Manauaran Logistics

I will be the first to admit that I am hopelessly addicted to and in love with the good old U.S.A. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I believe ‘Merica to be THE best place on earth. It is the land of opportunity and totally understandable that most people want to be a part of it. There are conveniences beyond what’s convenient and choice enough to make you dizzy. Even the infrastructure makes life better there.

In Manaus, a simple trip to the pediatrician involves a call (with lots of “desculpa‘s” and “não entendo‘s”), a (dangerous & confusing) drive, parking (more on that later), remembering all the passports and vaccine cards, paying about the equivalent of $150 to get our name on a list and hoping the Dr. has time to see us before it’s time for a meal or nap. Luckily, this Dr. speaks some English. Medical issues can EASILY be lost in translation. Weight is in kilograms and height is in centimeters. Vaccines and medicines are different here. If a sickness warrants a prescription I have to go to a drogaria and hope they have it there and can read the Dr’s writing. Not to mention I have to figure out the dosing regimen and also determine if I even want to give my kids the medicine. It appears that everyone here takes a certain drug every year as a preventative measure against becoming paralyzed. Is it obvious that I’m missing something on that one? When I was pregnant with M & planning on having her here I was told I needed to get a vaccine that upon further investigation appeared to prevent muscular contractions. Ummm…don’t I need those to have the baby?

Driving is another big source of stress. Let’s start with the roads. Think of a pothole that you and two of your friends could lay down in and still not be at road level. Now drive over or around that while dodging 10 other potholes that M could lay down in as well as other cars and pedestrians. There is no rhyme or reason to the roads either. Some are one way, some are not. Some roads should be one way due to the width, but aren’t and others are four “lanes” all going in the same direction with a divider in the middle. There are many “balls” or roundabouts and almost no left turns. Things change often. Maps don’t help much because street names and directions of streets change all the time, without warning. There are many interesting intersections and almost no lines painted on the roads. Signals are many times placed on the wrong side of the road so if you’re in front of the line you can’t actually see when it turns.

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The drivers themselves only add to the chaos. Having my children learn to drive here fills my nightmares. There are rules, but they are not followed. Anything goes, really. Is there nothing happening while you sit at the red light? Go on through…if you don’t, you’ll get honked at. Feel free to drive into oncoming traffic to avoid potholes or go around someone that is too slow as well. My personal motto while driving is “Be aggressive! B-E aggressive!” because if you aren’t, you will be eaten alive.

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Once arriving at your destination you will obviously have to find parking: There are three spots at the office we go to. Sometimes they are all full. In that case I can park on the street. Hopefully I get a spot on the same side of the street as the office. If not I have to run while holding at least two children across the street where cars rarely yield to pedestrians and hope nothing happens to the rental.


Needless to say there have a been a few moments of quiet and cathartic cussing in the car.


Lessons Learned While Riding & Driving in Manaus

We try not to spend a lot of time in the car here…as mentioned in this post. But because we only have one (rented Fiat Doblo aka boxy stick shift with no power) car, a lot of time ends up being spent driving or riding along.
G, M, & I take L to preschool in the morning before I drop G off at work and head back home.
I pick L up from school before Lunch.
And (since originally writing this post, a co-worker has graciously offered to give G a ride home each day-Thank you!!!) I take all the kids to pick up G from work at the end of the day.
I would estimate that to be at least 3 (generally terror filled) hours in the car for me de segunda a sexta (M-F).

G-master of the road

During one of the rides home at the end of the day, when the whole family was in the car, we drove by a stray dog digging in some trash. Unfortunately, this is a common sight here and I honestly thought nothing of it. Until L started laughing. He pointed at the poor creature and said: “That doggy’s eating trash! That’s silly!”

stray dog in Japiim stray dog in Japiim

At that moment we had a choice. We could either ignore the teachable moment and agree with our observant pre-schooler, or begin to teach him some compassion.

In Christine Carter’s book Raising Happiness she outlines how to raise kind children. You know what is number one on that list? Modeling kindness. If your children don’t see what kindness looks like, how will they ever be able to be kind themselves? Being positive and exposing them to need are also on her list. Living in Manaus it’s very easy to expose our kids to those who need. We do it on a daily basis when we drive through rickety, favelas built over the river on the way to Daddy’s office.

favelas favelas

I feel compassion when driving through those parts of town for the people who live there, but doing it every day has really desensitized me. It’s just part of the drive now. I need to verbalize my compassion so my kiddos know what that’s about and they can learn to feel the same. Volunteering here is out of the question for me, but I do what I can. I give change to those who ask and donate all of our clothes and shoes to those in need. M is constantly growing out of her clothes and just yesterday L asked why his old shoes were in the bag that we were giving away. It was a feel good moment to sit down and talk about how some little boys don’t have shoes so we can help them by giving.

How do you volunteer your time? Do you bring your kids along and involve them too?

Português como terceira língua

Recently I learned the Brazillian Portuguese version of “Right?!” Needless to say I’m very excited about this. I think figuring out colloquialisms and slang really mark an understanding of language. Now that’s not to say that I have mastered Português. But being my own proffesora has really paid off. I simply write things down throughout the day that I don’t know how to say or come across in my daily life that I struggle with and then work on it about 5-10 minutes after the kids go to sleep each night. I even have verb conjugations taped to the wall. It’s been a ton more effective than the teacher we hired when we first came to Manaus.

Being in a foreign country and not speaking the language fluently has given me an interesting perspective on things. Coming from a teaching background has also tinged that perspective a little. After sitting through a welcome assembly at Luke’s school that was completely in Portuguese and not understanding a word of it, I can TOTALLY understand why people don’t try and/or give up. After those 4 hours of my life were wasted all I wanted to do was go home and curl up on the couch. I was exhausted and had gleaned NOTHING from the day.

The experience got me thinking about English language learning in the US. Why is that such an obstacle & why does it feel like many parents of students who have a different language as their primary idioma are not trying? It’s a matter of necessity for me to learn Portuguese here. Is it really imperative that immigrants in the US learn English? Should it be required? Are resources available and not being utilized or are they simply not there?

I believe that the language issue for those already in the US will solve itself in a matter of time because the younger people will learn English through exposure, but what about the constant influx of immigrants? Is southern California destined to become more Spanish speaking than English, for example?

How would you solve this problem?

Making Tortillas

Cooking is a source of joy for me. Baking, too. Especially baking. Doing both of these things is an adventure in Manaus. Not only do I have to translate ingredients, but I also have to search far and wide for things that simply are not imported. I’ve become a major fan of baking two ingredient desserts, like cookies & cream bars! One thing we cook with a lot is tortillas. Unfortunately, we can’t just run out to the grocery store and buy some. So I’ve learned how. A skill I have honed and love now. Especially since I am importing a tortilla press. WOOHOO!

The recipe:

Put 4 cups of flour (I use all-purpose, but it could probably be made more nutritious with whole wheat, unbleached, etc…there are only two types of flour here) in a bowl.
Mix in 1/8th a teaspoon of baking powder.
Put 1/2 cup of butter on top (any type of fat, really) and then mix with your hands until it looks like a grainy type sand. This should take about 1-2 minutes.
Dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt (sea salt would probably be delicious) into 1 cup of lukewarm water.
Pour the salt water into the flour/butter mixture and knead with your hands until you can form a ball. If after 2-3 minutes it’s too sticky, add more flour. If it’s not all coming together, add more water.
Put the ball of dough on the counter and put the bowl on top of it.
Wait 20 minutes.
Divide the dough into 12 equal(ish) parts and form into balls.
Roll one ball as flat as you possibly can (and hopefully into a circular shape) and put onto a shallow, non-stick pan pre-heated over medium(ish) heat.
Once the bubbles start popping up, flip it.
When the bubbles re-appear, it’s done.
Wrap it up in a towel (or put it in a tortilla warmer) while you’re cooking the rest.



It’s even more fun when everyone gets dirty ;D

Adventures in Manauaran Cooking

Everything is an adventure here. Grocery shopping, cooking, and eating are no exception.

There are a number of supermercados here…but as you may know from my “Manaus Moments” driving is an adventure, too…so I try to limit my time in the car. When we first moved here (End of November 2012) we were on a quest to find fresh milk. We found it once. Through months of trial and error and what felt like going to a different store every day of the week I’ve finally found a one-stop place I can usually get everything I need for a week in one go. Roma.

And when I feel like fighting for parking, walking up a hill, and struggling to order cuts and quantities of meat in Portugues and metric for my non-metric recipes, I go to the butcher shop Fino Corte.

The last time I felt like doing all of that I wanted to find something like Italian sausage to grill for an easy protein. If you put Italian sausage into Google translate, it shoots out salsicha Italiana. At the actual shop, in my broken Portuguese, I asked for that & they showed me something that looked like breakfast sausage. I mutely hand-gestured toward something that looked more like what I wanted and tried to ask if it was picante (spicy). The butcher, attempting to help me, held up the other sausages and said that they were spicy. After more gesturing, pointing, and smiling I got three links of what LOOKED like Italian sausage.

When buying such in the US, usually the casing is edible. Here, I have no idea. Furthermore, our small indoor grill is a sad attempt at a grill. This is what happened when we cooked said linguiça.

Sad, sad grill…


Is this casing edible? Why is there so much cheese? How should I cook it in the future?

cute thing

Super cute grill…I mean girl 🙂

…and again…

This is probably the second or third time I’ve started blogging after the initial lure when I was pregnant with L.

30 weeks pregnant with Luke

At some point I stopped…then I looked like this…again

SUPER pregnant with Thomas

And T arrived.

APGAR score of 9.9!

I started blogging again because I had postpartum depression and it felt really good to write sometimes. Sometimes it felt like a blown-out diaper combined with spit up down my shirt, but most times it was a good release.

I’m starting again now because I live in Manaus. The middle of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. (Plus, my really awesome blogger friend, Julie, made my blog look pretty. Thanks!)

It’s essentially an island where everything is imported because it’s surrounded by forest. It’s really incredible, but I don’t have my village. You know, the one that it takes to raise children? Maybe this can be my village–my remote, faceless, online, cyber-village.