Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Traveling with Tots

I love traveling, and especially, flying, at least I used I have two kids to fly with and it's definitely not as much fun as it used to be. Of course, all the hassle associated with flying and security doesn't help either! We just made a cross-continental flight from Sao Paulo to Calgary, through Chicago.

After we had checked in and gotten rid of our checked luggage we still had a stroller, car seat, diaper bag, purse, David's carry on, Lucas' backpack - oh yeah, and the two kids as well. It was quite a feat to get ourselves moving through the airport, and I was devastated to find out we had to dismantle the car seat from the stroller, remove Elena from her sling and Lucas from the stroller, collapse the stroller, and put the whole lot through the scanner (not the babies :)). Then, of course, Lucas was free to run - and run he did! Let's just say we were very glad to get onto the plane and strap Lucas into his seat! Since we were able to board early, Lucas and David had a chance to get into the cockpit to meet the pilot (doesn't happen very much anymore!)

It was a very long flight to Chicago - Lucas didn't stay strapped into his seat for very long - he would much rather be roaming about the airplane and saying hello to everyone who wasn't sleeping on the overnight flight. We had decided to wait until everyone else de-planed before we even started getting our stuff - we had a long enough layover that we could take our time. Thankfully we got through customs and immigration very easily and went through the whole security process again with only a little fuss over the can of coke I had leftover from the previous flight and Lucas' obviously suspicious looking sippy cup which had to be tested before we were allowed to keep it. Once we were in the right terminal and departure hall for our next flight we got some breakfast and let Lucas run around for a while. Eventually he crashed and slept on the seats by our gate for a while. David and I were very thankful for a small respite!
Unfortunately, that respite meant that Lucas was awake and energized for the whole of the three hour flight from Chicago to Calgary. Now we know why some parents want to drug their kids on planes!

One other thing I love about flying is my Flight Log Book. This is a tradition in our family that my dad started for all of us kids. We each have a Flight Log Book and on every flight, we get the pilot to sign our book with the flight details - mine goes back all the way to 1988 and logs over 240 flights and almost 300,000 nautical miles. It's always fun to see the reaction from the pilots when they see my book.

Now Lucas has his own book, and Elena will get one soon so they can start logging their own flights. Even with all of the craziness of trying to keep a toddler occupied for hours on end and caring for an infant at the same time, I still love the hustle and bustle of the airports and how we can be transported across the world.

Of course, it may be some time before we attempt another long-haul flight with two young ones :)

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

A Full House

Imagine living with your in-laws. And their parents. Under the same roof. Oh, and  did I forget the kids? Right, you also have two kids. With the exception of a crazy pet, it sounds like a recipe for one of those crazy family torture/comedy movies, yet this has been our reality for the past year and a half. Well, Elena (baby 2) has only been around a few months, but still, it's a full house! For many cultures around the world this is a completely normal situation, but not for us. We've got generation gaps, language barriers and cultural differences that make for an interesting mix.

It's very easy to see life solely through your own eyes, as though you are the main character in a movie. Everyone else has one supporting role - in relation to you; your mother, brother, husband etc. But of course, everyone else also stars in their own story, so we all have many roles to play as we interact with those around us. So although this apartment is home to eight people, we have six parents, four grandparents, two great-grandparents and six "kids". Try to discipline a toddler with four extra sets of parenting eyes on you! I am a mother, wife, daughter-in-law and granddaughter-in-law all the time. Maybe it is this "being everything to everyone" that makes it difficult to maintain for a long time, and yet this recognition of all these roles also allows us to coexist peacefully as we each adjust our actions and attitudes to accommodate each other.

Of course, there are things that are frustrating, things that are annoying and a lot of things that are just funny (although they don't always seems as such at the time!) We have tried to make the apartment as baby proof as possible without changing too much, but an energetic toddler is hard to contain! We have lots of medicines to keep him away from, and all of the precious crystal and breakables have been slowly moving up higher and higher on the shelves. Right now the biggest challenge is keeping Lucas, our toddler, away from the table, that grandma loves to set hours in advance.   

The other thing that makes this situation less than ideal for me is that by nature, I am a homemaker. I love moving, decorating, and getting a home set-up. Although I expect a lot more work once we move out, I am looking forward to the challenge of  keeping up a home. I have learned a lot of little tricks from the other women in this household but in some ways we will always do things differently. For example, when we wash dishes, grandma puts them on the drying rack starting on the side closest to the sink, I put them starting on the side farthest from the sink and work my way towards the sink. My mother in law also starts on the farthest side but places the plates the other way around. Usually only one of us is washing dishes at a time, but occasionally we all wash a few and the rack ends up looking something like this:

It has certainly been an interesting year, full of ups and downs and various challenges, but I've learned a lot and come to know and appreciate my in-laws in ways that I never would have otherwise. We have also definitely benefited from the built-in babysitting! Lucas has brought a lot of joy to his grandparents and great-grandparents, and a few worries to his doting great-grandmother. I know once we move, we will be missed and I will appreciate having our own place that much more.  

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Worlds Apart

One mother. One boy, one girl. One planned, one surprise. One natural, one induced.

Two lives, two births. Two hospitals, two countries...

Two very different experiences...

Worlds apart...

Every birth is a unique adventure. You never really know how it's going to turn out. As I went through my second pregnancy, I had to laugh at the marked differences between it and my first one. Lucas was born in a fancy hospital in Bangladesh, and Elena was born in a fancy hospital in Brazil. But there the similarities end. What follows are some of my reflections on pregnancy and delivery in these two countries...

I felt a little over-doctored here in Brazil. I saw my doctor every month from the time we found out we were expecting (which was quite early - about 6 weeks in), every two weeks from 32 weeks, and every week from 36 weeks, and twice in the last week. Considering I was almost at 42 weeks when Elena was finally born - I saw a lot of my doctor! With Lucas I managed to get by with a lot fewer appointments.

Every time I saw my doctor, I had an internal exam, and in Bangladesh I had to ask my doctor to do even one, and this in my last three weeks of pregnancy. She said many Bengali women are scared of the pain of even an internal exam and opt for scheduled c-sections (if they can afford it). Interestingly, in Brazil, scheduled c-sections are also very common. I was very determined to have natural births and made it very clear to my doctors.

I had 9 ultrasounds with Elena - all covered by our insurance (thank goodness!) and from the second one we had a guess as to our baby's gender - the doctor said with 80% certainty it was a girl. Each subsequent scan confirmed it. We pushed our doctors in Bangladesh to reveal Lucas' gender to no avail, and only found out when a friend of ours did the ultrasound herself. We had 4 ultrasounds for Lucas and got to see him in 4D, which we didn't get with Elena. 

Before Lucas was born, we went to tour the hospital - meaning we wandered down to the maternity ward after one of my check-ups and asked to get shown around. We saw the labor ward and the delivery rooms. I was pretty happy with what I saw, but didn't really have all my questions answered. Here in São Paulo, we had to call and set up an appointment, and we were part of a big group tour. We got to see the reception, recovery rooms and the hallways. Everything else we saw on a video, which may have answered my questions if I could've understood everything.

In Bangladesh, we rushed to the hospital after my water broke, asked for a wheelchair and made our way straight to the maternity ward. Later David had to go down and officially register me at the emergency desk. This time around we leisurely took a cab to the hospital and sat around in the reception for about an hour while the insurance was called, our information taken and all the official stuff taken care of.

Lucas was probably the only white baby in the hospital in Dhaka. To my recollection he didn't even have an ID tag. In fact, I don't think I had one either. Here I had two tags on my wrist, and Elena had one on each foot and one arm. When the nurses brought her to my room from the nursery, both our tags were scanned with a handheld device to confirm her identity as my daughter.

All in all, each experience was so special because of the wonderful outcome, my beautiful children. It is something I wouldn't change for the world.

Although it would be nice someday to have a kid in a hospital where I can understand everything in my own language! We'll leave the language issues for another post...   

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

World Cup Fever

It is no secret that Brasilians are into football, and when it comes to the World Cup they show a patriotism and dedication to the sport as none other; in fact a CNN article characterized Brasil as the country "where perhaps the tournament means more than anywhere else." The whole country has World Cup Fever and it shows; shops, businesses, cars and homes proudly display the flag, green and yellow products are available everywhere, from tic tacs to razors, m&m's and more! Not to mention the cheering paraphernalia; hats, wigs, bracelets, sunglasses, nail polish, clappers, buzzing lips, horns and, of course, the vuvuzelas! All to show support for our team.

Now sadly for us, the Cup is over and we must wait another four years for our chance to add to our five World Cup wins (the most that any one country has won in the tournament's history). This is my first time experiencing the World Cup in Brasil and I am by no means a football (or Brasilian culture) expert, but let me share a few stories that illustrate how the World Cup changes our world here...

When Brasil plays, the streets are empty. If you know anything about São Paulo traffic, that is saying a lot! My Portuguese teacher said that when Brasil plays, you could lie spread-eagle on "main street" and not be touched. We live on a pretty busy street and here is the view during a Brasil game (yes, I diverted my attention for a minute to snap a pic!) Just don't go out in the hour before the game; everyone is scrambling to get home to watch it!

When Brasil plays, everything shuts down; banks, stores, businesses. Some employers let their employees go home early, or they show the game on a big screen at work. No matter how you cut it, no one is working during the game! The McD's across the street from us closed it's gates and we could hear the employees cheering as the game progressed. Here is a photo of a sign at the local supermarket which says, "Dear Customers, during the hours of the games of Brasil in the Cup, this store will remain closed. We are together, cheering for our team. After the game, we will open as usual. Thank you for understanding. Next game: Brasil x Portugal, Friday 25/06/10 at 11:00am".

During the Cup, you can start a conversation with a perfect stranger with the words, "It's 1:1" and they will know exactly what you are talking about; the game that is currently on. Last week David and I went to tour the hospital where I will be delivering our second child in August and were met at the door by two very serious-looking security guys. Later I had to go to the bathroom and David commented that as soon as he mentioned the score of the game that was on at the moment, the security guards relaxed, opened up and they chatted away about the Cup.

As we approach the final we are comforted by the fact that Argentina didn't make it any closer to the finals than we did and we'll watch and cheer someone on, but when the day comes (and it will :)) when Brasil again wins the Cup, there will be dancing in the streets!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Ask before you order...

Last week, we went out for a late dinner to a diner around the corner. It's an upscale American-style diner; serving assorted appetizers, burgers, fries, milkshakes and a variety of entrees. American-style food with a Brazilian twist of course. Looking for some comfort food, I scanned the menu and was delighted to see Mac and Cheese. The menu is all in Portuguese with a few English names here and there. We've been to this place once or twice before and have always gone for burgers, but that night I wanted something else. 

When I imagined the plate of Mac and Cheese that would be placed before me, I could smell a creamy, cheddary dish of steaming oozy cheese, maybe baked so the top would be crunchy. (never mind that we don't really have cheddar cheese here!) So I quickly scanned the item description and saw a bunch of words which I supposed to be a combination of cheeses - ok, so it would be more like a four-cheese kind of dish. That was fine with me. I ended up ordering the "Louisiana Mac and Cheese" which came with spicy sausage added into the mix. That was fine with me.

When the dish actually arrived - well, it looked pretty good (not as I had imagined) and smelled pretty good, and was baked with a crunchy top, but after a few bites, I tasted something I didn't like - mushrooms. Wait a minute, I never saw mushrooms in the description! To my mind they have no place in a macaroni dish. So I asked dad, "what's the word for mushrooms?" Of course, once he told me; cogumelo, I vaguely remembered skimming over the word, assuming it to be a kind of cheese.

Two lessons learned. One; always read the menu and ask about new words before you order. Two; the Portuguese word for mushrooms is cogumelo. That's one word I won't easily forget now.

Oh, and the Mac and Cheese was pretty good (once I picked out all the mushrooms)! 

Thursday, 27 May 2010


You know you're a mother of a toddler when...

1. You're very glad that you're no taller than 5 foot 8 so you can easily reach that hand that is grabbing up for yours,
2. You never wear heels that are more than an inch and a half because they make you too tall (see #1),
3. You make up songs about pee pee time, bath time, lunch time and every other time in-between,
4. Sleeping in means 7:30,
5. You are ambidextrous by necessity,
6. You cut up your food into bite-sized pieces so you can feed two mouths at the same time (see #5),
7. You could change a diaper with your eyes closed, but don't because it's too dangerous,
8. You've already got in an hour of exercise by 8:00am and you weren't even trying,
9. You can't wait for nap time and hope to keep it going till your kid goes to school,
10. You barely have time to write down a 10 point list, let alone think of #10!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Lost in translation, or just lost?

Have you ever had someone talk to you in a foreign language and not give you the opportunity to explain that you really have no clue what they're saying? All you can do is smile and nod and hope that you aren't getting yourself into too much trouble?

Have you ever been in a group where everyone speaks two languages but you? You know you could speak English, but the conversation is flowing and carrying on quite well without you and you're not exactly sure when is a good time to interrupt?

These are two situations I have found myself in a lot in the past few months. As a result I have become an expert listener and observer. As my Portuguese has been improving I am able to understand a lot more but I seem to know just enough to get myself into trouble!

I have noticed one thing that differs significantly from my experience living in Asia. There is no question in India or Bangladesh of whether I am a foreigner. It is quite obvious. Also, due to the heavy influence of British colonialism there is a lot of English around and about. There was an immediate expectation that I didn't speak the local language and so many people would approach me and try to speak English. On several occasions in Dhaka I was asked if I would mind if a complete stranger practiced his English on me!

In São Paulo I have experienced something quite the opposite. Being in a large cosmopolitan city along with the already diverse racial mix of Brazilians it is not so obvious that I am a foreigner. At least if I am not a native Brazilian it is expected that I speak the language. And so I land myself in situation #1 on many occasions. On one hand this cosmopolitan nature is something I love about Brazilian culture. On the other hand, it means I have to really put myself out there to make myself understood and not being able to speak fluently seems to be perceived as a real drawback. In Asia I felt that people were more impressed by the fact that I spoke English rather than offended by my inability to speak their local language. Not quite sure what to make of that.

And so I press on, slowly working on my Portuguese knowing that the cost of not learning in the end will be far greater than the cost of time, effort, embarassment and work that must go into learning this language now. At times like this I wish I was more like my dad. He has such a gift for languages and grew up speaking two and understanding at least one other language. He also loves to talk to anyone and everyone and has no qualms about making a fool of himself trying to make himself understood. He already wants to start learning Portuguese.

I guess I have to remember the saying, "nothing ventured, nothing gained." Everyone knows we learn best through our mistakes and once you've spoken something in error, you're not likely to make the same mistake twice. If I don't say anything I won't make any mistakes but I won't learn too much either! So I pray for confidence, humility and the ability to laugh at my myself and try to step out in my dad's shoes.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Caution: High Voltage

Warning signs are there for a reason; something dangerous, something to be cautious of and a reminder to be prepared. You don't just go waltzing into a high voltage zone, or stick your hand into the circuit box. When presented with an outlet you don't recognize, you're very likely to go check the voltage to make sure you won't blow your appliance or the wiring in the house. Its also useful if the plug matches the outlet. :) Wouldn't it be nice if we could have some kind of warning when entering a new culture or situation? A reminder that we're in a new context and need to be prepared.

Living in Bangladesh for a number of years we became accustomed to living with a different voltage. Everything there is wired to 220 volts, so either you check your 110v coffee maker at the door or get a transformer. You get used to reading the small print on your plugs.

The point I'm trying to make is this; at home, you don't have to think. You take the standardized electrical system and corresponding appliances for granted. You plug things in and expect them to work. You don't have to worry about sparks flying or that terrible smell of burning plastic. You don't even think about the small print on the bottom of your tea kettle.

Likewise, our own culture is something we take for granted until we are confronted with something unfamiliar, something which conflicts with a tradition, belief or attitude we hold.  Something that hints at a different electrical system. When faced with a conflict we must approach with caution. There's a reason culture clashes can be so potent. As the "outsider" the impetus is on us to make adjustments; find the right tools to interact so neither side gets burnt out.

So what's hard about adapting? Not much; you just have to be determined, open-minded, willing to change, humble, persistent and patient. And if you're being immersed into a foreign culture, you have to be aware of this all the time. No wonder people experience culture shock! It takes time to figure out how things are wired and to discover the adapters and transformers that allow you to "work" in this new culture.

For me the hard thing has been this constant sense of questioning, double checking, reading the fine print to make sure I'm going to fit. I feel like I'm losing my confidence. I have to rely on other people to get the simplest of tasks done, (something which can be painful for an very independent person!) How long will I be second-guessing my every move? How does my unique cultural identity fit?

Only one question remains; what is my unique cultural identity?

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Expatriate vs. Compatriot

I am Canadian. I think. After all, that's what it says on my passport. I wasn't born there and I've spent more than half of my life outside of Canada on three different continents. I grew up with friends from India, Nepal, Thailand, England, Australia and New Zealand (to name a few). I spent 7 years of school at a boarding school in South India while my parents were missionaries in Bangladesh. So in some ways Dhaka was "home" but in a more real way my boarding school was "home" and my friends were my family. (We'll leave the whole concept of "home" for another discussion!) There wasn't a second culture to fit into because it was a multicultural context. For most people who live and work overseas, their community is multicultural, be it their work community, missionary network or volunteer agency. And they enjoy the sense of being an expatriate among a diverse group of others who also identify themselves as such. As I've thought back over my time in boarding school, university in my "home" country and subsequent years of teaching and living overseas, I've come to realize that I truly love that kind of expatriate experience. You are not required to lose your "home" culture and are able to pick up things from other cultures. Most people do not immerse themselves so fully into the foreign culture that it becomes their own. In a way the expatriate community that surrounds them acts as a buffer with the second (foreign) culture. Here's my question; can a foreigner, an outsider ever really be considered a compatriot? Are they destined to forever be labeled as a stranger? And how do we reconcile ourselves to this reality?

These have been my thoughts as I've entered a new culture, possibly for the long haul. My husband is Brasilian and so it feels as though I've not entered an expatriate community (as I have in the past) but am attempting to integrate straight into Brasilian culture. This is where my idea of dual voltage comes in - I feel like I'll always need an adaptor to "work" here.

Any thoughts?
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