Friday, September 29, 2006

Brazilian Elections: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Brasileira Scorned

This article was published in its entirety at Let's admit, nothing like the culture clash of a feuding husband and wife.

Brazilian Elections: Hell Hath No Fury Like a Brasileira Scorned
Written by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Friday, 29 September 2006

What to do when your divorce is dragged out in long court proceedings... For Maria Christina Mendes Caldeira, the answer was simple: run against her ex-husband for Congress. Given Brazilian politics' propensity for dirty campaigning, the result is nonetheless one of the most unique and interesting political races to be decided in Sunday's election, at least for São Paulo voters -at least for soap opera fans.

Their divorce contest alone has gotten them plenty of notice in the press. There was a widely noted incident in 2004 when Caldeira was forced out of the couple's Brasília mansion, when her estranged husband, Liberal Party president and current Congressman Valdemar Costa Neto had the water and electricity shut off at the house in order to force her out.

Caldeira first struck back against her ex politically during national televised congressional hearings last year about the alleged political slush fund, as covered by the Brazzil newsroom, when she stepped forward to testify of personally seeing her ex-husband, Costa, hiding stacks of cash in his secret safe.

Costa testified that the funds were supposedly to finance the political campaign for the second round of presidential elections, a version that the panel handling the investigation, The Chamber of Deputies Ethics Council (Conselho de Ética e Decoro Parlamentar da Câmara), found implausible.

Facing impeachment, Costa had little choice but to resign. Now he is seeking another four year term against the most unlikely of opponents. In fact, his ex-wife has become his chief opposition for the seat and continuation of a 14-year political career.

This votes-for-cash scandal has dominated the politics of Brazil over the past year and currently threatens to bring down the government of President Lula.

The votes for cash scandal, known as the Payoff CPI (CPI do mensalão), began on June 6, 2005, when a Brazilian Congressional deputy, named Roberto Jefferson, told daily Folha de S. Paulo that Lula's PT party had paid a number of congressmen 30,000 reais (about US$ 13,000) a month to vote favorably for the party's legislation. The end result was a ballooning scandal during which many congressmen, including Costa, resigned or were fired.

At the heart of this race lie core questions faced by Brazilian voters: Does political corruption really matter? Does honesty matter in Brazilian politics? So far, polls seem to show the electorate hardly cares.

Political consultants expect 70% of Congress to return to office, including Costa and others who were involved in the slush fund payments scandal. Though his own administration has been plagued by some of the worst political scandals in decades, President Lula is widely expected to be reelected for another 4-year term.

Caldeira, the daughter of an old money real estate baron, who studied in Europe is facing Costa, her ex-husband, son of a provincial mayor, who grew up in Brazilian politics, with great odds against her.

She lacks his fund-raising ability, political experience and connections. But that hasn't stopped her from making herself known. She led a group of protestors armed with brooms and buckets in cleaning up Liberal Party headquarters, symbolically at least in Costa's own home town of Mogi das Cruzes.

And when a Costa supporter threw a shoe at her, she returned the favor with a bucket of water -for which she wound up arrested.
She is frequently seen campaigning and handing out fliers from her 1984 Volkswagon motor home, covered with her slogan Tenho Atitude and blasting her campaign theme song from a speaker system, when it works.

The van is frequently plagued with mechanical difficulties which inhibits travel, let alone blaring the music. Her ex, on the other hand, is running what is reportedly one of the best financed congressional campaigns in the country.

Even Costa's reputation for heavy gambling, corruption, and a temperamental personality - all aided by the testimony of Caldeira herself, of course - does not seem to deter voters. There are also those who testify of Costa's caring for his constituents, such as the adolescent he helped get treatment at a top hospital after an accident. But it did lead to the invitation from the Green Party to run against her ex, candidate for the Liberal Party.

Given the Brazilian system of proportional representation, whereby each party gets a quota of congressional seats, the two could wind up serving together in Congress. That would make for an interesting reunion for press and voters, if not for Costa and Caldeira. And they still have to settle their divorce, which has dragged on since 2004.

Regardless of the outcome, the prospect of a candidate whose leading slogan consists of "Vote For Me - I'm his Ex" beating an experienced incumbent makes for one unique and interesting race. Forget about the fact that the candidates are often too busy sniping to discuss any significant issues. These days few candidates seem to find the time for that, even in the United States.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt, M.A. is the Founder and Executive Director of Anchored Music Ministries, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri, USA, which provides leadership development training in the worship arts around the world. He has traveled four times to Ghana, West Africa, four times to Brazil, and also worked in Mexico and the U.S. Anchored Music teams have also worked in Bulgaria, and Italy.

His articles have been published in newspapers and magazines around the U.S. He has also served as guest lecturer and instructor in Missions at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He can be reached at

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Lesson in Language and Respect from Mexico

I just returned last week from a three day LAUNCH Conference on Worship in Juarez, Mexico for the Anchored Music Ministries - Border Evangelism and Mercy Ministries (better known as BEAMM) partnership.

Because of my desire to communicate well and show respect to those who do not speak my own native language, I learned a number of songs in Spanish. I use the term 'learned' loosely. I attempted. I also had songs translated into Spanish. The results were that I led them in worship and singing on three occasions and it was well received. I also proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I don't speak Spanish.

From mispronouncing the word ahora as it looks instead of with the silent 'h' as proper -- giving it a much closer sound to implying what it sounds like it implies in English than the Spanish meaning of 'now' -- to my slaughter of syntax by emphasizing the wrong syllables, I in every way showed myself a neophyte Spanish speaker. But the lesson here was in the gracious response of the Mexicans.

No one criticized me. No one frowned. And no one cried out to me to stop murdering their language. There were no snide comments to the missionaries or by them. Everyone was very gracious. Part of this is the Mexican culture, and Latin American culture in general, where people avoid offending or embarrassing others with open criticism. But even in private, they were more likely to comment on my genuine attempt to learn and communicate in Spanish than my failures in the process.

I wonder if we are as gracious in the American culture.

How many times have I heard someone with a foreign accent struggling to communicate at a retail counter or in a hotel or restaurant, only to have an American criticize "the word is ______ instead of _______."? How many times have I heard comments like "learn English buddy, you're in America!" or "What, you no speakey English?" I shamefully must even admit to my own past frustration listening to someone attempt the language who seemed to have little understanding of it. These Mexican hosts put me to shame.

Sometimes I think English has become so dominant as a language of business and tourism that we just feel like we have a God-given right to expect people will speak it wherever we go. I think we somehow feel like it is obligatory, when we fail to even attempt to learn other languages so we can communicate. In tourist areas, one can get away with such culture arrogance but not in interior cities which rarely see tourism or outside core attractions and border areas. No one the stereotype of the 'arrogant American' is so predominant and so reviled. In fact, as an experienced traveller, I have joined the ranks of those Americans who abhor encounters with fellow Americans who fall into this category. This despite the fact that I know I myself still fall into that category sometimes.

Language is often the ultimate culture clash. How nice it was to be allowed to stumble just because I was trying so hard. How nice it was to have people graciously understand and offer suggested interpretations until we could actually communicate or even just gloss over obvious errors in the interest of graciousness. I must now do better at doing the same when I meet others in a similar position to the one I was in there in Mexico.

An Out-of-this-World and All-Around Charming Varginha, Brazil

This article was published originally on Brazzil Magazine at But here it is in its entirety.

An Out-of-this-World and All-Around Charming Varginha, Brazil

Written by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Sunday, 10 September 2006

Since January 2003, when I first ventured out of my world in St. Louis, Missouri, to the foreign world of Brazil - a different culture, different language, different continent (though Brazilians would argue this third point for sure) - I have visited a number of places in Brazil.

I have visited Rio de Janeiro, arguably the country's most famous city for reasons good and bad, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Goiânia, Ouro Preto, Mariana, Ouro Branco, Três Corações, and even Três Pontas.

And I have enjoyed different things about each of them. To be honest, I prefer the smaller interior cities to the massive congestion, noise, and crime of Rio and São Paulo for lots of reasons.
One of my favorites so far has been the little gem of Varginha, hailed as the coffee capital of Brazil, in the south of Minas Gerais. One of Brazil's larger coffee enterprises, Café Bom Dia - sold now in Sam's Clubs in the U.S. - is based there.

They have several colleges and universities, including the State Conservatory of Music and Federal University of the South of Minas. Even UFO aficionados know the city from a reported UFO incident in the mid-1990s.

But for me what I like is the charm of a city large enough to have the necessities and niceties but small enough to be safe from major crime, pollution and congestion issues, even tourists, that so often make challenges for those of us in the larger cities of Brazil.

Varginha's population is presently listed around 100,000. It has a charming downtown of shops, cafés, restaurants, etc., which bustles with activity most days. The streets are generally straight but often wind up and down rather steep hills.

Most are wide enough for two cars, but a few are narrower, and many are interspersed one-way roads. Crosswalks are frequent, and unlike Rio and larger cities, the drivers actually seem to stop promptly when the lights change, conscious of pedestrian safety.

As one friend told me: "In Rio, pedestrians are just obstacles, but in Varginha, they have equal rights." In fact, you can even take a romantic starlight stroll almost anywhere in the city without worrying much about crime.

I mean, as with anywhere in Brazil (or the world for that matter), take the usual precautions, but you can walk through shadows and deserted areas without a lot of concern that someone will jump out at you or is lying in wait. In fact, Varginha has no favelas and the citizens are mostly middle class, hard-working family people.

For those wondering what there is to see and do, Varginha is surrounded by coffee plantations with the beautiful old historic fazendas and hills of green coffee plants. At Fazenda Pedra Negra, for example, built in 1915 and situated on the road to Três Pontas, the owners allowed us free reign to wander through the house and grounds, answering any questions as we raised them, and permitting pictures of anything and everything we wanted to shoot.

They have a working old telephone with the separated round earpiece you hold to your ear while talking into the megaphone shaped piece on the phone itself. They have a working stone oven large enough to prepare meals for huge parties, no doubt. They have a swimming pool, an amazingly designed water system to feed the house that still is out of reach of city water systems.

They have a charming dining area indoors and out, and they have a Museum of Coffee which is well worth the visit alone. The exhibits are well put together with good explanations and finely maintained examples and artifacts from the periods when this coffee plantation was at its prime to modern day.

But there is more to see as well. For one, the Museu de Varginha is a great place to explore both the history of this region and the city itself. Because of the UFO story's popularity and despite the fact that most locals I spoke with did not believe the story and even found the city's publicity of it a little distasteful and embarrassing, there are statues of aliens at the bus station, for sale in many shops, and spread along the Praça Governador Valadares, which lines Avenida Rio Branco in Centro. There is also a unique one at the base of the giant UFO found along Avenida Major Venâncio in Praça Marechal Floriano (beside the Honda dealership).

Varginha is also a great place to shop for the gems from which Minas Gerais gets its name and at bargain prices. The selection is optimal compared to smaller towns nearby, if nothing else, because the larger city has more shops from which to choose.

O Forno has the best pizza I have had in Brazil (though to be fair, I have never had pizza in São Paulo). Água Doce is a great cachaçaria and restaurant. The picanha is as good as any I have had anywhere. And don't miss the smoothies! Delicious!

This is also a great spot to sample the great comida mineira (Minas food) such as tutu à mineira (bean purée and pork rinds) and doce de leite (milk candy) and other specialties of the region. There are even local cachaçarias (sugar cane liquor bars) and wineries as well as great opportunities for the famous queijo mineiro, the cheese of Minas!

The selection of hotels is also good. My personal favorite is the lesser known Hotel Jaraguá, much newer and nicer than its older cousins in other cities. Free postcards of the city and its famous UFO statue are available along with inexpensive ceramic aliens at the front desk.

Each room has a stocked fridge with room to store your own stuff, as you only pay for what you use. The cable television selection is optimum, the breakfast buffet the best I have had in Brazil, and the service top notch. They even have a rooftop pool and bar. All of this at rates much lower than equal hotels in Rio. In fact, less than half price.

The hotel is located on Avenida Benjamin Constant not far from Centro or the bus station and it lies along major bus routes leading to various neighborhoods around the city. Hotel Castelar, situated more in Centro, is another fine option recommended by friends. Slightly more expensive than Jaraguá, it is located closer to Avenida Rio Branco and the shopping.

One of the nicest things about Varginha is that you can just about walk anywhere in the city in twenty minutes or less. The only exception would be from one edge of town to the other. It is safe to walk, and the weather is normally mild - 65-85, with occasional 50s a couple of weeks a year as well as occasional 90s in the summer. So this is a great place to visit without having to rent a car.

The bus ride from Rio de Janeiro passes right through mineral spa towns like São Lourenço and Cambuquira as well as other towns with access to National Parks like Resende and Barra Mansa. So you can see amazing and beautiful countryside in route and even use Varginha as a launching point to visit other places of interest or relax at health spas.

The historical cities of Tiradentes and São João del Rei are within 3 hours as well as Três Corações, birthplace of Pelé, Três Pontas, birthplace of Milton Nascimento, and the spa capital of Poços de Caldas.

Varginha also has an amazing country club and tennis club. The Tennis Club is located off Avenida Benjamin Constant in Centro while Termas do Sul do Minas Club, for members and guests only, is located on an island in the middle of the river that flows past the city.
It has amazingly large outdoor swimming pools linked by bridges and includes great waterslides, indoor pools, tennis courts, racquetball, foosball, peteca (shuttlecock), volleyball, and other activities, even a ballroom. Definitely worth a visit if you can befriend any local members or somehow get an invitation.

Either as a gateway to the interesting coffee farms and spa towns around out, or for its own unique culture, Varginha, is a great place to experience life of the interior of Brazil in a way that cannot be experienced in the larger cities.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt, M.A. is the Founder and Executive Director of Anchored Music Ministries, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri, USA, which provides leadership development training in the worship arts around the world. He has traveled four times to Ghana, West Africa, four times to Brazil, and also worked in Mexico and the U.S. Anchored Music teams have also worked in Bulgaria, and Italy. His articles have been published in newspapers and magazines around the U.S. He has also served as guest lecturer and instructor in Missions at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He can be reached at

A Trip Back in Time in an Old Brazilian Submarine

This article was published originally on Brazzil Magazine at But here it is in its entirety.

A Trip Back in Time in an Old Brazilian Submarine

Written by Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Wednesday, 20 September 2006

For most tourists, a trip to Brazil is rarely complete without a visit to her second largest (São Paulo is the largest) and most famous city, Rio de Janeiro, the city on the bay. With its beautiful beaches, rich museums, architectural variety and booming nightlife, it is a place where memories are often made.

For those who love Rio de Janeiro, with all of its energy and cornucopia of activities, one site not to be missed is Espaço Cultural da Marinha. Located on Avenida Alfredo Agache at Avenida Presidente Kubitschek, this museum is on the seafront, at the site of a formal naval establishment.

Here you can look out into Guanabara Bay and watch planes taking off from Aeroporto Santos Dumont. To see large planes landing on such a seemingly short strip is truly a sight to behold and can make for some memorable photos as well.

The location also provides a great view of Ilha Fiscal and other islets in the Bay, and one can watch ships of all shapes and sizes setting out across its waters - from sailboats to the Niterói ferries to far larger vessels. But the real gems here are the two ships: a World War II Brazilian submarine, Riachuelo, and the Torpedo boat Bauru.

You can guide yourself on a tour of these ships which are well preserved and have helpful displays showing what life would be like aboard. Both ships seen together in the marina are like a time capsule back to a different time, and their decks provide impressive views also of the bay and surrounding area.

Making one's way down the ladders and through the portholes of the Riachuelo, one is led to wonder how so many men could possibly live here. For someone larger than average, the narrow, steep ladders and small spaces seemed difficult to maneuver with the ship anchored. To imagine doing it with the ship moving underwater in the open sea is mind boggling.

It was impressive to see how quarters were often very small and bunks were tucked into whatever space was available, even in areas where one could not imagine sleep coming easily. The torpedo tubes, engine room, bridge, and officers' quarters were all open to visit for up close inspection. Also, the submarine's periscope is working and can be used and maneuvered by visitors to peer around at Centro Rio or out to sea.

I had always wondered what life might be like on a submarine, and it was even more cramped and tight than I had imagined. As I ducked down and lifted one leg first through each porthole, climbing through, it was easy to understand why naval men often say it takes a special kind of man to become a submariner. One visit to the Riachuelo and there is no doubt.

The Bauru was equally as impressive with its doctor's office, barbershop, hospital area, and bridge all among the sites on the tour. It has many steep ladders and narrow portholes of its own as well, and there were mannequins in uniforms on both ships at various points to demonstrate the activities of the crew in each area.

I tried to imagine myself maneuvering up the various narrow ladders and passageways on rocking waves with a seawind and battle raging around me. It must be truly an impressive accomplishment.

One can also recreate the famous Leonard DiCaprio-Kate Winslet moment by leaning out on the prow into the wind with the cry of "I'm the King of The World." Just leaning out like this and staring down the side, I was impressed by the size of the chain leading to the anchor. Later, a spare anchor also was impressive in its mass. For those who have not had opportunity to see such ships up close, Espaço Cultural da Marinha provides a unique opportunity.

I also tried to imagine being employed in the kitchen of either vessel. While the Bauru's kitchen crew had much more space than those on the sub, it still must be challenging not to get burned or otherwise injured when the ship is out to rough seas or otherwise rocked by the waves and wind. Truly these men had to develop real skills in their jobs just to get it done.

For those who favor living history, this is as close as one can get without actual reenactments and the freedom to explore on one's own, often a hindrance at some lesser attractions, is here a great benefit. The lack of formal tours allows one to wander through them at leisure and spend as much time examining the various details as you desire.

There is also a Museum of Underwater Archeology and Historical shipping, and the Galeota, a boat used by the Portuguese royal family. The museum features most of the exhibits formerly found at the Museu Naval e Oceanográfico. These include paintings and prints, weapons, and figureheads.

Finally, from a launch nearby you can catch boats to Ilha Fiscal to see the former Custom's House, which is now a museum. It was built by the Emperor Dom João II but then deemed too beautiful for use as anything but to host official parties. Only one was held there five days before the Republic began. It is now linked to the Naval Cultural Center.

We had a great deal of trouble finding this gem when we first attempted, because even taxi drivers didn't seem to know how to find the address. After taking a taxi in a circle back to where we started, we spotted it, behind the Casa França-Brasil and rushed across a busy throughway to get to it. It was worth every effort and a true delight. I took some of my favorite photos from the trip there and both my Carioca fiancé and I agreed it was a highlight.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt, M.A. is the Founder and Executive Director of Anchored Music Ministries, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri, USA, which provides leadership development training in the worship arts around the world. He has traveled four times to Ghana, West Africa, four times to Brazil, and also worked in Mexico and the U.S. Anchored Music teams have also worked in Bulgaria, and Italy. His articles have been published in newspapers and magazines around the U.S. He has also served as guest lecturer and instructor in Missions at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He can be reached at

Bad blogger, bad!

Okay, I have been neglecting my responsibilities here. But I have been on a plane every two weeks since July and have been swamped. One of things I have done is revamp our ministry website, so you can find it at

I also wrote two articles for an online magazine about Brazil, which are posted here as well.

Hope some people still read this site. Please send your own culture clashing stories if you have them. My intent all along in creating this site was to make such things available and allow people to interact with my own experiences and the experiences of others in crossing cultures!