Friday, December 30, 2011

Book review: Midwives

Before moving to Brazil I went on a shopping spree picking out hundreds of books (in English) I thought I might enjoy reading once I was in the land of all things Portuguese. Some have been duds, but the book I just finished was wonderful.

Midwives, by Chris Bohjalian (1997, Vintage Books/Random House) is a powerful tale richly rendered. It is more than ten years old, and was an Oprah pick, so perhaps you have read it. If not, used copies are available for one cent on Amazon, so even with international shipping, the price is right. Or, you can have my copy. I will add it to my list at the online expat lending library.

From the back cover: On an icy winter night in an isolated house in rural Vermont, a seasoned midwife named Sibyl Danforth takes desperate measures to save a baby's life. She performes an emergency cesarean section on a mother she believes has died of stroke. But what if Sibyl's patient wasn't dead and Sibyl inadvertently killed her?

Here is a brief review from Amazon's page:

In Midwives, Chris Bohjalian chronicles the events leading up to the trial of Sibyl Danforth, a respected midwife in the small Vermont town of Reddington, on charges of manslaughter. It quickly becomes evident, however, that Sibyl is not the only one on trial--the prosecuting attorney and the state's medical community are all anxious to use this tragedy as ammunition against midwifery in general; this particular midwife, after all, an ex-hippie who still evokes the best of the flower-power generation, is something of an anachronism in 1981. Through it all, Sibyl, her husband, Rand, and their teenage daughter, Connie, attempt to keep their family intact, but the stress of the trial--and Sibyl's growing closeness to her lawyer--puts pressure on both marriage and family. Bohjalian takes readers through the intricacies of childbirth and the law, and by the end of Sibyl Danforth's trial, it's difficult to decide which was more harrowing--the tragic delivery or its legal aftermath.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas update from Niterói, Brazil

[Note - I am still getting used to my new -- BRAZILIAN/PORTUGUESE - computer. I can't yet get everything to work, including photos -- sorry -- In fact - I am using two keyboards to spell everything correctly...]  Anyway...


Once again Christmas was a joyous celebration among so-called blood family and chosen family.

Luiz and I live in a family with Zozó, his mother. She lives just a few doors down the road from us and Luiz is in contact with her at least twice a day. Naturally we love and adore her and would be spending Christmas in her company.

It has become a bit of a routine to join Zozó’s long-time neighbors in Itaipú and their extended family for a traditional Christmas Eve feast, celebration and gift exchange. The family is a delightful mix of seniors, moms and dads and children - about 20 people in all. Plus us.

Donna Conceição and Senhor Sergio throw one heck of a party.

This year there was cold Brahma beer on tap (very chic!) and the turkey was an unbelievable 12 kilograms (26.5 pounds) -- Note: our 7 kg (15 pound) turkey for thanksgiving was $R45 -- goddess bless donna Conceição - she must have spent at least $R130 on that turkey!. Plus there was the traditional salted cod/potato/creamy cheese bake (her bacalhão choice was SO flavorful, and surely top shelf!), flaked smoked chicken salad, creamy potato salad, sweet ham, roasted chestnuts, plus three fabulous desserts: a parfait (creamy layered wonderfulness), a multi-layered moist cake decorated like a Yule Log, and Rabanada (a super sweet think French Toast sort of deal sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon - then drizzled with a flavorful sugar sauce). We enjoyed a chic feast!

I had about one tablespoon of each... but it was fabulous.

The family is wonderful, gathering from up to 600 miles afar. The kids are great. And lucky for me, two of the daughters are English teachers, so when my Portuguese fell short, they could bridge the gap.

We played the “Secret Santa” game and each gave a gift to another randomly pulled from a hat one month before.

Quite fun.

I must add that Luiz’s gift to his 7 year old Secret Santa recipient was a radio controlled racing car. The boy went wild. Unfortunately Luiz neglected to provide the 6 AA batteries needed to make it all work. The boy was not deterred. He reminded his mother and grandmother that all the silly Christmas Santa toys bleeping and flashing all over the house were powered by such batteries. So he got them to harvest those batteries for his new race car toy.


The next morning he was in the street making magic happen - with most of the adults outside cheering him on. Luiz hit a home run with his gift!

Christmas day Luiz, Zozó and I enjoyed a quiet morning opening gifts and appreciating each other. Very nice.

My Skype account continues to block me - so I was not able to touch base with my family in the US (and apparently they did not use their Skype accounts to call me) -- plus they are not on Facebook - so I hope they know I love them and wish I could have spoken with them.

Christmas is very different here for this Detroit/San Francisco boy. Here in Brazil the vibe is totally different (as I still do not visit shopping malls - I take my experience from the streets). The holiday could quite literally come and go without notice, except for the family connection.

But I am grateful for those in my life who support me and keep me moving forward, in spite of my demons.

For me, New Years has a stronger pull.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Summer in Niterói

Summer is here. Normally summer is a terrifically hot season that really takes its toll. Nothing but beach and sleeping under a fan gets you through it. Plus three cold showers a day.

We’ll see this year. Global “weirding” has everything standing on its head.

But today we definitely have some seriously hot weather.

The good news is that our laundry dries quite quickly. The bad news is that we feel like we have to stay inside from 1:00 - 4:00 to avoid the stupid-hot temperature outside. But the beach is great from 9:00 am 'til noon.

The silver lining of global weirding is the extra rain -- it really cools things down. But it can often flood the streets and cause problems for people living in low areas or on unstable soil. Luckily we are three floors up in a cement neighborhood.

Summer - I prefer it to winter. Unfortunately sunscreen is expensive.

Meet us at the beach.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Luiz health update

I’m always nervous when we go to Luiz’ appointments at the National Cancer Institute. How will the blood tests come out? Will we get good results? Is he maintaining his slow-and-steady situation --- or will he move into the more aggressive stage of his disease?

In this case I can attest to his “slow and steady” progression.

At his last appointment we can report that he is at about (statistically) the same place he was one year ago. That is GOOD news. Luiz has to worry about progression when it starts to be very aggressive. That is NOT the case. His blood count numbers are very stable.

I could not be happier, nor him.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Shout out to Brazilian health care

I’m going to say it again: I admire the Brazilian health care system. OK - what I’m really referring to is the system when you have supplemental private insurance.

Regular readers know that I had gastric bypass surgery back in July.

Since then I have had to do a great number of follow up tests to be sure all is going well.

Significantly, Luiz and I live in the epicenter of doctor’s offices and diagnostic labs. We can literally get any test done within a four block radius. All our doctors: cardiologist, endocrinologist, dental surgeon, dermatologist, physical therapist, allergist, and of course the fat-to-skinny surgeon have offices within a ten minute walk.

Everything is covered by the insurance we have. No co-pays, no limits - the doctor takes the hit (low reimbursements) not us.

Recently I had to have a CT scan, multiple blood tests, and a 24 hour blood pressure mapping. Done. Done. Done. Everything was done within two days. No waiting. No delay. And I paid nothing (aside from my affordable monthly insurance payment).

The worst of it is waiting in the waiting room for a long-delayed appointment (my fat-to-skinny surgeon guy is ALWAYS one or two hours late for appointments -- thank the goddess for iPods!). Waiting in Brazil is most certainly NOT the exception to the rule.

But the best of it is the kind and personal conversations you have with doctors who seem to care about you and who want to know more about your life than just your situational illness.

I could not be happier. Easy, quick (to set appointments - not to see the physician), efficient, great quality, and by USA standards - ridiculously cheap.

It must be said that the free public system has its problems. - especially in rural areas. But we have a dear friend, with no extra insurance,  that was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer and he was in for surgery within a week. It seems if your case is dire, you get immediate attention. There are of course horror stories of those with non-emergency situations that had to wait...

For me, the lesson is that if a community - a country - commits itself to providing universal health care -- it is possible. Even if they have scarce resources. There are ways to make it work. Take note US America.

[Did I mention that 100% of Luiz’s cancer treatment/medication (totally separate from our insurance) is free?] ‘nuf said.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

You know you are in Brazil when

You know you are in Brazil when the worker refurbishing the four story building across the street is barefoot. He´s hanging by a rope on a makeshift wooden seat from which he has a bucket of plaster attached which he is using to patch the walls - and has a pried-open 10L can of paint tied by rope to his wooden seat through the lid of the can from which he alternates some painting activity.

I watched him attach his "secure suspension system" by taking out several roof tiles and locating a roof beam onto which he tied his humble rope.

He did not seem confident, at first, about his mechanics. I cold barely watch!

But apparently he is an experienced, fearless, acrobat construction worker. He´s been up there all day and doing fine.

I hope he is getting paid a decent wage... (fat chance)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Amazing and historic speach by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on LGBT rights - wow!

Amazing - increduible - historic - and unbelieveable comments by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in front of the United Nations. We are making progress!

Listen to these remarks!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Brazil seems to be thriving

I´m not an economist - nor do I claim to be one on TV or the internet. But I have to say that Brazilians seem to be spending $$ in record numbers.

Luiz and I recently went to the mall to buy a computer. The place was PACKED! Not just the electronics\home appliances stores we visited - but the entire mall.

Wallets seemed to be open. People seemed to be buying. Sales people were definitely busy.

It did not look like a poor country to me. Brazil has changed.

Make no mistake - there are a gazillion poor people in Brazil - and consumer goods are rediculously expensive. But a trip to the mall had me thinking about everything upsidedown.

Who are these people with all this money? Why is this place so packed?

We don´t live in the richest of cities (although Niterói is consistently voted "Best Quality of Life" in Rio de Janeiro state...) Is it the credit bubble? Are people really able to buy refrigerators? I´m looking over my shoulder waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But there is home\apartment construction everywhere. There are municipal improvements happening at the library, the old city hall, the ferry terminal, road expansions. Looks like improvement to me...

Unless and until I hear a pop in a bubble, I´m going to hold on to the belief that things are getting better for many Brazilians.

Am I dillusional? What have you noticed?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Down but not out

I´m back --- sorry for the delay. But we had an unwanted intruder enter our apartment at 4:30 in the morning who stoled my computer, two cell phones, our digital camera, and my wallet. Plus he took Luiz´s backpack and my canvas bag to carry out the loot.

All this while Luiz and I were sleeping in the next room.

This post is a bit off key for my blog. I have a rule not to go negative when it comes to living and thriving in Brazil. But in this case it feels a bit hollow NOT to report on what just happenend.

Not to make too fine a point, this was a crime of opportunity, for sure. For whatever reason, our neighboring building left their gate open, which led to the rear area of the building. (They later said they had gotten a delivery of natural gas tanks for the building and failed to secure the gate. Very unusual.) It is an easy jump from their back area to ours. This thief saw the opportunity.

Luiz and I live on the third floor, and as such have thought little about barring our windows for security. Who would climb so high to steal? Well, now we know it is possible. Bars will be installed this week. The now-famous thief is being referred to as "Spider Man" in the press. He is a repeat offender.

It is shaking to be intruded upon (especially while you are asleep) and it is a drag to have several thousand Reais of goods stolen - that will need to be replaced.

Thank the gods there was no violence.

So now we have contracted a man to construct simple but effective bars over our rear windows, I have bought a new computer (with a painfully small screen), cell phones will be replaced with "credits" from previous expenditures, and we will wait for a friend to visit from the USA to have them bring a new digital camera (which can be more than three times the price here).

I am a big Brazil booster. I do not like to report the negative. But forgive me -- this time it cut close to the bone.

We are on the mend. All is fine. Things are getting back to normal.

And a final advantage is that I spent a lot more time in the past few days reading a terrific novel than I did watching an old TV show on the computer...