Manic Pixie Dream Land

I did not pack enough warm clothes for Brazil, I realized a few weeks after we arrived. Because, it’s Brazil, and when you have a Minnesota mentality, as I do, you sort of think that when you move in the dead of winter and the average high is still 75, you don’t really need more than a few long-sleeved shirts and one pair of leggings. Two key factors that I missed were the average low and Brazilian home construction- the walls here are meant to insulate from the heat rather than the cold.

So two weeks ago, when overnight lows were in the low 40s and daytime highs barely hit 70, I found myself sleeping in long sleeves, my one pair of ankle-length leggings, and my running socks, every night. My primary motivation for working out was just to feel warm for at least 30 minutes of the day, and I cuddled on the couch in the evenings with our extra bed sheet because we don’t have a cozy fleece throw because WHY WOULD WE WE LIVE IN BRAZIL NOW. I can’t even tell you how badly I wanted just one pair of fuzzy socks and a sweatshirt. Oscar and August got extra snuggles with mama because they are tiny furnaces and I am a reptile.

But numb toes aside, I was sort of tickled. I didn’t really believe it could actually feel cold here, and the surprise of it, far from being a problem, just ended up being a funny little obstacle to manage.

The title of this post, Manic Pixie Dream Land, refers to the film trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who is quirky and does unexpected things, and you can’t help being in love with her from the instant she takes the chewing gum out of your mouth and snaps an unflattering picture of you with a Polaroid. Brazil is my Manic Pixie Dream Land right now. I still can’t quite believe this is our new (albeit temporary) reality, and I find so many things quirky and unexpected, and I basically love it all. I’m sure that a time is coming when I will grow disenchanted with the novelty of an early August near-freeze, but right now, it’s just one fun new discovery after another.

For example. There are no squirrels in Dourados (can you even imagine?), but we do have an abundance of doves, and they coo all the time. The sound they make is very similar to the sound August makes when he wakes up, so we are constantly checking the monitor when the kids are sleeping to see if what we’re hearing is August or just the doves. When the kids are awake, it’s become a very pleasant soundtrack to our days. In addition, there are so many new kinds of birds to look for. If I don’t make friends with an ornithologist, I will never be able to identify them all, but I love the unexpected flashes of color as we move through the city.

The city itself is actually pretty tidy, which definitely surprised me. I’ve traveled to places domestically and internationally with muuuuch worse litter/garbage disposal systems, and yes, there is the occasional shattered beer bottle on the sidewalk, but we run into that in St. Paul, too. We’ve walked around a few different neighborhoods and the city center, and most of the properties, commercial and residential, are occupied, neatly decorated and cared for, and busy with activity. There are a few large parks within walking distance of us, and they are all bordered by flat, continuous tracks for walking or running- a very happy surprise after navigating a sidewalk system that is most often a choppy ocean of broken cement and cliff-like curb drop-offs.

There isn’t nearly as much graffiti as we saw in Bulgaria (especially Sofia), and much of what we’ve seen here is kind of sweet and really appeals to my sensibility as a bleeding heart liberal. Highlight pictures for translations!

(To be fair, there is also a pretty big penis sprayed on a wall on the block next to ours, soooo.)

Because there really are no dryers here (or maybe in Brazil generally?), we line-dry all of our clothing. This means planning ahead because we have limited places to hang wet clothes and because nothing dries when the day is rainy. We’ve gotten into a rhythm of washing clothes four to five times each week, and that might sound like a lot, but there is something soothing about the morning and evening routines of washing, drying, and folding fresh laundry. For the first three weeks we were here, we also tried using cloth diapers with August, but we had to give it up after painful and persistent diaper rash. I’m not sure if it’s because our washing machine can only wash clothes in cold water and maybe they aren’t getting super clean, or because August just continues to have pretty sensitive skin, but either way, line-drying our clothing has helped to offset a little of the environmental guilt I feel about all of the disposable diapers we’ve gone through.

On our first weekend, we discovered by chance that there are two weekly markets close by. One of them is an organics market with unique and delicious food vendors, excellent produce, and homemade tofu (!!!), which we’ve still been unable to find in the grocery store. We call it the night market because it takes place from 5-10pm, and there is often music and a generally festive atmosphere. It was there that I met my very first native English speaker! A young girl from the U.K. whose mother is Brazilian and who is here on holiday. The other market is a more traditional farmers’ market with beautiful produce and super friendly vendors. On our first visit, Oscar and I picked out eggplants, carrots, cucumbers, onions, oranges, tomatoes, and bananas, and our total was a ridiculous R$9 (~$2.50 USD).

But far and away the best surprise has been the people and the sense of community we feel. Over 200,000 people live in Dourados, and yet it often seems like a small town. (Again, this is similar to our lives in St. Paul!) On our first date night, Matt and I met up with his colleague Luis and his wife, Alana, and while we were out, we ran into Lucas, a local English teacher who helped us with our police registration that week. Another of Matt’s colleagues, who has recently relocated to Dourados, told Matt that his wife had seen a “very white woman and two blonde boys” at the grocery store and was pretty sure it was the Americans (it was). This week, when I stopped by a fitness store to buy small hand-held weights, the woman working there asked me if my husband and son had been in a couple of weeks ago to buy a yoga mat (which they had). I can’t even tell you how many times random strangers have struck up conversations with us or offered to help with whatever is confusing us at the moment. And on weekend evenings, most of our neighbors with young kids gather outside at the little playground in our complex and just chat with each other while the kids play.

I absolutely have moments of homesickness, and I’m so grateful that at the end of Matt’s project, we will return to our home in Minnesota. But this past weekend, I spent two hours under clear skies and bright white stars talking politics and passions with two of our new neighbor friends, and even before I’d reached our front door, I knew I’d just had an experience that someday, I’ll look back on with bittersweet nostalgia for this very special time in our lives.

Sunset view from August’s room



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