Volunteer in Mission to Brazil

25 September 2006

Planes, trains, automobiles...and RVs

I have a lot of catching up to do. When I was traveling in the U.S., I did not have an opportunity to update the blog.

The first notable thing was that two colleagues from São Gabriel took me to the airport when I was leaving Belo Horizonte. (I asked Robert for a ride, but he was so scared at how much luggage I might have, he asked Daniel, to come along.) Daniel grew up in the São Gabriel project and had never been to the airport or seen an airplane on the ground, so it was an exciting event for him. After I checked in my bags, we were going up to the observation deck to see the planes. Robert and I headed up the escalator and then turned around to see Daniel still at the bottom, looking quite apprehensive. Apparently, he’d never been on an escalator, so we had to coax him into stepping on it.

Daniel seeing his first plane up-close

My trip to the U.S. was a long but short, starting in St. Paul, Minnesota to see friends I’ve known for more than 20 years, then to New Hampshire to visit with my youngest brother (and my parents, who were also visiting him), then to Maine to spend a couple of days with some friends at their lakehouse, then briefly back to Massachusetts, where I first caught a ride in my parents’ RV with them and the dog, who my mother loves to refer to as “your other sister.” My parents had generously offered to transport me to Virginia, where we visited my (real) sister’s family and celebrated my niece’s second birthday, and then to drop me off in North Carolina, where I got to visit with my church family and to finish shopping for items my Brazilian friends and colleagues requested that I bring back from the U.S.

That tells you where I was, but now some highlights from those places. Visiting in St. Paul was nice because this was the first time I was around the youngest child when he was old enough to be actively conversing. The three kids have such a joie de vivre and spontaneously gave me some memorable compliments.

Members of the Bowland family

I hadn’t seen my youngest brother in more than one year, so it was good to meet his new girlfriend and his very friendly neighbors and let him show me his new car. We also celebrated his birthday with a cookout at the RV camp and invited people from the neighboring RVs.

The birthday barbecue

This was my first RV experience ever and my first camping-type experience in more than 25 years. In order to understand how many repairs you can be doing on an RV, you have to combine the number of repairs you have to do on your house with the number of repairs you have to do on your car. I quickly realized that the best RV parks have electric, water and sewer hookups in addition to free wireless internet access (the RV park in Massachusetts got top prize).

I took a brief train ride to get from Massachusetts to Maine to hang out with friends I hadn’t seen since their wedding two years ago. I got to kayak for the 2nd time and play Boggle, and my parents drove up to pick me up at their house in Massachusetts after we returned from the lake house.

Lisa & Jeff in Maine

On the journey from Massachusetts to Virginia, we stopped in New Jersey, met for dinner some friends from our old church in East Orange and spent the night in the church parking lot. It was the first time I’d seen that town in about 15 years, so it was surreal to drive past our old house, my elementary school, the library, the park, etc.

Part of the East Orange gang

The primary reason to go to Virginia was to be there for my niece's 2nd birthday. She is very funny; she has finally learned to jump and jumps everywhere. She talks quite a bit in English and Spanish (her nanny speaks Spanish).

The Birthday Girl and Family

While in Virginia, I was able to go give a presentation at Harmony UMC in Hamilton, where the assistant pastor was a member from the most recent mission team we that hosted in Belo Horizonte. I was delighted to also get to visit with two couples who were part of that same mission team and drove quite a distance to be there.

Joan and me in front of Harmony UMC

Also during my time in Virginia, I was also able to go into Washington DC to buy some English-as-a-Second-Language textbooks and meet a friend for lunch.

In Durham (NC), I was happy to have my visit coincide with the meeting of our church’s women’s group and also to be able to visit with friends from church and my former job. I was able to drive to another town about one hour away to visit with my friends who’d moved from Durham a few years ago, meet their newest family member and catch up with her older brothers and parents (oh yes, oh yes!).

Five Frankos + one Piggee

It was my first time to attend a worship service in our new location, which actually used to be a church. After years of worshiping in a school gymnasium, it was very different to be in a real sanctuary. The day I was returning to Brazil, I spent a little time weeding at a friend’s house that has been empty for quite a while and now will be sold.

I had a sizeable layover in Miami, and the big entertainment there was watching a mouse dart out further and further from its home inside the wall out to waiting area in broad daylight. Quite a few of us were watching it, and, surprisingly, nobody shrieked in terror. I guess I also was more brave than usual because of the other people there--normally I'd be running from a mouse.

Doing yard work seemed to be the recipe for sleeping on the long flight from Miami to São Paulo (I almost never sleep more than 2-3 hours on those flights). When I woke up, I was even scared that I had missed breakfast. It turned out that the attendants were just very late serving it, and they were hurrying to collect the trays as we were about to touch down on the runway.

It was great to arrive back in Brazil, the land of free luggage carts, and I was pleasantly shocked to encounter the shortest line I’ve ever seen in Brazilian customs. I was surprised to find out with my temporary visa that I am now considered a resident of Brazil; I still went through the line for foreigners. I had quite a bit of time to hang out in the São Paulo airport and walked around it a few times. It was very strange to see the formerly booming Varig section of that airport as a ghost town now that the Brazilian airline is about to go out of business.

It was a relief to get picked up at the airport Belo Horizonte with all of my heavy luggage last Tuesday afternoon. It actually felt like coming home. On Wednesday and Thursday, I returned to the two different projects, and received a hero’s welcome from the children at both places. Since I have never been very good at sports, it is probably the closest I'll ever get to the elation you feel when you score the winning point and your teammates mob you.

The weather here has changed, and the dry season is officially over as spring has sprung. We are having almost daily sudden downpours that usually last for 30 minutes or less and then clear up. When the storm is almost over, it's very strange to see so much water coming down while the sun is shining. I remember loving "sunshowers" as a kid, but these are more like "sun cloudbursts." Another cool thing is that there seem to be some trees flowering during each season, even during the dry winter.

One funny thing was that I was preparing some information to distribute to incoming volunteer teams from the U.S., so some colleagues and I were having a discussion about cultural no-nos that visitors have committed in the past. For example, I had no idea that Brazilians find it absolutely disgusting to brush your teeth in the kitchen sink. I might even have done it here before...

I am coming full-circle as I end my first year as a Volunteer in Mission, although almost half that time was spent in the U.S. waiting for my visa. It's hard to believe it was only a year ago that I quit my job, sold my stuff and headed for parts unknown. I have learned so much about myself and others, and I'm sure the learning will continue.