) there is actually nothing else to do.
So the slow down has been extreme and shocking and I’m starting to get bored! I can’t wait to move to the city and get to work so I fill up at least part of my day. I’ve started packing up my bags, AGAIN, I can’t wait to get out of here!
So the honeymoon period is over and I need to find a practicum placement to wrap up my Masters program back in the US. For about a year prior to moving to Brazil I debated whether to complete my practicum in the USA or Brazil and finally settled on the conclusion that if I was really planning on making a life for myself in Brazil I would need experience and a network which a practicum could help me establish.
Well I networked in person, emailed, facebooked, asked professors, cold-called clinics and hospitals (that was an experience in itself which doesn’t bare repeating, they had no idea what I was trying to get at. “Estagio” what do you mean? I now assume Universities set these up in Brazil and are not casually found by students) and no one had anything to offer.
My excellent request for funds 😉 got me a travel grant from my University’s International Health Department so I figured I’d come down here and just wing it. I have spent the last month trying to track down local contacts by the web (no go- websites are unattended, if they exist, especially if they are connected to the government or healthcare sector), through people I meet (just go to the local health post, great if I could find this health post you talk about), and finally pleading face-to-face by stalking health workers. Finally in exasperation one Wednesday I found where the Municipal Secretary of Health works out of and approached his secretary with my pleas to work for free. She said I could leave my information and he would get back to me Monday or Tuesday when he got back in the office. I thought well that would be great IF I had contact information, a phone, or even energy to plug my phone into. I asked if he would be back in the office later that day, she said probably not but I could check in tomorrow. Again that would be great IF I didn’t live 80 KM away on a pothole filled dirt road or could afford to stay in a hotel over night to MAYBE find him in the office tomorrow and MAYBE get him to agree to let me do ANYTHING!
She must have felt my desperation and told me to sit and wait (who knows maybe he would swing by his office after lunch before heading out to his meeting, or maybe he always does and she was just brushing me off before?) So I sat, and sat, with my husband and kids waiting in the car. Score! He walks in and the secretary points with her chin to indicate “that is the guy you want to talk to.” She introduced me and I walked with him to his office. As I sat across the desk from him I mustered up my best Portuguese and pled my case and provided my resume. Interviewing is nerve wracking enough without doing it cold turkey in your second language but he was interested and asked what my University required. He asked when I wanted to start and I asked him if I could start in two weeks. He laughed a little at my eagerness (really desperation to start before my University deadline) and agreed! He wasn’t exactly sure what to do with me but we decided to figure it out especially since Outubro Rosa was fast approaching and they would need something to do for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
I left super proud (I didn’t make a complete fool of myself), relieved (I finally convinced someone to let me work for free), and completely confused (what exactly had I signed up for? Haha!
We woke up and skedaddled out of that hell hole as fast as we could muster. Not knowing the city at all, we grabbed a café com leite and asked the street vender where to find a taxi. He pointed us towards the other side of the main road as the next block over was the bus terminal where the taxistas rack up the dough on unsuspecting tourists. Flagging a taxi on the road is your best bet. I read somewhere (me and my obsessive reading) that you should always tell the taxi drivers in Brazil to go by the meter, but my husband (thinking he was being economical) took over and asked the guy how much for a trip to the federal police station, 20R (later we would find out he charged us double what a metered trip might have been, lesson learned).
The first office we entered pointed us down the street to the “passport” office. Being completly naive and thinking we had already gone through the entire visa process at the consulate we figured we’d be in and out, get this registration thingy done, get our money changed, and get out of this city. We were sadly so, oh so wrong.
We arrived eagerly at 8:10am, 10 min after their office opened with my passport and visa protocol document in hand. The lady who was doing intake stared us down, looked at my passport, glared at me and told us to wait a minute while she brought my documents down the hall. A few minutes later she arrived in a huff slapped a list of documents we would need to present, copied and certified by the cartorio somewhere across the city, two bills we would need to pay at a bank, and a list of passport sized pictures we would need to find a store to take for us. Then she scolded us for arriving on the last day and glared at us (with a knowing evil smile) while she told us we would need to get all of this process done by today or I would loose my entry privileges. Under her breath she rhetorically asked why we had waited until the last day. (If she only could comprehend what it took us to get there, just for a stupid paper, and how much we had spent on this process and trip, I was holding back rage and then it got even better when she handed us the list….
Here is the list:
Copy of passport (every page front to back) certified by the cartorio (racking up a nice income for the cartorio at over 4R/page copy and certification fee)
Copy of visa protocol paper certified
Copy of Brazilian spouses RG certified
2 passport sized photos
Proof of address certified
Pay two fees one 65R to register my visa and another 135R for my foreigner ID (odd name but that’s what it said)
Astounded and discouraged, yet grateful we had thought ahead and brought so many of our documents (totally Mr. Ps idea, he said we should bring our entire filing cabinet while I was cool with just to protocolo and passport, I guess I should know that a Brazilian knows bureaucracy!), we asked the secretary if the contract to open our bank account, which was the only document which had our “address” could serve as a proof of address.
She said “Is it an electric bill, water bill, cable bill”
Us: “no its a contract to open a bank account, is it valid?”
Her: “Don’t you have a bill, you can use a water bill, any bill doesn’t even need your name on it”
Us officially: “No we don’t have any of those will the contract work or not?” Us in our head “Hey lady don’t you think we want a friggn electric bill, water bill, and cable bill, I’d take electricity any day, water, clean water we don’t have to filter sounds great, how bout you tell your big boss to get us those friggn services and I’ll bring you the bill.” At this point she brushed us aside and took the next person in line.
Robbed at the Cartorio
We walked out and sat by the bus stand, the sun getting hotter by the minute, while we contemplated what to do next. The federal police station is on the peripheral of the city and it took a long time for a taxi to drive by. Eventually we waved one down and booked it to the closest Cartorio, back to the center of the city, next to the hotel we had just come from, for 1/2 the fare (told you). This was my first experience in the Cartorio, as my husband had so far gone alone (I think in a conspiracy to make me think life wasn’t so hard here?). Cartorios are like public notaries in the US on steroids. They are large offices that epitomize the bureaucracy of Brazil, copying and certifying documents ALL DAY LONG. You would think any government office could take copies of your documents and photos for their multiple redundant IDs and registrations (like at the RMV) but nooooo, or be located near a Cartorio at least, but again nooooo. Luckly the line was fast and we got what we needed quicker than I had imagined to the tune of over 150R in copies mind you!
Where Do They Keep the Damn Banks?
From there we wandered, aimlessly, in search of a bank or lottery office to pay the fees. The “lottery office” is an unusual place. I’d say its a hybrid of a bank and weirdly a convenience store without the actual store, you can buy federal lottery tickets, pay bills, open a bank account, receive “welfare” benefits, and oh so much more. We asked many people as we wandered where the bank was and each pointed us in a different direction. Brazilians don’t like to disappoint so they’ll just point you in some direction like they know what they are talking about. Eventually we stumbled upon a money exchange store I happened to recognize from my internet searches. Using my super photographic location memory I made a mental note to go back there after this fiasco was taken care of. Walking in circles in the sweltering Amazon heat we eventually made our way to downtown (I thought we were downtown???) and found all the banks scrunched together into a two block radius. Again this was my first time in a Brazilian bank (wow my day just kept getting better and better, you know what I mean if you’ve been to a bank here!) After I emptied my purse and pockets of everything that could set off a metal detector I was met by a guard with a semi-automatic and a line of people so long you would have thought it was Black Friday at Walmart. I have to say I will never huff and puff about waiting for the one customer ahead of me at a US bank branch ever again (the one time every 4 years you actually have to see a teller or bank manager). Brazilian banks are a special breed of business where horrible customer service doesn’t seem to have any affect on the amount of customers that keep going back. It seems you need to see a teller for just about everything besides taking a few hundred out of the ATM (when your card isn’t blocked), although with the amount of people in line ahead of you at the ATM who have NO IDEA what they actually do at an ATM it may be faster to see the teller then teach 1/2 the city to use a card before you can check your balance.
Sweltering Lunch Time Stroll
So I handed our toddler to Mr. P and he paid the fees (Ok, we totally abused the priority lane but then who doesn’t borrow a baby or two when you go to the bank in Brazil) and jumped in the first taxi outside, back to the PF before it closes for lunch at 11:45. We walked in a few minutes before 11 proud and ready to stick it (silently of course) to the admin lady at the front desk (we pulled it off in just a few hours nahnahnahnahnah.) Well as the taxi drove away I got a sinking feeling, I looked down at the list, we had forgotten the photos. I didn’t even want to say anything, we had already walked the city of Porto Velho, paid countless fees and taxis and now after a minute of victory we’d be hitting the pavement, again. Figuring if we let that taxi get to far we wouldn’t see one for a while I yelled to Mr. P to STOP the taxi and he went running down the road. I told him about the missing photos and somehow he still kept his shit together (I think it was so I wouldn’t freak out.) By this time the taxi driver thought we were a bit looney but we asked him to bring us to a passport photo store. Back to the same 5 block radius downtown we went. Since it was lunch time he offered to wait for us while we took pictures and he grabbed a bite next door. They snapped my pic and Photoshop-ed it, I was wearing nice clothes to go to the PF but I guess anything remotely tanktop-ish is just unacceptable. For anyone getting passport, visa, document pictures for or in Brazil remember to wear sleeves.
Back to the PF in the same taxi (this guy is making some sweet money) we hop out into the now sweltering mid-day sun. The PF is closed until 2pm,and we suddenly feel a twinge of hunger. We look to the left, abandoned lots and the edge of the airport, and look to the right, a gas station and then a heck of a walk towards anything that could remotely have food. Well hunger wins and we start the journey through the desert. We walk and get to some shops, TAMs cargo port, drug stores, (I think the sidewalk has now burnt a hole through my sneakers), a sketchy looking daycare, granite shop, nothing, we stop under the shade of a bus station to regroup and get a brilliant idea! Lets jump on a bus (much cheaper than a taxi and we are down to some precious bills after selling our souls to the taxi driver, Cartorio, photo shop, and Brazilian government) and go back into town, at least until we see a restaurant out the window. But we look around, and realize, what if the bus doesn’t bring us to downtown, what if it brings us to the heart of a favela, and we calm our hunger, and enthusiasm and settle on a Popsicle from the convenience store. We drag ourselves and our now sticky but happy toddler back in the direction of the PF. The baby on Mr. Ps shoulders dribbles pink icepop all down the front of his shirt (whoever puts a baby with a Popsicle on their shoulders is asking for trouble). So we stoop behind a wall and he switches shirts while a security guard stares at us, wow I wanna go home! Would it be soooo bad to just forget the whole paperwork thing hahaha!
As we are just about to round the corner, back to the PF, we stumble upon a watermelon street vendor. JACKPOT! She is sitting under two huge mature, shady Mango trees with piles of Watermelons, one plastic table and stools made out of tree stumps, looks like heaven to me. We slump onto the stumps and Mr. P orders 2 bottled waters and 3 slices of ohhh soo fresh watermelon. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!
2pm finally rolls around and I’m the first one banging down their door. I hand the secretary my pile of paperwork and wait. She purposely calls in a few people ahead of me even though they showed up after and finally when it looks like there is no one else left she tells me to wait while she “discusses my case with someone in the back.” Oh boy, my stomach tightens, why is this such a big deal, I gave you the papers you want, let me in there! She comes back and reluctantly sends me in. The PF officers were nice, joked about me almost being sent home (I only hope they really were kidding) and fingerprint me at every possible angle you could think of.
Done, they handed over my protocolo and sent me on my way. I’m to pick up my Registro Nacional de Estrangiero in a few months (yes, months, apparently it takes months to print an ID card (come to find out this actually took 10 months! I called, 6 months later and it wasn’t ready and finally picked it up 10 months later as I was leaving for the USA! Just a warning.)
I am sooooo out of here.
Oh and remind me when I need a new business to open a lunchonette outside the PF of Porto Velho.
Saturday is a holiday, Brazilian Independence day! This turned out to be a nuisance for us, as I have exactly one day to register my permanent resident visa before it expires (you get 30 days from entry) as we assume federal offices will be closed Friday. We had to figure a way back to civilization to the nearest Federal Police Station. We have three city options within our state all hours and hours away. Down to almost exclusively US dinero, which we forgot to change in our mad suitcase rush at the airport (didn’t matter because come to find out there is no money exchange booth at the airport in Porto Velho) we had to figure something out. Since Porto Velho was the least painful option (5 hours instead of 8-10) and we knew (or at least the internet said) there was a money exchange company we had to return back to where we had come from- back to Porto Velho. With only a motorcycle, R20 in our wallet (opening a bank account to transfer money into, as I’ve already written, is a long process, though what isn’t in Brazil), and with a nursing toddler who could not be left over night we set off to the nearest city leaving our oldest (who does not speak Portuguese) with the in laws (who only speak Portuguese). Three taxis, two ice creams, and almost 9 hours later (there was quite a lot we did along the way, like finally get our US debit card to work, though with evil international transaction fees) we arrived at a shabby hotel (we after all did tell the taxi driver to bring us to a “hotelzinho” or like the equivalent of a discount motel in the US, so totally our fault. By the way, never ask for a motel in Brazil, they rent those by the hour 😉 )
The trip there by taxi was actually quite painless. Each city has large bus terminals with taxi stands where the taxi drivers only commute from terminal to terminal. You pay about 5R more or $2 for the taxi than the bus fair but you get the comfort of fewer people, maybe more space (depending on how many you share the taxi with), functioning AC ect.
So, we checked into the “hotelzinho” paid our 35R per person, like $30 USD together, and followed the long winding corridor with fashionable mismatched tiles, floor to ceiling, until we came upon our room. The room thankfully was clean though nothing fancy and our $30 got us two cold showers and a 1/2 nights sleep, as the party crowd stumbled in at all hours of the morning yelling festively through the paper thin walls. Best part, under the unusually high door jam to the next room which looked to be storage we spotted a rat running around. Serves us right.
One of the most beautiful sites I have seen so far in Brazil has been the night sky. Out here in the middle of nowhere with electricity miles away the nights are DARK when the full moon is not out. It is so dark you can see the lights (space dust? I’m not 100% sure of exactly what it is) of the milky way. I didn’t know any of the constellations until I whipped out my handy dandy ipad star chart app (which drew awws of amazement from the inlaws). Being on the other side of the world is a completely new sky scape! What a treat, while I hate getting up to go to the outhouse at night at least I can look up and take in the sites!
Today we went to school! Here grades kindergarten though 4th year are all at the same time in the same classroom in our little one room school house. Classes are from 1pm-5:15pm. The building is better than I was expecting, made of wood planks but close together and relatively new yet it could use a paint job. They recently flattened a soccer field to the side of the school to be planted with grass during the rainy season. Water comes from the house down the street and is clay filtered at the school. Boys and girls rooms are outhouse holes (to tell you the truth after three weeks squatting I was surprised to use a toilet at the gas station last week!) There are nice big windows for “air conditioning” though the professor noted it gets really hot on sunny days ( another reason to get energy asap, put a fan or two in that school!)
When we arrived all the children were waiting outside the locked school waiting for the professor, not a parent in sight (never would that fly in the US!)
I brought both the kids and intended to stay as my son speaks no Portuguese. I’d use the disguise of translator to check out this little school. The children were well behaved and attended to their lessons and the professor, while having a lot on his plate (imagine teaching 5 grades!), kept a good balance of control and freedom though it could have a lot to do with me sitting in the back too!
Today Mr. P passed the half way mark of digging out our “pit” septic. He got little done though after lunch as one person (sales person) after another came a knocking. I counted at least 11 different people with different wares to sell come along, including seeds, surveying, the guy who showed up last week begging for the house construction job, and most interestingly an electric company salesman. We have lucked out again, first the roads, now the lights, all in one week! They are trying to get enough neighbors to bring the electricity down this road privately and say if they get going soon they MAY be able to get it in before Christmas. We have a community meeting marked for next Wednesday, a lot of people are interested so hopefully something will come of it! Neighbors are sick of waiting for the government initiative Luz Para Tudos as they think its hardly likely anything will come any time this year, then you have an election year meaning really nothing gets done, finally when some money might get funneled towards the project who says us way out yonder will be close to the beginning of the line, unlikely.