Spring Highlights

Oh dear, it has been far too long since I managed to write a post! It is mainly because things have been a bit mad at the project and 2 little people can be quite demanding on one’s time! Here’s a round-up of the Spring Highlights (Spring is actually an alien  concept here near the equator. We have a wet season and dry season for 6 months each. Currently, we are coming towards the end of the wet season, which actually hasn’t been too horrific this year).


Legally Recognised

After around 18 months of sorting paperwork and jumping through administrative hoops, we have finally been recognised as an offical social project and given our CNPJ number (which is a bit like a charity number). It means we can now set up a bank account, provide accredited courses, receive specific help from the government etc. So it’s a big deal Daniel had a lot of running around to achieve this but we can see the hand of God in it all, how He provided Christian lawyers and accountants through church contacts to help, and not least, those people from our church and beyond who agreed to be on the Board of Directors. Let’s see what new opportuntities will appear now.

Curso de Flores

The latest craft course at Instituto Engrenar was ‘Flores EVA’, which involves making all kinds of decorations by heating the foamy paper and using metal moulds of all shapes and sizes to make impressive vases of flowers, favours, and really anything! We are extremely grateful to the teacher, Zelia (pictured below in stripes) who offered her time to do this. Pray for the three ladies who took part and who have heard the gospel several times now. We invited all to a special mothers’ day service at church on Sunday so it would be great to see them.

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Small Group

It has been a both a privilege and a challenge to serve as small group leaders within the church’s ministry. At times we felt overwhelmed and inadequate but God is good and has been teaching us much. As we approach the date to travel to the UK, we were delighted that Josué and Raquel accepted the challenge to take over the b106ef69-a0d1-4a24-b094-06b153eb06dagroup in our absence. Praise God for this couple and we trust the group will continue to grow together and in Christ. The photo is of Pastor Sérgio praying for all involved at Tuesday night leadership training with our trainee leaders and also the overseer of our small group, Pastor Marcelo…speaking of whom…

 

New Life and New Faces

Anyone who has known anything of the project has been quick to ask what will happen when we go to Scotland in June. We have had our concerns and changes in personnel in our time here, but we are so pleased that God has once again been faithful and provided the right people at the right time. We have known Pastor Marcelo for close to 10 years now and he has also been someone who has supported Instituto Engrenar in many ways. It is a joy that he has agreed to come onboard and help with the spiritual care of those involved with the project, as well as promoting the work amongst churches and beyond. He comes with lots of experience, and an equally talented, wife, Claúdia!

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Lusione and Pastor Marcelo

We also have a Fábio working with us in the morning, helping to teach the trainees and a new welder, Wanderson, is doing a full-day. Wanderson is a Christian and will help carry on with the practical teaching. He has been very diligent and efficient so far, and also can provide guitar lessons so a very useful employee.

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Celebrating Welders’ Day in Brazil (yeah, it’s a thing)

Junior, one of our apprentices, also became a Christian a few weeks ago. He and his cousin, Tiffany, have joined the English course and even had to join the rest of the group in their first test this week. We hope Junior will continue well in his new faith.

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Bazar

Now a recognisable event at Instituto Engrenar, we held another jumble sale last Saturday. We are always amazed how we manage to gather donations from folk of  quality clothing, shoes, household items, etc. It is also a good chance to show off some of the items made by the trainees. The team who helped prepare the workshop, who served on the day and tidied up, cannot be thanked enough. We thought business was maybe a bit slow on the day, but we were amazed when the final total for the day came in over 1000 reias.

Much more has been going on, such as the anniversary celebrations at the Casa de Davi recovery house, a chill out day at a sitio for team who organised the February Youth Camp, training for the new material we will be implementing for the kids club, church members’ meetings, prayer meetings, re-organising the use of the workshop to operate more effectively, kiddie swimming lessons, Stephanie taking tentative first steps and that’s only some of our goings on…..life would be dull if we didn’t do much!

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Seeing with Spiritual Eyes

It’s only when we stop and think about all the day-to-day difficulties that appear in our line of work that we can appreciate that there are greater battles going on than those that we can see. As Christians we believe that God has set us apart to live lives that honour him, but that means we have to give up certain things in this world, and even expect challenges to trouble us and try and tear us down.

`For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.` Ephesians 6:12

Our church small group meets on a Friday evening and we don’t see it as a coincidence that nearly every Friday there is some kind of mishap or a minor disaster occurs which can make us late, think of not going or simply cause unnecessary stress.

In terms of our apprentices at the workshop, we have noticed victories in many areas, but we also see that the battle continues. One of our young boys cobumbo boimes from a family who practice candomble or macumba, the black magic spiritist religion which is full of superstition and many dark practices. His mum has diabetes and had her foot amputated some time ago. It has not healed properly yet and she has a theory that if her son dances at the  Bumba Boi festival in June, then she will be cured. The Bumbo Boi festival takes place all over the Maranhao state in June and July celebrating a cow. To tourists, it looks like a colourful party, full of colour and music and dancing but the whole idea of the cow stems from African religions. We’ve been chatting to this mum and she has been to church before but her roots are strong and we need to keep praying for her.

The workshop has continued to be a hive of activity and the apprentices are doing well assiting in big projects and making their own pieces. I was impressed one day as I walked up to the workshop and spotted the guys welding in a neighbours house without Daniel or Pedro in sight! Lusione was supervising, but it proved to me how much the team have learned. This was actually a favour Daniel agreed to do for a chap who was needing some help with an extension in his house.

 

Other projects have included gates, barbecues, key holders and stands for speakers. An interesting client for whom the Instituto made some gates was an Algerian man who is married to a Brazilian lady. It is not easy to come across fellow international folk here, and Mohammed was chuffed to find someone to make his gates who spoke English, wouldn’t rob him, and actually did a good job! We haven’t come across a Muslim in Sao Luis before either so that was a first. He heard about the purpose of the project so hopefully he will think on it.

 

One continual challenge for us has been finding dedicated people to join with us but we trust that God will continue to raise up people. We have had some new faces coming in and out, and of these is another of Daniel’s nephew, Fábio. Just 2 weeks ago, Fábio’s long-term girlfriend took ill fairly suddenly with a fever. It turned out to be severe dengue fever and Cynthia didn’t survive it. She leaves behind their 2 children, Fabricia, aged 7 and David Luis, only 2. We are grateful that she re-committed her life to Christ in her last days on earth so we can take comfort in knowing where she is in now. The family will appreciate prayers from praying readers. Fábio has been working at the workshop as handed in his notice where he had been working and he may well keep on with us.

Another nephew, Ricardo is continuing his battle with addiction at the Casa de Davi recovery house. It is not an easy journey, but he is continuing firm. His birthday was this month and the family turned out to encourage him. Daniel was asked to bring a message from the bible.

 

The kids club and English class are going well and we are preparing for the next craft course in April.

 

There has been so much going on that’s it’s hard to keep track but hopefully that’s enough news and our next email newsletter will be out soon so look out for it!

 

 

 

Won for Christ, and the Battle Continues

In a previous post I wrote about carnaval culture here where all is not as it seems. Music, colour and dancing mask a darker world of drinking, prostitution, drugs and everything that is “not from God”, as the Christians here would say. Carnaval itself is a national holiday that lasts roughly 5 days but in the road the project is on, the neighbours close off the road and blast out music and drink for 24 hours non-stop way before the official holiday begins. The young lads who are training with us live in the houses involved and it weighed on our hearts to do something to keep them away from that whole atmosphere. Around the same time, some of Daniel’s family and friends were thinking of getting the young people together and organising a time away. After a lot of prayer, and overcoming a number of obstacles, a last minute youth camp was organised by Daniel and his small team with the blessing of the church.

We really felt God was at work in the midst of the organisation and the way God used many people to help. A relative of someone from our small group provided a sitio (big area of land out of the city) at the last minute for free, the bus cost next to nothing, cooks stepped forward, virtually all of the food was donated by members of the church, speakers were raised up, one of whom was Márcio, someone to lead games (happened to be my fellow English teacher, Carmen), people to man the canteen appeared (courtesy of family!) musicians emerged and before we knew it nearly 40 campers had signed up within a couple of weeks’ notice!

Apart from the provision, and good weather we were blesssed with during the day (it only rained at night), there were so many encouragements over the 4 nights but one of the highlights had to be the conversion of 3 boys from the workshop, Wanderson, Vinícius and Aílton and the recommitment of a boy called Tomas. Praise God for this fruit! Sometimes when people become Christians here, it can be a bit superficial, but these guys really do know what they have accepted as they have been studying the bible at the project.  The road ahead isn’t easy for them so we pray for the role of the church and their small group especially.

I also particularly noticed the commaradery at the camp. Having taken part in camps in Brazil before, I have noted the cleeks in the past and perhaps even falseness, dare I say it, more so in the teenage girls. However, this event felt different. Perhaps it was the nature of it being last minute, of it being a smaller group, of there being new faces to mix in, or, more likely, it was God at work breaking down barriers. Many noticed this important element.

Despite the food being delicious, and there being plenty to go around, the tuck shop was very popular and raised over 600 reais in aid of Instituto Engrenar. Speaking of which, back at the workshop, it has been encouraging to see some fruits of our labour, but the challenges continue. One of the trainees who became a Christian before the youth camp has sadly moved to another city, or rather was sent but his stepmum due to some family complications. It was really hard to see this as just a couple of days before, he had been saying how he had been so happy at the sitio and how he never wanted to get into drugs again. He had been smoking cannabis and some stronger drugs for some time, prior to his involvement with us. We pray God will keep him. Praying readers, do please pray for Marquinhos. One of the other trainees we currently have, Aílton has a rather interesting story. He used to work with a chap who sold us the columns for the workshop at a discount price. This chap, who lives just a few minutes up the same road as the workshop, attempted to kill his wife a few months ago with a knife and found himself in jail. He is already out again and seemingly the wife is back together with him, but that’s another story. And yes, it does often feel like we live in a an episode of Eastenders.

The other two boys, Wanderson and Vinicius, come from families which practice candomblé, the black magic, spiritist religion which is very dominant here in Northeast Brazil. It is often mixed in with Catholocism and makes for a a huge mess of rituals and supersitition. Both boys committed to Christ at the camp, and yet now have the massive challenge of marrying up their faith with their families. Pray for them, and for us, as we continue to reach our to their families.

The Kids Club continues to go well and it is impressive how much the children rememebr from week to week. The incentive of earning a sweet also helps! We are grateful for our small team of helpers and the material we have been able to buy or have had donated, including snacks and toys.

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Our little English class continues on Wednesday night with the endlessly talented, multilingual, Carmen, who has shared her language material and gives of us her time for free.

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The women in the community really enjoyed the craft course which Maxsianne taught, and which finished last week. We continue to pray for the ladies, who have already beenm asking what the next course will be!

Any mum with young  kids will relate to how refreshing it can be to get out for an evening and it was my turn on Saturday to enjoy a service in the church which celebrated the first anniversary of the mum’s prayer group. Although I don’t tend to get along to the weekly meetings, as it clashes with other commitments, I keep up with the prayer points and join in the main purpose which is clearly prayer. The group has a key verse, the middle part of Lamentations 2.19

Arise, cry out in the night,
    as the watches of the night begin;
pour out your heartlike water
    in the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him
    for the lives of your children,
who faint from hunger
    at every street corner.

It was geat to sing together, pray, hear the testimonies of a couple of women and a challenging message from Noemia, Pastor Nahur’s wife.

Behind the scenes, we continue to work on fundraising for the project as well as the legal part of the paperwork to register the project is currently with the governing authorities and hopefully we should get word in a week or so if all has gone through ok. Once we are a registered charity, it will Shaddaybe easier to secure donations from business and other partnerships. Earlier this month we visited the El Shadday Evangelical Church as we know Pastor Franky and presented the ministry. It was well received and we even managed to sell some of the items made by the trainees!

 

As always, thank you so much for your support and prayers and for putting up with my ramblings!

 

Kids, Crafts, Converts & Chameleons

January has been a month of exciting things at Instituto Engrenar. We are three weeks into a Saturday kids’ club and are pleased with how things have been going so far. We had 19 kids the first week and yesterday we had over 30. It has been a real encouragement to see a team of helpers emerge and give up their Saturday mornings to serve there.

We have free play time followed by a bible story, a worksheet, games and snack. It’s not re-inventing the wheel but is a tried and tested formula! In Sao Luís, there is next to nothing available for kids to do for free and, some of the time, the youngsters don’t even have school if their teachers are on strike. But we hope to be doing more than babysitting or even entertaining the children…many of these kids know something about God, and might well tell you a bit about Jesus, but their home lives are chaotic and few of them have a living faith. Sao Bernardo is a needy area of Sao Luis, an already embarrassingly underdeveloped Brazilian state capital, and children here come from families where there is unemployment, substance abuse, witchcraft, broken relationships, domestic abuse, absent fathers, etc. etc. It really feels like a privilege to spend a few hours with the kids. Some come without shoes, others without having had breakfast or a wash, but all leave having heard some key truths from the bible and having enjoyed themselves.

In our increasingly multi-functional workshop, Tuesday afternoon is now the slot for a craft course for the ladies in the area. Maxsianne is teaching ‘Biscuit’ to a group of around 10 women. We are only 2 weeks in, but it is another exciting  thing to see the women attentively hearing from the bible before the practical element of the course.

During the rest the days, the trainees continue to beaver away and learn each day.

We have had a few chaps not fulfilling their duties so while they take some time off, we have given a couple of other gents an opportunity, Marcos and Eduardo. Last week, Marcos made a profession of faith at Instituto Engrenar, something which we shared with the church on Sunday. He had heard the gospel before but had never bowed the knee. At 17 and already getting into soft drugs, we trust he has made the best decision at a critical time in his life. Praise the Lord!

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
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L-R Marcio, Pastor Sérgio, Marcos & Daniel

Thanks to the addition of Márcio to the team, Daniel has a little more flexibility to get round to the some of the previously sidelined jobs, opportunities and hobbies. One of these is to get a Christian samba band together. The intention is to involve some of the guys on the fringes of church and use the band to encourage others. So far, the group has played at the church’s monthly prayer vigil and a youth service. Both nights went down well!

Some of our regular supporters might recall that Daniel’s brother José was involved with the project way back at the start, over a year and a half ago now, but he decided to choose his own path and a relationship which wasn’t good for him. It didn’t take long for him to fall into drugs and he has been up and down ever since. That is, until Friday of last week when he said he wanted help in a recovery house. Daniel and Márcio took José to the Casa de Davi and we really pray for a true transformation this time.

The rain has started to really fall this month and it brings with it all kinds of creatures, some of whom have come closer than I might like, like the time I opened the toilet lid to find a tarantula crawling up the toilet pan making his break for freedom. I was proud of myself for dealing with it (broom handle, flushing away, tartantula swims back, IMG-20180128-WA0000.jpgreflushing with soap powder). Poor Antonio found one a few days later in the same place but he wasn’t too fussed. Cockroaches and flying ants are never far away and I’ve seen rats too but a more pleasant visitor is a baby chameleon living in our back garden. We’ve named him Charlie. We think he may have fallen from the adjoining house’s mango tree. He has been around for a few weeks and I’m not sure what  he is eating…we should probably set him free somewhere. Where’s the SSPCA when you need them?!

The pics below are from a trip to a waterpark and the recent wedding of Romulo and Andrea.

 

Festivities in the Sun

Christmas gatherings, a whole lot of food and fun, there may not be snow and the traditions might be different, but the festive period offers lots of great opportunities in Sao Luis.

For anyone who might have missed it, our small team has been joined by Pastor Márcio and Maxsianne. Márcio just happens to be Daniel’s nephew who lives nextdoor to the workshop and Maxsianne just happens to be super talented with all kinds of arts and crafts and kids work. We are thrilled about this answer to prayer and God is already doing exciting things through this couple, not least with their massive involvement in our main Christmas event. We used our last fundraiser to raise money for a community Christmas dinner for all of the trainees (practical welders and English pupils) and their families. The evening included a quiz, a wee blurb about the project for folks who were unsure, a short message and the distribution of some Christmas hampers.

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We had a Christmas themed night at the English class, and I think I learned as much as the students about where Christmas trees and the Santa phenomenon comes from. We did a “Secret Santa” style game but we had to bring gender neutral home-made presents which we could poach until the last minute!

Christmas is a family time here and people only really travel to be with the main group of family. The main event is a dinner and present exchanging on Christmas Eve which continues over midnight when fireworks are set off and music is played veeeerry loudly to ring in Christmas Day. Christmas Day itself involves eating leftovers and chilling.

It was fantastic to have a few days off over the Christmas break. We enjoyed a few trips out and about round Sao Luís. Antonio’s favourite place is the water park!

The project, Instituto Engrenar is back in full swing, with recent projects including the conversion of an old oil drum into a bench, painting a neighbour’s security gate, wooden benches and decorative items. Behaviour isn’t generally an issue with the trainees but one young man has been a bit troublesome recently so has been asked to take some time out to reflect. We have invited another young man to get involved too, which is great.

Next week sees the start of our first craft course for ladies in the area which we are looking forward to greatly. It is soon to be followed by a Saturday’s kids’ club so watch this space for new ventures in 2018. Praise God for His goodness!

The (Not So) Simple Things

As we approach the end of 2017, there is much happening to celebrate and commemorate at end of a busy season.

Instituto Engrenar is delighted to welcome Pastor Márcio and his wife, Maxsianne, to our team full-time.

Márcio and Maxsianne bring a wealth of skills, experience and enthusiasm to the project which we have so needed. What a difference it has already made just to have someone else to share the load and bring fresh input, so simple but so difficult to have found consistently! They join us with son, Cristiano, aged 6, who graduated from junior school this weekend. We were kindly invited and it was a very special occasion for all the youngsters.

You can maybe see from the photos that a big fuss was made of the kids, they had learned dance routines and songs, recited messages, there were precessions in their fancy outfits rented for the event, food, professional photographers and indoor playground rented for the night . While it was all beautiful and very adorable, I couldn’t help feeling slightly uncomfortable with some it (it resembled those US beauty pageants). Maybe we are too laid back in the UK, letting our kids go out with uncombed hair or, dare I suggest, a bow that doesn’t match the colour of the dress but that’s a debate for another day…it was a big momomet for Cristiano who participated perfectly.

Last weekend we held a second ‘Bazar’ at the workshop of Instituto Engrenar. It was a jumble sale and mini fun day with snacks on sale as well as face painting. The total after a morning and afternoon of work was a superb R$1089, with next to no outlays. Such a simple thing to do, but it was fun for all, not too much organising and a great success.

This money will be used to help cover the costs of the Christmas event we are organising next Saturday for everyone involved with the project and their families. None of it would have been possible without our many happy helpers and, of course, the supporters near and far.

Instituto Engrenar continues to be busy with welding trainees during the day and the English course on a Wednesday night. We are looking forward to some craft courses starting in January with Maxsianne.

When living in Scotland I take the quality of the roads for granted and we, as a nation, are quick to complain when the snow or ice damages the road and it is not promptly fixed. Over here in the majority world, when you have lived with an uneven, dirt track road for over 60 years, it is a big deal when the council comes along to asphalt it. There might still be no proper sewage system (septic tanks are common in many areas of São Luís), and the tropical rains might well wash away some of the shoddy workmanship and inferior materials, but for now, this simple progression means chalk painting on the road, wheelbarrow rides, strolling with a buggy, football on the street and many more simple pleasures which resulted in fireworks being set off the day the tarmac arrived.

Heading out for dinner at a beachside restaurant with small group is one of the perks of living in São Luís. It is a fairly common thing for church small groups to do for their Christmas meal out (no turkeys involved, only lots of fresh meat, fish, shellfish). We celebrated the end of the year and gave thanks for all that’s been. Our group and their families have seen a lot this year: graduations from high school, the loss of a child, the loss of a parent, the birth of a baby, new projects, new houses, operations, separations…the lot. And what can we say of it all?

“Até aqui nos ajudou o Senhor” from 1 Sam 7:12

“Thus far the Lord has helped us”

Without the Lord’s strength and the encouragement we have drawn from one another, for sure we would be wandering around like lost sheep. We pray for even greater things in 2018 as there is much to learn and much to share with each other.

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Daniel and I both had our birthdays this month and we were spoiled with a few special celebrations, as below.

Antonio and Stephanie have both had colds recently, but are generally doing well. Stephanie is now enjoying solid foods on the whole, but needs a bit more convincing on veg. Papaya, banana and apple and going down easily on their own or in porridge! I am every hopeful that the more food I can stuff into her, the more she will sleep at night but it doesn’t seem to work that way!! If only it were so simple.

Hope everyone enjoys advent week!

Day to Day Differences Living in Northeast Brazil

If you have ever wondered what it’s like living in Brazil, here’s my rundown of some of the differences in the simple things, in no particular order.

  1. People take multiple showers during the day, at least 3, because of the heat and humidity to cool down. Showers are generally cold, intionally, and because it’s cheaper than installing an electric shower.
  2. milkThere is no fresh milk here (in Sao Luís anyway). People use powdered milk or long-life milk. There is a special, vitamin enriched powered milk for children, made by Nestle.
  3. Food is different, as you would expect. It’s generally much fresher and good quality. Rice and beans are the staples and the main ricemeal is at lunchtime. I confess that in the midday heat, my apetite isn’t always huge and sometimes I’d be happy with a sandwich! The rice and beans is served with meat or chicken or fish.  Sao Luís offers lots of fish and shellfish and you can buy your crab live at the market every day.
  4. Saying on the food theme, there is a real lack of quality cheese in Sao Luis, which is hard for cheese lovers. Cheese is generally a bit plasticky but if you’re willing to pay a price, you can buy a teeny pice of gorgonzola for about 10 pounds.
  5. Driving is pretty insane and one sometimes dreams of smooth roads with no horns constantly beeping. See my previous blog.Engarrafamento SLZ - Cópia
  6. The lifestyle is relaxed. Being late is not a problem. We’ll get round to things eventually.  Unexpected conversations and encounters are usually more important than being on time. Much more chilled on that front, if sometimes frustrating!
  7. Lack of law enforcement. Laws exist here but they don’t seem to come to fruition. This affects just about every aspect of life and leads to the corruption which permeates this state (see previous blogs).
  8. An unusual relationship with animals. Animals aren’t kept much as pets here and there is no RSPCA equivalent but people often have dogs for security. The dog is not usually walked and is fed whatever leftovers are kicking about. On one trip to the local market, I saw a women chatting to something inside her boot. I assumed it must have been a dog but she casually pulled out a live chicken. She had probably bought it at the market for lunch or perhaps was going to fatten it at home. The neighbour across from the workshop keeps a family of goats.  One time a goat leapt out of his bus that he parks on the street and rents out to folk. So bizarre!
  9. Everyone has a nickname. This is cultural, but also because some of the names here are very difficult. People like to make a mix of names, like a part of the mother and father’s name. We have a friend called Wilson who has 2 sons: Wanderilson (nickname Wandinho) and Iranilson (nickname Iran). Daniel has a friend who is only known as Congo (don’t worry, it’s not racist here). I remember calling him to give him change at the Bazar we organised and it seemed wrong to shout ”Congo’ in front of the pastor’s wife, but no-one actually knew his real name.
  10. An obvious difference is the weather. It is hot and humid here with roughly 6 months of pure sun and 6 months of rain, though fortunately it doesn’t rain incessantly, because when it rains, it rains.rainsao luis
  11. The culture is fairly patriarchal. Times are changing but it is still the case that fewer women work, and those that do are paid less. Women are generally less independent than in the Developed World. Even in small things like fewer women drive and there is less of a culture of women going out socially by themselves (if they have husbands). That is not to say that women stay in all day but they are unlikely to go to social events without their partners. I hear part of the reason for this could be jealousy or safety concerns…
  12. Day to day routines are different. I have written about this before too. The heat of the day means that many more things happen early morning (in terms of work) and evening (in terms of play), with a rest in the afternoon.

I am sure I could go on, but that’s enough of a flavour. We take the good and the not so good!