Facing My Demons: Capoeira

gingo

Today I faced one of my nemesis from my first year in Brazil, Capoeira. About 9 or 10 years ago, I spent almost 6 months trying to fall in love with the Brazilian sport my newish Brazilian husband was crazy about. I failed miserably.

Not only were the movements far too strange for my little gringa mind to comprehend, my coordination couldn’t even begin to follow. To make matters worse, I didn’t understand a thing the teacher said! At that point my Portuguese was limited at best. I could hardly remember the names, much less remember the movements that were designed to go along with them.

The stress of not understanding what was going on, logically followed by a lack of understanding of what I should be doing, led to a state of constant frustration. It quite obviously turned me off to the sport. In all the years since I have associated Capoeira with a feeling of inadequacy, frustration, and insecurity.

Weirdly, or not, at the time I felt the same emotions while dealing with my acclimation and transition to life in Brazil, though outside of Capoeira I was actually seeing some personal improvement. That is why I chose to give the country a chance and the sport the boot.

So how did I end up back in a Capoeira class? Well, my building has a group, a very nice group, with classes for all ages. It started with both The Menace and Chatterbox joining the kids’ group. Shortly there after, Mr Rant decided start practicing Capoeira once again. He had taken a break from the sport when business picked up and children started popping out of my vagina. I mean, who has the time with all that happening. Of course, when the class is literally an elevator ride down, and free, you really don’t have an excuse not to join, do you?

When Mr Rant returned to Capoeira, Chatterbox started asking me why I didn’t do it too. If I joined their group that would mean that the whole family would be members of the same Capoeira group. For some reason my 7 year old thought that would be the best thing in the world. In case you were wondering, The Menace couldn’t really give a crap either way.

Eventually The Chatterbox had me asking myself why I didn’t give it go. I started to wonder why I wasn’t willing to give Capoeira a second chance? I didn’t have anything better to do on a Monday night at 8pm. Why not take that elevator ride down and give it a shot?

So I did just that tonight and I really enjoyed myself. Seriously, I enjoyed myself through all the push-ups, squats, abs, and even the kicking exercises where I almost fell at least twice… quite possibly more but I refused to keep count after that. I may be older and wiser but I still have an ego.

And you know what, I didn’t care that I looked ridiculous, as the vast majority of newbie Capoeira students do. Though I did feel the need to mention that second part. I think a lot of it has to do with actually being able to communicate. Speaking the language has made everything Brazilian seem so much more accessible, including a sport that initially made me wonder if I really did have any control of the lower half of my body.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the Capoeira path takes me, though I don’t expect much. Not falling while kicking is currently my goal and I am more than happy with that.

Would you ever give a sport a second chance? Have you tried Capoeira? Have you ever tried to practice something local when you didn’t speak the language? Did you succeed?

Which one: Prude or slut?

skirt

I recently read an interesting NPR article that compared the role of women in the Middle East to that in Brazil. The article was basically calling our attention to the different kinds of limits that are set for women, even in seemingly liberal countries such as Brazil.

A big part of the article was based how we choose to present ourselves, and how we are allowed to present ourselves. It reminded me of something my Mother constantly told me when I was becoming a young woman:

“There are girls you take home and girls you take home.”

She was so subtly telling a pre-teen girl that there are girls you take home to fuck and girls you take home to meet your parents.

That is a hardcore lesson. I mean, who really ever raises their hand and says “Hey, over here. Use me please!” Oh hell no. I wanted to be the one a guy was proud of, the one he took to meet his family. Who doesn’t?

At the same time I was confused. Was I not supposed to desire men? Were the sexual feelings I had ones that should be ignored and push down or could they adapt to these limits? Was being the good girl on one side and the bad girl on the other? Is there any grey area at all?

I understand my Mother’s point of view when it comes to giving this advice. As women, we have to dodge society’s landmines while attempting to search and discover ourselves sexually. We can’t be too much, we can’t be too little, we can’t be prude, and we can’t be a slut. Again, are we not allowed a grey area?

When it comes to sexual self and country, I personally found a sense of sexual freedom and oppression when I arrived in Rio de Janeiro. I could wear what I wanted and flirting was was common place. Rio de Janeiro is not what you call a modest city. The freedom of restriction was like a breath of fresh air.

Then I got to know the other side. Beauty wasn’t an option, it was a necessity. It was something there was always time and money for as beauty is a non-negotiable. Nails, waxes, leaving your long hair down in 90 degree weather, and wearing sexually flattering clothing was all expected. It is just how things are done here.

While I love getting my nails done and all that jazz, the regularity in which you are expected to do it makes the entire thing kind of annoying. Not to mention that getting your girly bits waxed hurts like a bitch. And I swear, at least once every wax, I have a moment where I am afraid she is going to rip my clitoris off. That is just plain traumatizing.

Nonetheless, I felt suffocated by the exact thing that was supposed to be liberating me. I could be sexual. The problem was that I was expected to be. Again, another expectation. If I didn’t dress the part I wasn’t feminine enough.

What it comes down to is that wherever you are as a woman, there are sexual expectations. Those expectations could be to cover up, to not, to act a certain way in either situation, or what have you. Regardless, they are expectations or, better said, restrictions.

One thing that is a constant with society’s treatment of women, women being a part of said society, is that we are given limits where men are not. We are then judged on if we meet or do not meet said limits everywhere. We are labeled, boxed, and put on a certain shelf.

How do you feel about this? Do you think that as a society we can change it?

My 3 Phases of Foreignness

photo from: http://bordersartstrust.wordpress.com/

photo from: http://bordersartstrust.wordpress.com/

Today I ran into a fresh-faced foreigner, fresh off the plane into this crazy land we call Rio de Janeiro. His eyes skirted from newness to newness until they met mine. I could sense that it had been merely weeks since his last trip to Target. I was faced with a fresh gringo in Rio de Janeiro.

The funniest part was that I didn’t see anything around us that was noteworthy. I could rationally understand how he may have found some of the things funny, new, or even shocking. Yet for me there was nothing blog worthy on that street, besides him that is.

He reminded me of myself when I got here, back when eating cold açaí on a hot Rio de Janeiro day felt as good as an orgasm. Who am I kidding, it still does.

It made me think about how I got to where I am now. I decided to break the process down into three phases.

Here are my 3 phases of foreignness:

Phase 1: Completely and utterly lost

I was so lost when I got here that I quite literally got lost in my own neighborhood. I got annoyed with Mr Rant and decided to go on a walk. I am an independent woman after all. Of course I didn’t really know the lay of the land, nor the neighborhood… obviously. I did so many loops that I found myself lost about 3 city blocks from home, though I might as well have left the area completely. To make matters worse, my Portuguese vocabulary consisted of hello, how are you, and thank you. Not necessarily helpful when it comes to asking for directions. I finally found my way back home after finding some business men who spoke enough English to figure out what the hell I was talking about.

As frustrating as it is being totally lost when you so desperately want to figure a place out, this phase also has an awesome side. If you figure ANYTHING out, it is a win. When I ordered my first pizza by phone, I was so ecstatic that you would have thought that I had won a Nobel Peace Prize. The same goes for managing to open a bank account by myself, no small feat in Brazil, and figuring out how to make coffee without a coffeemaker.

Phase 2: Look at me, I’m adapted! Any and all new foreigners, come talk to me so I can teach you how.

This is that moment where you finally get your bearings. You have the lay of the land figured out, more or less, and have mastered the language enough to have at least basic conversations and ask for directions… plus you actually understand the answer.

This phase is well welcomed after the first one because, lets be honest, Phase 1 has a steep learning curve. If you are anything like me, during that phase you made a serious ass of yourself a few times, at the very least.

Stage 2 was funny for me though. It made me want to reach out to any and all other foreigners I saw when out and about.

I felt an undeniable urge to reach out to them. I wanted to know where they were from, what they were doing in Rio de Janeiro, and how long they were staying. I honestly felt like I should help them because I contained a deep well of knowledge that should be shared with anyone and everyone who came to my new city. Obviously I was the first one here. I practically built this place.

Looking back, I was like a toddler who finally pooped in the potty. Everyone has to do it once, and then it isn’t a big deal anymore. Same goes for moving abroad. That said, every single toddler wants anyone within earshot to come take a look at that monumental first turd. I was no different.

It should be mentioned that this blog was born during Phase 2 and all of you reading have basically come to take a look at it.

Phase 3: I live here

This is the phase where you move from expat to immigrant. You live there now. Tedious crap like banking and cleaning is no longer an “experience”. When you are out on the street it is to run errands or go to work, not to stop and have a beer with any semi-lost foreigner you meet on the way. You have shit to do. Helping a foreigner figure out the different kinds of juices available at a juice stand is no longer a novelty.

You are no longer in the same family with all other foreigners. You have grown and are a member of the community in whichever city you live. As much as I will help anyone in need of help, I let foreigners struggle before translating or explaining something to them. I feel no need to share my knowledge but instead feel that they need to figure it out. They are in a different country with different ways. MY CITY, isn’t just a tourist attraction, at least now that I am done treating it that way.

To sum it up, people everywhere, regardless of living abroad or not, grow and change over time. It is just how life works. The thing about doing it abroad is that you can see much more obvious changes or growths, especially when it comes to your attitude towards your new home and how much or how little you have adapted.

Nonetheless, I still have this blog. I suppose we keep something from each phase. For me, Phase 1 would be my difficulty with the conjugation of Portuguese verbs, Phase 2 the turd blog, and Phase 3 the Holier than thou attitude (though that is quite fake as I am really not that bad).

How about you? What would be your 3 phases?

Poor Misunderstood Eduardo Paes

“Don’t ever in your life do a World Cup and the Olympic Games at the same time,” Mr. Paes recently said at a debate here on Rio’s transformation…

This is one quote from Mayor Eduardo Paes’ interview with the NY Times. I feel Eduardo Paes’ pain. I imagine running Rio de Janeiro is a circus on its own. It wouldn’t be far fetched to imagine that adding two hugely popular international games is making it a total shit-show.

All that, along with facing an extremely displeased public, would be overwhelming for anyone.

“I’m not cut out to be a masochist, to be someone shouted down and cursed at,” he said in an interview, referring to the way some of his more vocal critics approach him on Rio’s streets. “But this process reflects democratization, the development of citizens in Brazil,” he added. “I don’t think the protests are over.”

It is great that he supports democratization. You’d really hope so seeing that Brazil is supposed to be a democratic country. Sometimes though, it doesn’t really feel like it…

Now I know Eduardo Paes doesn’t technically control the police. His buddy Sergio Cabral does. Though something tells me he is close enough to good old Sergio, close enough to say “Simmer down now Serg.”

Of course we must remember that Eduardo Paes and Sergio Cabral have a lot to talk about when they are together. There just isn’t enough time during pillow talk to discuss everything.

Regardless, we all have to admit that Rio de Janeiro is an exciting city! Eduardo Paes is obviously a fan of excitement! He is the vibrant and social mayor of a city that is bubbling over with energy. A city such as Rio de Janeiro should expect a bit of drama. It happens in all big cities, plus it keeps things interesting. Eduardo Paes is really doing us all a favor by keeping Rio de Janeiro from turning into a boring city like… off the top of my head… Zurich.

“I don’t want to compare my city to Zurich, thank God we’re not that boring,” said Mr. Paes over breakfast served by uniformed servants”

I agree, thank goodness we aren’t boring like Zurich. Clean streets, honest police, and a functional government? Good public healthcare and education?

zzzzzzzz

We may not have all those things in Rio de Janeiro, but we have something else. We have cold beers on beautiful beaches full of tiny bikinis with free public showers where we can wash off in water full of feces and Hepatitis B. Take that Switzerland.

That said, I can’t say that I would do a better job as mayor of Rio de Janeiro. I get overwhelmed running a 84 meter apartment with the population of four. Though I can say that I wouldn’t choose to throw the birthday party of the century if it meant that we couldn’t pay for schooling or healthcare.

I suppose we all have our own list of priorities. Paes seems to think that hastily built structures, that will likely end up neglected and eventually fall to despair, and temporary international attention are the key to Rio de Janeiro’s future. And I was thinking it was health, education, and quality of life. Gosh, don’t I look silly…

 

What do you think?

The REAL Problem with Brazil

Photo from: amansfieldphotograpy.wordpress.com

I get why Brazilians are annoyed with their government. I get, at least a small portion, of what is happening here and that it is very serious. People in high places are stealing money that should go to the very VERY basic needs of a large portion of the population, not to mention many other issues. Brazilians should be pissed.

That said, I think it is also time for Brazilians to take a moment and look at themselves. Any citizen battling their government on ethical grounds needs to turn around and check out their own reflection. What kind of ethical foundation do they have?

I have the perfect example of why Brazilians need to take a long look at themselves, after they take a peek at the definition of hypocrisy.

The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess. 

I imagine this line of thinking isn’t going to be super popular with my Brazilian readers. Fair enough since being called a hypocrite isn’t the easiest pill to swallow. Trust me, I’m an American. Not only do we get called a ton of names, the women of our nation are evidently known for an activity requiring mad swallowing skills . 

Anyway, I have a simple example that I hope will explain my point: Brazilian Drivers. Brazilians love to bitch about how other Brazilians drive, how driving when traveling abroad is amazing, and how no one respects driving laws in Brazil. The complaints are double when you are walking with fellow Brazilian pedestrians. People yell at cars that run red lights, that stop over crosswalks, and people who park in front of ramps or entrances just to name a few.

I totally get it, it is annoying and wrong.

But they are missing one piece of the puzzle, the Brazilian pedestrian. Brazilian pedestrians are trying to not be hit by cars… while they are attempting to jaywalk.

While any Brazilian will complain about the lack of respect for pedestrians, where are pedestrians’ respect for cars and their drivers?! You get pissed when someone almost hits you, but you really shouldn’t if you are halfway into the street when the light is green, or even yellow. 

That is how Brazilians treat their system. They get pissed that the government isn’t “certinho”, or doing things correctly, and yet they don’t hold themselves to the same standard. Brazilians are constantly looking for jeitinhos, literally translated as knack, but it basically means a loophole, that will make their lives easier.

It shows up in all parts of daily life in Brazil. It could be paying your repairman on the side because he offers to charge you less than his company, the one you originally hired. You lie to his company, say you refused their service, and save a hundred or so reais, and he makes a hundred or so reais more. 

Everyone wins right? Well, not quite everyone. The company doesn’t win. If you really think about it, people who do that may be why they have to charge so much in the first place. This is only the tip of the iceberg, seeing that this kind of mentality seeps into other things. People cheat on taxes, steal utilities, contact “friends” so they can jump the appointment line at places like the federal police, cut corners when it comes to hiring to save on taxes, and much more. 

My point is, if as a citizen you can’t enforce and follow the laws in your own community, why do they think the government can do it as a whole, especially seeing that they are attempting to do it with citizens such as yourselves?

My friend said it perfectly when mediating between Mr Rant and I. She knowingly asked what was the consistent factor in this issue. The answer: me.

Various parties have held the office of the presidency in Brazil, and we have also had a dictatorship if we are going to list governmental changes. So what has been consistent? The Brazilian people. Kind of makes you wonder if change has a better chance of happening with a group chanting in a plaza, or with each person starting at home. You tell me. 

How to Survive Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval

Photo from: www.hurriyetdailynews.com

I made Carnaval my BITCH last year… ok it may be more other way around. Regardless, fun was had by all. So to help out all the newbies, or those who have also earned Carnaval bitch status, I am going to repost my How to Survive a Rio de Janeiro Bloco Post. Please, please, please add your own tips! Surviving Carnaval is a key point to having a successful one. Don’t hesitate to spread the word, this stuff is gold.

How to Survive a Rio de Janeiro Carnaval Bloco

1. Be careful where and when you pee. Long gone are the good old days (and amazingly nasty at the same time) of peeing anywhere you can stumble to while partying at a carnaval bloco. These days you may actually end up with a ticket if spotted squatting behind a car or pissing on a tree. My tip, treat yourself like your Mother did when you were a child. Pee right before you leave home and any time you have access to a bathroom that doesn’t make you throw up in your mouth… and maybe even then. It is Carnaval after all.

2. Hydrate. Weirdly beer isn’t particularly hydrating and Rio de Janeiro is hot in the summer. Now throw your drunk ass in the middle of thousands of other people and you have yourself a potential dehydration situation. Drink a bottle of water every once in a while and a ton of it when you get home.

3. Do not get jealous. People make out with other people at blocos, a lot. If you are a couple and someone happens to grab and kiss your mate, don’t freak out. It happens. That said, if you don’t want to be made out with, limit eye contact with the opposite sex and women do not turn around if someone tugs on your hair. If you do want to make out, ignore what I just said.

4. Eat! You need your energy for days and days of dancing and drinking in the street. Don’t just grab stuff here and there. And no, 3,000 calories worth of beer does not count. Take time to stop and eat a real meal. It doesn’t matter if you are man dressed like Pretty Woman, it’s Carnaval! I’m sure there will be three other dudes at the restaurant wearing the same thing.

5. Keep in mind that the bloco doesn’t need to be a costume friendly bloco for you to wear a costume! Costumes are accepted everywhere during Carnaval and are encouraged. If you want to have success with your carnaval costume, go ridiculous. Pop culture, cross dressing and group costumes are a big hit!

6. Engov! Engov is the hangover medicine of choice down here. Take this before a particularly gnarly day of drinking and you will be able to rally for the next day. Disclaimer, I am not a doctor and am not medically responsible.

7. Wear shoes, not flip flops. Think about it. Thousands of people, a hell of a lot of beer, Rio de Janeiro streets and heat. The roads will be all kinds of nastiness. And if you insist on flip flops, please wash your feet when you get home.

8. Don’t forget your sunscreen. Getting drunk and dancing in the street is all fun and games until someone gets a nasty sunburn. At least it will make a tourist costume that much more believable.

9. Be careful with your belongings. It is easy for a phone or cash to disappear from pockets when you are crammed up next to a billion sweaty people. Be smart about what you bring and where you keep it.

10. Wear a condom. This isn’t really just a Carnaval bloco rule but all around good sense. No spontaneous Carnaval love without the glove people!

Check out Time Out Rio de Janeiro for a list of Rio de Janeiro 2013 blocos

Now Carnaval alums, what would you add?

Parenting vs Expat Parenting

All parents have their parenting challenges. It just comes with the territory. Parents raising their children abroad are no different, except our reality is slightly skewed due to our expat/immigrant lifestyle. Here are some of the issues we face raising children outside of our home country.

1. If you and your child move to somewhere with a new language, they will eventually surpass your fluency. This is very cool, as you basically end up with your own free miniature translator.

2. As cool as it is to have your own personal child translator, it is annoying when said translator develops into your own personal language critic, complete with corrections and eye rolling.

3. Every kid has their favorite easy to convince them to eat foods. The issue with living abroad is that sometimes those foods are only available in another country and your attempt at it with foreign ingredients results in the complaint that ” it just isn’t the saaaaame Mommy.”

4. Simple questions can sometimes require complex answers, for example: Mommy why aren’t their favelas in your country?

5. People stare at you and your kids. It may be because you look different or because you are speaking another language, it really could be a lot of factors. Regardless, they are looking at you.

6. Politeness doesn’t necessarily have a universal definition. For example, I am big on my kids saying please and thank you. In Brazil it isn’t as big of a deal between adults and children. Adults, especially those who are close to your children, will tell them that they don’t need to say please or thank you. It isn’t because Brazilians don’t want your children to be polite, it is more because they feel a child shouldn’t need to use any sort of formality when requesting something from an adult. It is almost as if what I consider being polite and respectful feels like lowering the level intimacy for Brazilians.

7.  What you consider obvious when it comes to rules will be challenged. While I like my kids in bed early per US norms, it really started to kill my kids’ social life here in Brazil. Kids go to bed around 10 or 11pm in Rio de Janeiro, which means they also get up late. My poor boys were the only ones ready to play at 8am and the only ones not still out playing at 8pm. Life is about compromise and I figured, when in Rio de Janeiro do some of the things Cariocas do. Now my boys go to bed later and wake up later. They are happier and I have gotten used to waking up well after sunrise.

8. As much as all children appear as if they suffer from some sort of multiple personality disorder at some point in their lives, multicultural children turn it into an art. They can seem so incredibly foreign when playing with fellow foreigner children, and then seem 100% local when they are with local children. Hell, they can turn it on and off like a flip of a switch if in mixed company. They can even do it when throwing a fit, choosing whichever language or attitude best suits whatever momentary despair they are experiencing. This can work in your favor if they decide to use a language not prevalent in the country you are in at the moment.

9. A trip home is a true adventure. I will see your long drive and raise you a long flight, usually with a layover followed by a second flight. Going home for the holidays is an adventure that not only teaches your children how to be excellent future travelers but also makes Mom and Dad very excited about the alcoholic holiday beverages waiting at their destination.

10. Your children start to view your home country as an all inclusive resort where you eat and buy in extreme excess. For example, my half Brazilian half American boys look at the US as a large Target. They really can’t help it seeing we spend half our time there purchasing all the things we and are friends “need” from the states.

Shoulder Driving Assholes!

Brazilian roads are “special” places, meaning short bus special as opposed to something exceptional. Driving in Rio de Janeiro is almost like a video game, one that trades off between the classic paperboy video game full of dodging obstacles and Grand Theft Auto where you hope no one shoots you or tries to steal your car.

All and all though, once you get used to the lack of turn signal use and ridiculous playboys threatening everyone’s life by doing whatever it takes to pass one car, it isn’t that bad. That said, there is one thing that pisses me off to no end about some Brazilian drivers. Honestly, I dream of tracking them down and smashing their windshield with a bat. Dramatic yes but I am allowed to imagine anything I want.

What pissing me off so badly that I want to damage someone’s personal property? Those Mother Fuckers who drive on the shoulder during traffic jams. Honestly, there is no excuse for that kind of shit.

Firstly, you are Brazilian and are supposed to have a large respect for lines. Come on, it is one of the things your culture is known for. Guess what, traffic is a large line. Get your ass in it and stay there. Wait your turn! Secondly, the shoulder is for broken down cars, not for impatient douche bags wanting to cut 3.5 minutes off their commute.

And I have come up with an idea for revenge. Obviously I’m not going to do this but it made me feel better on Sunday as I watched those asshole try to cut off people once the shoulder disappeared, only to shoot back out once the shoulder returned.

Anyway, tacks. I would love to throw tacks out onto the shoulder, nails could work as well. Just imagine them cruising along thinking their shit doesn’t stink only to blow their tires and totally screw themselves over. Having to replace four tires would be enough to make those bastards think twice about riding the shoulders.Plus they’d most likely be rear ended by one of their fellow shoulder assholes. Two birds with a hundred tacks.

Please do keep in mind that in my imagination this action never causes injury, fire, or any sort of massive car accident. It would only cause monetary damage to the cars of the asshats driving them.

I also considered egging the cars as they went by, only that wouldn’t work seeing that I would be stuck in traffic and couldn’t get away. There is also the idea that we drive half in our lane and halfway into the shoulder to block the bastards. But as Mr Rant pointed out, that would put us at risk of being hit by one of them.

Of course this whole thing reminds me of what is forever wrong in this country. The police are not there to enforce, there is a group of Brazilians who openly take advantage of that fact, and the other group of Brazilians sit by and watch in disgust without doing anything.

So for the time being, I will spend my time in traffic imagining tires safely blowing out from tacks. I will also imagine Rio de Janeiro police actually enforcing driving laws and giving out the R$800 fine those douches are supposed to get. However, with all the shit that goes down in Rio de Janeiro, picking off obnoxious (though potentially dangerous) drivers isn’t really high up on the list so I doubt that will ever happen.

Am I the only one who gets extremely annoyed by this kind of behavior?

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And the Winner of American Exbrat in Sao Paulo is Natasha! Congratulations!