Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Brazilian Street Market

A Street Market in Brazil

                Street markets in Brazilian cities seem to spring up out of nowhere. Where cars had travelled and people had walked the day before, now an explosion of stalls has cascaded into the street as if by magic. Along with the myriad of foods and small items for the home that have appeared, there are also the voices of hawkers selling their wares.  Mixed in is the chatter of those who have come to buy is the click of the small wheels of shopping carts. At one stall the chatter of parakeets and the songs of other small birds provide the sounds of nature.

The stalls that find their place at daybreak are fashioned so they fit together quickly on sawhorses along with a frame that holds the canvas that protects from the sun or rain. In a few minutes the trucks unload their wares, then with enticing voices the owners advertise their products. Shortly after lunch the reverse process occurs and the street cleaners come to sweep away the garbage. The same market will appear with the same magic in other areas of the city every day of the week.

Though there are shopping centres that sell everything one finds in a street market, yet the colours and sound of a street market attract all types of people.  There you will find the well-dressed, tight-jeaned lady of the house that shops there because she enjoys the experience.  The ordinary housewife who values both freshness and price is also there but many of those who pull their little carts are the maids sent to do this menial work.

Let us take a walk between these stalls and imagine we are buying groceries for a home. Oh no! We can’t start till we have an add-on to our early breakfast. We stop where gleaming coffee machines pour out the strong cafezinho into demi-tasse cups. We load it with sugar so that it will go down easily plus give us energy for the hour or so ahead. Ah, before we go further the aroma of a pastel stall stops us and we buy one. The pastel is a shell of something like a light pie crust about four square inches and mostly empty except for the meat, cheese or palm heart that is inside. The pastel is handed to us hot on a folded piece of paper. Those pasteis (plural for pastel) are deep fried so one will be enough.

The next stall has red onions piled two feet high right next to layers of romaine lettuce. Then there are oranges and lemons and sweet potatoes and the jobuticaba fruit that looks like plums. Then we see persimmons and our mouths water. We buy a couple of persimmons on the spot for we’ll eat them right there and maybe stain our hankies.  The taste lifts one into a seventh heaven. Now notice that there are not only lots of bananas but different kinds and none quite like the ones we buy in Canada. We pass other stalls full of fruits and vegetables most of which we have never seen. Of course at home we have avocados and mangoes but the ones in the street market are bigger, juicier and tastier.

Then we almost stumble over the flower stalls for they extend out in the area left for walking. Just look at all the different kinds of long stemmed roses, gladiolas and so many colours of chrysanthemums. Right next is a stall with vertical shelves full of things such as can openers, knives and spatulas with plastic containers and brooms stacked out front. We sense the aroma of the next stall before we crowd up to it for there is spread out all kinds of cheeses and cured meats. An orange tarp is suspended over these foods and with the sunshine it lends an enticing orange glow to the cheeses. But what makes my mouth water is the mortandela that a person might compare to baloney. But they are continents apart in taste. The secret to the taste is unknown to me though the peppercorns may help. I remember a friend who was so addicted to mortandela that he filled a suitcase with it when he returned to the U.S. Me? I’ve thought of that but never had the courage to try getting it past customs.

If you can name it, there is a stall for it. But there comes an end to all good things so after a block or so there is an area where you can buy a jacket or cap. Hey, that’s a good idea for you can pick up something with Brazil sewed into it and have a fine souvenir advertising where you have travelled.

We turn away from the market and all the good foods that later will be part of a delicious meal. I recall that there is another hunger we’ve all had. It can only be satisfied with a lively faith in God. Was it not Jesus who said of himself, “I am the bread of life: he who comes to me will never go hungry.” He reminds us that we each need something more than food and drink. With that in mind we end our lively excursion through a Brazilian street market with all of its sights, sounds and delicious foods.

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The woman stole my heart away and I remember how strange, strange that was. It was her sorrow that drew me to understand Christmas even though it was not then the season. I have no escape from thinking of her no matter the time of year. Let me tell you of that day in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was hot and I met her in the “Jardim das Fontes” a slum where sewage rose to sting my nose. Forgive my imagination; it may fashion a bit of fiction out of that time I spent with her. In any case this is how I remember that hour. You might guess that I’ve seen poverty in Brazil but that does not lessen the power of this poor woman over me.

We stood side by the side at a dirty bed with my friends around, down on the third level of a shack that seemed to have been thrown at the red dirt of the hill and stuck there. The woman was so thin her every bone declared sad years of hunger and the four children born to her during her twenty-one years.

She shrugged towards the full-sized bed and the baby, and then whispered her misery of why she had gathered us together. “She’s past a year now and she whimpers all the time unless it happens as you’ve done—picked her up. Then she screams.”

The woman glanced accusingly at me.

Dark desperation filled the room as she said, “Encephalitis at just a few months old. That thing in her throat is what the doctors did to her. She breathes with it but she might better be dead. She’s blind from the attack on her brain.”

One of the group by the bed stifled a sob. She saw as we all did that the baby was fat and we knew why. Her bottle had nothing but starch and water. We heard the gurgling in her throat and when questioned the woman said, “The pump the clinic gave me doesn’t work. Nothing I can do. We leave her alone except to change a diaper or give a bottle. Touch her and she screams.”

Lord Almighty, how my constricted throat stifled my own sadness from breaking out in verbal self defense. To me she said, “When you picked up my baby, she screamed. That’s the way it is. Always. So we leave her alone.”

Her voice trailed off in another “Alone.” I wondered if she was speaking not just for her baby but for herself and three other hungry children. Unkept hair moved with her bowed head as she looked at us by the bed. She bound us tight with sunken eyes. She was silent but her look preached that it was not right what was happening to her. The whole world was in the wrong.

Her low voice, her suffering body and her eyes spoke the truth. And the truth I had always prized as important, but it now became a traitor for in her weak hands it pummeled my every sense. Then Emilia, who had brought us and a load of food to this home, asked me to pray. How could I pray?

I began, “O merciful Father in Heaven” but tears and sobs strangled my throat so that I was dumb. Pity rose up like a monster to take control so that Emilia picked up my prayer and continued

But the woman did not cry. Perhaps she had no tears left but for me something strange happened. It was as if the room was sprinkled with flashing shards of glass. There was another presence there. If we believe that God is everywhere, then surely, surely He was with us down in that bedroom. Something special was happening.

I wondered if this suffering woman was the same peasant woman Mary who had given birth in Bethlehem. Then it was a baby born in a stable and that followed up with suffering for most of the mother’s life. Was this baby wheezing its life away to an early death somehow similar to that of Jesus? Did both this human and the divine family share the same suffering as the whole world? And does our God and His angels not come to walk with us along the road of pain?

I have only weak answers to the suffering in this world. But that experience in the “Jardim das Fontes” did something to me. A woman whose name I do not know tampered with my heart.  I sensed the presence of the Eternal One for He was there for her, for us. Is not the Christ there for all the suffering, the hungry, the jobless, the addicted and those who weep? This poor woman tampered with my heart so that I could see into the spirit dimension. Angels came down to us just the same as during Mary’s birth pain in a stinking stable. There angel wings touched Mary’s cheek. And it happened in that home in that slum. Yes, it did.

We join with that woman in that home in her pain to celebrate the presence of the Christ. When He is present a bit of heaven comes down to earth. The Christ with His angels at times comes to us all, no matter where we live. It was true in that shack. Surely it is true in the whole world. Not one of us is ever alone.

The Youth Program and Doris’ Efforts

It was just the other day when I found Doris in her “craft office” sorting through stuff from days gone by. That included scarves. Those scarves were something like what might be used here by the Scouts. They were part of the Christian Youth Crusaders–CYC youth program she led in Brazil. In this case they were being thrown away, tossed into the garbage. Out of curiosity I picked them up. Yes, I know old stuff from 60 years ago has to go; yet it seems memories are being destroyed. That’s the stuff of nostalgia; it’s the stuff of our lives.

All over one scarf hearts are traced out with notes in them, written in Portuguese by CYCers. I’ll translate a few though you might suppose they were not for her for they spelled her name differently. “Dorys I love you. The Lord is my shepherd and I will lack nothing. Debora.” “May God bless you and may it continue on that way. Linda, Simpatica and Graciosas.” Then there is a similar one repeated a number of times, “Dorys, many thanks for bringing CYC to the church in Brazil. Cida Farias.”

Then on another scarf there are the signatures of a number of directors that goes back to Doris’ training the first leaders. Some of those names are from the first CYC training camp that Doris organized. Those leaders began the program in their local churches and from there it spread.

Let me tell you how it began. When we moved into the city of Sao Paulo it was to the home that a missionary couple, the Ryckmans, had rented. There Doris discovered in her rummaging some of the North American CYC program that Evelyn had translated into Portuguese. Since Doris saw the need of a youth program she continued the translation with adaptations. Then she typed, without ever having the advantage of a typing lesson, the program on A.B. Dick stencils—tedious work. She then ran them off on the copier. If you’ve never worked with one of those obstinate machines you might not know that it was always a messy job. A person had to work with those gooey tubes of black ink. At the same time she sent churches a description of the program and they began picking it up.

She started the first CYC  in our Vila Galvao church, a church that began in a back yard growing to a full-fledged building and congregation. The youth program attracted that a good number of that age group. From there the program spread and when we left, another Doris this time a Thompson gave it leadership. Then in 2003 the CYC directors invited the Kenny lady to Brazil to be the guest speaker at a convocation of CYC groups. They were celebrating their 60th anniversary. On that day groups came from all across the city of Sao Paulo and area.

I sat in the congregation as children and youth from many groups repeated in exact unison their vows and scripture. What a thrill. When Doris rose to speak, she abandoned her notes in Portuguese and simply talked to the perhaps 800 present. To leave one’s notes in any language is difficult but she did a great job. I was surprised and proud of her at that moment—more than you can imagine.

A child in Sao Paulo a few years ago had found out my name. She came up and asked, “Are you a Kenny that is related to Doris. She is the lady who started CYC here in Brazil.” It is interesting that many know who Doris is, but have no idea who I am. That may be humbling but for me it is really a great source of pride.

I wonder just what help this program has given to youth all across the church. Did it give to some the sense that leaders cared for them and so encouraged them to make something out of their lives? Imagination could weave many a marvelous story of those who started out in a new direction in life because of CYC. In any case I know a story told to me by a lady. It happened in a little church and could have been repeated many times in the youth clubs.

A little boy came to the church but would not leave the director’s side to be part of his class. But she had patience with him so over the years he gained confidence enough to graduate from High School and join the army. Later when he had become a commissioned officer he returned to visit the lady who had been so kind. He told her of meeting his mother and a brother who lived in squalor. She tried to make ends meet through prostitution. The church youth program had lifted him from that home and changed his life.

I don’t recall all the details of that story nor can I go back to get it straight from the lady I mentioned for she has gone on to her eternal reward. The day I hugged her for the last time it was not just for her kindnesses to us but her love given to all the children whose lives she touched. And I add this: I imagine the youth program that Doris began helped many such children and youth. No doubt those scarves I discovered being thrown out would have many such stories woven into their triangular folds.

Butantan, Brazil’s World Class Snake Farm

Most of us are afraid of snakes but some have a phobia that will not let them even see a snake. That is the way it was with Florence, one of our missionary team in the Sao Paulo area. One day our families were visiting Butantan, the snake farm near Sao Paulo University when we came to the first deep trough where there were a number of venomous snakes. Florence turned from it. I think she might have fainted if her husband had not led her away.  I can still see her with a hand over her mouth holding in a scream.

The Brazilian constrictor snake, the Anaconda may grow to 30 feet and weigh well over 500 pounds. Though it may drop out of tree onto a passerby, or attack from the water, yet it may not be nearly as deadly as those one would find at Butantan. We have an Anaconda skin in case you’d like to see or touch one–we could do it while having coffee some day.

So why have this wide variety of poisonous snakes at this Institute? It is there they milk the venom from snakes and from it make anti-venom serum. When we lived in Sao Paulo it was the only place in the world that produced anti-venom for the coral snake. Also they do research into the varied types of venom trying to understand the venom’s effects on the blood, nerves and inflammation of muscles.

So what difference did poisonous snakes make to us? Just this. Our seminary was located in a pocket of jungle not far from the city of Sao Paulo and poisonous snakes were present. We never lived there but since it was a beautiful place we occasionally dropped by. On one of those times we found snakes had been busy. You see, the school had kept two cows to provide milk for children but that day those cows had been bitten and died. The culprit was likely the Cascavel, a rattler double the length and larger than a man’s arm. It would also be more venomous than our North American rattlesnake. Apparently the cows were grazing on a cleared hillside when they no doubt disturbed a pair of snakes sunning themselves.  One strike from a Cascavel and a cow would be down.

One of our guys who lived there, when he was putting on a shoe was bitten by a poisonous spider. He immediately drove over the hills to a pharmacy in a nearby village. When there they realized he could not take the anti-venom serum since he would react to the protein involved. He just sweat it out—I mean he really sweat it out.

The country folk seemed to take the presence of snakes in stride. One dark evening the caretaker at the seminary was returning to his home when he felt a tug on his pant leg. A snake had caught its fangs in his denim trousers. He turned on his flashlight, reached down, grabbed it behind its head and with one twist it was dead. The snake was identified as extremely venomous. It was the dreaded Sete Passos that refers to the seven steps a person might take after such a bite before dropping dead.

You might think, “I’d never live in such a dangerous place.” Understood! Though the staff there did its best to keep the grass cut back so snakes could not hide, the houses were just a stone’s from the bush.  It is interesting that a number of couples raised their children in that local and though they seemed to ramble all over the place, yet none were ever bitten. With that I must mention that another one of the “Sete Passos” snakes was found next to a home. The caretaker came, found where it was hiding and dispatched it to snake heaven.

We visited this place with our two children for they loved to play with the others there. I never recall putting restrictions on their activities; I suppose those they played with knew where not to go. Adding to the jungle habitat for snakes were three ponds fed by a stream coming out of the hills.  But I do not recall ever having to warn our children of the water or snakes.

But I never think of Butantan that my thoughts do not go back to the seminary nestled in the jungle, the ponds and the danger of snakes. Me? I believe that angels intervened to keep all of all our children safe. Butantan could provide the anti-venom that would save a life but better yet was the presence of angels working overtime.