Hi, from Itajaí, Santa Catarina, where I'm helping out with a disaster relief effort. First, to catch you up:
Thursday night, I went out with Couchsurfing friends to a party. (The call clubs event nights "parties", and treat them that way.), and it was "Mr. Random's B-Day Party"! For the non-Random among you, I lived in the dorm Random Hall at MIT, and helped organized its last anniversary, which only comes every leap year, which we called "J. Arthur Random's Birthday Party". So I was pleased to finally meat the guy, who is totally blue, and saluted us the whole night from the DJ platform, until he was leaned back against the wall.
Did I tell you I love Porto Alegre clubs? The party was in a long basement room, painted completely black, with red, black, and laser lights. When we arrived, the still-sparse partiers were wearing party hats as unihorns, noses, cat ears, swaying or jumping up and down or duck walking as suited each her own genius, Two girls were making out in one corner while Blur's Boys & Girls played loud.
On the way back, I had my first street robbery! It was super-gentle (tranquilo, one says here) and professional. Two guys walked out from different points of a park across the street and converged on me, ushered me into an alcove, reached in my pockets and took my wallet and my cell phone (but lefy my keys), and then told me to go. The only thing I was sad to lose was the facebook info of the model I danced with at the party. I took another route and got lost, but I found a nice Brazilian couple (or maybe a prostitute and her client-- not sure) who showed me to my street. Good fun.
Anyway, I worked extra this week, so I told my company I deserved a vacation. During the week, storms caused a rash of avalanches and floods, just 10 hours north of me (the next state up), with cities unreachable and 80 000 people out of a home. So I left Friday night to go help.
The relief effort in Itajaí is a lot like the Astrodome, with the most effort going into food and clothing sorting and distribution, and the whole throbbing mess always staying just a step away from total chaos but erring on the side of incompetence, as very few people know what's going on try to direct ever-changing layers of volunteers, who variously over and understep what's expected of them, and "the system" of how things are supposed to be done changes ever 40 minutes. The biggest differences were that it's smaller, because the effort is distributed over several cities (this is just for the 40 000 Itajaíans affected) and the disaster victim's don't live there, and it has more audible spirit, with people cheering and shouting, because it's Brazilian.
I did just about every job. They welcomed me in, tickled that an American would help (I figured it's our fault the storms happened, though). I started with heavy lifting and moving; but archtypically my group had one more people than it needed. I wasn't that one-more-person the first two times the group turned over, but I was the third time. So, I spent the new two hours sorting clothing, and finally getting to handle the funky styles of Brazilian women's dress. A head-volunteer came by to offer more interesting work, at the front desk; I shied away at the language demand, but eventually went down. They didn't need me then, but had use for me in the next step, helping victims by collecting their individual lists of things they needed. It was fun, but eventually a lull in requests went on too long, and I went to help make bags of shit. These are a lot like the Rocky kind, with a big standardized set of food and things people need to have fun-- I think they called them scat-olas. And they had the same kind of assembly line, and the same discussions: "Oh, no, we're out of rice!" "Don't stop, we'll just make the bags without rice. Give them twice as much beans." "Without rice? We can't make the bags without rice!" But after handling all the bags of flour and sugar and whatnot, I was starting to feel like a cake, so I took a break for dinner. I got in a conversation with a head-kitcheneer, and asked if there was work there (and in Brazil, disaster food isn't catered by Aramark, so there's something to believe in. There was, so I helped make sandwiches for a while, and finished the day cleaning, before the kitchen crew offered me a ride back to my hotel.
While we were working, we heard that yet another city was in trouble from the rains that night. The word used that the city was "rising" (subindo), but I think she meant "mountains collapsing on unsuspecting families." Out work is never done.