I grew up in the Scottish countryside, so it was natural for me to choose a small town like Pedro de Toledo to retire to when I came to Brazil. I had visited my brother several times before moving here. He lives in the neighbouring town of Itariri, so we can drop by on each other from time to time.
Small towns are probably the same the world over, in so far as they share the values of a family oriented community, but they have their own character and the people who live in them are keen to defend their turf, so there can be quite a lot of jealousy and competition going on, but it gives a sense of pride too.
In Brazil, I think that the main differences are that the family is of paramount importance and that each town, or city as they insist on calling it, has their own town council and mayor, who are responsible for a lot of the public services, including junior schools, local medical care facilities and the roads, social welfare, library and the bus station. The “Prefeito”, as he or she is called, wields a lot of power locally, and usually belongs to one of several local “Clans”.
This year is an election year for town councillors and the mayor, so there is a lot of political talk going on, which is healthy and keeps the local issues in the spotlight.
For me, as a foreigner living here, I am a relatively big fish in a small pond.
With only 9,999 other inhabitants in Toledo, everyone knows the gringo! That makes me a bit of a local celebrity, and as I am an outgoing type of person, I enjoy the attention it brings, but maybe it wouldn’t suit everyone. It means that when you go into town, people will wave at you and expect you to wave back. You are expected to greet people in the street who you know, even if you only know them slightly. For example if you buy something in their shop, or use their taxi for a ride home, you are a friend, and they will expect a “Bom dia” from you.
In the places that you frequent, people will expect you not only to say good morning, but also to ask them if everything is going okay and maybe to comment on the weather or something like that, and they will be pleased if you call them by their name, or ask about their family and that sort of thing. It is important to be polite here, and not to be in too much of a hurry!
If you are not related to someone in a small community, or have no special ties, it can be difficult to get beyond the informal acquaintance kind of relationship. So you can begin to feel left out of the social events that go on, and of which, information is often not widely circulated, except by word of mouth. Having a good understanding of Portuguese is important and although there are students of the english language here, I am the only fluent speaker that I know of.
The friendliness and the comparatively low crime rate are very positive aspects, and I find that the scale suits me because I like to feel involved in what is going on in the place that I live in. The fact that everyone knows every one’s business, doesn’t bother me, as I have nothing to hide and I am not a very private sort of person, but be aware that your every move in a place like this will be noticed, noted and discussed!
The cost of living here is cheaper than the big town or city, mainly because property prices here are low, and staple foodstuffs are not expensive. There is plenty of local produce, with fruit, salads and vegetables for sale each week in the street market, and it is possible to buy fresh meat, poultry and salads direct from producers at good prices.
The down side is that as a foreigner, I often have cravings for a certain kind of food, or drink, or want to buy something that is a little bit out of the ordinary.
That means a minimum round trip of almost 80 km to Peruibe, which is the local big town, with a population of almost 100,000. There I can expect to buy a decent bottle of wine or whisky, find ingredients for cooking the more exotic dishes, and have lunch in a nice restaurant. It also has a nice beach and a fish market!
Infrastructure in Brazil is generally weak, and more so in a small town or village, so access to the internet can be very difficult and in rural areas cell phone coverage is patchy. There is only one bank, where the queues can be lengthy, and it is the same in the post office, but who’s in a hurry?
Local services such as health care and education are as you might expect in a small town. Primary health clinics are in each Bairro or district, where a local doctor is available usually once or twice each week. This is where vaccinations take place and initial assessments are made for referral to specialists should this prove necessary. It is important to be registered locally and to make yourself aware of the services available as information is otherwise poor, but staff are generally very helpful. Emergency services are available 24/7 in the town centre, but severe cases, requiring blood transfusion for example, are taken by ambulance to one of the neighbouring cities. Preventative care is excellent in my community. You will be weighed, have your blood pressure taken and asked about your state of health at each visit. Diagnostic blood tests are easily available, but x-rays and other examinations will require a lengthy wait and travel to an adjacent town or city.
Education services are generally weak, but widely distributed in each Bairro.
Keen students will have to supplement their education with plenty of home study as school hours are split into morning OR afternoon sessions. Private education is preferred by the better off families, but this is only available in large towns and cities. Adult education opportunities are limited.
For those seeking employment, a small town is obviously not the most obvious choice. However, for the enterprising individual with a keen commercial sense, there are opportunities here.
Visitors have sometimes complained that I live in a somewhat isolated place, since a trip from the airport, which is on the far side of Sao Paulo, requires two bus journeys and around six hours travelling, even though the distance is less than 200km, but for me at least, the isolation adds to the charm, and I can be in the big city within three hours.
I think that the biggest drawback is the clannishness that exists in every small town the world over. If you came here to live without knowing anyone, and were not an outgoing sort of person, you could feel very lonely indeed, despite the outward displays of friendliness. So it is important to make good friends, to use local amenities and services, even though they might be more expensive than those in the big town, and to get yourself involved in what is going on.
I have lived here now for six years and feel a part of the community.
Although I may be described as being mildly eccentric by the natives, as I refuse “to blend in”, I enjoy being a little different. When I go abroad for a visit, I look forward to arriving back in my sleepy little town, that I am pleased to call home.
I always bring back presents for my closest friends, who appreciate the honour attached, as much, if not more, than their value, and as it is very much the case in a small Brazilian community, that who you know, is more important than what you know, it helps to oil the wheels!