Rules for Driving in Brazil

Driving in any foreign country can be an adventure and it can often feel like you have to drive by the seat of your pants in Sao Luis! Having passed the time limit of when I (Linsey)  could use my foreign licence, we finally managed to get hold of my Brazilian driving licence and I now am fully aware of the highway code in this country. Low and behold, it´s not too dissimilar to the UK. The problem here is a lack of enforcement of those rules, which leads me to my own take on the alternative rules for driving in Sao Luis….

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  1. Overtake whenever possible
  2. Do not take red lights literally, go on through whenever it´s roughly safe
  3. Honk at road users as soon as red lights change to green (the driver in front is likely on his phone anyway so it´s good to let him know the lights have changed)
  4. Beware of dimly lit roads at night: speed bumps, holes i.e. craters in the road, cyclists, pedestrians and perhaps the odd alligator, make for unfortunate hazards
  5. When on a motorbike, be sure to zip along in any lane you like in ridiculous high speeds. Ideally wear a helmet and covered shoes (no flip flops); it is the law afterall.
  6. Use indicators minimally (it´s more exciting to randomly pull over or turn a corner without warning to other road users)
  7. If you do not have a car and need to do the nursery or school run, a motorbike will suffice. 2 children can easily, if not safely, be taken on a motorbike with 2 adults. Ideally tell everyone to hold on if they are the right age to do so
  8. In the unfortunate event that you are stopped by the police for something, talk sweetly to them and they may well let you off for any infringement, or, in addition, they will usually accept a bribe
  9. If you´re looking for an adventure, follow road signs and look for street names. These often don´t exist or are incorrect, so you can find yourself on a mystery tour
  10. Amidst the general lack of pavements, pedestrians and prams share the road with bicycles, donkey carts and motorised vehicles, so be sure to use your horn to alert all of the above to get out of your way

In order for me to obtain my Brazilian driving licence I, fortunately, did not have to take the full practical test here, but I did need to go through the process of converting my UK licence. It was fairly straightforward, if a bit of a time waster.

  • Translate UK licence with an official state recognised translator
  • Head to the Department for Transport with that translation, along with copies of a whole host documents like my visa and proof of address
  • Have fingerprints and photo taken
  • Carry out medical exam and psychological tests (!) in a specific medical test centre
  • Sit a theory test or do a theory update course at a driving school for a week (I opted for the latter as the thought of learning the Portuguese terminology for driving at 9 months pregnant was a little daunting!)
  • Pay the fees for all this

So, off I went to driving school and doing the course was an experience in itself. Those trying to obtain their licence for the first time have to do attend 15 lessons and fingerprints are taken at the start and end of the lesson to ensure attendance. Ironically, folk sometimes pitch up at the start and at the end just to have their prints taken and don´t sit in on the lesson. I know I always rant about corruption, but just another wee example: when we looked into test centres, one told me that it was not necessary for me to actually go to the classes. I could just pay the fee and give them my fingerprints. Now that was a tempting offer as I was getting uncomfortable close to due date and had plenty other things to do but, as Christians, we had to decline. Rules are rules afterall. The centre I went to were very helpful, and even on the morning their system crashed, our prints coudn´t be collected and the lesson was cancelled, the staff allowed me to come to the class in the evening so that I could finish the required number of classes in the same week. Ah, the good and bad in Brazil. The systems are flawed to say the least, but the people make up for it!

Driving, on the whole, is actually fine here, but it certainly keeps you on your toes and you really need eyes on the back of your head.

The Project Progresses

There has been a hive of activity at the workshop in the past few weeks and it has been really encouraging to see some great progress on the building. The bigger challenge is supporting the vulnerable guys coming to work with us and the ongoing need for more workers or volunteers to join with us on a permanent basis but we plough on nevertheless.

It was a blessing that two friends from the church did the electrics at the workshop. When the team from the council came to connect us to the mains supply, they were impressed by the workmanship. Here’s a link to a video of the lights being switched on at night. It’s so bright now that work can carry on beyond sundown if needed, which is 6pm here all year round. It also means evening activities can soon begin, including English classes if we can find a fluent speaker who can wing it slightly as a teacher (!).

The builders have plastered the workshop and fitted the bathroom. The council came to connect the water supply and all is operational for the shower, toilet and sink. Interestingly, the water meter was not fitted, which is required here for paying the water bill. When Daniel IMG_2670asked about it, he was told another team would come and fit it later. However, it’s common for them never to come back and people essentially have their running water for free (illegally). Daniel has requested it again and we have it on record, but it just goes to show that even when you try and live by the rules here, the corruption and general lack of accountability and professionalism  makes it difficult to keep yourself right.

We’d had a makeshift fence at the workshop until last week but now have a shiny new gate.

IMG_2732Daniel sought advice about how to go about making the entrance gate. It’s helpful to note that security concerns call for houses and business to be as secure as possible. You don’t see white picket fences here and a garden path to the front door, but rather high walls, gates and shutters. In some areas it’s still safe enough to open up the house and sit out on the pavement in the evenings but sadly these days, many people wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. Where there will be valuable tools and machinery, we need to be all the more cautious at the workshop.

Daniel took a reliable friend, Iranilson, with him to buy the materials for the gate and within a couple of days’ work, the gate was welded and in position, with the help of fellow welder from the church, Pedro. All quite impressive, I felt! And great to be able to say to folk that it has all been done by hand and that we can take commissions for our trainees to learn to do this type of thing.

 

In another blog, I mentioned a new friend, Adailton, who is keen IMG_2649to help and partner with us where possible. As he works in a similar line of work, there are opportunities and mutual benefits available. Adailton has just been working on a spiral staircase for a client but was struggling for space in his back garden to finish it. Instituto Engrenar can allow him to use our workshop to finish the job and he will then make the staircase for our workshop. Great result all round!

We continue to have great fellowship and support from the Primeira Igreja. Daniel and Pedro, who is the church’s sound technician, have worked together on several jobs, like the gate. They, along with some other happy helpers, just finished the extension to the church’s shelter to make a larger covered area over the church’s front courtyard.

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Jean, from the recovery house, had helped with this job and had been doing well with us but, sadly, he decided to leave the house. He turned up at the workshop a few days later of his own accord. To cut a long story short, we took him in and gave him another chance but unfortunately, he is not quite ready for the opportunity with us. We will keep him in prayer and maybe he will return some day.

Nevertheless, Pastor Nahur was delighted with his new sheltered area, especially as he was keen for it to be done before the Missionary Conference which starts on the 19th July. We look forward to this conferencd to hear reports and share with missionaries from across Brazil and beyond. Daniel is also looking forward to a football tournament this Saturday which is raising funds to cover the cost of the conference.

We’ve taken a short break from leading small group while adjusting to life as a foursome but we were able to help serve when it was our group’s turn to provide the refreshments after the church service. The group which is on canteen duty also covers the car park stewarding. Antonio made a suitable helper.

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It is still holiday time here in São Luis for many, which is why we’ve been able to have Pedro and Iranilson helping but we continue to need full-time people more permanently. We keep persevering and trust that more helpers will emerge as we continue sorting the formal registration of the project and as more jobs appear for the men to be working on with Daniel. As we progress in these areas, we believe there will be greater awareness and understanding of the project. For now, it’s exciting times to see things moving along well. There’s certainly no shortage of learning opportunities for those willing!

A Brazilian Bairn 

 

Please forgive our tardiness in getting this post up. Our delay may have something to do with the newest member of the family. But don’t blame her, she’s just a normal, demanding newborn! Stephanie Rachel Melo da Silva arrived on 8th June, weighing  3.3kg, or nearly 7lbs 3 oz. We thank God for her safe arrival and healthy start to life.

Many of you will know about my slight apprehension in having baby here in Brazil, due to the culture and systems which favour c-sections, which I was keen to avoid if possible, and the simple fact that anything can happen when a new life is arriving. Experiencing this in a foreign language is clearly not as simple as in your native tongue! However, God was with us and honoured our plans to have the baby in the less luxurious public hospital (as opposed to using our health insurance) and she was born quickly, naturally and we were allowed home after the minimum 48 hours. The experience was rather different from the calm, fully equipped suite we were in for Antonio’s birth at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary Birth Centre, but I live to tell the tale. For one of the poorest states in Brazil, mine and baby’s care was very good actually. But I can understand a bit more why some people were saying I was brave to want a natural birth here. For example, I don’t think there was much going in terms of pain relief (in fairness, I didn’t ask for anything but I don’t think any requests would have been taken well), the hospital is always busy and patient comfort and confidentiality isn’t necessarily paramount. I was grateful to have been put in a small ward of 2 women post-birth. God was looking after me again! There were larger rooms of 8 women and their babies, the Dads, sometimes visitors and the room really wasn’t very big and offered no privacy. Bear in mind that the public hospital I was in specialises in neonatal care so folk with high risks come from all over the state to have their babies there. Moreover, public hospitals take on people from all walks of life. The lady in my room had been in hospital for a month as her c-section wound got infected at the hospital, and she was telling me about the types of mums she’d seen including drug users and prostitutes. Babies have also known to have been taken from hospitals here, both public and private sector. Security was understandably tight at the hospital. The opposite case has also been seen…apparently before the hospital was reformed some years back, the windows used to be low down and a few mums would escape out the windows, abandoning their infants. It’s hard to hear of these sad truths and it says a lot about some of the societal problems.

Despite the issues at the public hospitals, I still think it’s quite tragic that so few women here opt for, or are even allowed to choose, a natural birth. People here are impressed that I’ve been out and about within a few days of Stephanie arriving and driving around now but I can’t imagine being housebound, having had major surgery, without necessity. I wonder if most new mums rest in bed for the first month while others look after the baby? I’m sure a proper restful recovery is essential but there must be a healthy balance. Some women had been lying so long with their babies feeding lying down that their babies’ ears were full of milk that hadn’t made it to the stomach. The doctors then couldn’t do the routine hearing check. I wouldn’t blame the mums though. Probably no-one told them otherwise as there wasn’t much advice going, and when advice was given, it was often sharp and critical. However, on the positive side, all the routine tests were completed on Stephanie. She had her first jags and I was relieved to get home quickly, as was Daniel who had been running between the hospital and looking after Antonio and the work at the workshop which hasn’t stopped! The hospital lets Dads come and go whenever they please which was nice and they can even eat for free at the restaurant, which seemingly offers

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Dinner one night, there was fruit too.

better food than the mums get, but I thought the food was really quite good. They even provided snacks between meals!

 

 

There have been some great developments at the workshop (which you will be able to read about in the next post) but we have also managed to spend a little time getting used to being a family of four. Antonio is very affectionate with his wee sister and isn’t generally jealous. He continues to be a wee boy who needs lots of activity to keep him out of mischief (!) so we’ll see what the next month brings as he has just started school holidays. At the end of term, Daddy stepped in to join Antonio class when the parents were invited to see the healthy eating project, and he took Antonio to his school trip to a theatre.

We have also had our first trips out with Stephanie.

We were able to pop along to 2 birthday parties: one for Daniel´s great nephew, Wesley, and the other was for Pastora Iraneide, the leader from the recovery house,  David´s House. Wesley is somewhat of a miracle child, having been born at 5 months, and recently just survived pneumonia which left him in hospital for a month. He is now well again and loved his regal themed 7th birthday party.

We´ve seen some exciting developments with the Project in the last couple of weeks (and lots of other busyness!) which all needs a separate post…so, stay tuned as we´ll post more very soon.

Thank you to everyone for all your kind messages, gifts and congratulations. If I haven´t replied personally yet, I promise I will!

YouTube Channel

Hi Folks,

We promise there will be an update coming very soon but, in the meantime, why not checkout our YouTube channel for a few clips of work at the project?

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLt7jiMUyalw20LM1PxYqDA

Do subscribe to keep up to date with the videos which hopefully give a good flavour of some of what we’re up to here. We hope to improve our photo and video coverage so watch this space. And any photographers and videographers are welcome for a “working” visit to São Luís!! 

A Week in Progress (and one wee boy turns 3!)

One of the exciting things about working full-time in Christian ministry is that no two weeks are ever the same. One week’s frustrations are quickly made up for with many encouragements are new opportunities to serve the people of this needy city. If you are short on time to read on, the highlights are good progress on the interior and electrics for the workshop, a chance to showcase the practical side of the project at the church with the help of a new recruit from a recovery house and one Scottish Brazilian turns 3.

We managed to find some good builders to do the plastering inside the workshop. Daniel “happened” to drive passed a builder his Dad used to contract years ago and asked him to have a look at the workshop. Betinho and his assistant have been working for around 10 days now and, like all people we have contracted or asked to Bebê involved in some way, have agreed to take part in the morning devotionals (short bible study) before the day’s work begins. Interesting conversations are always had and we pray for these guys that they might be considering the big questions of life as they go about their work.

Daniel also managed to arrange for two men from the church to do the electrics. Don’t worry, they are qualified electricians! Geomar and Luís Carlos are part of the men’s prayer ministry and were just waiting in the wings for when we were ready for them to help.

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L-R: Jean (more on him below), Luís Carlos and Geomar

Geomar went with Daniel to buy the materials and, as is the norm, to see if the shop would let them share a little about the project. The attendant serving them “happened” to be from São Bernardo, the needy area where the workshop is located, and the owner of the shop, which is the size of a B and Q in the UK, “happened” to be nearby at the time they were all chatting and heard all about the project. It’s quite impressive that the employees listened to Daniel’s presentation for some time, thanked him for sharing, and eventually gave the project a pretty generous discount. As Daniel shared with our small group afterwards, the point wasn’t the value but the fact that they listened, heard something of the gospel and cared enough to act.

While the work carries on at the workshop, Daniel has been pleased to lend his services to the church who are building an extension on to a sheltered area at the front of the building to provide more shade and protection from the tropical rain when it comes. He is working with loyal friend of the project, Pedro, and our newest recruit Jean. Jean has been in and out of recovery houses a few times but has been recently been doing well at the Casa de Davi recovery house. His leader put him forward for this opportunity to train with us to see how he gets on with some responsibility. So far, all is going well with him.

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The front of our church- shelter seen being extended to the right
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Pedro and Jean
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Pedro, Daniel and Jean hiding behind

On 28th May, Antonio turned 3 years old, which is rather frightening. He celebrated with a simple get together at his auntie, Tia Lu´s, house. Tia Janete, another of Daniel´s sister´s made the cake, cousins decorated the terrace, and umpteen folk brought gifts, which is so generous, especially as toys can be pricey here. Although Antonio, wasn´t too keen to join in the party games, he was chuffed with his presents and enjoyed himself.

Antonio has progressed well in Brazil, and we´re proud of how far he has come. He struggled at the start in some ways, more socially than anything else, but he is progressing and now is finding it much easier to find common ground with folk. We are grateful for his good health, his nursery school and his massive leaps in understanding and speaking Portuguese over the time we have been here. It is coming up to a year already!

Here are a few pics below of a recent afternoon off.

Last Sunday morning, we visited the Sunday morning bible school at El Shadday church with Pastor Frank, an old friend of Daniel and Mez’s. We had been meaning to visit this church again and hadn´t quite managed it so we squeezed in a visit before I explode, that is to say, before baby number 2 arrives.

I (Linsey) went back to driving school last week too, an interesting experience which I will post on separately. It is all part of the process to take out a Brazilian licence. Hopefully all is sorted now and my licence should arrive in the post without having to do the practical test…but it probably takes one more visit to the Department of Transport to be sure.

 

Celebrations and Frustrations

The past few weeks have been the usual crazy busy, and full of ups and downs, encouragements and challenges, but we stand firm and know that God has brought us here for a purpose, more than one actually.

The latest stage of the building work at the workshop was just about completed before the builders decided that they had spent enough time on this job and essentially headed off to do another. It´s normal here. If you thought there were a lot of cowboy builders in the UK, then it´s triple scale in Northeast Brazil. Just a minor frustration to find a reliable person to complete the rest….

Amidst the hunt for another builder, Daniel has been taking a bit of time to get various other jobs done and look at the best way forward. The basics now exist at the workshop and we are keen to keep giving opportunities to the guys from the recovery houses to get cracking on learning some skills. The finer details of the interior of the workshop can be completed along the way.

It was encouraging to meet a man who is the brother of one of our church members. He used to be a missionary in Sao Paulo and has worked with those struggling for freedom from substance abuse. Adailton has been back in Sao Luis with his family for a while and has been helping at his sister´s church in youth ministry, while using his own practical skills. These include making free-standing shelters and various structures (like the coverings you see at car parks to provide shade for cars). His line of work and experience certainly match up with our project and we are keen to spend more time with him to get to know him better and see how we can link up.

Encouraging progress has also been made on the legal side of the project. We started this process months ago and struggled to find someone with the knowledge and ability to help us move forward but we are delighted that another church member happens to be a lawyer and recommended his lawyer nephew who specializes in Third Sector community projects and the bureaucracy that surrounds this.  We have met Diego a few times now and he has been extremely helpful going through the options available and offering a very reasonable price to sort the registration of “Instituto Engrenar” so that we can be officially recognized by local government. It will take a bit of paperwork but, in theory, shouldn´t be too traumatic.

There have been several admin type jobs to get on with too. I may have mentioned in a previous blog that we invested in a trailer for the project as we (i.e. Daniel) has had to transport a lot of big items and material and it was becoming essential. Daniel had to finish transferring the ownership officially to his name (which only involves a few tripsdownload to the registry office and the Department for Transport). There was also the business of taking out my Brazilian driving licence, another longish process, which is fairly straightforward if you have all of the information, but sometimes it is revealed to you in stages, just to keep you on your toes. We have now been to the Department for Transport about 5 times in recent months on this account alone, as well as into the city centre to a random back street to do a medical and psychological exam (not quite sure how I passed the latter). Then we were told I do need to do a refreshers´course on the transport laws in Brazil. This seems a little ironic as it often feels like traffic laws don´t exist here but it shall be interesting learning what is supposed to happen.

We also got round to getting hold of Antonio´s Brazilian birth certificate so he can now have a Brazilian passport if he likes. Routine medical checks have also been on the agenda. People here say if you have a doctor´s appointment scheduled, don´t plan to do anything else for the rest of the morning or afternoon. Appointments are usually between a given time, say 1pm and 4pm, and the doctor will see everyone on a first come, first served basis. It is usually a time consuming process and I will never again

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The maternity hospital where I spend several hours routinely waiting for appointments

moan about a 20 or 30 minute wait on the NHS to see the midwife. Midwives don’t really exist here and it´s usually a 2-3 hour wait to see the gynecologist doctor who is doing my ante-natal care. It´s the way it is here, and I am grateful for the care I am getting, but I do feel saddened that the poor service provision is the norm here. It feels like it could be such more efficient, even with a lack of resources.

 

All of these jobs, and many, many more I won´t bore you with, take a lot of time and Daniel has had to take time out of the project to help me with things that are tricky to resolve by myself. It is tiring for him to be dealing with so many things and we continue to pray for the right people to be involved  with the project on a more regular basis to help share the load.

Our small group continues to meet weekly, now on a Friday night, which suited folk better than a Wednesday. There is a real mix of maturity and experience in our group and we need much wisdom as we try to give opportunity for all to learn and contribute.

We continue to be busy at church and there have been several celebrations in the past 2 weeks, including the Senior Pastor´s 65th birthday and Mother´s Day, which is a big deal in this culture. The Sunday School prepared a presentation for all the mums. We heard a special bible message and all the mums got a wee present at the end.

Antonio´s school also had a special presentation for the mums and we were invited to buy a souvenir t-shirt with your child´s handprints on it. It is super cheesy but I went in for it anyway. Daniel´s family celebrated mother´s day with a big lunch at home and gifts for Daniel´s mum.

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There is never a shortage of celebrations here in Brazil. A new kind of celebration here is to have a party for every month of a new baby´s life and invite family to come round and eat cake and snacks. People sing happy birthday and there may well be decorations. My initial thought was that it was a bit over the top to do this but I realized that part of the reason is for the guests to bring presents, such as nappies, which are expensive here. We enjoyed popping along to Daniel´s nephew´s son´s 7 month party. It´s a way of bringing the family together and eating food so everyone´s a winner, especially baby Benjamim.

We also organized a baby shower for baby number 2 who is due within a few weeks. I dithered with the idea of doing this, but we decided it was a good way to get everyone together and allow folks to contribute to the many things needed when having a baby. Family, our small group and other friends from church all pitched in to help with food, decorations, favours, and just a few un-embarrassing games. It was still a mad dash to organize things but we got there in the end and I was very grateful to all those who helped and brought gift.

The Pastor´s birthday was this week and the whole of last Sunday´s service was effectively a thanksgiving service for his life. Pastor Nahor and his wife Noemia are humble people and we cannot fault their work effort and commitment to the life of the church. It seems that it has been several years since the couple had a proper holiday and the church presented them with tickets for a surprise week away. Apparently it was the only way to ensure Pastor Nahor took time off!

We managed to access the live link to services at Niddrie Community Church, our home church, and it was great to tune in on Sunday.

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We are ever grateful for the support from folks back home and regular Skype chats, emails and messages, as well as the financial and prayer support we literally couldn´t live without. My mum is a hero for sending specific items that are either pricey or don´t exist here!

Please continue to pray for us in the busyness and ups and downs of life here. Pray, too, for a safe and speedy arrival of baby number 2 in due course. More posts coming soon!

It’s all a bit Bazar

Last Saturday saw the first ever official event at the home of Instituto Engrenar: a second hand sale and mini fun day. We decided to organise this event for the community to come in and see the structure properly and hear a bit about its purpose, especially with regard to our Christian witness. A second-hand sale, or “Bazar”, as it can be called here, is a useful event for the immediate community as the area is quite needy and we hoped this could be something practical. We sold snacks and drinks and offered a trampoline for the kids.

It was a mad dash in the run-up to the day, as the men who have been building the walls and the second floor of the workshop were working right up until after 5pm on Friday and we were due to open at 9am on Saturday, having cleaned the site and made it look presentable and having hosted our small group on Friday evening(!). The help we received from family, small group and wider church family was simply indispensable and actually quite humbling. Folks had already come round to our house on the Wednesday night to price the items we had gathered to sell. We ended up with plenty of donations of items which was excellent. Some even donated new items for us to sell. The church kindly lent us clothes rails and hangers so the project’s trailer, as well as our huge suitcases from Scotland, came in handy for transporting all of the stuff around.

We also figured it was a good time to get some t-shirts made with the project logo on them. They go well with the work uniforms which are ready too.

Having delivered flyers during the week, and driven round the immediate streets with music playing and a microphone to tell people what was happening, the punters were soon due to arrive.

Family and friends were setting up from 6am on Saturday, and an impressive effort from everyone creatively displaying items, allowed us to be ready just about on time. Our Pastor here, Pastor Nahor, kindly came along to share a message from the bible at the start and prayed for the work of the project. Some people were called on to set up the speakers for music, others sang and played instruments, or served on the till or helped watch the kids, who also collaborated by playing away and allowing us parents to be busy!

There was a stready stream of people coming in all day and we couldn’t quite believe it when we were told we made R$400 by lunchtime. By the end of the day, we made over R$1200, with which we were really delighted, and importantly, we were able to spend time chatting to folk about the workshop. The atmosphere was really positive and enjoyable. We had some clothes leftover so are already planning the next Bazar and how we could improve.

The workshop is nearing completion, for at least the main structure. Daniel was needed to weld the beam for the second floor.

After a long day on Saturday (there was a church prayer meeting on until late on Saturday that Daniel also went to), Sunday was a day to relax at the beach and enjoy church.

We continue to be very grateful for the ways in which God is providing for us and this ministry. Thank you to all who are making this possible.