Volunteer in Mission to Brazil

20 August 2007

Bye bye Brazil

Well, I've made a decision to accept the job and return to the U.S. The good part is that I'll be closer to family and friends, in my native culture and speaking a language that I don't have to think about. The hard part is to think about leaving the Brazilian people.

I feel like a patient with a terminal illness--I know exactly when I'm going, I have a lot of things to finish before I go, and a lot of people to say goodbye to that I don't want to leave behind. In a place where it can be an insult not to greet someone, I want to make sure I officially say goodbye to everybody I know here, so I might try to have a small gathering in both places where I've worked in Belo Horizonte.

I was talking to a young woman the other day about unplanned pregnancies out of wedlock. I'm not sure if this is reflected in actual statistics or not, but it seems like these pregnancies are more common here than in the places I've lived in the U.S. An interesting difference is that almost every single extended family I've met here has at least one child that was unplanned and born outside of marriage, regardless of class, race, etc. I'm not sure how much is the influence of the Catholic church's stance on birth control, the illegality of abortion here, the strong influence of sex in the culture, or possibly some young women's expression of power in a society where they can feel powerless. When I was visiting my neighbors the other day, I was surprised when the woman asked if I knew their older grandson. (My neighbors are a couple in their 60's with three grown sons, two of whom live with them.) I told her that I knew the younger one that they kept after school, but didn't know that they had an older one. She showed me his picture and then very frankly revealed the story of this grandchild--"John took this girl to a motel and got her pregnant. She's not from a good class or family, and she's moved to Spain, where she lives with a gigolo." She did have some good things to say about the child, though, and they do visit with him as often as they can. I found it challenging to keep a straight face and not have my jaw drop to the ground at her candidness.

Oh, and one cultural note on Brazilian motels. Here, "hotels" are for staying overnight while you're traveling, and "motels" are for sex, either paid by the hour, portion of the day/night, or whole day/night. I have not personally experienced this particular aspect of Brazilian culture, but I hear that they have some pretty fancy motels decorated in various themes, furnished with jacuzzis, etc.

The scientist in me has noticed something else about people breaking bones here. Four different people that I've met here have broken their feet/leg so severely that it required surgery with screws to put them back together. To me, that seems like a huge number of bones broken by adults, and I wonder if there's something about the diet, environment, etc. here that results in weaker bones. In none of these cases was a huge amount of force/weight involved.

Finally, I'll wind up with the most exciting moment I've had in the past few weeks...

Last Wednesday was a holiday here (for Our Lady, the patron saint of Belo Horizonte), and my friend from church invited me to go out for pizza early that evening with another acquaintance from church to try a pizzeria they'd heard about. Well, "early" means that we leave my friend's house at 8:00 PM and take the bus, where the acquaintance joins us en route. Normally, you can ask the bus driver or fare taker for directions or landmarks on their routes, but both the driver and the fare taker are new, and neither can tell us where this pizzeria is. Then the fare taker has a revelation and tells us to get off at the next stop. Well, after MUCH (more than 30 minutes) walking and stopping to ask various people on the street, we realize that my friend is confused and the place we want is actually behind us in the other direction, and the place she is confusing it with is even further away in the direction we are headed. Back we go in the other direction, and finally, with the help of a young woman we pass, we find the said pizzeria. The young woman actually walks with us there and then, noting that it is pretty empty, suggests that we try another place around the corner. We follow her advice and finally sit down at a table outside of a small bar/restaurant on the main street. We eat and talk and notice that there are a lot of young people heading down the street where the pizzeria is. We find out that there's a dance place for one of the current dance crazes, "baile funk," on the soccer court down that street. We finish eating, and then suddenly, we hear two shots ring out from the direction of the baile funk place. Much to my surprise, none of the other customers seem too perturbed and remain at their tables outside. We do see some kids who've left the dance place coming up the street. The next thing we know, there is a little military police car speeding down the street with an officer hanging his arm out of the window, brandishing a handgun. (Note: Seeing the police packed 4 or 5 into an economy car always reminds me of the clowns packed into the VW Beetle at the circus...) Within seconds, all of the customers literally vanish, the store across the street puts down its protective metal door in front, and we move to the inside of the restaurant. Hordes of young people are pouring onto the main street, fleeing the baile funk place. The waiters note that the problem is not the original gunshots, which are usually aimed at a specific person/people, but the high probability of getting struck by a stray bullet if the police engage in a shootout, which they are known to do. Thankfully, we got a taxi to our metro/bus stops, and everyone got home safely. I was thinking that people at home might freak out to hear about this incident, thinking that it must be so dangerous here, but then I remembered at least one similar occurrence at fraternity party in college.

Time to get back to winding things up here and trying to get things set up in the U.S. I'm not sure if I'll have time to do another post or not before leaving.


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