quarta-feira, maio 16


So, FYI. Sprite in Brazil, sucks.

It's been a year, to when I packed up my last suitcase and headed to Miami to get a "good night's rest" before heading to Brazil to start the next chapter in my life.

At lunch today I decided to celebrate with a Sprite, a refrigerante I actually haven't ever drunk over the past year. It's a soda I always enjoyed in the US, it's light, crisp, refreshing...

...and absolutely terrible in Brazil.

So, if you ever come to Brazil, and you want a refrigerante, don't get a Sprite. Opt for a Coke. It's WAY better than the US version. Or, go Brazilian and get a Guaraná Antartica. That's delicious (and maybe a bit more natural? Maybe?)

sexta-feira, abril 20


Yesterday I needed to get a manicure done, a weekly ritual for me here when I'm not running around like a chicken with my head cut off, and I have yet to find a manicurist that I reaaaaly like. They were either too expensive (meaning it was R$30 or ~US$15 for a mani/pedi/massage/french tips) or I didn't like how they did the manicure. Yesterday those problems were solved.

I found the BEST manicurist BY ACCIDENT. I swear that is how the best things usually happen. I was walking up the main avenue in town after one of my tutoring sessions and I decided to find a salon. The clouds were also very ominous and it had started to thunder a bit, so I decided I needed to find a salon, and FAST. I walked up the street about 5 blocks and I ran into a pretty simple looking salon, and the manicurist was just cleaning up her space. I asked if they had a slot and she said sure, come on in! When I asked the price do do just my hands (I was wearing closed toe shoes that day so doing a pedi was just a bad idea), she said $R8, and I got worried it was going to be terrible, but since it was starting to downpour I decided to stay.

IT WAS THE BEST MANICURE EVER! She did it total Brazil style (check out this post that I remembered from a fellow blogger who is in Rio) meaning she managed to get rid of all my cuticle and excess dry dead skin around my nails (without me bleeding! a huge bonus!) ANNNND she slopped nail polish all over my finger. Brazilian manicurists do this because it helps to seal the paint around the nail (and yes, it works!). She was super nice and managed to clean off all of the excess nail polish even though the color was very dark. This is a big deal because for the most part, Brazilian nail polish remover sucks (note to self: bring back tons when I go to the States in June) and this is usually my biggest problem with Brazilian manicurists. They tend tend to miss spots and then I'm all irritated because I didn't notice it until I was already home, then I manage to screw up the whole manicure in my attempts to clean off the smudges... baah).

Anyhow, I'm sold. Problem? It's way far from my house, but just a few blocks away from one of my clients, SOOOO, I think this will be my new Tuesday or Thursday afternoon activity. Nails! :)

quarta-feira, abril 18

Something I love about Brazil

I love that I understand what is in my food (for the most part). In the states I hate buying anything in a can, box or sealed and almost always opt for making it on my own. I read labels, all the time (a terrible and awesome habit I picked up from my high school/college sweetheart) and I won't even think about buying things if I don't understand one of the first ingredients and I refuse to buy it if theres all  those crazy colorants and "artificial flavor" this and that. I really do try to lead a healthy lifestyle (with regards to foods) and by healthy I mean as few chemically altered and processed things as possible.

This is where Brazil rules.

I can grab almost any yogurt on the shelf and I understand EVERY ingredient. Butter is CREAM and SALT and cookies are normally just, well, sugar, flour and chocolateeeee! I love this. And High Fructose Corn Syrup?? Noone even knows what I'm talking about. Coca-Cola says SUGAR. Cereal says SUGAR. Things here are sweetened with SUGAR! Wow, who woulda thought!?

I was at the store today and saw a new Nestle brand yogurt with "cereals." I decided to check it out and it's really just fruit pulp, natural yogurt, and all sorts of grains. I understand every single thing on the label from the first ingredient to the last. Result? I bought it and daaayyyuuum it's yummy.
I love that I live in a culture that FOR REAL takes seriously eating naturally. Açaí shakes are available on almost every corner (from LOCALLY PICKED AÇAI TREES) made with milk from local cows and with all sorts of other yummy Amazon fruits and such. The only thing that isn't Amazon friendly is probably the peanuts that go in the shake, but I'm not sure if they are all imported or not. I have never heard of anyone growing peanuts nearby.

Lastly, I love that I live in a place in which the government incentivizes planting trees. You can get tree saplings (is that the right word? like, baby trees?) for FREE every WEEK! All sorts of local trees, including Açaí, palm trees and other LARGE fruit trees. We're trying to figure out where we want to plant some in our yard, even though we already have a ton of trees. You can never have too many!

segunda-feira, abril 16

Couch 2 5K

Well, I wouldn't say I am a couch potato, but more of an un-motivated fitness freak. I love working out, I love running and walking, but I am super un-motivated to do it. I love yoga and jumping rope, but alas, I am unmotivated to get off my butt and make time for it.

So, I decided (after missing 3 weeks at the gym) that I would start a new regimen. I have had various friends participate in the Couch 2 5K workout program and I have decided to take part. The fun thing about the C25K is that they have downloadable 30 minute mp3 routines that you follow (there are plenty of other resources as well if you don't like technoish dancy music for your runs). Your "coach" encourages you to keep going, to run faster, to walk and take a break. It's a 3 day a week program, each week getting a bit more difficult with the goal of a 5K run after 9 weeks. I'm pretty excited and I have done two days of the program so far and it's worked out great for Ice and I. He looooves the fact he is getting walked on a more regular basis and I love the fact I feel more motivated. I got up at 6am to go for a run this morning and it was perfect. No cars, nice and chilly (it had rained all night so it was extra chilly) and the sunrise was in-cred-i-ble.

So, so far so good. Two days of 30 minutes of active walking running. I'm going to try to run 4x a week (even though the program is for only 3x a week) and mix it up with at least one or two days of weight training at the gym, probably on Tuesdays and Thursdays since they are my more free evenings, and pay each time I go, instead of monthly. It works out to be much cheaper.

I encourage you to check it out if you have been wanting to get moving but just haven't been able to get motivated. Let's do it together! C25K style!!

One thing that bugs me about Brazil.

So, life as an ex-pat is always an adventure and in most cases you have to stop comparing where you were born to where you are living, or you either end up hating where you came from, or hating where you are living. That's my best advice to ANYONE who is planning on living abroad permanently (or for an extended period of time.

Anyhow, there is one thing that drives me INSANE about Brazil. Particularly interior Brazil, and that thing is the availability of tampons (or lack thereof) and the role of women in society.

First of all, tampons. I'm a good old American girl who can't stand pads. I hate them. I feel like I'm wearing a diaper and to make matters worse, its a million degrees and humid in Rondônia and i can't imagine a better combination for breeding bacteria and fungus than hot, wet, humid, sweaty PLUS a pad. Reason #20398098409534 for why I don't understand WHY Brazilian women don't prefer tampons.

Anyhow, whenever I need to go to the store to pick up tampons, it's always an adventure. They are (that is, if the store actually carries them) usually hidden on the bottom shelf behind a bunch of other things, out of view. To make matters worse, they are absurdly expensive (pads are about R$2 while tampons are about R$9 for the same quantity). And finally, as I make my way around the grocery store finishing up my other purchases and finally making my way to the checkout, I feel like I am doing something wrong. The lady (god forbid I choose a lane with a male cashier) always looks at me like I am sinning and quickly hides them in a bag, or multiple plastic bags, to save me from the shame of being seen with tampons.

In a more than a few conversations with my female friends I've come to the conclusion that women here don't use tampons because they simply don't know HOW. I had a friend tell me she thought it made no sense to use tampons because you had to take them out every time you needed to pee. She also told me that it hurt to use and she was terrified that it would get lost inside of her the few times she tried so she completely abandoned the idea altogether. This whole conversation worried me more than a little bit because 1) she doesn't know her own body... she thought her urethra and her vagina were the same thing 2) because she was obviously using the tampon incorrectly due to the pain and 3) I have no idea why she thinks it will get lost inside of her as in all my years of using tampons, I have never had a string break or have one go missing.

This leads me to the second part of this blog entry, the role of women in society.

These three problems that I have just highlighted are due to lack of INFORMATION! I get so irritated when things like sex and menstruation are simply avoided in schools and mother-daughter conversations because they are essential for women to have self-worth and feel reassured that they have a strong place in society. This obviously doesn't just happen in Brazil but also in the United States, but I feel that it is much more taboo in Rondônia than in Pennsylvania.

I took this moment to sit down and have a few important conversations with my 20 something year old Brazilian friend about her body, about how it's totally OK to use tampons and how it doesn't take away your virginity (she's married, but I still thought it was important for her to understand this point) and I gave her step-by-step (verbal, of course) instructions on how to properly use tampons, including the fact that you CAN PEE when you are wearing one.

I'm lucky to have had a mother who explained everything to me without imaginary stories of storks and was not afraid to help me to learn about my own body, my sexuality and even bought me my first box of condoms which were hidden in the back of our bathroom cupboard (obviously accompanied by a loooooong talk about healthy relationships, how sex, even with condoms, is risking your health, how its a BIIIG decision, etc....). It is because of these open and frank discussions, I believe, that I was the only girl out of my group of friends who did not smoke, who didn't drink, who didn't use drugs, who didn't have sex (until I was muccch older) and usually was the one everyone confided in when their boyfriends beat them or demanded sex when they didn't want it.

I continue to remind myself, however, that I live not only in a country that still is a bit "behind" as far as society roles go, and to make matters more complicated, I live in a very conservative, rural area in which women are expected to cede to their husband's orders and there is more than one church that says that women who wear shorts or pants or cut their hair are sinners. Brazil has come a long way (there are women as business owners, politicians, school directors, doctors, lawyers, etc...) but the country still has a long way to go, especially in the frontier zones.

It's moments like these that help me to stop and appreciate how lucky I am that my husband lived in the US for long enough that he realizes it's OK to let your wife go out with her girlfriends for a drink (which I do not have ONE male relative that thinks that is even a possibility), that it's OK to let her go to the gym on her own (I have a friend who's husband won't even let her go unless it's a 100% female gym....) and that its OK for men to cook and clean (which most of my male relatives here scoff at the idea at even being asked to wash a dish.) Although H has learned a lot as a result of his time abroad, he still is at heart, Brazilian, and this causes tension in our relationship from time to time. Interestingly, I have found the more I stand up for myself, the more respect I get in return (even though it may cause a bit of a quarrel at that given moment). That being said, I have been learning to pick my fights carefully when in pubic in order to respect the local culture as much as possible, thus avoiding embarrassing moments for both H and I, and I we choose a better moment to discuss what happened, what either one of us didn't like and try to come to an agreement on how to handle such instances in the future. This is a HUGE exercise of patience and humility for the both of us but it's worth every tongue-biting second of it.

So, even though these two things bug me about Brazil, tampons and the role of women in society, I still love life here. I take advantage of every opportunity to talk about respect, love and following your dreams, especially to young girls. I talk about the importance of healthy relationships and waiting to have sex, but not MAKING THEM FEEL BAD if they choose or have already chosen to. Girls (and boys) need a healthy environment to make their own decisions and healthy environments are created as a result of open conversations with real, unbiased information. It's obvious my mother did not want me to have sex, but as a result of her openness, I waited. It's obvious she didn't want me smoking marijuana, and as a result of her openness, I didn't become a user. Even when the majority of my friends were. She taught me how to use tampons and birth control instead of avoiding those discussions.

Looking back, I still didn't make all the right decisions, but I sure learned a lot and I didn't spend a lot of time lamenting the bad decisions I did make. I took care of myself and encouraged others to do the same. And, you know what, I'm feeling pretty good about where I am in life.

Thanks, Mom. :)

sábado, abril 14

Vicios. I've got 'em, and so does Brazil.

Vicio. Addiction. It's such an ugly word. It means we have an uncontrollable desire for something. That something is a necessity in our lives. I have various additions, some of which are positive, some of which are negative. Among my positive additions, I am addicted to being physically active--walking, running, hiking, working out, etc. This addiction in the states led me to parking far far away from the door of Wal-Mart, constantly irritating my shopping companions, but think of all the BENEFITS of parking far away! Less chance your car will get hit, it's easier to find, and you get to WALK! I'm also addicted to being optimistic in about 99% of life's situations which doesn't always turn out good for me, but helps me get through all of the typical ups and downs of life. Finally, I'm addicted to music and books and shoes and purses and youtube makeup video tutorials (which I don't use, but I love to watch) and facebook.

Well, those are not all GOOD addictions, but they are at least not HARMFUL addictions.

Anyhow, I do have one seriously detrimental addiction. Coffee. This addiction is confounded by the fact that I live in one of the largest coffee exporting countries, Brazil, and I also live in a coffee producing region. AND EVEN MORE SO because I live one block from a coffee processing plant that roasts beans two times a day, morning and evening.

See See! That's Ji-Paraná! (and surrounding cities) all by itself!
 This map is from the Coffee Museum in Santos, São Paulo.
So, as you can assume, life for this coffee fanatic has not been easy. My intake has only skyrocketed since I have moved here. Fresh, locally grown and roasted coffee available on a daily basis? It's like heaven. The fact I don't even have a coffee maker hasn't been a problem at all, either. I've simply bought a plastic support for the coffee filters (that look just like the spot where you put them in a coffee pot) and strain boiling water right through it, just like the coffee pot does.) I simply haven't decided it was important enough to invest in (they run around 30-50 USD depending on the model) nor do I actually have the counter space to put one, so logically it would be more of a pain in the butt to have one.

The coffee filter fits right in and it drips perfectly into my 0.5L Thermos.

I drank coffee when I was stateside, but nothing like this. I started reflecting on how in all stores, banks, offices, schools, churches, basically any place that gathers people has a community coffee thermos for free (this is NOT the case in São Paulo, but is 100% the case in Ji-Paraná). If you are stopping by the bank to make a deposit, you can grab a small coffee, if you are going to your accountant's office, have a cup of coffee, if you are going to church, sure! Have a cup of coffee! If you are going to the doctor, there is always coffee available for clients. It's part of the culture! When I go to my sogros there is always a thermos ready with some cookies or biscuits in a jar on the table to welcome guests and this is pretty much the case in anyone's house that I have gone to. So maybe it's not all my fault.

Coffee has historically been the central export from Brazil to the rest of the world, especially in the early 1900s. There came a point during the 1930s that as a result of overproduction, the stock market crash and depression as well as the fact it coffee is a primary commodity, prices plummeted and being that the Brazilian economy during this time was almost solely based on coffee the government resolved to burn large quantities of the production to maintain the export value. Here is a chapter (in English) from a great book about the Economic Development of Brazil by Celso Furtado, one of the most respected Economic Historians of Brazil. I've read the whole thing in Portuguese thanks to my Economics professor at USP. There has also been a Canadian movie made about the topic that I would love to see.

The government during this time was a revolutionary military government turned democracy turned military dictatorship again led by Getulio Vargas, one of my favorite Brazilian politicians to study. He single-handedly transformed Brazil's economy, educational system and is the reason that Brazil has so much buracuracy. He was extremely nationalistic, the founder of Petrobras and the Ministry of Education and Culture (among like a million other government entities). He declared the New State (Estado Novo in Portuguese) and is the reason for the importance of Carnival and Samba in Brazil as he was attempting to create a "national Brazilian culture" for national unity, a pretty impossible task that he was actually very successful at. His legacy lives on in the name of the Getulio Vargas Foundation, one of the top research bodies in Brazil (that I would love to work for) that also has a variety of courses and social programs. I love to talk with my sogro about what school was like after his reforms, as he was going to school during the post-Novo Estado era and the nationalistic ideals were still the base of the national educational system. See, all military dictators aren't all bad....

Vargas was a HUNK.
What is the most interesting this is that as a result of the huge excess of coffee, it became a central part of Brazilian culture and today that feeling is still largely felt. Especially here in Ji-Paraná. My husband's cousin's wife's father (did you follow that?) was a huge coffee fazendeiro. I love hiking through his old coffee fields and hearing him talk about "the good old days of coffee" which was one of the main reasons he migrated to Rondonia. BY A HORSE DRAWN WAGON. He reaped the rewards of the coffee boom and managed to buy tons and TONS of land and today is extremely successful. He has turned large portions of his old coffee plantations into passion fruit plantations (equally delicious) and it's so interesting to talk about the changes, the challenges, the successes and the failures of living in a country based on primary commodity exports, being that I have studied this stuff for the last, ohh... 8 years.

In closing, it's not my fault I am addicted to coffee. It's Brazil's fault. If they didn't have such delicious coffee I wouldn't be drinking so much of it. Also, if it hadn't been an essential economic tool for survival, it wouldn't have become such an integral part of their culture. Brazil simply loves coffee and Becky loves that Brazil loves coffee. Case closed.

And now, I'll leave you with a beautiful song from the late 1940s sung by Frank Sinatra (re-recorded in the 1960s) about Coffee and Brazil. It's such a perfect song for any professor that is going to begin a lecture about the importance of coffee in Brazil!

"You can't get cherry soda 'cus they've got to sell their quota And the way things are I guess they never will They've got a zillion tons of coffee in Brazil" (see more lyrics here
Sing it, Frank.

I particularly like at the end when he says "Eiiii Pedro! Get the flashlight! I can not find the sugar!" in a really bad Brazilian-ish accent. Nothing like being politically correct.

segunda-feira, abril 9

My Easter Weekend

Well, what can I say. It was incredible. I originally was getting all depressed about yet another holiday away from my family, but excited to experience Easter in Brazil (a holiday that I had not yet experienced here). I had been seeing the giant chocolate eggs taking over the grocery stores over the past few weeks and my anticipation continued to build as I thought about devouring one all by myself on Sunday whenever I had to make a stop to buy milk, bread or laundry detergent. I was reminded of when I first started dating my husband in 2009 and he brought me a giant chocolate egg. My grandmother and I spent weeks and weeks eating it and BOY was it delicious! Mainly children and boyfriends/girlfriends exchange these types of goodies, plus they are super super expensive here so needless to say, I did not get one this year. However, I am planning on stopping by the grocery store today or tomorrow to buy one at discount since Easter is already over ;)

The Eggs are hollow chocolate with chocolate candies inside, typically bon-bons and other goodies!
The whole weekend started on Good Friday (which is even better in Brazil since it is a holiday. Read: NO WORK!) and we went off to the farm. My in-law's farm to be exact. We had a few beers, relaxed, grilled some huge delicious fish and had a great lunch. Afterwards we went off to Humberto's cousin's farm where we spent the day swimming in the river and riding down the small waterfall in an innertube! Ice Finally lost his fear of swimming and swims all over! He got swept downstream a few times since the current was pretty strong but he paddled his way to the riverbank to run back up and try again! He's gotten extremely strong over these past few months and he had fun showing off his strength. He even rode down the waterfall with Humberto in the tube!

After all of that excitement I laid in a hammock by the river while the rest of the crew worked on the farm. I picked up a super inspiring book called Encontrando um caminho by Koji Sakomoto and practically finished it. I read a few chapters more than once as well as it is a really interesting book about self-realization and how to find true happiness. Unfortunately there isn't an English version but if you speak Portuguese I highly recommend it!

Ice and I spent the rest of the day playing fetch (which he still sucks at... He prefers to take all the sticks and such and make a nice pile of everything that I throw for him to fetch instead of bringing the same thing back to me every time. He's not as eco-friendly as I am, I guess.)

Later that evening while talking with my friend's uncle (and admiring the giant moon) we came up with the idea of hiking up a nearby hill (it was really big!!!) to sit on the rocks on top and look down at the city since we had nothing better to do. We had a BLAST. We got up to the top super sweaty and hot, but within minutes a nice breeze started to come through and we had fun taking pictures and being goofy, relaxing and finally simply sitting in silence looking at the beautiful valley surrounded by hills, the bright moon, the beautiful clouds and the simple fact that we were able to be in that location, at that moment and appreciate nature and the presence of some great people.

(Pictures of the outing to come....)

On the way back down, we ran into  a tatu or armadillo! Amadillos are popular in the rural areas as a food source and I had never eaten one (and I'm always complaining about that! You can't buy armadillo meat in the stores, though, because they are a protected species, of course, but I just want to try it at least ONCEEEE!) Anyhow, Humberto and my friend's uncle tried to chase it down (Ice enjoying the hunt to the FULLEST) and unfortunately for us (and fortunately for the tatu) he found his way back to his hole and was safe out of reach. We got home, fully exhausted after 1am and I crashed in bed until 10am! Ice was so exhausted when I got up to go say hello to my friend's grandmother and drink a cup of coffee with her and her husband (my morning routine when I am at their place since I normally get up earlier than the rest of the crew who stays up until 3am playing cards) that I thought he had gone on an adventure. He normally follows me over to her house without me even calling but as I was drinking my coffee I realized he was nowhere to be found. When I went back home I found him sleeping soundly on the porch, completely unaware to the fact that I was there. Poor buddy, all that swimming, running, playing fetch and mountain hiking wore him out!

The rest of the day we spent at our friend's farm, helping put together their fence and clearing out the old corn fields so they can plant grass for horses and cows. (By WE I mean everyone else. I continued to lay in the hammock by the river with Ice and only helped when it was necessary! haha!) I spent a lot of time thinking about my current goals and objectives (since I have realized I finished off my Pre-30 Bucketlist I had made in college (with the exception of saving a ton of cash...) I managed to write a few personal development goals and am still trying to decide what types of professional goals I would like to achieve in the next 5-10 years. I feel that I won't be able to decide that until Humberto and I really decide where we want to be living in the next 5-10 years since going back to the US is looking like more of a possibility, especially when we think about our potential future children. (We don't like Brazilian schools at all and don't even want to consider that option, however, home schooling is out-lawed here in Brazil, so we put into an interesting situation...). Needless to say, there was lots of thinking going on Sunday afternoon....

Later on, we had a huge lunch of stuffed grilled fish (MmmmMmMmMm!) and then went back to my in-laws later in the evening for churrasco and to watch the famous Fantástico, the most popular Sunday News show on TV in Brazil. I hate Brazilian news becuase I think it is largely manipulated by the government. They always show a few cases of corruption that are being taken care of, a few bandits that were caught, some suggestions on how to stay safe, make money, and stay fit and usually end on some type of documentary from British or American TV that takes you off to a far-away destination. It helps lesser educated Brazilians feel that the political problems are being taken care of (which I doubt any real improvements are being made) and that they are going to be okay (financial and personal security as well as personal health) and then makes them ooh and aah as they look at different places in the world and forget about the real problems. I might be being too pessimistic, but I think it's a big hoax.

After we got home around 10pm I worked on my lesson plans for today knowing not many students would show up (since in Brazil all holidays are extended longer than the official calendar dates...) and here I am now at the University working on my blog and some translations, getting ready to eat lunch. mMmmMmMmmmm.....

What did you do this Easter? Brazilians? Americans? American-Brazilians? Did you get any Chocolate Eggs? :)