mercredi 25 juin 2014

The Concrete Jungle: A Survival Guide

Queridos amigos,

It really definitely has been a long time since I posted on here! Last time I posted here, I was on my way back to England from Brazil, following a life-changing 18 months in Vicosa, Minas Gerais with Latin Link.  Now, almost two years, a lot of hard work and heartache later, I am living here in Sao Paulo, married and settling in to our new home and family life amidst World Cup and pre-Olympic fever, praying and waiting to see what God has in store for us.  When I left Paulo in 2012, in many ways we didn't know what would happen, where or when.  To say that it has been a challenge to get to where we are today would be an understatement, but we have been looked after in so many ways, so many doors have been opened, and so many special people have been placed in our path to cheer us and steer us along.

Coming back to Brazil has in many senses been like putting on a pair of high heel shoes that haven't been worn in a long time. That is, they look beautiful and make you feel amazing, but remembering how to walk in them isn't easy, and blisters and bruises become necessary in order for your feet to be sufficiently calloused to wear them.  I thought I was a dab-hand at Brazilian culture, and that months  of Paulo and I to-ing and fro-ing would exempt me from culture shock.  I was WRONG!

These are just some of the things I had forgotten about Brazil, and some golden rules I have had to force myself to re-learn.

1 Avoid getting in a car with a Brazilian (at all costs)

When Paulo told me his best friend was picking me, Mike and Mum up from the airport upon our arrival, I was already apprehensive.  I have only had 2 near-death experiences in my life, and both of them happened to be, by some co-incidence, when this friend (who we shall call Alex for argument's sake) was at the wheel.  I was actually impressed that his usual simultaneous GPS-fiddling, mobile-phone answering, English mickey-taking and occasional steering resulted in only a couple of U-turns and near-misses.  However, on the way back to drop them off at the airport, and Alex in a rush to get home for an appointment, I knew my farewell tears wouldn't stay on my cheek for long.  As usual, the polite question "where is the seatbelt?" resulted in either a look of deep shock and offense, or a laugh of resignation. 1 hour, 10 ignored red lights and a speed cruise along the bus lanes later, we made it home, me shaking and thanking God for my life.  Is there a law against driving like this? Yes. Is it illegal to drive without a seatbelt? Probably. Does anyone bother to enforce things like this? No, because most of the time the driving licence was bought and not earnt... and how else would the police get by without all that lovely bribe money?

2. Being clean is very important... even in unclean places

Please don't get me wrong, I am not a smelly person! Brazilians joke that the English never wash because it's too cold.  Well Sao Paulo is now actually freezing, and I am still having my obligatory 2 showers a day, thank you very much!

I had forgotten quite how dirty Sao Paulo is.  The sheer volume of homeless people on the streets, together with the scorching sun and smelly rivers make this an inevitability. In Sao Paulo, it is not only dog mess you will find in the streets, unfortunately...

Sao Paulo is a concrete jungle,  both beautiful and ugly, an explosion of culture and commerce.  Graffiti is not seen as a nuisance, but as a rite of passage, both a necessary and valued form of artistic expression.  In one part of the city, the council removed a large mural from a wall as part of a clean-up initiative. Several riots and a large campaign later, the council had to pay the graffiti artist to re-instate their work and issue a formal apology to the people of the district.  Many of you will know that London is known for Banksy's elusive signatures appearing on buildings across the city.  Sao Paulo is known for Carlos Adao, who seems to love himself a lot, and capitalism a lot less.  I really must track him down one day and thank him for entertaining me on my bus journeys (NB, an idiot's guide to riding on SP buses to follow soon).

3. Noise is Golden

Yes, of course it is fine to blow a football fog-horn at 7.30 a.m. even on a day when Brazil isn't playing.  If I am up, everyone else will have to be as well.  They will just have to learn to sleep more deeply...

4. Bureaucracy + Disorganisation = Chaos

It is with much joy, relief and gratitude that I can report that virtually all of my Brazilian documentation is sorted, that I am officially resident in Brazil, and that our marriage is at long last recognised by the Brazilian government! Huzzah! But I can tell you it certainly hasn't been easy.

To register as a foreigner in Sao Paulo, you must go to an enormous high-security building in the middle of no-where in a place called Lapa, and find the elusive Foreigners Section on the 3rd floor.  This is where the large majority of foreigners will have their first contact with Brazilian life.  And not a single person speaks English.  In fact they will get annoyed if you ask them for any kind of language assistance.  Appointments can be made about 2-3 weeks in advance, and according to them, all the documentation you will need is on the website.  That doesn't stop them inventing a whole load of additional documentation you will require when you arrive, forcing you to re-book after an entire afternoon in the queue behind a multitude of lost foreigners to be seen for your midday appointment... all the while most of the people on the desks are far more interested in their lunch-menu, their boyfriends, or the latest nail colour that is in".  Sigh.

On to happier things.  Having Mum and Mike here for 2 weeks was amazing.  We had so much fun, and having them share these new experiences with me was an incredible blessing.  Seeing colourful Rio and chaotic Sao Paulo through their eyes was like seeing them for their first time in all their glory.  Of course the Christ Redeemer statue and Copacabana beach were highlights, but the little comic gem moments were the best.  Waking up to hearing Paulos mum merrily chatting away to my Mum about the ins and outs of making coffee for a full 10 minutes without registering that my Mum didn't understand a single word, was a classic.

Another one, Mum was merrily tucking into Brazil's national dish feijoada, a black bean stew with pieces of assorted meat.  That is, she was enjoying it thoroughly until Paulo told her it came from the black slave heritage, when the slaves were passed all the left over bits of pig such as ear and foot and tail to boil from their Portuguese owners.  Suddenly Mum didn't like it so much anymore!

Every time I see the burger fast food menus here with the "burger of the day", I think of my mum and chuckle.  The menus are labelled for each day of the week as follows: "Seg Ter Qua Qui Sex Sab Dom".  On her first day here mum asks me loudly, "what on earth is a SEX burger??"" (Mum, it means sexta-feira, Friday, and everyone is staring.....)
As I go through these highs and lows, I have been so overwhelmed by the support of everyone in both England and Brazil, and although transitions can be difficult, they are a great opportunity for growth and strengthening of character.
I have been particularly blessed by a daily verse calendar that my good friend Heather Totten gave me as a leaving present.  Every day it seems to be so appropriate and encouraging! On one particularly low day, I read:
"Now glory be to God who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of - infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts or hopes". Ephesians 3:20
And that day my RG (Brazilian ID paperwork) finally came through!
I have waffled on for long enough, but more news will follow soon!
x x x

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