Wednesday, November 19, 2008

E - I - E - I - Oi! from Diamantina

By Scott Phillips, Regional Development Officer (Great Lakes Region) for Christian Children's Fund

Not “oye” as in vey, but Oi!

Here in Brazil the common greeting is Oi! However, just in the state of Minas Gerais they change it slightly to Uoi! One of the fastest growing cell phone companies in all of Brazil has taken the name Oi, meaning simple, easy, no trouble.

We left Virgem da Lapa this morning at 6 a.m. to catch a bus to Diamantina about 100 kilometers away from Virgem da Lapa. This will be our home site for the next two days. The road to Virgem da Lapa is “paved” with red clay, water and potholes. Just imagine sitting in a seat and getting kidney-punched for four hours.

For more than two hours we drove through nothing but eucalyptus groves; mile after mile, as far as the eye could see. Then all of a sudden, the scenery changed to sugar cane fields. And, just as quickly, the sugar cane ended and we saw nothing but miles of beef cattle ranch land.

When we got off the bus we took local transport into town and dropped into a marvelous little restaurant for lunch, where Ana introduced me to Brazilian “sun meat.” Sun meat is a traditional cut of beef steak, very nice and lean, but with a traditional strip of fat along one side for flavor. It is seasoned with a rub and set in the sun to cure.

Originally this was used to preserve the meat; now it is a local favorite and a significant traditional meal, served on a steaming flat rock with lightly fried cassava. Naturally after the meal we had the traditional shot of Brazilian coffee.

In almost every restaurant we have been in you find the coffee urn next to the cash register and alongside the urn is a stack of demitasse cups. As you pay your bill, you take a shot of the coffee. If you are Brazilian you add perhaps a touch of cream and a huge amount of sugar.

We then scouted town for a Pousada, or inn, for us. We found a terrific small historic place, Pousada Capistrana, right in the heart of the colonial section of town just steps off the main square bordered by the main Catholic church in town.

The Pousada had three floors; the main two above ground were the family’s rooms and the basement rooms were where the slaves were housed. This is typical of homes in this area that are still intact from the 1700s and 1800s. Diamantina reminds me of Oro Puerto. While both are UNESCO World Heritage Cities, Diamantina seems much more of a common town that preserves it history, unlike Oro Puerto, which is geared more toward tourism.

We headed off to go shopping and as we were browsing it began to rain again, so we sat and began talking with the staff. A nice man who had been helping us, Gilson, heard Ana say Fundo Cristao and he started to tell us his story.

Gilson was a sponsored child in a tiny village about 150 kilometers away from Aracuai. His mother abandoned him and he relied on gifts from his Padrinha (sponsor) and the services of CCF. He said sponsorship was the most important thing in his life and still recalls the milk he tasted at the project was “the sweetest thing I tasted in all my life.”

Now, Gilson has a job as a salesman at what is considered the best gem and mineral store in all of Diamantina. He helps the local project by making rosaries out of seeds and local stones for them to sell.

Over and over, Gilson told us that sponsorship was the only thing that “saved his life.” We finished our day early and will be joining our colleagues at the local office to see area projects for the day tomorrow.

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