Cindy in Brazil

A good friend of mine from my days in New Zealand, Cindy Ruakere, has brought out her third CD and is now at the beginning of a one year world tour. It starts in Brazil, and involves living in a slum and ministring to the people here.

Cindy Ministering in Brazil
Cindy Ministering in Brazil

Here is a small extract from her email that covers the part about life in the “favela” slum:

Heliopolis Sao Paulo, the place where the druglords are the ministry protection because the police will shoot you rather than look at you. Where we wear bright green vests to show that we belong to Iris ministries which is looked upon kindly as caring for the children of Brazil, so we are afforded relative safety in the incredibly unsafe streets of this the largest slum in the world. Heliopolis with 3 million residents .

Heliopolis, where we have to turn our lights off and flash them once to the druglord guards that are stationed at the entrance and along the streets of the favela (slum), where the Holy Given school is situated.

Heliopolis, where my bedroom window has to be closed at night in case there are intruders who easily climb over the roof and just as easily shoot you in your bed. Where gunshots and machine gun fire is a common enough noise.

This is the Brazil we have entered and where Jesus is walking among us. This the first stop on our world tour. What a privilege and honour to be among these people. In the city of Sao Paulo where 18 million reside and life is cheap, Jesus lives.

More information can be found on her website.

Curitiba – Moving Onward

With rain, rain, and more rain in Rio, and the forecast for rain over the next week, I decided to head off in search of a dry patch of ground somewhere else in Brazil. My first idea was to simply return to Foz do Iguaçu and then back home to Corrientes. After all, travelling in the rain is not highly entertaining… especially with an old umbrella that leaks on the inside.

Leaving Rio
It was 5.30pm when I made the decision to go. Wet shoes, wet clothes, and tired from walking, I had checked into my hostel for the night and paid the fee. Sitting there in the room, staring out the window at the never-ceasing rain, it started to make more sense to go than to stay.

Checking out of the hostel only hours after checking in surprised the clerk at the front desk, but he kindly agreed to refund me the total amount. With my leaky umbrella and overstuffed backpack, I joined the crowds jamming onto the bus during peak hour. Our bus weaved its way jerkingly through the traffic until we finally arrived at the bus station.

Sneaking A Ride
On the journey, four young boys from the favella (slum) sneaked onboard through the exit door of the bus. This almost caused a riot between them and the bus driver who looked ready to almost kill them, even before he had stopped the bus. The atmosphere was tense as the boys remained in the bus. After a few stops, it was obvious that the boys would not get off, much to the consternation of the bus driver. So to relieve the tension between all, I leaned over to the conductor and paid for their fare.

This small act caused a significant commotion in the bus at the time, and what had started out as being quiet and to the side, ended up being announced to all that were present. When the boys heard this, they came forward from their hiding places and sat near me. They were all around 10 years old, their dark skin covered in even darker stains and dirt. Their dishevelled hair and tattered clothes did nothing to obscure their cautious smiles of grattitude in acknowledgement of what I had done.

Finding A Destination
Then we arrived at the bus station. Somehow, in the midst of these boys, I managed to leave behind my leaky umbrella. As the rain seemed to be through most of eastern Brazil, Foz do Iguaçu seemed the best choice, but the news was all bad for this destination. Every bus had already left, and the next bus out of Rio was at 9am the next morning. Time to change plans.

In my original idea, the plan was to head through Rio to Curitiba and then Florianopolis on the way back to Foz. Curitiba is on the way back to Foz, so it became the next possible destination. On enquiry, there was 15 minutes spare before the next bus left. Perfect timing. Sold, a ticket to Curitiba.

Here in Curitiba it is still raining. Lots. My original plan does not look so great now. One day here, and head back to Foz tonight. The best part of travelling is to time each journey so it incorporates a night. That saves the price of accommodation and gets you there faster. A mobile bed.

Talking of travel. Here in Curitiba is a great bus system. Double-length buses run on specialised roads in the midde of the street, stopping at “tubes” to load and unload people through different doors. All passengers about to board have already paid at the entrance to the “tube”, making the transition time at the bus-stop rapid and efficient. I had read about this in a book on Brazil that claimed this system was the most advanced in the world. They could be right too.

So now I am travelling around a little. Shopping center, cinema, city center, and possible sights. A map with circles all over it of where the next best thing to see could be. Rain separates us, standing between me and my objectives. Time to shop for a new umbrella.

Time to go.

Second Time In Rio

Filled with fear, I watched every face as it passed by, looking for a killer or thief hidden in the expression. My mind was filled with concern at every step. More than cautious, I was becoming close to paranoid. What had done this to me? Stories abounding with thefts and robberies, of muggings and other frightening events that had occurred in Rio de Janeiro.

I moved about the city, checking out the sites, but never allowed myself to become adventurous. There was too much risk in this place… too easy to become one of the “statistics”. I did not want that, as much as I wanted to see things and look around, my panicked mind reasoned that there was a balance between adventure and foolishness. That was my first time here.

Now I can see that the line I had previously drawn between adventure and foolishness was very unrealistic and restrictive. Life in South America is very different to the life that I had come from. The things that frightened me back then are now just every day scenarios.

The dark and ominous looking streets that looked highly dangerous back then were actually just industrial sections of town that were no more dangerous than the beaches. The groups of boys hanging around were never gangs but just a bunch of friends in this relationship oriented culture. The tough looking men walking down the street and checking me out were actually just workers who had finished their shift that were looking over this stranger in their midst who had so much fear in his eyes.

Of course there is always a very real danger in any big city, and Rio is not infamous without cause. There are always general rules to follow and wisdom principles to apply when in any unfamiliar city. But now that I am back here in Rio again, I can see how tiny the “boogy monsters” were that plagued me during my first visit.

Everything is different the second time around.

Heading Home

As it seems to be my routine now, I managed to make it to the bus station only minutes before the bus was due to leave, climbing onboard and hardly getting settled before we were on our way. An elder man sat beside me and patiently waited while I moved and twisted my bag around to get it to fit in the small legroom space of my seat. Not a word was said, but it was clear that he was glad to finally be able to use his legroom space after all of my activties.

Heading Off Again
Starting out from Curitiba at 9.30pm meant that this was a night drive from the outset. Brazilians tend to live a different lifestyle to the Argentines, and while the Argentines would be putting on another movie to watch and serving up dinner, we were sitting in the dark with everyone else trying to doze off. I think that this was my first small experience of culture shock.

Not wanting to sleep just yet, as I have become quite accustomed to the late night traditions of Argentina, I pulled out my book and read by the dim yellow light provided overhead until it reached a more reasonable hour. Outside it was raining, and at times it rained very hard. Our journey took us over some very beautiful terrain, although all was obscured by the night, the rain, and the misty and dirty windows. Apart from a slow start to the journey through some stop-start traffic on the main motorway, I remember very little of the journey until waking in the morning.

My wake-up call in the morning was not our arrival in Foz do Iguaçu but rather the replacement of the small man seated beside me with a lady that really needed a lot more space than the one narrow seat provided. From that point on, with my already limited space now invaded, I found it hard to sleep. Every move I made seemed to affect the lady beside me, if I moved one way I was pushing against her, and moving the other way would catch and drag her coat. Whatever I did tended to cause some sort of reaction from her, which in turn would wake me from whatever level of sleep I had managed to descend to.

A Quick Stop In Paraguay
Arriving in Foz, the rain just started to lift, leaving low lying clouds with furry fingers reaching out toward the ground. It was a pretty sight, although the cold air and biting wind kept it from being anything more. Water was everywhere on the ground, reminding me that this rain had only just stopped, and following my experience in Curitiba, it was likely to start up again at any time.

There was a bus leaving for Corrientes at 10am today. If I did not make this bus, then I would need to wait until 9.30pm instead. Spending 12hrs in a small town was not highly appealing to me, so I planned on getting this earlier bus. Since we had arrived here at 7.30am however, there was time for a quick mission to Paraguay before I headed back to Argentina.

Leaving my bag at the lockers, I headed over to Ciudad del Este (CDE) in Paraguay to complete a promise for a friend. I had bought a computer brain (CPU) in Buenos Aires, and needed a motherboard to plug it into. CDE was the best and cheapest place to find this, but the first time I came here the CPU was dead. So after replacing it with one that I was promised would work, I now headed off to the shops to grab the rest of what I needed.

When I got to the shop, the technician kindly informed me that this one also refused to work, indicating that it too was dead. I could not believe it. How could it be that two different CPUs could be dead. It was not easy to return to CDE, and the prices in Argentina were very high. I was really starting to regret having purchased this thing in Buenos Aires, because it too was a long way away. Without any other options available at the time (except buying another CPU which would make everything too expensive), I thanked the tech. and headed back to the bus station.

Making Up Time
In all of my chatting and idle walks around CDE, I had not noticed that the time had really moved on fast. It was already just past 9am, and I had not left Paraguay yet. Using public transport was out of the question if I was going to make my bus, as there were three different buses that I would need to catch. Instead, I jumped aboard a motorbike-taxi and asked the guy to take me out to the bus station.

Most of these guys simply take you where you need to go and then take off. My guy took the opportunity during slow sections to chat with me and find out what I was doing. After spending two weeks surrounded by Portuguese and struggling to make sense of it all, it was wonderful to have a conversation in Spanish again. Not only did he find out about me, but I also discovered that he was an Argentine that moved to Paraguay after the financial crash in 2001.

Throughout these dotted conversations during moments when the wind-noise was not so loud as to drown everything out, we started to re-negotiate our original deal. Rather than drop me at the bus station, my motorbike-taxi would now wait for me to pick up my bag (a daybag sized backpack) and take me all the way to the bus station in Argentina. Originally the price was excessive, but we finally settled on something that was significantly less, in part because the guy thought I was a “good bloke” and in part because it was the only unbroken money that I had on me.

Time was marching onward, and I could see that this was probably my only chance at the early bus, so we shook hands and took off again for Argentina. This time I had a heavy pack on my back that tried to pull me backwards off the bike everytime we accelerated, and my slingbag that would wave around in the air as we raced down the road at some impressive speeds. I could not actually see what speed we were travelling, as the speedometer was broken, but the tachometer indicated that the bike was going almost flat-out at times, so it must have been pretty fast. It certainly felt it, with the cold moist air cutting through every layer of clothing on me.

We deviated around traffic lights, dodged slow vehicles, and hooned around the wet corners almost as though we were in a race. My rider knew nothing about my time limits so I am unsure as to why we were travelling at such a pace, but settled back (as much as one can when being pulled backwards constantly by a backpack) and enjoyed the ride. As we passed through the Brazilian border control without stopping, I was very thankful that all of my processing had been completed when I left Brazil earlier to visit Ciudad del Este.

Back in Argentina
The Argentine border accepted me once again, inspite of the mounting number of Argentine stamps that I am now collecting in my passport, and we headed onward into Argentina. I was now home, or as close as one can come to home when you don’t really have one. Having lived in Argentina for a while now, it is a comforting feeling to return to this country once again – a place where I now understand the culture, know many of the laws, and can speak the language.

After dropping me off at the bus station, my rider told me that he often makes journeys to here from Ciudad del Este throughout the week and quite enjoys doing so. Once again he reminds me that our low price was only because he can see that I am a “good bloke”. We shake hands and he takes off. Behind me is the Puerto Iguazu bus station. I am back in Argentina again.

I am home.

Another Face of Rio

Lots of rain.
Rain without stop.

Water pouring off roofs,
running over pathways,
filling up every hole.

Wind howling through streets,
bending umbrellas inside out,
spraying water everywhere.

Traffic backed up everywhere,
splashing through puddles,
wetting passers-by.

Very wet.
Shoes, pants, shirt, bag.
Splashed by cars, blown by wind, leaking umbrella.
Temperature warm.
Not so cold.
Just wet.

Another face.

Moving to Rio

It is a Sunday today, and in a shopping centre in the middle of Belo Horizonte city, I am tapping away on the keyboard, waiting for my bus to Rio. It turns out that there are not a lot of services to Rio on a Sunday and my bus leaves at midnight for the six to seven hour journey. Those heading back to the base in Corrientes will be close to arriving there now, having left two days ago. I am on my own.

Travelling solo can be a lot of fun. The advantage of it is being able to make all the decisions quickly and change plans at the drop of a hat. Not having someone to share the good and bad times is always a drawback. When I travelled the world, my trip followed my friends in each country. It was a lot of fun and filled with great memories. When I travel here, the journey will follow the YWAM bases throughout Brazil. They are friends. Friends that I have just not yet met.

Belo is just like any other city. I checked it all out yesterday with a group of friends. Today, at 30 degrees C, it seemed a better option to remain indoors. So here I sit, scribbling away, and enjoying the airconditioning. In a few hours I will be hurtling down the road towards Rio.

A new destination, and new friends.

The Conference – Day 1

The first day is still going strong, and it has been very interesting to see people from so many different nations here. I have already met people from bases in Norway, Panama, and Brazil, spending time with them all over lunch. There is a person here from almost every country in the world.

Still tired from such little sleep last night, it is a struggle to stay awake during the meetings. Perhaps this is why I decided to break away from my original group of travellers and sort myself out with a place to stay with a real bed.

You see, they have found a great place to stay just across the road from the YWAM base here. In a way I think they have a better deal, although a concrete floor is all that is available to sleep on. These are the ones without money who still wanted to come regardless of their situation. They suffer whatever hardships they need to so that they can remain here. A free concrete floor is certainly a very enticing offer.

So I have left them there, and moved in with my other Corrientes YWAM staff. It is said to be a very nice place, but that is something I will not discover until later tonight. For now, there are many people left to get to know and lots of great Brazilian foods to discover. And for drinks… the Guarana is my favourite of all. It beats Coke by a long shot.

Just being here amongst so many interesting and amazing people has been great. I have met so many people that I know from meeting them from here or there. It is amazing to see the connections that happen in an event like this. For me though, I most enjoy the friendships and developing those that already exist plus adding a few more along the way.

So now it is back to the conference again. Until next time…

Curitiba – The Rain Stopped

It stopped. The rain actually stopped. Not forever though. It is now raining again. But it really did stop.

During the few hours of non-rain, I managed to follow the general tourist route through this town and check out all of the items listed in the good book of travel (which I found in English in one of the bookstores here). They suggested that the walk around town would take about 2 hours and were pretty much on the mark.

Heading down the cobblestoned sidewalks, wet as they were from the recent rain, the going felt slippery. This town was very similar to most other South American towns that I had visited, although there was a definite feeling of being safer. Perhaps this is due to being in a much smaller city than those of Rio, São Paulo and Belo.

This town is acknowledged as being a very green-oriented place, with their recycling, inner-city greenery, and transport systems becoming world renowned and frequently copied in different cities around the world. There are many parks filled with trees and gardens scattered around the city heart and providing a recluse from the busyness of the environment surrounding them.

Visiting 24 street, where every shop is open 24hrs a day, revealed the thoughts of a progressive government who realised that eventually the whole city would probably end up like this, so they started this street as a pioneer point from which the rest of the place could follow. Old churches carved in intricate patterns, paved pedestrian streets lined with old cast-iron street lights, German, Japanese, and many other cultural restaurants, permanent market places for arts and crafts, and dozens of other sights loomed strong as I wandered along through this place.

The old university building with massive Roman-style columns and a huge entry door was fronted by a park even larger than itself, decorated in flowers, trees, sculptured shrubs and shaped grass lawns, providing an impressive final point on the trail. There is always another corner to turn, something else to see, some marked point to reach, but by this time the rain had started again and was growing increasingly heavier. It was time to retreat back to the security of the shopping center and wait.

It is now 6pm and although I had made it to most of the tourist places, I still had not made it to the YWAM base here. With the day over and the rain coming down hard, and being a stranger to the people at this base, I will reserve my visit here for another day.

I am sure that this will not be my last visit to Brazil.

Belo Horizonte at Last

Well we finally arrived in Belo Horizonte, 2 1/2hrs later than our scheduled time, and 5 1/2hrs later than the planned time.

During our journey we travelled through fog so thick we could hardly see the other side of the road, something that proved fatal for a truck and bus which collided in the obscurity. We passed them and some cars that had also hit them while it was still very hard to see. What we did see however, was the bus hanging over the edge of the road pointing down a super steep hill and looking extremely precarious. The authorities had arrived by now and all people were removed from the scene so I am not sure of the severity.

Moving onward, our journey became somewhat monotonous with the occasional stop at a roadhouse dedicated for buses every now and then. There was any supplied videos on the bus, but a man travelling from Ciudad del Este was carrying dozens of DVDs (mostly fakes from what I saw) and we had the privilege of some movie entertainment on the way which helped pass the time. The most interesting however was a Rodeo video with all of the cowboys bouncing around on the back of the bulls and dozens of shots of them falling off. Hmmm, perhaps I am a masochist. 🙂

After stopping in Sao Paulo, we continued north but only for a short time. Suddenly a police vehicle pulled alongside of our bus and indicated for us to stop. Having just overtaken some trucks, I suspected that our driver was in trouble for speeding, but this opinion soon changed when the officers climbed aboard and started inspecting our bags. Before long, we were all out on the roadside, standing by watching as each bag was meticulously inspected, even to the point of cutting through the bag when they could not seen down deep.

Forty minutes later and we are back on our way, finally arriving in Belo at 10.30pm, about an hour after the other YWAM team from Buenos Aires who took another bus which left at the same time as us. It was 1am before we finally climbed aboard the shuttle bus to head to the YWAM base in Contagem and to our beds.

Initially we were expecting our beds to be nice and comfortable, but on climbing into the bus we are told that at this time of night everything is now closed up and there is nowhere for us to stay. So instead, they lead us into the base and provide us with the only section of level space available… the main auditorium stage. Here we sleep the night, finally resting sometime around 2.30am, only to wake at 6am to make way for all of the preparation for the day.

Welcome to the Viva Latina-America conference in Belo Horizonte.

The Conference – Day 2

Well this place is certainly a mix of people. I am becoming confused in my languages now. Not that I know Portuguese, but when talking with people to buy food and the shops I am trying to speak something that resembles it. This means that when I go to speak to somebody I have to decide which language to try and use. It does not take too long to find out which language however, but then the difficulty is to remain in that language.

Many times I have found myself starting in Spanish and finishing in English, or thinking I was speaking Portuguese (my version of it) but realised that it was only a slightly different accent on my Spanish. There are many multi-lingual people here and that is not such a problem, but if they only know the one language then they just look at me with a quizzical expression on their face. This has happened to me more than one, especially when turning from one person in one language to another person with a different language. The quizzical face tells me quickly that I am speaking gibberish to them.

The conference itself has been in many ways just like any other conference, but with many testimonies of what people have been doing through YWAM throughout the world. One story involved a man asking the NATO team to stop a bombing raid in Haiti so he could go in an speak to them about Jesus and the Gospel. The stopped the raid long enough for him to go in there and speak to the drug dealers and malitia groups that were there. Some of them accepted Christ. He became the first white man to actually go into that place and then come back out again alive. After he returned, NATO continued with their raid and wiped them all out. Only those who had recently accepted Christ survived.

Another story involved a lady from Brazil who has started working in a very Catholic country. Here the church dominates the place (I am not sure if it is wise to share where it is so I will refrain from doing so in the interests of her safety), and yet she has been able to do some amazing things with her ever growing team of people. They have built many houses for the poor and are in the process of building a school right now. She has been involved in many discussions with the government and the president of the nation, talking about how Biblical principles in leadership. A mutual friend that is a reporter has remarked to her that now, in every single meeting that he is in, the President is talking about YWAM and what they are doing. There is a great deal of influence here.

Well, there are many more stories too… and some are just amazing. But time prevents me from continuing to tell more. Needless to say that the even has been very inspiring and meeting so many people has been great. Tomorrow is a rest day, so I will be taking a break too.

Unless of course there is something that I just have to tell you about.