Volunteer in Mission to Brazil

30 April 2007


I thought I'd post a picture of the cashew fruit, which I'd never seen in the U.S. The cashew nut is inside the curved green appendage on the outside of the fruit. Luckily, I did not try to extract the nut, as I now have read that there is a substance inside the green part that causes a skin rash. Here people eat the fruit in addition to the nuts and also drink the juice.

This past week the rest of the kids at Liberdade received their own knitting needles. By the way, I’d like to officially thank Carol at Shuttles, Needles and Hooks in Cary, NC for the discount she gave me on knitting supplies for the kids when I was there last year. It was rewarding not only to have the kids stay after their snack to ask for help with their knitting, but also to visit one home on Thursday evening (I stayed overnight in Liberdade to teach an English workshop to the teenagers/young adults on Thursday night) and see the youngest boy sitting in the kitchen, concentrating on his knitting, not sitting in front of the TV, like he usually would be doing. I think we have an opportunity to use needlework to reach the kids in a new way, help them build up self-esteem, etc. and because of this potential, I think, I am experiencing more difficulties.

Last week I went to see the film “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith. I was rushing to get to the theater on time because I’d stopped downtown to try to get my haircut and ended up spending two hours in the salon. Thankfully, I ran into my friend exiting the same metro train at the mall, and we had a few minutes to spare before the film started. I think that I perceived that story differently than I previously would have because of my Brazilian experience...I found it quite tragic that the protagonist didn’t get any substantial help from family or friends. With the interconnectedness and interdependency of individuals and families in Brazilian society, I was thinking such a story would be rare here, but then I realized that there are homeless people here, despite this interconnectedness.

In a discussion this past week, I made a brief reference to the Bible story of Abraham and Isaac to a colleague who soon amazed me by recounting in great detail the entire story up to the sacrifice. (This woman had not previously demonstrated a major knowledge of the Bible.) At this point another colleague said, “I don’t know that part because that’s when I fell asleep.” I was trying to understand if she meant she feel asleep during church or what, and then finally I realized they were talking about a movie version that is frequently shown on television here. When it's faithful to the true story, what a great way to get the message out.

Hopefully with repeated treatments and my new haircut, the lice are history. I forgot to mention previously that the difference between the American & Brazilian instructions for combating lice is a typical example of cultural and stylistic differences between the two countries. The Brazilian instructions say use the fine-tooth comb, apply the medicated lotion to your scalp, and soak all your hairbrushes and things in very hot water for several minutes. I looked up some instructions from a few American web sites, and they were much more extreme (probably unnecessarily so): wash in hot water all bedsheets and clothes used within two days before you started the treatment and dry on high heat, soak all combs/brushes in alcohol, vacuum the floor and furniture, etc.

Starting the Saturday-before-last, the shower in my apartment was leaking a lot, so much so that I had to turn off the bathroom water valve after each use of the water in the bathroom. I spent a lot of time and experienced a lot of frustration last week waiting for the handyman. He’s such a nice, efficient, cheap source of assistance that it’s impossible to be aggravated once he finally shows up, even though he may have failed to show up for one or more scheduled visits without calling to cancel. I finally got the major leak in the shower fixed on Saturday, thank goodness.

Lesson of the week: If somebody says to you “This is probably not the best time to tell you this...” take them at their word and ask them to tell you at another time. I was already very upset and sharing my pain with a colleague when that particular phrase was uttered. What followed did, indeed, only make matters worse. One of the hardest things for me to deal with here is feeling misinterpreted or misunderstood, which, unfortunately, when you’re a stranger trying to live and work in a foreign land, is bound to happen somewhat regularly. It reminds me of my confusion when I was first exposed to "Black" society as a young adult and felt I was being judged on a mysterious set of rules that I hadn't learned.

I know that my foreign friends and colleagues in the U.S. complained about how Americans would often issue meaningless, vague invitations--“We should do lunch sometime.” and would never follow-up on it. I feel like I am missing a critical link in the friendship chain here, but I’m not sure how much is cultural and how much is just me. People are super-friendly, even giving their phone numbers but not making specific plans or invitations. I guess my expectation here (perhaps unrealistic, but one cultural guidebook agrees with me) is that if somebody really wants to do something, they will issue a specific invitation. I don’t know how much of what I perceive as missing is me not feeling comfortable inviting myself to somebody’s house (I have done it a few times, though).

I’m trying to discern what I should do next year, and was hit by the revelation that I would need to begin all over again even if I returned to the U.S.--having to address the needs of shelter, clothing and transportation in addition to a job. I’m not sure why that was such a surprise, but I guess I hadn’t really spent any major time in the U.S. with my new limited amount of possessions (other than the 4 months I was waiting for my visa). Here in Brazil it’s different to live with very few possessions because this was not previously my “reality,” but I have a feeling in the U.S., should I return next year, it will be quite a different experience.

Today was a planning meeting for the "educators" at both projects, and it went pretty well. One of the exercises was to tell who you pretended (or wanted) to be when you were a kid and then dress up as that character (using a few costumes that were made available). I chose Jeanie from I Dream of Jeanie, and my colleagues were various superheroes and some other characters with whom I was not familiar.

By the way, I am very glad to be getting over a cold. I was happy to be able to spend some time with a Canadian acquaintance here, who, unfortunately, is moving next month. She has also lent me several good books in English that I've enjoyed reading.

Tomorrow is a holiday, and I'm scheduled to go with some of my churchmates to the zoo, which I've never visited here. Also, this Friday is another attempt to have a gathering of foreigners here in Belo Horizonte. We'll see how it goes.

23 April 2007

Indian Day

The biggest excitement here this past week was the slated arrival of a group of indigenous guests that were going to be participating in a cultural program last week at the Methodist school, Izabela Hendrix, and sleeping at São Gabriel. April 19th is officially "Indian Day" in Brazil, and the group was supposed to arrive on the afternoon of Tuesday the 17th from the neighboring state of Bahia. The staff and children here at São Gabriel were very excited and anxious to meet the guests, but none moreso than Daniel. Daniel is currently working mornings at São Gabriel and leaving after lunch, but on the day the group was slated to arrive, he showed up at São Gabriel in the late afternoon with a flimsy excuse for skipping his nightschool classes and spent the night waiting with Valdener (the caretaker) for the guests. A few of us stayed after work to greet them but gave up around 9:00 PM. The group finally arrived at 2:30 a.m. because their van broke down on the highway.

The next morning, the group was off to their engagement downtown before most of us had arrived at São Gabriel. Daniel spent all of his time Wednesday telling people about the group, what they looked like, what they did when they arrived, etc. Wednesday night, I ended up staying after work waiting to let the group back in, and although somebody had called from downtown at 5:30 saying the group was on their way back, they didn't arrive until a little after 8:00. I opened the dormitory for them, told them about the food waiting for them in the kitchen and asked if I could take a few pictures because Silene had asked me to take some with her camera. They all spoke Portuguese, and the only obvious difference was that they have body and facial tattoos. I asked one of the girls what the name of their tribe meant, and she didn't know. One of the little boys (in the last photo below) came up to me when I was sitting outside and asked me if I knew how to tie shoes. When I replied "Yes," much to my amusement, he then put his tennis shoe on, shoved it in my face and said "tie it."

On Friday, the group returned a little earlier from the school downtown and had a chance to interact with the Shade and Fresh Water kids at São Gabriel. Although I wasn't there because I was at Liberdade, Silene took photos and was kind enough to let me use the photos from her camera. The temporary coordinator here remarked that it's funny that the kids here are so accustomed to receiving foreign visitors that they no longer even bat an eye, but when a group of Brazilian indians arrives, everybody is in a frenzy.

Two boys in the group of indigenous guests at São Gabriel

Making crafts

Making crafts (cont.)

I found it interesting that this guy's feet were tatooed as well

Thanks to Silene for the following pictures:

Kids at São Gabriel on Indian Day

Some of the indigenous guests with the São Gabriel kids on Friday

Guess which one is the "indian"...the one on the right, who was the one that had me tie his shoes

Thursday at Liberdade, I handed out knitting needles and yarn for the first group of kids to be able to take home. They were very excited, especially when I showed them a pattern book that had hundreds of swatches of various geometric designs that you can knit. I explained that with the stitches I would teach them, they could make many of those designs. Several of the kids were saying, "I want to make this one and this one and that one...", but I was really impressed when one of the boys said, "If my mother tells me we need a present for Cousin John and we don't have any money, I will tell her, 'I will make one' and if we need a present for baby Kathy, I will say 'I can make one'", etc. For the knitting classes, I split the kids up into mini-groups so I won't have more than 6 or 7 at a time, so each mini-group has a knitting class every two weeks. The kids that didn't have their class last week (and therefore didn't get their needles yet) were pestering me "PLEASE let me have my needles now. I can't wait a whole week. PLEASE!". It's good to see them so motivated about something.

But it's never completely smooth sailing for very long. The very next day, the coordinator at Liberdade had to go to a doctor's appointment and left after reviewing the behavior rules for the project with them and saying that the teacher of a particular class is the authority for them at that time. All of this went out the window less than five minutes after she left. The first group I had was difficult but bearable, and we got through the theater exercises I had spontaneously come up with when I knew we, the two remaining teachers, would each have to each take one big group (and therefore I wouldn't teach English like I normally would on Friday). The second group was horrible, and even the kids that are normally well-behaved didn't stop throwing gravel the entire time (my "classroom" is the garden in back), and finally after several attempts to get them back on track, I consulted with the other teacher and dismissed them without their snack (which I already knew was only koolaid and cookies that day).

By some miracle, the afternoon kids on Friday were well-behaved (they are normally the most difficult ones), and I was so grateful that I sang to them during their snack time to thank them for their good behavior.

I had already planned a "Me and Jesus" date for Friday night after work because the Cultural Center downtown was offering a free Scandanavian film. [I often use the phrase "Me and Jesus" to describe situations where I'm alone.] I stopped at a luncheonette to get a small pastry to eat for dinner and waited to be let into the area where they were showing the film. Although I knew nothing about it other than the Portuguese title and the name of the director, it was actually pretty good, and I enjoyed it. Afterward, I only had to go around the corner to catch the bus to my neighborhood. When I got back to my neighborhood, I was walking towards the small park/plaza down the street from my building when I heard a guitar playing. I saw several people sitting, chatting and listening to the guitarist, so I stopped and sat with them. It turns out that everybody is from the neighborhood and that the guitarist likes to play there every once in a while for a "serenade." When he started to play "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," I said that it was an American song, and then he asked me if I could sing it. So I ended up sitting there and singing various American and Brazilian songs with the group for more than an hour before finally leaving for my apartment. It was really nice to have such a nice evening after being down for a while.

And a final word about music. I'm not sure why only recently, I began to think more about the lyrics to various sacred songs and about the intensity of the emotions the composers must have experienced. I've long known the lyrics to many hymns, but for some reason have just now started to stop and imagine what the composers felt to inspire such music.

16 April 2007

Near relapse

Since my first discovery of lice a couple of weeks ago, I've been combing my hair twice a day with the fine-tooth comb and only finding a few tiny eggs. Just in case, I used another over-the-counter anti-lice lotion on last Tuesday or so. Imagine my dismay to find one huge louse in my hair on Thursday after returning from working with the kids at Liberdade. At least I was pretty sure that it came from one of the kids and that I got it before it had a chance to reproduce. When I talked to the other teachers about it on Friday, they had a pretty good idea that it came from one child known to frequently have lice, but she wasn't at the project on Friday. They mentioned something about sending out a note, but I don't think anything was ever done. When I saw that child on Sunday, I lifted her hair, and sure enough, underneath was completely full of nits (lice eggs). This is one of the children that loves to hug everybody, so what is one to do without constantly catching lice? As I mentioned before, it seems that the adults here (except for me) are immune. Somebody mentioned a prescription medicine that you can take to become immune, so I'll have to see if that's a feasibility. I felt bad because I know this child's mother, and, not coincidentally, she is rarely at home taking care of her kids. In one of my conversations with the mother when I first arrived here, she spoke about her desire to go to the U.S. to work and live, even if it meant leaving her six children behind.

On a brighter note, Sunday I went to the Methodist church in the neighboring town of Betim to help out with the Liberdade group as they performed their Easter cantata and played recorders during the Sunday school time. The group was fairly well-behaved, and it was great that the church went to collect the kids who live in a neighboring rural area from their own Shade and Fresh Water project, "To Live and to Grow," to watch the performance. Here are some pictures from Sunday.

Waiting for their pre- performance snack

Jesus, the disciples and the children

The crucifixion

The whole cast

Playing recorders

The children of "To Live and to Grow" project in Betim

This weekend I was thinking how grateful I am for the laptop that my church gave me and the digital camera that my parents gave me for my work here. When I first found out that Volunteers in Mission recommends that individual volunteers bring a laptop and a digital camera, I panicked because I owned neither at the time. I have used them both extensively and can't imagine what my life here would be like without them.

The high point of my weekend was when one of the discipline-challenged kids from Liberdade showed me on Sunday morning a wristband that he had knit and sewed all by himself. I asked him where he got needles, and he said that he used barbecue skewers. What creativity! And the worksmanship wasn't bad for someone who's only had a few knitting lessons.

Saturday, I went downtown to a craft store that had large quantities of knitting needles and would take credit cards to buy more knitting needles and yarn so I could give them to the kids in Liberdade to take home. They'd already been bugging me about taking the needles and yarn home to continue their work, and I'd promised that whoever wanted to continue with the knitting class would get their own needles and yarn. I was able to bargain the price down a bit, and I'm hoping that by returning with a photo of the kids and thank you notes from them that I might be able to get a donation from the store next time.

Over the past couple of weeks, the weather has changed and it's getting colder. The last weeks before the temperature shift, the jasmine trees were going out with a bang and blooming full force. Walking home at night from the bus stop was intoxicating.

I had an attack of consumerism this weekend, with a strong urge to go shopping either at the mega-store (similar to K-Mart) or at the Hippie Fair on Sunday. The only thing I succumbed to was to buy the knitting supplies on Saturday. It's only slightly easier to resist the temptation to go shopping when you don't have any money...

Friday night was another of the monthly meetings for English-speaking foreigners that I've been trying to organize here in Belo Horizonte. It's been an uphill battle trying to get a critical mass of people. They're here, but I don't know if we just chose an inconvenient time/day/place (the people who helped me set the time and location have never attended, for example) or if people aren't interested or what. This time, three people eventually showed up who were all from a local language school, and none of whom were native English speakers (two weren't foreigners). So we spoke Portuguese the whole time. Not what I'd been hoping for.

When discussing TV programs here, I'm finding it difficult to be honest about which programs are spin-offs of things from the U.S. without making it seem like everything is an imitation of American TV. I've tried to emphasize the uniquely Brazilian shows--the Brazilian soap opera, for example. Some of the U.S. reality TV shows are broadcast on free television here such as Trading Spouses, Big Brother, etc.

I started thinking about nursing homes now that I've seen a wheel-chair-bound, elderly neighbor across the street being pushed around the neighborhood by a nurse. Nursing homes exist here but are not nearly as prevalent as they are in the U.S., which I think is a good thing. Elders generally live with family until they die. Yet another positive thing to learn from Brazilian culture.

09 April 2007

Traditions and culture

Before I get into the deep thoughts, here are some pictures from the Easter Musical at the two projects where I work. The Liberdade performance was on Wednesday night, and the Sao Gabriel one was on Thursday night. After spending two days hearing those songs all day in rehearsals and the performances, the first part of the weekend, I kept catching myself humming parts of the musical.


Constructing a stage
I never cease to be amazed at how much is pulled together within a short time.

Valquiria and the crown of thorns
Brazilian creativity never ceases...cover rolled-up newspaper with cloth, insert toothpicks, and presto!

Most of the cast and some of the choir

Standing-room only


The disciples

The crucifixion scene

Leia (the music/Christian Education teacher) congratulating the kids

The choir's moment of glory on the stage afterwards

So the big thing I've been thinking about as I've now experienced the two biggest Christian holidays (Christmas and Easter) in Brazil is what makes up your culture and how much of it can be successfully replaced with something else.

During Easter, I was interested to see what the Brazilian traditions would be, but it's very difficult to differentiate what is a particular family's traditions, what is a particular religious denomination's traditions (more on that in a minute) and what is a country-wide tradition. One thing that is very cool is that Portuguese uses the same word for Passover and Easter, "Pascoa," differentiating Passover by calling it "Pascoa Judia." This leaves no ambiguity from whence the Easter holiday arises. The most wide-spread Easter tradition that I noticed across-the-board was the purchasing and giving of elaborately wrapped chocolate Easter eggs. I was happy to receive one on Thursday along with the rest of the staff of the two projects after our staff Easter lunch of salted codfish.

It seems that the larger holiday in Brazil is Good Friday (called "Holy Friday," it is a national holiday), where families tend to gather and eat salted codfish or some other type of fish. I went to the Good Friday service in the morning at the Central Methodist Church downtown. The mood was not as sombre as I was used to, and I was surprised that the bishop even focused on the resurrection in part of his sermon. (I'm more accustomed to a sad, introspective Good Friday service where you concentrate on the crucifixion.) Easter Sunday, I went to an early Sunday school (it really was a mini-worship service) followed by a breakfast. I recognized a couple of the traditional Easter songs from the U.S. and heard a few catchy new ones. People were not more dressed up than usual, unlike in the U.S., which is probably a good thing. In my travels around the city on Sunday, it didn't seem any different from a normal Sunday. I was blessed to spend both Good Friday and Easter with a family from my church that has jokingly adopted me as another "daughter."

Although it's been interesting to see what Christmas and Easter are like in Brazil, I've found myself missing my own culture and traditions. I'm not sure what is more significant--the particular traditions of my family or of the general cultural traditions in the U.S. (I suspect the former). Logically, it has been much easier to adapt to things that were new to me such as the Juninha festivals (country bumpkin festivals in June/July) and Carnaval; I've found it much harder to adapt to the holidays for which I already had my cultural point of reference.

The interesting thing about being connected to the Brazilian Methodist Church is that it is very different than the Methodist Church in the U.S. Perhaps because Protestants are the distinct minority in Brazil, the Brazilian Methodist Church tries to avoid things that might be considered Catholic, such as candles, icons/images and liturgies. Also, because it was founded by conservative Southern missionaries from the U.S., the Methodist Church officially bans drinking and smoking (and sometimes dancing, depending on the pastor), although there are many jokes about Methodists drinking clandestinely.

I had an interesting discussion with my supervisor, Teca, before she left to travel to the U.S., and she explained that the Catholic church's style tended to reach the masses here because of the liturgies, repetitions, etc. in which everybody can participate--including those who can't read. The Protestant church tends to focus on reading the Bible, which automatically eliminates people that are partially literate or illiterate.

Despite meeting wonderful people, having interesting experiences and seeing much beauty, these cultural longings make me wonder if I could ever live here permanently. For the first real time, I'm having my doubts.

03 April 2007

Photos of Palmital project

As promised...

02 April 2007

Fine-tooth comb

I wish this was an April Fools joke, but it's not...
Imagine my surprise when I discovered this morning that my itchy scalp was not merely the result of sweating in the hot weather or, perhaps, dandruff, but rather, my very first lice infestation. Gross! Thankfully, I actually had some cash and a phone book and could call the pharmacy, who delivered the lotion and fine-tooth comb that the pharmacist recommended. (This is, of course, after I had to look up the Portuguese word for lice in the dictionary.) I'm kind of a queasy person, so I was barely able to extract the little buggers from my head without throwing up or passing out, but by the grace of God, I managed. I also made sure to call both of the projects where I work so they could check the kids. Apparently, head lice is even more common here than in the U.S. because of the tropical climate. When I arrived at São Gabriel and was joking with my colleagues about it, it seemed that everybody had experienced head lice at least once as a child. I also mentioned my bout with self-pity this morning that being single and living alone, it took me longer to realize what the problem was and that it was harder to treat because I can't see the parts of my head where the lice love to hang out--behind the ears and at the nape of the neck. My colleague, Fernanda, joked that she was thinking another option if I had a spouse would be to have someone to whom I could pass the lice and who could have a worse infestation than me. But nobody here has experienced it as an adult. I must be special (and perhaps lacking some immunity?)... In any case, I'm now paranoid and imagining that every slight itch, drip of sweat, etc. is a louse that I somehow missed in my hour with the fine-tooth comb this morning.

The weekend
This weekend was very busy and afforded little-to-no relaxation. Saturday I came to São Gabriel to finish editing the PowerPoint presentation and flyer for my supervisors to take with them on their month-long trip to the U.S. and also to take pictures of the Shade and Fresh Water training meeting. It was impressive that not only were the volunteer trainers for the Shade and Fresh Water program working on Saturday, but also the kitchen staff (who worked extra Friday night through Sunday afternoon to cook for the training); two of the teachers from the project who were preparing the background scenes for the Easter cantata; some young volunteers from a local college that were working on getting the computers in the computer lab in good working order; and my supervisors, who were getting ready to leave on their month-long trip the following morning. One of the teachers is even going to college at night now, and Saturday and Sunday are her only "free" days to study, clean, etc.

Saturday evening, I wanted to go home, but I'd been told about a birthday worship service/party for one of the teenagers in my church and ended up going to that. I was actually leaving São Gabriel around 7:00 and about to walk to the bus stop to catch the bus home when I ran into three young women from church walking to the party, so I figured it was a sign that I should go. It was a pretty good hike from the community center to the church, especially with my laptop in my backpack. Nobody told me it was for her 15th birthday (which, seen as a passage to adulthood, is a very big deal here), otherwise I would not have gone in my blue jeans. Although I was underdressed and hadn't showered that evening (unlike everybody else), nobody seemed to pay attention to my clothes or treat me any differently, which was nice. Before the event was over, one friend from church walked me to the nearby metro station to catch the last or next-to-last train home, and I arrived around 11:00 pm.

Sunday morning, I got up early to catch the bus to the neighboring town of Santa Luzia (~30 minute ride) to visit a Shade and Fresh Water project that only meets on Sundays in the Palmital neighborhood. Thankfully, the coordinator was at the bus stop to meet me, and he walked me around the town a little to see the fair that was in the town center. In some ways it resembled a smaller version of the "producer's" or "hippie" fair that they have every Sunday morning in downtown Belo Horizonte. One major difference that this fair sold a lot of used things (electronics, plumbing and hardware supplies, etc.) in addition to produce, new clothes and jewelry. On my journey to that neighborhood, I'd noticed several people with various types of plants in their hands, and finally it hit me that it was Palm Sunday.

In theory the project starts at 9:00, but it takes a little while for the majority of the kids to wander in. I took lots of pictures of the kids, their various activities and their modest facilities. They meet on a property abandoned by the school system, and there's a lot of possibility for structural improvement (crumbling walls, missing windows, etc.). There are no kitchen facilities, and only one room has electricity, so the volunteers had to prepare the snacks for the kids at their homes and transport them to the project. After the project ended at 11:30, the coordinator walked me back to the bus stop, where I was fortunate to immediately catch the bus back to Belo Horizonte (the wait for a bus on Sundays can seem eternal...).

Rather than going all the way home, I got off about halfway to go to house of friends from church to eat lunch and give an English class to the two sisters and one of their cousins. If I experienced the desire to take a Sunday nap when I lived in the U.S., the temptation is at least double here where the lunches are more substantial and the houses lack air conditioning. We managed to stay awake the whole afternoon and left to go to church at 6 something. Originally, I was thinking that I would not go to church on Sunday because I couldn't go in the morning, but then when I realized that it was Palm Sunday plus Communion Sunday, I resolved to go, even though that would mean another late-night arrival to my apartment. (It's funny how one's definition of "late-night" changes as one gets older...)

I was curious to see what the Brazilian Methodist Palm Sunday would look like, but other than having the choir sing and the dance group perform (neither of which happens every Sunday), there was no substantial difference. I'm not sure how much of that is the Brazilian Methodist way and how much is the style of the individual church.

Poetry in motion
It's interesting how popular poetry is here, across all social classes. I was surprised to hear about it twice on Saturday evening--first when the church custodian mentioned that she loved to write poetry and had a whole notebook filled with poems, and second when the aunt of the birthday girl read a poem during the special birthday worship service (and the person next to me mentioned that the aunt loves to compose poetry for every special occasion)--and again the very next day, when I saw a very moving booklet of poems written by the birthday girl herself.

By design
Another amazing form of creativity here is sewing. In the U.S., if you want to sew something, you go to the fabric store, look through the pattern books, buy a pattern and the material and cut them out to make the garment. Here, if you want to sew a garment (or more likely, have a garment sewn for you), you go to the fabric store, talk to them about what kind of garment you want, buy material, and they will draw a picture of the garment, which you can then take to the seamstress, who will design her own pattern (often in her head, without actually making a paper pattern), cut the material and sew the garment.

Can you see me now?
On Wednesday morning, I went to see an opthalmologist recommended by the optical shop close to my neighborhood. My glasses haven't been doing too well (lenses occasionally popping out) since I took a volleyball in the face in January, and I hadn't had a check-up in two years. As the guys at the optical shop said, she was super-friendly, even wanting to invite me to her church or to her home when she found out I was Protestant. I told her I had scheduled to visit the Palmital project on Sunday, and she said the next Sunday she would be traveling to visit her family in another state. We will see if she calls after Easter. I didn't expect to get my pupils dilated, and I left the office right before lunch unable to focus and blinded by the mid-day sun. Somehow, I managed to catch the right bus to get back to São Gabriel and take refuge from the sun.

My generation
Something quite enviable in Brazilian society is the almost complete lack of a generation gap. I think I've previously mentioned how you'll often see several generations of a family socializing together. I'm trying to study how this is achieved because it's definitely worth replicating.

Tent-making time
It's tent-making time again as I am almost out of savings from when I was able to work in the U.S. last year while waiting for my visa. I am sure that God will provide me with opportunities to "make tents" and use my skills to be able to raise some revenue. I was able to do one scientific translation last week, and might also eventually be teaching English lessons to that student. One particular focus right now is my next round-trip ticket between the U.S. and Brazil. I have the return trip from my last round-trip ticket scheduled to visit the U.S. at the end of June. I was planning to book a frequent-flyer ticket to return to Brazil at the end of July and come back to the U.S. to visit for Christmas, but that's not looking too likely at the moment. First, the airline dramatically increased the number of miles required for flying between the U.S. and Brazil. I asked my home church in the U.S. if anybody might be able to donate miles to me, and one friend will donate the maximum possible (15,000 miles). I could buy the remaining 5,000 miles required for the lowest-level frequent flyer ticket (60,000 miles), but when I looked at the online reservation system, I saw that the only seats available for going to Brazil in July are those requiring 100,000 miles (right now I just have 40,000). I was warned that because of school vacations in Brazil during the month of July, travel is difficult. So right now, the two options seem to be to wait for a fairy godmother to appear with a round-trip frequent-flyer ticket or to buy the next round-trip ticket with my credit card and hope that the money will arrive to eventually pay for it.

Ironies of the week
There are two for this week:
1. In the display case at a newsstand, I saw a DVD of Pope John Paul II right above the latest issue of Playboy magazine.
2. People seem to like to have small, grassy areas here both on public and private property, but lawnmowers are extremely rare. You will usually see people cutting them with weed-whackers.

I'll have to post some pictures tomorrow because I forgot the cable to download pictures from my camera.