26 February 2009


This post is in response to A Thousand Word Thursday

"Wash Day"
(©1969, C.J. Peiffer)

"Water Gatherers"
(©1969, C.J. Peiffer)
        When I served in the Peace Corps in Brazil, I had no running water. We had to pay a neighbor boy to carry water from a dam outside of town. He strapped four large cans (each held about five gallons) to the sides of his donkey to carry water to us about once a week.
        There were water sources closer to town, but since those small ponds were used by many for washing clothes and watering animals, we paid him extra to bring us the cleaner water from the dam. 
        We also paid a woman to hand wash our clothes. (There was electricity only four hours each night ---and no one in town had a washing machine.)  We insisted she take our clothes to the dam outside of town, too. And we requested that EVERYTHING, including underwear, be ironed, mostly to kill germs. Irons for pressing clothes were really made from iron. They were heavy and held hot coals.
        In our kitchen, we had a large, four-foot high crock to store our water. First we put a clean dish towel over the hole in the top while our water boy poured the water in. That was to filter out insects, stones, weeds, frogs, or other small animals or debris.
        Water used for cooking or drinking had to be boiled for at least twenty minutes, then we put it into the top portion of a terra cotta water filter to drip slowly into the bottom  section. A spout allowed us to draw a glass of water when we needed it. The terra cotta also kept the water cool. 
        In restaurants, anywhere in Brazil, we always ordered bottled water. Even the large cities didn't have clean drinking water when I was there (40 years ago.)
        In a previous post, one can see an example of a water filter and read about how we bathed in our kitchen.

        About six months before I left Brazil, I rented a different house. Brunie (the other Volunteer) had returned home after her two years of service ended.*  None of the houses in town had running water, but my new house had a system to collect rain water and a cisterna to store it. I'm not sure how much water it could hold, but I will guess about 1000 gallons. Even in good years, ten degrees south of the Equator, anyone with a family was unlikely to collect enough water during  six rainy months to last through six dry months. The region was notorious for droughts which often meant there was no rain for a year or more at a time. Luckily, the two years I spent there, we had plenty of rain during the winter months, but almost none during the dry summers.
        My new house had a fairly sophisticated shower room. All I had to do during the rainy season was move one of the ceramic tiles on the roof so that rain water would fall into a metal container under the ceiling of the shower room.  I heated a pot of water on my stove (fueled by a propane gas tank) stood on a chair and poured the hot water into the tank to heat up the cool water already gathered there. I turned a small knob on the bottom of the water tank so water would fall from a spout onto my head. A drain in the floor took the waste water outside to a gutter cut into the concrete which directed the water to the end of the back yard.
        I asked my laundress to come to my yard to use the clean rain water from my cisterna. The photo at the top of this post shows her and her daughter washing my clothes. The break in the concrete at the bottom left of the photo shows where the water drained to the yard.
        By the time I moved into my new home, the town had full-time electricity. My previous home was not wired, but my new one was. However, since I had a gas stove, a kerosene refrigerator and lamps, I didn't have much need for it, but it was nice to have electric lights ---one bare bulb hanging from a wire from the ceiling in each room. I still used a kerosene lantern for reading.
        A Volunteer who had to leave early because of a family emergency loaned me his radio so I could listen to Voice of America. (He lived less than 100 miles from me at home, so I was able to easily return the radio later.) And finally, I could use the travel iron I had brought from home, but my laundress preferred her old iron which weighed about ten pounds.
        I do not take water for granted.  After living for two years where it was a lot of work to get a little water, I appreciate clean running water.
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

*Things could have been worse. Two years after returning home from Brazil, Brunie rejoined the Peace Corps and was assigned to Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso. During her service there was a widespread drought. Brunie was allotted a gallon of water a week for cooking, drinking and bathing.

22 February 2009

MARKET DAY - Part 1 Dawn

This is Part 1 of a 4-part series describing
a typical Saturday ---Market Day ---in Glória.

Note: Some of the names in this story have
been changed because I can’t remember the
real names of all of the people in the town.


        Saturday was the best day of the week in Glória.
If I hadn’t been awakened by crowing roosters or braying donkeys, I would have been aroused by horses and mules clomping along the dirt road in front of the four-room house we rented. Brunie, the other Peace Corps Volunteer with whom I shared a house, woke before I did. She often sang as she did morning chores, which was a more pleasant way to wake than a braying donkey.
        With shiny black hair, dark eyes, and nearly perfect Portuguese, Brunie fit completely into the Brazilian landscape. Only her five-foot-ten inch height gave her way as an American. I was about five foot eight, with light hair and green eyes and imperfect Portuguese. No one ever mistook me for a native. Brunie had spent a little over a year in Brazil’s northeast before I arrived in Glória. I’m not sure if I would have survived without her guidance.
        Overloaded trucks roared past the house, sending billows of dust through the shutters that covered our glassless windows. Each truck was loaded with goods to be sold at the weekly market and with passengers, either those arriving to sell their wares or to buy goods for that week. Ox carts with large noisy wooden wheels, also moved through town to transport goods.
        I slipped into a robe and rubber thongs. After a trip to the outhouse, I dressed in a cotton shift, glided into leather sandals, and ran a comb through my sun-bleached hair.
        When I emerged from my room, Brunie stood inside the front door with Seu Vicente, an elderly man who stopped at our house every Saturday before heading to the market.
Bom dia, Seu Vicente. And how are you this morning?” I said. Seu Vicente’s chocolate-colored face broke into a toothless smile. His cheeks looked like the cracked earth of a deeply-eroded field.
        “I am well, and you?” he responded, lifting his leather gaucho hat. “I have again asked Dona Brunie if she will marry me, but she always says ‘No’. Maybe next week she will accept my proposal.”
        “Next week we won’t be here. I’ll pay you now if you will remember to leave my eggs with Dona Nininha,” Brunie said.
        The old man’s eggs rested in a large reed basket, each egg wrapped in a leaf for protection. He counted a dozen into the bowl Brunie held and accepted several crumbled bills, stuffing them into the small leather pouch he wore at the waist of his unbleached muslin trousers. Seu Vicente then shuffled toward the center of town.
        Brunie and I grabbed canvas totes, plastic bags, rope sacks, baskets and small cooking pails ---everything we had that could hold our purchases. Most of the items we could buy at the market were not available in local stores, so we needed to purchase enough to last the entire week. Since we would be in the capital city the following weekend, we needed to buy a little extra, but we could shop in Aracajú before returning to Glória the following Monday. In the capital, market day was every day except Sunday. Or we could ask a neighbor to purchase items that would be difficult to transport on the bus.
        Before seven a.m. the tropical sun was already blazing. The temperature in the shade would probably hit over one-hundred degrees that day. Glória was only ten degrees south of the Equator. Back in Pennsylvania everyone was probably complaining about winter weather.
        We headed for the Banco do Brasil. Fifteen or twenty horses or mules were tied to posts in front of the modern building. The bank collaborated with the owner of a huge storage silo on the edge of town to provide farmers with storage space for beans and other crops. When beans were plentiful they would bring only pennies per kilo. Depending on a farmer’s harvest, the bank would loan him enough money to store his beans and live for several months. When the price of beans went up, the farmer could remove some from storage, sell them at a higher price and gradually pay off the loan.
        After waiting in line behind a gaucho who emitted a leathery scent, we reached our friend Carlinhos at the teller’s window. We withdrew enough money from our accounts to pay for expected purchases.
        As Peace Corps Volunteers, we each earned about sixty dollars per month, plenty to purchase food and survive in Brazil’s interior. Our rent was five dollars, split between us. We paid a woman to wash and iron our clothes and a neighbor boy everyone called Gugú to carry water from a damn a few miles outside of town. He had four huge cans strapped on the sides of his donkey. 
        We splurged on a monthly trip to Aracajú to collect our living-allowance checks, stay in a pensão, luxuriate in a civilized hot shower, take in a movie, and relax at the beach.
        We left the bank walking on cobblestoned streets to the praça near the center of town where the mercado was held each Saturday.

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)
See other posts in this series:
Market Day - Part 1 Dawn (this one)
Market Day - Part 2 Shopping
Market Day - Part 3 Morning & Afternoon
Market Day - Part 4 Saturday Night

Find another great story about shopping on 
market day in northeastern Brazil HERE
It, too, was written by a former PC Volunteer.

MARKET DAY - Part 2 Shopping

Brunie (blue blouse) and I (straw hat)
choose fruit from the weekly market.

This is Part 2 of a 4-part series describing
a typical Saturday ---Market Day ---in Glória.

Note: Some of the names in this story have
been changed because I can’t remember the
real names of all of the people in the town.


        The town square where the market was laid out was bare except for an old bandstand in the middle. There were no trees nor grass, as they would have been trampled by vendors and townspeople.
        Dona Maria had covered her designated area with four-foot high ceramic jugs ----the kind used to store water in nearly every home in town that didn’t have a cisterna in the back yard to collect rain water. A man from a neighboring village had spread his aluminum cooking vessels and enameled chamber pots on squares of burlap. Venders opened sacks of dried black beans, rice, or flour. Others had set up shabby wooden booths with canvas canopies to shelter themselves and their wares from sun or rain. We passed a dark man selling large ropes of tobacco and an ancient woman with her display of sandals and headed toward the vegetable vendors.

        With Seu João’s help, we chose the best of his onions, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, and yams. Seu João weighed them on his balance scale using brass weights and placed our purchases in my basket. We headed to Seu Paulo’s booth to select from a dozen varieties of bananas. We collected a dozen green oranges from another vendor. The oranges weren’t green as in “unripe” they had green skins, not orange.

        We quickly passed a display of jaca, jackfruit. The watermelon-sized greenish-yellow fruit emanated a distasteful sweetish odor. We threaded our way between brooms, fabric, baskets, and straw hats, greeting our neighbors along the way. We chose rice and black beans ---staples of the Brazilian diet ---scooping them into aluminum pots. We purchased a plump live chicken from Dona Maria Fatima. Brunie carried it up-side-down by its feet.

        Next we headed through a narrow cobblestoned street to the meat market in the next block. We visited Zé Pedro’s booth to purchase two kilos of beef which Brunie placed in her metal pail. Seu Agnaldo placed a kilo (2.2 lbs.) of pork on top of the beef.
        Next we crossed the town’s second plaza, this one filled with trees and plants and benches emblazoned with “From the Benevolence of Mayor....” followed by his name. I often wondered if the next mayor would tear out those benches to install new ones with his own name on them.

        In the post office, I pulled letters from my pocket and paid for postage to the United States. Dona Alícia used syrupy glue to affix eight stamps to each letter. Then she hand stamped them with purple ink to cancel them. Dona Alícia placed our mail that had arrived on the bus the night before ---six letters ---on the counter. Brunie and I received more mail than anyone in town, with the exception of the Banco do Brasil.
        The telegraph operator, emerged from the back room. “Dona Brunie. Dona Carolina. I am so pleased to see you,” he said with a voice as syrupy as the glue. I hope I will see you at the movie tonight. He was a married man who like to flirt. We said hello, then ignored him.
        We grabbed our mail and headed for the bakery. The proprietress, carrying a mug of steaming coffee, greeted us with, “Bom dia, meninas. Tudo bem?

        “Yes, Dona Anna. All is well with us,” answered Brunie. “And how are you?”
        After greetings and inquiries about the woman’s family were completed, Brunie asked for pão. The woman wrapped six tiny loaves of bread --- about the size of sausage buns ---in white paper. When I asked for mantega, Dona Anna stepped aside so that Brunie could take butter from her refrigerator. Brazilians had numerous superstitions, one of which was an irrational fear of mixing anything hot with anything cold. After Dona Anna had sipped her hot coffee, she would not open her kerosene-powered refrigerator for several hours. Brunie lifted a large crock of butter from the shelf and scooped a large blob of it onto a piece of waxed paper with a flat wooden spatula. She weighed it, wrapped it in butcher paper, and placed it on top of the meat in her pail.
        Finally, our shopping done, we headed home.

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)
See other posts in this series:
Market Day - Part 1 Dawn
Market Day - Part 2 Shopping (this one)
Market Day - Part 3 Morning & Afternoon
Market Day - Part 4 Saturday Night

MARKET DAY - Part 3 Morning & Afternoon

This is  Part 3 of a 4-part series describing
a typical Saturday ---Market Day --- in Glória. 

Note: Some of the names in this story have
been changed because I can’t remember the
real names of all of the people in the town.

Morning & Afternoon:

        After shopping at the weekly market, we carried our heavy purchases to our small house. Brunie placed a bit of dried corn and a bowl of water on the floor, then untied the chicken’s legs and let her strut around the kitchen. Neither of us had the heart to kill a chicken, so when we decided to cook chicken for dinner, we would take her to a neighbor to trade for a chicken the neighbor had killed.
        Brunie had opted to purchase a small stove powered by a propane tank, thus we used our built-in wood-burning stove as counter space. We soaked vegetables in iodine water and placed them in our kerosene refrigerator. We cut gristle and fat from the meat, throwing it out the back door where large vultures with blue-black opalescent heads swooped down to gather the scraps. We placed fruit in large gourds that had been cut in half to make bowls. Beans, rice, and other dry goods went in airtight containers, more to protect them from mice than to keep them fresh.
Ceramic drip water filter similar
to one we used in Glória.

        I used a handful of sugar as an abrasive cleaner for the filter in our drinking-water crock and set a huge pot of water to boil for the required twenty minutes before adding it to the terra cotta water filter.
        By eight-thirty or nine, we had completed our chores and were ready to prepare breakfast. Brunie flipped through our James Beard paperback cookbook ---conveniently issued by the Peace Corps ---to find a pancake recipe. She mixed flour, eggs, baking powder, sugar, powdered milk, water, and vanilla. I cut up a banana and sectioned an orange.
        Someone had told Brunie that there was no maple syrup in Brazil, so she had packed two bottles of concentrated maple flavoring in her foot locker. We mixed it with corn syrup to approximate the maple syrup we enjoyed at home.
        After breakfast, I spent the morning working on lessons for my English classes. The ginásio was staffed with some bankers and elementary school teachers who worked during the day, so high school classes were held evenings and on Saturdays as well as weekday afternoons. I, too, was a professora at the ginásio
        Since we had eaten breakfast later than usual, we skipped lunch. While most Glorianos took their after-lunch siestas, I headed to the school's office in the priests' home next to the church. Using Padre Henrique’s typewriter and the school’s hand-cranked mimeograph machine I made copies of a worksheet for my two o’clock class of beginning English students.

Students show off their
new school uniforms.

        Only fifteen of the twenty-one students showed up, not bad for Saturday. Even fewer arrived for my three and four-o’clock classes, but a few students lingered after class, trying out the American slang I had taught them.
        “Do you think I’m cute?” asked Fernando.
        Veralucia laughed and said, “No, Fernando. You are not cute. But you are cool.” The boys snickered because the word ‘cool’ sounded like a naughty Portuguese word. The students laughed and teased each other, butchering English about as much as I normally butchered their language.
        Veralucia asked, “Will you go to the movie tonight, Dona Carolina?”
        “No. I already saw tonight’s film,” I lied.
        “I can never understand the English on American films. Why is that?”
        Of course she couldn’t. The sound system on the projector was so bad that even I couldn’t understand the garbled English. I had attended one film, the first weekend I spent in Glória. I vowed it would be my last. The theater had hard wooden seats with almost no leg room. There was no ventilation in the theater. After twenty minutes it felt and smelled like a steamy locker room.
        To help promote the Brazilian film industry, a law prevented foreign films from being dubbed into Portuguese. Therefore every American film had Portuguese subtitles. The owner paid a few high school students to sit at strategic places so they could be ‘readers’. They read the subtitles out loud so any illiterate citizens could enjoy the movie.
        Brunie had spent the afternoon at the office of an agronomist and home economist commissioned by the state government to impliment agricultural and nutrition improvements in the small town. Many farmers requested hybrid corn or other seeds from Luís Carlos. Brunie and Irene talked to women about boiling and filtering water and adding more vegetables to their diets.
Trucks carried vendors and shoppers to and from the
 weekly market.  Our neighbor Gugú, who carried
water to our house, sits on his donkey to the right.

        Trucks, horses, donkeys, and mules with the last of the market-day vendors and shoppers passed me as I walked home from the school. Many vendors would travel to markets in other towns Monday through Friday the next week and return to Glória on Saturday.
        When I arrived home, I decided to take a shower and wash my hair. First I heated water in a huge cooking pot, then mixed enough cold water with it to make it luke warm. In the kitchen, with a slightly slanted mud-brick floor and no windows, I undressed and scooped water into a smaller pot and poured it over my head, allowing it to run under the door to the outside. 
        The house was equipped with a small shower stall, but one had to carry pails of water and go outside to enter it, so it was more convenient to shower inside the house. Besides, soon after she arrived in Glória, Brunie had found a snake in the shower room, so we used it only for storing brooms and other tools. We brushed our teeth standing just inside the back door, spitting into the yard.
        Since we had been to the market that morning, we had a variety of fresh foods for dinner. We could make beef stew with potatoes, onions and carrots. We could use our hand-cranked meat grinder to make hamburgers or meat sauce for pasta. But, since it was Saturday and Brunie wanted to go to the movie that night, we opted for something less time-consuming. We fried fresh pork and heated leftover beans and rice from our kerosene refrigerator. There was always fruit for dessert. We often ended our meal with maté tea. Brunie didn’t like coffee, and frankly the coffee in Glória wasn’t very good. Someone explained that all the good coffee was exported.
        After cleaning the dishes and storing leftovers, we left for Saturday night on the town. The second town square was not used for the market. It had been planted with grass, trees, and other tropical plants. And there were benches scattered around the perimeter. That is were everyone gathered to watch the movemento.

The praça where everyone 
strolled on Saturday night, 
to see and be seen.

See other posts in this series:
Market Day - Part 3 Morning and Afternoon (this one)

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)

MARKET DAY - Part 4 Saturday Night

This is Part 4 of a 4-part series describing
a typical Saturday ---Market Day ---in Glória.

Note: Some of the names in this story have
been changed because I can’t remember the
real names of all of the people in the town.

Saturday Night - "Hole" Numbers:

        After dinner, Brunie and I strolled around the praça near the church and the post office. This was the time and place to watch the movemento and to be seen watching the movemento
        When we tired of strolling, we chose a bench emblazened with script telling us that the bench had been provided by the benevolence of our esteemed mayor. Sometimes we would be surrounded by inquisitive students and neighbors who loved to hear about the United States.
        The Ciné Glória presented a film each Friday and Saturday night. Typically it was an American film with Portuguese subtitles. The projector's sound was so bad we couldn't understand the English. The theatre had hard wooden seats that had not been built for long-legged Americans. It was hot and stuffy inside. If possible, I usually begged off by saying I had seen the film previously ---which was likely because the theater showed mostly old black and white films that had been shown on American TV hundreds of times. Brunie often went to the theater and returned to the praça around 8:30 or 9:00.
        While I waited for her, I purchased popcorn from the children who sold it outside of the theater. I continued socializing with my students and neighbors, or I might stop into a nearby home to visit.
        Then we headed toward the A.A.B.B. ---Associação Atlética Banco do Brasil. Most of the bankers, young and without seniority, were exiled to small towns in the interior. Those who honed their skills, learned English, and stayed with the bank long enough, could receive promotions to better positions and in larger, more-desirable cities. Meanwhile, they set up a club to entertain themselves. Although they had occasional parties, most nights they played buraco, a card game similar to Canasta, and ran up bar bills that rivaled the Brazilian national debt.
        Brunie and I sat with Cardoso and Carlinhos and several other young men and a few female friends. The young men and women from the town were home with family, but those who worked in Glória, but were not from there, joined us at the A.A.B.B.  
        We could purchase Cokes or beer or other liquor, but generally the guys insisted on paying for our drinks. Brunie loved Coca Cola. I preferred Brahma Choppe.
        Carlinhos, a handsome bank teller, was dating one of my students. She was at home. Cardoso, considered one of the most eligible bachelors in town, delivered loan money and collected payments from farmers who lived so far into the interior that they rarely made it to town. Where there was a definite language barrier, what I liked about him was that he had a sense of humor that I understood.
        When the next hand was dealt, I entered a game. I had played buraco so much, I could have played in my sleep. In fact, I spent many nights dreaming about the game. Besides the giant box of paperback books provided by the U.S. government, it was my only entertainment. 
        Buraco means "hole." I guess it was so named because it was possible to lose so many points that one ended up 'in the hole.' The object of the game was to earn as many points as possible ---or at least stay out of the hole. The men kept meticulous records of ongoing scores in notebooks filled with numbers.
        At nine forty-five, the electric lights flicked off for a few seconds. That was the signal that the town’s electric generator would go off in fifteen minutes, time enough to head home while the street lights were still on.
        For me, living without electricity was one of the most difficult aspects of life in Glória. But I had been told that it could be worse. The mayor’s friend, Zé, ran the electrical generator. When the opposition political party had been elected before the present administration had regained political power, Zé refused to run the machine.
        When I arrived in Glória, we had electricity for four hours each night. But that was going to change within a year. Energipe, the electrical company for the state of Sergipe, would be installing full-time electrical power.
(L to R) Bankers Cardoso & Carlinhos, Agronomist Etivaldo (?)

          Carlinhos and Cardoso carried kerosene lanterns from the back room for each table. Brunie and a few other women left at midnight so they could rise for early mass the next day. I, on the other hand, preferred to spend my Sunday mornings on my straw-filled mattress.  The rest of us continued playing cards until 2:00 in the morning.
        Cardoso drove me home in his new VW Beatle.  Then he and Carlinhos headed to the pensão where they boarded. Outside my door, I looked up. Without electric lights competing with the sky, the heavens seemed to hold more stars than I ever remembered seeing at home. The Southern Cross, in the shape a a huge kite, dominated the sky over Glôria.
        Inside the door I used matches to light a small lantern. With lantern in hand, I crept past Brunie's door to my room. After crawling under my misquito net, I read by kerosene light until my eyelids became heavy. After reaching under the netting to extinguish the flame, I fell asleep, satisfied to have survived another busy week in Glória.

(©2009, C.J.Peiffer)
Market Day - Part 4 Saturday Night (this one)

See my story "CARD TRICK" about my best
practical joke ever ---on my other blog

15 February 2009


        When I was in Brazil, there was a joke among Peace Corps Volunteers: Why did male volunteers lose weight? Because they cooked for themselves. Why did female Volunteers gain weight? Because they cooked for themselves. 

        But, against odds, I lost approximately 30 pounds over the two years I lived in Brazil. I have several explanations for this.

        1. First, I walked everywhere. I had no car or bike in Glória. In larger cities, I caught a bus only when I had to travel more than a few miles.

        2. Everything had to be cooked from scratch. We didn’t have packaged foods. Chicken didn’t come in nice shrink-wrapped refrigerated packages. We had to buy a live chicken. When we purchased a chicken at the market, we carried it home, up-side-down, holding it by its feet. We put a bowl of water and some dried corn on the floor in the kitchen and the chicken was our house guest for a few days.
        I couldn’t kill a chicken. And after living with ours for several days, I didn’t want to eat it, either. So we took it to a neighbor and had her kill one of her chickens, then we gave her our live one. She wasn’t stupid. The chicken we got from her was never as plump as the one we had purchased at the weekly market.
        When it took so long to prepare food, we made less and ate less.

        3. Another reason for my weight loss, was the lack of variety in food. It just wasn’t that much fun to eat. We could buy chicken, pork or beef. There was also fish, but Brunie disliked fish so we never cooked it. There were many tropical fruits, oranges, bananas, guava, and pineapple in season. The choice of vegetables was limited to potatoes, yams, tomatoes, carrots, and cabbage. Occasionally we found green beans or broccoli in the capital city but never in Glória.
        The Brazilians ate almost the same thing every day. For breakfast they would have fruit, bread and coffee. For lunch (the largest meal of the day) they ate some kind of meat or fish with back beans and rice. Dinner would be soup, bread, and fruit.

        4. There were no places to grab a quick meal or snack in Glória. No McDonald’s. No pizza parlors. Until a few months before I left, no one had a freezer, so there was no ice cream either.

        5. Probably the biggest reason I lost weight is that there were no nicely-packaged snack foods. At a bar, one could buy hard-cooked eggs or a whole roasted chicken. At parties, hosts often served peanuts which had been boiled, in their shells, in salty water. They weren’t crunchy and roasted. I could eat them, but I didn’t like them much.
        One could buy popcorn sold by children in front of the movie theater on Friday and Saturday nights. At home, Brazilians placed cobs of corn on the hot coals in their wood-burning ovens until the kernels popped while still on the cob. But there was nothing like pretzels or potato chips. So, we had to figure out how to make our own.
        We tried to make taco dough, without a recipe, by hand grinding corn into meal, then cutting and frying it into corn chips. Our experiments were unsuccessful.
        Next we attempted to make potato chips. The problem, of course, was slicing the potatoes thin enough. Luckily Brunie had been told before going to Brazil to pack a few potato peelers because they were unavailable in Brazil. So we peeled potatoes, then laboriously sliced them with the potato peelers into paper-thin slices, deep fried them to a golden yellow, and sprinkled them with salt as they drained on paper towels.
        Everyone liked the potato chips and often asked us to make them for parties. It would take several days to make enough for even a small gathering. Not knowing what to call the new delicacy, the Brazilians just called them batatas fritas ---fried potatoes.
        Now that I know more about entrepreneurship, if this had happened to me recently, I would have seen a golden opportunity to open a potato chip factory in the sertão. I might have been soley responsible for increasing cholesterol in Brazil. But at the time, it never crossed my mind.

        6. And finally, one last reason I lost weight. At our final meeting in Rio before heading home, we had to have extensive medical tests. The doctor found I had roundworms. Symptoms include loss of appetite and weight loss. I hadn't had them for long because they weren't present in my previous medical tests. Roundworms are prevalent in tropical climates and can be passed from soil, from people, insects and other animals. 
        I had to take three horse-sized anti-parasitic pills each night for several nights before they were eliminated from my intestines. Actually I felt quite lucky. There were some volunteers who suffered from more severe medical problems, such as amoebic dysentery, that had nasty symptoms and were more difficult to cure.

        Brazilians are often quite frank; they say exactly what they are thinking. Several of them told me that when I arrived in Glória, I was pretty and forte ---strong. Before I left I was magra ---thin ---and presumably less attractive. In that area of Brazil's northeast, where many didn’t have enough to eat, forte was better than magra

        Forty years later, Brazil is the plastic surgery capital of the world.

(©2009. C.J. Peiffer)

07 February 2009


        When I arrived at my Peace Corps site and discovered I would be living without electricity or running water, it seemed like my life there would be much like a two-year-long camping trip. I had been a Girl Scout. I was prepared ---or so I thought.
        I admit that it was fun for a while, using my Girl Scout skills and learning new ones to get along in the harsh environment, but after a while, I missed many of the conveniences of home.
        On one occasion, forgetting that things didn’t work in Glória the way they worked at home, could have turned into a disaster.

        When I arrived, Brunie (who had already been in Glória for a year) took me to a carpentry shop to buy a hand-made wooden bed, an extra chair, and a wardrobe. We went to another shop for a mattress, which was a large cotton sack filled with straw. It was comfortable enough, although I needed to add more straw from time to time since the original straw would break into small pieces and settle after a while. 
        When we changed sheets, we sprinkled a powder on the mattress covers to kill bed bugs which were a common problem in that area. We always slept under mosquito nets to protect us, not only from mosquitos, but also from scorpions and the beetles that carried Chagas disease.
        While one side wall of the house faced an open area, the other side wall was also the wall of our landlord’s home next door. And the opposite wall of his house was shared with another neighbor and so on down the street. There was a space between the horizontal top of each wall and the pointed roof, leaving a large triangular open area between homes. This made it easy to converse with the neighbors next door, but it also meant one could hear everything going on at the landlord's home. He and his wife were newlyweds, so you might imagine what I mean by "everything."
        Our front door left an inch or two of open space between the bottom of it and the floor. This, plus the open area between houses, meant that unwanted varmints could enter the house, either from outside or from the neighbor’s homes. We had toads, mice, bats, roaches, tarantulas, and an occasional snake in the house. 
        I hadn’t taken much jewelry with me, but I had a dozen pair of earrings and several inexpensive rings and a watch which I kept in a box on the table I used as a night stand. One day, while making the bed, I knocked the box onto the floor. The various pieces scattered under the bed.
        Because of the assorted vermin that could be lurking there, in no way was I was going to reach into the shadows below the mattress without seeing what was there first. So, I did what I would do at home. I grabbed a lamp, and put it under the bed. I started to pick up my jewelry before I realized that a kerosene lantern with an open flame under a mattress filled with straw was not the brightest idea I ever had.

        Luckily Brunie was in the kitchen. I yelled for her to bring a pot of water from the huge ceramic storage container there. Meanwhile I started to beat the flames with a towel. 
        Within a few minutes, the fire was out. The sheets were burned in one large spot as was part of my mattress. Considering it was filled with dry straw, I was surprised it wasn't engulfed in flames within seconds. The wooden frame of the bed was blackened on a small area of the side, but more scorched than burned. 
        Fortunately the mosquito net had been flung aside before I started to make the bed. If It had caught fire, the flames would probably have leaped to the ceiling where the net was attached to a lattice of wood that held up the ceramic tile roof. Since the homes were attached, the fire might have spread from lattice to lattice, resulting in the roofs of all the houses on that side of the street caving in. 
        Glória had no fire department. And since there was no running water, residents would not even be able to hook up a hose to spray water on their ceilings. Any attempt to throw water as high as that from buckets would have been futile. 
        I am so glad I hadn't caused neighbors to lose their homes or belongings. Worse yet would have been if I had caused someone a serious injury.
        I could imagine the headline: PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER'S STUPIDITY LEAVES DOZENS OF BRAZILIANS HOMELESS.  But luckily that didn't happen.

       After cleaning up the charred mess and water in my bedroom, I had to buy new sheets and take my mattress to the shop to have the cover patched and re-stuffed with new straw. It retained a burnt odor for months.

        I also bought a flashlight to keep beside my bed ---a prudent purchase.

(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)