Leo's family now has internet! Huzzah! Ain't these modern times grand?
One of the ladies on the bus from the capital, Cuiaba, to Leo's little town of Jauru explained how it worked: "out here," she told us, "we have a sort of 'internet light:' you pay monthly, and sometimes it works."
There's actually a waiting list for internet from the usual companies like Oi, so the people who already have internet put their wireless router on a pole or on the roof so as to send the signal as far as possible and then sell access to any neighbors who want to use it.
Getting internet was the first thing Leo did on Wednesday morning, which is nice because now his mom can use the computer that he bought her when she visited us in the States last year. For the first week or so after she got it, she mostly liked to run her hands over the closed lid (kind of like how her favorite things about the camera we gave her were the color and keeping it safely stored away), but technology hooks ya, and she quickly became a force to be reckoned with on Orkut (the Brazilian facebook). She's delighted to be online once again.
As for Jauru: I haven't seen much of it yet, but it seems like a perfectly respectable rural small town, if not a little better off than most in the "interior."
Jauru sends a lot of folks to the States to work, and so there's a constant tide of reunions and partings. The first reunion was on the airplane for the Brasilia to Cuiaba leg of our trip. As Leo approached our seats, he yelled, "I don't believe it! Hey, stewardess, is there somewhere else I can sit?"
Seated next to him was a childhood friend (although it shouldn't come as a total surprise; I'm pretty sure that everyone in Mato Grosso knows one another). They'd met ages before playing a game with little images from the inside of gum wrappers; the object of the game was to flip your image and that of your opponent, winning both. I was informed that Leo was a terror, collecting vast quantities of the images. There were also certain, limited edition pieces that came out and had to be assembled, like a puzzle, to form a complete picture, which had to potential to win you such coveted items as skates or even a bike -- "the equivalent of a car today," in the words of Leo. There were tales of kids winning yo-yos or tops, but no one ever won a bike.
The wilder part of the story is that Leo's friend, whose unfortunate nickname is the Portuguese word for "sucker fish," had been in Brasilia to see off his American wife and baby boy. They'd met when he was living and working without documents in Florida. He got deported after a routine traffic stop, and she went into "exile" with him, living on his small farm in rural Mato Grosso. Currently, she is 4 months into her second pregnancy and going into kidney failure. Having had an impossible time getting treatment here -- and close to losing her baby -- they went to the US Consulate in Brasilia to get an emergency passport for her son and start the waiver process to bring her husband back to the US (since he is only 3 years into his 10-year bar). He kept saying "in six months, I'll be back in the US with my wife and kids!" I'm not nearly as hopeful as he is, but I wish them luck.
They're living my nightmare. Health scares are one of those things that you can never be prepared for in "exile." The one thing that can completely upset all of the best laid plans is a chronic illness better treated in the US than in Brazil. I am terrified of having a health crisis and having to return States-side, leaving Leo here.
From the airport in Cuiaba, we went to the bus station to buy our tickets for the 6-hour ride to Jauru. The bus was scheduled to leave at 6 and arrive in Jauru around midnight.
As we waited, a rather handsome bus growled past. Leo pointed to it and said, "we'll travel on one like that! I bet you didn't think we had such nice buses in Mato Grosso!"
"Of course!" I assured him, sarcastically, "I mean, Jauru even has a website!"
"You saw it?!" he shrieked, delighted. My snarkiness was utterly lost on him, which was probably just as well.
Brazilian bus travel is actually quite comfortable, something I'd appreciated last time I was in Brazil and made the trip from Rio to Sao Paulo by bus; however, just because Leo had been bragging, the bus that arrived for us was an ancient clunker, chugging and clanking as it pulled up. The baggage compartment reeked of gasoline and the interior had the muffled, damp stink of a basement.
Leo was crestfallen, but our dear friend Sucker Fish soon got himself wrapped up in an enormous confusion outside. He hadn't been assigned a seat when he bought his ticket, which obviously required the assistance of everyone within a 30-foot radius. Brazilians love a good commotion, and the bus emptied out.
The only people left were an ancient little witch, dried out like a raisin, and her henpecked husband. She produced a peach-colored washcloth and placed it on her head, declaring through puckered lips, "what's the matter with that boy! I've never seen such a sneaky character in my life! What's he gotten himself into..."
By the time we left, it was dark, which is just as well; I was exhausted. I conked out for the entire trip. With 15 minutes left to Jauru, Leo woke me up. As we clanked, banged, and jolted our way into town, I was informed that it was 2 am. The driver, cursing his rust bucket the entire way, hadn't been able to reach the usual breakneck speed of Brazilian travel. Just as well, in my opinion; I'd rather we break down in the middle of nowhere than go careening into oncoming traffic... but that's just the silly American in me.
I looked out the window at our second stop in Jauru, and saw Leo's brother, Fabiano, who I'd only ever known in pictures and over the phone (he'd gotten picked up by immigration when Leo and I were still in the US, and I spoke with him several times while he was in jail awaiting deportation).
"Leo!" I said, "It's your brother!"
The door swung open and Fabiano called to the driver, "is my brother here? My brother Leoncio?"
Leo has slipped comfortably back into his family. The only part of him that seems to have forgotten how to get along in Jauru are his intestines; it's his turn to be like a duck.
For all of the issues I had with my mother-in-law when she was States-side, I'm having a delightful time with her here. The big problem then was that I have very little patience for people who aren't willing to try new things, which is sort of a must when spending 10 weeks in another country, into the culture of which your son has just married. After 45 years in a postage stamp of a town in the backwaters of one of Brazil's most rural states, she'd constructed (very constricted) boundaries within which she was comfortable living, and nothing -- especially not her uppity daughter-in-law -- was going to broaden her horizons.
"Try to understand what an enormous change this is for her," Leo kept urging me, but I just can't imagine not being an adventurous person -- not even now that I know Jauru. But in her own environs, Dona Marina is a force of a woman: a backbone, a recipe book, a gardener, an imparter of values, a cleaner of fish, a maker of wares, a spanker of wrongdoers, a watchful mother hen.
I'm having a good time with everyone. Despite this family having as many issues as any other, they are good, kind, humble people. Leo is especially tender with his parents, which is adorable.
My nephew, Lucas, however is a total terror. He's like a Brazilian Dennis-the-Menace... and then some. The moment he saw Leo, he started calling him every name imaginable -- including some that 5-year-olds really shouldn't know -- before settling on "Big Belly." When he found out that Leo was the same Uncle Leoncio who sent him a bicycle, he broke into dramatically repentant tears until it was clear that he'd been forgiven. Immediately sunny, he turned to Leo and asked for a Spider-Man action figure.
Lucas is a brat. He fights, bites, swears, and lies like a rug. I have no idea how he got to be such a trouble maker, especially with Dona Marina on his tail, but he is constantly dirty and waist-deep in mischief. The cat, he told me, "likes" to walk on two feet or be towed about by his tail (we had a talk about how nice people make nice animals, and mean people make mean animals that bite and scratch, but I really don't think it got through to him). Today we found all of the papayas and passion fruits punctured and scribbled on; Leo bellowed at Lucas that he'd lost his pen privileges and took it away; minutes later, Leo's dad came in behind an accusatory Lucas; "he did it!" Lucas shouted, pointing at Leo through crocodile tears. Yesterday, he dunked a one of his favorite toy catalogues into a tub of water he was expressly told not to touch and then blamed it on Dona Marina: "grandma did it," he wailed to me, "she ruins everything! She's crazy!"