There’s a lot to talk about in the day we landed in Brazil. We left Cincinnati at night on July 20, and arrived in the morning on July 21. We had 21 checked bags and a handful of carryon luggage.
When we walked off the plane, Matilda asked, “Is this Brazil?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Where my room?” she asked.
I have to explain. Part of us getting the kids excited about what was coming was telling them that when we got to Brazil, we’d go to our new apartment and pick our bedrooms. This is how we answered questions about where we were going to live. We picked our apartment from photos and videos sent to our emails. We had never set foot in our apartment. And there’s only so much you can see from photos in a rental listing.
What Matilda heard was that the plane would drop us straight at our apartment building, like a door-to-door bus service. If only.
We had to walk through the airport and go through customs. David had Everett’s carseat strapped to his backpack like a giant turtle shell, and we pushed Everett in the stroller. Or maybe Everett was in the Ergo and Matilda was in the stroller? I can’t exactly remember. We did that a lot on the US side of our trip. Keeping Everett close and calm in the Ergo was a life saver.
The line for customs took a while, but went smoothly. Then we had to walk to baggage claim. So, the thing about 21 bags is you have to get them out of the airport. Even if David and I each pushed a cart, there’s no way we could get 21 bags on two carts.
I found a few other teachers who were also flying in (all the teachers arrive on the same day) and just having someone that was connected to us was reassuring. None of them had as many bags as we did. Portuguese to the rescue! I found some guys who worked for the airport and explained that we had a ton of suitcases and needed help wheeling them out of the baggage claim area and into the terminal. The admin of the school would be on the other side waiting for us with vans and lots of extra hands.
The airport guys lashed together 2 or 3 carts of suitcases and we each pushed one and somehow we got it all out of the baggage claim. Seeing the school admin and other employees just outside the door wearing school shirts and smiling was a really amazing feeling.
It was a blur of introductions and meeting all kinds of people that I had skyped with or perhaps never heard of. Our bags were labeled and taken off to be delivered to our apartment later that day. We had also arrived with another family who had a 2 year old, so it was decided that the families with kids could go ahead and board vans bound for school.
I have to stop and write a little bit about the van ride across Sao Paulo. It was Saturday, but the drive still took about an hour, or maybe even a little more. The kids had made friends with various grown ups, Everett was in his carseat, but no one slept. Looking out the windows, my eyes were full to the brim. Super high apartment buildings and office buildings, crowded highways, graffiti, guys on motorcycles zipping through traffic. Bridges, almost-dry riverbeds, opulence and poverty. We saw it all through the tinted van windows.
My attention bounced between the kids, new teachers also arriving, admin getting to know us and welcoming us. It was chaotic but ebullient.
The vans pulled into the school and we got our first look. First impressions: very little of the school was indoors (“Did you know my school’s hallways have no walls?” Calvin said a few weeks ago. “In Nashville my school had walls in the hallways.”) The boundary between school and nature was thin. “Nature” was relative in a city of 25 million, but there were palm trees and flowering trees and all kinds of shrubs and flowers I had never seen and they were just a step beyond paved walkways and classroom doors.
The school was labrynthine and twisty, with pockets of order. A lot like the neighborhood around it with streets at all kinds of angles, punctuated by rectangular apartment buildings.
Brutalist architecture, lots of concrete and straight lines, but a lot of construction happening. An architect once told me you can tell the health of a city by the number of cranes on the skyline. Constructions a good sign of growth and change.
There was lunch in the cafeteria and 7 or 8 stations to stop in to sign documents, fill out forms, get our start-up cash, and learn about health insurance. I signed my name 50 or 60 times and collected tons of papers, and tried to remember the details of the kids’ bus schedules.
Meanwhile, the kids were amped up on exhaustion and adrenaline and were crawling around the floor and cackling like happy banshees. Parents reading this will know the anxiety with which I viewed this scene, knowing that any second that joyful, screeching laughter could become an epic melt down. We need to get these kids indoors and near a bed, stat.
There was a make-shift grocery store set up for us as well, and we loaded 4 tote bags up with basic groceries. At about 1 pm, a van drove our exhausted, bedraggled family to our long-awaited apartment so we could choose our bedrooms.
Again, didn’t edit this or even re-read. “No time!” the White Rabbit exclaimed.