Monthly Archives: March 2015

Throwing Dice for One’s Life

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”  Anon

I was re-reading an old book and I came across a bookmark. It was not only pretty but a verse on its face was in Portuguese and that grabbed more than my interest. It grabbed my heart. There was a private note on the back written to Doris by one of the world’s special ladies and a dear friend—Dna. Irene. I had to read it and as I did it took me on a strange adventure.

“Dearest Doris, “Many thanks for those pickled cucumbers. We are sad that you did not come. (I had gone to Brazil leading a work group. Anyway, there is then a bit about me). Dna. Irene finishes with “Thanks for everything; a hug for you along with many nostalgic memories. Irene.”

The story is this. Doris sent a few jars of a special cucumber pickle along with me in my baggage for Dna. Irene. Those pickles were so special to her that only close family or friends would get a taste of them. Doris took a chance those pickles would arrive safely, not spreading their contents all through my suitcases. When I thought of Doris gambling on getting those pickles to Brazil, it threw back the curtains and let in the light that explained her going to Brazil. That was a country where we had no friends. She gambled her life and future, adding to all that gambling what might touch the life of our four month old daughter Monica. Remember, it is impossible to stay on a street corner in any or the world’s great cities.

When Doris and I went to Brazil we had no one to meet us, knew nothing of the language, had no Brazilian money nor had any sure idea of where we were going. We were marching off the end of the world.  Strange? Yes, but I remember this. The gambling instinct is part of the greatness of every human. What we did seemed so very normal to us back then for gambling is part of man’s God-given nature. We were living by faith–or we might call it gambling.

Gambling will be true when I plant my potatoes a few weeks before the rest of my garden. Also some other seeds go in too early—I’m gambling they will grow. We can refer to faith as gambling but of this I am sure; it is the noble instinct in man that prepares him for great adventures. To limit gambling to buying 649 tickets is to diminish life. We all have the ability for great enterprises and for that we accept the risks. We always step out into an obscure future.

A writer penned this during WWII. “Some men die by shrapnel, and some go down in flames. But most men perish, inch by inch, who play at little games.” My dad never finished grade school but he understood the gamble he and his family faced every day. So, often in family prayers he would say, “Lord, watch over us for this is an untried day that lies before us.” The italicised part is what I recall.

The bookmark has taken me on an adventure down through memories. It tells of Doris’ gambling on me being able to lead the way in Brazil and on all those difficult circumstances that transfixed our attention from day to day. Wanted—great gamblers—those who are ready to risk something or perhaps everything on the possibility that this world was fashioned by God and works best when we live by his instructions. Gamble your life on a life and eternity on Him!

 

 

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Six Different Languages and no Confusion

“Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.” August Rodin

Many of the mistakes made in a new language are often funny–the speaker’s intent and what is said may be totally unrelated. Here is a different kind of incident that happened when we lived in Sao Paulo. What we saw went beyond humour; in this case understanding came about in spite of different languages being spoken and not well understood.

It occurred when we were taking care of the two Huston boys that lived in Paraguay. The whole family took the arduous trip to Brazil for a conference; after that the parents wished to take a week’s holiday in Rio before returning to Asuncion. Since we had children about the same age, we invited them to stay with us. The boys spoke English since that was the language of their parents. They would also have spoken Guarani, an indigenous language that is one of the two languages of Paraguay. The other of course was Spanish. So those lads would have been well acquainted with three languages.

Our children spoke English with us as parents while at the same time they attended school in the Portuguese language. It seems a bit humorous now but if we as parents wanted to be sure they understood what we were saying, we used Portuguese. As our family chatted we often spoke a mixture of both languages for sometimes one language had a word that would say it better than another–a conversations in two languages.

At that time a German family lived across the road from us and of course their family language was German. Since their two boys went to a Brazilian school they would also speak Portuguese–that of course means they were fluent in two languages.

So when our son Vernon took the two Huston boys across the road to play at the German family home, they together spoke a total of six languages. Interestingly, they were able to play together without any fights and very little confusion. Somehow intentions and actions were clear in the minds of each one even though the language that was being spoken was not well understood. I suppose they might have shifted from one language to another trying to make some aspect of a game clear—but perhaps the language was less important than the attitude.

There was something else going on. Even in those few hours of play each learned words they had never come across before. You see, children have the rich capacity to acquire many languages simultaneously. It has been concluded that language development is like other forms of growth and the critical period for learning languages is from birth to puberty. A child may pick up four or five languages with no awareness of one being difference from the other. They simply know to use a different one in each differing social situations.

It was a marvelous thing to see—five boys speaking a total of six languages getting along so well. What a pity that in the adult world, even when we understand another’s language, it is so easy to misinterpret the words and often have a battle over little substance. Of course wars occur all the time around our globe between countries, racial groups, religions and even in homes while the onlooker wonders why communication and patience might not solve most problems.

Could it be those children developed antibodies in their systems that helped them play together in peace? If that were so, how good it would be if we could get a similar vaccination, perhaps from those children. We might then go out into the world to live at peace.

At this point there comes to mind the words of Jesus who said that we need to become as little children to be able to be part of his Kingdom. I am sure He was not referring to the conflicts children sometimes stir up but to those times of peace and cooperation he must have noticed among children. With his perspective he would have understood how those children played so well in that home across the street. Certainly while here He was setting the pace for all of us who wish to be his followers—that is become as little children. Those five boys I’ve mentioned set the pace for all of us.

 

 

 

Welcome to a Trip to Brazil

“Wherever a man or a woman turns he can find someone who needs him. Even if it is a little thing—do something for which there is no pay—but the privilege of just doing it.” Albert Schweitzer

 Hey, what about going with me to Brazil as part of a group? You would find it exciting but I’d better explain that invitation. I guess an old codger such as me needs to let bygones be bygones and forget about such trips. But we can do it on this blog. It won’t cost a cent or leave you tired out from that 12 hour plane ride. Well then, hold on tight for we are on the way–and hoping that no matter what we do it will help someone.

Flying at 32,000 feet we’ll pass over a horizon banked with fluffy, white cumulous clouds. At the same time the sun constructs deep ominous shadows behind some of those dark towering centrepieces. We are surprised at a transformation as we drop below the mist and see Sao Paulo spread over hill after hill with roads winding among them. Hills—we might not expect them for the city is built on a high plateau above the mountains that lead to the beaches of the Atlantic. The city has tunnelled through some of those hills to build their multi-lane highways

After clearing customs we are free to go. But where? Apprehension grips us for all we see is a passageway leading somewhere –we hope to part of the terminal that opens outside. Ah, a few more steps and a group of Brazilians greets us with smiles and outstretched arms.   They hug every one of us; you will not forget those hugs for you have never been hugged so thoroughly before by such a welcoming group. They treat us as if we were long-lost relatives. I recall that years ago when we were first in Brazil that those hugs took us off guard. Soon you’ll enjoy those hugs for they are much nicer than a handshake.

But we’ll never get far in Brazil without some of their money, the “Real,” so we exchange some of the U.S. currency we’ve been carrying at one the of  cambios. We carry U.S. money, some in cash for it gets a better rate. But no money changes hands till you show your passport—I am not sure why but you need to have identity documents with you all the time. We don’t change a lot for rates will be better in the center of the city.

Before leaving the terminal we stop at a coffee bar to we try their cafezinhos. It is served piping hot in a demi-tasse cup with lots of sugar. You may do some coughing as you try to drink it–unless you are used to strong coffee. Brazilians visiting us explain our reaction by saying they have to drink a gallon of water in Canada to get a cup of coffee. However the coffee for breakfast is mostly hot milk with a dash of sweet coffee. That goes down easily.

I have warned you about the traffic in this city of over 22 million. You may wish to close your eyes as cars speed by while cutting in and out of the traffic. Added to that are the many motorcycles that are used to deliver small parcels and mail. One day I saw three motosas they call them—smashed in accidents. To solve part of the traffic problem, cars with odd numbered plates are allowed to drive one day, the even numbers the next. That may cut some traffic but for people who must have transportation buy a second car with a different numbered plate. Problem not solved.

Part of the purpose for you going on this tour is to help some of the poor in our churches. So you’ve raised $500.00 or more and filled your suitcases with used clothing. The next day with the help of a pastor, the basement of his local church is piled high with food and clothing. Our job is to package the food that will provide the basics for a small family. The clothes go into similar plastic bags though in this case we don’t try to sort them since the recipients will trade what they don’t need to get what is necessary.

(Drop by next week to enjoy more of this trip)

Food that Calls for a Second Helping

If you are a connoisseur of good food it would be worth taking a trip to Brazil with me–at least on this blog. We’ll always find a restaurant nearby no matter where we go and they will provide good Brazilian cuisine. For me the most famous class of restaurant is the churrascaria that serves a variety of barbecued meats. The best meat for me is the thinly sliced picanha steak that fits in so well with a salad of vegetables. You no doubt will get to try heart of palm in their salad bar. Doris and I developed a taste for palm hearts but a jar of it here is a bit expensive and doesn’t taste quite the same as in Brazil.

No matter the churrascaria,  it serves up prime meats that have turned slowly on a metal skewer over an open fire. Incredibly delicious! The waiter bring skewer after skewer to our table and he will slice off onto our plates as much as you or I can handle—or more. No matter, another slice always looks so good even though we have already filled our plates with a salad. If you accompany me to a Brazilian restaurant for the first time, don’t worry about strong seasoning for their taste is much like ours.

Then there is the famous feijoada made up from beans, pieces of pork and cured meats including sausage. I was never a great fan of feijoada for I thought of it as a heavy food. Of course I never knew what I might find in it. Some of us were once invited out to a club and when they served feijoada a friend found part of a pig’s snout with an eye staring up at him. He did not eat much. Others love it.  I recall being out in a restaurant with a friend and when I could not handle the abundant portion of feijoada dished out, he ate mine as well as his own. So much depends on a person’s taste.

There was a small restaurant on the Praca da Se in central Sao Paulo that I loved even though it catered mostly to stand-up customers. I should explain that Praca da Se is the Public Square or park directly in front of the Se cathedral. When in this downtown area I would plan to have lunch at this busy restaurant. It served up the best bife a cavalo and though a translation might detract from the taste it would be “a horseback riding steak.” It consists of a piece of grilled beef with a fried egg on top. The beef was always tasty, tender and properly seasoned. Absolutely delicious!

If you’ve been travelling with me, you ought not to leave Brazil without the common man’s meal, that is Arroz e Feijao–in English, rice and beans. White rice is cooked with a bit of oil so that it does not stick together and is seasoned with garlic and onions. The beans are cooked till soft and the well-seasoned sauce is then served on top of the rice. We’ll not encounter black beans for they are used in areas where we will not be travelling. You’ll like the beans we were accustomed to–a small red bean called, Rochinho. Rice and Beans are the ultimate budget dish but that does not make it less delicious.

Then you may encounter Farofa,  perhaps in a restaurant or a private home. It is made from the coarse Mandioca flour made up from the root by that name. It is then fried up with lots of butter and whatever particular  addition the chef prefers. I never acquired any taste for it and it was not part of our regular diet. But give it a try for that is the way to expand an appreciation for different foods no matter the country.

 

You’ll enjoy the bread in Brazil. Wherever you and I will have breakfast in Brazil we will be served up bread still warm from the oven. That used to be part of our breakfast every day—warm bread from a nearby bakery. We were spoiled rotten eh?

Now my mind turns to Jesus who refers to himself as the Bread of Life. I’ve heard differing explanations of what that means but I’ve concluded that if we study his teachings and live as He has outlined for us, that our lives will be nourished and strong—that is successful—in this life and in eternity. Bread of Life—give him a try.