Friday, October 28, 2011

Would you marry again?

Last weekend we had an Indian visitor, a graduate student in a different state that came to Brasília to play cricket (not many teams here, as you might expect given the rareness of South Asians...). After practice he came over to our place for lunch and while I was finishing up the cooking I heard the guys talking outside. Since another friend (a Brit, also married to a Brazilian girl) was also there they were conversing in English. The Indian guy (let's call him R.) has been living in Brazil for almost 3 years and has been dating a Brazilian girl for two and a half of those years. And he was very interested to know what A. thought about marrying a Brazilian.

A.'s gut response was immediate: "Don't do it!" Then he went on to try to qualify his answer:
"It is difficult, there are lot's of different expectations and lot's of things you have to give up to make it work. Has your gf lived abroad?"
R.'s reply:
"No... she went to Peru once but has otherwise never left Brazil."
"Then this is definitely dangerous. Or do you expect to spend the rest of your life in Brazil?"
"Well, I intend to spend some more years here, but not sure for how long..."
A. was adamant: "Don't do it! What it you want to go back to India, would she adapt?"
R. started wavering: "Well, she says she would and she says she wants to go to India."
"Listen, Samba is different, we met in a third country, she traveled by herself before we met, even to Asia, she  speaks other languages and we did go to India before any decision was made." (I thought it was cute how he defended me there :P )
In the mean time the Brit tried to intervene, saying that love should be enough to get married... but he got little attention... The rest of us agreed that Brazil and India are much more of a challenge than England and Brazil relationships!

A very winding road indeed.

They continued the discussion and when lunch was ready R. asked me what I thought. I said that I agreed that adaptability to different cultures was needed in an intercultural relationship, especially when there are chances of moving to different countries. I didn't tell him not to get married, but I did tell him to make an informed decision.

I thought A.'s reaction was quite interesting... and I wonder whether he would do this whole relationship+marriage deal again (he says he would, but he definitely agrees that things would be easier if he had just married a nice Indian girl). And I cannot blame him, I feel the same. I would do it all over, but I agree that the path we chose is not the easiest, and sometimes even seems too difficult, but it is definitely more interesting...

This weekend we will meet R. again and his gf... it seems like she is the one interested in talking to us now :P

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Communicating with prospective employers

A very important and indispensable part in any job search is communicating with prospective employers. This includes writing emails introducing yourself, cover pages, cvs, replying to any emails and then speaking on the phone and finally an interview. This is considerable work for anyone looking for a job, and even more so for someone searching for a job in a foreign language.

While A.'s Portuguese is good and everyone is astonished when he says he's only been here for 3 months (although that is cheating a bit... since he started learning a long time back) it is by no means fluent. He's done a couple of placement tests for classes and they considered him advanced, but that means he can get by, not that he can write cover letters by himself. So he's been asking me for help. Which is fine. But then I get requests like:   "Samba, I need a letter for company X, please". I understand that this is the easiest way to ask for help, but hey, I am not the one looking for a job! Early on we got into a heated argument because I was not 100% focused on his emails and letter, while for me the help I was asked was supposedly in translation, not in that and composition. It would be much easier if he had a draft in English and I translated, at least I would not have to guess what he wants written. The worst is when I get a reply: "Samba, I need revisions". Like, huh, which ones??

Another issue is timing... I must say that when A. pings me on skype mid afternoon I already get a bit apprehensive... what e-mail is it this time? I get it that emails are supposed to be answered fast, but mid afternoon, when I'm at work, is usually not good timing for me.

But then yesterday when A. pinged me he said: "Hey, I need an email for company Y. I will write a draft and then you just correct it, ok?". WOW! This was great!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What it means to be a minority

A. had lived abroad, so why is Brazil more complicated than other places he's lived? I think it is because here in Brazil he is a minor minority. Let me explain... in the US there are Indians, many of them! In the Triangle area in NC where we lived there were 35 thousand of them! Which means there were Indian restaurants, Indian grocery stores, Indian movie theaters, Indian almost-anything. And A. even chose his apartment by location: the closest complex to the "Little India" block.

He then moved to France. Not as many Indians, but still quite a few. Rendering trips to Gare du Nord to eat at Saravana Bhavan a requirement after weeks of bland food. And there were also Indian grocery stores, Indian movie rentals, Indian hair dressers, etc. And, also VERY important, fellow Indian students to commiserate with. In both these places, because there is immigration from India and other South Asian countries, there is also a general knowledge about these countries, cultures, etc.

And then Brazil... there are 200 Indian families living in the whole (gasp!) country. Many of them came in the 70s and 80s, when Brazil was building it's IT labs and they don't care much about newcomers. Which means that in Brasília there are 8 Indian families (all linked to the Embassy) and in São Paulo another 15 Indian families. As a consequence there are no Indian grocery stores, no Indian movies, and the few Indian restaurants are actually very bland for any Indian to recognize. This makes A's life tough...

Add to it that we had a soap opera a couple of years back that was about a love triangle between a Brazilian girl, her Indian boyfriend and the girl his parents chose him to marry. Let's just say that in many many ways the soap opera did not depict an urban India, but rather small village customs that are fading out in larger cities. This is the only reference point Brazilians have for India. Which is sad, as usually the 3rd questions that A. gets is "What caste are you?", something anyone remotely linked to Indians knows not to ask. Or when he explains something about India and the person responds "but it was not like that in the soap opera...".

I get it, it is frustrating, but how much to Indians know about Brazil? Maybe football? Maybe carnival? I do remember a long time back, when A. and I said Brazil was a Western country. A. was shocked! How could I accept the influence of colonizers to that extent? He then asked what we wear on a daily basis. My reply: jeans and t-shirts. He was even more shocked. I guess this shows that we overemphasize when people assume something wrong about our country compared to our own biases... or maybe that having no support of a local community to laugh at other's expense makes the whole situation weigh down on you...

Finding a job in Brazil

Brazil is booming! There is a lack of skilled labor! Jobs abound!

Yes, that is true and these remarks were enough to convince A. to move to Brazil. He talked to several companies before moving and they all corroborated his views, said that fluent Portuguese was not a requirement, and that they would be happy to hire foreigners. But let me tell you a little secret: Brazilians are over optimistic. As a Brazilian I would know to discount what they were saying by at least 50%, and the Portuguese not being a requirement should be taken with a pound of salt. Not that there are no job opportunities for non-fluent Portuguese speakers, but in the area A. wants to work in, which demands exchanges with clients, it is a must-have. I tried to tell him that, but I ended up being the annoying wife that does not believe everyone wants to hire her husband.

Fast forward a few months... here we are in Brazil and A. is looking for a job. Since he has a permanent visa (equivalent to a green card) he does not need a work permit, which is a big plus. He's sent emails to all the contacts with the companies he met back in Paris... 2 straight forward "no"s come first... big hit. Then comes 1 interview: all in Portuguese! The whole damn thing, including calculations out loud! At this point he is cursing, but the search goes on. A few weeks later, another interview. Also in Portuguese, also no follow up. Tough... the situation gets tenser. It also does not help that he is not getting replies to many of the emails he sends. No big deal in Brazil, where people will rather not respond that say "no" up front, but it is very frustrating for A. There are also the nice replies that don't mean anything, like "we will get in touch next week".  It is a vague email, and as such, without a specific time set or a specific date, it means nothing. But Monday morning A. is cursing they have not gotten in touch... and nothing by Friday either, and nothing by the next week.

A. feels like Brazilians are deceitful, liars, and have misguided him on purpose. I've tried to explain that he is reading the culture wrong, that he needs to adjust the optimism, read in between the lines and don't expect a straight forward answer. Last week he asked a Brazilian friend from the school in Europe why had he been so enthusiastic when the reality is so different. His reply: "I thought you knew to discount what I was saying".

So where are we now? Job search continues, expanded beyond the dream list companies to others. Brazilians are still liars, deceitful and misguiding...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Long time no see

Yes, I know... it has been almost 2 months since I posted. And I think I need to explain what is going on. As you all know, A. and I moved to Brazil in July, bought a house, etc. As time goes by my life has becomes more ordinary (in terms of living, working, etc) while his seems to be a lot more interesting from an intercultural point of view. And then I stopped writing, not finding anything interesting to write about.

Sort of like heavy clouds with some rays of sun trying to break through.

As time went on I realized that there is some sort of (inverse? attached?) culture shock going on with me. It is the additional work and frustrations that come with having a partner suffering from classical culture shock. What seems so simple to me grows to huge, insurmountable problems for A. and I need to be there to help him climb the mountain. I searched online and there is not as much written about this since either couples are both foreigners wherever they are living or they meet after moving to each other's countries. There is also a lot of complaints and comments about what it feels like moving to a new place, but there is very little about seeing your own country through foreigners' eyes.

Let me tell you, it is not rosy. Not even pale pink. More like grey... on some days dark grey even. I am not trying to sweep away or even minimize all the issues and complications and frustrations A. has had to deal with, but for now I wish to write about the unsung complications of the culture shock spouse .

Friday, September 2, 2011

Construction and different points of view

Now that we have a house there are a few things we want to improve here and there. Which means we need to delay moving in until we get things done. In Brazil (as I imagine most developing countries would be) you hire the labor (1 guy for the wood work, another for putting tiles, one for the plumbing and a painter in our case) and buy the materials separate. They first come to the house, evaluate the work and set a price. This worked for the first 3, but the painter charged an absurd amount, which means we could start on the rest of the work while looking for another painter.  Thankfully my brother gave me the contact of the first 3 guys as they had worked on his house and were reliable.

The woodworker came on Monday and brought a nephew to help him. He is very nice and works fast, which are big pluses. The tile guy brought 2 people to help him set tiles and flooring, but they came only on Wednesday. So my schedule has been to wake up at 6:30am, go to the house, check with the workers was it missing (despite having bought all the material they wanted beforehand there is always something they forgot and needs to be bought asap). Then rush to the construction store and get the stuff, then go home, shower and get to work. At lunch I go out to buy the other things needed for a house to work, like a bed (Monday), a mattress (Tuesday), more construction materials that were forgotten (Wednesday), a fridge (Thursday). These purchases require going around 5-6 stores, asking for the price and whether they deliver, then going back to the best option and buying it. Back to work and finally head home around 7:30pm, go by the house to see what they have done, and crash. It is exhausting but should be rewarding once it is done.

Today A. accompanied me in the morning routine as he arrived last night. He is very different from me in regard to how to get things done. I, at this point in time, just want to get things done and move in, whether that requires more effort on my side or not. A., on the other hand, wants to do less work himself and hire someone. I explained I already tried 2 painters (the second one wanted me to go pick him up where he was working across the city, go to the house to give me an estimate and then drive him back... that did not happen) and have no more ideas on where to find another. So I am willing to paint the house this weekend and get it over with. A. planned to play cricket on Saturday, so that day he is not available. Meaning we could do it Sunday, but he is still trying to get a painter instead...

Gardening is the next issue... the yard is overgrown and although it has several nice fruit trees they need space to survive and sunlight to bear fruit. I worked on the yard the whole past weekend and although I made considerable progress there is still a lot to be done. I need help to cut some larger trees in the backyard but am willing to do the rest myself. A. wants the gardener (who is charging USD75 a day, a pretty high wage for here) to do everything, including manicuring work with small plants, which is the last thing on my list.

How to solve this impasse? Do it myself (which I consider sort of unfair since he's already away the whole week) or delay it until we find someone to do it for us? Anyone with renovation experiences out there?

And the painter is still to be found. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

We have a house!

Remember the house I was chasing? Well, we bought it! After a whole month of back and forth with the owner we finally settled the deal! But even after buying it I was not sure when we would be able to take over, since Sadhu (owner) was still living there and had no concrete plans of moving. I mean, he did want to buy a house in the village he is going to and move, but the houses he saw were never good enough or had some problem with inheritance or with papers and nothing materialized. I must admit I freaked out a bit: 3 bank accounts (in 3 continents) were all swiped clean and still I had nothing to feel like I made a good decision. A. got quite mad at my reaction, since there was a 4th account that was not empty so I should not be complaining about money, but for me it was indeed a shock.

The house buying was 2 weeks ago yesterday and suddenly Sadhu called me Monday saying he was moving today (Wednesday)! He still did not buy the house he wants but he arranged with the owner that he will stay in it until they figure out the paperwork. So I just got a call saying he is on his way and the house is mine! I can barely believe it! Now there are some renovations to be done before moving in, but they are small and hopefully we will be able to have a house to call our own in a few weeks! This will be the first time that we have a permanent place to live since Raleigh (USA) over a year and a half ago, since in the mean time I have moved 7 times! Yay for unpacking!!

And to give you an idea of what the jungle house (as A. calls it) looks as of now...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


This past weekend I flew to São Paulo to meet A. and on Saturday was my sorority reunion. Sororities in Brazil are a different from those in the US (or elsewhere??) but you get the idea: 10 girls of different years in college living together. And all that in a 3 bedroom house! It definitely resulted in many half crazy experiences, some fights, lot's of laughter and cheap living too! And a lot of hazing, of course. Like getting down on your knees to introduce yourself to elders and if someone elder than you kneels you lie on the floor. (Maybe that's why lying down to greet my in-laws in India did not feel that awkward??) But overall the hazing is all about getting to know other people and breaking the ice, not forceful or dangerous.

Sort of like that... hehehe

At first A. was completely against it. He said he did not take part in any of this at his university, and since he studied in the same city he lived before, his college experience was quite different from mine. When we arrived at the house and the current girls living there came to introduce themselves to me, A.did not know what to make of it all. Then at some point when we were at the bbq someone elder than me knelt and, to A.'s dismay I was lying on the floor. Soon afterwards he started getting used to it to the point of asking if I could make so-and-so kneel just for the fun of it. Yes, I could, but I did not want to be so annoying. It was really nice to see lot's of people I had not seen in years, to realize that the girls in college now are really not different from us back then.

A. also appreciated that the younger girls kept his beer glass full, to the point that he did not want to leave. The bbq started at noon and by the time we got to my mom's place it was 10pm. Not bad :)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Incognito or not.

Our situation in Brazil has been quite funny.

At my job I work with mostly internationals, speaking Spanish and English more than Portuguese. After lunch with a few colleagues the other day, when I was explaining about ids and other documents in Brazil one of them asked me (in English):
"And how do you know all this?" she asked.
"I'm Brazilian and my husband is Indian, so we've had to navigate the maze a bit..." I replied.
"Oh... I guess I made the mistake of assuming you are American.". 
Yup, she did. 

Then yesterday when I was calling some language classes to ask (in Portuguese) about Portuguese classes for A:
"I would like to know the time of the classes..."
The lady replies: "It depends on the level, I guess yours is advanced?"
I would have liked to blurt out: "As advanced as yours, are you going to be taking them as well??" What the hell? Portuguese in my native language!

And in the mean time, as long as A. does not open his mouth he is taken to be Brazilian. People don't quite know which part of the country he comes from but he's been making up jokes about coming from some faraway place in the Amazon that most Brazilians have not heard of, just to crack up after the second sentence. 

I guess it all goes back to how to define fitting in. I would definitely like to be recognized as a local. But on the other hand, as A. has been experiencing, Brazilians are very friendly towards foreigners, so at least there is no negative in being taken for a gringa

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Indian in Brazil

It's been a while... A. has arrived in Brazil, spent 2 weeks in Brasília and is now in São Paulo. I'm really proud of his courage and fearlessness in taking on the challenge of a new country. Different from the other places we've lived, now he is a foreigner and I'm a local. Previously we had both always been foreigners which has good and bad sides to it. If both are foreigners you can both bitch and sigh at the idiosyncratic ways of the new place but you have to figure your way around. If one is a local, figuring things out is easier but sensitivities about the new place are also higher (in this case, from my side).

Not this one...

For example, there are tons of bakeries in Brazil, usually one every few blocks (in cities) since Brazilians like to get their breakfast bread fresh each day. This is something that I always missed while living abroad so I did not take it too nicely when A. asked: "Where can I find bread like in France?". Well, first of, the French are renown worldwide for the quality of their bread so it seems a bit much to expect to find it in any bakery in São Paulo. I think it is a matter of adjusting expectations with what the country has to offer and also about figuring out what is out there.

This one!!

Like I was super surprised when A. said he found an Indian place close to his apartment. And it even sells dosas! After a few visits his enthusiasm died down though: their dosas were rice flour only and their biryani was made with local rice. Oh well... the last visit sealed it: a Brazilian that went with him had beef (!) curry and had to ask for extra chilly! I guess it will be a place to go when all else fails and home food, despite being fake, is missed.

And finally a note on the abundance of Indians in Brazil: none! I mean, for a country with a huge population like India, with large immigrant communities in so many places it is astonishing to find out there are 200 families in the entire country of Brazil! As the embassy here in Brasília told A. when he visited: "Congratulations! On your arrival you have increased the population of Indians in this city by 10-20%!"

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


After 10 days at my new job I was sent to Guatemala. I love the idea of traveling, especially to faraway places, so I jumped at the opportunity. There was an extra attraction in that, since the return flights were full, I would "have" to spend a day in Miami. I was looking forward to my trip to Guatemala, but was also very curious how the return to the US would be.

Horrible, huh? (got the pic here)

On the way to Guatemala I had a short layover in Miami and was bit frustrated that it did not feel special or anything. Besides the long immigration lines (come on... for 2 hours at the airport?) and rushing to the next gate since my earlier flight was late I did not see or feel much about the whole thing.

Then I'm off to Guatemala, where I spend 4 days at an amazing hotel in boring meetings and manage to crunch in some shopping time before hopping in the cab to take me back to the airport. Not the best way to get to know the country, but...

And then I find myself in Miami. First things first, rent a car. I did not want to do it online since I only have a Brazilian driver's license and not an international permit, so I was wondering whether they would accept it. When I asked the guy at the counter about it he replied with a question: "Do you have a credit card? If so, you are all set..." Ah, letting cash talk makes great advances here. Soon I am off to find the hotel and about 10 miles later realize that the GPS is not on, and the directions it was giving me were a simulation... 20 miles later I arrive at the hotel: beachfront room view in Miami Beach. Not bad at all. But when I am checking in they swipe my card and... nothing! The damn thing demagnetized! And I needed a credit card to pay for incidentals and nothing could be done without it. Somehow they swiped and accepted my Brazilian debit card (a last ditch effort on my side to produce another card) and as soon as that was over I was in their good books again. But this posed a great problem: how to go shopping without a credit card and without being able to take money out at an ATM? Well, an issue to be dealt with the next day, as I had dinner at the hotel to avoid further trouble.
Hotel view... just A. was missing...

Next day comes around... I try my card at 5 atms and 4 banks to no avail. Then, at a last attempt the final bank offers to do a cash advance! Ta-da! Green bills are soon in my pocket and now I can have breakfast and lunch! I head off to Marshalls for some sale shopping and then, at the counter, realize I spent more money than I had withdrawn. But it goes by easily, with the clerk simply typing in the credit card numbers instead of swiping it. Why didn't the hotel do that? Then came Ikea and soon it was time to head back to the airport. As I was driving back, listening to NPR I wondered about my friends, a few states up North and I realized that it was not the US I missed, but the people I met there. Of course there are several positives about the country, most obvious is the ease to get things done, but there is nothing pulling me this way. At least for now :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

House chasing

Moving back to Brazil has been interesting. I know how things work, my family is around to help me out, and food is very comforting. In no other place would I dare to drive around without a license 2 days after landing, in very few places (especially developing countries) would be able to get my ID and driver's license ready in one and the same day due to my mom's research into all the documents I needed to bring, where I needed to go, which tests I needed to study for.  And in no other place would I consider buying a house right off the bat...
Just not that big...

I landed in Brasília on Sunday and on Tuesday, while riding home with my brother I saw a house for sale in his neighborhood. I called the number and went to see the house immediately (since it was the house owner that put the sign up and he happened to be at home then). The owner was not what I could have imagined: white long hair, white long beard, wearing all white clothes, and he calls himself Sadhu. He showed me the house: it is very simple, small (1 bedroom and a loft for an office), and has an amazing garden, full of fruit trees. We ended up talking for an hour, a very different conversation about meditation, yoguis, mixed with some mediumship, life experiences, and talks about finding the "right" person to buy the house. But no mention of price...

Two days later I went back with my brother, he wanted to see the house and we were determined to talk about the price. This time we spent another hour and a half talking to Sadhu but again, no mention of price. It just seemed like bringing up money issues was too shallow a point to make. And Sadhu kept saying that money is just a transaction but that the wants the right person to have the house, that the right person will know the value of the house,  etc. We left and determined we needed help: we called my mom. She is an architect and as such would know the value of the house and also a keen negotiator, which could give us an edge over the initial asking price.

So my mother flew in the following week and early the next day we went to see Sadhu and the house. My mom liked the house a lot, and very swiftly steered the discussion to prices and settled on a final price 20% lower than the asking price! Amazing! I got all excited and started to see how to get the money. And then Sadhu called her the next day and said he did not like how she was all business and that he was not sure about selling the house to us anymore... After all of this we were basically back to square 1.5. I was traveling but as soon as I got back I called him and we had another long conversation... He said that he was unhappy about the price, although he knew this was the right price (the spirits told him so) but he had not arranged the purchase of the house in the village he's moving to (apparently the owner lost the documents).

And then I traveled again, and he is supposedly working on finding the documents of the new house with that owner. This is the position we are in now... supposedly have a house but no firm deal about it. A. keeps telling me to keep looking for other places, but on the other hand I do think this deal will come through... it is just a matter of how long we will stay with my brother until this materializes...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fellow countrymen

Today, my first day at work, I sneaked out for a long lunch break to take a look at some apartments. To see an apartment here in Brasília you need to find the apartment you like online (or call a real state agent and see if they have any in the neighborhood you want) then call them to reserve the apartment key for you, then you go to the real state office, get the key, go to the apartment, check it out and return the key. This makes for a considerable hassle since real state agencies are scattered around the city.

As I was coming back from seeing an apartment and waiting for the elevator to go to the real state agency I see a 50 something guy approaching and, without missing a beat, asks: where are you from? A question like that, from a complete stranger startled me and I wondered if it was directed to me at all. Seeing no one else I answer:
"I am going to the real state agency."
"No, I asked where you are from."
"I was born in Bahia..."
"Really? I am also from Bahia! Really? So you are my fellow statewoman! Where in Bahia are you from?"
"I was born in Alagoinhas..."
"Wow, I'm from x."
I never heard of it, but just nod on... and he takes that as a clue to go on:
"Do you know Milton Santos?"
Me, trying to minimize conversation:
"Yes." Although I had no idea who he was talking about.
"So who was he?"
S*! Caught on the spot!
"He was... He was... "
And as the guy kept waiting anxiously:
"Sorry, I don't know."
"You don't know him? Are you sure? He was a great man!"
And this goes on and on as we head into the elevator, and surprise, he gets out on the same floor as me and continues chatting while I return the keys and all the way until I head back into the elevator to go down. He wasn't nasty or too pushy...  but it did feel weird. I guess I have just lived too long in places where strangers don't look at each other in the elevator, let alone talk to them!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Life in limbo

If you've moved to a far away place you know this feeling: everything you own is packed, and mostly out of reach (usually in transit), you've said goodbye to good friends that will be left behind, and while sad you are also anxious for what is ahead. The fact that I still have to look for a place and then start putting an apartment together also contributes to this sensation of living in between worlds. Currently I'm in Paris, spending my last few days with A. in Europe before moving to Brasília tomorrow. My stuff is in storage at the airport, waiting for me to pick it up and check it in for the next flight. Oslo is gone... the last days were very bittersweet. But as this is certainly not the worst of "limbo" life I've experienced...

When I was moving from Virginia (USA) back to Brazil I flew to DC and, having a short connection and being late, ran as fast as I could (considering all the carry-ons that I was dragging), only to arrive at the gate in time to see the plane slowly move away. I slumped on a chair and cried. Since the delay was due to air traffic I was not entitled to any vouchers, except for changing my flight to the next one: 24 hours later. I did not know what to do... If I booked a hotel I would have to check out at 12pm, just to wait another 12 hours for my flight. On a whim I rented a car... My first thought was to drive back to VA, after all it was "just" 4.5 hours away. Crazy, I know. About 100 miles from DC at 2am I gave up on my plan, realizing how absurd it was in the first place. I checked into a road side motel and slept until the next morning. I spent the next day roaming the Shenandoah National Park and pondering about life. I had no clue what was waiting ahead of me, I did not even have my suitcases with me, and had said bye to many good friends. It was a day that felt like it would never pass... a day that should not have been. It dragged on, and while it was a beautiful Summer day I could not wait to get on that plane. Life seems so volatile in such situations, like sand in between your fingers: when you have it all planned out but you realize nothing is set in stone and there are tons of possibilities open where you least expect them. I finally drove back to DC and checked in around 5pm... and then the flight was delayed another 3 hours! Anyway, I finally made it.

Any limbo stories to tell? Any moving experiences?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Life in transition

One of the best and worst parts of moving around is the pre-leaving period, when the countdown has begun and the moving date is set. It is a time full of anxiety and expectation: how will the new place be? How will we adjust? But it is also a time full of joy, as you want to enjoy the place you are at the most before you leave. And when this dual feelings come crashing you have some real roller-coaster days.

Like the day before yesterday when 5 friends came over to my amazing new apartment (which I only moved into on May 15th). We had a great time, including dinner, caipirinhas, mojitos, shesha, etc. And at around 1am (pretty late for a Tuesday) we (all expats) agreed: Oslo is not bad if you have friends and a nice apartment. Now that the Summer is here and all is green, people are in the streets and birds are singing it really makes me wonder why I am leaving at prime Summer time.

My living room with a view of the porch (including tea cup and laptop): very nice!

Then yesterday, when the consequential headache from the night before was compounded by a call to A. (who is currently on a trip to Brazil to visit some companies together with classmates) in which he wondered what he is doing in Brazil and whether this move is a good idea at all, life seems like a very strange journey. I've told A. this is not the time to freak out, that now we've put things in motion and it is hard to change course. But I also understand his fears of moving to a country where he is not fluent in the language, where he doesn't know how things (and people) work and where he will be looking for a job as of December. Not easy... it doesn't even sound like he was the one that came up with this crazy idea first!

Then today comes around and is a holiday! I slept in until 10am, had a lazy breakfast on my porch and am preparing for doing a little work. Life is indeed interesting! Let's wait to see what tomorrow's mood is like!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

What I will miss from Norway: #1

Having been to Brazil for a week and back I can clearly see that life will be different once we move there. And this has brought a sense of early nostalgia about Norway already. Despite difficulties making friends and getting used to the cold, this is a great place to live. In terms of quality of life, I am yet to find a comparable country. But what will I miss the most?

Public transport! Oslo has an informal "20 minute rule" saying that you can get from anywhere to anywhere else in at most 20 minutes. Trains, trams, subways, buses and even public bicycles make this possible. You buy a monthly pass and it allows you to use any of these as much as you like. Of course there are some far away neighborhoods that bend this rule, but overall it is true. And not only is the public transport available, but it actually works well! Norwegians seem to like to complain about it, but, to be honest, where else in the world can you complain that your train was 4 minutes late? In Brazil you don't even have a certain time for buses... you just go to the stop and wait until yours comes by... sometimes in 5 and others in 45 minutes. And here in Oslo delays regarding urban transport are counted in single digits, with public outcries when something goes beyond that. In line with this is the fact that there were only 2 disruptions in service in the entire time I was here, and one of them was diverting urban trains to pick up tourists from the 2011 Nordic World Ski Championship.

Definitely something to miss in  Brasil...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Brazil: third impressions

After a while of being back you start to realize that things you did not like before you left are still the same... Like status: what people do for status here is impressive. First of all people dress up. All the time. No baggy sweatpants and flipflops on the street. No t-shirts (except for guys, but paired up nicely) and an amazing amount of heels of all sizes, and the thinner the better... As a friend once said in commenting about women's shoes in different countries: "the worst the sidewalk the higher and thinner the heels women use".

And together with status come brands. Everyone seems concerned about brand clothing, shoes, purses, makeup, anything you can imagine. They are not local brands either: CK, DG, Gucci, etc which are flaunted around and make their way into conversations in which I have very little to contribute. Due to import taxes these things are even more expensive than abroad, so you can only imagine what these prices are. Even brands that are not that highly ranked abroad (think GAP, Levi's, Lee) are also high fashion brands here with prices MUCH higher than in the USA (for example you can easily pay USD150 for a pair of Levi jeans here). Considering that the income per capita in Brazil is around 10k per year (adjusted for purchasing power) you can see that people here spend a lot more on looks than in many other places.

A side effect of the search for status and the craze about brands is the belief that anything that is imported is better. While much of the developed world is going about trying to promote local in Brazil we are still looking for something made elsewhere. Even department stores have special tags saying "imported" in glittering capital letters. Why is it that we think so lowly of ourselves? Why can't we promote local and reap benefits from such? Why are we so concerned about our external image? Good questions...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Brazil: second impressions

Being back in your home country reminds you of so many things that you missed and sometimes didn't even realize you missed. Like the amazing taste of fruit in Brazil. After living abroad (especially in developed and colder countries) you definitely learn to appreciate the great flavors of their natural deliciousness. This morning I had papaya... bright orange, super sweet, melting in my mouth. And for dessert after lunch I had a crisp and chilled watermelon... ah, bliss! Fruit here come in unrivaled sweetness and freshness ( A. likes to compare them to fruit in India, which are the best according to him).

Fruit here are not as perfect visually as fruits and veggies in the US or Europe: blemishes, dark spots and uneven colors are the norm. Take a look at how different oranges look here versus Europe/US:

 And it is interesting that even though in Portuguese the name for the orange fruit is also the same as the color orange, oranges are not orange here. Then we have a ton of native fruit that don't grow anywhere else... the fruit that people usually just have in their backyard or are sold in small quantities in local markets in season only. Amazing as well! And they will always have a distinct taste of childhood and climbing trees that come along with them.

Ah... mangoes, pineapples, lichees, pitanga, jabuticaba, uvaia, guava, sapota, etc, etc, etc: here I come!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Brazil: first impression

After a long flight (4 hours from Oslo to London and then an additional 10 to Rio de Janeiro) I finally arrived in Brazil this morning at 6am. As we taxied to the terminal the stewardess announced the usual welcome and the weather: 18oC (65oF) and clear skies. The temperature sounded great for that wee pre-sunrise hour but this was a quick and fleeting thought. Soon the sun was rising, turning the skies pink as I walked through immigration. Then I had to get my bag, go through customs and recheck it. By now the sun was up and lighting the airport hall with rays reaching far into the building. Without thinking I was immediately draws to the sun and its warmth and decided to go outside. And as I was approaching the external doors I felt myself stiffen and didn't quite grasp it until I got outside. The outside temperature was the same as inside!! And I realized what Oslo has done to me: I was bracing for the cold crisp air to whip my face as soon as I walked through the door. And what a relief to be in a place where the fear of outside doors is unnecessary!!

Sunrise in Rio... not the view I had from the airport, but almost :P

And then when my final connection left Rio towards Brasília I was sitting by the window and could see the main city postcards, just like I did every so often when I lived here a year ago... right around when I started this blog. I like it when life goes round a full circle like this... you keep moving on but also realize that everything is intertwined somehow.

Welcome to Brazil!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Brazil on our mind

Life is crazy...
I suddenly got an email yesterday asking if I could attend a meeting in Brazil next week. I answered nicely saying that the main constraint was my current location... a bit far, in Norway. I thought this would be the end of that. Not so... I soon got a reply asking if I'd come to the meeting if they paid my ticket! And I said "of course" (even though I tried not to seem overly enthusiastic), I mean, who wouldn't want to spend a week in Brazil with all expenses paid for?? I know, I know it is for work... but still... By the end of the day I had exchanged several emails and at 1:30am bought the ticket!!! The craziest detail?? I'm traveling tomorrow! Being a budget traveler I always wondered who in the world buys such expensive last minute tickets... guess I know now.

On a related topic, A. got his permanent visa for Brazil yesterday as well! This is the culmination of the whole certifying the American marriage certificate - getting a Brazilian marriage certificate - applying for the visa process and waits in between. But the final stage, waiting for the approval of the VIPER (interesting name for a permanent visa, isn't it?) was actually much faster than expected. We were told it takes 2-3 months to get it approved in Oslo (against 1-2 years if you apply in Brazil) and therefore A. applied for a tourist visa, just in case. He was supposed to pick up the tourist visa yesterday and they emailed him that the VIPER was approved (in little over 3 weeks!!) and that he could get that one instead of the tourist visa in the same day itself. This is a major celebration point for us since now we are set for our move... and A. has authorization to work, study or do anything else!

A. is going on a Brazil trek with his MBA next week. Which means both of us will be in Brazil... but unfortunately not in the same cities... he will be in São Paulo and I will be in Brasília (that is, 800 miles or 1300 km apart). Oh well... at least we both get to go!!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 17th

May 17th is Norway's National Day. What does that mean? First of all, it is a holiday, but not just that, it is one of the most (if not the most) important holiday for Norwegians.

In the morning there are parades of children and bands who walk up to the palace for a royal blessing: the king, queen and prince wave to the crowd from their balcony.

Never saw so many people in the streets in Oslo!

The royal palace and the crowds watching the bands make their way up the hill.

See the royal family waving from the balcony?

But the main attraction during the parade was to see all different type of bunad, the traditional Norwegian dress. Each part of the country has its own, and even every village has a different patterns. Until a while back you were only allowed to wear the bunad from where you come from (instead of picking your favorite or the most beautiful one). Until today they are only made in Norway, and therefore are super expensive. A nice bunad can easily be sold for 10 thousand euros (USD14 thousand!). Usually each person has 1 and it is used only on special occasions (such as May17th and weddings). The interesting consequence is that apparently Norwegian women wear the same clothes size throughout their lives! Just to fit into the bunad...

Some simple bunads.

More embroidered bunads.

Men dress up too!

An interesting looking family in bunads.

Even kids dress up!

And now some details of what makes them special:
Detail of the embroidery.

Some have fancy hats too!

And some other headdresses!

Each has a matching purse...

That is attached to the belt.

And look at the shoes: they look like witch's shoes!

Of course, there are exceptions as well:
Which make for very interesting contrast.

And after the parades, what else is there?
In Grønland (the immigrant neighborhood) there was an amusement park and a international food fair!

And in my new neighborhood people were sitting out, watching live bands and barbecuing.

Indeed a very nice day to spend in Norway!

You can read more about it here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Parties and mingling

As you read from the previous post, this weekend was packed with parties. And on my list such huge parties, with tons of unknown people don't rank very high. Having to shout and straining ears to have a conversation usually is enough to put off any energy I have to meet new people (not that I have that much... usually talking to strangers in such parties requires a huge effort for me). So if you don't know many people and don't feel like meeting new people what are the alternative options? Smoking, drinking, and eating, it seems. Well, I don't smoke and drinking to oblivion is also not something I do often. Eating, well, it is good, but I usually try not to do it the whole night. And as the people around you get drunker, the less interesting they generally become and the slower time seems to pass.  I'm aware I sound quite boring here, but if I'm with a group of friends, or a smaller party it works much better.

And how is A. in such a situation? As a true extrovert (seems like we are in a similar situation Cyn) he enjoys the crowd. He easily picks up conversations with anyone, entertains half a dozen at a time and in between has some drinks and smokes. Plus, in the parties this weekend, he had all his colleagues around, many of whom are now doing internships and had not seen each other in a few weeks. And A. is a night owl, who seems to have endless energy in the wee hours of the morning. So for A. these parties were great.

How to reconcile these divergent views on partying? In the first two parties (that were on campus) I just went home earlier than A. Although I would have loved to go home with him, he was obviously having too much fun, plus he had volunteered for the post-party cleanup team, which meant he was about the last to leave. The last party was in Paris though, a 45 minute bus ride from home. And we were tired. So initially A. was keen on leaving early... that is, until the party started picking up speed. But at the end he was very nice to leave with me at 1am. He wasn't happy about it and made it clear, but it was definitely nice to go back together to spend some extra hours awake in the morning before I left for Oslo. I am glad all this partying is over... I'm tired of seeming like the needy wife that wants attention.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sports weekend

I spent the last 5 days in Paris, visiting A. However, this weekend was different from the rest as his school organized a sports competition among the some of the best MBA schools in Europe. What does that mean? It means that they did not have classes on Thursday and Friday, had lots of work, parties, and aching muscles. For me it meant basically the same thing.  A. asked me to replace him at bartending on Thursday afternoon since he needed to be at another place for some other work at the same time. Then Thursday evening we went to the first party...

Handball: very popular in many countries and virtually unknown in others...

Friday I played in their handball team (while A. went to cricket). They were in desperate need of a player and since I used to play in college I volunteered. The rules stated that there needed to be a woman on the field at all times... when I heard that I was less thrilled... having seen male handball games I know it can be tough!!! But I went anyway, hoping to survive. It was very nice to get the whole "competition feeling" again: butterflies in your stomach, concentration, the feeling that you can achieve anything (even though reality is a bit harsher). And the team was very good... we had some players that used to play semi-professionally  and they carried us with them. 3 games later (20 to 5; 20 to 8; 15 to 1) we were champions!! Not bad... Friday I still had work to do and also did some bartending. Later at night (after a quick nap) A. and I went to the party again.

And then Saturday came and as I woke up I felt all the muscles that had not been used in a while... everything hurt! We slept in a bit until someone called asking for help to deliver lunches and out we went. Then we watched soccer, touch-rugby and some other sports and finally went home hoping for a nap. But by the time we can organized the apartment a bit it was time to head out again: final party!  I admit that I was ready to leave shortly after we arrived... tiredness + aches + little dinner + too many people were just not what I was looking for.

Today is Sunday and I'm heading back to Oslo, to try to catch up on work while still planning to enjoy the national holiday on Tuesday... 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

On sports

Exchange with A. on the difference between cricket and golf:

A: I don't get golf. You hit the ball and run after it.

Me: Isn't cricket like that too?

A: No. In cricket you hit the ball and someone ELSE runs after it...

Thursday, May 5, 2011


To save some money (since everything, including hostels, is expensive here) I decided to accept a friend's invite to crash at her place while A. and my brother visit Stockholm for 2 days. Since she lives in the same town as the university I work at it seems like a good idea, since I get to sleep in later and have a 5 min bike ride to work. So yesterday I brought my stuff over and went to bed, glad to have a real bed and a lot of space too (I am sleeping on the third floor, which is an open space).

And then, at 3am one of her daughters starts crying... and the second soon follows... and then the parents run around trying to calm them down... They both have chicken pox! And wake up scratching and crying... And crying... and crying... And there is no division between the 2nd floor (where the family sleeps) and the 3rd. Overall not a good night, woke up more tired than the day before... good, natural birth control.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Selfdestruction mode: on

Spring is here, Norway is finally defreezing and I am overwhelmed... this leads to lot's of good and bad things that don't really combine such as ice-cream and colds, beautiful sunny days and work, flowers and allergies... Wait! Allergies? I never had them! Why am I suffering like this now??

To be completely honest the first time I had allergy to polen was last year: had just defended my PhD in January and shortly after began to sneeze like crazy. Having never had allergies before and having lived in the same city for 4 years it took me a while to self diagnose myself and accept it at a fact. Relief came when I flew to Brazil mid March. And I thought relief would be perpetual.

Except that this year, my trips to Paris began to be a combination of runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezing from mid March. Since I only spent weekends, 2 days were manageable and I got better as soon as I got to Oslo (which was still frozen). Easter trip was painful... lot's and lot's of polen during the trip until I got antihistamine eyedrops. These helped enormously and made life much better. Italy was great though... as it was almost Summer my allergy all but disappeared, only to come back when we went back up to France. And now it is Spring in Oslo... and there are birch trees everywhere (seems like those are the worst). And I should go to the doctor... but I am not a medicine person (always treated everything by homeopathy and never took an aspirin in my life...) and I'm pretty sure this has to do with low resistance and there should be a better way around it than drugging myself. Plus A. and my brother are here, which definitely takes over all the extra time I have. Plus we are living at a hostel, meaning little space, no privacy and additional stress... Plus I think I got a cold, which confounds the symptoms of the allergy: am I coughing due to cold or trees?

So yesterday was much cooler (back down to 5oC/40oF) and my allergies were very tame. I thought I was getting over it but suddenly I woke up with hives today... not good, not good. Oh well.... I think I need some rest, having my own apartment, and a fast forward of the season... is it too much to ask for?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Reflections on life as of now

Here I am, sitting on the floor of my apartment surrounded by my worldly belongings:

2 suitcases
1 backpack
1 bag with my duvet
2 plastic storage boxes. 

My roommate moved her stuff out this morning, which means I have no furniture left. Thankfully the wifi comes from the downstairs apartment, otherwise there would be even less to entertain me.

Having all your possessions neatly packed in front of you is both a relief (for finally managing to achieve it) but also a tad unnerving: is this all my life sums up to? Obviously the answer is no, but looking at my stuff makes me ponder about how possessive we are about what is ours. And, really, if they got lost and never showed up in my new place would that be the end of the world? Quite simply: no.

So why do we carry all this stuff around us in life? Do we need it? Well, at some point we decided we did, but obviously many times we think we need something that ends up piled on the shelves somewhere gathering dust. I must admit I'm proud that I am moving out with the same amount of stuff that I brought. The Oslo prices definitely helped ;)

And my brother is visiting... poor him... we will both be sleeping on the floor tonight before heading to Bergen for a weekend in the fjords!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Water divide

In Brazil we call a situation a water divide (divisor de águas) when it separates the before from the after. And this is exactly how I felt my week off was: a water divide. Before the trip I was still going about my stuff here in Norway, my job, my new friends here, looking for an apartment for the last 2 months, etc. Not quite processing the thought that I'm moving again so soon.

But during the trip (more specifically during a conversation with A. on the drive back, when the rest of the car occupants were snoring in the back seat) it seems like my ideas fell into place. Yes, I'm moving across the planet! And I better get the hold of it soon! So now it does feel like I have 2 months to finish as much as I can at work, to enjoy Spring since it might be a while before chilly days come by again, to enjoy the time with the people I met here but overall not to fret it things are not perfectly in place by the time the end of June (aka moving time) comes around. I will try my best and the rest... well, it is always about priorities.

It is funny how certain moments can cause such considerable changes in our perceptions. Small things that suddenly shed light on issues that were fuzzy or unidentifiable before...

And when I was googling an image of a water divide for this post the pic above popped up... and it is quite close to where I'll be living in Brazil, which made me smile. Seems like there are good things in store! :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Are you a planner?

I'm not. If I can I will not decide on whether to go out this weekend until Saturday afternoon. I will not decide on whether to go out next week until the last moment. I do not know what I am cooking tomorrow. And if possible I don't like people pushing me to decide on things ahead of time.

This does not mean that I don't plan ahead for things that do need planning such as buying plane tickets or shopping for at least a week. And in this sense I am much more of a planner than A., who would like to decide whether to go out on Saturday on the same day at 10pm. And my brother is essentially also like this.

And the 3 non-planners ended up on a trip with a hyper planner. The fourth person on the trip was a girl I met in Oslo a few months ago. She was super enthusiastic about meeting me and soon I invited her to one of the weekly dinners I have with some friends here. The fact that she wanted to know what the person responsible for the dinner was cooking 5 days in advance should have set the alarm off but it didn't. And then when I invited everyone at one of these dinners to join us for the trip she was the only one who accepted. Oh, well, since my brother was worried about being a 3rd wheel I decided to take the chance... Big mistake!

During the entire trip she was trying to plan things. Where are we going today? Where are we eating lunch? What road are we driving? What is the weather forecast? What are you wearing tomorrow? What should I wear? This obviously drove us 3 nuts and was quite frustrating for her. How can people plan so much? Doesn't it occupy too much wave length?

Just in case, I'm preparing a questionnaire for future trip mates to fill out ahead of time. This is all the planning I will do :P

Monday, April 25, 2011


Hello hello!

Here I am again after a long break. And a much needed break too! The past 10 days have been an amazing disconnection from internet... and how was I longing for it! During grad school (when you are expected to not have vacations) and now during work (when you sneak in a few days off work but make sure to read your emails several times a day in case someone realized you are not there) it had been almost 5 years of online connectivity. And what did I do these 10 days?

My brother is visiting from Brazil. He arrived on April 18th, just in time to meet up at the airport, rent a car and head our traveling with A. and another friend of mine. We started off with a day in Paris, seeing the highlights in Spring:

The next day we headed to Germany, where we visited one of our cousins who is studying there:
The amazing flowered fields on the way.

Me and the town.

Then we headed to Lake Constance to visit a friend I had not seen for 6 years. We even stayed a second night, since he took us sailing!!

Cheesy Titanic moment :P

From there we jumped to Switzerland to visit 2 cousins living there. 
Amazing scenery on the road.

And then off to another city in Italy to visit another friend:
Castle we stopped by to visit on the way.

And another great lake right where she lives!

We then headed to Italy, but stayed off the beaten path at an amazing National Park:

With little villages perched on the cliffs:

Finally we stopped at a great French city on the way back:
A., me and my brother in a city of style.

So, who can guess where we went?? Come on... the first one is easy :P