Monday, July 11, 2016

I'd Actually Rather Get Zika

In the months leading up to our family's departure for Brazil, I can't count how many people expressed their concern about our safety and the fear of our potentially contracting Zika.  And in recent weeks, the world's top professional golfers have dropped out of the Rio Olympics in droves, citing fear of Zika virus as their reason.  Well, let me tell you what.  If I'm going to have to get a mosquito-borne illness while I'm here doing mission work in Brazil, give me Zika over the other options any day.

Since I'm a 44 year old married to a man who's ... *ahem* ... fixed, I'm not the least bit worried about contracting this virus since I'm not going to be getting pregnant any time soon.  The symptoms of Zika are not much worse than the influenza - achy joints, fever, headache - and the recovery time is relatively brief.  So if I get bitten by a mosquito carrying this virus, I'll just suck it up and convalesce.  And since the missionary I'm working with here, Cris Carpenter Gomes, is pregnant with her first baby and managing to not live her life clothed in mosquito netting from head to toe and floating in a cloud of Off!, I think I can deal.

Don't get me wrong. Cris takes reasonable precautions to keep her unborn baby safe.  But she's just not obsessing about it the way that Americans and the American media have been.  (If you're interested in reading about her and her perspective on being a pregnant American in a Zika hotbed, read here.)

My second choice if I have to contract a mosquito-borne illness would be dengue (pronounced /ding'-ee/) fever.  Symptoms of this disease include high fever, joint pain, severe headache, and mild bleeding.  The thing about dengue is that getting it once isn't worse than any other unpleasant illness but getting it a second time can be much more catastrophic.  A missionary friend of ours in Malaysia died of dengue last year, so it's a much bigger deal than Zika.  Incidentally, the same type of mosquito (Aedes aegypti) carries both dengue and Zika.

But still, I'd much rather get dengue once than the third disease these same mosquitoes carry - chikungunya.  Chikungunya (pronounced /shee-koon-goon-yuh/) has longer-lasting symptoms, though they are similar to the symptoms for Zika and dengue.  The difference is that the joint pain can last for months and be debilitating.  One of our readers here had chikungunya three months ago, and she is still walking with a severe limp.  Everyone here knows someone who's gotten it, and they all have horror stories to tell of the long-lasting nature of the symptoms.

That said, I don't spend much time at all worrying about getting sick in a foreign country.  I've been to six continents, and I've taken one or both of my children with me almost every time I've traveled.  We've received excellent  health care in Thailand (when Kinley was 16 months old and somehow cut her cornea) and in Italy (when Knox was 7 months old and had a severe respiratory infection).  I managed to get regular OBGYN checkups in Fiji when I was 8 months pregnant with Knox, and Kinley even went to the orthodontist a couple of times here in Brazil a few years back.  God has been faithful to send health care professionals and even interpreters to meet our needs all over the world.

As a precaution, we have little plug-in pots of mosquito repellent in our bedrooms here, and we brought plenty of bug spray containing at least 25% DEET.  Kelsey is much better about remembering to slather her kids in the spray than Josh and I are, but so far, our kids haven't been eaten alive.

So if you're worrying about our health and praying for us to remain disease-free, we are certainly grateful. Maybe your prayers are the reason we're healthy! And while you're at it, pray for the Brazilians who have contracted these diseases.  They don't have the option of returning to the relatively-disease-free confines of the US at the end of the summer like we do.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Rocks/Stinks: Brazil Edition

Let me just start by saying that I have a relatively limited perspective on Brazil.  While I've been to Rio for a few days, I've spent most of my time in Brazil in the Northeastern town of Natal.  And Brazilians will tell you that the Northeast part of Brazil is a culture all its own, much like the American South has a completely different feel than, say, Minnesota.

I don't presume to know everything there is to know about even the Northeast of Brazil, much less the whole country, but that doesn't stop me from having strong opinions about what I like and don't like here.  So here's my Rocks/Stinks list for Brazil.

Rocks:  Passionfruit, Lots and Lots of Passionfruit

Oh my goodness.  I love this stuff so much.  And Brazilians share my love of this completely-underappreciated-in-America fruit.  I first ate it fresh in Thailand where the fruits are smaller and darker on the outside.  Here the fruits are bigger, more of a yellow color, and much more tart.  You have to add a lot of sugar to the pulp, but Brazilians use passionfruit (or maracuja in Portuguese - one of the few words I know!) for juices, ice cream, puddings, and lots of other desserts.
Boxed passionfruit jiuce is a staple in our apartment here.
This fabulous coconut cake with tapioca ice cream had a passionfruit pulp garnish.
Kinley learned to make this passionfruit mousse here.
The bottom flavor is passionfruit.
We enjoyed some passionfruit pudding at a buffet last week.     The one passionfruit item I couldn't bring myself to try was                                                                                              passionfruit-flavored soy milk.  Ew.

American foodie friends, this needs to be our next big food trend.  I've found ONE Mexican grocery store in Indianapolis that sells the frozen pulp, but that's it.  Let's start a movement!

Stinks:  Late-night Cherry Bombs During the Month of June (And the Lack of Enforcement of City Ordinances)

Natal celebrates several saints during the month of June, including Peter and Antonio.  But none gets more attention than John the Baptist.  And, apparently, from the way they choose to celebrate, Saint John the Baptist really likes cherry bombs.  And he likes it best when you set them off at about 11 pm.  Every night.  I've read several posts from Facebook friends recently about how their neighbors are incessantly setting off fireworks in the days leading up to Independence Day, but to them I say, "I'll see your Founding Fathers fest and raise you one Brazilian John the Baptist celebration."  Seriously.  Without windows, closed doors, and insulation in the walls to block out the sound, it sounds as if someone is setting them off on our front porch.  Every night.

Rocks:  Havaianas

I don't think Brazil invented the flip-flop (after all, Havaiana is just Portuguese for Hawaiian so maybe Hawaii invented them), but they have certainly perfected it in the creation of the Havaiana. Lest you think these are just ordinary, Old-Navy-variety flip-flops, let me explain.  These are thicker, spongier, bouncier, and more comfortable than any other flip-flop in the history of ever.  And the choices!  I know you can buy Havaianas at Nordstrom and other places in the US, but the selection here is beyond compare and so are the prices.  A pair that would cost me $30 at Nordy's costs me about $10 here.  And you can find them everywhere.  Even the grocery store.  (Which is one reason we'll probably come home with another suitcase full this year.)
The variety of styles is staggering.
Shopping for Havaianas at the grocery store is oh so convenient!

Josh really likes this mens' line.

Pretty much every mall has its own Havaianas store, aka Flip-flop Heaven.

Stinks: Remembering to Be Vigilant About Security

American friends, we live in a relatively safe place.  In my 44 years of American life, I have never lived in a home with bars on the windows or electric fencing that wasn't for keeping the cattle in the pasture.  But here, everyone has security measures like these and is stunned that we don't have them. When they see pictures of my house, they are surprised at the lack of fencing, and they can't believe we don't have a security system.  One reader even once told me that she thought she would be scared to stay at my house because it didn't look safe enough.  I decided not to tell her that growing up we didn't ever lock our house - even when we went on vacation - or that my dad always left his car unlocked with the keys inside no matter where he was parked. I was afraid she'd think I was completely insane.

Since I am generally not that worried about security even when I'm traveling, it's hard for me to remember that security here is perceived as a serious issue.  I have to remind myself to keep the front doors of the church locked, even when people are coming and going frequently. In order for us to leave the church building, we have to unlock and relock one door lock and three padlocks in addition to setting the alarm.  The church has bars on the windows, a sliding iron gate, razor wire, electric fencing on top of iron fencing with spikes at the top, and shards of rusty metal sticking up out of the tops of the concrete fence to discourage would-be intruders.  We never leave the church on foot without a buddy, and we don't walk around our neighborhood at all after dark.
The razor wire, security sensors, and rusty metal shards
 look more like prison security than a church perimeter.

More than once the missionary has had to sit us all down for a come-to-Jesus because we've forgotten to lock the front door while stepped out of the room to meet with a reader, and we are constantly asked by our readers if we're scared to live here.  But the fact is, I'm not.  I am accustomed to feeling safe, and so I just do.  I've even tried to talk myself into feeling scared, just to give myself a healthy sense of reality, but it doesn't really help.  I'm sure that a huge reason for this is that I haven't yet experienced a reason to be worried.  And I'm sure that a large part of that is the way that the church here doesn't leave safety to chance.  But it's still really hard for me to believe it when my readers get nervous about our kids being outside in broad daylight behind a fence with spikes and electric fencing.

Rocks:  Fresh Juices From Fruits You've Probably Never Heard Of

Acerola.  Caja.  Cajuina.  These are all names of fruits grown in Brazil, and I can be relatively sure you've never heard of them since these fruits don't even have an English name.  And, boy, do Brazilians love their fresh juices.  They drink more fresh juices and juices from frozen pulp than any other culture I've ever experienced.   For Americans. juices are primarily breakfast drinks or Happy Meal additions, but Brazilians - adults and kids alike - drink them with every meal.  Of the three I mentioned, acerola is my fave followed by caja.  I'm not a fan of cajuina which is made from the fruit that a cashew nut comes from.  (Bet you didn't know that cashew nuts grew out of the bottom of a fruit either, did you?)
Josh's reader, Ulisses, brought us fresh acerola.
We washed the fruit before removing the seeds - a difficult process since every piece of fruit has three seeds.

Marisa helped us turn the pulp into juice.
Copious amounts of sugar make for delicious acerola juice!
Stinks:  The Frustration of the People About the Government

All of the Brazilians I talk to are fed up with the government.  They are frustrated with the spending on the Olympics, they are angry at their impeached President and her supporters, and they are dismayed at the current financial crisis here.  While America certainly isn't exempt from citizens disgruntled by governmental decision-making, the people here seem to feel more helpless.  They frequently express their frustration that corruption is everywhere, in every level of government, and I really feel for them.  In my country, I still cling to the ideal that every citizen has a voice.  Here, most people have let go of that vision.  And that makes me sad.

Rocks:  Hammocks

This country loves hammocks, and they have just about convinced me that we need to adopt this part of Brazilian culture in the US.  Whereas hammocks are a summertime/beach/lake kind of thing for Americans, they are a way of life for Brazilians.  I mean, the hooks to hold them up are built into the interior walls of pretty much every room in a standard Brazilian home!
Hooks like this one are in everywhere in Brazilian homes so that hammocks can be easily hung.

Landry naps in a hammock at a restaurant.
                                          Finn and Knox like to hang out in the hammock in our apartment.

Stinks:  12 Hour Days

This one really stinks, but, to be fair, it's not just Brazil that has this problem.  Any equatorial country is going to have basically 12 hour days and 12 hours nights all year long.  The sun pretty much rises at 5 am and sets at 5 pm every single day.  The problem with this is that I usually travel to equatorial places in the summer.  And, at home in Indiana in the summertime, I would usually get a good 15 hours of daylight each day during the summer.  The kids would play outside well past 9:00 pm, and Josh and I would sit on the porch enjoying the evening twilight.  But here, once the suns sets (well before 6:00 pm), all I want to do is go to bed.  The darkness makes me tired, much as it does during the winter in Indiana.  And somehow on top of that I feel like I'm being robbed of my summer hours. *sigh*

Rocks:  The Beaches

While we're doing mission work, we get three off days for every nine work days.  We work hard on those nine days, so we really enjoy the beaches here on our off days.  These beaches actually rock so hard that they're going to get their very own post later, but I'll give you a few preview pictures.   Below are pictures of Kinley and Knox at Love Beach and Josh and Kinley at Elbow Beach.

Stinks:  Flimsy Paper Products

I don't what the deal is with companies who make paper products here, but they are universally inadequate.  Napkins are completely non-absorbent, paper towels fall apart at the first drop of liquid, disposable cups hold about three sips and collapse if you grip them with more than two fingers, and tissues don't even hold up to dabbing at watery eyes, not to mention full-on, kid-with-allergies snot. If you look back at the picture of the cup of acerola above, you'll notice that I doubled up on the cups before I poured it.  This helps a bit, but there's nothing you can do to fix a country full of napkins that are only good for wrapping around ice cream cones.

Rocks:  The Southern Cross

Again, this one isn't just a Brazil thing; it's a Southern Hemisphere thing.  But it's super cool to get to see this constellation in the night sky here.  The Southern Cross is only visible south of the equator, and Australia and New Zealand both think it's awe-inspiring enough that they put it on their flags.  Josh is completely obsessed with it and looks for it pretty much every night from our little balcony.  I'm not that enamored of it, but I do like to see stars that I can't see when I'm in the US.  If you'd like to learn more about constellations that you can't see from the Northern Hemisphere, click here.

The Jury Is Still Out:  Mandatory Voting

So here's one where I can't decide what I think.  Does it rock or stink that every single citizen in this country is required by law to cast a vote in an election?  I'm not sure.  On one hand, this eliminates the marginalization of those who typically wouldn't vote because of socio-economic status or racial inequality.  But on the other hand, even those who know nothing about the candidates other than their names are forced to cast an uneducated vote.  And on top of that, bribing people for their votes is a real and rampant part of the process.  Of course, low voter turnout is never an issue here, and even local elections result in every citizen's voice being heard, whether they really have anything to say or not.

Is this a good thing or a terrible thing?  Is it better to have a choice whether or not to participate in the election of our governing individuals or to be sure that everyone has a say in choosing them?  I just can't decide.  But, ultimately, I guess I don't really have to.  I can just appreciate that there are different ways to do things than the ways that my country does them.  And, really, that's one of the best things that travel teaches you, isn't it?