Thursday, June 11, 2009


Nossa Senhora da Glória in 1969.
My former student, on the bench on the left,
in now a chemical engineer and professor.

This post is in response to a writing prompt at

Prompt: What have you been busy doing that's keeping you from updating your blog?
How hard is it for you to get back into the swing of blogging when you take time off?

        I’ll answer the second question first. It is not difficult for me to get back to a blog I’ve neglected for a while, once I have the time to do it.

        There are several things that have been keeping me from updating my blog as much as I would like.

        1) Gardening.

        2) Reading.

        3) Working on my other 2 blogs.

        4) Reconnecting.
        As many of you who have followed my blog know, I served for two years in the Peace Corps in Brazil. In the forty years since, I totally lost contact with my friends and students there. Every so often, I would search online for the small town where I lived in the hinterland, knowing that eventually the internet would arrive there.
        About six years ago, I found a web site based there, but when I left a comment hoping to reconnect with people I knew, all I received was spam from Brazilian companies. Late last year, I found the e-mail address of a poet from that town, so I wrote to him with the names of people I wished to contact. Nothing happened.
        All of that changed on May 17th. The poet, Jorge Henrique, posted an article on the official web site of the town of Nossa Senhora da Gloria as well as on the web site of the town’s collégio. The article is about my Peace Corps blog.
        Since then, e-mails have been flying back and forth between former students, friends and acquaintances in Brazil. Also, I have been in contact with Brunie in California, the other PC Volunteer who served there. We each served two years, overlapping for one year. (Brunie returned home and two years later served another two years in Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso.)
        Forty years ago, I spoke Portuguese pretty well, but now I can't remember many words, and I seem to have completely forgotten how to conjugate verbs with three different endings, plus a multitude of irregular verbs. And, of course, forty years ago, there were no Portuguese or English words for e-mail, scan, computer, or blog. 
        I have to copy the messages I receive and paste them into an online translator. I use Then I have to write a response in English before translating it into Portuguese.  But the translators aren't perfect. They translate literally, but don't always catch the intended meaning. So I must go over each translation and make corrections. 
        When I see the translation, I often remember words I have forgotten and I usually remember enough to know when the translation is off.
        If I say "thank you" the translator, not aware I am female, will translate it to "obrigado" whereas the correct way to say "thank you" as a woman is "obrigada." If I wrote "Dear Maria" the translation would say "Expensive Maria."  
        Of course, it takes forever to translate back and forth. Then I always forward the messages to Brunie. Brunie, who spoke almost flawless Portuguese, has forgotten a lot, too. She is from a Latino family, so spoke both English and Spanish at home. When she worked in Burkina Faso, she had to learn both French and the local African language. After so many years, she admits to getting those four languages, plus Portuguese,  mixed up. I'm having enough trouble with two. (You can read about my difficulties in learning Portuguese HERE.)

        Brunie also sent me her photos to scan, 88 of them. She had an old camera that used only black and white film. I had a 35 mm camera and usually took slides. I have scanned some of those, but most of them are in a box buried somewhere in my house and I cannot find them. So I have been scanning a few of her 88 photos each day, then digitally retouching them. (Find some of the photos Brunie sent me HERE.)

        Sadly, we learned that a few people we knew in Brazil have died, mostly people who would now be into their 80’s. But, we also received some good news.
        I taught there in the ginásio, roughly equal to grades 7-10 here. Only a few years before I arrived the first ginásio had been established. Because many adults had never had the opportunity to study beyond elementary school, many decided to go back to school. So I had students ranging in age from 12 to 44.
        At that time, there were few businesses in the town, except for those that served the townspeople: bakeries, bars, cabinet makers. I worried that my students who would graduate within the next few years would have no opportunities to make use of their new high school diplomas.
        But I was wrong. I was thrilled to learn that many of my former students work in the fields of health, education, and social work. Several are college professors. One is a chemical engineer, another a meteorologist, and another a secretary of agriculture.
        To read the entire story and see many more photos, please visit my other blog: A Little “Peace” of Brazil
        Posts: Alegria! Alegria! Part 1 and Alegria! Alegria! Part 2

        Brunie and I have been invited to travel to Brazil, something we have both wanted to do for the past forty years. Everyone has offered to put us up, so our major expense would be transportation, but airfares are very pricey. There are no direct flights to the area, so with layovers in three or four cities, fly time could be as much as 28 hours. At first, I thought I might want to fly to Rio and take a bus to the northeast, visiting other Brazilian friends in Rio,  Belo Horizonte, and Vitoria, but the bus trip would take an additional 30 hours, even without the extra stops. However, Brunie and I will discuss this and see if it is feasible for either or both of us. If we go to Brazil, I doubt it will be this year, but maybe we can swing it in 2010. 
        I better start (right away) to brush up on Portuguese verbs.
(©2009, C.J. Peiffer)


Jenners said...

How amazing! I love that you are reconnecting in this way! Isn't the Internet a great thing! I hope you go in 2010 ... what an opportunity to revisit a very important and exciting part of your life. And I love the translation aspect of it. I'm sure the letters would probably sounds like how the Japanese write English for their ads ... you know... when it comes out like "Mr. Happy Perfect Help You with Laundry Good Now." I'm sure that went through an online translator.

As usual, an excellent, interesting and detailed post. : )

Dan said...

It's good to run into people whose lives you have impacted. Sometimes even the smallest think was a major turning point for them.

Hope you get a chance to go back and visit with your friends and students.

domesticgoddess said...

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