Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dillo - The Other White Meat

I know. It just keeps coming up.

On Tuesday afternoon I had the opportunity to explore Austin's coolest store. If you find yourself in the capital city, do yourself a favor and set aside about 5 hours to peruse Austin Gift Company.

Over the years, I have been able to find the perfect gifts for people near & dear to me in this wonderland of Willie, wacky and way cool. There's a little bit of everything, and something for everyone. Guaranteed. I only wish I'd have had my camera with me, to show you all of the amazing art.

Note to comic book fans: There are phenomenal sketched fan art coasters that you should check out. I'll be back for some of the Batman, X-men & Wonder Woman pieces.

Sans camera, I asked a buddy to get a snapshot of this awesomeness.

Photo credit: Johnny Bonez

I recently spoke with a Texas gentleman who shared some of the old stories. He told me that people used to eat armadillos here, too. I had no idea!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Late Bloomer

I am a late bloomer, it seems, when it comes to bloomin' buds (and I'm not talking horticulture or British expletives). I'm talking about taste buds. Being an expat changed my palette, and not in the way you'd think.

I've always enjoyed trying new foods. I grew up in Austin, a city where well over a third of my meals were Tex-Mex punctuated by Vietnamese, Italian, and Texas Bar-B-Que, and peppered with Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Cajun, Brazilian and "Southern" foods.

I'd say that my tastes are well-rounded, though some people would beg to differ. People who seem to think that not liking PBJs ...and mayo, coleslaw, stuffing, candied yams, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, Caesar salad, banana splits, chicken fried steak, breakfast sandwiches or anything chocolaty with peanut butter is downright Un-American.

I understand that I may seem to be building a case against myself (and am probably setting myself up for a round of hate mail), but I also don't like corned beef, meatloaf, dinner rolls, dumplings or gravy, so it's not only "traditional American dishes" that are on my Try Another Day list.

True, Thanksgiving Day meals have always been a challenge, but it isn't like I didn't give these things a try for a good decade or so. I think I was about 19 when I started having a taste [teaspoon] of peanut butter, every now and then (which was promptly followed by a tall glass of milk). I only ate mayo with tuna, egg, or potato salads, and opted for mustard when possible.

Then I moved to Goiânia.

We all know the old adage, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder," but it appears to apply to taste buds, as well.

It wasn't until I was living in a particular part of the country where everything is pretty much same-same (whether you happen to be at a cookout, restaurant, or relative's house), and things like peanut butter are hard to come by, that I suddenly decided that I really couldn't stand another day without it. And that I inexplicably missed it so badly that I'd eat an entire jar (in a matter of weeks) when I found it.

Then came the mayo urges.

I didn't even know who I was anymore.

Finally, I found myself turning into more of a mad scientist than cook, concocting strange food mixtures born out of desperation (things that would make any decent cook or food lover cringe).

The horror... the horror...

I don't want you to be naive regarding the culinary purgatory that awaits expats who are not headed to major cultural hubs. Those of you bound for global cities can file this away under, "Whew! Dodged that one."

Those of you moving into the middle of nowhere, or worse, somewhere that for no logical or logistical reason, curiously and unnecessarily resists change like a cat resists bath time, take heed:

There will come a day when you try, against all odds, to recreate a particularly elusive taste from home. Your desperation will be directly linked — not unlike your threshold for weird combos — to just how bland the local stuff is, or how homogeneous the condiment and spice aisles are at local stores.

While I will neither confirm nor deny certain attempts at recreating gumbo, enchiladas, and/or queso without the aid of anything remotely resembling what was needed, I can tell you that through shared expat stories & recipes, I was able to successfully make sour cream (or as we labeled that kitchen experiment: "Cloud Nine").

Just watch yourself. No one back home needs to know the frightening depths to which you were willing to sink in order to appease your sense of taste. Don't get caught tweaking a bowl of already-prepared salsa with a squirt of ketchup once you are back where these things are not only unheard of, but a crime.

Of course, other things might be tip-offs that you've been shaken to the core. Things like a 180 in your stance on mayo & peanut butter.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


While speaking with a loved one recently, she reminded me of a Brazilian Portuguese idiom that put some things in perspective. She told me not to look back, because there's nothing that can be done about the decisions we've made in the past, and not to give up because there are so many things worth fighting for in the future. While hindsight is 20/20, it's a waste to mull over the details (unless you are writing a biography, or it's in your job description).

The saying goes like this:

"Quem anda para trás é caranguejo. Quem fica parado é poste. Quem evolui é ser humano."

Crabs walk backwards. Posts are stationary. Humans evolve.

I immediately thought of this little guy that I met on a beach in Fortaleza. It was the first crab that I've come across that not only didn't scurry away, but hunkered down and observed... me? (Cutest thing ever!)

This expression also brought to mind that thing that I like to do on the beach, where I get just within reach of the retreating waves as they are pulled back to sea. I like to stand there in the shifting sand, seeing how far I can burrow down with each wave, becoming a human post. It's pretty easy to keep your balance until you're about mid-calf down, and a really big wave comes in. That's usually when I realize I'm stuck, and hope an even bigger one isn't right behind. Risky business. I suppose I've been guilty of this type of behavior in other arenas, as well. Hmm...

Then I remembered this commercial by Fiat. I guess the beach brings out the philosopher in all of us (or it's just a really good backdrop for marketing), or something.

The commercial shows a dog walker who tells himself that he should have been an executive, looking at an exec, who is at what appears to be an impressive lunch meeting. The executive, catching a glimpse of the seemingly glamorous life of a famous band, sighs and laments that he should have been a rock star. Later, in his tour bus, the rock star passes a beach and yearns for the more laid-back lifestyle of a lifeguard. The lifeguard, feeling overwhelmed, wishes that he had been born a crab. The crab just laughs, and says that he can't stand walking sideways anymore.  The announcer says, "Sometimes we just want to leave it all behind."

The grass is always greener on the other side, even on the beach.

Monday, February 10, 2014

OFL - Onomatopoeia as a Foreign Language

As an adult, I came to realize that not everyone grew up in an onomatopoeically and ideophonically inclined household. It was only after the 20th comment, or so, by a random stranger that I noticed not everyone's O.I. vocabulary is quite as, um, "developed." (Okay, okay... I use weird sound effects in place of regular words sometimes.)

Onomatopoeias and ideophones are words that phonetically imitate the sound of something that we otherwise wouldn't have a word for. They may eventually reach the point that they're officially recognized words which is how oink, swoosh, bam, and meow came into being. These kinds of words are vital to the comic book industry.

The need for onomatopoeic and ideophonic words is universal, as most languages incorporate a handful into the language. There are those that argue this is how some languages developed at a base level.

One might think that this shared phenomenon could be used as a bridge to cross language barriers, but strangely enough, that is most often not the case. Whatever language we speak and whatever sounds we are accustomed to hearing, directly influences our perception of other sounds.

To see some interesting differences in how we hear animal sounds in different languages, check out this video. I found it intriguing that every language featured, with the exception of Japanese, does hear a version of "Meow."

The differing perceptions of everyday sounds is why I feel so strongly that the absolute first step to getting a grasp on any language is to learn the sounds of the language.

For example:

I used to be unable to correctly hear the name of one of the doormen at my apartment in Goiânia — a guy that I depended on for my safety & security. Not only did I need to get to know him, but I needed him to get to know me (which isn't easy, most times, when there's a language barrier — the average person doesn't care enough to take the time). ...but I couldn't even understand his name, much less say it.

So I tried.

...and tried.

I must have asked him to repeat his name about a dozen times, before I finally asked him how to spell it. And after this experience, I no longer hesitated to ask how to spell anything.

Why didn't I ask him in the first place?

My husband, giver of unending bad adaptation/assimilation advice, had told me that I "shouldn't ask people how to spell their names because they'd think it was weird."

I think that meeting someone regularly, and never being able to say their name is more weird, personally.

I also think that he only said that because he thought it was embarrassing, for some reason. Or maybe I seemed too nerdy with my pen & mini spiral that I could whip out at a moment's notice. Whatever the reasoning, it was bad advice, and as soon as I ignored it the doors to understanding opened up.

Prior to getting the correct spelling so that I could sound it out, it went something like:

Me: "I'm sorry, what is your name, again?"
Him: "Jblblbz%tuiblblblblϟgkblblblo@iwblblblber." (...or something?)
Me: "Oh... Okay. Thanks!" (not getting it, at all)

So when I finally asked him to spell it, it went like this:

Me: "I'm sorry, but could you spell your name for me? It's hard for me to understand because Portuguese is my second language."
Him: "Sure. It's J-U-R-A-N-D-I-R."
Me: "Oh, 'Zhuuur-rdahhhhn-zheer'"
Him: "Yes. That's it." (probably thinking, "Finally!")
Me: "Okay, great, Jurandir! Thank you!" (thinking, "Wow, that was easy ...and I'll never have to ask again!")

Although knowing the sounds of a language makes it easier to understand how another culture hears the world, homegrown sounds that you may have taken for granted to fall back on (if your language isn't up to par) may not help you out as much as you think they will.

For instance, there is 1 very basic and simple onomatopoeic sound that is identical in both English & Portuguese, that is in no way related to the other.

The same clicking sound made with the tongue, used for getting a horse to "giddyap" in the United States, is used in Brazil as a big fat "negatory," or "não." They are not telling you to get along, little dogie, they are just saying no, without an actual word.

(To enlarge, right-click and open in a new window.)

Then there's this classic.

The first time you're in a place where you are supposed to be quiet, but are needing to get the attention of someone, you might think that the good ol' fashioned, "Psssssssst!" will suffice in getting someone's attention.

Uh, not in Brazil.

It seriously irked me when I found out how similar (to me, anyway) the Brazilian Portuguese version is to the "Psssssst" I was using (because I didn't know how the other one went, yet).

It was like everyone had Pssssst-cancelling headphones on.

When I later discovered that the way to do it in Brazil is "Psiu" (pronounced: "P-see-you") I just couldn't believe that no one got my American English version.

Really?!? No one thought that I might be discreetly trying to get their attention? Huh.

Speaking of classics, it reminded me of this comic by Gary Larson, creator of The Far Side.

So now ya know, and we all know that is half the battle.

Psiu! Pass it on!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


If you are in Goiás for any amount of time, you will become familiar with a style of music called Sertanejo (pronounced: "sehr-tah-nay-zhoh"), which is the Brazilian cousin of Country and Tejano genres.

Paula Fernandes is the reigning queen of Sertanejo. Her voice is as amazing as she is beautiful. Her song Vagalumes (pronounced: "vah-gah-loo-meez") from her 2005 cd Canções do Vento Sul (Songs of the South Wind) is a magical song about fireflies... the night sky... and love of the woodlands under the stars.

Or something.

As a nature lover, night owl, and reluctant romantic, I find it intoxicating.

Below are the translated lyrics. Keep in mind that some things just don't translate directly, which can make for some pretty disjointed sentences. (...but then again, so do most of my blog posts.) Regardless, I'm sure you'll find this song enchanting. Youtube user Vlad Rio did such a great job on this video, how can you not?

Vagalumes brilhavam nas estrelas
tentavam como vê-las,
essa história começa quando um dia
sentir sua magia
pulsando em minha frente

alegria e medo se juntaram
dentro do meu peito
onde um coração
não sabia o que havia acontecido,
mas aquilo só podia ser paixão

amores que se acendem
ao céu azul se rendem
mistérios e perfumes
dos seres vagalumes
que fazem da noite
o seu sertão cercado de beleza e luzes...

alegria e medo se juntaram
dentro do meu peito
onde um coração
não sabia o que havia acontecido,
mas, aquilo só podia ser paixão

amores que se acendem
ao céu azul se rendem
mistérios e perfumes
dos seres vagalumes
que fazem da noite
o seu sertão cercado de beleza e luzes...

amores que se acendem
ao céu azul se rendem
mistérios e perfumes
dos seres vagalumes
que fazem da noite
o seu sertão cercado de beleza e luzes...

Fireflies glowed among the stars
tried to see them,
This story begins when one day
I felt their magic
pulsating in front of me...

Joy and fear joined together
inside my chest
wherein the heart
not knowing what had happened,
...but this could only be passion.

Lovers that light up
the blue sky surrender
mysteries and perfumes
of firefly beings...
They make the night,
their woodlands, surrounded by beauty and lights...

Joy and fear joined together
inside my chest
wherein the heart
not knowing what had happened,
...but this could only be passion.

Lovers that light up
the blue sky surrender
mysteries and perfumes
of firefly beings...
They make the night,
their woodlands, surrounded by beauty and lights ...

Lovers that light up
the blue sky surrender
mysteries and perfumes
of firefly beings...
They make the night,
their woodlands, surrounded by beauty and lights...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hanseníase (vs Leprosy) in Brazil

Today is World Leprosy Day, observed on the last Sunday in January. The Guardian is featuring a must-see 7-minute video special on Leprosy in Brazil.

I found this particularly interesting, since I just recently noted the possibility of contracting leprosy from armadillo meat.

I remember thinking that I had never heard of the term "leper" aka leproso (pronounced: "leh-PRDOH-zoh) or "leprosy" anytime in the past 7 years, in a city that is the hub for most major medical treatment in the state. Although, when I had looked it up on Wikipedia and saw the photo of a man with leprosy, I recalled seeing people with this "skin condition" a few times in Goiania I thought that perhaps it's a nonissue (possibly all but eradicated), and I'd just happened to come across a rare case or two.


Apparently, "leprosy" aka lepra (pronounced: "leh-prduh") is a term that most people don't find all that endearing or attractive, so in the 1970s Brazil started to call it by another name, officially changing the term in the '90s to "hanseníase" (pronounced: "hahn-sah-NEE-uhz[ee]").

Hmm... That I've heard before.

According to Marco Collovati, one of the experts in this report who weighed in on this issue, Brazil is #2 in the world behind India, in the number of new cases per year (30,000), but #1 in the number of new cases with permanent (life-altering) damage.

This is attributed to the fact that doctors don't call it by what it is, there is little to no awareness, and it is treated as a minor skin condition, as opposed to a treatable disease that can be cured. Like any serious disease with a cure, the earlier the diagnosis, the better the outcome will be.

Marco Collovati is the director of Orangelife, a company that produces rapid medical tests to diagnose illnesses, that is working hard to turn the tide in Brazil, advocating for awareness alongside the other featured authority on the subject, Artur Custodio, the national coordinator for MORHAN (The Movement for Reintegration of People Affected by Hanseníase).

As they point out, leprosy remains a taboo subject because no one wants to acknowledge the issue. There is no political, social or economic benefit for the powers that be to address it, so people suffering from the disease are usually so far advanced that they are then forced to live in leper colonies: a 3,000-year-old custom being practiced in modern-day Brazil.

Please visit the link to the video for an informative and heartbreaking look at this hidden tragedy.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sunset ~ Serra da Mesa

It's been too long...

(To enlarge, right-click and open in a new window.)

Serra da Mesa

Monday, January 13, 2014

Hoatzin: Here's A 'Do

The Hoatzin aka Jacu-cigano (pronounced “Zhah-koo See-GAHN-oh) [literally translated "Gypsy Guan"] is one of the most interesting birds that I've had the pleasure of encountering in my adventures around Goiás.

July means following the tradition of camping on an island in the Araguaia River Basin. When I had the opportunity to explore the more secluded areas of the surrounding waterways, I repeatedly heard what sounded like a group of angry monkeys within the forest. Turns out, it wasn't anything of the sort. It was the very vocal Hoatzin.

As we puttered down the winding canals through low-hanging branches of native plants and overgrown foliage, we were almost always ambushed at some point, by a group of Hoatzins fleeing from... us.

It was funny, because we wouldn't even be aware of their presence until they burst out of the brush, right over the boat. They would strategically wait until we were about two yards (or meters) away from wherever they were hiding, and about a dozen would burst out of the trees, screaming and flapping like crazy.

They could have just as easily remained hidden in their natural camouflage, and we never would've known they were there. Fellow campers noted that we were lucky that they weren't a bigger, fuzzier, fangier creature such as a Jaguar aka Onça (pronounced: OWN-suh). True, but that would have made a far more awesome set of pics.

I suspect that all the screaming is to momentarily catch a predator off-guard so there's no time to pursue them. (It's kinda hard to give chase mid-heart attack.) The Hoatzin is said to be a distant relative of the cuckoo which seems fitting, since they seem to be a little on the crazy side.

Hoatzins are hands down the kookiest birds I've been around, and from what I understand, they have a certain odor that has earned them the nickname "Stinkbird" in English. I'm assuming I was always upwind, so I cannot attest to their fragrance.

I can confirm their strange beauty, though. They have a periwinkle blue face, maroon eyes, wings of alternating earth tones, and a 'Do that reminds me of a certain famous Brazilian soccer star, Neymar (pronounced: "NAY-mar"). We affectionately nicknamed the birds as such.

All photos of Neymar found on Google

Regrettably, I was unable to get any clear shots due to the settings of my camera, and the effective evasive maneuvers (rapid retreat) by the subjects. Below are the precious few glimpses I did manage to catch of these fantastic feathered fugitives.

This is one of the many species allegedly found only in the Amazonian Basin further north, according to Wikipedia sources. However, I've personally been able to document several species of creatures that are "officially" off the Grid, and call the Araguaia River home. I guess we could call it the Incognito Cigano.

(To enlarge pictures, right-click and open in a new window.)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Something Strange This Way Brews

Did I ever tell you about that time we ate psychotropic soup?

There is an Amazonian soup that is known as Tacacá (pronounced: "tah-kah-KAH") that is made with broth of a fermented poisonous root base, known as Tucupi (pronounced: too-koo-pee), and incorporates the leaves of a plant called Jambú (pronounced: "zhahm-boo"), which is known (among other things) for medicinal uses and, um, biological pest control applications.

Congratulations! You now know 100% more than we did before we ingested it.

"...yes, some people don't like it."

"Some people say it makes their mouth numb."

"Some people have become a little 'excited' due to the strength of the taste."

"Some people start to scratch their entire bodies, and get agitated."

To which I asked (each time), "The plant?"

The hostess ignored me explained that it is a traditional plant used in many dishes in the northern region of Brazil, in the Amazonias. My friend noted that I might be "allergic", since she had been "allergic" when she tried a dish made with this plant before.

Although this may seem like an overabundance of information for someone about to partake in a Gargamel-style special, because no one came out and said the words,

"There have been known psychoactive effects, when the medicinal plant is combined with the fermented poisonous root broth."

I was still unclear as to what would unfold.

They didn't mention the fermented poisonous root broth? Nope. Neither the hostess, nor my friend (who is now suspect in my book) thought it would behoove me to have the full picture.

Experimentation is always more fun that way!

We were trying out a new restaurant that had popped up in our neighborhood, in recent months. It seemed like we were always going to eat elsewhere when we saw it, so just days before, we'd made the decision to go try it out the next time we decided to grab a bite.

We did note the curious absence of any kind of hint as to what type of restaurant it was.

You know:

Culinary Description (Bar-B-Que, Sushi, Vegan, etc.)
Kind of Scene (Restaurant, Grill, Bar & Grill, etc.)

This restaurant simply had a one-word name, which appeared to be a play on the word "rare."

Our friends called, and mentioned that they were just a few blocks away, so we thought it was a perfect opportunity to go check it out. My husband kept saying, "you know, that new restaurant..."

They said they'd meet us there, so it was a date. I was very excited to go.

It was a beautiful restaurant! It was chic, upscale, and romantic, with strategically placed low-lit luminaires that cast a certain glow. By the time we arrived, our friends were already deep in conversation with the owner. We learned that she uses the recipes and ingredients of the Amazonian people of northern Brazil. My friend noted that I might be allergic to a few of the plants that she uses in her dishes.

One drawback in moving to a new country or region, is that one may discover "new allergies" while living there. A pepper that is used, "just for the smell," and a leafy plant that is similar to lettuce (that I'm sure is a distant cousin of the radish) are the two main culprits to which I am allergic; and they use them in almost everything in this region of the country.

There was, however, a hitch to this particular restaurant, in that even after I told her which items I was allergic to... she just ignored me again said that she puts them in all the dishes. That was that. Not only rude, but weird: any other restaurant that I've been to here in Goiânia has offered to withhold the items to which I'm allergic, from their dish.

The much-discussed mystery plant was in the entree that we selected, along with 3 jumbo shrimp in a native broth. To be honest, I just wanted the shrimp. We are [way] inland, so shrimp is a rarity for us.

When the entree arrived, I noticed the strange little tripod cauldron with ornate handles, in which it was ceremoniously served. She explained that this is a "traditional" serving dish, and she would instruct us as to how to proceed.

It was at this point, that I began to wonder about the whole "ritual" of the experience. I also considered that she could just be "show-boatin'," as we say back home.

My husband took the first sip from the urn. He said it was delicious. My friend issued another warning that I should avoid the leaves, and start with the broth to see if there would be any adverse effects. I tried it. It was awesome, and not unlike watered down steak sauce - A.1., to be precise.

My friend wasn't having any, since she's allergic to shrimp. They said that last time her husband ate shrimp and then kissed her on the lips, (in her husband's words) "she swoll up like Angelina Jolie for the rest of the evening." Ha-ha!

After drinking quite a bit, with seemingly no ill effects (I really couldn't get enough of the broth) I decided to try one of the leaves. I chose one of the smallest, just in case.

The initial reaction was of my tongue and mouth going numb, followed by my throat... and about five minutes later, I recognized the psychotropic effects. It was freaky-deaky (and not in a good way), but still low on the freaky scale compared to the no disclaimer policy, prior to being served this far-out fare.

Everyone started talking excitedly at the same time (or maybe it just seemed that way because I was high), all trying to explain the effects of this entree. This includes my friend, who wasn't partaking: she's just naturally caffeinated.

I sat straight up — almost convulsed to attention — and it felt like the bones of my cranium were being expanded. Within minutes, I had a migraine that lasted for about 24 hours. My husband was mildly freaking out, stating that he had "never experimented with drugs, but [was] quite sure this is what mushroom tea must feel like."
Apparently, the more leaves are ingested with the broth, the more intense the chemical reaction. (Read: psychoactive!) It was later that I found out that the leaves are used for their medicinal properties of anesthesia in other areas in the country. I was fortunate, in that I only ate 3 small leaves before I recognized weirdness. My husband, on the other hand, had eaten the equivalent of half a can of cooked spinach. However, I drank a whole lot more broth than he did.
At the point where it felt like my brain was going to explode, we asked for the check and my friend says, "I told you, you might have an allergic reaction." I told her it most definitely wasn't an allergy, so much as it was a psychotropic effect.

Then she says, "Oh... maybe that's why that time I had some, I freaked out and ran out of the restaurant, all the way to my mom's house in the next neighborhood. I thought it was the shrimp."

I wanted to strangle her.

The final results were that the anesthetic properties of the leaves caused my husband to pass out directly, after the short drive home. Four blocks, and he face-planted on our bed, fully clothed: shoes and all.

In my case, however, the stimulating properties of the broth (that happens to contain lethal amounts of hydrogen cyanide, prior to fermenting) caused my heart to nearly beat out of my chest. I went through the motions of jogging, doing flips, possibly the running man, and jumping jacks from a lying position on my bed, for the next 2 hours. This was accentuated with occasional muscle spasms, shouts, and groans for help. That was in addition to the migraine that wouldn't let go - even the next day.

The thing that bugged us was not only the outrageous prices of this restaurant (they charged us 40 bucks for a 16oz soup), but the lack of warning from our friends who had apparently been there, done that.

The restaurant wasn't new. It had just been remodeled.

It was empty, I'm assuming, because others had heard of the curious chow served to the unaware, and steered clear.

All in all, we would like to have been privy to the big picture, so that we could PASS... but, as my friend would concur, where's the fun in that?

At the very least, this event was yet another a testament to the validity of my screen name.

Image found here.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Five Facts for Foreigners - Vol. XII

5 Kinds of Films Your Life Does and Does Not Resemble as an Expat

I remember that in the weeks leading up to my first visit to Brazil, many people asked me what I thought it was going to be like.

I honestly had no idea, and didn't want to.

I even asked my husband not to tell me too much so that I wouldn't have some preconceived notion. I knew that no matter how many books I read, movies I watched, or stories I heard... it wouldn't be anything like my own personal experience.

Image found here.

I didn't want to have any expectations, good or bad. Some of my Brazilian friends in the U.S. (unnecessarily) worried that I wouldn't be able to adjust to the pace, aesthetics, or lack of availability of certain things. It's like they don't even know me!

I assured them it would be fine... and it was (with the exception of a few ill-fated incidents —  including a wax session gone awry & going a few rounds with a sadistic acupuncturist). Good times!

While we were making the preparations to move, everyone was once again asking me what it would be like. Still, I didn't really have an answer.

My first visit I hadn't spoken the language, had only stayed for a few weeks, and had only seen a certain side of the city where I would eventually live, due to the clandestine nature of my first trip.

What side? The inside of about 20 doctors' offices, the medical tourism side — a subject that needs a couple of posts, in & of itself. More on that some other time.

I couldn't even begin to imagine what day-to-day life would be like once I wasn't earning dollars (so the money wouldn't stretch as far), once I knew the language (so I could catch all of the inferences in a seemingly normal conversation), once I didn't stand out as a "tourist" (so I wouldn't automatically be exploited financially or service-wise, a phenomenon commonly known as paying the "Gringo Tax"), or once I was left to explore this thing on my own terms (without someone to usher me here or there).

After living in central Brazil for awhile, I began to see a stark difference in what some tourists thought they were coming to experience, and the reality of how it is living as an expat somewhere.

As I've reiterated a ridiculous number of times, this is purely based on my personal experience, and while unique, I feel I've discovered a few universal truths in the general expat experience.

One day it hit me that these particulars are most easily seen & best contrasted through a few movies.

Top 5 Films You Thought You Might Be Able To Relate To As An Expat:
  1. Under the Tuscan Sun
    Maybe 3% of expats will be able to create and live a fairy tale life abroad, on their own. Of course, money helps. ...and keep in mind that about 97.5% of statistics are made up on the spot.

  2. Lost in Translation
    Loneliness, insomnia, & culture shock - Check! Finding someone to share it with or relate to you... Mmmmaybe. Seriously, though, good luck with that!

  3. The Ramen Girl
    While you may find yourself periodically shedding tears in your bowl of whatever, this will probably only raise your blood pressure, not your general standing with those around you.

  4. Seven Years in Tibet
    Captivating, sure, but life is rigged so that things are more likely to end up more along the lines of All the Pretty Horses or Brokedown Palace.

  5. Romancing the Stone
    What? I had to throw that one in here for all the adventure-loving girls that are not averse to an unlikely romance.

Top 5 Film Themes You Can Actually Relate To As An Expat:
  1. Post-apocalyptic survivor movies like The Book of Eli or Waterworld may resonate with you on a certain level, as you totally relate to the people willing to trade a portion of their pinky finger or their favorite _________ for certain unattainable food items, beauty products, or other creature comforts. In my case, for example, some foods gradually became available over the years, so some of my fellow expat friends will never have to know the pain of gorging oneself on a bag of corn tortilla chips, or the resulting despair and regret that you could not control yourself enough to make it stretch until the next care package arrives.

  2. Alien (or Fantasy Other) films like E.T. or Splash might not seem that far out there. Everything is new-to-you, as an alien of sorts. Feeling like a fish out of water is not uncommon, while you try to find your sea legs. Consider me your siren (as in warning bells, not femme fatale) and this Five Facts Series to be a treasure map of sorts. All manner of gems can be dredged up from my past mistakes, so that you can just pass go and collect accolades.

  3. Fantasy adventure movies such as Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz may seem like an uncanny parallel with your new reality (life imitating far-out art) as you try to regain your footing, and get with the program, in a strange new world replete with undiscovered cultural quirks. A stint with the in-laws in close quarters will drive this point home very quickly. (How do you think I got my screen name?) Here's hoping you are able to land on your feet gracefully.

  4. Bumbling detective/spy comedies like The Pink Panther and Get Smart will hopefully only ring true with ridiculous dialogue and hilariously mixed signals, as you run down leads on just about everything that used to be a normal aspect of your day. Simple tasks may, more often than not, seem like your very own Mission Impossible until your decoder ring is synced. The physical mishaps & pitfalls are just icing on the cake. I think it took me about 2 years to stop pushing against the door that clearly said PULL in Portuguese: puxe (pronounced: "poo-shee") ...which never failed to give me pause, or generate snickers from onlookers.

  5. Funny and inspiring, Groundhog Day may well be the key to not just "surviving" what may seem like a daily do-over. Endeavoring to make a difference with the time you have, right where you are, and being patient (with yourself first, and then others) will help you find your happy place, while becoming a productive, if not endearing, member of your community.

Speaking of expat movies, I highly recommend the film City of Ghosts. There are some things that are better learned in the classroom, as opposed to a field trip. This movie is very well done, and accurately portrays some of seedier expats that we may or may not have run across out there.

Do you have a favorite expat movie? What are some of the worst expat movies you have seen? Recommendations and warnings are welcome in the comment section below.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Armadillos or Tattoos

By the title, you might think I'm deciding on a hobby... or whittling down some strange list of New Year's Resolutions...

Not quite.

For anyone unfamiliar with the creature that is the official mascot for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, you might be surprised to learn that it is an armadillo, or tatu (pronounced: "tattoo"), as it is known in Portuguese.

Up until now, most people didn't associate Brazil with armadillos — parrots or jaguars, sure. Amazon river dolphins and stinkbirds, maybe. I don't recall seeing an armadillo in the movie Rio, either.

This energetic mascot needed a campaign all his own, I guess.

"Fuleco," (pronounced: "fool-ay-koh") is a colorful, playful rendition of a Brazilian three-banded armadillo that is one of the two species of armadillo that can roll into a ball. What better mascot for soccer?

As a Texan, I must say that Fuleco is one of the two cutest renditions of an armadillo that I've seen.

When I first moved to central Brazil, I was surprised to hear that Texas didn't have the market cornered on these armored creatures. A fellow Texan was even more surprised when he learned that some armadillos are actually eaten in certain regions of the country.

That came with a disclaimer:

"...but [they] don't eat the ones that eat dead people, though."

Whew! That's a relief!

I suppose?

You know, that statement sounds like a line straight out of a Scooby Doo episode. Perhaps it's the Mystery Meat factor.

Mystery Meat is best experienced vicariously, in my opinion. (Especially if it's the kind that can give you, say, leprosy.)

Tourists need not worry that the kebab, or espetinho (pronounced: "eh-speh-cheen-yo") stand on the corner will be serving mascot, since the hunting and consumption of this creature is discouraged due to its endangered status. (That, and it's hard to come by in the big city. Kidding!)

Appropriately, Fuleco's very name reminds us to be eco-minded. On a related note, in Goiânia there is a slang term pronounced like the English word "echo" that is used in place of "ew, gross."