Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reflections of the Journey..

Was it really only just over 48 hours ago that we left Porto Alegre? We were all sitting in the airport, pretty much all of us were feeling ready to return to our own lives, to see our families and friends.  Sure we were going to miss all our new friends, the experiences that we'd had... the eight days in Brasil had altered all of our lives.  Some of our perceptions had been changed, we'd realized how alike we were even though we were half a world apart, after our time there, our differences were so much less.

On our last morning, we'd had breakfast and left our mark in the Hostel, our group had been there and we wanted to be remembered.  Most of us had slept little the night before in hopes that we would sleep on the almost 10 hour flight that was coming up as we flew from Rio de Janeiro back to Atlanta.  There was air of sleepy, anxious and sadness all around.  We'd had an amazing adventure...

We went and had a final lunch at the ACM, some of the kids were tired of rice and beans... me?  I came home and found a recipe to make them... 

After one last walk through town, back to the hostel we left for the airport... it was time to bid Matheus and the ACM's of Porto Alegre good-bye for now.  The airport has a statue where we were able to get a final selfie as we got ready to go home. 

The flight to Rio de Janeiro was quick and we managed to get checked in without our translator, thank goodness we'd picked up enough to muddle through and for English speaking Brazilians.  After checking in, we had some dinner and waited... almost five hours later... it was good bye Brazil.

Boarding the plane bound for Atlanta our little band of travelers were starting to look so tired, ready for the journey to end.  Clad in our matching white Y shirts, we definitely made an interesting sight.  Yes we stuck out!

The trip to Atlanta had us all sleeping as much as we could and arriving so tired!  But getting more exciting by the minute, even with the adventure of customs and yet another trip through security, we'd never left an airport, but had gone through security three times at that point.  After breakfast, walking up and down the terminal, freshening up as much as we could in an airport sink with limited wrinkly clothing in our backpacks we were ready to go home!  That last few hours lasted as long the second flight... it seemed it would never be time to board the plane that would take us home. 

Most of us slept the final almost two hour flight, we were ready to be home and were so tired from the restless overnight flight.  As the wheels touched down in St. Louis, leaving Porto Alegre far behind, we were ready. 

It was so hard to keep our little group together for the final walk, everyone ready to meet their parents, their families.  As we cleared the secure area we were met by a small group of parents anxious to get their "babies" back.  I was proud of the ones who's parents were waiting a bit further away by baggage, they smiled and let pictures be taken before their own desire to see their parents overwhelmed them and they were ready to go. 

I understood their feelings, I was anxious to see Hubby too.  And as a parent, I know the incredible amount of faith, trust and prayer it took for each of them to release their babies to us to go on such a long journey. Especially as they'd hardly gotten a chance to know me personally before we left.  I was simply the pinch hitter brought in at the last minute to watch over their precious children. 

I am thankful they trusted me, I will always cherish this journey.  I loved the time with this group of kids, they are amazing and have wonderful, loving parents to thank for that.  They will make a difference in this world, I loved the late night conversations, hearing their plans for the future, what they were taking away from the experience we'd shared together.  

It was beyond incredible to listen to these young people that wanted an opportunity to return in the future. To continue to be a part of the Y world wide mission!  I don't know why I was chosen to participate, I do know that I will be forever grateful!  We are planning to get together for lunch before they all head off to college or their final year of high school.  I am pretty sure it won't have rice or beans on the menu... 

This morning as I woke up in my own house, my own bedroom with my boys near me... I was in awe how fast it all feels like it is fading... I realized it'd been almost 48 hours since I'd heard that sweet Portuguese language, since someone had said Bom Dia, since I'd uttered the last Obrigado...

This morning it was walking my boys in the steamy mid-western summer morning air.  It was watering my own mini-jungle... This morning was an early morning ride on the back of our Harley Davidson to enjoy my own country with the freshness that comes from returning from somewhere so different that home seems different. 

The connections aren't gone... I got a message from one of the kids on Facie Bookie this morning... this time in English, not Portuguese... "I enjoyed meeting you and I want to talk to you"... my heart jumped at this. It reminded me of a quote from one of my yearbooks decades ago... "If miles were measured in smiles, all the friends would be together in this world."  yep... I think so...

Tomorrow my world will return to normal. Today, I get to savor the sweet memories, miss our little group and shift back into my real life...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

as the journey begins to end....

In eight hours our first flight will lift off from Porto Alegre... was it only a week ago that we were landing here, feeling apprehensive and a bit scared of this new adventure we embarked on? Can it really be just that short of time.  A week ago, it felt like today was very far away, it felt like we were never leaving and home was not going to be seen again for a very long time... over the last two days I have heard so many times can't we stay another week, do we really have to leave on Tuesday.

The past three days (wow, has it only been three days?) has been a whirlwind.  Saturday morning we boarded a bus for a two hour trip into the mountains here in Rio Grande Do Sul, we were headed to the camp in Canela, RS, it was definitely Brazil, but so very different from Porto Alegre.

My European heart fell completely in love with the mountains, the architecture, the feeling up there in those chilly (okay - that is definitely an understatement... brutal cold).  Our hosts were so charming and wonderful. They combined a healthy dose of YMCA mission and work, with a complete cultural immersion of Canela.

I am going to break my own rule... but Louiza and Joao (forgive me for not knowing where to get to my accent marks on this computer) made sure that we experienced all we could absorb.  First it was a game with the kids at the ACM class rooms in Canela. It was a tie!

Then another short bus ride a bit out of town to the most beautiful camp setting.  Our home away from Hostel was in a breath taking setting, tucked up in the mountains.  A quick dropping off of our bags and a nice lunch with our host Secretary Jesus (pronounced Jay - zues) and his family, we were ready to tackle Canela...

Then we were off to Chocolate Land (At least that was the roughest form of translation) not knowing what to expect, we can only say we were surprised! I am fairly positive the last thing any of us was expecting was a kind of fairy tale park.  For lack of a better description.

There were chocolate fountains, giant slides, aliens, Jesus and Mary, cartoon characters, dinosaurs, and trolls to name just a few of the things we found in an hour and a half.  Chasing the sun, to avoid the chill we didn't slow down. Our biggest surprise there was probably the hot chocolate that Louiza promised us.  I believe all of us were expecting a small cup of steamy hot chocolate (cocoa) which would have been perfect to chase the chill.  So the true cup of hot chocolate - your choice white, milk or dark - was mind boggling.  It was so sweet.  Several of us mixed our white and milk to balance out the sweetness, none of us even considered not finishing it.  It was definitely a treat.

The sight seeing trip to Canela took us into a beautiful chapel, through a large selection of stores for souvenirs, we managed to find a German flavored festival - complete with Umpa music with a South American flair (that was unique).  One of the girls decided to get a small loaf of fresh baked bread to share with everyone.  Again I was in another hemisphere, thousands of miles away.   We went to the umbrella park and enjoyed the snowmen and all the other small bits that made up that wonderful city tucked into the mountains.  So much to love there.

It is winter here in Brazil... darkness falls quickly and early.  That didn't stop us.  Again we returned to the camp.  For dinner and a night of games.  We've discovered here in this magical spot, night doesn't start until well after many of us are sleeping in our beds normally.  We are just starting to adjust to dinners that start at or after 8 pm and games and fun that wouldn't dare start until after 9 or 10 at night.

The games were new and funny to us.  We laughed and made friends with the youth group at camp from Porto Alegre.  Chocolate was eaten, fun and laughter were evident...

That was probably the coldest night I can remember since camping in early March in Germany in the mountains.  Brrrrrr.... yeah, that sums it up.  We slept, bundled like cocoons in everything we'd brought with us.  We definitely were not prepared for that experience.  But we survived and faced another morning of pure beauty, a very cold breakfast, a wild intense football (soccer) game, a lesson from one of the teens about a tree that only grows here and the fruit (?) it bears, how to cook and eat it, a sharing of games (hysterically funny and strange to us). After lunch we headed back down the mountain to Porto Alegre - all too soon...

It was time for the Gremio game... and we were in for quite an experience.  It was a beautiful stadium, great fans, and a good time all around.  It was almost the same as any sporting event in the US, the only major differences we spotted were the fact that alcohol is not allowed in the stadium and there seemed to be about 75% men to 25% women.  We even saw quite a spat happen when someone at the game decided to cheer for the teams rival (who was not even playing).  The rivalry between Gremio and International is more intense than the one between the Cardinals and Cubs. Gremio lost in the last 20 seconds of the game.  It didn't dampen our spirits, but it definitely made the rest of the fans a bit sad.  It was a quiet ride back to the ACM.

Yesterday was a day of differences.  It was a trip to the shopping district, the Public Market, City Hall, International Stadium (some of the World Cup games were played there), and finally dinner at Galpoa Crioulo - a Churrascaria (steak house is the best translation I can explain). One of our teens was selected to come to the stage and be part of the show.  Participating as they demonstrated their skills!  He did awesome!  One of the girls got it on video, I didn't have enough battery left.

The experience was rich and almost indescribable.

As we get packed, run to the store for some last minute treats that we want to bring home, and get ready to leave.  I know that we've changed.  I have been so blessed by this amazing group of young adults.  I firmly believe that if they represent our future then we will truly be okay.  I have had the wonderful opportunity to watch them grow, watch them make friends, I've seen them over come language barriers, seen them smile at young children and take selfies with children, street performers and each other.  I've heard laughter and seen kindness that is unimaginable.

My life is richer for the experience I have had with these wonderful teens!  For the amazing people I have met here in Brazil.  I will miss the genuine warmth and friendship, the meaningful hugs and true positive feelings we have encountered from everyone we have met. I am blessed!