The Two UAIs of Uberlândia

The word “uai” is popular in the state of Minas Gerais, in Brazil. I’ve heard a few different explanations for its origin, but having no way to validate one or the other I think it best to set aside that question for now. It is pronounced exactly like the word “why” in English, and is used as a way to express moderate surprise. Perhaps “say what” or “really” would be analogous, although “uai” itself has no specific definition.

When I first visited the city of Uberlândia, in Minas Gerais, I was amused to learn that the public hospitals here are called “UAI.” It stands for “Unidade de Atendimento Integrado.” That could possibly be translated “Integrated Service Unit.” In the decade between my last time of residence here and this time, the nomenclature has become a bit muddy in town. There is another “UAI,” this one operating under the auspices of the state government.

In the photo above you’re seeing the state’s UAI, another “Unidade de Atendimento Integrado.” The difference is that this one is not concerned with public health, but rather with documents. I have found it to be incredibly convenient.
In times past, one would have to go to various offices scattered around the city to obtain or renew the diverse documents required to live and work in Brazil. There are a lot of documents to be had here. The UAI above resolves this problem, for the most part, by putting most of these agencies under one roof. Even the Federal Police operate out of this building now.
My CPF (like a U.S. Social Security card) had to be requested elsewhere. However, at the Uberlândia UAI I was able to register with the Federal Police (a requirement for foreigners arriving on a permanent visa), request (and pick up) my work card, and schedule an appointment for my children to request ID cards. Although it’s still necessary to take a number and wait, the place is air conditioned, has plenty of chairs and is easy to find (on a main avenue in town).
I get the impression that the Brazilian bureaucracy is no less complicated than before, but perhaps better organized with regards to dealing with the public. It looks like progress to me.

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Book Review: The Plague

”… since the order of the world is shaped by death, mightn’t it be better for God if we refuse to believe in Him and struggle with all our might against death, without raising our eyes toward the heaven where He sits in silence?”

It was Greg Epstein’s references to “The Plague” in his book, “Good Without God,” that got me on to Albert Camus’ work. This work of fiction tells the story of a town gripped by the plague for about a year or so. Thousands of deaths blur together, to be punctuated by the individual stories of a few.

This book is a meditation on the life, death and the absurdities in between. The problem of human suffering in relation to belief in a personal deity is often in the midst, with the quote included above providing a clear idea of the writer’s perspective.

This is a grim tale that would not translate well to the big screen without suffering changes that would distort it beyond recognition. There is no heroic triumph here. It’s endurance, survival and carrying on.

Work Card!

Yesterday I obtained the “last” key document I need to live and work in Brazil, my carteira de trabalho (“work card”). I’d requested it a couple of weeks ago, and it was scheduled to be ready by January 27. I gave it an extra day to be sure I wouldn’t waste a trip.

Now, just having a work card doesn’t mean I have employment, of course. I still need to track down a good full-time job that will provide reasonable pay and decent benefits. In the meantime, I’ve begun teaching English (I know, so cliché) and intend to continue teaching as a part-time job even after I find full employment.

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Book Review: Cosmos

“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”

What can I say about Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” that hasn’t already been said many times by far better reviewers than myself? Nothing, really. Still, I’ll write.

Although written while the Cold War was still going on, before everyone had smartphones or even basic mobile phones and prior to the new “age of terror,” Sagan’s “Cosmos” remains relevant and the science far from stale. This man was not only a great scientist but also a skilled storyteller, explaining scientific concepts and roving about human and cosmic history with apparent ease.

Carl Sagan made it clear that he was an atheist and considered the universe and life to have no supernatural origin. He expresses in this book on a number of occasions his perspective that religion in general impedes scientific progress, and considers it something best left to history. At the same time, Sagan’s profound respect for the vastness, age and complexity of the universe and all within it shows a profound, albeit non-theistic, reverence.

This book refreshed my memory on some scientific concepts and taught me about others I’d never considered. At the same time, there were a few distractions. Having been written during the Cold War, as mentioned above, Sagan seemed more preoccupied with human self-destruction through nuclear war than we are in our times (although, of course, there is still risk). Further, he seems to have been absolutely convinced not only that there is life elsewhere in the universe (with which I agree), but also that it must be sentient and more advanced than we are.

“Cosmos” is an excellent introduction to (or refresher for) scientific thought, and well worth the time anyone is willing to dedicate to reading it through.

Curitiba and The World Cup

This past week Curitiba made the news when FIFA authorities suggested that if significant progress isn’t made on the stadium going up there by February 18, the World Cup events scheduled for that city may be relocated elsewhere. I’m not sure how realistic that is, given the logistical difficulty of rescheduling games, and this was almost certainly an effort to light a fire under local authorities, but it was a significant statement.

Strangely, when this story is told in the Brazilian media, there’s no real suggestion that an ultimatum was given. At least, not so far as I can tell. Merely that FIFA wants to see real progress.

A further concern I have and that is shared by many Brazilians and expatriates alike, is the rickety condition of Brazil’s infrastructure. Roads are as bad as ever and airports are in serious need of an upgrade. Journalist Gabriel Elizondo shared the following Tweet the other night, indicative of the problem:

//, though, I have no idea what will really happen in a few months when the games begin. I truly suspect that it’s going to be a mess, but that the Brazilian government will strain to put a good face on things and downplay difficulties. The games will go on, one way or the other.

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Ways for Expatriates to Connect in Uberlândia

When I last lived in Uberlândia, 10 years or so ago, Facebook hadn’t been invented yet. Blogging was only just beginning to be “a thing.” I participated in a number of email discussion lists (remember those?), but none for expatriates living in Brazil, let alone in Uberlândia. It seems that now there are a few more options, although they are still in their infancy.

First, there’s a Facebook page called “Foreigners in Uberlândia.” Although it was created by a British man, it’s target audience is any expatriate who calls this city “home” for now. At the time of this post it only has 23 likes, and doesn’t seem terribly active. I’m hoping that can begin to change soon. Facebook has its many flaws, but it’s an easy way for people to connect.

Second, a group for English speakers (foreign nationals and Brazilians alike) has recently been formed. There have only been three meetups so far, but it’s a promising effort, in my opinion. I’ve blogged about it previously.

Third, I created a website for expatriates in Uberlândia to network. I made the site before I discovered the Facebook page, but since the site offers more functionality and costs me nothing, I’ve decided to keep it live and see if it attracts interest.

Finally, if you are from elsewhere in the world and are now living in Uberlândia, why not reach out to me through the contact form on this blog? I’d be glad to hear from you, and perhaps we could meet up for coffee or the like. If you’re new to Brazil, I can certainly share insights and provide pointers.

Brazil’s Slave Past

Brazil was the last nation in the Americas to abolish slavery, although over the years several Brazilians have been quick to point out to me that at least their country managed this without a civil war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

In any event, the news report above covers a presentation in São Paulo (incorrectly referred to by the news anchor as “the capital”) of very high resolution photos taken by plantation owners in the late 19th century. The images are often so clear they appear they could have been taken yesterday, and they make the reality of the African slave trade starkly clear.

A fascinating article about the abolition of slavery in Brazil, and the former Confederates from North America who made Brazil home after the U.S. civil war, is The Economist’s “Murder and slavery in Brazil: Dr. Warne and the cockroaches.” It’s a long article, but well worth reading.

A Look At Curitiba

Curitiba is a city I’ve been hearing good things about for years, but I have yet to visit. Located about 11 hours (by car) south of where I live in Uberlândia, Curitiba is the capital of the state of Paraná. The population in 2010 was reported to be 1,760,500, compared to the roughly 600,000 of Uberlândia. This makes Curitiba the 8th largest city in Brazil.

Rather than share opinions about a city I haven’t seen in person, I recommend the following two posts by a British expatriate who lives there:

Also, the short video below provides a glimpse of the city.
// Taking a walk from olhos coloridos on Vimeo.