Volunteer in Mission to Brazil

18 June 2007


Thankfully I had told some people how I didn't know about the last metro strike, because somebody mentioned to me on Wednesday that there was another strike. They bascially run the metro during the morning rush hour and that's it. So you can get to work normally, but to get home, you have to be more creative. For me, this basically meant getting up at 5:30 and leaving home earlier to take the additional bus to get downtown to catch the 2nd bus at its starting point. I think that I have seen more sunrises in the past 12 months than in the previous 5 years. But on the positive side, at least my apartment windows face east so I can see the glorious sunrises over the mountains that surround Belo Horizonte.

I'd previously helped a colleague in Liberdade type her paper for college, so this week she asked me to help her both Thursday and Friday typing papers after the project was over. Late Thursday night, I realized with a moderate amount of panic that I had not yet purchased my plane ticket to get between Belo Horizonte and São Paulo for my upcoming trip to the U.S. Since I was in Liberdade on Friday without internet access, I called my colleague at São Gabriel to ask her to research whether or not I could now buy a ticket on the cheap airline (Gol, the Brazilian equivalent of Southwest Airlines) with an international credit card. (Previously you could only buy a ticket online with a Brazilian credit card and a Brazilian social security number.) If not, I was going to have to try to get to an airport to buy the ticket on Friday afternoon, because after Friday, once I would be less than two weeks before my departure, I expected the price to increase significantly.

In an unusual turn of events, my cell phone rang during the day on Friday, and it was a young man who was one of the two Brazilian participants chosen to participate in an international youth meeting of the United Methodist Church in the U.S. My supervisors are both out of town, and they had given him my name and number because he was having difficulty getting a visa. He had talked to the coordinator of the meeting in the U.S., but he wasn't quite sure what she said about her conversation with the American consulate in São Paulo, so he did an international conference call to have me speak with her. (We still don't know if he's going to get the visa or not, even though the meeting started this week.)

After finishing typing up the paper on Friday afternoon, I took the bus into downtown to catch my neighborhood bus and went straight to the internet cafe to try to buy my plane ticket to São Paulo. While I was in the internet cafe, my cell phone kept receiving blank text messages from what used to be my Canadian friend's cell phone. After the 5th blank message, I was worried that maybe she'd been kidnapped or something. I finally sent a message asking if it was her, and got a message that it was a Belgian/Canadian acquaintance to whom she'd given her cell phone. He was trying to get me to call his wife and sent their home number. After some difficulties with the airline website, I finally managed to get the ticket and went home to decompress. But first, I called the Belgian/Canadian woman, who had recently returned from a visit to Canada. She and her husband were in the same visa situation as me--their visas were in the process of renewal when they left the country--and they had considerable difficulty upon their return with immigration in São Paulo. That makes me a little nervous about trying to get back to Brazil, but at least I'll go to the Federal Police office to get a letter explaining that I am in the process of renewal.

Originally, I was supposed to go to my friend's house on Friday night to be able to leave early Saturday morning with her family for the church youth retreat on Saturday, but I was so exhausted that I asked if I could meet them on Saturday morning. So Saturday morning I was up again at the crack of dawn to be able to get to the church by 7:15, even though we didn't end up leaving the church until much later. We ended up going to a pretty nice retreat center on the outskirts of a nearby suburb. It had a couple of small swimming pools, a sand volleyball court, a grass soccer court (of course!) and a small orchard. The highlights of the retreat were the 10:00 PM treasure hunt (I told my friend that I didn't think that grown Americans would ever go for running around in the dark out in the country) on Saturday night, and a Bible trivia competition on Sunday morning that included whipped cream in the face for your team's incorrect answers or the correct answers of your opponents. We left there yesterday afternoon to come back to Belo Horizonte.

On Friday night, I remembered that I'd forgotten again about Father's Day on Sunday, so I planned to go by the community center in São Gabriel on my way home from the church retreat on Sunday to be able to call my father over the internet. I sent a text message to the caretaker at São Gabriel to ask him to leave the building door unlocked for me to get in on Sunday afternoon. When I didn't receive a reply for him, I called him on Sunday afternoon, and he said he would be there.

I was hoping that my ride from the retreat would drop me at the community center, but no such luck (although they did ask me if I wanted to leave anything with them to pick up next week at church), so I had to wait more than half an hour for a bus to take me to the community center. But while we were en route, the bus turned a different way, at which point I realized I'd gotten on the wrong bus. (There are two routes with the same number and name that go to the São Gabriel neighborhood, but they have little signs in the window to distinguish the one that I take that goes right by the community center from the other one.) This meant getting off at the next stop and retracing the route to walk the rest of the way to the community center. Thankfully, I only had one big backpack with wheels with me. Then when I was about a block away from the community center, I realized that I didn't have my other set of keys with me to open up the office (where I needed to use the computer). I was hoping that maybe the caretaker had a key. When I arrived and asked him about the key, he said that he didn't have one. To try to get from São Gabriel to my neighborhood and back on a Sunday (when the buses are least frequent) was not feasible in less than two hours, so I called the secretary who lives in São Gabriel and asked if I could go to her house to borrow her key. This meant walking about 15-20 minutes to her neighborhood and then taking the bus back (rather than walking back up the steep hill). I finally got back to the community center and was able to make the call over the internet, but nobody answered. I called my father's cell phone, too, but no luck. I left messages in both places and then called my sister to make sure that nothing bad had happened to my parents. She hadn't talked to them yet, but assured me that they were probably fine. It turned out that they were in the backyard with my brother's family, who'd driven down from Chicago to visit. I waited a good while for the bus to go home and was surprised at the number of people getting on at the stop across from a local university. Then I remembered that several universities held their entrance exams this weekend.

At 9:00 last night, I was already nodding off, so I went to bed. My parents did call me at 10:00, so I talked to them briefly and heard about their day. I'm still feeling a major lack of sleep, so hopefully I can catch up over the next few days.

And now for the knitting update...
The kids at the project in Liberdade are bringing their work to proudly show me (or to have me fix problems). I've asked them to bring their scarves this Thursday to take pictures. It turns out some of the boys have already sold theirs--quite the entrepreneurs. An additional positive result is that the kids are also beginning to teach their family and neighbors how to knit.

It seems like people let their kids use pacifiers much longer here. I frequently see children who are 3 or 4 with them and have even seen children as old as 6 or 7 still using pacifiers.

The programs that my supervisors run at the two locations here in Belo Horizonte clearly make a huge difference, not only in the life of children, but also employees and the community overall. I have seen former participants in the programs as well as former employees come back to visit the Community Center in São Gabriel, and they always mention how much that place positively affected their lives. This month alone, at least one former student and one former employee came back to visit.

And now it's time to figure out how to get to the doctor's office for my checkup this afternoon.


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