Unification News for January 1995
Mrs. First World
by Penny Moore Amarel
Penny Moore Amarel joined the Unification Church in Adelaide, Australia in 1979. She was blessed in 1992 to Brazilian Hamilton Amarel. She has been living in Brazil for the past year and during a recent visit to London was invited to speak about her new life in that country-George Robinson.
I would like to talk to you about my first year in Brazil. I hope it will help you to reflect on your own lives and the many blessings we so easily take for granted.
As soon as I arrived in Brazil I felt God helping very much. From the moment I first arrived I couldn't believe the respect I was given. From the word go they respected me so much. They started to call me "Mrs. First World." That's why I am so keen to learn the language. I have a kind of advantage and I know people will listen to me.
When I flew in to Sao Paulo, my husband was late meeting me at the airport, but I caught my first glimpse of Brazilian hospitality when the man at the reception desk telephoned the local church center for me.
My husband's name is Hamilton. I am keen to learn Portuguese but when I speak in Portuguese gleaned from my dictionary, he answers in English. I told him if he didn't stop speaking English I would never learn.
He's been working for two years in Teoflootoni where he joined our movement four years ago. He was working at the town hall and studying law at the same time. When he joined the church he was like a pioneer in Brazil insofar as he eventually continued his studies although he did give up everything for a while. It's been a policy in Brazil. There is a pattern here: generally you find a state center and a pastor and several missionaries supplying it. When people join they get sent to the main state center for training: initially a seven-day workshop. Maybe they will stay on for a longer period.
My first six months we were living in my husband's home town. The membership fluctuated. At any one time we lived with an average of about eight members, and they would be going down to the state center quite often. He has been very active in witnessing. In the year before I came, he had taught several hundred people. Even though he was a missionary to the bigger city, he was constantly commuting back to his town. He have moved since then to Goiania, which is close to Brasilia, and that's where I am returning to. Eventually Hamilton wants to start a school back in his hometown.
Life in our little house was pretty basic. There is no hot water for washing clothes or dishes. Outside is a big metal trough and that's what you use. Members do get up early to pray at 5am and again quite late at night. One morning I came downstairs to get some breakfast ready; I opened the cupboard and screamed. There in the corner of the cupboard was the biggest spider I have ever seen. I mean, I am not really frightened of the gangly little things you see in Europe, but this was a whopper, furry and five inches broad!
My husband liberated it (from this life...) with a piece of wood. Everyone was laughing. He put it in a vinegar bottle and it carried on twitching. Despite this rather curious interpretation of the third blessing, he really is quite a remarkable man. Everywhere we went, every difficult situation we came across, Hamilton would manage to come up with an interesting story to get us out of the problem. This is the way Brazil is run; if you don't exaggerate and are not cunning you don't get anywhere. So for Brazilians to come to Europe or England it is very difficult to know how to relate to the culture. That is the way Brazil is run.
For example, one day in a bank we came across an enormous queue when we wanted to change money. I was in a bit of a rush to get to school. Half the time I don't know what Hamilton says to people. All I see is this miraculous change in people's attitude to me. There was this long queue and we had been waiting for ten minutes. Other people had been waiting for an hour or an hour and a half. Hamilton said something to the cashier and all of a sudden two of them beckoned me: "Oh come here! Come here! Quickly quickly!" I have no idea what he said. He's a good talker. Because he has a good and fast mind, he can survive very well in Brazil, but if he came here I don't know....
When people have rubbish in Brazil they just put it into the street. Of course the dogs come and they are really dirty and full of diseases. They rummage and rip the plastic bags to shreds. People put their scraps and rubbish into all kinds of plastic containers, boxes, whatever they've got. It's all just dumped on the road.
On the outskirts of the towns are the real slums, the favellas. When the night comes, the favella dwellers come down into the city. After the dogs have got to the rubbish, these people come down with wheelbarrows and find whatever they can: food scraps or whatever. They put it into their wheelbarrows. If they can find them, you'll see them with the big tin cans which oil comes in. They'll take anything which can be boiled down to eat or which can be of use in their homes.
I used to be so surprised that my husband would collect anything and everything and never throw anything out. I am the kind of person who dislikes clutter and will throw out anything I wasn't using.
When I did sort out what I thought was rubbish and threw it out in the street, all these little kids came up and raked through it. They pulled out glass bottles, old shoes full of holes, tin cans, anything. They thought they had found real treasure.
As I talked to these street kids (they're about 4 to 7 years old), all the neighbors were staring. They usually shoo them away. When they asked for food, all we had was bananas. I gave them some and they were delighted.
Because they are often so hungry, people fill themselves up with rice and beans. It may not be very nutritious but at least you can feel full. Meat is a luxury. When it does come it's usually very fatty. I lost my appetite and lost weight. One day we were in a large town at an American-style shopping center. We went into a restaurant. Because I missed it so much, I piled on the salad, to everyone's amazement.
Brazil is a Catholic country and I've been thinking a lot about the results of Catholicism recently. One nice aspect is a lack of complaint. Members do what is asked of them. There is a kind of culture of obedience everywhere. It may sound very righteous but the other side of it is that you won't see much real change by passively following your leader and not taking any personal responsibility for your life.
I see this as a consequence of the lack of education both inside and outside the church. There are some non-Catholics and it's interesting that in the growing Protestant community, which is the result of thirty years of American missionary activity, there is an evolving middle class who emphasize education, working hard, honesty and self- motivation.
When I saw the clothes people wear, I felt so sad. My modest suitcase made me look like a really wealthy lady. I gave many clothes away to members. Some of the poor people in Brazil will save and save to buy one good pair of shoes or a good shirt or a lovely dress. They will cherish it and wear it proudly like a dream in the midst of such poverty.
After some time I did a short teacher's training course and found a school to teach in. There is no statutory requirement to send children to school. That's why you see gangs of street children.
Schools have a morning, afternoon and evening session. It totals four hours a day per pupil whether rich or poor. In our schools, children generally spend a minimum of six or even seven hours. Trying to squeeze a syllabus into the same amount of time is very difficult. There are also many holidays. My school is called CNA (Culturo Note Americano). At my school parents pay approximately sixty pounds a month. That, of course, is why many children will have no education whatsoever. Their parents cannot afford to send them to school.
Some do make it, and one of the things which moved me very much was the innocence and the trust of the teenagers at the school where I teach. They are so eager to learn and to listen. In that sense they are also in stark contrast to the rebellion and disrespect of many European and North American children.
Of course, when I first arrived we visited many of my husband's relatives. Sometimes they would open up the only book they had and they would ask me to write something for them in English. Then they would spend the next couple of weeks trying to figure out what I had written. It was like a treasure, so special to them.
One day we went up-with one of my husband's spiritual sons who had a car-into the hills of his town. We went further and further into this really beautiful area which had really steep roads. At one point we couldn't go any further and we got out of the car. Everyone was staring. We knew it was dangerous. Everyone was looking. They were desperate to get the car. We locked up very carefully and we just kept on walking and walking.
The hills were completely bare and children were everywhere. We came to this little hut and walked through it to another. Hamilton introduced me to his aunt. She had a little red shirt with holes all around and obviously no brassiere. This was not actually her indifference or anything; it was simply because she just didn't have any money. I'm sure she would have liked to wear something nice but this woman, as I discovered, couldn't afford to buy a bra. It would have been an extra and not necessary to live.
She offered us some water and the water was really cloudy. I was very worried. I couldn't overcome this feeling of disgust. I couldn't drink it. Inside the hut it was incredibly smoky. She had this stone kiln and all the smoke was stinging my eyes. They were streaming.
Apart from the kitchen there were two rooms. One had a bunk bed made from just trunks of trees. They were unplaned with the bark still on them. The blankets were really rough. Those were the bunk beds for the two children.
I asked about the children and Hamilton said that actually a richer uncle had offered to send the older daughter, who was about ten years old, to a school. She went there for a couple of weeks, but became so withdrawn and frightened that they had to send her back home. One day we were going to visit another relative of my husband and we had to take one of the suburban trains to a poor area. These trains are very dangerous. There are no lights inside. The carriages are filthy, and boys, salesmen and beggars are flitting continuously through the standing passengers. Organized gangs of criminals get on from different points at stations and will make mass raids, killing and stabbing.
When we reached this particular aunt, she was out, and a neighbor took us in. They had been about to eat and seemed nervous and agitated. I suggested to Hamilton that we leave, and when I questioned him he explained that normal hospitality would have been to give us a meal, which they would have done. However, when he passed their kitchen he saw that all they were about to eat was a few eggs, and they were ashamed.
Finally, when his aunt came, she disappeared and later Hamilton learned she had gone to borrow some money to buy meat for us. We stayed overnight. She insisted on giving us her double bed and slept with her teenage sons.
One day back at the center in Teoflootoni, I was about to leave the house. I was wearing flip-flops. Hamilton's mother, who lived nearby, came rushing out of her house quite upset, shouting and pointing at the ground. I knew there was a danger of catching ringworm or other diseases from the ground, but eventually I realized that what had upset her was the indignity of my wearing flip-flops. Someone of my standing should not have been in such humble footwear. I have many things to learn.
If you do get ill, there is a kind of state provision for health. It works like this: if you are ill, you must get up at 3 or 4am and go to the local health administration center. There you pick up a ticket which will tell you what doctor you can see. Maybe you will get an appointment the same day and that's when you start to wait. The queues can go quickly. One day I went through this process and in 20 minutes one doctor had seen more than 20 people. Only the very serious and life-threatening illnesses are given more time. There are men too at the administration center who for a three-dollar fee will fix a quick appointment for you.
What other things do I recall? Brazilians have a mania for soap operas which, if they have access to one, they will watch avidly on TV and talk about all day long. Their love of football is legendary, of course, and it's true! During the World Cup it was like a national holiday. Crowds of people gathered outside shops or even a home where there was a TV and the updates on what was happening were relayed to those at the back who couldn't see.
I didn't feel angry when I came back to Europe and compared life here to there. People there have known nothing else and so their basic way of thinking and their expectations are quite different. They were born into such a life and have never known a different standard. Of course, that is no reason to keep it like that, and I am very conscious of the differences between these worlds: the so-called First World and the Third.
I was naturally concerned at what my parents' reaction might be when I broke the news some years ago that I was marrying a Brazilian. My father comes from good, realistic Scots blood and his reaction when I told him I would be living in Brazil (and this is typical of him and his white skin) was to congratulate me. "Your children will have brown skin. That's good. They won't burn up in the sun like me!"
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