Sunday, August 09, 2009

Morals: Looking Ahead When Leaving Religion Behind

Sociology 310: Religion in Society

According to reports from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life1, “more than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised, in favour of another religion or no religion at all. ...Those Americans who are unaffiliated with any particular religion have seen the greatest growth in numbers as a result of changes in affiliation.” Significant numbers of people, myself included, while doing so for a variety of different reasons, are leaving religions which have played a role in their growth and development through childhood into adulthood, and are not replacing them with other religious affiliations. My religion had a huge impact on me my entire life. It influenced who I selected as friends, who and when I should marry, how many children I should have, and how I raised them. As I exited from the LDS religion, I had to reassess and re-evaluate a great number of church teaches which I had implemented in my life. With the data indicating that Christianity is the dominant religion of North America, I will examine one of the challenges that I and many others confront when leaving a heavily influential Christian religion.

There is an overarching and “legitimated knowledge”2 among North American societies that good morals stem from religion. In speculating where this assumption may have come from, Berger states, “... religion has been the historically most widespread and effective instrumentality of legitimation”3. As people leave Christian churches, a common challenge is determining where they will get their morals from now that they are free to work beyond the framework of their religious background. While liberating for some, this prospect instilled a sense of fear in me because I had come to believe that morals and religion are synonymous. Sweden's example helped alleviate those fears. With the worlds highest proportional rate of “agnostic/atheist/non-believer in god” (46% - 85%)4 , one might assume Sweden would be home to a high crime and violence rate stemming from its lack of religiosity. However, this turns out not to be the case, as Sweden actually has a low crime rate5. By looking at the statistics for the Scandinavian region as a whole, one could reasonably argue that society does not require religion to be moralistic.

Taking this thought even further, a closer inspection of the religious moral codes revealed in the Holy Bible suggests that perhaps “Christian morals” are not all their adherents claim they are. There are the better known “love and serve your neighbour”, “do not lie, steal or commit adultery, ” commandments which are generally viewed as positive ways to lead a life. But in this same book lies sometimes contradictory and barbaric commandments which hardly resemble the kind of morals modern Christians would abide by. For example, in Leviticus 20:9, it states “For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death”. In Deuteronomy 22:23 – 24 it states, “If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbours wife”. Clearly, the Bible calls for and authorizes morals that the Christian community has rejected, and society at large has criminalized.

Thus, “Christian” morals, as taken from the Bible, are to some degree, evaluated by practising Christians. Because of the sometimes archaic nature of Old Testament commandments in particular, Christians are forced to determine which morals make sense to them and will become applicable guidelines in their own lives, and which ones will be discarded. Because of the likelihood that a person leaving his or her religion has already made some of these choices while growing up in their religion, they will have some experience weighing, examining, evaluating and then accepting or rejecting certain morals. This same person, looking ahead, can use the same methodology in re-examining the Christian morals they previously adhered to. By evaluating what has been their moral code until now, while at the same time evaluating behaviours and ideas previously rejected or off-limits because of their Christian upbringing, they can examine what makes sense from their new perspective, determining, as they have already done, what is acceptable and what is not.

While rejecting their past religion, there is not necessarily a parallel need to reject all basic guidelines and morals from their Christian heritage. After evaluating my values, I did not experience a significant shift in moral behaviour. The morals that remained for me were the ones accepted by the majority of society, not just Christians. According to recent studies, this source of morality may have less to do with religion's divine inspiration, and more to do with an innate hardwiring of the brain. Professor Marc Bekoff, an ecologist at University of Colorado, Boulder, in his study of animal behaviour, believes there is ample evidence to suggest that due to brain structure, many different species of animals are governed by moral codes of conduct, much like humans6.These morals provide group cohesion that allows often aggressive and competitive animals to live together. The nuances of their morals will be different from group to group, but they are typically developed in each animal social group to help regulate their specific behaviours. Wolves and coyotes can display a sense of fairness; elephants and dolphins can show empathy both for members of their own herd but also for other species; monkeys and chimpanzees can both show tolerance and charity for weaker members, with chimpanzees having a sense of justice and punishment when necessary. When these normal, even instinctive characteristics, are put into the human context of religion, they become religious morals7. It should be noted that the influence of religion is not a factor for these animals when establishing group morals. They are simply using their physiological brains combined with a natural instinct to live, so they can work together and survive.

Dr. Bekoff's findings would support the theory of the evolution of man and his role in society. Primitive tribal members, under no influence of religion, needed to work together to increase the likelihood of survival, as well to ensure adequate food, shelter and protection. Because of the structured hard wiring of their brains, tribal members were able to coordinate how to cohesively live and work together, and further hone their morals to establish what was and wasn't acceptable behaviour in the tribe. Those who lived by that code were permitted to stay in the tribe and benefit from the protections that were offered from living as a group, while those who did not live by the code were usually evicted from the tribe, markedly decreasing their chances of survival by being alone. Berger appears to concur when he states, “The socially established nomos may thus be understood, perhaps in its most important aspects, as a shield against terror... The anthropological presupposition for this is a human craving for the meaning that appears to have the force of instinct... To be separated from society exposes the individual to a multiplicity of dangers with which he is unable to cope by himself, in the extreme case to the danger of imminent extinction”8. Physiology and evolution appear to have set the groundwork for the basic morals which govern society, that religion would later adopt and re-brand. This re-branding is referred to by Durkheim when he states, “If philosophy and the sciences were born of religion, it is because religion began by taking the place of the sciences and philosophy”9.

Individuals who leave behind their Christian religion and prepare to enter a more secular society, can take heart in knowing their morals are a part of their brain's physiological make up, refined by both the societal influence of their upbringing, as well as personal evaluations. With this knowledge, they won't need to search very far at all for a new moral compass. I learned I had one all along, I had just misidentified it's source.

- Heather McCue

1 “Statistics on Religion in America Report -- Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.” (Accessed July 19, 2009).

2 Emerson, M., Mirola, W., Monahan, S., 2001. Sociology of Religion, A Reader. New Jersey, Prentice Hall, Inc.“The Sacred Canopy”, Peter L. Berger, pg. 26

3 Emerson, M., Mirola, W., Monahan, S., 2001. Sociology of Religion, A Reader. New Jersey, Prentice Hall, Inc. “The Sacred Canopy”, Peter L. Berger, pg. 27

4 Martin, Michael. 2006. The Cambridge Companion to Atheism. 1st ed. Cambridge University Press.

5 “Sweden.” (Accessed July 19, 2009).

6Bekoff, Marc, and Jessica Pierce. 2009. Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals. 1st ed. University Of Chicago Press.

7 Emerson, M., Mirola, W., Monahan, S., 2001. Sociology of Religion, A Reader. New Jersey, Prentice Hall, Inc. “Religion as a Cultural System”, Clifford Geertz, pg. 19

8 Emerson, M., Mirola, W., Monahan, S., 2001. Sociology of Religion, A Reader. New Jersey, Prentice Hall, Inc.“The Sacred Canopy”, Peter L. Berger, pg. 24

9 Emerson, M., Mirola, W., Monahan, S., 2001. Sociology of Religion, A Reader. New Jersey, Prentice Hall, Inc.“The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life”, by Emile Durkheim, pg. 9

Letter to the Editor

Since when has capitalism been allowed to define what “family” is? While Federal Government and legislators squabble over how to appropriately expand it's definition, some local businesses seem to have it all figured out. Though the exact numbers may vary slightly, family, so they say, is defined as two adults and two children. Full stop.

As inclusive as this is toward single parent families, as well as same-sex parent families, this definition discriminates against all families who have more than two children. Does a family suddenly stop being a “family” when they welcome a third child? A fourth? More? No, of course not. But they no longer qualify as “family” in the eyes of some local businesses which subscribe to this very narrow definition. Instead of making welcome the business of such families, they financially penalize them.

Recently, our family went to a local community swimming pool to enjoy an afternoon swim. We joined the throngs of other families lining up to pay admittance but when it got to be our turn and we asked for the Family Rate, we were denied. Though we are one family, we didn't fit their prescribed definition and were thus charged over and above the Family Rate. Why call something a “Family Rate” when it isn't meant to fit families? Call it a “group of four rate” if that's all it's intended for. But by definition, a family rate should be for “families”.

Some may reply that this is what we deserve for choosing to have more children, and we can simply either pay up or stop frequenting businesses that discriminate. I hope these same people choose to decline the tax-payer programs my children's dollars will generate for them in their older years. Yes, we could avoid businesses that discriminate against larger families with their “Family Rates”, which would mean no hotels, motels, swimming pools, amusement parks, skating rinks, etc. Fun, eh?

I urge local business to either more appropriately label their admittance fees, or make good on the labels they already use. Make “Family Rates” open to all families.


Heather McCue

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Birthing and Dying

There are many things in life that just seem to go together well - peanut butter and jelly, beaches and sand, birthdays and cake. These just feel like natural companions. Then there are other things in life which share absolutely nothing in common - spicy and sweet, the Rocky Mountains and the Sahara Desert, religion and atheism. Finally, there are other things in life that at first glance appear to have absolutely nothing in common but upon closer inspection, you learn they actually share more similarities than differences. It's this kind of discovery, stories of seeing the parallel in the perpendicular, that I want to share.

It had been just one month plus one day since I had given birth to my fourth child. The experience had been a difficult one for many reasons. It began with me going into labour several weeks after my 'due date' had come and gone. Neighbours, certain I must have had my baby by now, were beginning to drop by to meet our new arrival, figuring they had somehow missed the birth announcement. One neighbour in particular came by not just once, but twice, looking to cuddle our elusive infant. After her second visit, I broke down crying as I rubbed my swollen belly, more anxious now than ever to meet our baby. Still, it was out of my hands and all I could do was practice patience.

I did, of course, finally go into labour, and early one sunny morning, I found myself pacing the house, unable to sleep through the early contractions. Labour progressed and soon I found myself working hard to find comfort from the pain. The midwives arrived at our home and quietly began setting up their equipment while I sought solace in the warm water of our tub. As each contraction grew more and more intense, my efforts doubled as I went about the work of birthing. Soon I had that unmistakeable feeling that this little one was very close to being born. My hard work was almost done and sweet release was close at hand. Though I was exhausted beyond anything I had ever felt, I also learned I possessed more strength than I thought I had. At just the right time, unrushed, I surrendered to the powers that were bigger than life, and I pushed out my fourth child, my first daughter, my precious baby. My body grew quiet as I took in her face. She was perfect and I felt peace.

All this was freshly behind me now, as sat at the edge of my own mother's bed, holding my one-month old baby in one arm, and my mother's hand with the other. The aggressive leukemia had so thoroughly worked it's poison into every inch of my mother, leaving her too exhausted to open her eyes, swallow, or even breathe deeply. With her whole family gathered around her bedside, we spoke tender words to her throughout the entire night, letting her know she was fiercely loved and that her passing away would leave a deep hole in our hearts, but that she had our love and permission to 'go' now. Her body fought on despite our encouragement, so we patiently supported her as she went about the work of dying. At just the right time, unrushed, she surrendered to the powers that were bigger than life, and her body grew quiet. I took in her face and she looked perfect. Though I felt devastated, I also felt peace.

As I looked down, in one hand lay new life and in the other hand lay life ended. These are the two greatest opposites of life - the coming and the going, with as much time distancing the two as possible. But when you take a closer look, both of these transitions, the entrances and exits, can look very much the same. Both require patience, happening at their own time and pace, not to be rushed. Both require hard work, clearing the way to allow the body to do the work it innately knows how to do. The work of birth is not easy, and from what I can see, neither is the work of dying. Both require blood, sweat and tears, and eventually, at just the right time, both require a surrendering to that unknown, mysterious force that is bigger than life itself.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Back from Brazil

We're back from Brazil now. If it weren't for the pictures and written accounts documenting our time spent there, it could all seem like a wonderfully imagined experience to me now. Thankfully for us, it was real, and we will have each other and the continued friendships we made with many good people in Brazil, to remind us of everything that was amazing about our time there.

I'm often asked if I'm sad to be back, and what I will miss the most about Brazil. It's a complicated and possibly lengthy reply...

First of all, I'm very glad to be back home. Here is where my life is, as imperfect and chaotic as it is. All things familiar surround me here, and it feels peaceful to be among those comforts. I wandered down to the beach today with my dog, Maggie. As I looked around the sheltered cove, smelled the sea weed and moist air, and watched the half-hearted waves kiss the shoreline, I fell in love with my West Coast all over again. I've visited with family and friends since returning home and have deeply enjoyed, with a new enthusiasm, rekindling those relationships. Being back on Vancouver Island is really being where I belong. It's nice to see other places, some that may even rival the beauties found here, as well as meet new people, creating friendships that will span a lifetime. But here is where I belong... my roots that welcome me back when the adventures abroad end.

As much as I love it here though, there is much I will miss about Brazil. With such warm weather inviting you outside in the evenings, you see many people on the streets visiting with each other, creating impromptu parties as they share a beer and a fabulous story they've experienced that day. They seem to have mastered much better than we in North America, the art of being with people and enjoying sharing time, rather than being tucked away in your own house with the door closed and no time to spare a few words. Because of this social mindset, it's very common to see hands waving to each other as people go about their day, and car horns tooting a friendly “hello” when passing someone they know. They've taken the time to invest in the relationships of their community. I remember feeling like 'one of them' when we began to know more people in our little town and could start to participate in this greeting ritual when we stumbled across our new friends on the streets.

I will sincerely miss the attitudes that Brazilians seem to have about body image. One glance down any beach there and you will likely see every female body type wearing a bikini regardless of age or size, out enjoying the warm sunshine. There is almost more skin on the beach than there is sand. The heavier women don't hide behind bulky towels or cover-ups, but instead unabashedly join their more slender counterparts as they all soak up some sun and enjoy the warm waves. What's more, no one else on the beach bats an eye, either. There's no snickering or rude comments whispered as a larger woman wanders along the shoreline, dressed only in her bikini. What you end up with is women with good self-esteem (and good tans) who are accepted at face value by their society. How amazing is that?!

Where we were in Brazil, there was cheap booze (and plenty of it), scantily clad men and women, and often sexy Samba music playing in the background like a heartbeat of the city. There was every reason for Florianopolis to be a modern-day “Sodom and Gomorrah”. Interestingly enough, that was not our experience. With so much readily available and affordable liquor, people simply enjoyed a drink as they socialized, but never really to the point of being drunk, or even tipsy. It was merely a casual social component that had no taboo anchors attached to it. With casual drinking being nothing of a forbidden fruit, there seemed to be no irrational desire to abuse it. Interesting...

Some of the most beautiful people live in Florianopolis, and combine them with very little clothing, you'd think they'd be an over-sexed, promiscuous culture. Instead, what they appear to have is a society that seems very sexually at peace. Skin, and it's abundant appearance, isn't over-sexualized and taken out of context. Instead of one peek of female cleavage turning an interested male inside out, it becomes so commonplace that it really doesn't warrant attention.

Florianopolis has every reason to be 'sin city', but instead, it's a family friendly, warm social city that we deeply enjoyed being a part of.

There is much more I will miss about Brazil, and many more lessons learned which I hope to incorporate in my life back here in Victoria. But for now, in response to the question posed above, yes, I'm so glad to be back but yes, I'll miss so much about Brazil it hurts.

-Heather McCue

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

April 20th, 2009

We recently returned to Curitiba for a few days visit with Luciano. It was great seeing him again, and of course, the kids loved playing with Mel, his gentle but incredibly strong pit bull. While we were there, we were taken all around the city to various points of interest. The large park we visited one evening was bustling with all sorts of people out enjoying the evening air. The kids played on the monkey bars, that also doubled as a work-out station for those inclined. Walking over a little bridge we noticed an odd looking critter swimming in the river we were passing over. Watching more closely, we realized we were getting our first look at a ?. They are a creature that sort of look like a cross between a very small hippo, and a beaver. While the animal was cute and begged for a hug, we were informed that they were wild animals and to not get close to them.

He also took us to a large local craft fair the following day. About the time we thought we'd come near to the end of long line of tents selling all sorts of items, we were informed we weren't even half way done the first of two rows. It was an enormous market. We managed to pick up all sorts of trinkets that looked interesting, and a few others that we bought on impulse and have since regretted. Michael shook hands with a man performing as a statue. The man shifted his body position to give Michael a one-armed hug, and then of course froze there. Michael looked a bit alarmed at first, but eventually figured out how to wiggle his way out of that one. I'm pretty sure I'd have slapped the man, personally...

Luciano had planned to come with us on the next leg of our trip, to Foz do Iguazu. However, a last minute emergency at work required him to stay behind while we boarded the 9 hour bus ride. We hadn't done much planning for this trip, as Luciano was to be our go-to-guy, so we held our breath and hoped we'd be able to figure out how and where to go when we got there, without him.

It was a rather uneventful bus ride, and we landed in Foz after an all night trip. Not knowing the city, we hailed a taxi and made our way to the hotel that Luciano had booked for us. Even though we were there early, our rooms were ready and we were able to plunk down our backpacks and wash up a bit before heading out again. With only a few days to explore a city, you don't waste much time!

We climbed into the same taxi we had arrived by, and took off to the Itapu Dam for a tour. Though we were exhausted and admittedly, grumpy, it was quite a site to see. The amount of water it brings through is staggering, as is the electricity it generates for both Paraguay and Brazil. Thankfully, it was a bus tour so we didn't need to walk around too much. Though the warm sunshine coming through the bus window made it a challenge for me to stay awake for the driving portion of the tour.

After the tour was over, we made our way back to the hotel where I immediately collapsed onto the bed and passed out for a few hours. Rich, who apparently got more sleep the night before than I had, took all the kids who were interested on a walking adventure to find some groceries and a quick bite to eat.

By late afternoon, I was up on my feet again, and Rich suggested a quick jaunt into Paraguay might be fun. Everyone seemed keen on the idea so we called up our cab guy again and off we went across the Brazil/Paraguay border.

Entering Paraguay was quite interesting. I had assumed the bordering countries of Brazil would be more or less the same as Brazil, but I was wrong. Paraguay was a whole new crazy and chaotic world. Perhaps it was just the area of the city we were at, but the impression we got from the small piece of Paraguay we wandered around in, was that it was disorganized and somewhat desperate. Street vendors offered you their wares, but wouldn't take no for an answer. They then followed you around, offering you what sounded like different bargains (I speak even less Spanish than I do Portuguese), until they got tired of being ignored. There was barely any sidewalk to walk on as some of the more organized street vendors had set up shacks to display their wares, leaving a small sliver of walkway for you to pass by on. Of course they were offering all sorts of deals as you walked by, seeing we were not from around there. Even in the buildings that had established stores, they seemed desperate. Owners would beckon you to come into their store, hoping to sell you something, anything. Electronics are incredibly cheap in Paraguay, so I was struck by the idea of looking for a Garmin GPS watch. We asked a few places, but no one had one in stock, though they could set us up in a few days...

We looked for a place to have dinner, as it was getting to be that time of day, but every street looked as crazy and crowded as the next with no restaurants in sight. Police were trying to direct traffic through a traffic circle, a woman was trying to control some chickens she was keeping in a cardboard box, and we were getting pushed more and more into the street. Grasping each child's hand tightly, we crossed the street, located our ever vigilant taxi driver, hopped in, shut the doors, and headed straight back to our relatively orderly Brazil again. Paraguay was interesting to visit, but saying goodbye was easy.

The next day, we arranged to be picked up by our taxi driver in the morning, and to be taken across the border to Argentina to visit the Iguazu Falls from that side. We knew the day would be costly, what with the cab ride and the fees to get into the park, etc. But we hadn't anticipated it being as costly it became... It turns out the Brazilian officials take very seriously the 90 day tourist visa we had. Knowing we were going to be in Brazil for more than that period of time, we were told we'd need to leave the country before the 90 days were up, and simply apply for another 90 day visa. Very straight forward... However, it requires us remembering to leave the country BEFORE the 90 days are up, and by this time we were hitting upon approx. the 105th day. As we tried to leave Brazil for the day, the officials noticed the date discrepancy in our passports, and called us on it. Though the penalty could have been much worse (ie: uh... jail time!), it ended up costing us about $500 Canadian and a bit of time watching them play with paperwork. Not a great way to start the day but in the end, we got through the Argentine border and arrived at the falls.

Our cab driver joined us for the day as we hiked around the park taking in different viewpoints of the immense and breathtaking falls. One part of the Argentine hike takes you right up to the edge of “Devil's Throat”, the main and biggest waterfall of the area. Standing on the walkway beside such a water wonder, the mist was quite thick but a welcome wetness given how hot it was that day. The roar of the water crashing and tumbling over the cliffs edge was deafening but soothing all at the same time. The park was thick with butterflies, and the kids took turns luring them to land on their hands. After taking in Devil's Throat, we hiked around some of the smaller, lower falls and along the way were kept entertained by the little Caitu's that live in the park. These are creatures that look like a cross between a ring-tailed racoon and a long-snouted anteater. They are scavenger animals and at one point, we caught one with it's butt sticking out of a garbage can, rifling around for an empty potato chip bag.

There is a little train that takes you to some of the farther points of the park, and the soundtrack they had playing for you was from the movie, “The Mission”, which was filmed at that park location. We also heard more English spoken on the train than we had heard in a very long time. You can always tell when you're at a large tourist attraction...

After a long afternoon of walking around in the hot sun, it was time to head back to our hotel to put our feet up again. The kids were anxious to try out the weight room, as well as go swimming in the big pool. The weight room adventure didn't last long though... Matthew managed to get himself bucked off the treadmill, and Emily almost followed suit but I was right beside her and grabbed her arm to keep her upright. Jillian melted down when she couldn't reach the pedals of the exercise bike and there was only one weight training apparatus which caused all sorts of uproar, so it was a bust experience. To the pool, we went.

The next morning we took things a little more easy, letting the kids sleep in a bit and have a lazy start. By noon, we were ready to take on the Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls, so again, we called up our taxi driver and off we went.

We had purchased some boat tour adventure tickets from the service desk at the hotel, which were expensive enough that we assumed also included park entrance fee's. Sadly, we were mistaken. Add to it the fact that, though the park took care of all our transportation needs, our taxi driver felt we needed him to accompany us again, this was beginning to look like another expensive day... But we were there for a once in a lifetime adventure, so we tried to push the cost aspect aside so we could focus on the experience at hand.

We went on a little safari to begin with which consisted of a open-air wagon being pulled by an electric jeep. Our tour guide did her spiel in Portuguese first, followed by English at each scheduled stop. We learned about some poisonous caterpillars that live on the trees. If you touch them you can get pretty sick, so we were told not to touch the trees. We also learned about various sorts of flora and fauna facts that were mostly quite interesting. She caught some of the waning kids attention when she mentioned that there are wild dogs in the forest, and hey, can you smell that?... I think one is near... Apparently they do live there, but I couldn't smell one at the time.

Eventually we ended up a boat dock where we suited up in life jackets, stowed away our electronic possessions in water tight containers, and jumped into a zodiac style boat. We cast off and began our journey against the river's flow, heading towards the large waterfalls. We stopped a few times as we got close to the falls, so we could take photos from a very unique perspective in the river. But we knew it was time to put the camera away when our videographer, who accompanied us on the trip, put his camera in a waterproof contraption, and put on his rain gear from head to toe.

As we got closer to the falls, our boat driver had to navigate the rapids, timing our accent up some of the narrow passages at the right time. I couldn't help but notice how much faith we were putting into our driver to get us both there and back safely, despite moving the wrong way over such angry waters...

We couldn't get right up to the Devil's Throat, as the river water levels were low enough that too many rocks were sticking up close to the water surface which would be a problem for our boat. Instead, he took us to a smaller waterfall, and proceeded to get us right into the falling water, drenching everyone in the boat. To ensure everyone had equal soaking, he went into the falls several times at several angles, getting everyone soaked to the bone. Rich panicked at one point when his eye glasses were ripped off his face by the force of the water. I took a quick glance by our feet and found them floating lazily in the bottom of our boat. I scooped them up before they floated under someone's foot, and Rich was careful to hold them in his hands until the dunkings were done.

We had hoped the tour would also take us to the Argentina waterfall side, however it was not to be. And with that, we began the careful journey of navigating our way back to the boat dock.

The following day was our final day in Foz, with a bus scheduled to take us back that evening around 7:30PM. We stuck around the hotel until we had to check out (luckily they could keep our backpacks behind the service desk until the evening time) and we then proceeded to wander around the touristy streets to do some shopping and get our last dose of Foz.

Matthew managed to find some wonderful rocks that he always enjoys collecting, including a rock decorated knife sheath, complete w/ knife. What kind of parent lets their son purchase a knife, I know... Rich and the other boys managed to purchase several soccer jerseys both for themselves as well as for friends/family. We still had time to kill, so four of the five kids got spontaneous hair cuts, and when we were shopped out and trimmed up, we took in one last sight... The Three Frontiers. It's a place where you can stand on Brazilian soil and look across the river to see both Argentina and Paraguay. A nice way to end our day in Foz.

We weren't particularly thrilled about the 13 hour bus ride back to Florianopolis, especially on the low budget bus we were booked in for. But we hoped we'd be asleep for most of the trip as it was a red-eye ride. No sooner had we begun to nod off after heading out, when we were stopped by the Federal Police for a road check. The driver flipped on the interior lights and the Police boarded our bus. Starting at the back, they eyed everyone up, asking to look inside a few people's bags and see documentation for newly purchased and still in the box items. It seems that the cheap electronics in Paraguay is a huge draw for some people to purchase a bunch of items, and then flip them for a profit (and without paying the proper taxes) in Brazil. Between that and a small drug bust earlier in the evening at their road check, they were out get the bad guys. All in all, it was a pretty quiet and respectful check. Their guns were visible but holstered, and they asked people directly but politely for their co-operation. When they were satisfied all was in order on our bus, they let us go on our way. The lights dimmed again and we all managed to step aboard the sleep-train once more, when lightening struck twice and we were stopped yet again for another road check, only this time by the Military Police... a group of officers more renowned for being bribable cowboys than law enforcers. Three officers boarded our bus after not only unholstering their guns, but cocking them at the ready, as well. They posted one man at the back, one in the middle and one in the front and systematically went through every single persons bag and/or purse. To finish it off, they had most of the adult males stand up in the middle of the aisle with their hands clasped behind their heads, and they did an extremely thorough frisking from top to bottom. Rich's eyes almost bulged out a bit when they hit the lower-mid-region... Oh, how I wish I had a camera close by when this happened! Not surprisingly, they found nothing of interest and allowed us to head on our way again. By this time we were wide awake and eager to see what the next stop may bring.

Thankfully, it was a quiet rest of the ride, minus some flowing bodily fluids from a fellow passenger, but thankfully from no one in our family.

We're back in Florianopolis for the remaining week we have in Brazil, now. We're madly trying to find homes for the two adopted street dogs we took in while we've been here. We have literally gone door to door on our street asking people if they are interested in taking them in. We have some leads, but nothing in cement yet. This issue was made even more complex by the surprising find Rich and I made on a walk last evening. We were wandering down a narrow dirt road, when we looked over and saw four little puppy faces looking at us. They were all huddled quietly together, looking bewildered. We wrapped three of them in my jacket and Rich took the remaining one, and we took them to our house. Our neighbour works with dogs as a groomer, and knew enough to put together some electrolyte water, as there were very dehydrated dogs. She also gave us some puppy kibble to mash up w/ some cream. She figured the abandoned pups are about 1 month old, give or take. So, now we're keeping them here, reliving our puppy days with Maggie, but magnified four times. Vera, the neighbour, figures she knows of one person who will take one, and of a pet store who will take in stray puppies if you get there early on Saturday morning. We'll de-worm them tonight and keep plumping them up until they head out. I haven't lost my faith in humanity quite yet, but I sure wish there was an effective way to pound responsible dog ownership into people. Dogs don't ask a lot from you. A warm place to sleep, some food to keep the hunger pains at bay, some clean water, and an occasional pat on the head. How hard is that to give? And if you don't feel you have it in you, consider that before you get a dog in the first place. I understand life happens and occasionally you have to find a new home for a dog, but there has to be a way to go about doing that without resorting to abandonment, which is the most popular option here, it would seem.

As an aside, we've taken up Brazilian Jui-Jitsu lately and have been enjoying kicking each others butts in class. If I could summarize this martial arts, I'd say it's like very strategic wrestling. No punching or hitting really... the goal is to 'strangle' your opponent or otherwise incapacitate them. Supposedly it's a great martial art to know if you're a woman, as it relies less on strength/weight, as it does technical manoeuvres to trap your opponent.

- Heather