01 November 2010

Gigantic Beetle

I found this beetle carcass near the tree we parked next to at the school. (Yes, there are trees planted in the parking lots). I have no idea what type of beetle, but it was huge. This one had a green metallic irridescence and was about 3-4 inches long.
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Spooky Treats

These finger foods were fabulous.
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Week 11: Halloween Parties

Rebecca figured out that she attended seven parties last week, beginning with the newcomers luncheon at the Ambassador's residence last Sunday. On Friday, she assisted with the Sam's 1st grade class party, then took the kids over to the Embassy for Trick-or-Treating, and finished the night at the American School's Halloween Carnival. On Saturday, we attended the Primary Halloween activity at the church and then Rebecca and I went to the Hollywood Halloween Party sponsored by a member of the U.S. Embassy community. We did not go to the parties at the British or Canadian Embassies. Maybe next year. We finished the week at a friend's house on Halloween Sunday with an afternoon dessert and viewing of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

We decided that our favorite parties were the ones with activities and sound levels low enough to actually hold a conversation with other people. The one that was the least fun for us was the adult party on Saturday night. It was fun to see other people dressed as movie characters (Rebecca and I did Titania and Bottom from "A Midsummer's Night Dream), but it was impossible to talk to anyone due to the music volume.

Brazilian like music loud. The DJ's set up included speakers the size of my car, flashing lights and two large screen TV's showing videos of the songs being played. Like other Brazilian parties, the music could be heard done the block, the bass and drum beats pounding out the call to gather and bounce in place on the patio. My chest was vibrating as we approached the house from the front. We stayed for about an hour, but got bored with not understanding the music or being able to talk to other people. It was really kind of a lonely experience to be surrounded by people but not being able to speak with them.

On the other hand, American expats love Halloween. The costumes worn at the party were fabulous and creative. At the Embassy, the Americans and the local staff turned their offices and hallways into spook alleys  and gave away a ton of candy to the 100 or so kids that visited. Every accessible office had decorations using draping fabrics, streamers, balloons and other items ordered from The Oriental Trading Company. The Marines created a graveyard with tombstones and skeletons outside down their hallway. My favorite was the USAID and CDC crew's passage through and Egyptian tomb of cubicles, cardboard boxes and black drapes. They dressed up as mummies, too. My favorite detail was playing a shrieking mummy head on their desktop computers. Motorpool even created a Spooky Van to bring kids in from the school.

Over at the American School, the PTO fought to keep the tradition of a Halloween Carnival, and ended up presenting a great party. There were several booths with activities like Pin the Nose on the Witch, drinking a foggy witch's potion, various candy and ball tosses and Fishing for Bones. The high school students even created a haunted hallway spooky enough to keep Emma from sleeping for two nights after insisting on going through. We even got to eat very fresh hamburgers. Well, more like less than well-done almost a steak tartar version of a burger.

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Week 10-11: Halloween Costumes

The kids were allowed to wear costumes to school if they represented characters from books. Emma is Helen of Troy and Sam is Achilles. Lillian is Titania, Queen of the fairies from "Midsummer Night's Dream". Jacob is the werewolf Jacob Black and Joseph is that vampire guy from the same book. Jacob had wanted to be a potato, but the gunny sack wrapping from the classified pouch shipment boxes just didn't work well.

Rebecca constructed only one Halloween costume this year because we only had the material for one. Then, then Saturday a week before Halloween, she broke five sewing machine needles in one day, completely using up the stash she had brought from the U.S., and there was not enough time to order more. We were now set for another adventure in Brasilia.

Brasilia is a planned city, but the plan doesn't really fit with the way most people would think a city should be laid out. In the center of town, there is a highway with no exits with road running parallel to it without any entrances, or so it seems. Basically, road don't have names, shops and homes are set in Blocos and Quadras, and it's very difficult to turn left. Also, most shops are small, one type of product shops. For example, the fabric shops do not have sewing supplies, just fabrics. The sewing machine shops have parts for machines but are not located in the same bloco or shopping center as the fabric stores. The other thing is that shopping areas are based on common themes (for example light fixtures or fabrics) and are grouped together. Most surprising is that a city that was built with the intent to make everyone drive everywhere, there are very few places to actually park a car at shopping areas.

We did manage to purchase needles, and then headed over to the fabric district and explored five or six different fancy fabric stores that were all placed next to each other. The first shop was a costume shop. It had no fabrics, but we discovered a kind of cross between a craft store and a costume supply shop without any make-up (just face paint). Of course there would be costume shops with craft supplies considering the elaborate outfits that are created for Carnival.

Then we went to the dress fabric stores and saw some of the most beautiful (and expensive) fabrics I had ever seen. This must have been the fancy fabric stores. None of them had everyday cotton prints, just linens, silks, garbadines, and high end polyester prints. We were looking for faux fur for Jacob's costume, and we happened into a shop with some very friendly and talkative ladies who just happened to be the only one of the shops that had some fake fur in the basement. We spent several minutes with them exchanging words trying to learn how to say in Portuguese the various types of fabrics. I think it will be fun to return and explore some more.
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Week 11: Sack of Emergency

Saturday was a pretty busy day for us. We packed in shopping at Sam's Club, picking up the car from the shop and helping to decorate the church for the Primary's Halloween party in the morning.

Our car had been in the shop for about a week and a half. About two weeks after we purchased the car, the engine started to overheat. I think it might have had something to do with fact that there was no oil in the engine, a small detail I forgot to check during the purchase process. It also needed a new clutch pedal cable and some adjustments to the air conditioning. Fortunately, all of these items were covered under the purchase warranty, and the from the shop sent a tow truck to our home to pick up the car. (Getting the car to the shop was the hardest part due to my work schedule, the lack of a second car, and a small language barrier in trying to explain why I couldn't drive an overheating car.)

Well, when I retrieved the car, the warning light turned on letting me know that it was low on fuel. I decided that there must be just enough gas left to get home, maybe. Fortunately, Rebecca chose to follow me home in the minivan we are borrowing because I ran out of gas just before reaching the bridge to Lago Sul.

It turns out that the route that I took home had no gas stations, and even though I took a wrong turn and ended up driving past the U.S. Embassy, I couldn't get gas there because I forgot my I.D. badge to get into the compound.

I pulled over, thinking at first that maybe the engine had a mysterious stalling issue, then remembered that it had no fuel. Rebecca pulled up behind me, and she waited with the car while I went to the nearest gas station to find out if I could get a bottle of fuel for my car.

When I got to the station and explained to the attendent that I did not need her to put gas in the minivan (yes, all pumps are full-service in Brasilia), but that my other car had run out of gas in Portuguese (again, more vocabulary we did not cover in class), she suddenly lit up and told me I needed a "Saco de Emergencia". She then ripped a bag off a stack and asked me how much fuel I wanted. The sack of emergency has spout on one end and a few holes for grabbing and carrying. It cost about US$8 for the sack and a gallon of fuel. The difficult part was holding the bag shut while driving back to the disabled car. The sack does not come with a closure device. Fortunately, the minivan is an automatic.

Back at the car, Rebecca says that no one slowed down or stopped to offer assistance. In fact, several drivers honked and barely managed to swerve in time to miss the car before merging. I guess flashing lights, a raised hood, and a person standing on the berm next to the car were not enough to show that this car was not going to move. It didn't help that the car had stopped in the left lane of the highway.

Transferring fuel to car was as easy as pouring a stiff plastic bag of liquid into a wide-mouthed jar. The car started right up, and we finished the drive home. I am not sure that "sacks of emergency" would work in the U.S. due to the different type of gas tank spouts there, but it certainly was handy in helping me get my car going again. And I didn't have to worry about returning a gas can.
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Week 11: Pumpkin Carving

Halloween is a popular holiday here in Brasilia, but only really practiced on a small scale at various parties. Trick-or-Treating and pumpkin carving have not caught on. It might be a matter of the lack of resources. For example, we have been searching for a pumpkin or some other type of squash that might work well for making a Jack-O'-Lantern, but we were unsuccessful. In fact, we didn't even find very many pictures of carved pumpkins or other Halloween themed decorations either. This is the closest thing we could find at the grocery stores and produce markets.

It's an orange-colored squash, called "abobora" (ah-BO-bo-rah) in Portuguese. It has the general shape of a pumpkin, but it has definitely been cultivated for eating, not for carving like the pumpkins found in the U.S. The skin and flesh are very thick and the hollow area for the seeds is small. The overall size is more saucer-like, too.

Well, trying to carve and then light such an object did not seem like fun. I saw a few pitiful examples of Jack-O'-Lanterns at the school's Halloween carnival. This type of pumpkin just would not do. It would be too much work for a unsatisfactory result.

So we decided to try watermelons, which turned out to be very easy (and tasty) for hollowing out and then cutting faces. Emptying out the larger watermelon kept Sam busy for about 40 minutes. Next year I would like to a get several of the little watermelons and make ensemble. We also plan on trying to grow pumpkins in our vegetable garden.
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24 October 2010

Rhinoceros Beetle

Along with the little June bugs, these rhinoceros beetles have been flying at night since the rains began. I found this one in the pool along. A week later, I picked up the carcasses of 17 beetles, male and female (without the horns), in a courtyard at the church. These beetles are about 2 inches long and large. They are super cool.

Week 9: One week after the first rains

One week and three heavy storms later, the grass was turning green and much less crunchy. We even got the Halloween decorations up.

Along with the rains we have also had a burst of insect activity. The cicadas are out and filling the air with their buzzing. There's also some sort of bug that sits on in the bushes near the back porch and calls between 6PM and 8PM every evening. It sounds just like a buzzing electrical transformer that is about to go out. It can be difficult to tell the difference between bug noises and electrical noises here.

We've also had a burst of activities from beetles that look very much like the June bugs in the U.S. Every night, these beetles fly around the lights in near the pool, and the Jacob gets removes about 50 or so that drowned in the pool from the night before.

Week 8: First Rain

On October 2nd, the first major rain of the rainy season reached our home. This photo shows a portion of our back yard and what it looked like after four months without rain. It was very dry, and there had been several brush fires, large and small, in the area, even quite a few on the margins of town along the roads. Smoke, dust and ash had filled the air, and got on everything leaving a constant layer of reddish dust with black flecks on everything. There were definitely paths through the dust on floors were we walked more often.

The air during the dry season is very dry too, down below 20% humidity most of the time. The medical office at the embassy suggests drinking about a pint or so of water every hour. At school, the kids carried water bottles, and outdoor physical activity was limited. We were told that the Federal District state government actually closed schools for due to the dry weather for a couple of days last year, just like a snow day back in the U.S.

Despite the dryness, the leaves on the hedges were still green and the mango trees were growing fruit. There were even trees with leaves. One nice thing about the dry (o seco) was the lack of mosquitos. And the beautiful sunny days.

17 October 2010

Week 4: After the Parade

Following the parade, the Brazilian Air Force stunt flying team performed. Brazil is a major manufacturer of prop airplanes, and they supply military and commercial fleets around the world. The pilots who flew during this show were expcetionally good and the show was quite entertaining. I especially like the stall and free-fall stunts and the close flying formations.

Near us was an ice cream vendor, and he was having a promotion (sale) of only one "real" (Brazilian dollar) per container. That ice cream was the best and least expensive ice cream we have had so far in Brasilia. The flavors were strawberry, strawberry/chocolate, mango, pineapple and maracuja (passion fruit). It was totally worth seeing the parade just for the ice cream. By the way, ice cream sold in the supermarket runs for about R$13 to R$17 per liter, and it's tastes old. We also have a frozen yogurt stand near our home, but the price there is about R$7 for the size we got at the parade.

There were several types of vendors at the parade: agua de coco (coconut water), hats, cotton candy, pastels, popcorn, jewelry, and even the enterprising folks with coolers of water and beer.

There were no receptacles for garbage on the parade grounds. The entire area was covered with plastic bottles, political flyers, cans and other trash. Everyone just used their container and dropped it on the ground when done. Joseph, Emma and I couldn't stand to just leave our trash on the ground, so I picked up an empty plastic bag and hauled our trash to an overflowing receptacle near the cathedral.

We walked from the parade site to the US Embassy trying to find a taxi to take us home. We decided that it would be easier for us to explain to a taxi driver to get us at the embassy than try to describe where we were on the Planalto. I tried to wave a couple of taxis down while were walking, but was denied. It was a hot, dry and sunny day. I got very sunburned because I forgot sunscreen and let Sam wear my hat. Besides, walking a few blocks only added to the adventure, thrill and misery of the day.

At the embassy, I called for two cars. Soon after I called, a single taxi arrived. I thought I had been clear that we needed two cars. Then I looked inside and saw that the driver already had two passengers. He told us that he could take us home, then told his passengers to get out (I think they may have been family members). I feebly asked where the other car was, and then we loaded all eight of us and the stroller into a car that's about the size of a Toyota Corolla. On the way home, we passed the two taxis I had ordered. It was a very fast drive home, and I felt a little bad for not waiting for the other taxis, but I guess that's life for taxi drivers.
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Week 4: Brazil Independence Day Parade

We took a couple of taxis to get to the parade from our house because we didn't have a car. Also, it probably would have been difficult to find a place to park. It certainly was difficult to find a place to watch the parade and get a decent view. The city did set up a several bleachers that held about a couple of thousand people, but we did not arrive early enough, nor did we have the right credentials to be able to sit in that area.

We ended up being with the people and got to practice our Portuguese. The city also set up a row of fences in order to prevent people from stepping out into the parade route. They also posted military police officers every 20 feet or so along the parade route to remind us to stay on our side of the fence. One of the unfortunate consequences of the fence is that it didn't allow for anyone in the front to sit, so there was no good way to get a good view unless you were in the front, climbed a tree, or we're over six feet tall. I managed to find a small bump to stand on by the side walk and hold my camera up to see the parade through the view screen.

None of use qualified in that way, but little children have a way a getting to the front in Brazil. Our parade viewing neighbors grabbed our smallest children, commenting on their beauty, and passed them up to the fence and then over to the other side of the fence where they were able to sit on the road and watch. My kids were a little hesitant to leave us, but it was a better view. They were a little disappointed that no one threw candy from the tanks.
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Week 4: Brazil Independence Day Parade

The day after the US Labor Day, we went to Brasilia to watch their Independence Day Parade. It was very much like any US parade with marching bands, bagpipe bands, people dressed in native clothing, school kids marching, and representatives from every branch of the military services. There were even a few fly-bys from Brazil's Air Force. The parade also included various military vehicles, fire trucks and finished with a host of horses and riders from the Palace Guard.

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The Determined Turtle and the Alligator

We visited the National Zoo of Brasilia yesterday, and one of the pens was full of turtles (tartarugas) and two alligators (jacare). The alligators did not move for the 15 minutes or so that we stood and watched them. Jacob was pretty sure that they were fake, but then the jacare blinked. One turtle was determined to get on top of this living log, tried from the tail and failed, and then went for the approach behind the head. We did not see the little turtle climb on top of the gator before we moved on to another pen with a very large crocodile.

Week 4: Brazilian Political Campaigns

Not found in the official parade were politicians, but their were several unofficial parades on the mall and even up and down the road that ran parallel to the official parade route with supporters of political candidates displaying flags, kites, and giant paper mache caricatures. In Brazil, all the voting is done electronically. The numbers are punched in by voters to select their candidates. There are about 30 official political parties, the largest being that of the current president, the Partido de Trabalhadores (PT, Worker's Party). These numbers are as important as the names of the candidates, if not more so. The first two numbers indicate which party and link them to the presidential candidates: 13 = PT, Dilma Rouseff, for example. I enjoy the political fervor Brazilians have. They are also required by law to vote, and do so on the first Sunday in October, a day when most people would not have to work. Signs with numbers on them and friendly faces are everywhere, including the back windows of cars. Most of the roadside displays have people waving flags. They also seem to be portable, because the displays get removed by the campaigners and a different group will be in the same place the next day.
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12 October 2010

Inside the Lago Sul Ward Chapel

The chapel has a rostrum that is very much like other LDS chapels. I like all of the natural light that the windows bring into the room during our morning meetings, though I'm told that it get pretty hot if you happen to sit on the east side of the chapel in the direct sunlight. The chapel does have central A/C, but the large windows also can be opened to let the breezes through on cooler days. None of the benches are attached to floor and so this room doubles as a cultural center for dinners, dances and other events, and the rostrum can be a turned into a little stage for performances.

LDS Chapel, Lago Sul

This is where we attend church on Sundays with the other members of the Lago Sul Ward. It's a nice little building with some very functional features for this climate. All of the windows are large and can be opened in order to allow cross breezes. Also, the flooring is all tile making it very easy to clean. That's especially important considering how dusty it is around here during the dry season. And probably is helpful for cleaning up the mud during the rainy season. It is painted a light green (sea foam green in Crayola colors), and has a tile roof. The detailing inside is wood and granite. Unlike the LDS chapels in the USA, it does not have a steeple. About 150 people attend church here on Sundays.

10 October 2010

Week 4: Rock Climbing at Itiquira Falls

Swimming below the falls wasn't good enough for my kids, so they decided to try and climb rocks up and approach the main falls from the river. Jacob started it, then Sam had to try too. And Lillian and Emma. And then I decided I had better keep up with them just to make sure we, err, they could stay safe. (OK, I like to climb rocks, too.)
We managed to get up three terraces before the rocks got steeper and the climbs higher. I called them off the attempt, and then we tried to figure out the safest way to come back down. The trail along the river was a bit too far, and there was quite a bit of underbrush and scrubby trees. I was the only one wearing sandals, so it didn't look like a comfortable hike.
We decided to go back the way we came, with the exception that we would lower the kids down to me on the face of the rocks. The current was little strong, and the rocks were quite slippery by going the way the water was moving. We all made it back to the swimming. I lept in since it was more fun that way.
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Week 4: Swimming at Itiquira Falls

Freezing cold and having a blast. The water was cold enough that even though the outside air temperature was in the 90's F, I would continue to shiver for several minutes. I was still shivering even after drying off.
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