Zika Madness

I get a lot of questions from people in the States about how people here in Brazil are dealing with all the Zika craziness. Americans are absolutely freaking out about the problem. And Brazilians? My answer always is: “They shrug.”

It’s true. Ask any average Brazilian their opinion about Zika, and they’ll lift their shoulders and sigh. Because it’s transmitted by the same bug that transmits dengue and they’ve been battling dengue for DECADES with little success. Because it’s a symptom of a broken health system. Because it’s got Brazil in the international spotlight, and it’s not flattering and they’re embarrassed.

Brazilians just don’t react much to the issue. I honestly have had more conversations about Zika with Americans (who have just had their first microencephaly case just recently) than with Brazilians (who have had hundreds, if not thousands of cases). This is not to say it’s not a problem. Even here in our little town in Minas Gerais, dengue is a problem. My mother-in-law was treated for it, as was a co-worker. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens. And if dengue is here, then Zika could be and also Chikungunya.

Some of this is just the Brazilian toujours gai attitude about life. Always cheerful, nothing’s ever a huge problem, smile and give ’em a thumbs up even when the world is about crash down around your ears.

Some of it is the tragedy of the commons–because the best way to stop the transmission of Zika and dengue is to eliminate all the places the mosquitos can breed which means everyone cleaning up all that trash that Brazilians have been tossing out their windows for ages (the mosquitos can breed in pools of water as small as a soda bottle cap) and screening in houses that just were never built to be airtight. A friend of mine gave us a honorable mention in an article about the problem. We’re the only house in town with window screens, and that’s because I imported kits from Home Depot in the States (thanks mom!). Solving the transmission is a massive public health undertaking and depends on each person doing their part. Which brings us back to part #1 of the problem–convincing the public that there’s a crisis that requires individual action. Which generally is tough to get Brazilians to do.

So imagine my surprise when I saw this public health campaign poster yesterday in the neighboring town of Novo Cruzeiro. Translation: “Free Novo Cruziero from the Chikungunya and Zika viruses–How many people will have to die for you to CLEAN UP YOUR YARD?”

Because DAMN.

“How many people have to die for you to clean up your yard?”


  1. I wrote about Zika as well! I had it a few months ago and naturally all my American friends and relatives wanted to know the story. I wrote a second post about why it’s such an issue here and it’s exactly what you said! Trash everywhere, no screens, and no one cares. We ALSO have screens on our windows (my husband made a wood frame and used some extra mesh we had). The funny thing is, the Dengue Police (as I call them) came to our house to make sure we didn’t have any freestanding water and to check our drains – and they left the doors WIDE open as they went in and out of the house. I know all Brazilians do this, but you would think after seeing the screens and being THE Dengue Police that they would understand to close the doors. The trash issue however.. is unacceptable. This country is too beautiful to throw trash on it.

    • I know, right? Screens went on our windows within months of our arrival not because of dengue or Zika but because I like my sleep and how anyone can sleep while being bitten by mosquitoes all night is beyond me. We were slowly turning into raving, sleep-deprived lunatics. And the trash! People laugh at me when I pick it up, and it just breaks my heart when a soda bottle goes flying out a bus window.

      • For our two first months here we stayed with my MIL. She doesn’t have air conditioning and we had two adults and two children and all of our belongings crammed into one room. There was NO air flow. So one night we decided to pull the mattress onto the patio and sleep outside. At least it would be nice and cool right? My arms (which weren’t under the blanket) we completely bitten up and down. I mean it looked like I had a terrible case of chicken pox.

        I decided I’m not going to follow the Brazilian standard of quietly whispering about offenses. So when my SIL told my son to throw his popsicle stick on the ground because “the street cleaners were coming tomorrow anyway” I informed her that it didn’t matter if they came, because throwing trash on the ground is “sem educação” and we would carry it home to our trash bag if needed.

  2. When I find a new expat blog, I like to start at the first post and work my way through the whole thing. (Um, I’m a stay at home mom in Brazil, I have the time haha). I have to tell you, I find myself nodding emphatically at your take on life in Brazil. And I added the PB cookies recipe to my favorites. I recently had 80 oz of peanut butter shipped to me and I’m ecstatic to find that my husband and kids could care less. I dip crackers in it while curled up on the coach whispering “my precioussssss.” Do you guys have any plans to permanently return to the States?

    • well, I am honored then! I glanced back at my first posts when you wrote that… so long ago! I hope you keep reading and commenting. It’s so nice to find a family of immigrants online who share experiences and survival tips! I’ve made so many friends here. As for plans to return, we really don’t know what the future will bring. We’re applying for my husband’s paperwork, but it’s complicated so who knows if it will work. So not being sure of the outcome, we try to live like it’s not going to happen. You just can’t put your life on hold. It’s a weird way to live life–doublethinking all the time. But if it does work, well then, we’ll probably want to/have to go back to the States for a while. So who knows? I never in my wildest dreams imagined this life so far, so who knows where the rest will take us?

      • I understand. My husband missed an immigration court hearing when he entered the country sem papéis (imagine me rolling my eyes and shaking my fist in the air). So, he has a five year ban before he’s able to apply. I’m submitting his I-130 now though, because why add another six months waiting for that thing to be approved. But there’s still a chance that our waivers won’t be approved and we’ll have to wait here the full ten. I absolutely agree with not putting your life on hold or doublethinking. I had a phase where everything was compared to “when we’re back in the States” or “in the States it’s like this” and it made me miserable. Really accepting and appreciating our life in Brazil for what it is is the only way to not make yourself crazy. Washing and reusing Ziplock bags, washing cloth diapers by hand, everything constantly covered in dust/dirt… What’s that inspirational quote? Accept the things you cannot change? It is what it is. 🙂

      • Hah. It’s the “wisdom to know the difference” bit from that quote that keeps me chewing out material for this blog 🙂

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