10 Scenes from a Bahian Household
“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.” — Warsan Shire
Breakfast begins with a spread of edible, Brazilian paraphernalia: Nescau, powdered milk, sugar, oats, coffee, butter, milk. I have yet to incorporate any into my diet (sans the coffee), but they provide quiet accompaniment in the mornings I eat alone.
The one mutually intelligible phrase in this household is ‘Não entendi’.
Basically, ‘I don’t understand.’
After a month of clandestine coffee consumption, I am finally caught: I take my coffee black — no sugar, no milk — in an act of pure Bahian sacrilege. At dinner, my mother asks if I want coffee, to which I respond, sim. She then asks if I want sugar. I shake my head. Perplexed, she asks if I want milk. I shake my head again.
Thus begins the circular evolution of expressions. My mother’s long-held look goes from that of bemusement to skepticism, then suspicion to bemusement. She returns with my cup of coffee, and I smile sheepishly.
Later in the evening, my sister Maiana comes home from university and wants coffee. The first things she puts in her cup are three tablespoons of sugar and two tablespoons of powdered milk, which she mixes together before pouring in a most minuscule amount of liquid. In passing, my mother reveals my coffee habits to Maiana.
There is no evolution of expressions; just disgust.
My family has a poodle named Flex. His legs are so short (probably some dachshund blood) that he sleeps doing the splits. He has human-like eyes that flit towards me every time I attempt to build bridges between us. (Fact: after almost a week, I have yet to touch him.) Whenever I hold out my hand in a gesture of truce his nose crinkles up as he snarls. Yet when my mother utters the word rua — the equivalent of ‘walk’ in English — Flex becomes the cutest fluffy white thing on Earth, until the leash comes out and the mad barking begins.
Even when I’m home alone, I tiptoe around the house.
On my first day in my new home, my brother’s girlfriend asks me why I chose to come to Brazil. In an attempt to seem witty, I express my love for root vegetables and the abundance of such produce in the fertile land of Brazil. Everyone laughs when I reveal my especial love for batatas doces, or sweet potatoes.
The next day, my mother prepares boiled sweet potatoes for breakfast. My sister tells me that my love for these batatas will make me strong.
I am in my room when I hear my 26 year old brother Marcus ask if my MacBook is an Air or a Pro. I turn around and see him at my doorway, wearing nothing but boxers. Having never had an older brother, let alone live with a young male, I become so embarrassed my ears turn red.
That night I go to bed early so I have an excuse to close my door and cringe on my own.
My mother asks if I like aipim, or cassava. Clearly she understands my dietary preferences, as mothers do. After I respond in the affirmative, she prepares the softest, most delicious slices of cassava I’ve had since arriving in the cassava-loving nation of Brazil (in one month, I’ve tried cassava cake, cassava soup, cassava biscuits—the list goes on) .
When I express my admiration, my mother tells me that the cassava was grown on the farm of her mother, who lives in ‘o interior’. Then, for the first time, she sits besides me at the dining table and we spend an hour conversing over the plants her mother grew.
In my room there is a window that overlooks a sliver of Candeal, the neighbourhood in which I live. It is an interesting portion that covers both Candeal de baixo (Lower Candeal) and Candeal de cima (Upper Candeal). On wet days, the sound of rain runs through my room as water falls upon the plastic sheets on the roof. In the mornings, I hear birdsong. Every day, I hear music blasting from car trunks, in an unapologetic and triumphant reminder that Candeal is known for its love of the art.
At 5.30AM I wake up to see the sun filtering through my window. I open the door to my room and see Flex, sprawled on the sofa. He opens his eyes, and closes them again.
I stand in the living room, cold tiles on bare feet, and I know I am home.