Today was a lesson in humility for me. It also made me think about pride and ingratitude. Julio and I drove out to the city of Juquitiba, or I should say to three homes in that area. The area is very run down and a lot of poverty is evident. The first house we went to took a while to find as the numbers on the houses or fences are not in any kind of recognizable sequence. We talked to a lot people asking if they knew the family. We finally found the Moraes family. Only the wife and her mother were home. A more humble home I had not seen.. They have essentially nothing. I can't explain how poor they were. But they were happy to see us and we talked about the possibilities of them starting a garden and sister Moraes seemed pleased. They did have some fruit trees. But there is no yard, just weeds, tall grass, bare dirt, and junk everywhere. I told Julio that even when you are poor you can still keep things cleaned up. I have seen women sweeping their dirt floors and no trash in sight. The second home nobody was there. The house was fairly large and quite nice with a swimming pool. We are not sure what their situation is and won't make any judgement until we sit down with them. There was a sign on the entrance that said, "Watch out for the vicious dog, a boxer." Kind of glad they weren't home. The third house was the worst and I will try to describe it and the family situation without giving any names. The sister has six children, all with different fathers. She is trying to get her life together and she is an active member. The home was some cement walls sitting on a very steep hillside. One side of the house is literally caving in and they cannot use that part anymore. The sewage runs out of a pipe coming out from the house and goes straight downhill. We had to step over that. The two children who came out - well, let me just say that I wanted to scoop them up in my arms and take them home with me. They have nothing as far as material wealth and nothing to do most of the day. We shook their little hands and appreciated their little smiles of joy that someone came to see them. Again, garbage everywhere because there is no garbage collection for such a poor family. I have never seen an empty lot in Rexburg or Madison County that looked so awful. Because the house is in a state of total collapse, the priesthood quorums are building a small house for the family. Very very small. Not as big as my family room and has to house seven. Only a small foundation has been poured. Now they will start putting up the brick and cement walls. It is taking a long, long time because the only day the brethren can come is Saturday, so it is a slow process. I am going to see if something can be done to get it built right now. The garden will need to be a terraced garden and it will take major work just clearing out dead plants and garbage. I remember after an earthquake in Central America when President Hinckley visited and seeing a picture of him holding a small child. With great emotion he said, "I am going to make sure that these children have a little something sweet to eat." I feel the same and plan on taking some groceries and a couple of bags of candy to them. Something as simple as a piece of candy makes a huge difference in the lives of a little child. If it brings a smile to their faces and a feeling that someone out there loves me, then it will be more than worth it I have never had an experience quite like to day. I think I need to be a lot more grateful for my blessings than I am. I can't wait to get back out there. Julio and I will be Santa Claus in April for them.
Our trip to Rio was incredible. We did a ton of stuff in just two and a half days. Our flight was 37 minutes and we landed at Santos Dumont Airport by the city center. That is where I first set food on Brazilian ground, Santos Dumont Airport. Our guide took us to Pao de Acucre first (Sugar Loaf) and we went on the tram. It is a huge piece of granite sticking straight up like a loaf of bread. The views of the bay, the city, the beaches, the ocean and the Christ statue were wonderful. We drove past Roberto Carlos' home in an exclusive area. He is actually a very popular figure in many countries of the world. He was the heart throb when I served here and is around 76 years old now. Rio is a hundred times worse for traffic than Sao Paulo which I wouldn't have believed had I not experienced it. Everything is so crowded and packed tight. We drove up the winding roads to the Cristo Redentor statue that overlooks the city (Christ the Redeemer). We drove most of the way up, then some stairs and then either the elevator or the escalator. There were hundreds upon hundreds of people and it was standing room only and difficult to maneuver. The statue is really awesome to see as our the views of the city. You could see Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, Maracana Stadium (Once seated over 200,000 for a soccer game), the airport, the ocean and the incredibly huge mountains all around the city. We then went to our hotel, The Golden Tulip Rio Copacabana ( a large chain in Brazil and other countries). It was really nice with a great breakfast and clean rooms. We lucked out and had a king size bed. We could step out the front door, walk a very short distance and be on the beach. It is fun to watch the waves and walk down the beach. The only problem was all the cemetery bikinis. Just had to focus on the ocean. I forgot to say that coming down the mountain from Cristo Redentor, we stopped on a winding street with old old buildings and went to a restaurant. I wasn't too sure about what the food would be like but we had a really good Bahian shrimp dish and some frango a passarinho. Frango a passarinho is random chicken pieces that they just take a meat cleaver and start chopping the whole chicken (dead already of course) and dip those pieces in garlic powder and then fry them. They are really good even though there are no recognizable pieces.
Friday we got on a 14 passenger van with a multi-lingual guide (she was great) and headed to the city of Petropolis. Petropolis sits up in the mountains which are as big as anything on the Wasatch Front, they just start at sea level. It is cooler up there and so that is where the emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II built his palace and stayed half the year. His life was very sad toward the end. He and his family were at the palace and a group of men came and told him he was needed in Rio now (this was in 1889, one year after slavery was abolished in Brazil. When the family arrived, the military put them on a ship and sent them to Portugal to live in exile. They never saw Brazil again, a country they so loved and had governed for so long. They were not allowed to take any of their possessions with them. He died a couple of years later. Dom Pedro II visited Salt Lake City and I believe he had an appointment with one of the members of the quorum of the twelve. You can look it up online. He was very intelligent and spoke 7 languages fluently and was always learning about new scientific discoveries. We also went to the Crystal Palace, a garden area which was shipped over in pieces from Italy and then put together in Petropolis. During our time there we got to know an older couple from Salvador. The wife seemed just a little older than me but her husband was 88. He was having a hard time walking and they got a wheel chair for him. The guide was going to push it and I said, "You" So I did all day and got to know this couple very well. I even pushed him up a steep cobblestone driveway without any problem. It was a lot of fun being with them and getting to know them. They called me "Elder" all day. We stopped at a chocolate store and they insisted on buying all our chocolate which was a little embarrassing but so kind of them. It was a great day and we came away with a better appreciation and understanding of Brazilian History.
On Saturday the main thing we did was go to the beach and then to the Arpoador Fortree, a large fort with 14" guns built to defend the harbor. It is just a tourist site now but well kept with interesting displays. The guns are still there and they fired 440-500 lb. shells. We saw the shells. They would make a pretty good hole in you. Actually, you would disappear. We then got to realize a dream of mine by going to the restaurant by Ipanema Beach called the Garota de Ipanema. Yup, that is where Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes wrote the words and music to "The Girl from Ipanema". It was a number 1 hit all over the world and Frank Sinatra made it famous by singing it with Tom Jobim at Carnegie Hall. The real girl from Ipanema is still alive and has celebrity status here in Brazil. I have listened regularly to Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes music for years. Many of you have heard his music but didn't know it. He was responsible for the Bossa Nova music. The food was really good and a little band came by and played the song for us at our request. We caught an earlier flight back to SP which was nice. I met a really tall dignified white haired fellow who spoke perfect English. He went to high school in the States and got his law degree from Harvard. I told him we were Mormon Missionaries and he said, "I thought so. We do a lot of work for the Church." We had a great visit.
Monday night we had a great FHE with Fernando and his wife, Ivan and his wife and two daughters, Julio and his wife and four children and Antonio, Vania and Jr. Guerra. I gave a lesson from a talk by Elder Helvecio Martins and everyone participated. We then played the thimble game and everybody loved it, especially Julio's young children. They really got into it. They had been really shy. Mom made congo bars and they were a hit as always. Of course they all have been invited to come visit us and go to Yellowstone.
Paula made Julio and I a peanut butter and honey sandwich today for our trip to Juquitiba and Julio said something that we thought was funny. He took one bite of the sandwich and said, "Boy, your wife makes the best food." I think he thought that Paula had made the peanut butter and honey herself and somehow made this super delicious sandwich. Paula laughed pretty hard. Sure love you all. Less than a month to go, but we sure have a ton of stuff to do. President Broadbent of the SP South Mission has asked me to come present my exercise program to all his missionaries next week at the Botanical Gardens here in SP. Should be fun.
Love You All,