Experiences of a Dutchman living in Belo Horizonte, since December 2004, from month to month.
December 2004: Arrival in Belo Horizonte, celebrating Christmas and New Year.
I left The Netherlands and moved to Belgium in July, 2003. I was offered a position in Wavre, in the province of Brabant Wallon, where the Belgians speak French. One day before my first working day, I went by train to Louvain, carrying an overstuffed weekend bag. I was lucky to find some room to rent, in the center of the ancient city. I traveled to Wavre the following day, and returned by a rental car. My one-year contract was extended until mid January 2005. I had to request for permission to start my holidays in the second week of December, to have my annual Christmas trip to Belo Horizonte. In the preceding weeks, I gradually moved my belongings to my parents’ address in The Netherlands. On a Friday, my final working day, I carried my final belongings and left Louvain and Wavre for good. Though, I still have good memories of Louvain.
My final days in The Netherlands in 2004 were dominated by packing. I scanned my recent documents, burned them on various CD ROMs. My complete administration was added to my luggage. It took almost a full year to organize my personal belongings and to pack them in small boxes. Per box I made an inventory of the contents. In total sixty boxes are now with an aunt on the surface of an old door. I stored my winter clothes in the closet, the summer clothes were being refreshed and divided over two suitcases. It took some effort to distribute my belongings over my suitcases, but at the end every suitcase, weighing seventy pounds each, was ready to be locked.
My flight was scheduled on Monday morning. A flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta, and then to São Paulo. There I would book a regional flight to Belo Horizonte. The day before, I made a reservation for the taxi, the receptionist tried to convince me that the scheduled time was more than enough to be on time for my flight. I was not that sure, and tried to verify the time. She insisted that I should not worry. That morning was a very cold morning; I wore several shirts, a vest and a light jacket, more suitable for warmer days. But I preferred not to carry a heavy winter coat with my luggage. The taxi arrived later than scheduled, we experienced more delays en route. Indeed, I arrived too late to catch my scheduled flight. I had to reschedule my flight, from Amsterdam to New York, and then a connecting flight to Atlanta. I had to run to the departure gate with my two suitcases and two handbags, to the other side of the enormous departure hall. I was just in time for the check-in.
The flight to New York went well, we landed on schedule. I had to go through customs, but there were two long, neat queues of tourists waiting in front of me. I talked to one of the attendants, and explained that I had to catch my connecting flight to Atlanta. He understood me very well, and grabbed my arm, guiding me to a customs officer. He briefed the officer quickly, the officer was willing to help me at once; those waiting behind me disagreed grumblingly. A scan was made of my fingers and of my profile; I was permitted to enter the country. I had to run again to check in, for the domestic flight. I was caught up by customs officers who wanted to know why I wanted to catch a domestic flight. My luggage had to be opened for thorough inspection. Despite this delay, I could catch the flight to Atlanta on time.
This flight was on schedule. I barely had the time to check in for the flight to São Paulo. In the early morning, I arrived there. I joined a short queue of foreigners, waiting to be attended by the customs, while Americans, cursing softly, were forced to join an enormous queue. It was some kind of retaliation by the Brazilian government for the treatment of Brazilian travelers in the U.S… I quickly booked a domestic flight to Belo Horizonte, and hurried to the bus stop, in order to catch the bus to Congonhas Airport, where I could catch the connecting flight to Belo Horizonte. One hour later, I landed at the small airport of Pampulha, close to the center of Belo Horizonte. My journey from The Netherlands took almost two entire days, but was ended now. I was picked up by the family of my former girlfriend. I spent the Christmas holidays with them.
The family had recently moved from one street to another in the same neighborhood. Unpacked boxes were still waiting patiently until they would be freed of their contents. The Christmas tree was already decorated, since early December, according to Brazilian tradition. The gifts were placed around this artificial Christmas tree, on Christmas Eve they would be opened. In the days before Christmas the final purchases were made, including food and beverages. The Christmas dinner was prepared on the day before Christmas. Traditionally, there was roasted turkey, rice, manioc flour, and salads. At midnight, we had dinner, and then the gifts were opened.
The days after Christmas went very quiet. I was busy with my laptop and digital camera. I purchased them both in The Netherlands, just before my departure. I helped the family with some painting and cleanup chores. On Boxing Day – which in Brazil is not celebrated – I was invited to attend a mass of the Baptist church. For me this was a unique experience to attend the rituals in this church. Even though I understood almost nothing what was said, preached and sung. New Year’s Eve was celebrated at home. In previous years I celebrated New Year’s Eve with the family at the Pampulha Lake, or in a Chinese restaurant, or with friends of the family. Again, we had dinner at midnight; the turkey was replaced by a huge ham. This is another Brazilian tradition. We watched the fireworks, ignited from the nearby Pampulha Lake and by local residents. Year 2004 was ended. Who could predict at that time that I was about to continue my stay in Brazil in 2005, and even until 2010? I would have declared such forecasts as impossible…
By Adriano Antoine Robbesom © 2007