By D. E. Finley
Ah Choo! It’s allergy season here in Campinas, Brazil. No, it’s not the flowers, trees, or weeds. It’s the burning of sugar cane fields, and patches of brush fires. Driving around Campinas has become a fall sport with my husband and me. We locate brush fires and see how many we can count. It’s a pyromaniac’s paradise. During the brush fire season, we carry long sticks, marshmallows, and hot dogs.

Last night at 2:10 am, the allergy spirit from the brush fires finally spooked me too. I woke up to find my eyes crazy glued shut and crusty. My brain was bobbing around in my skull because of all the extra fluid. The postnasal drip made me feel like I’d just had my tonsils removed with hedge clippers. Every time, I had almost nodded off, I had to cough up another briquette.

Then, I heard a mosquito buzzing around my ear like a deranged, dental drill. Every time, it would dive bomb close to my ear, I’d slap the side of my head, thinking I’d sent it to live with Elvis.

But, two minutes later, the mosquito was back, buzzing, Try again, Loser”, and handed me my tennis racquet.

At first, I was also trying to avoid a mosquito bite. But, seeing how the mosquito had managed to outwit me for most of its’ life, I was ready to make a donation. I no longer cared if it sucked more hemoglobin out of me than a Red Cross blood drive. I was tired of being outmaneuvered by an insect with a brain smaller than a wart on a flea’s nose.

“Drink up and go your merry way. Or, drink up until you explode. I don’t care any more. Just let me get some sleep,” I mumbled.

I laid on my back, and stuck both arms out of the covers, vein sides up like I do when I’m donating blood. I kept my neck exposed too, in case it had fangs and a cape. “Cheers, little fellow. Just don’t tell your drinking buddies or unlock the window.”

That morning after a restless night, I asked my husband how he slept, “Oh, I slept great,” he replied, “That allergy medicine worked wonders. How did you sleep?”

“Not as well, my coma king. My allergies kept me up since 2:10 am, along with a hyperactive mosquito by my ear.”

“Well, you should use my allergy medication. Then, you’d sleep well, and wouldn’t hear the mosquito. “

“You know I’d rather be in a São Paulo traffic jam than take drugs,” I replied.

(I figured that with the few drugs I’d taken versus him (Mr. Drugstore), my life expectancy had to be longer than his, even if only by a couple of months. And with the additional suffering I’d endured because of not taking as much medication, I figured that I deserved to live longer. But, then, I didn’t want to end up a lonely widow either, even if only for a few months.)

My husband gave me his “I know how you hate taking drugs, but, drugs can be a good thing.” lecture. Then, Bob read me the label, convincingly, discounting the warnings and possible side effects (liver damage, brain tumor, denial). I think he was a pharmaceutical rep. in a past life.

“Okay, I’ve give them a try, before bed tonight,” I stalled.

I knew that he would spot this as one of my procrastination techniques. But, he was also running late for work.

“It takes 24 hours to have them kick in,” he replied, “You have to start taking them now, if you want to be able to sleep well tonight.”

“Okay, I’ll take one,” I agreed, hopeful for a catatonic night’s sleep.

“You’re bound to feel better,” Bob said reassuringly. “But, just to be sure, I’ll pick up a bug zapper and breathing masks on the way home. Oh yeah, and more marshmallows.”

Copyright D. E. Finley 2005.

To read previous articles by D. E. Finley click below:

Brazil Life: Winter in Brazil

Brazil Life: Home Safe Home
Brazil Life: Hose Shopping
Brazil Life: In-Laws In Town
Brazil Life: Got Floss
Brazil Life: Hiring a Maid
Brazil Life: Brazilians are so Nice
Brazil Life: Gringa Goes Shopping at Carrefour
Brazil Life: Amazon Encounter Lodge Vacation
Brazil Life: Keeping Track of My Purse

D.E. Finley is a writer and graphic artist. You can visit her website at

Meet Ron Finely, a native of California, who has lived and traveled extensively in South America. Read the following interview where he tells us about his most memorable experiences from Brazil and gives some useful advice to newcomers.

Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from?
Hi! My name is Ron Finely, a native of California, USA. I’ve studied and taught Spanish and ESL (English as a Second Language) in several countries and have always had an interest in the people and cultures of Latin America.

What is your connection to Brazil?
While I was teaching in La Paz, Bolivia, I also studied intensive Portuguese at the Brazilian Center in the Brazilian Consulate there. Then in 1978, I made my first of many journeys to Brazil. Over the next ten years I visited São Paulo, Rio, Foz do Iguau, and Vitória, all many times. I was immediately struck by the tropical climate, beautiful plants and flowers everywhere, and the warm, friendly people. This was in stark contrast to La Paz, which, being the highest capital in the world, is cold and dry year round.

What did you miss most when in Brazil?
I suppose what I missed the most while living in South America were the technical/electronic conveniences, and maybe a few foods or snacks. However if you know the right people, and are willing to pay, those things can all be found. The only frustrating thing I really encountered was the bureaucracy. Whether it’s getting a visa, settling a traffic ticket, getting the necessary permit, or whatever–it will involve lots of paperwork, patience, and usually money. The only way to handle it is to grin and bear it! You’re not going to change the system, so consider it a small price to pay for all the advantages of living there.

What are your most memorable experiences of Brazil?
My most memorable experience was the openness and energy of the brasileiros. They showed a deep and sincere interest in my family and me, especially my son Karl (pictured at right) when he was a baby. How many people approached him saying how cute he was! It seemed that everyone, including strangers on the street wanted to hold or kiss him. I don’t ever remember this happening in the US!
I love the Brazilian native dishes, especially ones containing fish or seafood, cocoanut, dend, or exotic spices. I often enjoyed eating barbecued meat at the churrascarias. I really loved the huge variety of fruits, and all their juices. My favorite drinks there were caipirinhas and guaran. Here in the US I’m always looking for guaran in the Latin American markets.
I used to love hanging out atop the Terrao Itlia for views of São Paulo, especially at sunset and in the evening. For people watching I loved to go to the many parks and plazas, especially Praa da Repblica for the flea market on Sundays.

Can you tell us any funny incidences that happened to you in Brazil?
The funniest incident in São Paulo occurred when we were staying with a family in Vila Mariana. The lady of the house was going to prepare a special dinner for Christmas. I asked her what she planned for her main course, and replied, “o per.” As my Spanish was better than my Portuguese, I immediately thought of the country of Peru! How pleased I was to learned it also means turkey.

Any advice for newcomers to Brazil?
My advice for newcomers to Brazil is enjoy the natural beauty of both the people and geography–and relax! While most people São Paulo appear to be in a rush, on their inside they’re not. And if you need something done right away, don’t get uptight if it takes a lot longer than it would elsewhere. Get to know people, especially those living there a long time. They’ll know where, who, when, how much, etc. to be able to show you around and how things operate. This is called jeito–probably the most necessary characteristic you’ll need to survive.”

You can contact Ron Finely at

To read previous interviews in the Brazil Through Foreign Eyes series click below:

Bob Duprez – United States
Peter Baines – England
Youssef Bouguerra – Tunisia
Van Wallach – USA
Lesley Cushing – England
Alexander von Brincken – Germany
Hank Avellar – USA
Ed Catchpole – England
Penny Freeland – England
Yasemin de Pinto – Turkey
Amy Williams Lima – USA
John Naumann – England
Marsye Schouella – Eygpt
Rita Shannon Koeser – USA
John Fitzpatrick – Scotland
Liam Gallagher – Northern Ireland
Lorelei Jones – England
Adam Glensy – England
Tommie C.B. DeAssis – Japan
Aaron Day – Canada
Graham Debney – New Zealand
Silke Tina Tischendorf – Germany
Tanya Keshavjee Macedo – Canada
Frank de Meijer – Holland
Carl Emberson – Australia
Kim Buarque – Wales
Damiano Pak – South Korea
Jonas Helding – Denmark
Pari Seeber – Iran
John Milton – England
Ken Marshall – Australia

Are you are foreigner living in Brazil? Are you interested in telling your story? If you would like to volunteer, or if you would like to recommend someone, please send an email with contact details and a brief description of yourself to

This week’s São Paulo entertainment guide includes an American chain of an Australian themed steakhouse, a `British` style pub, a park named after an Italian painter, a Brazilian soul musician (the real thing), and the latest cinema release `Sin City`.

Outback Steakhouse After a round of mini-golf at Eldorado Mall, Outback Steakhouse’s “Bloomin’ Onion” beckoned-ahh the power of marketing. With about five times more fat content than a Big Mac (we looked it up), this crispy delight won’t be a habit…but it quenched the junk food craving. Outback is actually an American chain of Australian themed restaurants-which you can try at five locations around São Paulo. “Billabong Hour” drinks are 2-for-1 from 5:30 until 8pm. Everything we tried was pretty much what we expected (never a bad thing). It’s a good choice for homesick North Americans, or perhaps Aussies looking for a giggle. (* Please note the lack of Crocodile Dundee jokes in this review.) Find specific locations and hours for Outbacks in the Brasilia, Rio, and São Paulo regions, at their website.

Old Vic PubKeeping with the faux-foreign angle, the Old Vic pub claims to have received its inspiration from British and Irish pubs. However, there was no Guinness on tap when we were there (just cans). My picanha and Brahma were tasty, but I don’t think you’d find either across the Atlantic. The Old Vic features live bands and DJs, so expect dancing rather than dinner if you go later in the evening. Open Tuesdays through Fridays plus Sundays from 6:00pm until the last customer; Saturdays from 12:30 in the afternoon. Avenida Helio Pelegrino, 613, Vila Nova Conceião. Phone: 3842-4342.

Leo MaiaLo Maia, son of Brazilian music icon Tim Maia (called the father of Brazilian soul by, celebrates the release of his debut CD, Cavalo de Jorge, with a concert this Friday at the CIE Music Hall. Maia was a popular club performer for years around São Paulo, and he is considered to be one of the rising stars in the Brazilian music scene. You can listen to a few sample songs on his website The show begins at 10:00pm (Friday, July 29) at CIE Music Hall, Avenida dos Jamaris, 213, Moema. Phone: 6846-6040 or 6846-6000. Tickets run from R$40 to 60; students can get half off with card.

Parque Alfredo VolpiParque Alfredo Volpi – From its 1971 inauguration until 1988 this park went by the name of Parque do Morumbi, however they changed it to honour the famous Italian painter, Afredo Volpi. You’ll find water sources, lakes, trails, a picnic area, and a Cooper lane (jogging circuit) spread over 142,000 square meters. Of course there is also a playground for the kids. Pets are allowed if they bring their leashes (and people to hold them). No bikes, roller blades or skates, however. Location: Rua Engenheiro Oscar Americano, 480, Morumbi. Open daily from 6:00am to 6:00pm. Entrance is free.

Sin CityThe trailer for Sin City has to be one of the most enticing I’ve ever seen. The black-and-white film noir style is not something you see everyday, and the early reviews indicate that this film gets the substance right as well. It’s not for everyone, though. If you don’t like gangsters and crime-comic violence, pass this by. Sin City starts in Brazil on July 29. It runs a shade over two hours and is rated 16 years.

See below for previous editions of What’s On in São Paulo

What’s On Guide, July 7 – July 27 2005
What’s On Guide, June 22 – June 28, 2005
What’s On Guide, June 15 – June 22, 2005
What’s On Guide, June 6 – June 15, 2005
What’s On Guide, May 26 – June 6, 2005
What’s On Guide, May 20 – May 25, 2005
What’s On Guide, May 13 – May 19, 2005
What’s On Guide, May 6 – May 12, 2005
What’s On Guide, Apr 29 – May 5, 2005
What’s On Guide, Apr 21 – Apr 28, 2005
What’s On Guide, Apr 6 – Apr 20, 2005
What’s On Guide, Mar 31 – Apr 6, 2005

By John Fitzpatrick
The ongoing scandal involving the Workers Party (PT), which looks like overshadowing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s last year in office, reflects not only Brazil’s endemic corruption but also the weakness and immaturity of its political parties. Since the country returned to democracy just over 20 years ago, a large number of parties have been established and 27 are officially registered with the Supreme Electoral Council (TSE). Some arose from the ashes of parties which had existed before the military takeover in 1964, some from the two parties the military had allowed to exist during its rule, and some were completely new. In ideological terms, they range from the Greens and far left to the lunatic fringe PRONA, with most being somewhere in between. However, as we will see later in this article, ideology is not a powerful factor and it is difficult to know exactly what many parties stand for.

Powerful extra-parliamentary groups, such as the MST landless peasant movement, trade union federations, industrial associations, the Catholic Church, evangelical bodies, state-controlled companies and concerns, and the military also exert political influence. The large number of parties and pressure from vested interests make it difficult for a government to win a majority in either house of Congress and set a political agenda. At the same time, a President needs to have a strong party behind him. Former President Fernando Collor de Mello, who had no mass party backing, found this out to his cost in 1992 when he was impeached.

It is relatively easy to establish a political party in Brazil. All that is needed are 101 signatures on a petition supporting the party’s program and statutes which is sent to the TSE for provisional registration. The party then has a year to organize itself and choose municipal, state and national executives. Once a party is legitimized by the TSE and has won positions at municipal, state and national level, it can start exercising its influence and leverage its power.

The PMDB claims to be the largest party with just over two million while the PSDB says it has 1,114,000 and the PT 840,000.

At the same time, it can be expensive to run a party in a continental-sized country like Brazil. Members fees could never be sufficient to pay for the full-time staff and infrastructure needed to operate on a national scale. Some parties, like the PSDB and PFL, do not charge a membership fee while others, like the PT, require members to contribute a percentage of their pay. This means that parties are constantly trying to raise funds. These funds come from corporate contributors, individual well-wishers and other sources, many of which are dubious as we have seen of late.

Majority and Proportional Representation
The system is based on majority and proportional voting. Candidates for top executive posts, such as the presidency, state governorship or mayors of towns with over 200,000 voters only need a simple majority to win. The Senate also operates in this way, with each state and the federal district returning three elected senators. The Senate elections are staggered, with one election for two-thirds of the seats followed by another election for the remaining one-third two years later.

The elections to the House of Representatives and local state and city assemblies are based on proportional representation. Under this system, all votes are divided by the number of seats available and the quotient is used to divide the number of votes per party. This results in the number of seats to be allocated to the particular party which then appoints those candidates with the highest number of votes. Under this system it is the party and not the candidate (or the voter) which benefits. Like all proportional systems, it has distortions and can lead to some candidates winning seats with fewer votes than candidates from other parties.

A good example of this is quoted in the Almanaque Abril Brasil 2005″ handbook which explains how the PRONA party gained five extra seats in the House of Representatives because its leader, Eneas Ferreira Carneiro, won 1.5 million votes in São Paulo in 2002. A system like this is obviously unfair and can be abused by popular leaders who end up with a group of puppet followers who do what he says, even leaving the party on occasions.

The fact is that there are simply too many parties to allow an effective government to be set up and implement consistent policies based on the national interest. The result is that governments have to form alliances with disparate interests, sometimes opposed to each other, to get legislation passed. This situation is not unique to Brazil and, in theory, reflects the wishes of the voters who have chosen to elect the politicians and parties they prefer. However, the Brazilian political system does not accurately reflect voters wishes since many politicians have no qualms about deserting their parties. A comparison of the membership of the House of Representatives at the time of writing with that elected in 2002 shows that the PMDB has gained 10 members, the PFL has lost 22, the PP has gained 5, the PSDB has lost 20 and the PTB has lost 21 .

These defectors are not legally obliged to stand down and seek re-election, so they stay on after having betrayed the electors who voted for them. This is particularly disgraceful in a system where voting is compulsory. Even holier-than-thou leftists like Senator Heloisa Helena made no apology to voters when she was expelled from the PT in 2004 but stayed on without any affiliation. It is not uncommon to find people, such as the House of Representatives chairman, Severino Cavalcanti, who have been members of five or six different parties. Former (and perhaps future) presidential candidates, Anthony Garotinho and Ciro Gomes, have both switched parties several times. In some cases, politicians even rejoin the party they had previously left.

These moves are seldom made for ideological reasons but usually for personal gain and privilege. Attempts have been made to end this abuse, such as requiring politicians to be a member of a party for at least one year before they can stand for office. This was a step forward but hardly tackles the problem. In fact, it leads to jockeying and jostling a year ahead of elections as some politicians scramble around trying to find the party which will suit them best.

The party which has been most prominent over these two decades has been the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) . Two others – the PT and the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party)- have gradually built up strength at national level. However, Brazil is still far from being a two-party state (like the United States) or even a three-party state. This is hardly surprising in such a large country. The House of Representatives currently has members from around 15 parties while the Senate has 10 parties. Both houses of Congress also have some members who are currently members of no parties.

The House of Representatives has 513 members, making it a daunting task for any party to gain an overall majority, while the Senate has 81 members. If this were not enough, any government which wants to pass radical legislation must get the Constitution amended. This is a tortuous process involving the Senate, House of Representatives and state legislative bodies and requires a majority of three-fifths of the votes in each house of Congress. Any attempt to modify the Constitution leads to long drawn-out negotiations which effectively paralyze the legislative program. This is what happened in the second half of Cardoso’s mandate when he wanted to alter the Constitution in order to seek re-election.

Spot the Difference – if You Can
Despite this relatively large number of parties, few have any genuine ideological convictions. Radical leftists are about the only people with consistent policies even though these policies are outdated and irrelevant. Personalities are generally stronger than principles and personal, regional and vested interests take first place. The right-left split, which generally defines the main political difference in most countries, is not really applicable here. Most parties could be described as left-wing in the sense that they support greater efforts by the state to reduce social inequality. However, this leftist inclination is often accompanied by a nationalistic bias which can easily link it to more right-wing parties. Several parties describe themselves as Socialist but are more aligned to small business and farming interests than those of organized labor.

This was exactly the ideology which created fascism and Nazism in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and the Iberian versions in the 1930. Much of this ideology was transported to Brazil and incorporated into the “New State” of the dictator Getulio Vargas who ruled the country on and off from 1930 to 1954. Brazil is still under the shadow of Vargas and many aspects of his corporate state remain today, such as mandatory trade union and industrial federations, business associations, labor laws and labor courts. Two parties – the PDT (Workers Democratic Party) and the PTB(Brazilian Workers Party) – claim to be the inheritors of the Vargas tradition.

There are no extreme right-wing parties in the European or American sense since the racism associated with these parties does not make sense in a country like Brazil where about half the country is of mixed race or black . The PRONA, a fringe party with evangelical links, is probably the most right-wing in this extremist sense. It has a few members in the House of Representatives but they rarely speak since the party has no policies to speak of except a desire for Brazil to have nuclear weapons. There are also some apologists for the military still around in the media and in Congress. We saw an example of this in mid-June when Jose Dirceu, was heckled in Congress by a PP (Progressive Party) member who called him a “terrorist” because of his membership of a student resistance movement in his younger days.

Lula himself is also nationalistic and anti-American. Several prominent members of the PT spent time in exile but this does not seem to have made them particularly open-minded. The party’s international links tends to be with autocratic or semi-autocratic regimes in places like Cuba and Venezuela rather than with reformed socialists in the UK or social democrats in Germany. The Communist Party is also nationalistic. One of its leaders, former minister Aldo Rebelo, tried to establish a law in 2001 enforcing the use of the Portuguese language in daily life, conveniently forgetting that it had been brought here by interlopers.

The PSDB is probably the most outward looking in international terms. Cardoso spent a number of years in exile in France and can speak several languages. São Paulo mayor, Jose Serra, who lost to Lula in the last presidential election, is another former exile who is quite cosmopolitan and multilingual. However, the PSDB is as nationalistic as the others and, while not blatantly anti-American, wary of the United States.

Spot the Conservative – if You Can
The party which is generally regarded as the most conservative in economic terms is the PFL (Liberal Front Party) but this is basically window dressing. The PFL has put forward no policies which could be compared with those of the Republicans in the US or the UK Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher. The party moans about high taxes and calls for less government interference but is decidedly short on ideas. In fact, only a few years ago one of its leading members, Senator Antonio Carlos Magalhes, even called for a tax to be imposed to end social inequality. Even the most idealistic Socialist knows that poverty cannot be taxed out of existence. In any case, it would be suicide for any party to proclaim Thatcherite policies in a developing country like Brazil.

The PFL forms the largest opposition group, along with the PSDB, in the House of Representatives and Senate although there is no formal link between them. The PFL’s decision to oppose the Lula government came as a surprise since it has always been greedy for power and had been a partner in every governments since the return to democracy. It even provided Cardoso with a vice president for eight years in the form of Marco Maciel. The PFL, like the PL (Liberal Party) of current vice president, Jose Alencar, and the PP of former São Paulo mayor, Paulo Maluf, are spin-offs from the ARENA party which supported the military regime. The PL was founded by PFL dissidents and has a strong link with the evangelical movement.

PMDB – Split Personality
The most influential party in terms of representation in Congress, state governorships and mayoralties of state capital is the PMDB. However, it is almost impossible to know what the PMDB actually stands for. It arose from the MDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement) political alliance opposed to the military regime but was left on its own when a group of dissidents departed and formed the PSDB. This left a mixed bag of interests and the PMDB is constantly split between its pro-government and anti-government wing. At the time of writing, it is divided once again over whether to stay within the government. A faction led by former president Jose Sarney wants to remain in power and gain more ministries while another faction led by the national president, Michel Temer, wants to leave. This is just one example of the problems Lula and any Brazilian president faces in trying to run this giant country.

Having a wide range of political views represented in Congress should be healthy for democracy. However, the fact is that Brazil is still finding its way as a democracy. If voters could choose from two or three mainstream parties with clear cut ideas then the government would be in a better position to tackle the country’s problems in a coherent way. We are unlikely to see this happen in the near future.

John Fitzpatrick 2005

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicaes. This article originally appeared on his site He can be contacted at

Previous articles by John Fitzpatrick on

Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Helping the Helpless in Brazil
Pinheiros – São Paulo’s Best District
Growing Old (Dis)gracefully in Brazil
Canudos, Still With Us 100 Years Later
The Rise of the Brazilian Empire
Brazil and Portugal – The Samba and the Fado
Brazil – Just A State Of Mind
Brazil: For Lula, is Ignorance Bliss?
Brazil: Pay Day – or Pay Dirt?

By Beatriz Guimares
Serra da Mantiqueira, one of Brazil’s most beautiful landscapes, is easily accessible to those living in São Paulo. The entire region has fantastic waterfalls and exuberant views of the Araucria Forest, and chain of hills in the background. To get there by car take the Fernão Dias highway, turn right at Cambui, at the 150 km mark from São Paulo, and head in the direction of Corrego do Bom Jesus and Gonalves. The final 30kms to Gonalves are unpaved, but driving conditions are ok, except during the rainy season. Arriving in Gonalves, a very small town in the state of Minas Gerais, you’ll find locals riding on horseback, large families having a late lunch, young people just coming back from the mountains, and so on. There are several restaurants and pousadas, but in general the whole atmosphere is very quite and laid back. At the Mantiqueira Bar and Restaurant you can taste homemade food, including rice, beans, salad, and beautiful grilled trout. All for 6 reais…a real bargain!
From here I recommend a visit to nearby Campestre and Terra Firme, but there are many other places to be explored. In Terra Firme, about 12 km from Gonalves, there are several pousadas, but the main attraction is the Ovdio restaurant, which has a magnificent view, and the best traditional food in the area. Most of the food is produced locally, and the scenery is very picturesque. Don’t miss it.
In Campestre, 12 km from Gonalves, there are also many places to stay, but I recommend the Kalevala Pousada, with a full New Age aura, it has the best sauna I ever had: the heat comes from a wood fire, and next to it, there is a brook, forming a pool of fresh and crystalline water direct from the mountains. If you are brave enough, you can have the best bath surrounded by trees, birds, and maybe – who knows – by the spirits of the forest.
When nightime comes, you will get an exceptionally clear view of the stars. Enjoy.

Kalevala Espao
Tel. (035) 3654 1292

Any comments or feedback can be sent directly to the author at

This week’s installation of Dear Gringo comes to us from a reader who’s looking for ways to get involved in volunteering here in Brazil, only that reader doesn’t know where to start. Read on as Dr. G tries to orientate this week’s reader.

Dear Gringo,

A couple of weeks ago you mentioned volunteering as an alternative to handouts for helping out those less fortunate than ourselves. I’d like to volunteer, but I don’t really know where to begin.

Ready, willing, and able to speak Portuguese


If your Portuguese is good, use the following link to find contact information for a volunteer center close to you. It looks like they list organizations all over Brazil. Even if you are not conversant in the local language, they’ve all got email (i.e. they could find someone to translate if you can’t). I am sure any one of them would welcome a foreign presence.

Another site that looks promising is Scroll down to the section called “Seja um Voluntrio” (Be a Volunteer) and enter both your geographic area (down to your neighborhood if you live in Rio of SP) and field of expertise (“all of the above” is an option). I found two pages of volunteer possibilities in just the Santo Amaro area of São Paulo. A related site to this one is It seems to be more for financial help than time and elbow grease.

Finally, if you are really stuck and know anything about plumbing, you could volunteer to fix my toilet. I’m too cheap to pay a professional, but not bright enough to figure out on my own why it isn’t cooperating.

Good luck,
Dr. G

In response to MD

Dear Gringo:
I am writing about your response to MD about giving panhandlers and street-performers handouts. What you say about there not being Salvation Army or government type help is true; and it’s also true that the money could be used to buy drugs or be given to an adult who is using children unscrupulously. I think that a good compromise between giving money and feeling the guilt of ignoring them is to give panhandlers food or other non-monetary assistance. For instance, if I see an indigent person who is always in the same place begging I might make a point of buying a box of milk or some bread to give to them the next time I walk past. I have a friend who keeps a box of toys in her car; when a child comes to her window asking for money she lets them choose a toy. Trust me when I say their eyes light up much more when you give them a choice of toys than when you give them a real. My point is you don’t have to feel guilty, you just need to be creative.

If you have any unanswered questions that would benefit from the wisdom of Dear Gringo please forward them to with ‘Dear Gringo’ in the subject line.

To read previous letters to Dear Gringo click below:

Sports Nut
Persecuted Yank
Delivery Woes
Looking for Love
Lonely Heart
No Falo Portuguese
Paulista Princess
Amazon Woman
Pining in Pinheiros

Please note, the views expressed in this column are not necessarily those shared by We do not accept any liability for advice or recommendations offered through this column.

By Kyle Hedlund
The new Walmart opening up last week in my neighborhood reminded me of the unfortunate slogan rumoured to have been used by a careless superstore in the US: Unequaled in size, unmatched in variety, unrivaled inconvenience.”

I used to salivate at new shopping or eating alternatives that allowed me to broaden my consumerist experience. I didn’t care about capitalism or free markets (still don’t get too warm and fuzzy thinking about them), I just wanted to exchange my money for their goods. I remember the excitement my brother and I felt when the first Wendy’s fast-food outlet started flipping triple-burgers down my childhood street. Wendy’s meant options for burgers other than McDonalds and A&W.

I’ve since reconsidered my glossy-eyed stance on corporate expansion, though, and this local Walmart makes me a little uneasy. While I am sure I’ll enjoy roaming the aisles of everything from televisions to t-shirts to tomato sauce, it’s clear that the seemingly endless choices and “everyday low prices” promised could come with a cost.

The main idea behind anybody opening any store is to make money. Advertising might make us think that McDonalds, or Carrefour or Microsoft, is there to provide a service, and I suppose on one level this is true, but these companies would shut down a facility in a second if there was no profit in it. This is not necessarily a bad thing. People, including those who work for large corporations, have to make money in order to live. The problem is that once you leave the realm of small businesses, all decisions are based on numbers. Where your local shoe store might keep stocking an unprofitable line of insoles to cater to an individual customer, a larger one probably won’t.

Walmart is in my neighbourhood to make as much money as possible. If making life difficult for the competition helps, they’ll do it. Many people like going to smaller shops for the more personal service and different atmosphere, but if Walmart can sell the same products more cheaply, it will. The worst-case scenario is that enough customers will be drawn to the big store that the smaller places will be forced to close down.

I used to think that megastores were great because of the choices they gave me. But I now worry that they might, in fact, be taking choices away.

Readers’ Comments:


First off, I’m an American, but I speak Portuguese and I adore the Brazilian people, and I really enjoy this website!

I just wanted to comment from personal experience on this article. The author Kyle Hedlund stated, “I used to think that megastores were great because of the choices they gave me. But I now worry that they might, in fact, be taking choices away.” I concur!

Back when I lived in Michigan, I loved going to Wal-Mart. It was far enough away that it was fun! Everything under the sun could be found in Wal Mart, and going every two months or so made it fun.

After I moved to a small midwestern town, however, my perspective began to change. Wal-Mart was just about the only shopping establishment available.
Anything that could be found at a specialty shop in town could also be found in the Supercenter, albeit much more cheaply.

The result was that several small businesses, which had given the town a level of diversity and uniqueness, were forced to close due to their inability to compete. Although Wal-Mart provided a “one stop shop” for anything someone somewhere might possibly need at a given moment, the result was that we lost much of what gave this town its character.

Since moving here, I’ve discovered some bad blood between some of the townsfolk and Wal-Mart. Namely, the fact that some of the die-hards make it their mission to go to the more expensive small businesses that need support, rather than the megalopolis sized “temos de tudo” type of establishment. I even met a man selling expensive bicycles out of his front yard, because his mission is to get people off of the cheap goods from Wal-Mart.

For those fortunate enough to live in larger cities with access to multiple sources of spending merriment, Wal-Mart can provide a welcome getaway to find everything in one place.

But for those of us living in small towns trying to recover from the faceless income-hogging giant, Wal-Mart is just about indeed the only in-town option we have left.


To read previous articles written by Kyle Hedlund, click below:

Brazil: Campos do Jordão
São Paolo: Mini-Golf
Brazil: Traveller’s Tales
Brazilian Saudade
Leaning Towers of Santos
Brazil Destination: Caminhos do Mar
Festa Junina
Brazil: Embu Das Artes
Brazilian Beer Taste Test
Who Is Santos Dumont?
Brazilian Music
Brazil: Mixing the Perfect Caipirinha

By Kyle Hedlund
Have you ever wondered what causes those little whirlwinds that kick up leaves on blustery days? Looking to science or your local weather report won’t tell you the real reason. The force behind these mini tornadoes is Saci Perer.

Recognizing this little sprite, one of the most popular folk-figures in Brazil, is simple. Little one-legged, pipe-smoking, naked black-skinned boys wearing bright red hats don’t blend easily into crowds. Actually spotting him, however, is a different matter. The pointy red hat gives him magical powers, including the ability to disappear whenever he likes. Grab the hat and he will grant your every wish to get it back.

Hopping and twirling on his one leg (hence the whirlwinds), Saci Perer likes to play tricks on unsuspecting people and animals. He particularly enjoys juggling embers from your evening fire, so be careful when he not-so-accidentally drops them on something flammable. Other mischief in his repertoire includes banging doors, hiding things, wreaking havoc in your kitchen, and letting farm animals loose. (He is not believed to be the practical jokester responsible for the system of retornos in São Paulo.)

Saci Perer is has been known to startle lone travellers or hunters in the countryside by whistling loudly in their ears, and during full moons he rides a horse all over the countryside. While most of his pranks are fairly harmless, you might want to protect yourself by offering him pipe tobacco and cachaa, or merely distract him by dropping a piece of knotted rope. He’ll find untying it irresistible.

To read previous articles written by Kyle Hedlund, click below:

Brazil: Shopping Choices
Brazil: Campos do Jordão
São Paolo: Mini-Golf
Brazil: Traveller’s Tales
Brazilian Saudade
Leaning Towers of Santos
Brazil Destination: Caminhos do Mar
Festa Junina
Brazil: Embu Das Artes
Brazilian Beer Taste Test
Who Is Santos Dumont?
Brazilian Music
Brazil: Mixing the Perfect Caipirinha

By Lance Belville
The nearly 2,000 environmental scientists and their students meeting here in Brasilia this week invited one smallish Kayapó Indian to address them and his 20-minute talk moved this scientific gathering. At least it seemed that way given the reaction his speech in simple but forceful Kayapó-accented Portuguese sentences provoked around the halls and meeting rooms of Brasilia University where this meeting is taking place.

Megaron Txucarramae is a smallish man in physical stature but a very large man in the life of his tribe. About 6,000 Kayapó live on their 10 million hectare reserve which stretches from south Para into north Mato Grosso. The Kayapó fought their way–sometimes literally as well a figuratively–to recognition of their tribal lands from a reluctant Brazilian government in a twenty-year struggle which started shortly after Brazilian indigenist Francisco Meireles first established regular, peaceful contact with them under the aegis of the old Brazilian Indian Protection Service(SPI), the Brazilian service that preceded the present-day National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI).

Txucarramae’s talk had a particularly strong resonance for this reporter as I had spent almost a year in the Amazon on SPI treks to establish friendly relations among warring tribes in the northern reaches of what is now the Kayapó Reservation.

The Kayapó are a tribe with a long and strong warrior tradition and a deep-rooted battle ethic attributes which have stood them in good stead in the past as they resisted incursions on their lands and which they will likely need as they face their future.

Trekking with them years ago, I had a small taste of that tradition. While bathing in a river after a day’s hike, an expedition member, a young man who had been particularly close to our warrior guides, inadvertently insulted one of the Kayapó by splashing water in his face. The expedition leader explained to the offending white that he could no longer be alone with our Kayapó friends. If you are ever alone with them,” the leader explained, “they will kill you.” Kayapó warriors take personal insults quite seriously.

The challenges the Kayapó face in hanging on to their lands and their way of life are shared to greater or lesser extent by the approximately 200,000 indigenous people inhabiting the Amazon today. Conservation scientists believe that the extent that tribes like the Kayapó are able to cling to their lands and their way of life are crucial to hopes for preserving the biodiversity of the Amazon region.

The Kayapó way of life depends on the forest that surrounds them and now the forest depends on them. In his talk Txucarramae related how many have asked why so few Kayapó need so much land to survive. He explained that the Kayapó hunt, fish and gather most of the necessities of their way of life. “We don’t raise things. Our food is in the streams and the jungle.” He explained that important festivals–critical to their religious and social life”–require weeks of preparation. “We need two months of hunting to get ready for a big festival.”

Denied these resources the Kayapó themselves cease to exist. Scientists believe that if the Indians can maintain their traditional way of life, the forests and their priceless biodiversity can survive as well.

But Kayapó enjoy their own way of life today in large part because of what they are: tough. Their leaders traditionally rose to power in the tribe by leading long treks in search of game for tribal campfires and successful raids against their neighbors–be they fellow Kayapó, other tribes or white settlers.

They have taken the protection of their lands from outsiders as seriously as personal honor. The willingness of the tribe to attack and repel the errant gold prospector, adventuresome logger or hardy colonist played an important part in the Brazilian government’s granting them the legal rights to their land. Now, as then, the protection of their lands falls largely on the tribe itself. The Brazilian government and the FUNAI have scant resources to back up Kayapó land rights with much more than a pile of paper.

And while the threat of violence still plays a part in the Kayapós’ defense, the tribe is working to soften some of its approaches to dealing with encroachers. Txucarramae explained, “We are working with our young men teaching them how to talk to invaders. But we are warriors. It is not good for us to hit and kill people like we used to. But we will continue to fight to stop the invaders.”

In the past the tribe has had more allies. Previously the Body Shop chain of beauty and health products purchased Brazil nut oil from the tribe and provided a plane for surveillance flights around Kayapó borders. But recently the company pulled out of its agreements with the tribe. The search is on to replace this and other sources of support with resources from Non-Governmental Agencies (NGOs), foundations and compatible economic activities to help the tribe resist the blandishments of outsiders angling for the riches of the Kayapó jungle home.

The reservation the tribe must defend is something of a mixed blessing. While it provides the tribe their necessities, it has both gold and stands of mahogany, the most valuable wood in the world, as well as Brazil nuts and a host of other forest products sought after by the outside world. The tribe has selectively permitted some logging and gold mining but pressures are constant on them both from increased illegal cutting and inducements to authorize more logging and mining. And without the help of aircraft as well as boats and engines provided sporadically by FUNAI it is becoming increasingly difficult to defend the hundreds of kilometers of Kayapó borders.

And the temptation to trade short-term profit from their gold and tropical woods may prove irresistible to tribal chieftains who increasingly find that prestige and influence may come as much from providing civilized trade goods as returning game-laden from hunting expeditions.

As it now stands, the tribe does not have the resources of surveillance and enforcement to repel a new wave of deforestation and invasion that is spreading like a human tsunami from the nearby highway linking Cuiab, south of their lands and Santarem near Kayapó northern borders.

The Kayapó, tough and independent as they are, both as individuals and as a tribe, now need their friends, perhaps more than ever. If both Brazilian and international NGOs come to their aid their lands and a sizeable chunk of Amazon forest biodiversity may be secured. If not, the Kayapó’s next battle with the incursions of the outside world may be their last.

For more information on the Kayapó and other issues of Amazon biodiversity, see the website or send an email to

Lance Belville is a nine-year veteran of reporting from Brazil for UPI and ABC and has since become a playwright and screenwriter living in the San Francisco area.

Previous articles written by Lance Belville for

Brazil: Society for Conservation Biology
San Francisco International Film Festival: ALMOST BROTHERS
San Francisco International Film Festival: Nelson Friere Documentary Enchants Audiences
San Francisco International Film Festival: Three Brazilian Films

By Sarai Vasquez
You know when you move somewhere else that not everything is going to be the same; the way people talk will be different, the way people behave will be different, gestures, colloquialism, customs: everything as you know it will change. I rediscovered this shock the hard way.

Fortunately for me, I remember a thing or two about relocating. My family has done this about 3 times and I’ve been on the ride with them, so maybe some of it would stick. However, the culinary tradition in the Vasquez family is a long-preserved, sacred one, which is something you can tell by the size of our waists. We are festively plump as the generation before us was festively plump, as the generation before them was festively plump, as the generation before them get the idea. The thought of life without an arepa or carne mechada seems cruel, as if life was as empty as our stomachs. The cities we’ve lived in have been kind enough to provide us with the tools to satisfy our fixation for typical Venezuelan food, with the exception for one of the world’s largest cities: São Paolo, Brazil. There is no science to carne mechada; really, it’s like Brazil’s carne seca, only simmered in tomato sauce. The Venezuelan-version of the arepa, however, is very hard to duplicate, requiring a special type of corn flour that has yet to be found here in this vast city.

Cut to now, the year 2005, with the Vasquez children almost out of the household, extraordinarily assimilated to almost every aspect of American culture and suddenly transferring their address back to South America. That sounds enticing to some, but (and I know when I say this, my brother’s voice will concur) there are so many little culinary delights we miss from the US.

Let’s start with my personal favorite: BAGELS. I was addicted to bagels at one point; as a matter of fact, it’s what made the Atkins’ Diet hell (the lack of bagels, that is). If you put any kind of bagel (excluding Cinnamon-Raisin, because that’s for the uncultured tongue; the tongue that seeks an alternative to cinnamon-raisin bread in the morning and opts for the larger, more satisfying member of the bread group) in front of me, it would be gone in 3 minutes. I have visited many a bakery here in Brazil (I even checked the one at Wal-Mart in hopes that the American name would bring American baked goods) and have yet to find my delicacy that hails from New York. Such is my fixation that I have actually asked my best friend to bring some with him when he flies down in a few days.

Barbeque sauce just isn’t made the way it is in the States. Lucky for us, Pao de Aucar imports KC Masterpiece (which if you are considering stocking up for the approaching apocalypse, you might want to get a second mortgage on your home to pay for it). But they don’t import skirt steak, which personally, goes hand in hand with the KC. There is also no Wendy’s (sorry Dave Thomas) to provide us with another savory meat product: Chili. I went recently to a Mexican restaurant (El Mariachi in Pinheiros, if you must know) and spotted chili on their menu, as well as chili fries and chili dogs. But NO! I refuse to take my chili from anyone who cannot offer me part of a finger, real or fake, in their food! I doubt anyone’s chili, even the homemade chili, could satisfy my vontade for a nice piece of ground cow simmered in sauce.

The next, which I state in my darling brother’s behalf: PANCAKES. When I first moved here, whenever I saw the word PANQUECA, I’d squirm with absolute delight (because fat kids love food). Ana, my empregada, mentioned pancakes one day and I almost kissed her feet, only to be completely disappointed when what she made for me was this almost-crpe filled with shredded chicken in sauce, smothered in cheese. We will never be able to eat at an IHOP (International House of Pancakes..Hey, wait: if it’s so international, why isn’t there one down here???) in Brazil, but luckily, we are able to make them at home. Using the same box of Dr. Oetker’s mix for panquecas salgadas, if you follow the instructions on the back of the box for PANQUECAS AMERICANAS, they’ll be just as fluffy as the ones from restaurants. This leads me into the following:

The only bottle I’ve found here in São Paolo was in Extra (on Bandeirantes). It cost R$30 and wasn’t nearly as thick as Aunt Jemima’s or any other brand for that matter. It cost R$30 for imported from Canada,” runny maple syrup that raced down the edges of my perfectly round pancakes. It cost R$30 for me to be disgusted and vow to never buy maple syrup again in Brazil. That’s another item my friend has promised to bear as a gift.

The staple for every teenager’s life is also M.I.A. here: Macaroni n’ Cheese.
A few questions:
-How did the Brazilian population go so long without it?
-Where can I find Velveeta????

If I think about it a little more, the list will roll out like toilet paper, but to spare you the drama I will say this: do not lose hope, American food-lover. Slowly but surely, products are being imported (at outrageous prices, but sometimes ‘you gotta do what you gotta do’) and will never be absent from your pantry. And if you have a problem with prices, then maybe you’d like to consider importing food products; just know you’ll always have me as a customer.

Any comments, write to

To read previous articles written by Sarai Vasquez, click below:

Understanding the Brazil-Argentina War