Baby Got Back

I’m back! I kind of fell off the blogging wagon and wasn’t really sure if I should get back on or not as there are tons of other things I really should be doing rather than blogging (a looming thesis with a June 14 2014 deadline being one of them!) But since I’m a procrastinator, and June is a really long way off, I figure what’s a few blog posts here and there, right? 

But now that I decided that I’ve neglected this blog for too long, I really have nothing to write about. So I’ll just leave you with this for now until something worth writing about happens:

Image

I saw these jeans for sale at a C&A store in Belo Horizonte. You don’t have to be fluent in Portuguese to figure out that ‘Bumbum’ means butt.  Isn’t it refreshing to see a pair of jeans that are made to give the illusion of a bigger butt rather than another pair of Spanx?  Only in Brazil!

Be Careful What You Blog About

When I first started this blog, I never thought that anyone would actually read it, so I wasn’t too concerned about what I posted. But after reading a blog entry written by a woman who found out that the photos of her kids that she took during their potty training process had been posted on a child porn site, I thought I’d perform a reverse image search of my own. In case you haven’t heard of this, a reverse image search helps you identify if images from your blog are being used elsewhere on the internet, and it is very easy to do. Kevin and Amanda wrote an easy tutorial on how to do a reverse image search here - and while you are over at their site, be sure to check out their Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie n’ Oreo Fudge Brownie Bar recipe. It’s beyond delicious!

I hadn’t posted any pictures that I thought would ever end up in the wrong hands, but then again, I’m sure the blogger mentioned about never anticipated it happening to her images either. Thankfully, during my reverse image search, my photos didn’t appear on such sites, but I was surprised to find out that a few UPS stores in the Boston area were using a picture from a post I wrote that discussed taking passport photos of your kids. And it wasn’t just a small image lost within the text – it was a HUGE banner photo on their home page.

When I posted the photo, I was aware that posting a large-scale, high-resolution photo wasn’t the smartest idea, but I figured that very few people were going to be reading my blog because I wasn’t even telling people about it; I’ve only accumulated a few followers in response to comments I left on other blogs or those who happened to stumble upon my blog. But Google Image search makes it very easy to find images used on even the most obscure sites. When I look at my WordPress stats, “passport photos for kids” is one of the Google search terms that frequently leads people to my blog, and thus the Passport Photos for the Kids post is one of my most read posts.

Although the photo that the UPS stores copied from my blog wasn’t used in a degrading manner, I still felt uncomfortable and a little guilty about putting images of my kids out there that could have ended up in far worse places. The first thing I did was remove the photo from my site. I then edited it so that the image size was much smaller and the resolution was so low that at least it wouldn’t be useful in print advertising or as a banner image on someone’s site. I also used a Photoshop plug-in to add a watermark to all of my images. I would have removed the image completely, but because of the topic of the post, I thought that it was important to include an example, and the photo was just a headshot of my daughter so I wasn’t too concerned that it would end up on a questionable site.

The next thing I did was to add  a Creative Commons Attribution to my blog. This gives people permission to use my images as long as they follow certain guidelines such as: attributing the work to me, using it for noncommercial purposes only, and that they may only use it in its original state – they  may not alter the image in any way. There is also a clause that discusses  “moral rights” which may provide some protection if the work is used in a “derogatory treatment.” And then to add another layer of protection, I added a copyright blurb to the sidebar and footer of my blog.

And lastly, I wrote a cease and desist letter to the UPS stores that were using the image. I informed them that the image that they were using was under copyright, and I requested that it be removed. I also pointed out that they were under legal obligation to do so in a reasonable period of time now that they had received my letter. I checked their websites periodically, and after discovering that the image was still being used after more than a month, I sent another email notifying them that I was aware that they had not yet removed the image and reminded them of their legal obligations. Within a week, the image was removed from all the sites.

This experience, as well as the blog post I read entitle Blogger Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Photos You Don’t Own on Your Blog in which a casual blogger was sued for using images she found via Google Image search, made me rethink my own methods of accumulating photos to use on my blog.  Since I didn’t always have an image on hand, I would sometimes use Google Image search. I justified doing so because I wasn’t making money off my blog thus not making money off of someone else’s work, and I thought it was OK because so many casual bloggers get their images this way. I also thought that since I was linking back to the site that I had found the original image on that it was OK, but this isn’t the case. If you have your own blog, make sure to read the Blogger Beware article. She covers some common misconceptions that people believe allow them to use other people’s photos. Unfortunately, she had to learn them the hard way and it was a costly process involving lawyers – all due to ONE photographer who sought legal proceedings after discovering a photo of his on her blog – legal proceedings that occurred even after she removed the photo from her blog.

I am typically very conscientious of the rights of creative professionals as I used to be a graphic designer. I completely understand this photographer’s reasonings. Friends and family often asked me to do design work for them free of charge. You don’t ask your tax accountant friend to do your taxes for free or a friend who is a surgeon to perform surgery for free, but for some reason many people expect friends who are creative professionals to offer their services free of charge. Just as any other skilled professional, photographers, designers, and other creative professionals make a living through their art, and we should all be respectful of that.

After my UPS store experience and after reading the two blog posts that I mentioned, I went through all of my posts and removed any images that I pulled from the internet and some photos of my kids. I know that the chances of being sued for using copyrighted images without permission or having pictures of my children end up on child porn sites isn’t likely, but better to be safe than sorry; right?

Running on Empty

Traffic in Belo Horizonte can be absolutely miserable. Some days you can get where ever you want to go relatively easily, but other days your typical ten minute drive can take you more than two hours. Seriously.

On one such miserable traffic day, my husband decided to steal my car to take our kids to school. He never takes my car, but this would be my luck as it would come back to haunt me later that afternoon. They typical 30 minute round trip drive to school and back took him two hours.  So two hours after leaving to take the kids to school, my husband was almost of out gas. Instead of going directly to the gas station or to his office for that matter, he decided to stop at home and swap my car (whose gas tank was almost empty) for his car (whose gas tank was full).

Fast forward four hours later. It was only 1:00, but I could tell by looking out my window that the traffic was horrible again so I decided to pick my kids up from school (1 hour and 40 minutes earlier than normal). I thought that this would give me plenty of time. It turns out, I thought wrong – very wrong! It took me TWO HOURS to get to the end of my street – a drive which typically only takes TWO MINUTES! As if this wasn’t bad enough, you have to remember that my husband left me with a car with an almost empty tank of gas. There is a gas station right at the end of my block so this shouldn’t have been a problem – that is if it had only taken me the typical two minutes to get there. Although I really shouldn’t complain since my luck was far better than the person stuck in the back of the ambulance that was trying desperately to get through all this traffic. And to give you a small taste of what the mentality of drivers is like here, when I was finally able to move over so the ambulance could squeeze through, the woman behind me tried to cut me off and not let me back in! Drivers here have a “me first” mentality. So I adopted this mentality, flipped her off, and nearly took off her front fender as I reclaimed my rightful spot in the traffic jam – all while cursing her out and praying that she someday finds herself in the back of an ambulance that is stuck in traffic.

Two excruciating HOURS after leaving my house (during which I called my husband no less often than every five minutes to yell at him for leaving me with a nearly empty tank of gas), my car would go no further. I was out of gas – and I was literally right on the other side of the gas station – only seconds away if traffic was normal! I was able to pull over to the side of the road just as the car stalled which is a miracle in itself as street parking is a challenge in its own right. Since I wasn’t sure what else to do, I called my husband to yell at him again. He was stick of my yelling, so he basically told me that while he was very sorry for leaving me with a car with almost no gas and for the situation that I was in, he really couldn’t do much to help me being that he wasn’t even in Belo Horizonte at this time. I was shit out of luck.

After contemplating my options (or lack there of), I decided to walk to the gas station and see if they had one of those red plastic gas containers. They didn’t. All gas stations here are full service, so I approached two guys at the pump and simply said, “Meu carro. Gasolina nao,” which translates to “My car. No gasoline.” I told you my Portuguese was very limited! (I actually know how to form a complete sentence to explain my situation, but I was in stressed out mode and the last thing my mind could handle was trying to speak Portuguese). Not surprisingly, the two men just stared at me. So I broke out my phone, called my husband, told him he needed to speak to the gas station attendant and explain what was going on, and then told the men (in Portuguese) that my husband spoke Portuguese and tried to shove my phone in their faces. Not surprisingly, neither of them were too eager to talk to my husband. They fought over who was going to do it for a while, until one of them clearly lost and he begrudgingly took my phone.

Just as he started speaking to my husband, a woman walked up to the pump with a PLASTIC BAG FULL OF GASOLINE! I was so excited that I just pointed and screamed, “That’s what I need!” To my surprise, she spoke English and asked me if I needed any help. I explained the situation and she confirmed that she had the same problem. She told me that it is illegal to sell gasoline in a bag, but the gas station attendant had called his supervisor and had gotten special permission. While we spoke, another person also approached the gas station attendants to buy gas in a bag – that’s how bad the traffic was. People were running out of gas everywhere!  The gas station attendant walked with me to my car and helped me pour the contents of the bag into my gas tank. I was so relieved – until I got in the car and realized that it only got me a quarter of a tank. In this traffic, that wouldn’t get me very far so I was back to now knowing what to do. But then the light bulb went off, and I realized that I was at least able to get around the corner to the very same gas station so that I could fill it up completely. When I pulled in, the same man who helped me a minute before just kind of laughed at me and filled up the rest of my tank. I now had a full tank of gas and was ready to go! For reasons that are unbeknownst to me, traffic mysteriously lightened up just around the corner, and I was able to get to the school in just under 10 minutes from that point. Two hours to get to the end of my street and only 10 minutes to make it the rest of the way. Go figure.

The moral of the story? When ever you see a gas station, stop and fill up – even if your tank is almost full. You never know when a 10 minute trip will turn into a two-hour ordeal.
I should have learned this lesson after our trip to Rio. You know how the saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

We Survived A Year In Brazil!

This March marks our one year anniversary of living in Brazil. While I feel it was a very difficult year, and I am proud of myself for not throwing in the towel, it seems that others don’t really feel that I have reason enough to celebrate – all because we are here on a company package.  Many people seem to have the opinion that if you are on a company package, your life in a foreign country is just not the true ‘insert name of country here‘ experience and that it must be sooooo easy. I hear this all the time from people. This REALLY irritates me.

I’ve been on all sides of the expat life. I lived abroad long before my husband’s company offered to pay our way. I’ve done it on my own, and I’ve done it with limited support from the school that I worked at. None of those situations were easy. And you know what? This situation isn’t easy either. Sure, I live in a very nice condominium unit. I have hot water in my kitchen. I have a bath tub. I also have a car. My kids attend a very exclusive school. To some, this means that I am not living the true Brazilian experience because many Brazilians don’t enjoy these luxuries. But you know what? The other 99 Brazilian families living in my condominium do. And so do the countless neighbors in my barrio. Yes, it’s an exclusive area and we have amenities that many Brazilians do not – I’ll give you that – but this is MY Brazilian experience. There is no TRUE Brazilian experience just as there is no TRUE American experience.

I grew up middle class. We didn’t live in a fancy house or drive fancy cars. There were no ballet classes or name brand clothes because my parents could simply not afford these things for four kids. My husband grew up much the same. We both put ourselves through college and after graduating, I worked for a nonprofit organization and he worked his way up the corporate ladder. I’m very thankful for the comfortable lifestyle that we are now able to live. Yet there are still neighborhoods in my hometown that my husband and I will never be able to afford to live in. The lives of the people who reside in these neighborhoods may not resemble my own American life while living stateside, but this doesn’t make one of us more “American” than the next. The bottom line is that we all have our own unique reality and perspectives. We all experience challenges and triumphs – we just experience them through a different lens.

What irks me even more when I am told that I have it easy because we are on a company package is the fact that I am dealing with very complicated issues right now that no company package could ever make up for. Since moving to Brazil, my five-year old daughter E has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) as well as several phobias and anxieties that often accompany SPD. She also has a rule out diagnosis for autism – meaning that her test results place her on the autism spectrum, but the team that evaluated her feels that the results may be skewed due to her other issues (it takes E a very long time to warm and to and to interact with strangers thus the evaluation team couldn’t get her to cooperate and could not get very accurate results). I’m confident that there will be to a true autism diagnosis, but the rule out diagnosis just goes to prove how difficult SPD can be. At times, E’s behavior can be much like that of a child with autism if I do not control her environment properly. We have to avoid many situations and social functions that cause sensory overload. Have you ever tried preventing sensory overload in a city of three million people? To say that it is extremely difficult would be an understatement. Once sensory overload sets in, a meltdown of epic proportion is almost inevitable.

I had never even HEARD of Sensory Processing Disorder before E was diagnosed with it. I first had to learn about SPD and all of her other diagnosis’s and then sort them all out in a foreign country – one in which I had only been living in for less than a year at the time of her diagnosis. The fact that I am nowhere near fluent in Portuguese and that I don’t understand the healthcare and mental healthcare system here only complicates the matter. I would not have known where to begin to get her the help that she needs if we were still living in the US, so trying to figure out the system in a foreign country was daunting. Then I had to find therapists who speak English since my daughter isn’t fluent in Portuguese either. It’s been a VERY difficult year. Thankfully, I was able to find E the help that she needs. She currently receives occupational therapy twice a week and psychotherapy/art therapy once a week.

So for those that may not feel that I am living the true Brazilian experience, I would gladly trade you my nice apartment, my bathtub, the hot water in my kitchen, and my car if it meant that E could become a neurotypical child. Not that I don’t love E just the way that she is, but I would give ANYTHING to make her everyday life easier for her and to provide her with a carefree childhood.

This is MY Brazilian experience, and it is not easy.

- Melissa

My Husband Left Me

Marriage is tough. Marriage combined with raising two small children is even tougher. Marriage combined with raising two small kids in a foreign country is basically as tough as it gets . . . well, with the exception of dealing with terminal diseases, natural disasters, death, and whatnot.

When my husband told me that he was leaving, I got really pissed. Had I not given up everything – my career, my social life, my minivan with remote power sliding doors (crucial when toting two small kids around since your hands are always full of crap or kids) – to move to Brazil so that he could further his career? And now he was leaving me with two small kids??? I was livid to say the least.

Once reality set in and my anger subsided, I simply broke down and cried. How would I survive with two little kids on my own? How would my kids react to him being gone? And maybe the most pressing question of all: How in the world does a man who is a much bigger fan of the loo than the Louvre (he never even bothered to visit when he was in Paris – and time was not an issue!) get to spend three weeks in France and Italy while his wife (who would kill to visit a decent art museum right about now) is stuck back in Brazil taking care of two little kids on her own – two little kids who happen to be off of school all week for Carnival leaving their mother without a minute to herself? All I have to say is that when my husband returns from his three-week European business trip, he better have some damn nice presents for me in that suitcase of his, or I might be the one leaving him!

Santa Came Early This Year!

santa letter

Santa came to our house early this year! After hauling all the gifts that he bought in the States this summer all the way to Brazil, he wasn’t about to drag then back to the States again for Christmas (we weren’t planning on coming home for Christmas when Santa did his shopping)! He left us a note explaining that he surprised with our gifts early because he knew that we were leaving this Friday to spend a month in the US, and had he delivered our gifts to us there, they wouldn’t have fit in our luggage so we wouldn’t have been able to bring them back to Brazil. And because he knows that we are spoiled Americans who couldn’t bear to wake up on Christmas morning without a gift to open, Santa did mention in his note that we should send him a letter with one or two gifts that he might have missed on our lists and that he would bring them to our house in the US on Christmas Eve. To top it off, because Santa hadn’t decided until 1:00 a.m. that morning that he would be coming early and the kids were already asleep and couldn’t leave him milk cookies, Santa made sure to explain to us that he helped himself to a snack. Thankfully, Santa knew that a three and five-year old would never question his motives.

After waking up to a surprise visit from Santa, what does any self-respecting American family do after opening the Christmas presents that they really didn’t need to begin with? They head to the mall to buy more crap they don’t really need! Actually, our goal was to hit four malls to check out all their Christmas decorations, but we only made it to one that had an awesome three-story Christmas tree. Hitting four malls was a lofty goal with a three-year old and five-year old in tow, so we weren’t surprised that we didn’t get very far. That’s generally how we roll.

Christas Tree at Diamond Mall

We had visited two other malls in the past few weeks, so maybe another four malls would have been overkill anyway.

BH shopping

BH Shopping has a very cool Christmas village. There must be at least 20 buildings almost as tall as my three-year old.

mushroom

As my sister noted, it looks like we’re waiting for a Christmas gnome rather than Santa. Not sure why he sits under a giant mushroom at Patio Savassi.

Next year, Santa intends to plan ahead and not spring Christmas on us. He’ll pick a date far in advance, figure out in which country he will do his Christmas shopping, and make sure that the fridge is stocked before Christmas arrives. Instead of having our early Christmas dinner at Eddie Fine Burger inside the mall, a home cooked meal would have been nice. But at least we can have a “do-over” on December 25th.

Happy holidays everyone! I hope your celebrations are much more thought out than ours!

Prostitutes, Revolving Doors, and Parking Meters

When I first moved to Brazil, I had no use for banks. Mainly because I was a prisoner in my own home, but it didn’t help that it took my bank SIX MONTHS to get me my debit and credit card. For some unknown reason, my husband’s cards arrived in a week, but no matter how many times my husband called to inquire about the status of my own cards, the days dragged on into weeks and the weeks dragged on into months. In the meantime, I lived like a prostitute; my husband would leave cash on my nightstand for me each morning as he slipped out the door on his way to work. I felt like a kept woman.

Even after my bank cards finally arrived, I still went on living like a prostitute for a few weeks since I was too scared to belly up to the ATM whose menu is only in Portuguese. But one day after being stiffed by my husband, I had no choice but to face my fears and visit the ATM as my maid needed to be paid (I know; such problems I have!). I walked to the bank, stepped up to the ATM, and randomly punched keys hoping that they would be the ones allowing me to withdraw cash. Thankfully, this particular ATM didn’t eat my card after several failed attempts, and about ten minutes later, I walked out of the bank with cash in my hands. Yeah me! I visited that same ATM on two more occasions with no problem. I should have known that winning streak had to end sometime.

The other day, I went to that same ATM (I’ve never dared to try a different one). This time, it’s like I had entered another universe. Instead of walking right into the bank, having the glass doors to the ATM area automatically open for me, and having cash in my hands within minutes, I felt like I had entered Fort Knox. I managed to get through the front door of the bank and into a little glass enclosed lobby area without a problem.  I confidently walked toward the set of automatic doors that open to the ATM area only to almost smash right into them as they did not open as usual. Yet mysteriously, I could see people on the other side using the ATMS. So I stood and stared at the doors for a couple of minutes trying to figure out how to open them while I prayed that someone else would come by and open the doors so that I could slip in behind them. This didn’t happen.

So this picture was actually taken when the bank was closed due to a strike, but it pretty much sums up my experience on a normal business day when the bank was in full swing operating mode.

I then turned my attention the revolving doors. I watched a few people go through the door and tried to determine where they were headed before I decided to give it a shot (why are even the most simple tasks so daunting when living abroad???) I pushed the door forward, stepped in, and much to my horror, I got stuck. The door would not budge. All that watching and observing wasn’t paying off. Being that I am claustrophobic, I immediately started to freak out. After several panicked attempts to push the door forward without it budging, I managed to think clearly for a moment, and then tried to back my way out. Thankfully, this worked. So there I was, right back in the little glass lobby where I had started, staring at the ATMs on the other side of the glass door.

A security guard approached the glass wall and started speaking to me in mumble jumble (aka Portuguese) so I replied back to him in mumble jumble (aka English). He kept pointing to a little glass drawer in the wall which someone else had just put their cell phone in.  So I tried to put my purse in it. He was not happy (I could tell this by the tone of his mumble jumble). Thankfully, I heard a little voice behind me whisper, “Put here.” I turned around to see a petite Brazilian woman pointing at a wall of lockers (Which I had always assumed were for employees even though I could never figure out why they were in the front lobby of the bank. But since nothing here ever makes sense to me, this assumption made complete sense to me. Does that make sense???). So I put my purse in a locker, locked it (thankfully a simple process with no crazy create-your-own-combinations required), and I walked toward the revolving door that the Brazilian woman was pointing me towards. Magically, the revolving door let me all the way through this time. The security guard who was not too happy with me a moment earlier gave me the thumbs up sign, and I headed to the ATM and got my cash. Hallelujah!

I’m not really sure why I was able to enter the bank so easily on other occasions and suddenly it appeared to be on lockdown. Maybe they just pick random days to enforce security. Or maybe the bank was recently robbed. It’s likely that I will never know why because I have no intention of ever going back to that bank. And it’s not because I’m scared of getting stuck in the revolving door again. I’m way more afraid of figuring out how to deal with the five foot three, 90 pound parking attendant that now patrols the city streets outside of the bank. Where’s a good ol’ coin operated parking meter when I need one???

This Girl’s Got Issues

When the opportunity to move to Brazil came up, my husband and I jumped at the chance although I knew it would be a challenge for my oldest daughter who was four years old at the time. E has always thrived on routine. I know that most kids do, but this is a kid who REALLY, REALLY thrives on routine. She also hates change, loud noises, many types of clothes, socks, and meeting new people. This girl’s got issues.

I think it was around the time that E turned three that I realized that these issues weren’t just normal childhood quirks. In fact, they seemed to be getting worse. She would cover her ears and complain about noises that didn’t seem to bother anyone else. She would only wear clothes that were made of certain fabrics and the designs had to be certain cuts. If I wanted to ruin the morning, all it took was a pair of jeans and a knit sweater and hysterics would follow. And socks? Forget about them! They have been the bane of my existence and have instigated countless meltdowns.

But the most challenging and heartbreaking of all of E’s issues were her social differences. While E was very affectionate with me, her dad, her sister, and her grandparents, she would not interact with most people. If we were at a party at a friend’s house that we had been to many times before, it would take three to four hours before E would even get off of my lap. While all the other kids ran around playing and laughing, E was sitting on the side lines, curled up in my lap, just watching. Even after she finally felt comfortable enough to crawl off my lap, she never went and joined the other kids. Other times, she never reached that point of felling comfortable, and after a few hours of being a self-imposed prisoner on my lap, the whining would start. The longer and longer I postponed leaving, the worse it got – sometimes leading to a complete meltdown. This not only happened when we were in a new setting but also at our own house when people came over that E didn’t know well. Her safe haven had been invaded, and this didn’t sit well with E.

I had been dealing with E’s issues for long enough to know the triggers and what E needed to put her mind at ease, but it was not always possible to meet her needs immediately (or at all in some situations), and it was even more impossible to explain to others that she was not just being a brat – she had issues. But without a name or a label to explain these issues, people just looked at me skeptically as if I were trying to make excuses for having raised a bratty daughter. I eventually made up my own little label and started telling people that she had sensory issues and that she was easily over whelmed. This seemed to help a little since it sounded a bit clinical and people never questioned it because they either: A.) didn’t want to appear dumb by not knowing what that meant (when frankly I wasn’t even sure what I meant), or B.) didn’t want to appear to be insensitive by questioning a hidden handicap. In either case, you could tell that they still believed that my daughter was simply a brat. Even my own mother-in-law thought that I was letting E manipulate me by allowing her to refuse to wear certain clothes.

I had always hoped that E would just outgrow these issues. But sadly, this just isn’t happening. Her school uniform has become her worst enemy, and having to wear shoes and socks on gym day is a recipe for disaster. And then there are the social issues. I was heartbroken to hear from E’s kindergarten teacher that after being in school for a few months, E was still playing alone on the playground. Something had to be done. So I sat down with E’s teacher and we talked about has been going on at school and at home. I told her about the sensory issues that we have been battling forever. E’s teacher recommend that she be evaluated by the school’s occupational therapist (OT). Although I had heard of occupational therapists before, I really had no idea what they did. Now that I know, I can’t believe I didn’t find out about them sooner! That little label I gave E  - the sensory issues label? It actually exists, and better yet, it is treatable! Things are now looking up.

E was evaluated by the OT and has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Basically, it’s a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. And lo and behold, this traffic jam can often result in social problems too. Kids with SPD often become socially isolated and suffer from other social and emotional issues. I’ve never been so happy to get “bad” news! I’m just so thankful that now we can start to help E, especially after I read that if left untreated, SPD that persists into adulthood can affect an individual’s ability to succeed in marriage, work, and social environments. I’m glad that we can nip this in the bud while she is still young, not only for her own well-being, but also because, after all, who do you most people blame for their problems as adults? Their moms.

Rio Sucks

The view from our hotel room / Ipanema Beach, Rio

Rio sucks. Or more specifically, the road to Rio sucks as well as the tourist trap known as Christ the Redeemer, and the person who stole our money. They all suck. But the beaches? The beaches were fantastic and the only thing that saved our trip to Rio.

To celebrate the Brazilian Independence Day last month, the kids skipped school, my husband skipped work, and I skipped a day of doing absolutely nothing and we headed to Rio for a four-day weekend. The drive from Belo Horizonte to Rio generally takes six or seven-hours, but being that it was a holiday weekend and that traveling with two small kids required us to make more than a few stops, it took us nine and a half hours. The trip started off pretty well. No major incidents and no major traffic. But then we hit Rio.

Just outside of Rio, everything went to hell. First, my three-year old puked all over herself and her car seat. It was disgusting to say the least. If you’re ever in Brazil and you need a hose, you can find them hiding under a small circular lid in the ground in the parking lots of most gas stations and shopping areas. And if you’re in Brazil and drive from Belo Horizonte (BH) to Rio, you will most likely need to hose someone/something off at some point. A friend of mine who lives in BH and also spent the weekend in Rio with her four kids just told me today that she had been warned that lots of kids puke on the drive to Rio. It’s like one long twisting and turning road through mountains. Thankfully, my five-year old wasn’t bothered, but my three-year old puked on the way home as well. I doubt we’ll be going back to Rio any time soon, but Dramamine will definitely be on our list of things to take with if we do.

Once my daughter and her car seat were cleaned off, we hit the road again, and then BAM! We spent the next two hours creeping along on the very congested highway leading into the city. To make matters worse, we were running out of gas and there was no way to exit off the high way since we were on a VERY long bridge. My husband wasn’t concerned at all, but I seriously almost followed in my daughter’s footsteps and puked as I watched the needle dive further and further in to the red zone. It was totally stressing me out. Even though my husband is a mechanical engineer, I didn’t trust him when he said we had a good forty minutes before we needed to worry. After all, he is a man and they just don’t seem to care about much. And besides that, we hadn’t moved very far in the last forty minutes so there was a good chance that we would only be a couple of miles up the road when the 40 minute mark hit. In the end, we were OK and managed to get gas before we stalled, but I could have done without the two hours of added stress.

Rio

According to the GPS, we were 14 minutes from our destination. Actual travel time to destination? Two hours! I would have hated to have been the person waiting for the ambulance or cops to come help me. Amazingly, they managed to squeeze their way through without killing the snack vendors that roamed the highways.

While in Rio, we went to see Christ the Redeemer. I would NEVER recommend this to anyone! It was a HORRIBLE experience. We took a taxi from our hotel to the train station where we purchased tickets to get up to the top of the mountain. What we failed to realize when we bought the train tickets is that they were for the next available train – 2.5 hours later. So we managed to waste away 2.5 hours with nothing much to do. There was a small playground so that helped us kill time, but we spent a good hour or so just hanging out on some church steps. And that’s where things went really bad.

With two little kids and tummies that don’t stay full for long, my husband went and bought some water and cookies for the girls.  This was all good, until we finally went to catch our train and my husband realized that his wallet was gone. He’s not sure if he left it behind when he bought the snacks or if he was pick pocketed, but thankfully he did manage to get it back (a woman found it on the ground in front of her snack cart and picked it up)  - but unfortunately the BRL $300 (about US $150) that was inside was gone. We really couldn’t complain since at least all the credit cards and his ID were still in place. So we blew it off and didn’t let it ruin our day. We got on our train and headed up the mountain.

But then the kids got hungry again and even though there is a concession stand at the top of the mountain, we were screwed because they didn’t take credit cards. So there we were, stuck at the top of a mountain with two whinny and hungry kids and no way to feed them. Add that to the annoying crowds of people crammed into a very small area – half of who are laying on the ground so that they can take a picture of their friend standing with their arms spread out like Christ the Redeemer and the statue in the background making it nearly impossible for anyone to move around – and you get one really crabby family of four who spent the better half of their morning waiting to get UP the mountain only to now be dying to get DOWN the mountain. I kind of felt like Karl from An Idiot Abroad  when he visited Christ the Redeemer and commented:

“I sorta think from a distance . . . Jesus, top of a hill, lookin’ like he’s about to bungee jump, you pass it, you go, ”There he is. Great. What else are we doin?’” Karl Pilkington 

Thankfully, after a very long wait to take the train down the mountain, we headed back to our hotel where we ordered crappy room service because my kids were too crabby to take to an actual restaurant. We spent the rest of the evening and the next day at the beach where we should have just stayed the entire trip. I’ve decided that all future vacations will revolve around relaxing on the beach. Happy kids and a happy mom trump one of the seven wonders of the world any day.

Melissa - Outbound Mom:

I just ran across this blog post and had to share. Many of us become jaded after living in a new country for a few years and forget just how difficult it is for newcomers. I know I have been guilty of this. Here’s a friendly reminder to reach out to those who have just arrived and are struggling with the basics :)

Originally posted on Communicating.Across.Boundaries:

I found myself growing hot with frustration.

I tried to back up. “Let me explain. Both of you grew up here. You’ve lived in the towns where you now live since you were born. It means you know the rules; you ‘get’ how to do things, how things work. Those of us who move here? We don’t know these things”

I felt like I was speaking to children. The conversation began as I was telling some colleagues about our friends who just moved here for a year after living in Japan, Australia, and most recently, Romania. Their youngest daughter went to her first day of school yesterday.

“So?” was the reaction I got “Big deal.”

It was.

This was her first day of school in America. Ever. She’s in high school and she’s never attended school in the United States. Added to the equation is that this is a part…

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