Steve’s Newsletter 2 (2005)

Tuesday 11 October, 2005

An Oscar Niemeyer building in Belo

Well it has taken a bit longer than intended for me to get around to writing my second newsletter, but here it is.

In truth one reason for not writing sooner is that not much new has happened since I returned from my last trip back to the UK. However I am about to embark on another trip to the autumnal UK. I found out last week that my visa application has been approved and is ready for me to collect at the Brazilian consul in London. Now that I have arranged the shipping of personal belongings to Brazil, I have been able to book a flight ‘home’.

‘Home’ is a bit of a mixed concept for me. In one sense the UK is my home and I think I always will have a feeling that this is where I am from, but I now live in Belo Horizonte with Eneida so this is also ‘home’. I think once I have the visa in my passport, have a job and, most importantly, feel that I am able to communicate in Portuguese with the Brazilians then this will feel increasingly like my only home.

Since I last wrote here, I have been attending Portuguese lessons 4 times a week at the local public university UFMG. It is in a neighborhood called Pampulha which is about 30 minutes drive from where we live in the area called Gutierrez. Having attended various other Portuguese lessons and also having tried to study at home, I am pleased to say that I am finding these classes very helpful. The pace is good, but what I think is the most important thing is that I have classes 4 times a week for an hour each. It gives me many chances to practice and of course it helps living being surrounded by people who mainly don’t speak any English.

A street in Gutierrez (where we lived)

The size of the class varies quite a lot. Since I joined I reckon there have been over 20 different students attending, but the average daily class size is around 10. There backgrounds and nationalities varies greatly. There are people from as diverse a selection of countries as USA, Australia, Mexico, Holland, Germany and Indonesia! There is in fact only one other British student.

Last week I also registered my presence here in Belo Horizonte with the local British consulate. The official we spoke to said that there are about 80 British families living in the Belo Horizonte area mainly associated with the mining industry. this is the main industry of Minas Gerais the state we live in. He also said this number is declining as the British involvement with the various local mining companies diminishes.

I am also pleased to say that spring is now showing signs of arriving. Although ‘winter’ here is very mild by our standards, there have been days when it has felt chilly but unlike the locals I have not needed to wear a jacket or sweater. In fact t-shirts are the order of the day. The last few days have been glorious sunshine with hardly a cloud in the sky and temperatures into the mid 20’s Celsius (low 80’s Fahrenheit). I am led to believe that the temperatures are now set to gradually increase until Christmas time but also that the wet season is also about to start and believe me when it rains here it rains. Because the altitude of Belo Horizonte is roughly 950m (3100ft), the temperatures are lower than would be typical in other areas at a similar latitude (20º S). In fact I would describe the climate here as more mediterranean which is also quite similar to what I experienced when I lived in southern California. However I have not really been here long enough to judge these things properly.

A view of a hill on outskirts of Belo
BH’s stadium, Minerão, and Pampulha lake

The area we live in is very hilly as is most of Belo Horizonte. When it rains the local roads become like raging torrents with rivers running down them. One day I hope to take a picture to include in one of these newsletters to show you, but so far the heavy rains have always been at night.

Belo Horizonte is a ‘planned’ city established by the Brazilian government just over 100 years ago. 

Downtown Belo
A favela

Why they chose to create the city and not one of the flatter areas close by remains a mystery. The other remarkable feature of the planning of the original city is its road layout. The main avenues run roughly NE-SW and NW-SE with the minor roads running at 45ºs to them in a north-south or east-west direction. It leads to some interesting traffic junctions and confusion until you come to understand the principle.

I the photos give a good idea as to the feel of the city. It is a mixture of the quiet middle class suburbs and the less well off areas including a number of favela’s or favelinha’s (small favela).

Last weekend we drove to a city about 330km away called Governador Valadares to visit some of Eneida’s family who live there. The main reason for going however was to see her brother Luiz Fernando be awarded the title of ‘honorary citizen’ (translated) an honor similar to being given ‘the keys to’ or ‘freedom of’ a city in England. He was given this in honor of the work has done for the city and its leaders both as an individual and a director of a local firm that produces various dairy products.

Fernando receiving his award

Governador Valadares (Valadares as most people call it) sits on the edge of the River Doce which is very big by UK standards. The climate there is much hotter, about 5-8ºC average, due to the fact that it is much closer to sea level than Belo and although I liked the city, the temperatures make it unpleasant. 

Tomorrow we have been invited to a Golden wedding anniversary. There will be a service in a church (a catholic service will be a first for me!) followed by a party in the venue where we got married and had our wedding party. It will no doubt feel a little strange returning.

I think that is all our news for the moment. I expect I will write again once I am back from the UK with my visa. I must then start the process of acquiring all the things that one really needs for living in Brazil (eg ID card, bank account, drivers license). This will no doubt involve waiting in many queues, take lots of time and cause much exasperation. However it will be worth it. Brazil is a lovely country with lovely people well worth a visit.

Please don’t forget to write me.