21 July 2011


In response to the writing prompt, “The Simple Things” on Mama’s Losin it blog:

Glória, 1967 (top) and 1969 (bottom)
There are times when I would chuck most of what I own, burn down the house, and start over, because sometimes the simple things are the best.


In the late 1960’s I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Glória, a small town in the interior of Brazil.  Brunie (another Volunteer) and I lived in a house that had 4 rooms: a sitting room, 2 bedrooms and a kitchen.  We placed a table for eating in the wide hall that stretched from the front to the back of the house.

In the front room, we used our footlockers for seating. They rested on bricks (to keep them from touching the damp mud-brick floor.) We had a small table and chair there for a desk and used unfinished wooden chairs from our dining area when we needed more seating.  We could hang a hammock diagonally from two adjacent walls for an overnight guest.

Each bedroom held a bed with a straw mattress and a mosquito net hanging from the lattice ceiling which supported our ceramic tile roof.  We each had a small hand-made wardrobe and a tiny table next to each bed for a lamp.

The lamps were kerosene-powered.  The town had electricity only four hours each evening, but our house, which we rented for a total of $5.00 ($2.50 each) per month, wasn’t wired for energia.

Once the town’s street lights were extinguished  at 10:00 each night, one could see billions of stars in the southern-hemisphere skies.

The town had no sewage system, nor running water.  Many larger homes held cisternas in back yards to catch and store rain water, but we needed to have water delivered to our home. A teenaged neighbor had a contraption for the back of his donkey which carried four large cans of water from the dam outside of town.  Once he arrived at the house, we strained the water through a clean dishtowel  into a waist-high ceramic jug to filter out leaves, small stones, and insects.  

Water meant for cooking or drinking was boiled for 20 minutes, then put through a water filter.  We boiled our water on a small stove with a propane tank attached to it.  Most of our neighbors used wood-burning stoves.

We had a shower room, about 3-feet square, but we chose not to use it after my house-mate found a snake there one day.  Instead, we heated water on our stove and poured it over our heads in the kitchen.  The mud-brick floor slanted slightly toward the back entrance, so the water seeped under the door into our back yard, past the outhouse entrance and into the mato.

There were no telephones in town and no TVs. Many homes had refrigerators waiting for the full-time electricity that was scheduled to be powered up within a year. We had a temperamental kerosene-powered refrigerator. 

We walked everywhere in town.  If we needed to travel a short distance from town, we borrowed a horse or mule, unless we could catch a ride on one of the half-dozen cars in town. There was a bus three times a week into the capital city ---a drive which might have taken 90 minutes here, but on the dirt roads with frequent stops to pick up or dispatch passengers, stretched to four hours.  

Yet, despite all of those “inconveniences” the town overcame its shortcomings with the warmth of its citizens.  The Brazilians corrected our Portuguese, forgave our mistakes, shared their joys and sorrows, and treated us like daughters.  I don't know that I have felt any more  "at home" anyplace else.

I haven't been back to Glória since I left 4 decades ago. The town’s website shows a much larger city with a cell tower looming in the mato outside of town. The city's praças are filled with stunning tropical plants. Power lines are everywhere.

With TVs in most homes, probably fewer people spend evenings visiting with their neighbors. I’m sure the small circus that used to arrive annually, no longer visits. The nightly social event, gathering in the praça to watch the movemento, has doubtless disappeared. 

Most likely street lights are left on all night. And with all that light, I am guessing one can no longer see the Southern Cross constellation quite as clearly in those big, beautiful, Brazilian skies.   

There are times when I long for the simple life I lived in Glória.  We had a roof over our heads, food to sustain us, boiled and filtered water, meaningful work, and friends.  Really, what more do most of us need?

Despite the conveniences of modern technology, sometimes the simple things are still the best.

Glória, 2009
photo by Alcione (see her on the photo to the right)


Alcione, c. 1967
youngest child of
Dona Guiomar, 
with brother & sisters
I will be visiting Glória in just a few weeks ---my first visit since I left in July of 1969.   Check back for photos and new stories.

01 July 2011


          For anyone new to this blog, Brunie and I served in the Peace Corps together (Brunie 1966-68, me 1967-69). We worked in the same interior town in the state of Sergipe, Nossa Senhora da Glória ---everyone just calls it Glória.  Luckily Brunie was there a full year before I arrived because her excellent Portuguese and outgoing personality allowed her to fit in extremely well. She was able to teach me everything I needed to know to get along, even the year I remained on my own after she returned home.
          For over 40 years, we have talked about returning to Brazil but we had lost track of our friends and former students.  Read HERE how we were able to reconnect, which led to our upcoming trip.
          We planned to travel in 2010, but that trip had to be postponed because of Brunie's family issues. But, now our tickets have been purchased and we will be making the trip in a few weeks.
          Brunie and I have finally scheduled our trips to Brazil.  Brunie and her husband are traveling from California, so their best travel deal was to fly to Manaus.  From there they will make their way to Aracajú.  They could choose from flights that had layovers in Brasilia, São Paulo or Rio. (They chose Rio.)
          From Pennsylvania, my best deal was to Rio. And it just so happens, that on Brunie's itinerary from Manaus that passes through Rio, she will transfer to the very flight I will take to Aracajú.
          Note: if we purchased flights from our homes directly to Aracajú and then back home, not allowing us to travel elsewhere. Each flight required 24- 30 hours each way, including numerous layovers and we would pay about the same as we are paying for Brunie's flight to Manaus or my flight to Rio, plus Brazilian airpasses which allow us up to 4 flights within Brazil. So the airpasses were the best way to go for us.
          We will arrive in Aracajú on a GOL flight at 2:25 pm on August 8th.
          We will stay for a few days in Aracajú (the captial of Sergipe) where many of our friends and former students live now. One family will host us there. The weekend of August 12, there is a big festa in Glória.  We specifically planned our trip to be there for it, because many former residents of Glória return for the festa. Two of our former students, who married after we both left Brazil, will find places for us to stay there.

My itinerary:
 Fly PA to Rio 8/7-8/8. Fly (red line) to Aracajú 8/8. By car (aqua line) to Glória and back 8/12-8/14. Bus (green line) to Salvador 8/15. Fly (blue line) to Manaus 8/19. Fly (orange line) to Foz de Iguaçu 8/23. Fly (pink line) to Rio 8/26 before heading back to PA 8/30-8/31. I just noticed that my basic flight patterns look like an upside-down and tilted outline of the stars that make up the southern cross.
          After returning to Aracajú, we will take a bus (3-4 hours) to my favorite Brazilian city, Salvador where we will stay at a modest hotel near Barra Beach ---a lovely spot. I will also visit Bob and his family.  Bob was in my Peace Corps group, but has been living and working in Salvador during most of the past 40 years.
          After a few days there, we will fly from Salvador to the Amazon region. In Manaus, we are staying near the famed old opera house, built during the city's prosperous rubber-plantation days. Among other things we plan to take an afternoon trip on the River. Also we will visit with Erika, Nancides' daughter.  Nancides was our friend in Glória. Sadly he died when his daughter was only 11. She is anxious to hear our stories about her father from even before her mother knew him.
          From Manaus, Brunie and Eric will fly home while I catch a flight to Foz de Iguaçu, where I will fill up my camera's memory cards, I'm sure. From Iguaçu, I will fly to Rio where I will stay for a few days with a friend, Ginger.  
          Ginger lives in the mountains outside of Rio in the town of Novo Friburgo which was in the news in January 2011 because of terrible floods in the region. There were many deaths and the loss of roads, homes, and businesses. Ginger and her husband had no damage, but the woman who works for them lost everything and now has to live an hour's bus ride from her work. Because of odd government regulations, even though the woman and her family had lived there for decades, the property had never been registered, thus she cannot receive government assistance nor be able to rebuild there unless they pay what would be equivalent to several years' salary to register the property. Ginger and some of her friends have helped the woman's family survive during these rough times. I also sent Ginger some money for her and plan on contributing more in the future.
          Ginger has an apartment in Rio near Ipanema Beach, so I am staying with her there. I am interested in seeing the contemporary art museum designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (who designed most of Brasilia) in Niteroi, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro. Ginger knows the city well so she has told me about great street markets and beautiful botanical gardens I won't want to miss.
          I always regretted not visiting the Amazon area or Iguaçu when I lived in Brazil, so I will be able to cross those 2 off my bucket list ---and one more: I plan to hang glide down to the beach in Rio.  I figure if it took me 40+ years to return to Brazil, it's probably my last shot ---and even if I return, I'll never be in the physical shape I am now  ----so I better do it while I can still get around without a walker.  I also plan to do an obstacle course through a forested park in Rio, including a few zip lines. (I've been putting in extra hours on the elliptical and strength-training machines at the Y, so I won't seem like too much of a wimp.)
          I will, of course, post my photos here. I might be able to post some while I am still traveling, but more likely it will be September or maybe even October because I will be attending the Peace Corps 50th Anniversary events in Washington in late September where I will meet up with many of my fellow PC Volunteers with whom I trained.