Monday, September 29, 2008

A Lovely Weekend


So this weekend, our internet cut out, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

We spent Saturday morning/afternoon cleaning the apartment and being super productive. Alexandre rewarded himself by watching his favorite team's soccer game while I prepared things for my classes. On Saturday night, we decided to check out a bar that one of my students recommended. It turned out to be a "rock bar" with bad lighting, only beer to drink, and American rock cover bands. (These bars are very popular, at least here in our city.) It was a 12-real cover and the cover band was Bon Jovi, so, needless to say, we decided to move on. There's a bar here that I really like because it's outdoors, they have fruity drinks that are more fruit than alcohol and because they sell baked mandioca, so we tried to go there, but it was really crowded. Soooo we drove around our relatively small city, all dressed up with nowhere to go. We passed a bakery that Alexandre likes, and decided to take a break to buy sweets and contemplate our options. It turns out that the bakery had just opened an upper-level café/restaurant, so, with nothing better to do, we decided to eat a late dinner and check it out.

The café was a bit overpriced and the hot chocolate looked NOTHING like the picture (it looked like Spain's hot chocolate but came out like that of Denny's), but the food was delicious and the waiters were friendly. After our dinner, we decided to just give up on our night out and buy some wine at the grocery store. We stayed up late having a lovely conversation and playing with the cat. I stayed in my bar clothes so I didn't feel like I dressed up for nothing.

On Sunday, we slept in until the ungodly hour of noon, and then stayed in bed reading like the nerdy nerds that we are. (I'm working on "A Farewell to Arms," from which I learned the word "winefully," as in, "we winefully discussed everything we wanted to do," and Alexandre's reading that economics book, "The World is Flat," but translated into Portuguese.) We went to run some errands and then went on a little adventure to the Represa-- the local dam. We'd been there once or twice before, but hadn't explored much. It was so fun! (The links are pictures!)

There were tons of animals, and many of them were very funny looking. Capibara (capibaras?) are very popular here. As we walked around the represa, we were close on the heels of this annoying middle-aged man who was running up to the capibara and whooping at them to scare them into the water... like a 6-year-old. Jeesh.

We also came upon a little area that was infested with cats. I love kitties as much as the next person who loves kitties, but I have to say infested here. There were way too many! Of course, Alexandre had to try to make friends with them. (If you are surprised by this, you shouldn't be. See here and here.)

There were some cats hanging out in a tree (LOL Cat caption?), and the cutest baby kitty in the whole wide world! He needs an LOL Cat caption, too.

We walked around and ate churros filled with chocolate and doce de leite and covered in mini malt ball sprinkles. I also got 2 nice pictures of flowers for Nanny, as well as a shot of a pretty path.

I'm really proud of a picture that I've posted below of some nuns. Alexandre scolded me for taking pictures of strangers, but in this case, it was worth the risk! Besides, they couldn't see me. I was behind them:


All in all, it was a great day.

We found out today that a guy from Israel is coming to stay with us for a month... starting Friday. It's part of this program that is sending Alexandre to Greece. He gets free room and board during his internship, but in exchange, has to host someone here. The program is super unorganized and had mentioned the Israeli guy a few months ago, but didn't confirm it until today. Awesome. I guess it'll be fun though, if the guy is nice. It's a good thing we have 2 rooms!

Oh, and by the way, this new Miley Cyrus song about the 7 things she hates about her boyfriend is the worst thing I've heard in a while, and combined with its video with all the tweens crying just... makes me want to give the government control of the media. It's that bad. Jesus.

I guess that's it for now. Just scrambling to get all the paperwork for the visa. Thanks again to my mom for driving all around the Coachella Valley trying to convince government officials to give her stuff.

Até mais!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Progress!

So! We finally got the beady-eyed immigration guy to talk. We have been going in circles with him for weeks, because he has refused to tell us the paperwork we needed to get the "civil union contract" approved and to get me a visa.

Alexandre is much better at this stuff than I am. I would've yelled at him weeks ago to stop being an idiot and just give us the damn information, which probably wouldn't have worked in my favor. Alexandre called him the other day and he said, again, that we should just get married instead, and to call his lawyer friend (convenient) to authorize the marriage documents. So to prove a point, Alexandre called the friend to get all the prices and legal info about the marriage, just so he could call the immigration guy to say that he DID talk to the friend and still wasn't interested in marriage. They went in more circles over the phone until Alexandre rhetorically backed him into a corner and he agreed to meet with him the next day. Our conclusion is that beady-eyed gold-toothed immigration guy simply didn't KNOW how the rules for the civil union contract, because when Alexandre showed up there today, the guy magically had a printed-out PDF document with a list of what we need. See? Was that so hard??

Although immigration guy insisted otherwise, it documents on the list really aren't that difficult to procure. But, my loyal blog readers/family, I need your help once again. Maybe someone knows who I can talk to or what official paperwork I can get from the US to prove that:
1. I'm not married in the US; something from a court maybe showing my marital status; and
2.I have a clean criminal record in the US; maybe a court document that says my background check is clean.

The rest is eazy breezy; notarized copies of my passport, etc. Soon, I'll be a permanent resident of Brazil. :o)

One more question for you guys: What are the trickle-down effects of this "financial crisis?" How is it effecting non-investment bankers and mortgage brokers, like all of you fine people? Is it as bad as the Brazilian news and CNN make it out to be? I'm so out of the loop.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Short Update

The Brazilian version of CNN (Globo News... the N channel) had a special on TV today about UC Berkeley! They were interviewing Brazilian foreign exchange students about their experiences at the prestigious American university. :o) It showed lots of shots of the school, like Sather Gate and Wheeler and the library and Haas, and it even showed clips of those damn sorority girls that sing a capella in front of Sather Gate. It made me soooo sentimental and nostalgic! It was also great because Alexandre got to see where I spent 2 years of my life. I miss the Bay Area sometimes, like when I'm far away and I just see still images and I can forget about all the annoying hippies and the crazy people and the cold.

Work stuff is going great; Visa stuff STILL has no answers. Time is running out! But we know that once we GET the answers we need, it will only take a day or so to get the paperwork to the appropriate people. And the paperwork just has to be recieved before my current visa expires; it doesn't have to be approved yet. I think we need to like, sit on the administrator's stomach and tickle him mericlessly until he tells us what we need to know.

Alexandre's in the process of making a delicious dinner of meat-stuffed pasta with tomato sauce and chicken. (Yes, 2 meats in one meal.) I'm going to eat that and rest.

I miss everyone!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Procrastination

It has taken me 6 hours to finish a translation of a document that's only 15 pages. But in that 6 hours, I did so many other productive things!

This is my musing of the evening: I think that language teaching is the only career that people believe they can do successfully without any training. WHY?! People don't think they can become doctors without officially learning about the human body. People don't think they can become mechanics without studying and learning how a car works. People understand that, just because you have a body, you don't know enough to be a doctor. They generally understand that, just because they drive a car, they don't know enough to fix one. So the same is true for language! Just because you speak a language, it doesn't mean you can teach it!

Okay. I'll get off my high horse and go back to my translation now. Até mais!

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Few Fun Things

First, I thought you guys would like to see the picture of a Brazilian woman who claims that she's John McCains ex-girlfriend... from 1957. Apparently he wrote about some trip to Brazil in his book, and he mentioned a woman, and she says, "it was me!

I can't get the pic to save, so hopefully this link will work. The corresponding article is pretty funny. It says she's pretty famous in her neighborhood as the old woman who claims that she used to be rich and famous, that she used to be a beauty queen, etc. Very "Glass Menagerie."

Yesterday, I tried out a new bus line to get to work. I learned that the bus gets between its end points using 2 different routes; it does not retrace its track. Does that make sense? You can't take the same bus home that you take to work. This is a big no-no for bus aficionados like me. And the 2 routes like, aren't even close. There's a good 2, 3 miles between them.

I made a complete ass of myself trying to use the bus's turnstyle (yes, there's a turnstyle to get onto the bus... to prevent people from pushing their way in without paying. Sigh). You apparently first have to like, squeeze your way in between the first set of bars and then push the one farthest away from you, and you can only push it once. The robot bus cashier (a real person, FYI) refused to let me in without paying again. Come on. I apologized and said it was my first time using the bus here (true enough; I entered through the back last time), and he said "fine" and shouted something to the bus driver that I didn't understand. But then a woman came up and said something like, "here, swipe my card to let her in" and she put her card in front of a little sensor thing that unlocks the turnstyle... but again, only for one click. And, of course, I made the same mistake again. I couldn't figure the damn thing out! Turnstyles in the US keep moving! People started snickering. Damn it. I was so embarassed. The lady swiped her card again (I'm not sure how much money I was costing her) and I finally made my way into the correct turnstyle slot. I thanked her profusely and scampered to the back of the bus to hide. You guys probably aren't surprised at all by my mishap.

Anyway, last night, Alexandre and I went on a little date to an Italian restaurant. We planned to go to sushi (surprise), but one of Alexandre's friends reccommended this place and we thought we'd try something new. It was also cheap as far as Italian restauarants in Brazil go (they're usually pretty expensive).

It was so cute! I think it was a little house converted into a restaurant. I had to work, and Alexandre wanted to go to the gym, so we didn't get there until kind of late. It was pretty empty. We sat in a corner table that was by a door that overlooked the street, so we tried to take some artsy pictures while waiting for the food:
The menu was pages and pages of Portuguese translations of Italian food and vegetables... a million different toppings for either spaghetti or penne. I was too lazy to try to read everything so I just asked the waiter, "what do you reccommend? I love cheese, garlic, and olives." He directed me to a dish with a 4-cheese sauce and sun-dried tomato. I'll mention here that sun-dried tomato in Brazil is SO amazing. I don't know what they do different than in the US. Maybe it's not dried in the sun, since the name in Portuguese is just "dry tomato." But it's really soft and a little sweet and I find excuses to eat it all the time. (On Subway sandwiches? Sure! With pizza? Great!) He said they're flexible about changing/adding ingredients with no extra charge, so I added the garlic and olives to mine... and Alexandre added steak to his. Psh. The food was so delicious! We also got a really sweet and really cheap carafe of wine.

Just to be a little vain, I'd like to compare the picture above to a horrible picture Alexandre took of me by surprise on my first day here. (You know, one of those pictures where people yell "hey!" so you turn around, and then-- snap!) I wore the same dress to meet him at the airport. I hadn't worn it again until last night, and it fit much better. I've cleaned up quite a bit since I got here... and also lost a lot of weight!


Anyway, it turns out I'm not the only slightly vain person in the world. As we were leaving the restaurant, Alexandre politely asked the waiter if we could take a picture of the building from the outside. The waiter said, "of course, of course!" and so we found a good angle in the street. But just as I was about to take the picture, the waiter suddenly appeared at the entrance! He totally wanted to be in the shot. So here's his 15 minutes seconds of fame:
You can also see now where we were sitting, but from the outside! :o)

All in all, it was a very lovely evening, and if anyone comes to visit me, I'll bring you here to eat. :D

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I am Awesome / I am Becoming Brazilian

So this is my current work schedule:
(Those are not all separate classes; I just couldn't figure out how to change the color of the boxes.) As you can see, it sucks! Waking up at 6:30am, those horrible useless breaks that I waste trying to take naps, classes until 10pm, only to wake up again at 6:30. NO FUN. When I had horrible schedules like this in high school and college, I got through it by thinking, "when you graduate and have a degree, you won't have to live like this, with this annoying schedule that makes you tired." But I still am, and I think poor Alexandre is tired of hearing me complain, tired of me being so grouchy without a proper sleep schedule.

But things are looking up. I had pretty much decided to drop the morning classes, but I was just trying to find a good way to do it. The semester for the M/W morning classes finishes at the end of the month (it's at the other school), and I have the option of leaving without causing any problems for anyone. The problem was the Tu/Thu class. I just started it. My boss asked me to teach it because the student complained that she didn't like the previous teacher and was threatening to quit. My boss prefaced his request with "the student is really annoying and picky and probably isn't going to like you, but I don't want to say I didn't try."

The thing is, this student is an executive at a big ophthalmology clinic. I go to her office-- she doesn't even come to the school. She pays more for that; I receive the same; my boss makes a bigger profit, since he's not even paying a receptionist or anything. Unjust consequences of capitalism! I was planning on just trying the class for a couple of weeks and having her cancel it, but... it turns out she likes me! Yay! Not to toot my own horn, as my grandparents would say, but the other teacher was with her for 2 months, and they only got through 6 pages of the book. All the woman can say is, "My name is..." and "I'm fine, thanks." I think she's learned more in the 4 classes with me than she did in the last 2 months.

We got to talking about more than just grammar today; she was talking about her position at the clinic (helpful, since I was confused), and she started talking about how her schedule is really hectic, especially with these classes at 7am. She said that she told my boss that she wanted a night class-- 9:30-10:30pm-- but he told her I wasn't available (!!). When I heard that, I lost all my qualms about stealing away his student. I told her that I am, in fact, available, that I'm trying to slowly transition away from that job, and how I give classes at home, and if she likes the idea, we can give the classes at my apartment at that time on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. She LOVED the idea. I told her how much I receive (out of how much she pays... it's less than half!) and she was appalled. She said, "I'll just pay you what I was paying him. It's so much better for me. I can go to your apartment after the gym and we can both sleep in." She's not annoying and picky-- she just doesn't want to waste her money.

So! -1 for stupid Boss, +1 each for me and the student. Starting in October, I won't have to wake up early anymore, I'll be working fewer hours, and I'll be making more money per month.

Also, one of my students from the old job called me up the other day. She said that she and another student had quit the old school-- too strict and too expensive-- and said they wanted to take classes with me. (I had given her my number months ago because she had mentioned wanting basic Spanish classes-- just to read it for work.) She asked how much I would charge per hour for the two of them + one of the girls' boyfriends. We agreed on a price that's almost 4 times what I make at the other job, but that's still cheaper for them. They want Saturday mornings, and are okay with doing one Friday night a month when we go visit Alexandre's parents. If that works out, I'll drop my lunchtime classes. (Working Saturdays doesn't seem nearly as bad when I can earn 40% of my monthly income over the course of 8 hours.)

Sooo... yay! This can only be good, as I won't drop any classes until another one is secured. But one by one, I'll hopefully be in business for myself. :o)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

This Week

While America is absorbed in the drama of the upcoming presidential elections, Brazilians (and non-Brazilians living in Brazil, ahem) are being subjected to the circus that is the mayoral elections for all of the cities in the country. I don't know much about the campaigns in other cities (other than what I've seen from the joke clips that the Brazilian version of The Daily Show, CQC, plays to make fun), but here, there are like, 379 people running for mayor, with platforms such as "I won't change the names of any social programs" and "I even care about the cows of the city." The best/worst part of the campaigns are the TV commercials. Each candidate receives a number that I guess voters have to know to write on the ballot (maybe since there are too many candidates to write on a ballot?), so candidates REALLY want you to remember their number. The commercials have little jingles with the number. These damn jingles get stuck in my head, and I can't even vote. But at least I'm perfecting my pronunciation of numbers! :D Oh yeah. All the videos also have closed captioning at the bottom, because it's PC to care about the hearing impaired. This, too, has proven helpful.

(Side note: My Mozilla spellcheck officially doesnt' recognize "proven" as a word. It tells me to change it to "proved." Do other readers agree that this has really become regularized? Is proven now archaic?! No. I think we need at least another 20 years for that.)

In other news, there is no news about the visa, so kindly please stop asking. I'll tell you as SOON as I know something!

In other other news, I'm getting a bit more agressive on trying to get more students for private classes at home, because my work schedule sucks (intermittent between 7am and 10pm) and I can make like 2-3 times more at home. It's going well so far.

Today we were joking around and pretending to take "serious cholo family portraits with our children at too early of an age." Here's the only one where I wasn't laughing:

I think the cat looks more gangsta than the both of us combined.

I'll leave you all with a couple of adorable pictures of the cat that are in desperate need of LOLcat captions!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My Bus Adventure / How to Learn a Language

This should really be two entries but... whatever. Read half and come back later.

Teaching English in an EFL context (in the student's home country) vs. an ESL context (in a country where the new language is spoken) presents very new challenges. I face a constant problem here that I rarely had when I taught English in the US. I think it's particularly prevalent in the city I'm in, because it's a relatively small town (relative to São Paulo, at least), and many people who live here can't afford to travel around Brazil, let alone to another country. The result is that these people have had little experience with cultures that are different from their own sub-culture of the "Brazilian interior."

How does this relate to language? I think this factor of being well-traveled and culturally aware has a huge impact on someone's ability to learn a language. The problem that many of my students have is that they constantly want EXACT, DIRECT translations for cultural terms and phrases. Many, many times, there is no word in English that I know, because the given cultural element doesn't exist in American culture. These students get very, very frustrated when I can't give them a single word for things like "lanchonete" or "pastel" or "vestibular." Here's what I always have to tell them:
Lanchonete: These are not common in the US. If you're speaking English with an American, you can say something like, "a lanchonete is like a big hot dog stand, but for hamburgers and sandwiches. Sometimes they have tables around them, and you can stay and hang out with your friends."

Pastel: [note to Spanish speakers: it's a false cognate-- it doesn't mean "cake." I was so confused at first!] We don't eat pastels in the US. If you're speaking English with an American, you can say something like, "a pastel is like a fried piece of thin dough that usually has ground beef and cheese inside, but you can get other ingredients, too." (Actually wikipedia has a nice explanation in English.)

Vestibular: School systems are different in every country. If you're speaking to an American in English, tell them that vestibular is a year or two of school between high school and college. Explain that Brazilian students have to pass a very difficult test to get accepted into free public universities, so some students spend a year or two after high school in prep classes to study for the test.


Just because I don't have words for these things, it doesn't mean I don't understand the concept, nor does it mean that I'm culturally enept ("But TEACHER! Where do you eat lanches?!?" sigh.). Sometimes I feel like I spend more time teaching culture than teaching language. I spend more time explaining that it's possible for things to be done in a different way than they are done in one city in one state of Brazil. I know it's not necessarily the fault of these students that they can't "think outside of the box," I guess you could say. But just because you live in a small town, it doesn't mean you can't have a general cultural awareness.

It would seem like this doesn't have to be that important, but there's a very high correlation (like, almost 1) between the students who are stuck in this small-town box and the students who have a hard time speaking English. Why? These students are continually translating directly from Portuguese, even when I correct them numerous times. These are the students that have had English classes for a year or two or more, and who still say "good night" for "good evening." (It's logical-- Portuguese uses "boa noite" -- good night-- for both "good night" and "good evening." But some students can't grasp the concept that one is to say hello, and one is to say goodbye.) These are the same students that say "have a shopping my neighborhood" when they want to say "there's a mall in my neighborhood," or at least "my neighborhood has a mall." The Portuguese phrase looks exactly like that: "tem um shopping meu bairro." I tell them over and over with lots of creative practice, that when "tem" is used like this, it means "there are," because no one "has" it.

These are the same students that have difficulty building fluency. When they don't know the exact word that they want from Portuguese, they simply stop speaking in English. They don't try to express themselves using a different phrase or different grammar in order to avoid the word they don't know. They panic, because, again, they believe there's only one way to do things! Especially in private classes, I sometimes have to tell the students to pretend I don't speak any Portuguese so that they can practice explaining themselves in a different English.

My Portuguese is still pretty bad. I know I make a lot of mistakes. There are some words that I have a really hard time pronouncing. The subjunctive is different from Spanish, and that took me long enough. But I can give the impression that I speak Portuguese well because I can think on my feet. I still think in English/Spanish. That's not going to change anytime soon. But when I don't know the word I want, I find some other way to say it, even if it's simplified or not exactly the meaning I want. I use metaphors and lots of quotation fingers. I avoid subjuntive like the plague. But more importantly, I listen, and I'm flexible. I translate based on context. I do my best not to be embarassed, even when people (like students) make fun of my pronunciation or when people (like store employees) brush me off and walk away with "you don't make any sense." (Impatience: another consequence of a small-town mindset with a lack of cultural awareness. I know this is the same in the US, and I apologize to any readers that have had this experience in the US.)

I realize I'm coming off as totally self-righteous and impatient myself. I'm not saying that learning a langauge is the easiest thing in the world. Know that I save this frustration for Alexandre and the blog. I'm patient with my students to their faces. It's just really annoying that I have to exude so much patience with people learning my language-- both here, as a teacher, and in the US, as a citizen in a country of immigration-- and I rarely receive the same patience from native speakers of my new language.

Today, I decided to try to take the bus home from work. (Alexandre gave me a ride there.) We talked and decided that I should try out the bus system. Now that almost all of my work hours are at the far-away job, and not the one I can walk to, I often rob him of his car for hours at a time. Also, driving here is terrifying, so I welcome a possible way to avoid it. Plus, I believe in public transportation (it's techincally private transportation here, since it's not paid for by the government, but you get the point). I asked a couple of students for ideas about lines to use, and then Alexandre called the company for me to ask them for ideas. The woman told us a street that I could get a bus from. It was about 3/4 mile from my work, but do-able. Plus, I didn't have to transfer buses. With this combined knowledge and taxi money just in case, I made my way to the bus street after work. Bus stops are often not clearly marked here, so once I got to the street, I started asking poeple where the stop was. One person ignored me. -1 point for him. An old man told me that the terminal was at the end of the street, and that he didn't know where other stops were. okay. +1 point for him for telling me what he knew. I figured I'd just walk down the street until I saw a stop, or, worst case scenario, until I got to the terminal.

Before the terminal, I came to a giant swap meet building. There was a window that said "informação." I went to it. (I hate talking through windows.) I explained to the girl that I was looking for a bus stop. She was young and full of attitude. Her response was ":: looks away:: I don't know. Ask her." ugh! -1 point! A nice older woman came over with a smile and explained slowly that the swap meet was actually attached to the terminal, that I could just go in and ask a driver for the bus I wanted. +1 point. (I wanted to say to the girl, "was that so hard? You could have earned a point on my completey useless and arbitrary point system." but I let it go.)

So that's what I did. There were a few different entrances, but I found the people with the shirts that had the name of the bus company (rocket science), and went in through their turnstyles. I immediately saw the bus name that I recognized from our street. I ran to it and asked the driver if he did, in fact, go on my street. He said "yes, but... "and the something including the word "behind." I thought he was saying that there was a bus behind him. So I asked again, "but can I use your bus?" and then he said "yes, but you have to ENTER in the back." Oh! Important part. I wasn't expecting that. I smiled and apologized and thanked him. When I got onto the bus, he asked where I was from, and gave the common "how cool!"response. +1 point for being patient and nice.

The bus was HOT, but efficient, and cheap, and quiet. The majority of the riders were old women. There are two employees on the bus: the guy who drives, and the guy you pay. I figured out the bus's route, and that I had gone onto the wrong street to look for it. So next time, I don't have to walk a mile or 2 to the terminal. But the important thing is that I did it! Eu consegui! I survived! +1 point for me!

Now, if I could only master nasalized vowels, I'd really be on my way. Until then, I'll just keep avoiding the word for bread (pão), because without the nasalized vowel, it means penis.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Bird is the Word

I thought I'd give you all a peek into our local bird population. I'll just show you the cool ones, and I won't bother talking about piegons and morning doves, which are equally overpopulous here.

Behold the Maritaca. They are a type of parrot. They would probably be sold for thousands of dollars in the US. They are very beautiful, and kind of exciting because they're so exotic to me. But looks can be deceiving. These things are DAMN annoying. They come out around sunrise. I'm convinced that they have gangs and alliances. They pick petty fights with each other (usually 2 against 2 on opposite sides of the street) and they screech at each other in this horrendous call that sounds like an old crabby man shouting at some kids in a falsetto voice. I don't know how else to describe it. The little hooligans wake me up a lot. They screech at me when I walk to my morning classes. Good thing they're so pretty, because I would've taken up bb-gun practice a long time ago.

This little guy is the bem-te-vi. They were one of the first things I noticed here in Brazil, party because of their unique calls, and partly because of their bright yellow color. At first, I heard the calls all the time. I thought it was so cool. Then I got annoyed by it when it woke me up in the morning or during an afternoon nap. But now they've mixed into the background noise with the motorcycles and the "water gas water gas!" megaphone trucks. I got a picture of one outside of our apartment once, killing a huge grasshopper/locust thing. But the picture is trapped inside my broken computer, so you get this Google images shot for now.



These guys aren't so nice. In Portuguese, they're called "urubu," which may just translate to vulture or buzzard. They're HUUUUGE. They're creepy because they're all black and because they perch on the top of buildings and we're the tallest building in our area, so we can see them all the time, scanning the streets from the tops of satellites. Alexandre's worried that one might see the cat on our balcony and come in to attack. I've never seen such a large vulture population in a city before. I try not to overthink the metaphor. They're still pretty cool, though, in an Edgar Allan Poe sort-of way.

There's also this black and white goose-type thing that flies around in big groups and has a pretty call, but neither of us knows what it's called. There are toucans here, but I've only seen them once, when we were at a party kind of far out from the big city. Plus, there are these surprisingly large black hummingbirds that are too fast for me to get a picture of.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Visa Update

We have good news about the visa...Maybe!

Well, my lawyer student never called. So Alexandre went back to the "Ministero do Trabalho" (like... employment department, the part of the govt that deals with social security and unemployment and all that, as well as visas) just to be a pest. (The last time 2 times we went, they weren't very helpful.) Finally, someone gave him the name of a guy at the Policia Federal (immigration office) that we should talk to. We've been to there a million times, but they rarely know anything.

So we went there this morning. The door guard guy told us we were at the wrong place, that this was the office for BRAZILIANS to get visas and passports, not foreigners. We assured him we weren't at the wrong place, and told him the name of the guy we were referred to. So he told us we could go talk to that guy, but that the guy probably wouldn't be able to help.

So we went to that guy's office, and his dumb-as-chalk secretaries were like, "people with tourists visas can't change them to other visas. Our boss can't help you." And Alexandre was like "ok, maybe they can't 'convert' a visa, but can they get OTHER visas?" The secretary was like "oh, I don't know. You'll have to talk to my boss." LKJFKLJSKHKGLH That's what we wanted in the first place, dumb-ass. So she calls to her boss, who it turns out is just in the next cubicle behind hers and can probably hear everything we're saying. He comes out, and he's this short aging man with tight jeans and a limp and a gold tooth. Alexandre explains again that he's trying to get me a permanent visa and that he wants to know what our options are.

The guy says, "your only option is to get married." Alexandre lies and says, "ok, but so-and-so at the Ministero do Trabalho said that we could also get a civil union contract. Would that work?" and the guy says, "oh yeah, that would work. It just takes a lot of paperwork, though. It's easier to just get married." I'd like to point out here that divorce in Brazil is VERY expensive, which is one of the reasons we're avoiding marriage, aside from the obvious reasons.

So Alexandre says, "ok, we can do paperwork. How do we find out what the paperwork is?" The guy insists again that we should just get married (I start to think this is because of his laziness to process paperwork combined with his Catholicism or Evangelicalism), but tells us we have to go to this other office that can help us collect all the paperwork we need, and he gives Alexandre the directions. The only thing he could tell us about the paperwork was that I have to prove that I'm not married in the US. He told us that this visa can take some time to approve, but that once we were officially "processing" my new visa with the contract, I was allowed to stay, even if my other visa expires. That's really good news because it means we don't have to finish everything in 30 days-- we just have to get to some certain as-yet-unknown point.

So yeah. Our schedules don't match well tomorrow, so Alexandre's gonna go to this new office tomorrow afternoon while I'm at work and see what he can find out. Hopefully it's a continuation of the good news. Although it's annoying that the people in this office so far away from big cities don't know anything (no one immigrates to this small hick town!), it also works to our advantage. This guy we talked to is the one who has the authority to physically GIVE me the visa. He may give me the visa, even if I don't necessarily "deserve" it; i.e., he may be wrong, but once they stamp my passport, and file away my papers, it doesn't matter. The benefits of a country without strong infastructure and intercommunication. In a way, it's kind of like, "what happens in this city stays in this city." :o)

I was going to write some reflections upon work stuff and learning languages and all that, but I'll have to do it later. I've been working so much this week. I have 8 hours of class today, spread out from 7:30am - 8:30pm. It's a bit tiring, but still easier than my American life of being an employed student. I don't have to spend an hour on the bus each way, or write any essays, as an example. I'm also going to be RICH come October. Hopefully by then, I'll know what's going on with the visa stuff, and when I can go home to visit. :o)
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