Bem-vindo no Brasil!
It’s been a while.
A month and a half later, I write to you from the wonderful world of Candeal, a neighbourhood nestled in the heart of the Bahian capital of Salvador. It is with a stomach chock-full of bolo and a broken heart (from nothing else than iPhoto-induced saudade) that I’ve decided it is finally time to return to the internet, and with it return to the wonderful space I call my blog.
And where do I begin?
First, some context for the uninitiated: for the next eight months, I’ll be in Salvador, Brazil, with six other Princeton students, engaging in service work, learning Portuguese and living with a homestay family. But because this sound-bite alone could never suffice in illustrating exactly what I’ll do in this year away from home, I’ve decided to blog my way through the year.
Having said that, one of my goals this year is to unwind— you know, the thing Brazilians do notoriously well. In the past, I’ve struggled with the incessant desire/need to capture the moments I live through; only recently have I realised the futility of quantifying intangible happenings, which is why I’m making a conscious effort to capture great moments spontaneously and briefly.
Thus, my blogging may be sporadic, but in the way humans are wont to do I’ll preface my capriciousness with a wink and a simple ‘this is deliberate’. 😉
So! To begin the odyssey of all odysseys, the chronicling of the adventure itself.
We arrived in Brazil on the first of September after five days at Princeton and twelve hours in-flight. At the airport we were greeted by our local director, Debora, and our on-site coordinator, Annie, who presented us with the most beautiful bags of candy I’ve ever received in my life. (And that’s saying a lot: I generally never eat candy, but I’d fall on my knees for a good ol’ bag of paçoquitas and pé-de-moças and pé-de-moleques and nego-boms… good lord, help me please.) (For context: a paçoquita is essentially the ‘inside part’ of a Reese’s peanut butter cup, the two pés are heavenly concoctions of caramel and sugar and peanuts, and nego-boms are, well, nego-boms.)
Over the next day and a half we visited Farol da Barra, watched the sunset fall over the bay, had coconuts at the beach and stayed up late at our hostel getting to know each other. Back in those distant days of ye ol’ September, it was crazy — and it still is, I guess — to think the seven of us would watch each other grow in ways previously unanticipated, and with it develop deep interpersonal relationships based three-parts on love and one-part on the irritations that come with sharing the same bathroom for days on end.
But that’s a story for another time.
A few days into September, we then boarded a seven-hour bus to the Chapada region of Brazil. The Chapada Diamantina National Park was formed in 1985 and features some of the most stunning natural panoramas in the world. We were lucky enough to stay in the tree-loving, vegetarian haven of Capão for a week, where we spent hours lying in hammocks, sang pre-meal songs at the dinner table, took circus classes, visited weekend markets, hiked, sketched, washed clothes by hand, you name it. Lua and Cassia, the two women who we met on a regular basis and prepared our wonderful meals (jackfruit moquecas and vegan cakes so fantastic it could convert anyone into a herbivore) were undisputedly our woman crushes not only on Wednesdays but every day, whilst Tuna, Lua’s eight year old son, kept us all in awe with his immense wisdom.
Case in point: in one activity where we had to go into the garden and pick out plants that reminded us of events in our life, Tuna — who has never seen snow — picked out a droopy, white flower and told us it reminded him of, verbatim, ‘the illusion of snow’.
After Capão, we then spent three weeks in the bigger neighbouring town of Palmeiras, where we experienced our first homestays and worked with an environmental organisation known as GAP, or the Grupo Ambientalista de Palmeiras. I was fortunate enough to share my homestay with Asia, especially because it directly preceded the formation of our Crochet Club, during the nightly meetings of which we’d talk about our lives whilst stitching Kindle cases (me) or bohemian crop tops (Asia). We were in a family with twin daughters, Ana Luiza and Vitória, both of whom were super lovely and, coincidentally (or not), in love with Korean music and culture. Thus the ice-breaking process was supremely expedited by my impromptu Korean lessons (and, later, Chinese lessons) which were haphazardly conducted in Portuguese. Suffice to say, I think the teaching worked both ways… which is how it ought to be, right?
Our homestay mother, Neide, loves art, and our homestay father, Luis, loves frogs, so one day we were invited to paint a frog on the wall of their house. Even after we left our homestay, we were invited again to draw yet another frog in their house, which means that a little piece of my handiwork will remain in Palmeiras for a while yet. But what’s more important are the moments I shared with my family whilst painting the frogs: in what otherwise was a quiet household, for two nights we had conversations with passing family members, collectively listened to K-Pop songs and shared our fair share of laughs. All memories I’ll treasure for a while yet, along with that beautiful cassava, sweet potato (!) and pumpkin noodle soup that Neide prepared one day and Asia and I devoured.
Our work with GAP was also tremendous. Joaz and Drica, the butt-kicking eco-superheroes who play an integral part in the existence of GAP, were incredible human beings who taught us so much about what it means to care for Mother Nature. For three weeks we learnt about the art of recycling, putting out forest fires (I’ll never forget watching Drica run to stop a roadside fire with her long white dress and hiking boots) and loving our communities. We spent long days making decorations for a local celebration known as the Caruru, during which we spent hours dancing, eating and experiencing our first Brazilian festa.
(Context: the Caruru is a festival organised in honour of the saints Cosme and Damião, twin brothers who offered free medical services whilst honouring God. The literal caruru is a traditional Afro-Brazilian dish consisting of lots of okra, of which 50KG was involved for our little event in Palmeiras.)
At one point, we got to visit the local landfill— which was a life-changing experience. Being in a landfill makes you rethink every habit you’ve ever had that probably killed the environment, and honestly makes you feel the sobering need to change something before everything falls apart. I’ll probably make a separate post in regards to the environment (I’ve done a lot of reflection, and a lot of it merits personal attention) but in the interim I’ll leave the blogosphere with a poem I wrote upon my return, and hopefully that provides some sort of visceral image.
When we weren’t working with GAP, we were taking Portuguese classes with our wonderful teacher Alex, cooking meals (Leo and I cooked Mexican one night, which soon became part Indian, then part Brazilian, all totally intentionally…), visiting the weekend fera (and buying loads of cheap bananas and air-filled pasteles whilst at it), and hanging out at our pousada. Every day was full of music and political campaign songs and fireworks (it was election season in Palmeiras), and we certainly got a kick out of rural life before heading into the city.
Which is where we are now: in Candeal, in Salvador, in Brazil.
And so the next stage in our journey commences. To see where it takes us!
Tchau, até logo galera!