Volunteer in Mission to Brazil

11 June 2007

The week in review

I'm looking forward to going to Liberdade this week to see what the kids have done with the skeins of yarn they received. I saw that the boys immediately started trading long pieces so they could make multicolored scarves.

We had a three-day weekend because we had a planning meeting on the Corpus Cristi holiday last Thursday and got Friday off instead. At first, I was a little nervous about having that much unscheduled time to spend alone, but it turned out to be okay. I rented a couple of good movies, cleaned the apartment and knit a bit, among other things.

The big event, however, was going to dance salsa on Friday night. Like I mentioned last week, I found out about a club that has a Latin band that plays salsa (and other music) every other Friday. The difficulty was staying awake until it was time to go out because I knew nothing would start before 11:00 pm. I was originally planning to take the bus, but opted for the safer but more expensive option of taking a taxi. I left my apartment a little after 11:00, and when I got to the club, the band had not started playing yet. (They started around midnight.) The music and the dancers were okay, but not terrific. Earlier in the day, I had been thinking how cool it would be to run into somebody I knew at the club who could give me a ride home, but then I thought, "Who would I possibly know here?". The best part was that it actually happened! I saw a man that looked familiar, and pretty soon figured out that he was the owner of a little restaurant close to the optical shop where I bought my glasses. When I first went to the optical shop, the guys working there asked me if I'd eaten lunch yet and insisted that I try the inexpensive restaurant in the same shopping plaza, so I ended up eating there a couple of times. When I got talking to the employees at the restaurant, it turned out that the owner lives on the same street as me. And that was the guy I saw at the salsa place. I decided to play it cool and see if he recognized me, and he did. He asked if I was there by myself, and when I said that I was, he said he would give me a ride home if I wanted. We left pretty early by Brazilian standards (a little after 2:00 am) when the band started to repeat songs they'd already played earlier. It was good that we live on the same street because I'd have no idea how to direct somebody to my neighborhood from the club. On the way home, I was telling him that I needed to get my glasses adjusted when the guy that knows what he's doing is there, and he said that guy would be working at the optical shop on Saturday. He even offered to swing by and pick me up on his way to the restaurant on Saturday morning, but I said I'd rather walk (and go later in the day). So on Saturday afternoon, I walked down to that neighborhood shopping area (about 30 minutes from my house), ate lunch at the restaurant and went to get my glasses adjusted. The guy in the glasses store invited me to sit and chat, so I did. I was thinking I would never spend two hours in the U.S. doing something that takes 5 minutes, but I felt very Brazilian, prioritizing people ahead of schedule--besides, I didn't have anything else to do.

After the optical shop, I walked to the mall to try to look for new, non-imported (i.e. cheap) perfume and a shirt. Salespeople here are more persistent (and usually get paid commission). I have to remind myself to be patient and let them help me even when I don't want their help. I already knew that trying to buy clothes here for myself is difficult, but there's something truly humiliating about the salespeople saying they have to go look in the back just to find a "large." It seems like the only sizes they display in the stores are "small" and "medium." The other thing was that the salespeople in every store automatically assumed that I was buying something for a husband/boyfriend because the Brazilian Valentine's Day (literally "Lovers' Day") is coming up.

Last night when I was coming home, I ran into the same guitarist who'd played in the park by my house, so I sang one song with him and listened to his friends singing (mostly shouting) for a little while before continuing home.

And now for the general observations...

People that are in serious relationships or engaged wear gold wedding bands on the ring finger of the right hand. Then when they get married, they can switch it over to the ring finger of the left hand. I think it's great that the men get "marked" too, unlike the American tradition of only the woman wearing an engagement ring.

It seems that several people here make and sell their own cleaning solutions. I would be concerned that people are mixing things that shouldn't be mixed, but people do buy these solutions, usually in 2-liter soda bottles.

Catalogue sales of makeup and toiletries are very popular here. Everywhere you go, somebody is selling Avon and/or Natura (a more upscale Brazilian brand).

I see a lot siblings here that have a larger age gap than you'd expect--on the order of five or more years. It's not that they're children of different marriages, so maybe it's more of an economic reason to wait until you can afford another child, or perhaps it's a cultural thing.

It seems like the majority of Brazilians who have legal jobs get paid monthly at the beginning of the month. This makes for long lines at banks and even stores, as people shop more when they have money to spend at the beginning of the month.

I was showing the kids some pictures of my family and friends, and one of the kids remarked on the lack of walls around the houses, saying "If we didn't have walls, we wouldn't have anything left in our house!" I don't have any statistics to know whether or not crime is really that much more prevalent here. I have the feeling that in non-touristic cities like Belo Horizonte, it's not too different from the level of crime in the U.S., but I could be wrong.

We've had some unseasonably warm weather lately--warm enough to be outside in short sleeves or no sleeves even at night without a jacket. For me, that's a welcome change. It's really nice that there's always something in bloom here, no matter what time of year it is.


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