Volunteer in Mission to Brazil

27 August 2007


I'll start with the light this week. For example, there is a one-page "newspaper" that is displayed inside all of the city buses. I think it changes every couple of weeks or so. At the bottom of this sheet, there's a section called "Urban Etiquette" with tips about how to be polite when riding the bus. A couple of my favorites have been: "Don't fart on the bus" and "Don't leave your boogers on the bus seats." And this newspaper is for adults... :)

I bought a new purple (my favorite color) backpack when I was in the U.S., and the other day, I had on the backpack, a purple striped shirt and purple earrings. One of my colleagues said to me, "Oh--you're all matching--you've really turned Brazilian now!" I found it amusing that she thought matching was a uniquely Brazilian trait. But I guess that the Americans they usually encounter are on work teams and are dressed in their old clothes.

Because I was traveling almost the entire month of July, I expected to receive a much lower electric bill this time. Imagine my surprise to find out that it was the same amount, even though it clearly said that my usage for last month was half of what it normally is. That's when I finally learned that there is a minimum charge here that you pay no matter how much electricity you use, and then above a certain minimum usage, you get charged for the electricity you used above that minimum amount plus the minimum fee. I guess because I don't have a TV, I never got above the minimum usage.

I was thinking the other day about women's footwear and how silly it is that the shape of the most fashionable shoes is exactly opposite of the shape of our feet. Then I was thinking that, perhaps in a few hundred years, people will look back at our society and our primitive, damaging practice of wearing pointy-toed shoes, not unlike how we now look back at the Asian practice of foot-binding.

This Saturday, I said goodbye to the kids and my colleagues in Liberdade. About 25 kids showed up, and I was touched that they were freshly bathed and dressed up. The majority disappeared for a while, assembling two big gift baskets for me, as it turned out. They filled the baskets with snacks, fruit and some small trinkets. Who knew that Brazil has its own version of the ho-ho?

During the party, I passed out numbers and we drew for prizes to distribute the rest of the knitting supplies I'd brought back with me as well as a few other new or gently used things that I had to give away. I had one of the adults take pictures of me with the kids because I don't have many pictures with them (I am usually the one behind the camera).

When it was time to eat the snacks I'd ordered, we gathered in the dining hall. My friend who cooks for the project said they were going to play a special song for me, and as soon as I heard the first few notes, I recognized it and started bawling as I was hugging her. It was "Canção da America" by Milton Nascimento, one of the more famous Brazilian singers and composers who just happens to come from this state (Minas Gerais). The words go something like:

A friend is something to guard
Under seven keys
Inside your heart
Thus goes the song that I heard in America
But the one who was singing cried
To see his friend leave
But the one who stayed
Flew in his thoughts
With his song that the other one remembered
And the one who flew kept in his thoughts
The memory of what the other one sang
A friend is something to keep
On the left side of your chest
Even if time and distance say no
Even forgetting the song
What is important is to listen
To the voice that comes from the heart
Therefore whatever is to come, come what may
Some day, friend, I am coming back to find you
Some day, friend, we will meet again

The Liberdade kids

One thing struck me as I was making my way back to the city on the bus--the two people I felt closest to at that project weren't the ones with whom I spent the most time or with whom I had the most in common. Even though our backgrounds were so different, there was some invisible bond with these women. One of them, who has extremely limited resources, bought me several little trinkets, including a little figurine of a big frog with two little frogs to remember her and her daughters. I heard a lot things like "Remember us" and "Don't forget us"; I don't think they understand that there is no way I will ever forget these incredibly open, welcoming and loving people and the time I've spent in their beautiful country.


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