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Casa Abba Project Blog

Casa Semear Blog

This blog is writen by various people as they volunteer and work in Casa Semear in Sao Paulo Brazil.

Day 32 (Tues. 6th October 2009) – In Conclusion

2009 Craig Posted on Thu, October 08, 2009 22:40:55

Where do you start to summarise a trip like this. Robert asked me before I left what I thought was the best bit about it and I really couldn’t answer. The problem is there are a number of different sides to the experience of being in Sao Paulo.

There’s the house and all that’s happening with it. There’s the kids club and the activities. There’s Robert and Silvana and their family. There’s the Abba team and the wider work their doing. There’s the Favela and all the social issues surrounding the circumstances of the families and the kids and there’s just being in Brazil in the first place with a different culture and customs.

Once given a chance to think about it I said I felt the best bit was the discussions I had with Robert often after the days work was done. This generally involved me asking a load of questions including why? I often found myself unable to understand what I was being told.

Robert and Silvana have been working with these same families and children for a number of years now to the point where there exists a bond between them that is built on trust and a love of God. To help the families and these children is no easy matter and requires a patience and understanding that Robert and Silvana possess.

On preparing to leave and driving around on the last day I started to list the things I would miss, like;

  • Dogs barking all the time
  • People wearing flip flops
  • Palm trees
  • Saturday night festivities
  • The smell as you cross the river at Interlagos
  • Guarana
  • Fruit you have never heard off
  • Giant sized fruit
  • Wonderful fruit drinks
  • People sitting out in the street
  • Having a front gate rather than a front door
  • The kids shouting Chio, Chio, Chio
  • Playing Uno competitively
  • Mosquito bites
  • Tiled floors
  • Cheese bread and rice and beans

I have loved my time in Sao Paulo. I did not go to sight see but I had my eyes opened. I did not go to be spiritually uplifted but it happened just the same. I went to work on a property and discovered a mission.

God bless the work being done in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Robert and Silvana for doing it.


Day 31 (Mon. 5th October 2009) – Arriving Home

2009 Craig Posted on Thu, October 08, 2009 22:39:40

I once again had been able to book my cases right through so no problems there. I also had my next boarding card already so just needed the gate number from the board. I was delighted when I realised the gate, was this time, in the same terminal. Typical, when time was tight on the outward journey, I had miles to go, now, when I had loads of time, I hardly had anywhere to go at all.

Charles de Gaulle Airport was huge and it looked like they were adding another terminal again due to the construction going on. I managed to take some photos inside the terminal I was in, just to let people see the huge buildings. As I stood, I wondered who else took the time to stop and look around as everyone seemed to be rushing to get to where they were going.

I actually had to wait till it was time to get the bus to the tiny Cityjet plane parked miles away back to Edinburgh. Similarly this plane was packed. I dozed during most of the flight.

With everything on time I was back as planned just after 11am Scottish time.

My wife Isobel and oldest daughter Dawn were there to meet me with open arms and welcoming kisses and hugs. Once again the thought of where had the time gone crossed my mind. The car journey back to Hamilton was all about an exchange of stories between my adventures in Brazil and the update on the families activies at home.

It was a strange mix of emotions, glad to be home and sad to have left my other family in Sao Paulo.

Not long after I returned home I was emptying my suitcase and am delighted to say everything survived the journey fine. All the paintings were perfect and looked even better somehow. The new supply of key rings is supplemented further by a supply of bracelets and necklaces made from beads.

Somehow I was able to keep myself going till quite late in the evening and this helped get me right for work the next day. I was a little late but I reckoned that was good going considering.

Day 30 (Sun. 4th October 2009) – Leaving Casa Semear

2009 Craig Posted on Thu, October 08, 2009 22:38:58

Everywhere I have been I have been told how much of a blessing me being here is. The reality is I feel blessed to have been part of the work here. I can’t believe how emotional I’m getting writing these last few days’ blogs. Every time I write a line I fill with the memories of all that I’ve seen and done.

I came with the idea that my trip was all about the building and what I could do to help to get this house working, but that’s only the smallest part of what’s going on. It’s really about people, relationships and the children of the Favela. Caring people, doing what they can to help in the name of God.

With the flight at 4.20pm there was plenty of time to get some work done before hand and anyway the toilets still had to be fitted. Once Robert arrived we got to work. First to get installed was the small wash hand basin then with the tile grout cleaned locally the toilets were bolted to the floor. One toilet being an existing one was different from the other but that didn’t matter. The two cisterns were next, these are a different setup to the normal in Brazil as the toilets on the floors below don’t have any cisterns and flush directly from the roof mounted water tanks. The cistern style is supposed to use less water which is metered here. Once all the items were in place the critical time arrived. Connecting the water.

Nervous was an understatement, but all seemed to go well after the initial flood of water released when we removed the plugs. The tap on the sink was chosen especially as it only runs for a short length of time after it’s been pushed, and so can’t be left running. It works a treat.

Time was marching on and a quick check told us we really needed to start and get ready to leave. Dora, from downstairs, appeared right on cue to say goodbye and I think we actually left the house at about 12.30pm. I was still to get lunch that Silvana had ready before we left for the airport. After all I had to get rice and beans one more time.

Even after being in Sao Paulo for a month I still hadn’t gotten round to interview Robert. So at the very last possible minute we setup in Robert’s kitchen and filmed. It seemed to go ok and hopefully will add to the film already taken. I tried to ask Robert questions that would provide enough information to anyone even hearing about the project for the first time.

Robert assured me we would be in good time as a Sunday afternoon was a good time to be on the road to the airport. In fact he suggested that we could even drive through the centre of the town rather than go round the ring road. This would again give us a new view of the city.

The car park at the airport looked just as jam packed today as it had when I arrived and we made it to the check in with great time. The boarding time meant I should go straight through so it was time for goodbyes. I’m afraid I’m just a big softy and leaving my new family was hard. Vinnie hadn’t come to the airport but Raphael was there with his Scottish football top on.

With Silvana and Marianne it was hugs and kisses and I thanked Silvana for her wonderful hospitality. I really feel like I had developed a strong relationship with Robert and it was hardest to say goodbye to him. We had done a lot together in the last month. We had a last picture taken together and with the promise to keep in touch and a wave goodbye I disappeared out of sight.

There really wasn’t much spare time so I made a quick visit to the duty free shop for a quick look. Not that I really intended to buy anything, that is until I saw the boxes of “Pan de Queso” mix (cheese bread). I just had to take a few of them.

The plane this time was packed and it looked like every seat was taken. Fortunately I had a seat at a door so had plenty of leg room. The flight was great, I watched about 4 movies and tried to get some sleep for a little while without much success. At about 2am I adjusted my watch to the time for arriving at Paris and instantly it was 7am. Quick night.

Day 29 (Sat. 3rd October 2009) – Last full day

2009 Craig Posted on Thu, October 08, 2009 22:38:25

I woke with my alarm at my usual time. I haven’t really changed it since the builders stopped coming, but lay a while thinking about all the things that now would not get done before I left. The list of what’s still to do seems longer than when I started. How can that be?

With Robert at college this morning I have the time to myself but feel at a bit of a loose end. I will probably go up and do some work in the big hall. But first I need to update the blog. Days have shot past, this week especially and I need to get things written up now. I seem to be able to focus better in the morning when writing things up.

I have just realised that I have probably been writing about a load of normal stuff and not really focusing on the real issues here, but where do you start with them. I have had a number of in depth discussions with Robert about all kinds of things not listed here. Some are issues with the Favela that I just could just not begin to discuss in a blog. So please excurse my ramblings.

I started to get on with things and cleaned off the cement from the tiles and drains in preparation for grouting. Robert arrived and suggested that all the tiles would need further cleaned out in-between before the grouting could start. So I started on that while Robert looked at the toilet connections to the drain pipes. We had envisioned this to be a problem as the pipe needed to be level with the finished tiled floor so a special seal can be fitted. The reality was that it was a simpler issue than anticipated which we were both delighted with.

With the drain seals in place we were able to mark and drill the holes for the sink and toilets. The toilet fixings had to go through the tough tiles and even the drill was having a hard time. The drill we were using was borrowed. This was one of the things Robert had hoped to get but he was right, they were very expensive in Brazil. Certainly a decent one with the hammer facility was. So the drill will need to wait till another time. While on the subject we also checked the price of a computer projector and you could have bought a house cheaper.

We worked on and finally Robert started to grout between the tiles. Again this was something we would need to leave to set. The plan was the whole family and I were going out for a last dinner together. I had said what ever suited Silvana best with having to look after Marianne but going out to the Churrascaria was chosen unanimously by everyone.

Just before Robert finished I washed and changed ready to go. Then it was over to his house then out to the restaurant. We were headed for the same one Robert and I had been to before which was by no means the closest but really good.

This was a Saturday night and the place was busy, in saying that it is rather big. The boys also enjoy this kind of eating. Silvana prefers her meat to be fully cooked but unfortunately there is a tendency for most of it to be a bit rare. Before starting on the BBQ meats I had promised myself to have a hot dish from the servery which was shark and tasted fantastic. I’m afraid I over did it again and eat far too much, the steak just tastes too good. However take my advice and avoid the chicken hearts. Everything was washed down with a few glasses of Guarana the traditional soft drink of Brazil which is the equivalent of our Irn Bru.

For some reason I had misunderstood my departure time and instead of 12noon I was actually leaving the next day at 4.20pm. This meant we did not need to finish the toilets tonight but could get another shift in before I left in the morning. Just as well as neither of us was in the mood to work now.

I was back at Casa Semear for around 10.30pm and decided to start and pack. It was a Saturday night so the street was jumping as usual and the house across the road was in full swing with the music shared with everyone. When travelling to Sao Paulo I had kids club materials and gifts for the family taking up my luggage allowance. This time travelling home I had a giant bag of key rings and another of bracelets. Then also all the paintings the kids have been working on. I reckoned that if stopped I would just say I was an art dealer.

It was late by the time I was finished but it all fitted. I text Robert to bring a pair of scales so I could check the weights in the morning. Then off to bed for the last time.

Day 28 (Fri. 2nd October 2009) – Last kids club for me

2009 Craig Posted on Tue, October 06, 2009 14:02:46

This is just getting crazy, how can I be back at Friday again already, where has this week gone. This has by far been the fastest week of all my time here. Today is possibly the last time I will see the kids but it was also the day we were hoping to get the tiles finished.

Robert said he would arrive early, and he definitely did, even before I was ready. The priority was the tiles in the area outside the toilets. We hoped to make a good start before the kids first session and we did, again cutting and laying to fit the walls.

Robert started the club as I finished some cutting and I joined later in order to make sure I got some more video and pictures of the kids. Friday’s are games days so the time is a bit hectic as they all like to win. The time was over in a flash and as they were all leaving Robert told them I would be returning home. The response was great and hugs and kisses and special handshakes for the boys as they said goodbye. I remember what I was asked when I had just arrived, “so how many years are you here for”. I don’t think any period would be long enough, there just so much to do, and it never ends. We should not never loose sight of the reason we are renovating this house is for the kids.

Back to the tiles. We were progressing well and working back into the big room so that the step was the last thing to do. We decided to break for lunch and complete the step on our return. Today was roasting, one of the few days while I’ve been here. We went for a baguette at the Carrefour supermarket and as it was so warm we finished with an ice cream.

The step was the final piece before we could say the tiles were complete. Everything was going well and with three tile to go we ran out of cement to lay them. Lumac here we come again. The last piece was placed in and the job was done, just a few taps with the plastic mallet and finished. Then the last tile broke. However with two full spare tiles left it was decided to try again. This time success the tiles were laid. Even although I might be slightly biased, Robert did a great job.

The afternoon kids club was much the same as the morning. I took some film and photos. The afternoon lot are much more of a handful and the boys especially are just looking for what to get up to next. All to soon it was finish time and goodbyes. Hugs and kisses again and a wave as they went down the street. Not really any time to get emotional. For the kids it’s just another day and off they go, it’s only for me it will be a while. I look back at some of the photos from before and now I have names and stories for them all. I’ll miss the chio, chio, chio (as its pronounced) as they all shout for your attention.

Robert needed to go and help his brother in law so it was goodbye for the night as there was nothing we can do till the tiles set.

I can’t seem to focus on anything tonight. I tried to do some blog and couldn’t. I tried to think about packing and couldn’t. I was tired then I wasn’t. I went out a walk down to “ideal” for some juice and when I came back I had some dinner and headed for bed.

Day 27 (Thurs. 1st October 2009) – Tiling the toilets

2009 Craig Posted on Tue, October 06, 2009 14:02:03

Today was all about tiling the toilets in-between the kids art and craft day.

As soon as Robert arrived we started. The toilets are not the squarest of constructions so a lot of the tiles had to be cut to fit. In saying that with our new disc for the saw that wasn’t really a problem. While Robert was the person laying the tile and generally I was the one measuring cutting ad handing him what ever he needed.

The tiles had been picked for there strength and hopefully would last a long time. These were the same as the ones Robert had put in his own house so he new they were good. They were heavy, strong and not easy to cut with pliers. The holes for the toilets and the floor drain needed to be cut by hand and one of the holes was right in the middle of a tile. That was fun.

Today for lunch we were invited to Silvana’s mum’s, and it was to be rice and beans. On arrival at Robert and Silvana’s house for the first time since I have been here Silvana’s mother, Val’s shop was open. I have always visited at night or on a Sunday afternoon when it has been closed and was beginning to think Robert was kidding me on, but today there it was. The shop sells various things but mainly sweets, juice and cleaning products and I was told ice cream when its sunny, (not much chance of that then). It’s about the size of a garage and opens right onto the street. Val and Jessica (Silvana’s sister) live behind the shop and Robert and Silvana live above them.

Today we were eating in Val’s kitchen. The surprise for me was it was the traditional black beans with sausage and dried meat. It was fantastic. And I have promised to try and re-create this at home. Also today was another item I had been promised. Manioc. This is a root but I related to the potato family. It is cut into finger sized pieces and fried like chips. Again really good, I had mistakenly thought it was some kind of fruit, but it tasted just like chips to me, but better. There was a mountain of food prepared and then just Robert and I sat down to eat, thankfully joined later by Silvana and Jessica. Val was watching Marieanne and had eaten with the boys who were just about to go to school.

After a proper feast it was time to get back to the house and some tiling before the kids arrived.

The afternoon was mainly tiles being sized and cut for putting down. After the kids had gone Robert started laying them again and at one point it looked like he was playing “twister” with one foot in a missing tile space here and another there while stretching to lay tile in another.

We were determined to complete inside the toiler area tonight and so leave the outside area till tomorrow. This was an even later night and Dora appeared once again, this time with a jug of freshly squeezed pineapple juice, which was magnificent, and chilled to perfection. It went down a treat and just what we needed for that last little push to finish the day.

No question of what was happing now as bed was calling. I’m thinking about going back to work for a rest.

Day 26 (Wed. 30th September 2009) – Raining in the bedroom

2009 Craig Posted on Tue, October 06, 2009 14:01:31

Today I awoke to find water coming through the bedroom ceiling. This had happened before but not like this, I needed 4 drip catchers all in a line on the floor and another two catching drips else where. Right above my bedroom is the currently open area which will eventually become the arts and crafts room.

Once Robert arrived we reckoned that water was probably being retained by the considerable pile of rubble that had accumulated from the various works and finding its way somehow through to the bedroom. This meant we needed to get all the rubble back out side at the back down two flights of stairs. What obviously wasn’t helping was the spell of really bad weather and torrential rain. Ultimately there will be a roof over this area but that’s another project, for another time and other funds. Sure enough later the drips stopped and we also had a bit of a general tidy up as well.

At that, Regis, one of the builders showed up for some voluntary time. He was amazed we had done the plastering so Robert suggested he start having a look at the wiring for the lights. Very quickly we realised he was not sure about what he was doing and admitted he was not an electrician. We had realised as much anyway. We got to a convenient point and suggested we finish. We were heading for the Abba meeting anyway this week at Casa Elohim.

On arriving at Elohim the Abba team were all watching a movie. One Wednesday in the month they have an informal get together so this week was a movie. In German and French with Portuguese subtitles. Don’t ask. I managed to excuse myself to go and collect the remaining dimensions I needed for the Elohim plans. I managed to get it done just in time for the movie finishing. Thomas was saying a few words to the group then turned his attention to me. He said a few words of thanks took the opportunity to present me with a letter of thanks and a T-Shirt. I had been questioning Robert on what you needed to do to get an Abba T-shirt; well I guess I know now.

This really brought it home that my time was drawing to an end. Robert and I had been joking about “my last Monday” and “my last Tuesday” This last week has passed in a flash and the presentation was another reminder that I would be heading home soon.

I was to take the opportunity today to get an interview on tape of Thomas answering a few general questions. So after the main meeting we found a spot and set up the camera as informally as we could. This went well and I was delighted with the setting and the casual nature with which we talked. The interview will form part of a small programme to be created by SLVTV (South Lanarkshire Voluntary Television).

Robert suggested we head back and get started on the tiling of the toilets. At first we laid out the tiles to try and get an idea of the best starting point. So after much discussion the first tile was laid and the spacing set. We almost immediately needed to cut some tiles both with the circular saw (The Makita is an amazing machine) and with the pliers. Unfortunately the pliers were not really working and the special disc we bought for tiles seemed to be doing a lot of damage as it cut.

We decided a late night visit to Leroy Merlin was in order to find a solution and see how much it was going to cost. The minute Robert explained that we were using porcelain tiles and not ceramic all was clear and we needed a different disc especially for porcelain, as you would expect this did not come cheap but would at least be a long term solution that Robert can use over again.

What a difference this made and progress was swift. Having a decent pair of pliers helped as well. We joked about the right tools for the job being half the battle.

This was a late night and Dora appeared to say she was making an apple and cinnamon cake and peach tea for us. The tea had the usual half kilo of sugar in it of course. This just made a great ending to the day.

Day 25 (Tues. 29th September 2009) – Real builders on the job

2009 Craig Posted on Tue, October 06, 2009 14:00:05

When Robert arrived, a little later as it’s a Tuesday, I was already cutting felt pictures out, he decided to join me and get out the large cards and organise the pictures that had been cut. He talked about getting to a point where he would be able to use this fantastic resource, but a lot of time and effort would be required before then.

Upstairs I started to clean things up and smooth off the walls and clean around the doors while Robert took the morning bible study for the kids club.

Today was the real first day that the professionals were on the job, Robert and I. We started with a quick review of the previous builder’s work of fitting the doors. Some doors were off so we re-hung them to check. Unfortunately this was not good. All the doors had problems and would need to be sorted including there being insufficient space left under them for the tiled floor. On getting behind the last door to be installed we also discovered that the plasterwork surrounding the door had not been done at all.

Afterwards we agreed a plan of attack which included us having to do the necessary plastering. How can something that looks so simple be so hard? I was really struggling and I had been watching the builders for two weeks. I’m afraid the office worker in me was showing. Robert left me to it and took the second bible group of the day.

I started plastering and Robert joined me later. After our best efforts were exhausted we had achieved the necessary result however having a laugh at our efforts in the process, well, maybe just mine. Robert’s knowledge gathered from doing his own extension was proving invaluable.

It was amazing how the time flew past and the day seemed to be gone in a flash.

After dinner I was determined to get some time in on cutting out felt pictures and I did. This won’t be finished while I’m here but I did make a start and boosted Robert’s interest.

When we talk about people coming here to help, it could be for this kind of thing, it doesn’t need to be building work to be helping Robert. Anything that takes a lot of time might not be possible for Robert in the normal week. So extra hands doing what he can’t is what’s needed.

I think I must have got a second wind or something, because I lasted till late in the night, and that’s after discovering aching mussels I never knew I had. Come back builders all is forgiven.

Day 24 (Mon. 28th September 2009) – Great News

2009 Craig Posted on Tue, October 06, 2009 13:59:01

Before I forget I have to tell you the great news received recently. A couple in America, who are Robert’s main sponsors, emailed to say they would immediately send the necessary funds for the tilling of the floor in the big hall. This was as part of a promise they had made when the house was first bought and was waiting till Robert felt it was the right time. With all the current works happening and the front window now being ordered, Robert had estimated the size and cost involved which was substantial.

Their son worked with Robert for 2 months and his mother has also been to see first hand the work being done by Robert and Silvana. They have been a true blessing to the work and the mission at Casa Semear.

Today the builders were back as usual at 8am on the dot. The goal for them today, on this extra day, was the two remaining doors to be fitted and general finishing off plasterwork in different places. Following on from Saturday I decided that I would continue with trying to break up the top surface on the floor of the big room. Unfortunately this means that during the kids club there is a fair bit of banging above them. Again this worked well and a fair bit came up leaving some areas with very little at all.

Today, as normal on a Monday, there was a donation of fruit and veg. to be picked up and Robert went off to get it. Four big crates, two of fruit (which is generally papaya and oranges) and two of veg., which today was a real assortment. The kids would get their pick later and they usually took as much as they could carry.

The morning was warm but very dull. While out at lunchtime to get a baguette at Carrefour supermarket, Robert amazed me with his physic powers by stating the rain was coming and sure enough within minutes it was a downpour. From here it just kept getting harder and harder all afternoon. I eventually took some film, it was crazy. Once again my thoughts were of the many houses no where near as substantially built as Casa Semear, with unfinished brick walls. Rain like this is a real problem.

In the afternoon while the kid’s bible lesson was happening I finished the Casa Elohim plan on the computer as far as I could take it. I knew that we were due to be at Casa Elohim on Wednesday as the Abba meeting is held their once a month and a bit less formal than other Wednesdays. I would have an opportunity to get some final sizes then.

In the afternoon some of the boys arrived absolutely soaked as they had been playing under a poring rainwater pipe. Robert said they could join the rest, but only after they went home and changed. They never came back as going home soaked was not an option for them.

The builders worked on a little later than their normal 5pm stop time, just to get a few things finished. Also the wood was removed around the concrete beam above the front window, the extra hands helping to lower the remaining wooden box safely. One side had already been removed to help with drying and the good weather over the weekend had done the rest. The beam looked good although the finishing plasterwork would need to wait till another time.

Robert and I were talking before he left for the evening as we often did. I asked about the huge box I had removed from the store cupboard previously which contained a massive flannel graph of the complete bible story. WE opened it and discussed it and I promised to start and cut out the felt pictures.

After Robert left I realised we were talking about 500 beautifully colourful felt pictures which all got stored on special outlined boards in order. This wasn’t something that was going to be done in a night or even a week for that matter. Hence the fact that Robert had just not had time for this. However this will be a fantastic resource for him to use with the kids. A bible story book details the images to be used for each story by number.

That first night was a late one and with small scissors, which were ideal, my fingers ached.

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