By Kate Romero
Okay, so I’m not technically a ‘girl’ anymore, unless we are talking about maturity level. Arrival in Brasilia for diplomats is always a little tricky, as far as transportation goes. It usually takes months for your POV (I think that stands for Prisoner of Vehicles. Or Pass Out Victim. Perpetrator of Vampires? –I’m pretty bad at government acronyms, but it definitely has something to do with your car) to arrive, and until then, you are at the mercy of your sponsors, the embassy shuttles, or a rental car. Now, when you have a bazillion kids, like I do, and you try to rent a tiny Brazilian car, it turns into a clown car. A seatbelt for every person? What are you, one of those namby-pamby overprotective Americans? The thing about living in Brasilia, particularly if you are in Lago Sul, is that you really do need a car, if only to buy groceries and get out a tiny bit.
We were fortunate in that my husband eventually got a work car to tide us over until our beast of an American car arrived. Three months down the road (See what I did there? Down the road? Talking about cars? Can you believe I don’t have a book deal?), our car showed up. I have a love/hate relationship with this particular car, but I cried tears of joy when I saw it. I love that our car is so big that none of my children have to sit directly next to each other. I love that it has a tv thingie in it, so on long car trips, my kids can pop on some headphones and watch a dvd, leaving me to entertain my husband with all my amazeballs plans for what we will do when we arrive at our destination. I love that our car carried our family of six, our large terrier, and all of our luggage from Seattle to Washington DC, stopping at every monument along the way, and no one had maimed each other. Sure, we paid our children at the beginning of each day on the road, taking away one dollar every time someone fought, but that’s just good business.
I hate my car for the exact same reason I love it. It’s huge. Gas is expensive, and it’s a gas guzzler. I can’t park anywhere, especially downtown. I pick my doctors, orthodontists, restaurants, and grocery stores based on the parking situation. Mediocre doctor with a habit of misdiagnosis? Sure, but how’s the parking lot? Speaking of the parking situation, those parking lot Thumbs’ Up Guys are not that great at guiding you into a spot. I have the scratches and dents to prove it. Several months ago, I went to a dermatologist in a big shopping mall and had a very unfortunate incident which resulted in a scratch on the side of my car that ran along three panels. I was slightly distracted by the bill that the doctor gave me, which was in the font of comic sans. Seriously, comic sans. On a bill. Are you running a lemonade stand or a dermatology office, dude? When I got to the embassy that afternoon, my husband didn’t even care about the comic sans bill, and my indignation over said bill sadly didn’t distract him from the dents in the car.
Another reason I hate my car is that it’s an American car. I don’t hate the part about it being American, but that the parts are not readily available here, which means if something goes wrong, we have to order the part from the U.S. Last week, my kids and I drove to the embassy to meet up with some other families and go to the carnaval samba parade. I turned my key in the ignition to join the caravan, and ‘click’. Nothing. The car wouldn’t start, so we all hopped into my friend Katie’s car and went and enjoyed the samba parade. It turned out that the car needs a new alternator. Which we had to order from the U.S. And seriously, did you know you can order an alternator from Amazon?
Meanwhile, I get to ride to work with my husband, in his rickety old work car. Riding in Mitch’s car feels like being rolled down a rocky cliff while being tucked into a metal trash can. Also, there’s no air conditioning and the passenger’s side window doesn’t roll down. Yesterday on our way in to the embassy, I asked for tissues. “Nope, no tissues in here,” he said, a little too proudly. A little while later, I asked if he had any hand lotion or lip balm (sometimes the only time I have to moisturize is while in the car), and my husband was all, “This is a man’s car. Stop trying to turn it into a lady’s car.” Another one of the joys of driving to work together is that instead of listening to the sweet sounds of 80s club music, I get to hear about knuckle cranes and why the knuckle crane on his job site is inferior to knuckle cranes he’s used on other job sites. So, basically, the alternator dying on us is the priceless gift of quality time together.
As for you newcomers to Brasilia, my advice to you would be to not be shy in asking for rides. You can post your needs to social media sites such as Facebook or set up shuttle service through ILMS if you are just coming in to the embassy. Try and rent a car on the weekends. Most people remember what it’s like to be new here with no way to get around and are more than happy to help. My advice to you people who’ve been around the block (See what I did again? Another car reference!) and finally have your vehicles is to be generous to newcomers. If you’ve made a new arrival’s acquaintance, don’t be shy in calling them up and saying, “Hey, CarlessSadsack, I’m headed to CEASA in the morning, would you care to tag along?”
As for me, I’ll be riding shotgun in a beat up OBO (Official Building Office? One Big Operation? Orange Bicycle Owners?) vehicle with no air conditioning, listening to my husband telling me that while my paycheck is adorable, it would never survive in the wild. Wave to me, ‘mkay?