Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Feliz Natal!

Oi, todos! Tudo bem? Hoje estou com saudade para meus amigos e minhas familias no Brasil. Estou achando sobre Natal para eles. Eu fiquei triste porque eles sao muito especial para mim, mas eu nao posso emborar ai.

Hello, everyone! How are you? Today, I am missing my friends and my family (adopted) in Brazil. I am think about Christmas for them. I became sad because they are very special to me, but I cannot be there. So, maybe we could talk a little about Christmas in Brazil. The tradition of my host family is that they will go to Christmas Eve service at 8 or 9 p.m. and return home around 11 to have their midnight feast, open presents, etc. late into the night.

My American family will be attending church at my parents' church, where we grew up, perhaps for the last time, as Dad is retiring and they are planning to build a house in another town closer to the grandkid. After our candlelight service, around 7:30 p.m. it starts, we will return home and perhaps watch a movie or read, then go to bed, get up and open presents on Christmas morn, but usually we have breakfast first. My mother insists. When we were younger, forget about it. We woke them up early and tore into those presents. But my Mom has trained the grandkid to wait. And so, unless it's under the tree and unwrapped, he does. Breakfast will be Swedish tearing (from Mom's cultural background), a sausage and egg caserole which is fabulous, and eggnog or orange juice. Sometimes we also have a frozen fruit salad as well.

Then it's time for the greed! HEH HEH HEH. I am having a hard time getting enthusiastic about Christmas this year. It has been so hard for me. I lost my second fiance in five years. And this time, she broke it off, and I have no idea why, except, by the way she did it, I know she is not for me. Very selfish person. I am so in debt from the seminary degree that I am not even using, that I can't fulfill my dream and hit the mission field. I feel like I have not accomplished much at 35, and yet I have been to Africa 4 times, Brazil twice, Europe several times, and taught and performed music, I had a national Christian single that was in the top 200 Christian radio stations and still gets airplay. I have released two albums, written songs that are sung in churches around the world in several languages. But I am not where I wanna be. And I am alone without children. And I just am losing hope about that. I am frustrated that God gave me the desire for these things yet He keeps allowing me to fail in these areas. It just doesn't seem loving to me. So I guess, if you pray, you can pray for me about that. Because I am really angry about it. And I don't know what to do.

Anyway, I didn't plan on writing about this here, but oh well, holiday nostalgia. Hey, I'm not even sure that many people read my rantings on here anyway. Just know of one or two. So, I hope your Holidays are blessed and great! May God richly bless you in the year to come! Mawu nayra wo ka ka ka!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Cultures Clashing: Brasil v. Estados Unidos (USA)

Talk about Cultures Clashing! Since I have taken an interest in Brazil, and visited twice, I have realized how similar the United States and Brazil are in many aspects. So it makes me sad to see our countries seemingly so diametrically opposed.

While the U.S. dominates North America, Brazil dominates South America. It is the largest economy in Latin America. The US economy is the largest in the world. And while the US shares the continent with only Mexico and Canada, Brazil shares with Peru, Columbia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and several other lesser known countries as well. And it is surrounded by countries that speak Spanish, while Brazilians speak Portuguese. At least the US has the advantage that English, as a language, dominates the world. Sure, not everyone speaks it, but it is studied in school systems all over the world and remains regarded as a key language for those in international business and government to learn.

Brazil has rich natural resources, as does the U.S. And it has mountains, prairie, savannahs, and also jungle (unlike the U.S.). Brazil has a polyglot of people of different ethnic backgrounds from Germany, Italy, Japan, the Middle East, and Africa, among other places. And each of these peoples have brought elements of their culture into the Brazilian landscape, creating a cultural polyglot. In fact, I would dare say that their original cultural ideas have been more largely adopted by larger Brazilian society than that of similar immigrants to the U.S. Like the U.S., Brazilian cities have German or Italian or Japanese neighborhoods and cuisine.

In geographic size, the two countries are very similar. And there are citizens of Brazil whose own personal wealth could easily compete with the U.S.' Donald Trumps and others. But the degree of separation between rich and poor and virtual lack of a middle class is something that distinguishes Brazil from the U.S. One study in 1995 showed that around 60% of the land was owned by 10% of the population, while 10% of the population had 90% of the wealth.

Like the U.S., Brazilians have a well developed media and entertainment industry with standards for television and film and music comparable and competitive world wide with U.S. product, unusual for a Third World country. You can say the same about advertising and marketing and fast approaching, telecommunications. Brazilians have one of the largest percentage of online users in the world. And cell phones are rampant. The consumer mentality of Brazilians in the upper classes is also very much like that of most Americans. But the economy has products that range in price from more expensive to comparable to very less expensive than the same products in the U.S. I like shopping in Brazil because I can often get a lot more for my money. Products like DVDs and electronics, though, can be more expensive, so I am selective in what I buy. But clothes, CDs, some books, food, handcrafted items, art, and many things are great deals. Even film developing and film itself. Whereas in Africa I can get 4 times what I could here for these items, in Brazil, I at least double, if not triple my money.

But a lot of Brazilians resent America. Why? 1) We call ourselves America. And they are in America, too. How pompous of us! (A lot of other Central and South American countries feel this way, as well as, Canada, too. We should really be more sensitive.) 2) We dominate the world economically and militarily in many ways. 3) Our culture permeates the world. Everywhere in the world people lust after American music, television, movies, clothing, electronics, etc. And often to the detriment of their own traditions and cultures. Truth is, when you travel around a lot and see how it is, it is not hard to understand the resentment. But often I feel the resentment of a lot of Brazilians is particularly sad, because their country often acts economically like the U.S. and has begun doing so militarily. It dominates its economic spectrum very much like we do.

I and many Brazilian friends were all excited when Lulu became Brazil's President and we all agreed that if he could only have an honest term, he could change Brazilian politics forever by showing them a new way is possible. He has tried. Though some key advisors have tried to screw it up. And the scariest part is Lulu is befriending diehard communists like Castro and moving Brazil in that direction. Brazilians may only be beginning to see the dangers of that. If they think they should have more and be more, just wait until they see the cost of communism. And Lulu frequently badmouths the American administration and makes it difficult for the U.S. to work with him. He makes strong demands that the U.S. often denies because they are only in Brazil's best interest, not the interests of the U.S. Because of this, though, many Brazilians say America is bullying them and trying to control them. But in reality, their President and ours are both putting their countries first. Isn't that what they were hired to do?

A lot of the anger comes from the war situation. Because the American economy was heavily impact and thus America's involvement all over the world lessened and it hurt every other economy that depends on us, including Brazil. Furthermore, U.S. interference in the government of other nations is regarded as more U.S. bullying into other people's interests. So a lot of people really resent it. But Brazil has its own similar history of bullying, though perhaps on a smaller scale, its neighbors economically and physically. And I think Brazilians tend to forget that and miss the reality of how much positive effect the U.S. work in Afghanistan and Iraq can have for the whole world in the long run. Yes, we are waiting to see. But dictators like the Taliban and Sadaam are never good for the world. Brazilians should remember more of their own history, with the military dictatorship and Vargas, among others. Were they as extreme as Sadaam? In silencing their critics with prison terms and torture, yes. In other ways, perhaps not. But nonetheless, I am surprised more Brazilians do not seem to recognize the parallels.

As Brazil continues to stretch her wings, acting as a peacemaker for the U.N. in Haiti and building its economic block, it will be interesting to see how many more parallels develop. I for one, hope Brazil can become more like the U.S. in equity between poor and rich. The U.S. is far from perfect, but there is a lot Brazil could immulate. I would like to see Brazil parallel the U.S. in education and jobs training programs. I would like to see Brazil become considered no longer Third World. But I hope Brazilians can see through their frustrations and distaste to find what is good to learn from us, as I hope we can do the same and learn from them. I think we both have a lot to contribute to each other. And I think the world would be a better place if we did.

Monday, December 13, 2004


Okay, as I've been doing this now for a couple of months, I feel it's time to comment a bit on the experience. I am a bit disappointed, I confess that I have not had much response. But the other day I got an email from Adalton Nascimento, who is a Brazilian brother, working with World Vision on Los Angeles, my old home. He is having, as he describes it, my opposite experience. But he felt my blog was fair to Brazil and a balanced view, for an American. So I appreciate that. It is what I have been trying for. Here is a link to his blog. It is in Portuguese, so don't go there if you can't speak the lingua:

Thanks, Adalton. I look forward to dialoging with you about your experiences and invite you to interact with me here. You wrote me in Portuguese, but I am assuming you can speak English, as life in L.A. without it would be very challenging!

I hope there are others of you out there. I really would like to hear from you. I want to dialogue about your impressions of your own culture, of life, and of my opinions. I want to learn and grow from you, and I hope you can learn and grow from me. I have travelled a lot more, than most people. I have been overseas 7 times since the year 2000. And I have interacted with people from a lot of different cultures who come to St. Louis and whom I meet at other places. And I also interact with lots of cross cultural folks on the web as well. I have strong opinions, but I hope I am as fair and accurate as I try to be in representing other peoples' cultures, even when I disagree with them.

That being said, I will try and post more later this week, when I get inspired. But I need to hear from you here for this to work. Make comments. Let's dialogue with one another. There's so much to learn!

Thanks. Deus te abencoe, Mawu nayra mi ka ka ka, God Bless You!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Animals, Cable and Excesses

Okay, today's post may sound a bit arrogant. I do not intend it that way. I am not looking down on anyone. Nor in any of these posts, though I always feel free to express my strong opinions. I mean, it is my blog. You can get your own and do the same thing. But that being said, there is a phenomenon that I want to comment on.

What is it with poor families having an abnormally large number of animals? My friend V. in Brazil is in a family of 7. They are poor. They have 4 dogs, 25+ chickens, 12 monkeys, and 1 cat. My friend A. in Missouri is poor with two boys. She has 7 cats. My friend C. in Africa has 4 kids, her husband and various nephews and nieces living with her, and 2 dogs, 1 cat, 2 goats, and several chickens. These are people who have trouble supporting their families. They have told me so. So why do they spend money feeding all these animals? I mean, yes, they eat the chickens and their eggs. Yes, they get milk from the goats, and occassionally use them for meat. But the dogs and cats? And why so many? This is a phenomenon that I just don't understand.

I have one cat. I have no wife, no kids. And my budget is always barely squeezing by. I love animals. I would love to have a lot more. I cannot afford it. In fact, if I was this poor when I heard of her, I probably wouldn't have Lucy either. But thank God I do, as the companionship is important. But I notice more and more people who are poor with multiple animals. That just doesn't make sense to me. As I said, I love animals, but when it comes to buying Lucy food and my own, I win. I buy her food, but she doesn't eat as well as I do sometimes.

There are a lot of these kinds of choices made by people living on or below the poverty line that puzzle me. For example, a recent study I saw showed that 90 percent of them pay $50 or more per month for cable. Yet they cannot afford dental care, and have rotting teeth. They cannot afford doctors, and have medical problems. They cannot afford food and are malnourished. I just don't understand that. You can get 10 channels with just an antenna. I pay $11.80 a month and get 25 channels. Is that not enough? Is it not more sensible to buy a VCR one month and rent movies? I mean, that would be a LOT less money in the long run.

I think the consumer culture is very addictive and escapism is becoming a normal way of life around the world. When you investigate, you find that one reason so many poor place a high value on entertainment is to escape from the depressing realities of their lives. And they seem to need a lot of options to do it, so they all get satellite dishes or HBO and Expanded Basic.

I was in Brazil staring up at these amazing favellas. Shanty after shanty built of scraps on slanting hillsides. Barely room to walk between them. No plumbing. No public power. And poking out from rooftops and windows were satellite dishes!!! It blows my mind! They ran their own power lines, siphoned off electric poles (at great personal risk) to run them, too! It is mind boggling! Sure, poor people deserve entertainment, too. Absolutely. But I think priorities are a bit screwed up. I would choose sanitary conditions first. I mean, not all of these are legal setups and neither are the power lines running them, but nonetheless, it seems confused.

I think our consumer culture has many of us thinking we are entitled to things that are luxuries and nonnecessities. I make those choices every day, but I am more and more conscious of them. Some people, I honestly believe, don't see things the same way. To them, cable or satellite is actually more of an essential than getting a dental filling!

The sad thing is that many governments think the same way. In African nations, money is blown on all kinds of perks for the poiliticians while roads are washing away with the rain and infrastructure and basic necessities are pipe dreams for a majority of the people. And while citizens complain, they often don't do so on the basis that it is irresponsible government. They just complain that they are denied such luxuries. I mean, who needs roads and power and water? They steal what they need. Why shouldn't they? The government is stealing from their tax dollars to live in luxury?

In Brazil 10 percent of the population has 90 percent of the wealth. These people have lifestyles beyond belief, yet people across the street are starving. There are numerous examples around the world. Even in the U.S. I think we really need to reexamine the cultural values and ideas that allow such inequalities to exist and create such distorted priorities! I think the God given right argument is much more applicable to the right to have good access to hospitals, doctors, and schools than it is to any right to MTV and HBO. I guess I kinda wish a lot more people felt the same way. Maybe we could change things.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Arrogance of Javally

One of my favorite sites was hacked yesterday by some character calling himself Javally and claiming he was a Brazilian hacker and superior intellect. The irony is this character complained of anti-Brazil Americans and expressed the usual anti-Bush/anti-American dominance sentiments on a website founded by Brazilians living in America and that features articles where Brazil is most often viewed positively. In fact, a large number of articles are written by Brazilians or people presently living in Brazil. In fact, some of them even criticize America and its foreign policies in a similar vein to this Javally character. Apparently the superior intellect doesn't bother to read the sites he hacks, or he would have known that.

To me, this arrogance of the hacker types is amazing. They invade people's lives and do destructive things and then act as if it is all in good fun. What a sad statement on where morality is going if young people think criminal acts against others are all fun and games. I feel the same way about those recently convicted for spamming. The perpetrators' made statements to the effect of "nothing we did hurt anyone" or "we did nothing bad." I for one hope they throw them in jail for a number of years. Because I am sick and tired of the 100+ spams I have to clean out of my email daily. It is ridiculous. But this attitude, to me, in indicative of a moral failure in society. And not just American society, either, but worldwide.

Mutual respect and understanding is a fundamental value necessary to any civilized society. Yet somehow we seem to have lost that along then way. There was the old saying in America: "My rights stop where yours begin." The idea is that you have freedom to be who you want to do, do what you want to do, say what you want to say, until it encroaches on the same freedoms which are someone else's. So we have a point where we all need to compromise in order to live civilly with one another. This is a hallmark of all civilized societies. I have seen it in Europe, in Brazil, in Africa. But there seems to be a lot of people in my generation and younger who just don't get it. People like this Javally, lost in their arrogance and overinflated sense of self-importance. And they bite the hand that feeds them -- trampling on the rights of people who
even agree with their core ideas.

While I have no problem with folks like this being thrown in jail, as they need to be awakened to reality, I often wonder what good it serves. Will they become more jaded? More criminal? What we really need is to reeducate their values so they can use their gifts and intellect (no one can deny they have talent and brains) to positive, constructive purposes. Imagine what they could to then? I have noticed this attitude creeping into American dialogue more and more. This past election, Americans adamantly disagreed and could not find any common ground or areas or compromise. Families were divided, friendships destroyed. In Ghana and Brazil, I have often been dismayed by the negativity of the politicking. How they slam one another with incredible statements daily. How they assassinate each others' character. How they always find the negative slant on everything the other candidate or party does. Yet they get together after and laugh and have a beer or a meal together like it's nothing. It always seemed very strange to me. But now I am thinking we have something to learn from them. Maybe we need thicker skins.

To me, the answer to these two delimmas must lie somewhere between improved moral character and willingness to accept differences. I pray that our country can move in this direction, and I pray that other countries will as well. This is not a culture specific issue -- it is of interest to all civilized humanity.