Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Barbeiro Bug

There is no great mystery in the name of this bug since the translation for barbeiro means barber ; that may come from the stripes on its abdomen. Just think of the barber’s pole that used to stand outside some barber shops. During our first term in Brazil we heard about the barbeiro for it carried a parasitic disease that infected some of the poor in our area but now infects 18 millions in Central and South America. Deaths mount up to 14,000 per year.

The person infected by the barbeiro may have few systems for perhaps thirty years but then it will be known to have attacked different parts of the body—the heart, nervous system and colon. When our family lived in Neves I recall hearing that a man had dropped dead while playing soccer. He had an enlarged heart from the bite of the barbeiro that infected him with a parasite. In Brazil that disease is called Chagas since a Dr. Chagas defined it. This parasite lives in the intestine of the bug and is transmitted through its bite. However technically it is the bug’s secretions that enter through the wound the bug makes or perhaps other lesions.

I recall visiting in homes where the walls were made of bamboo and plastered with mud. Cracks developed as the mud dried and so provided a place for the barbeiro to hide during the day. Its bloodsucking was done at night when the occupants were asleep. The Chagas parasite may show itself in up to 30% of those infected. Chagas is a terrible disease. To suck blood the barbeiro pounces on exposed skin but prefers the face and especially around the lips for they would be uncovered. As a result this is how this bug earned its English name, The Kissing Bug. Tests for the Chagas disease are inadequate and the medications expensive and toxic. Treatments at times are not successful and Chagas may remain a chronic disease.

So how was it that neither Doris nor I along with our children never got Chagas? One reason is that we lived in a house made of bricks and plastered over so the bug did not have many entry or hiding places. In any case my visits to the poorer homes never meant that I would sleep there overnight. Looking back I don’t recall knowing much about the barbeiro or being concerned about it.

The second reason is one that I do not fully understand but it is this: God sends angels to provide protection. As I look back over life I recall so many situations that Doris would explain with, “The angels must have been working overtime.” That includes my teen years, our time in Brazil and Haiti, and without doubt all the time we have lived in Canada.

As I’ve written up this post other thoughts have worked its way into my mind. It is that the disease Chagas is so similar to shadows that have crowded into our lives. We all know about them. Life runs along fairly smoothly but “the chickens come home to roost” often in the form of shadows that deepen into storm clouds.


The Favelas

“If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.

A favela is not just a shanty town; it is a city within a city and we know it as a slum. It will have its own government though more than likely the power is criminal. The ability to provide a certain amount of order comes out of the barrel of a gun. Many of the favelados–people who live there, are content to stay for the slum has most everything they need.

The story is told of a dentist from one of our churches who for a week or so provided free help in a Rio favela. One night all his equipment was stolen so the matter went to most powerful man in that slum—a drug lord. His reaction was a promise to kill the thief, but the dentist asked only that his equipment be returned. The next day the dentist found all the stolen goods had been mysteriously put in place during the night.

The way into the heart of a favela is through a sprawling maze of alleys and pathways with the result that the police and the army are shy about going in to arrest anyone. They would be an easy target. The shacks there are the homes of 11.25 million Brazilians and since land is scarce each shack seems to be built on top of those constructed at a lower level. The poorest of the favelados are forced to build high up on the hills and their places are accessible only from narrow pathways. Often those same pathways will have a little stream of putrid water flowing to a lower level.

I recall visiting a favela in Sao Paulo where a number of children were receiving aid so they could attend school . After the car was parked we walked a short distance to descend on steps carved into the red soil of the hill. The problem was that the edges of those steps had vanished with time so even though it was not raining we had to be careful. At the lowest level was a dirty stream that served to dispose of sewage. I want to tell you we were careful to step on stones and not get any of the sewage on us. We visited in a home that had enough space for a small garden. No doubt other squatters later moved in till the houses built would be so close to each other that access would be difficult.

Back at the top of the hill we clapped our hands in front of another home for we had food to deliver. The mother came carrying a small child while another older one clung to her skirt. Then she invited us down, yes down into her home for it was built on a steep incline. There on the parent’s bed was a fat little baby less than a year old. I picked her up and she began to scream. The mother explained that the child was blind from encephalitis and wore a special patch on her neck to allow her to breathe. She stated that she only picked this little girl up to feed her and change a diaper all because the baby screamed when touched. The mother looked at me accusingly as she explained the sad situation of her child.

Then I was asked to pray there by that bedside. Indeed I began but the words stuck in my throat and tears filled my eyes so that another person finished the prayer. We left the food and went on our way. But the sights and sounds of that shantytown stick with me yet.

This picture of a favela does not show the intense building of one shack upon another as us usually the case. As time goes by this favela without doubt will begin to climb higher on the mountain; then there will be little room for trees

Jesus tells us to have compassion on the poor and needy wherever we meet them. Brazilian churches do their best to help in many ways providing education, food and clothing. The key component is the Good News of the Gospel. Dramatic changes happen when the Gospel is received. There is hope in Jesus our Christ—a vibrant hope in this life and in the next.

Clearing up Fears

“The point of having an open mind, like having an open mouth, is to close it on something solid.”           G.K. Chesterson

During our first year in Brazil Doris and I were apprehensive about our safety. Those attending language school were of no help in allaying any fears for they also were new to the country. At the same time we could not yet chat with our teachers to be able to get our facts straight. We were in a strange land and heard stories about violence and robbery though we had no way to know what to believe. So what should I do to protect myself and family? The advice we heard was to arm ourselves–so we scraped together money during that first year, enough to buy a gun. I grew up being familiar with long guns and have proof because I still carry some lead in a foot. But in general a long gun may be of little help in protection.

So I went to a shop in the city of Sao Paulo and purchased a 32 Calibre revolver. It was a nice little gun with a 6” barrel but a foolish move because anyone who has ever fired a handgun knows that it is very difficult to be accurate with it. Then too, I at least was still learning the important lesson that our Eternal Father often sends his guardian angels to watch over his children; my faith was small indeed when I purchased that handgun. As well I needed to remember that we were in Brazil to encourage people to trust in God for everything related to this life and eternity. So you can say, “Without doubt you blew it”

Now a humorous story that illustrates just how useless such a gun was for our protection. Our family had travelled with other missionaries, the Mannoia family, down to a beach outside of Santos. It was a lovely beach and totally isolated from anyone—we assumed we were there all by ourselves. The plan was for the two ladies and the children to sleep in the VW van while three of the rest of our group would go a short distance towards the water and sleep there on the sand. Yes, we had pillows and perhaps a blanket or two. We all supposed we could then protect our families by carrying the gun to the beach and hiding it under a pillow. Did it help?

Not at all for with the surf breaking just a few feet away from where we men slept, we could hear nothing, unless it were a bombardment by cannons. Since the van was full of people sleeping, the pots and pans with other things were placed under the van. The next morning all that stuff was gone. Those in the van heard nothing and we who were on the beach were likewise deaf to the robbery. We could all smile at the protection we thought we had. Actually I do believe we were protected by the angels sent by the Eternal Father to watch over us.

During our time in Brazil there was only one time that there was an attempted break-in at our home; that was in Rio Preto where we found that someone had tried to jimmy our back door but had failed. Oh, we had stuff stolen once when we lived in Rio but that was an inside job—our maid. Our own personal experiences with Brazilians was always pleasant—what a wonderful generous and kind people!

Now I don’t want to give anyone the idea that there are no dangers in Brazil’s big cities. The fact is every big city in the world presents challenges. I recall a Brazilian pastor insisting that we rent a van for our work team to go to Rio instead of taking a bus. He considered the city dangerous, especially the bus and train stations for he believed crooks were there on the lookout for those not familiar with the country. On that particular trip we met a friend,  Senhor Paulo who said he and his wife felt like prisoners in their own apartment because of crime. Doris and I never felt that way through the time we lived in Brazil, whether it was out among the coffee plantations or in the big cities of Sao Paulo and Rio.

For us, there is nothing that clears away fears whether those fears spring up in Brazil, Haiti, the USA or right here in Canada. The opening words of an old poem says it so well—“My hope is in the Lord…”

Me ‘fraid of a Local Anesthetic?

“To get out of a difficulty, one usually most go through it.” Samuel Easton

It was unbelievable. My blood was squirting from my mouth and staining the white apron before me.  How could this happen to me? In Brazil? Oh I knew right well why and how it was occurring but in such frightening circumstances unbelief seems to take over. There in the chair I wondered if it was for real or was it some nightmare? My only consolation was the warm presence of my wife Doris with me in that small room. The whole scenario had an aura of comfort about it for she was there.

What was happening is that I was having my tonsils out in a doctor’s office under a local anesthetic. I do not know if the lady assisting the surgeon was a nurse. Doris is as nurse but she had no part in the surgery except to comfort me. No anestheseologist for the surgeon took care of that by puncturing my throat with shots of a deadening pain killer. There was no backup surgeon if anything went wrong.

I was counting on my own private nurse to be there but she had to argue her way in. The surgeon did not think Doris had the stomach for a Brazilian tonsillectomy. She explained, however, there would be no problem for she was a Registered Nurse. Now I think back on that situation and many others in life where Doris was a key saving factor. I believe that there was more to our marriage than two young people falling in love. I am sure that God with all of his foresight was part of the plan, in this case so that we could be together in that surgeon’s office.

One part I recall of that surgery is that I was scared of drowning in my own blood for it was hard to suction it away fast enough. The helper was doing her job the way a dentist in Canada might but that was no comfort to me.

In any case, the surgery ended and Doris led the way to the streetcar stop where we could get transportation across the city. But it did not stop near our door but at the top of hill some distance from our front door. But I could handle most anything at that point for the freezing had not disappeared. Soon in our small home and bedroom the pain came with a vengeance and I recall feeling as if my throat was cut. Of course that was true to some extent.

With the intense pain I wanted nothing more than to have Doris sit on the bed beside me and hold my hand. The only relief I could get was from a cold drink of water though that created another problem—swallowing. It took a number of days before I graduated from cold liquids to food made into mush.

But I never did explain the why of the surgery. For some time I had recurrent throat infections and my doctor in Brazil thought the problem was my tonsils. But nothing improved after that ordeal and it was yeas later that a doctor in Ontario hit on the solution. Another question? Why surgery in such Spartan conditions? Well, the custom then in Brazil was to have all such surgery to be done in the doctor’s office.

And that reminds me other another tonsillectomy. When we lived in the interior of Sao Paulo state, a lady from the church asked me to go with her young son who was having a tonsillectomy while awake but with freezing. Well, I was in pretty good shape accompanying the young lad till the blood began to flow—I could use more descriptive words. In any case my stomach would not stand it and I left to sit with the mom and dad in the waiting room. Oh yes, the young lad recovered and on a trip to Brazil years later I met him once again and his mother.

I guess we can say, “All’s well that ends well.” But as I look back over my experience in a surgeon’s office I am sure the good Lord with his angels were doing their part. That surgery was back in 1956—but I am still thankful to God for his grace and mercy in getting through it as well as I did.


Minhas Desculpas

My Apologies

I wish to offer my “desculpas” for the posting of “Mucha Bout a Little Cafe.” Smile kindly on me as I explain that I was checking out some other blogs and somehow this one appears on my blog—out of a blue sky. And I don’t know how to remove it. It is an interesting read—the only thing it is not mine. I hope you are full of understanding to-day and this removes some confusion.

Thanks, Roy Kenny,