Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The rest of Salvador

I didn’t know Juliano on my mission, but he drives a taxi for Jailson, and thus we had the pleasure to meet him and his family. We immediately had a great connection with them and felt like we’ve been friends forever. Having Juliano as our personal tour guide helped ease my worries about getting around Salvador. He was fantastic. His wife makes chocolate bon-bons and you can imagine that Gina was quick to put in a large order. She and Gina seemed to make a great connection. She also made Gina a beautiful doll and wrapped it as a Christmas gift. Gina can’t wait to someday put the doll in a nursery. We have been blown away by the generosity of the people and members here.

Before a few months ago, I had practically written off tasting acarajé for a long, long time, but on this trip my wish came true. Here I am about to dig into a nice palm-oil-deep-fried acarajé, complete with vatapá and shrimp. You just can’t get this taste anywhere else in the world. Gina ate it and claimed to have liked it. She’s pretty much a miracle.

Jailson took us out to the Praia do Forte which is the world headquarters for the TAMAR project, specializing in the revitalization and protection of the various marine sea turtles. I got to hold a sea cucumber, take a dip in the ocean, and talk about science. I love this place.

While I didn’t think to take a picture of it, Gina slept the entire way back to Salvador. Jailson kept thundering in his trademark low voice “A mulher se quebrou na Bahia! A mulher ‘ta quebrada,” which roughly translates to “Bahia rocked her world.” He couldn’t be more right.

After the rocking of Gina’s world and a wonderful night at the Da Silva’s house, we had a very relaxing Christmas Day and for the first time it finally felt like we were truly on vacation. We got to talk to both of our families via Skype which made being in Brazil feel not quite so far away.

Gina's Christmas Day 2010

BD's Christmas Day 2010

Feliz Natal 2010
 Gina woke up early one morning (yes, you read that right) and luckily I heard her say, “wow, look at that amazing sunrise.” I jumped up and had to snap a few quick photos. What a beautiful way to start the day.
Bahian Sunrise
 We took the long way to the airport and drove along the coast to the Faról de Itapuã. This quaint little candy-cane lighthouse is a little bit away from the city. I was glad we could cap off our Salvador trip with a quick stop here. It was certainly hard to say goodbye to Jailson at the airport. I don’t know when I’ll see him or Bahia again.
Itapuã Lighthouse

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday in São Caetano

We are only in Salvador for one Sunday but I knew exactly which ward I wanted to attend. There is one very special family in São Caetano that I absolutely needed to see, hug, and spend time with. First, it's such a small world, the driver of the taxi that we took to church has a sister that lives in Provo and served a mission. Furthermore, he's lived in the same condo complex as Jailson for some time now. Here we are headed to church in São Caetano.

The church building has been remodeled since I was there last, and maybe one day they'll even get air conditioning :-). The ward and stake has since split and there is now a branch for a part of the ward that was pretty far from the chapel. The members were singing Christmas hymns out in front of the church when we arrived, and we were invited to join in. They were so welcoming and all the women hugged and kissed Gina. She's getting really good at the double-cheek-kissing greetings. It was good to see some familiar faces.
São Caetano chapel
One major reason to attend church in São Caetano was the Reis family. This family was baptized almost exactly 9 years ago on the 30th of December 2001. The following picture shows Eronildes (dad), Marcos, and Rafael (kneeling). The mom and the oldest son couldn't make it today because of some health problems. So far, Hebert (the oldest son), and Marcos have both served missions in Brazil. They were so excited to show me pictures of the people they baptized who are now serving their own missions. Rafael was 10 when we first clapped at their door and he'll be turning in his mission papers in January. We're secretly praying that he is called to Utah.
The Reis (Reis translates to "Kings" - very fitting)
After church they invited us to their house to see Luzinete (mom) and Hebert with his wife. It was so great to be walking the same streets here in Salvador with my friends. Brother Eronildes plays soccer each week at 67 years old with all the young kids out in the back of the church since he's been the Young Men's president in the past few years. The streets haven't changed all that much and I could almost find my way straight to their house.
The streets of São Caetano
View off the Reis' back porch
They were so kind to serve us lunch after church. We sat and chatted for much longer than Gina ever thought possible. It was awesome to reminisce about the first days when Elder Castro and I met them and when Elder Almeida and I taught them. The oldest boy, Hebert had prayed that God would help him find the truth among all the churches. Because of his prayer, my companion and I were in his living room the very next day reciting the first vision. It's amazing to look back at that day and see why we were working late in that area even though we hadn't worked anywhere near their street before. Previous missionaries had told us that they'd knocked (clapped) all the doors over there. That day we actually passed by their house without clapping and we now realize it was because Hebert wasn't actually home. When we came by later we decided to stop and clap at their door. The dad let us in and Hebert came home from running errands a few minutes later. The three boys are spiritual giants in my eyes. They read the Book of Mormon, prayed, found out the truth, and wanted to be baptized. The parents were a bit hesitant but the boys already had their own testimonies. The parents began to read and pray with the boys and soon they all decided to be baptized. The rest is history and they're still going strong today. I definitely came to tears a few times while in their home again. There is such a strong spirit there. True Christians.
From left: Luzinete, Marcos, Rafael, Eronildes, Hebert, Rose, Gina, me

Christmas Eve

Once again, Jailson, Jacira, and their family were amazingly nice to us and invited us over to their house for Christmas Eve. They made up a great Christmas feast complete with turkey, potato salad, cake, and a few things I don't know how to describe. Gina was a good sport and tried everything that was new to her. I only had to sneak one thing off her plate that she couldn't finish. In their apartment tucked into the corner of the Cabula neighborhood, we felt the Christmas spirit as we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ. Jailson gave a wonderful speech and bore his testimony of our Savior to his family before we started dinner. They also have Jacira's mother living with them who is 94 years old. You can see her in this picture with Gina, and little Francisco with his mom Carla. Grandma really loved Gina and sat holding her hand for much of the night talking to her about babies. Francisco is Jailson and Jacira's first and only grandchild and they affectionately refer to him as o gordinho which directly translated means the little fat one. (Brazilians are very direct in how they refer to people.) 

Speaking of o gordinho, we have never seen a child so happy to get a single present from his grandparents. He immediately opened this box of Legos and played with them all night long until they had to leave. He's amazingly smart and knows all of his colors in English as well as numbers and animals. He speaks Portuguese... better than I do :-)

Finally, here is this wonderful, Christ-like family that doesn't hesitate to give of themselves to anyone and everyone. From the left, Jailson, Jacira, Grandma, Júnior, Carla, Fransisco, and Janaína. They will always mean so much to us. I'm so proud to know them and be associated with such wonderful members of the Church.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Da Silva Family

BD again. President Jailson and his family have been members for well over a decade now and are a true testament of how the Church really functions on a fundamental level. They treat everyone as a child of God and serve one another infinitely. Jailson is currently the ward mission leader and his wife, Jacira, teaches the Principles of the Gospel class. Because of this they are heavily involved in missionary work. They know seemingly everybody in Salvador; while driving in neighborhoods far away from theirs we would inevitably run into someone that they knew. They have been more than hospitable to us while we've been here and Jacira and Lucy, da Silva's maid, prepared an amazing breakfast for us one morning.

Breakfast at da Silva's house
Gina also got her first taste of cashew fruit. Yes, I said cashew, it actually has a fruit associated with it. But you have to be careful not to eat the shell that the nut is inside of because the grayish colored shell will cause your mouth to swell up. The fruit is a little different and leaves a funny taste in your mouth so they usually make juice with it but I made Gina try the fruit itself - it wasn't her favorite.

Cashew fruit with the cashew nut still attached on top

As the ward mission leader, Jailson has a good handle on the needs of church members in the area. He was able to help us pick out 3 families that particularly needed help during Christmas time (out of the hundreds of thousands that need help). These families are people that have testimonies of the gospel and have the strongest faith we've ever seen. Jacira made a shopping list of some staple foods and necessities that people here need and Jailson helped us navigate the shopping. Simply grocery shopping was an adventure in and of itself. He took us to the government-owned Cesta do Povo (meaning The People's Basket) because it is so much cheaper to buy the staple food items there. Gina could walk up and down foreign supermarkets looking at all the unique things for hours. Here she is checking out in the obscenely long and slow lines, characteristic of all Brazilian supermarkets.

The next day we delivered the bags of food to the families. It was so amazing to get into the favelas again where house is built upon house upon house. It was especially nice to go with Jailson and Jacira and give them the opportunity to make that additional connection with these families. They already do so much for the people here, everything from helping to pay for better schools to helping people find the joy that exists within the gospel. It is members like them that make the Church such an amazing organization. We felt so much joy and love for these people. We wished that we could do so much more for them. There were plenty of tears shed and lots of love spread. A Christmas we will not soon forget.
Walking down to Lucy's house at night

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from Brazil

Christmas Eve on the Bahia coast

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bahia: The land of happiness

Still BD here. Today was officially the first day of summer, and we sure noticed the hot sun and humidity. We did some touristy things today including the Mercado Modelo, Pelourinho, and Bonfim. We took advantage of being inside museums and churches when possible where it was at least shady. When the Portuguese settled in Brazil, they landed just a bit south of Salvador and then quickly started building up Salvador into the bustling city that it is today. At the time, their biggest threat besides the occasional pirate (see below) was the Dutch. So they built all kinds of fortresses to guard the city. For protection, the "Forte de São Marcelo" is right out in the bay below the Governor's Palace.
Forte de São Marcelo (no pirates here)
Because a good portion of the city is down right at sea level and the Governor's mansion was up on top of a steep hill, they needed a way to easily get up and down. So, like any ingenious people would do, they decided to build a huge elevator - Wonka-style.
Elevator Lacerda
In the historic Pelourinho neighborhood we visited a few of the churches that weren't closed for renovation. They say there are 365 churches in Salvador so that you can go to a different one every day of the year. The most famous ones are each of the three orders of São Francisco. The priests still live on the second floor but instead of the really cool 10 inch long keys that they used to use, they apparently now use magnetic key cards. They even have a satellite dish.
Façade of the 3rd order São Francisco church
Convent plaza of the 1st order São Francisco church
The inside of the 1st order church has more gold than I've ever seen in my life. When looking at this picture, notice that whatever resembles gold actually is. Gina commented that it's like "baroque threw up rococo everywhere." Anything that doesn't resemble gold is simply dirty gold that needs to be shined. Churches like these are in a perpetual state of renovation because of the intricate adornment.

Ahh, the Pelourinho, beautiful colonial Portuguese architecture, colorful houses, and Afro-Brazilian drum beats seem to be emanating from the buildings on every street. Apparently, the Bahian sunshine brings out the pirate in Gina.
Most of the Catholic churches here have a strong African influence. At the famous Senhor do Bomfim church people bring molded body parts to give thanks to God for curing health problems. It's bizarre.

Now for my highlight of the day - Açaí. I've been craving the taste of real Açaí ever since I left. This purple fruit from the Amazon and Northern Brazil has quite the odd flavor but is somehow addicting. Gina's first taste was a success! Although she had to take the edge off of the flavor with a little bit of banana blended in. And don't forget the granola on top.

I have to make mention of a few of Gina's observations:
  • When driving, you can get away with anything as long as you honk your horn. (the lines in the road are only there for looks)
  • When walking, you can get away with all sorts of jaywalking with a quick thumbs-up, magically stopping oncoming cars.
  • Brazilians give the best hugs.
  • The local practice of 2-3 showers a day is not only necessary but mandatory.
  • Humidity makes her puffy. She claims.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Feels like home

This morning we actually did wake up early though judging from how tired we were last night we thought we'd sleep forever. The little pousada where we're staying served a great breakfast and Gina got her first taste of umbu juice. She also practiced how to say "foi muito bom, obrigada" so she could thank Luzia for the wonderful food.

Umbu translates to "Brazilian plum" but Gina says it tastes nothing like a plum.
As Gina and I climbed the tiled spiral staircase in our hotel and emerged onto the roof, I had a wonderful feeling of something familiar that I hadn't seen in such a long time. Salvador has such an eclectic mix of modern, new buildings right next to dilapidated poverty. It's so good to be here.
Rio Vermelho neighborhood
One of the things that I couldn't miss was visiting the mission office where I spent 9 months of my mission. The office is in the same place but has received a much-needed remodel inside. I asked a lot of questions about the areas where I served (and where many of them had served too). They asked a lot of questions about my experience, life after the mission, and what it's like to be back. Gina's doing a great job listening to all the Portuguese being spoken and I'm doing my best to remember to translate for her. We also happened to be there when the mail was delivered with Christmas packages; we certainly saw some happy faces.

Ahh, mission life.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Am I dreaming? Yes, somewhere over Texas

BD here, I'll be commandeering Gina's blog a bit for the next two weeks. To say I'm excited wouldn't even scratch the surface of what I'm feeling right now. The adventure starts as we begin the painfully long trip with 4 flight legs over 36 hours. But who can complain about free airfare? Thank you Gina's work skymiles. For 8 years I've been wanting to take Gina back to Brazil to meet the people I love, now's our chance.

Here we are inside the lovely Boeing 757 leaving SLC. My monkey arms come in handy for the hand-held self portraits, which we'll be taking a lot of over the next two weeks.
Me and Wifen
And, this next one is a first... watching the little guy in the fully-enclosed, winterized cherry-picker (or "uppy-down thing" as Gina calls it) de-icing the plane before we take off. As you can already tell, it's a long flight to Atlanta. Thanks to the Delta-Google partnership for the free in-flight wi-fi (or, if you prefer, wee-fee).
Uppy-down thing

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Catching the Spirit

It's now starting to dawn on me that we really won't be home for Christmas. This morning I kept thinking about not being present on Christmas Eve to eat fondue, read Luke II, and listen to Mannheim Steamroller's Silent Night by the white twinkle lights of mom's tree. I think I'm OK with missing all of that, but what I'm really concerned about is a no-show from the fire department. If I'm not there, who will light the fire place without first checking to see that the flue is properly sealed shut with snow and ice? What would Christmas be if we weren't smoked out of the house? It's tradition.
This year we didn't bother putting up a tree or stockings or Christmas-y decor of any kind knowing we wouldn't be home to enjoy it. Perhaps for that reason it's been more difficult than usual for me to catch the Spirit of Christmas. Usually I catch it two seconds after I've eaten my last bite of leftover turkey. However, we took our church youth group to the annual Nativity in the Glen which is jointly sponsored by the First Baptist Church, Wasatch Presbyterian Church, St. Ambrose and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Churches, and the LDS Bonneville Stake. Hundreds of people come to walk through Bethlehem and see the live nativity equipped with animals, yes, even a camel. It's quite the production. That night I walked out of the glen feeling more Christmas joy than you could ever stuff down a chimney. It's not something you can touch (like a camel) or wrap (with double-sided tape) or check from a list (even twice). It's something that sparks you from the inside where it can be yours forever. It's true indeed, that Christmas is more about the why than the where and what.

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Hero of the Year

Image via SLC Trib
Elizabeth Smart is my Hero of the Year. Like most people around here, I've been following the trial closely. While reading about the horrible things that happened during her captivity I've literally had to close my computer and walk away because I just couldn't read anymore. I remember her kidnapping very clearly. I remember praying and fasting for her safe return. I remember talking endlessly with friends and family about all the mysterious details surrounding her disappearance. I also remember being shocked to my core when she was found 9 months later. Of course I don't know her personally, but I believe her to be an amazing woman who will continue to lead and inspire others for the rest of her life. She is truly an inspiration to me. I think all of us feel the victory right along with her. Today's verdict has been a long time coming for Elizabeth, her family, and this whole community. I keep welling up with tears. I am so happy for her.

I'd love to know, who is your Hero of the Year? If you post about it, send me a link!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

In a Cloud

The Mr. and I returned today from a very lovely weekend in Park City. We've been engulfed in a giant fluffy cloud all day. The fog receded just enough for us to see the last slip of sunlight slinking away against the Oquirrh Mountains. I'm fighting the Sunday night blues by hunkering down under a blanket with candy cane hot chocolate and BD to watch the First Presidency Christmas Message. This year, we'll be having a different kind of Christmas. I feel infinitely lucky and loved. Honestly, I could float away on happiness.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Today's Fortune... providing a sudden gust of wind from behind.
Happy weekend! 'Tis the season for work Christmas parties back to back to back. Bring on the Holiday chub, with glee. Busy bees we are. Crossing my fingers to see my mom face-to-face for the first time in...I don't know, like 2.5 months? Now there's a busy bird. Love bird. Sheesh.