Thursday, July 21, 2011


In response to the writing prompt, “The Simple Things” on Mama’s Losin it blog:

Glória, 1967 (top) and 1969 (bottom)
There are times when I would chuck most of what I own, burn down the house, and start over, because sometimes the simple things are the best.


In the late 1960’s I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Glória, a small town in the interior of Brazil.  Brunie (another Volunteer) and I lived in a house that had 4 rooms: a sitting room, 2 bedrooms and a kitchen.  We placed a table for eating in the wide hall that stretched from the front to the back of the house.

In the front room, we used our footlockers for seating. They rested on bricks (to keep them from touching the damp mud-brick floor.) We had a small table and chair there for a desk and used unfinished wooden chairs from our dining area when we needed more seating.  We could hang a hammock diagonally from two adjacent walls for an overnight guest.

Each bedroom held a bed with a straw mattress and a mosquito net hanging from the lattice ceiling which supported our ceramic tile roof.  We each had a small hand-made wardrobe and a tiny table next to each bed for a lamp.

The lamps were kerosene-powered.  The town had electricity only four hours each evening, but our house, which we rented for a total of $5.00 ($2.50 each) per month, wasn’t wired for energia.

Once the town’s street lights were extinguished  at 10:00 each night, one could see billions of stars in the southern-hemisphere skies.

The town had no sewage system, nor running water.  Many larger homes held cisternas in back yards to catch and store rain water, but we needed to have water delivered to our home. A teenaged neighbor had a contraption for the back of his donkey which carried four large cans of water from the dam outside of town.  Once he arrived at the house, we strained the water through a clean dishtowel  into a waist-high ceramic jug to filter out leaves, small stones, and insects.  

Water meant for cooking or drinking was boiled for 20 minutes, then put through a water filter.  We boiled our water on a small stove with a propane tank attached to it.  Most of our neighbors used wood-burning stoves.

We had a shower room, about 3-feet square, but we chose not to use it after my house-mate found a snake there one day.  Instead, we heated water on our stove and poured it over our heads in the kitchen.  The mud-brick floor slanted slightly toward the back entrance, so the water seeped under the door into our back yard, past the outhouse entrance and into the mato.

There were no telephones in town and no TVs. Many homes had refrigerators waiting for the full-time electricity that was scheduled to be powered up within a year. We had a temperamental kerosene-powered refrigerator. 

We walked everywhere in town.  If we needed to travel a short distance from town, we borrowed a horse or mule, unless we could catch a ride on one of the half-dozen cars in town. There was a bus three times a week into the capital city ---a drive which might have taken 90 minutes here, but on the dirt roads with frequent stops to pick up or dispatch passengers, stretched to four hours.  

Yet, despite all of those “inconveniences” the town overcame its shortcomings with the warmth of its citizens.  The Brazilians corrected our Portuguese, forgave our mistakes, shared their joys and sorrows, and treated us like daughters.  I don't know that I have felt any more  "at home" anyplace else.

I haven't been back to Glória since I left 4 decades ago. The town’s website shows a much larger city with a cell tower looming in the mato outside of town. The city's praças are filled with stunning tropical plants. Power lines are everywhere.

With TVs in most homes, probably fewer people spend evenings visiting with their neighbors. I’m sure the small circus that used to arrive annually, no longer visits. The nightly social event, gathering in the praça to watch the movemento, has doubtless disappeared. 

Most likely street lights are left on all night. And with all that light, I am guessing one can no longer see the Southern Cross constellation quite as clearly in those big, beautiful, Brazilian skies.   

There are times when I long for the simple life I lived in Glória.  We had a roof over our heads, food to sustain us, boiled and filtered water, meaningful work, and friends.  Really, what more do most of us need?

Despite the conveniences of modern technology, sometimes the simple things are still the best.

Glória, 2009
photo by Alcione (see her on the photo to the right)


Alcione, c. 1967
youngest child of
Dona Guiomar, 
with brother & sisters
I will be visiting Glória in just a few weeks ---my first visit since I left in July of 1969.   Check back for photos and new stories.

Read about my return trip to Glória on my other blog HERE.