10 April 2011

Week 22: Secretary of State Visit

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures from my point of view of the Secretary Clinton's visit, but I did get a chance to participate. I was assigned as the baggage officer and was responsible for getting the advance team's luggage onto the official airplane for the trip back to Washington, DC. We had got back and forth on whether a bag handlers were needed, but we decided it would be smoother to get the advance team's bags onto the airplane while they were doing their work for the inauguration events rather than doing it at the end of the day when they were trying to get off the ground. I am glad to have had the experience because it gave me an introduction on the step-by-step planning that goes into a major visit. This was one only lasted one day, and it still took over a week of meetings and site visits to prepare.

After going to the hotel to pick up the bags, we returned to embassy to have the bags and the all of the motorcade cars inspected and sniffed by the bomb dog. Bomb dogs are way cooler than X-ray machines. Then, I spent most of my day for the inauguration at the airport waiting for the Secretary's airplane to arrive, get refueled and loaded for the return trip. I rode in the motorcade to the airport in an armored van with the other two members of the baggage handling crew. 

Since I was at the airport, I got to see the airplane land and listen to the reports from the site officers as they reported the step-by-step movement of the Secretary as she went to the pre-determined inauguration events. I even got to go up into the official aircraft and get tour. It's a well-laid-out aircraft that is very a much a place of business. It was interesting to me that other than a few technology upgrades, the basic plan was very similar to the Air Force One planes that are display at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

My last highlight of the day was watching the motorcade of the former Brazilian president enter the air base for his last official trip out of Brasilia. Lining the street just outside of the entrance was a group of supporters wishing him well and thanking him for a job well-done.

Week 22: Presidential Inauguration Day

January 1st is the day declared by the Brazilian Constitution to have the Presidential Inauguration. This happens every four years, and happens to fall on one of the most celebrated of the Brazilian holidays, but that's how it is here.

This year was a particularly significant day since the person being sworn into office would be Brazil's first woman president, Dilma Rousseff. It was a hotly contested campaign, and she was the former chief of staff for Brazil's most popular president ever, Lula da Silva. Due to the importance of this day, the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was one of the several hundred foreign dignitaries that came to congratulate President Dilma and participate in the ceremonies.

We decided that this would probably be a once in a lifetime event for our children, so we made our way down to the Esplanada to partcipate in a few of the many activities and concerts that had been set up for this special day. Even the Brazilian Communist party was celebrating, as noted by the balloons and flags that lined the route to the government buildings where the inauguration would take place. The color red is the color of the PT, the worker's party, that won the election.

On the fields across from the congressional buildings, there were several pavilions and tents set up, each representing one of the regions of the Brazil. Also, there were large signs with pictures and stories about historically significant Brazilian women.

I didn't a chance to do much more than bring my family to the sites since I had to get back to the embassy to join with the rest of the embassy team that was meeting Secretary Clinton at the the airport. I'll write a little bit more about that later. 

The first place we stopped was the children's pavilion, and at that time a musical group was performing music in support of a puppet show. I have no idea what the puppet show was about, but it reminded me of the Punch and Judy puppets. 

After I returned to the embassy, my family went to a couple of the other pavilions to see some of the other demonstrations and shows. The group in this photo were representing an indigenous tribe from the Amazon. As they sang, they invited members of the audience to join with them as they moved rhythmically in a circle. The older woman doing the singing also did some improvisational songs that praised the new Brazilian president.

My family's favorite show was by a group of Ukrainian-Brazilian dancers from the south of Brazil. We knew that Brazil is a population made of people from all over the world, but seeing a Ukrainian folk dancing helped to sink in the message. This community has made it a distinct goal to try and preserve traditions from their homeland, and it really reminded me of the cultural celebrations that we have in Cleveland, which is another community made of cultures from around the world.

The most exciting moment of the outing came when my youngest son got separated from the rest of the family. As they were moving from one pavilion to another, it started to rain very hard, and so everyone moved under the closest tent. During this mass movement, my wife noticed that our son was no longer with them, so she told the rest of the kids to stay put while she hunted for him. She found a nearby police officer and used her Portuguese to describe the missing kid: short blonde hair wearing blue Crocs with socks. (Definitely not similar to any of the Brazilian kids that day. The socks were the giveaway feature.) Anyway, they returned to the pavilion my family had previously visited and our boy was still there. I think he might have just been noticing that he was not with the family. Fortunately, everyone was very helpful in helping us to get our boy back.

Week 35: Heavy rains and trees

When we first moved into our home, this tree looked dead, with just a single trunk and a few branches with no leaves or buds or any outward sign of live. In the picture of the pool, the tree is in the upper left part of the photo. For most of the rainy season, the tree has produced leaves and filled out, but it was only a couple of weeks ago that an orange bloom appeared at the very top of the tree. I think that this might be some sort of sumac based on the leaves.

The flower its very interesting, too. It is large and is shaped like a scoop. It also has several flowers that bloom and then drop in sequence. I am not sure how long the blooms last, but the tree seems to be perpetually in flower once it gets going.

Another aspect of the rainy season is the amounts of rain we receive. In the picture above, the water in the swimming pool has reached the rim representing about 8 inches of rain that came during about five days of brief but very heavy showers. One of these showers produced some local flooding and power outages. So far this year we've had about three or four outages in our home per month. Only one has lasted more than an hour, and we were without power for about 6 hours. It may have been caused by an vehicle accident that involved a pole and that occurred during a heavy rainstorm.

Here are few more pictures from the trees next door. When I first saw this type of tree, I thought that there was a flock of birds roosting in it. On closer look, the white flecks are some sort of flower or seed pod. It really is beautiful here now.

Sometime in the next month, the daily rainstorms will stop, and the world will dry up and become brown and red. The birds here even have plumage that blend in with the red soil. The bird in this photo are a very common bird here that spends a lot of time on the ground searching for bugs to eat. They also hang out at the embassy near the cafeteria at lunch time and takes uneaten bits of meat off of abandoned plates.

03 April 2011

Week 34: Ovos de Pascoa--Easter Eggs

A couple of days after Carnaval, these canopies of beautifully wrapped eggs started to appear in the supermarkets. About a week ago, Rebecca and I stopped in at the Walmart Supercenter and saw the largest display of chocolate Easter eggs we have seen yet in Brasilia and decided that our kids needed to share in this cultural experience.
These egg displays were larger than any similar Christmas display we saw.

In this Walmart, the displays extended from the seasonal display area by the electronics department near the entrance of the store, around a corner and all the way down and past the 13 or so cash registers. The eggs were arranged by brand, size and type, and most of them were hanging from a canopy. Others were in bins and on shelves next to the canopies. There was even a castle of candy and eggs.

The eggs ranged in size from 100g to 1000g, and prices ranged from about R$6 to R$70 depending on the size, brand and contents of the egg. The eggs themselves were made from the popular types of chocolate candies, and most of them contained wrapped chocolates and/or little toys inside as well. For example, the Sonho de Valsa (Waltz Dream) is a popular chocolate covered wafer ball filled with honey-peanut butter flavored truffle-like filling. The egg is chocolate lined with a crunchy peanut and honey flavored coating, and filled with Sonho de Valsa candies.

Nestlé, Garoto, and Laka brands each had representatives under the canopy to assist customers with locating eggs and prices. To find prices from the store's selection, you needed to refer to laminated signs hanging from the canopy. The Nestlé girl even had a fanny pack filled examples of the toys one might find inside of the eggs. Laka's rep handed out a pamphlet that described the various eggs from their line. He even helped find a couple of small boxes to carry our eggs in.

We ended up purchasing 11 eggs, 8 for us and 3 to send to family and friends back in the U.S. We arranged a "secret" exchange and had our family members choose a name out of the hat, and then find an egg that that person might like. We're not so good at keeping the secret part of the exchange, so the kids made sure that they let the others know which eggs would be acceptable, and which would not. We thought we might be a little unusual in purchasing so many eggs at one time, but we saw at least two other customers with boxes filled with eggs for giving away. It ended up being a fun field trip for our family.