Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My First Spanish Meeting Part

I was at the meeting after getting back from Brazil.  Pablo was sitting in front of me.  After the meeting he turned around and said, "hey, you have the announcements next week?!"



"Oh snap!"

Thus it began.  Long story short: I think it went ok.  Although I seemed to have a hard time saying "Febrero."

Thanks Gustavo, Daniel, Pamela, Lionel and last but certainly not least, Google Translate!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I Don't Speak Hindi :(

I was born in the United States.  However, my parents were born in India.  So, in most respects, I'm Indian.  (I should insert a footnote here, but I won't bore you with details.) 

Why does this matter?  Well, I've become the go-to guy for everyones' Indian return visits.  Which is totally cool with me.  The only bummer is that I can't speak any Indian languages.  So yes, I'm a bad Indian. 

Several weeks ago, I met one Indian man who speaks Hindi, Punjabi and Spanish.  We had a Bible study.  I stumbled through a prayer in Spanish and conducted the study in mostly English with the help of a sister who translated.  Thanks, Pamela!

Last night I had the privilege of meeting some lovely Indian families.  It took about 2 hours to get to their home.  I spoke to them mostly in English (with some terrible Spanish thrown in).  On one Bible study, I spoke in English, Pamela translated to Spanish and then one young boy translated into Punjabi.  It was difficult!  But they really appreciate the study and cooked us a great dinner!  Complete with Poori! 

Today I got to meet another Indian family.  And yes, they spoke English!  We got to have a lovely conversation and I look forward to speaking with them again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Back to Buenos Aires

We decided to drive from Rio to Beunos Aires without stopping.  The route took us through Sao Paulo, Curitiba, Iguacu, Posadas, then to BA.  35 hours and more than 2800 kilometers.  One of us would drive and the other would sleep.  Then we would switch.

On the way home, the trip had one last gem for us.  I was driving through the flat pasture of Argentina at night.  We were in the middle of nowhere.  There was no moon that night and no artificial light whatsoever.  I happened to look up at the sky and was taken aback.  I have never seen a more magnificent night sky.  I pulled over and we got out to look. 

I could see the band of light that was the Milky Way.  Isaiah 40:22 says that Jehovah is "stretching out the heavens just as a fine gauze."  It really did look like that.  We could make out all sorts of constellations.  It looked almost like an organism.  Incredible.

We got back to Buenos Aires at about 5am, Monday the 18th.  Then I went to sleep. :)

All in all, it was an awesome trip.  I'm sure I'll be going back one day...

Music and Passion Were Always the Fashion

What happens in Rio stays in Rio.  Eh... and in this blog, apparently.  

The first thing one notices is that Rio has incredible natural beauty.  There is a unique combination of mountains and beach - intermingling in an interesting way.  I'm not sure what kind of geological event lead to the dichotomy, but its definitely cool to see.  Buildings tower high at the beach, but the mountains dwarf them.

The first evening there we were invited to a get together at a brother's house.  We had dinner and then studied the material for the Congregation Bible Study.  It was really nice to meet some of the brothers there.  As always, the brothers were a highlight of the trip.

That night and the next we stayed at the "Girl from Ipanema" hostel.  However, staying in a hostel is like eating a hot dog for dinner.  You can do it once in a while, but its not good for you and if you keep doing it you'll get sick.  So we moved to a hotel soon, thanks to help from my sister.  Thanks, Behroz!

The hotel had a pool on the roof (27th floor) with an awesome view of Ipanema and Leblon beaches.

Most of the rest of the trip consisted of going to the beach, hanging out with brothers, going out to eat, seeing the tourist stuff, oh, and of course, Caipirinhas!  The tourist sights were cool.  The giant statue of Christ on Corcovado was awesome.  At first we were in a cloud (its really high up) so visibility was terrible.  But then it cleared.  We also got the opportunity to witness informally to a Brazilian woman there.  Sugarloaf also had some great vistas. 

The food and drink in Rio is excellent.  We went to the "Garota de Ipanema" for lunch one day.  There I order the Picanha.  Awesome.  Its basically two tenderloins of beef served on a mini grill.  There are also many restaurants where you pay for food by the kilo.  Its like a buffet, but you weigh your plate and pay accordingly.  Some are a pretty good deal for a good selection of food.  Of course, these places have "meat on a sword" which is just plain cool.

They also have some all-you-can-eat pizza places.  They just keep bringing pizzas around and you take what you like.  I must say, I ate a lot.  Including some dessert pizzas: strawberry and chocolate, banana and cinnamon, banana and chocolate, and guava and cheese. 

Another highlight of the trip were the juices, which are known as "sucos" there.  Brazil has a tremendous variety of fruits.  Suco stands are everywhere, and have on the order of 20 or so different types of fresh fruit.  The juices made from them are fantastic.  I had some excellent juices of mango, pineapple, strawberry, coconut, acerola, acai, grape and others that I don't know the name of. 

Pablo and I each had the privilege of giving talks in the English congregation there.  It was nice to be able to help them out.  I went out in the ministry one day.  We were doing Portugese street work on Copacabana beach.  Man was it hot.  I was out for about 15 minutes when I was like "ok, I need some water."  I learned a very basic presentation in Portugese. 

After our stay at the hotel, we spent a night at a brother's house.  Thanks, Gilson! 

We were invited to stay longer, but Pablo had to get back to work.  And I didn't want him to drive alone.  It was very tempting, though.  My next post will describe the way home.

The Long Road to Rio de Janiero

Brazil.  Wow, where to begin?  Perhaps a good place would be all the hoops I had to jump through to get my visa.  America gives Brazilians a hard time to get a visa, so of course Brazil reciprocates.  It took no less than 4 trips to the Brazilian consulate here in Buenos Aires, a detailed route we would drive, a description of the car, the confirmation from the hotel, a special photo, a trip to the bank, and about 500 pesos.  On the plus side, the visa is good for 5 years.

Before I go on, I'll mention that all the pictures are available in my Picasa gallery - the link is to the right.

We started on our trip at about 4am on Sunday, January 3rd from Buenos Aires.  It was four of us in a 1990 Peugeot.  Two of us could drive.  We had a GPS, but apparently not all the roads in South America are properly mapped, because it got confused a couple times.

I've driven across the US, but this was a different beast.  In the US, you hop on an interstate and you cruise for as long as you want.  There's a nice rest stop every few dozen miles with a McDonalds or something.  In Argentina, there are no interstates.  The "highways" suddenly become city and town roads complete with stop lights and speed bumps.  There are police checkpoints with slaloms of cones.  You really need to be alert. 

The drive was first and foremost long.  We arrived at Iguacu (the Argentine side) at about 1am on Monday.  That was the halfway point - reached after 21 hours.  However, along the way, we did see some great sights.  We passed kilometer after kilometer of pasture ground.  Argentina has 2 cows for every 1 person. 

We also had a small issue with the car.  It operates on both gas and natural gas.  The switch that changes between the two stopped working, so we stopped at a mechanic's house at about 7am sunday morning.  He was suprisingly friendly and cheap.  He got it going again.  During this time, however, one of the girls made a call to a friend in Buenos Aires, mentioning the car issues.  Unbeknownst to us, this news started traveling around BA (a la the "telephone game") and got several people concerned.  More on this later.    

We stayed at a hostel in Iguacu.  The next day we hit the falls.  Amazing.  The pictures don't do it justice.  On the Argentine side, you can get right up against the falls, and even on top of them.  On the Brazilian side, I've heard the view is more panoramic, but less up-close-and-personal.  In any case, if you ever visit Argentina, the falls are a must-see.  Much better than Niagra.

The next day we hit the road again.  Destination: Sao Paulo.  But first we had to cross the border.  We exited Argentina without a hitch.  Then there is this neutral zone between the countries.  At the other end is the Brazilian border.  There was no line.  Pablo drove through slowly, but nobody was directing traffic.  He just kinda waved to the people as we drove through.  Then we were in Brazil.  It seemed too easy.  Pablo said "uh... should we do something?"  So after a few minutes in Brazil, he decided to go back to the border to get our passports stamped. 

Everyone was really laid back. It seemed more like a happy hour than a border.  We got our passports stamped and then asked if we needed to have the car checked.  So we went to another office where the guy totally didn't care about the car.  We offered our identification, but he didn't even look at it.  Then he just left.  So were we hanging out in his office, getting a drink of water.  Then we left.

It was the first of many times that I noted the motto of Brazil should be "we don't care about anything."

Almost as soon as we crossed the border, we could see the change in landscape.  Whereas Argentina is almost entirely flat (with the exception of the mountains to the west), Brazil is full gorgeous hills and mountains.  Many times on the road I found myself wanting to capture the views we were seeing atop of the hills.  We also passed a complete rainbow. It was incredible; we could see both ends as well as the entire arch.  Beautiful.

After driving through the entire night, I found myself hitting Sao Paulo right in time for the morning rush hour.  The rest of the crew awoke to find ourselves stuck in traffic.  Its not an experience I would care to repeat.  I was trying to get to the airport to drop of one of the girls, but the traffic was serious.  Plus, I got something in one eye and was thus trying to negotiate the lanes with just my good eye.  Eventually we did get here... at which point I threw the keys to Pablo so I could get some sleep.

I awoke to find ourselves in a very rough dirt road.  I said "I must have missed something big."  Apparently, the GPS got confused again and Pablo had spent an hour trying to get out of Sao Paulo.  We ended up in a really bad area and Pablo took this dirt road to get out.  Again, we eventually got out.

Now it was just highway to Rio.  We arrived at about 4pm on Wednesday.  When I checked my email, I had received emails from 3 different people asking if we were ok because they heard about our car problems.  I told Pablo and he said "I didn't receive anything!"

My next post will describe our time there.