Putting Down Roots in Rio Preto
The first title for this post was “Surviving in Rio Preto”. But Doris and I, together with our daughter Monica, did much better than that. We were just out of language school and struggling with the language but we found our place and made friends. Those memories were both difficult and joyful. You know how it is with young people—they feel they have the world by the tail.
Rio Preto (Black River) was a city of perhaps thirty thousand and the hub for much of the interior of the State of Sao Paulo. There were many strange twists and turns for a young Canadian couple trying to adapt to a new culture. One incident began with an invitation by a Lutheran couple to visit them in the State of Parana to the South.
We thought it a good idea to take this holiday for soon our only other missionary couple was leaving, not to return. Our daughter Monica went with us but Vernon was a baby, not yet walking. So Maria and Jose offered to keep him while we were away. Doris felt that since they had three healthy boys that this might work really well.
Their home was very humble with no ceiling but in a way that worked well for there was a good bit of smoke from the primitive brick stove. That smoke could escape through the loose fitting tile roof. The walls of the home were dark from smoke that curled up from the stove. The rough floor was made of burnt bricks laid in cement. Jose was a big husky man and he made his living carrying 50 kilo sacks of coffee from truck to warehouse and then warehouse to trucks. After we left that city we found out that a sack had fallen on him and killed him. We felt sorry for he was a good gentle man. Maria was a typical Brazilian in many ways, having fine featured framed with black hair. I remember her generally wearing a shapeless dress that was as clean as possible. She always seemed cheerful, apparently having adapted to living in poverty.
Part of the instructions that Doris gave Maria was that our baby Vernon should get a certain dose of vitamins once a day in his bottle. When we returned from our travels Maria handed us a bill from the local pharmacy for he had received vitamins in every bottle. I guess he was husky enough to stand the overdose. Maria after that time referred to herself as Vernon’s black momma although she was not black. What wonderful, wonderful people that we shall meet some day.
The toughest part of those first months in Rio Preto was related to Portuguese for it is a difficult language. Sometime over coffee I’ll explain for you some the complications associated with verb conjugations. When I prepared a “palestra” I would write it out word for word using a dictionary. That was good news in a way but bad when I chose the wrong word from the list Then I would take it to a neighbour lady, Dna Laura who had been at one time a language teacher. Then I would write it out again and read it word for word. Most sermons that are read are not interesting but mine must have been different for I made enough mistakes that the listeners must have stifled many a laugh. I recall misreading the word for “way” and explained that the listeners should take the “truck” to heaven. Could have been worse I suppose.
As I would go door to door distributing invitations to the rented hall, I found it impossible to find the words to answer the questions that so many had. Quite frustrating. It takes a number of years to really become fluent in another language. They say after the third language, the next comes easier and I am sure in my case it was true.
While in Rio Preto both of our children came down with the chicken pox; then I caught it from them. Monica and Vernon were sick, sick with it but they did not develop any complications. They were covered with pox from the top of their heads to the soles of their feet. A picture of them at that time sitting or laying on the couch shows them looking so forlorn. We felt so sorry for them. Those pox left scars, some visible years later.
(Have patience. It’s to be continued next week.)