Volunteer in Mission to Brazil

25 June 2007

Strike again

I'll be keeping this brief due to the number of things I need to finish before leaving to visit the U.S. on Friday. That is, of course, if I am able to get out as planned because there is yet another strike of the air-traffic controllers. The international flights are not affected, but the domestic ones (i.e. the flight I have to take from Belo Horizonte to São Paulo) have been experiencing major delays.

I also was able to get to the Federal Police last week to get the magic letter explaining that I have the right to legally be in Brazil until my visa extension is either approved or denied. Hopefully that will prevent any problems like my Belgian friends experience on their recent trip. Outside the Federal Police building was hanging the same banner mentioning a strike that I saw the last time I went there in March. I asked the man who helped me if they were still on strike, and he said that the previous strike was for the police sector, and the current strike was a "paralyzation strike" in the administrative sector. He explained that currently on Tuesdays-Thursdays, only the boss is helping people who come in, so I was very happy that I was there on a Friday.

Thank goodness the metro strike was over last week and I could take the shorter trip to get to Liberdade. I was surprised to see the professional knitting results of some of the boys. It turns out that they used some type of contraption with nails that somebody's mother had around the house. They had a few different patterns telling you in what order to wrap the yarn around the various nails. The first thing that all three said about it was that it was much faster than knitting with needles. Whatever works!

Happily, the young man who was trying to participate in the international Methodist youth meeting in Minnesota was able to get his visa, although he missed the first few days because of the delay.

Brazil seems to have much more of a unified culture than the U.S. Almost everybody knows the same core group of songs, soap operas, celebrities (whether musicians, actors or athletes), etc. It's hard to miss when one person breaks into song and whoever is nearby quickly joins in. One day when the staff at São Gabriel, composed of individuals from various educational/socioeconomic levels and spanning an age range of about 35 years, watched a DVD of a pop star in performances with a variety of different singers over the past three decades, almost everybody recognized the majority of the guest singers as well as the songs. Culture in the U.S. is much more compartmentalized--different people who like country music are more likely to know the same songs, but chances are that a country music fan and an opera fan in the U.S. will not know the same songs. Moreover, soccer is clearly the endemic and dominant sport in Brazil, but I don't think that the U.S. could say the same of either football, basketball or baseball.

It's interesting to catch myself doing things in a way that deviates from the norm here. For example, one afternoon I answered the phone when somebody was calling to say that one of the patients in the physical therapy program at São Gabriel would not be able to make his appointment. Because I was getting ready to leave and the physical therapy interns had not arrived yet, I wrote a note and taped it to the door of the physical therapy room. As I was taping the note to the door, somebody asked me why I didn't leave a message verbally with one of my colleagues. The thought had never occurred to me. And if it did, normally I would be worried that they would forget to relay the message. But it turns out that the Brazilians I've encountered are generally excellent about remembering things like that.

When you have a health plan/health insurance, the Brazilian medical system is significantly better than the one in the U.S. I was already amazed at the amount of time the dermatologist took with me when I went for an appointment last year. Last week I went to a general practitioner for a checkup, and the doctor himself (!) took my vital signs and medical history. I did not have to pay a co-pay for either the office visit or the routine lab tests that were done. And you get all of this for a total cost of less than US$2,000 per year. The only exception is ambulances, which will arrive much faster in the U.S. than here in Brazil.

My wallet is feeling the affects of the falling dollar. When I first arrived, the exchange rate was 2.25 Brazilian reais to 1 U.S. dollar. Now, it's down to 1.93 reais to the dollar.

As I prepare for my trip to the U.S., I'm finding it very strange to be dealing with 7-digit phone numbers again after getting used to the 8-digit numbers here.

And that's enough for now...


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