Friday, May 22, 2009

Why oh why Paraguay?

I have been wanting to go to Paraguay for some time now. It's where many Brazilians go to buy their electronics, alcohol and cosmetics and to me it's a chance to explore a bit more of this fascinating continent. Unlike Brazil, Paraguay has no import tax so things are much cheaper.

Yesterday was the day I crossed over...

We started out before dawn and a few hours later we crossed the Parana river, something so vast that a poor little English girl could hardly grasp.
(This pic only shows about half as my camera couldn't take it all in).

The border seemed pretty standard apart from the huge pile of rocks in the middle of the road which ripped a hole in one of our tyres! Luckily replacing a tyre is half the price of doing it in Brazil and there were even armed guards there to help persuade us to pay the bill.

New tyre in tow we headed straight to Queen Anne shopping centre to start gathering the supplies on our extensive list.

The city of Guaira is rather strange and desolate place. It consists of one main street, which is filled with shops selling mostly blankets and socks. Children follow you down the road trying to sell you fake branded sports socks for $2 US. Around this street are smaller streets sporadically filled with small houses and intertwined with the malls.
We spend the next five hours hunting down a watch with large numbers for my mother-in-law, a usb hub and mic for my father-in-law, a backpack laptop carrier for my brother-in-law and various fishing items for my husband. This is all very boring and basic stuff I hear you all saying.
The problem is that in Brazil things are subject to a 60% import tax and what with the average monthly salary being $500RS (about £155 or $246US) and over 65% of the country's population earning this wage it's a bit tough to buy things. A trip to Paraguay is like a trip to a shopper's paradise. Border checks are not that thorough but the guards look for people with number plates from Sao Paulo who will buy much more than the $300US allowance per person and sell it on the famous rua vinte e cinco de marco (a kind of down market Oxford St where you can buy clothes and jewellery at discounted prices). We don't get stopped as we go through and drive off into the sunset nearly crashing into a stupid mule who is standing in the middle of the highway at night (he obviously forgot his high vis vest!).
We arrive safe and sound at home and I realise how lucky I am that I have the freedom to go home to London and buy pretty much anything I need.
So that's why they go to Paraguay.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Straight Gait

There is one thing in particular that Brazil's women, or at least the women in Maringa are obsessed with...and that's their hair...and I mean OBSESSED!

Every shelf of every hairdresser, pharmacy and beauty store is filled to the brim with the latest lock lotions. Even the local supermarket, seen below, has both sides of a whole aisle devoted to masks, shampoos, leave-ins and serums - there are so many that I feel like I've been named and shamed and everyone knows I have been neglecting my hair all these years.

As I walk down the street I have to remind myself that these women aren't growing their hair to sustain Jordan's hair extension addiction or Cher's wig collection - long hair in Brazil is of course a sign of beauty and femininity and hardly ever do you see a girl with a funky crop strut down the street.

I find myself filled with hair envy for these girls with their long, lustrous, poker straight locks tumbling down practically to their ankles! Not surprisingly over the past few weeks I have been thinking that my own barnet just isn't up to par. So, after consulting various Brazilian Oracles I decided it was time to take action against this unidentified mass of mess sitting on top of my head.

I went to right the wrong that nature and genetics had dealt me yesterday, by spending six hours in the salon, yes that's right six hours! There were times when I wondered if I would ever see daylight again...

I booked in with Rodi at Stilo (one of Maringa's top hair salons) for my 'escovar japonesa' or japanese-style permanent straightening. The procedure is basically an application of a chemical hair relaxer and then various applications of masks, proteins and keratin. Also involved are various trips to and from the basin, gossiping sessions with the hairdresser and a short break for lunch. Phew!

After those long and torturous hours were over and I was released back ino the wild, I felt so chuffed when my husband came to pick me up and said that I looked 10 years younger. I wondered what Myleene would have to say about that...

Everyone has been admiring my 'cabelo liso', here is my self-portrait so you can see the end result, and on Saturday I am going back for my post-wash treatment, where they will wash my hair and put on a nourishing mask so that it stays forever straight and shiny, well almost.

When it comes to hair in Brazil, national pride is at stake and now at last I feel I can walk tall with the rest of the hair harem.

Walk like a Brazilian...

Friday, May 8, 2009

In search of Gisele...

Last year when I told all my friends I was moving to Brazil, they all thought I was crazy. I think they thought I would be dancing around doing the samba, wearing Havianas, exposing my bum in a revealing bikini!

The fact is that most of us think that that is what Brazil is like.

Not that it has 10 of the world's best companies or that it's the world's third largest emerging economy or that there are more natural resources here that humans need to survive than in any other country on the planet and most of those haven't even been tapped yet.

I love spending time with my friends here having a Churrasco (Brazilian bbq, see pic) at the weekends but no matter what we talk about, if there is a new guest, the inevitable question comes up. 'What did you think Brazil was like before you got here?'

I have to admit that I was one of those people. I mean of course I have read The Alchemist and I've got Bebel Gilberto's album, except she's not famous in Brazil - you'd be better off swatting up on Marisa Monte or Jotta Quest if you are trying to impress a Brazilian.

The fact is that when I arrived in Brazil, and got to the small town of Maringa, Parana, (pop. 331, 412) I half expected to see Gisele, Adriana and Alessandra there to greet me. I was of course quite relieved to see that Brazil is full of ordinary looking women as well as very beautiful ones.

My Brazil has been a breath of fresh air. It's been about funny stories of me confusing Portuguese words, it's been about learning a new culture, and about getting to know my new family.

Brazilians have, in my opinion, an unrivaled sense of hospitality. They are incredibly warm and inviting and have the purest of party spirits. The whole way of life here is about food and family and family and food. Hardly a day goes by that I don't get invited to some one's house to just hang out and have some delicious food and talk about anything you want.

After four months here, I am starting to find out that we still have a lot to learn about Brazil.