Group Update from Brazil
Salvador is a city of contrasts. For the past seven months, we have observed and reflected on the city’s many socioeconomic, aesthetic, and cultural disparities in an attempt to make sense of our experiences here in Brazil. With this in mind, we decided to focus our second group update on the theme of contrasts.
Thursday, January 29. 10,800 seconds of scraping left (3 hours). 122 more days on BYP.
Scrape. Scrape. Scrape.
Day four of summer cleaning at the preschool Frutos de Mães, and we're running out of time to get the building ready for the new school year. Painting, sweeping, and doing odd jobs galore, the rest of the staff and I are working hard to make every classroom clean and sparkling. Unfortunately, previous teachers glued classroom decorations to tiled walls, which means January 29 is day four of summer scraping for me.
The tattered shreds of the letter 'F' stare me down, while 'G' through 'Z' look on in grim anticipation. It's time to finish taking down my classroom's alphabet. I summon some energy and jab at the tiled wall with my butter knife, forcefully removing the last marks of 'F'.
Only 21 more letters to go...
The seconds drag on (4,201, 4,202...) as I painstakingly remove the remnants of the alphabet and other decorations over the next few hours. With my previous classroom finally wiped of any trace of the previous school year, I suddenly feel sad. For four months I've taught, danced, and laughed with 21 four-year-olds I love. Now, no stranger looking in on this bare classroom would ever know I had been here.
September 9. Time in school remaining: approximately infinity.
It's my first day at Frutos.
Part of me wonders if it'll be my last. Adorable, similar looking kids, with various names that I can't pronounce, run all around me, screaming, crying, asking me things in gibberish (otherwise known as Portuguese). I have no lesson plans. No common language. Three and a half hours to kill. I'm supposed to be teaching all these students? Helping them?
February 17. Third week of the new school year.
I am greeted by 25 smiling faces, happy shouts of "Tio" (meaning uncle, a title young children often use for teachers), and the few crying children that mark a typical day at Frutos. It barely seems like the same school I nervously joined nearly five months ago.
I have a new group of students, and a new classroom. I'm no longer the sole teacher for my class (I now work with another teacher). More importantly, I'm comfortable. I (mostly) speak Portuguese; I know the kids' names; I have a (loose) schedule. I'm part of the school. Sure, days can still feel long. But time can also melt away when I, a scary monster, chase pretend-terrified children around the classroom, or when the kids excitedly reenact a story.
Now, I lead (somewhat) organized and productive chaos.
Sunday, March 9. 70.5% through BYP.
I've become somewhat notorious with my fellow BYPers for my near-daily reminders of the significance of dates. "23 days until Carnaval." "Today's the halfway point through the homestays." "70.5% through Bridge Year!" I'm a bit obsessed. I do it, I think, to remind myself that this program, amazing as it is, is finite; that home and family are out there waiting for me. I think it also adds meaning to my day-to-day life. If I know how much (how little?) time is left, it becomes that much more important to make the, as of now, 29.5% remaining of the program count.
I began this piece six months to the day that Bridge Year started. In the short two weeks since then, another 5% of the program (and Carnaval!) has already gone by. That, I suppose, is my Bridge Year in a nutshell — at times, impossibly long, at times going by so quickly I'm afraid if I blink, it'll be over.
With fewer than three months left, I've started thinking about what my work here will mean. My impact will most likely be small and short-lived. It pains me to know that my kids likely have many challenges ahead of them, and I won't be here to support them. Hopefully, though, their new knowledge of the alphabet and colors, writing and numbers, and manners and respect will stick with them into the future.
I have to do the best with what I have: now. Right now means something. Nine months of work is almost a quarter of these kids’ lives — practically forever to a four-year-old! So if, in these nine months, I can bring a little joy, a little structure, a little daily constancy to their lives, then I'll be more than happy.
My nine months feel long in the moment, but are really just a flash in the course of my life. What are lasting, though, are the gifts I've received from my students — memories for a lifetime. My kids have filled my days here with excitement and joy, pushed me to work harder, and shown me how much I love working with children. Their impact on me will last longer than any classroom alphabet or decoration could, and their place in my heart is anything but small.
On the first day of samba class, we meet our instructor Ricardo. He flashes his toothy smile and gives us a warm Bahian greeting. He then arranges us in a circle and begins to teach us the basic samba step. “Ball, heel, slide,” I say to myself over and over as I attempt to copy his movement. I find that copying the step is not too difficult. However, Ricardo manages to effortlessly move his feet in the “ball, heel, slide” motion, shake his hips, rotate his shoulders, and turn his head from side to side all at the same time. It’s when I try to simultaneously move my feet, hips, shoulders and head in the same manner that the real trouble begins. I look around at my classmates and sigh in relief at the observation that I’m not the only one struggling with the many elements of the samba movement.
Ricardo stops us at that point, probably realizing the challenge he’s going to have ahead of him. He explains that the most important elements of dancing the samba are the feet, hips, shoulders, and head. He follows the explanation with a series of body isolation exercises to help us loosen our limbs. Then Ricardo resumes the music and we begin to samba once again.
We dance to the rhythm of Samba da Minha Terra, Couchê, and Zigirigidum. We dance across the floor and in circles, lines, and pairs. We spin around and around and shake our hips from side to side. Ricardo continues to effortlessly samba around us, always with the largest smile on his face. This time around, I start to see the real joy in the dance form.
Before coming to Brazil, I had never heard of capoeira. And I must admit that I grew a little nervous upon hearing that it’s a form of Brazilian martial arts with the added elements of acrobatics and dance. Nevertheless, following three months of samba, we began to attend capoeira classes.
Upon arrival at the studio, Beto, our capoeira teacher, loudly greets us. He then instructs us to arrange ourselves in three lines. Beto leads us in some stretches and then begins to teach us the basic capoeira step: the ginga. A few of Beto’s other students join us and Beto commands us to follow them. He begins to hit his tambourine and sing a song from his vast repertoire of capoeira chants. “Ginga” (swing) he calls out; we lunge from side to side. We move to the beat created by the tambourine, synching our speed. “Esquiva,” (left) he calls out; we crouch down. On and on he goes calling out a series of commands. The heat pervades the room. The sweat drips from my face. My muscles grow increasingly tired.
When there’s ten minutes left in the class, Beto instructs us to form a roda (circle). Two of his Brazilian students enter the circle and begin by crouching in front of Beto. He tells us to clap our hands, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, forming the beat, while Beto hits his tambourine once again and chants the capoeira songs. The students begin by cartwheeling away from Beto. Then they ginga from side to side, while sizing up their opponent, and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. One student kicks and they both launch into a series of non-contact lunges, kicks, and handstands. Then one by one, Beto calls our names and we enter the roda to have our own capoeira battles.
Simply comparing my experiences in samba and capoeira classes, I find samba class far more comfortable than capoeira class. While dancing samba, I feel light and free. While performing capoeira, I feel more weighed down and restricted. But the contrasts run far deeper than the differences in physical movement.
Samba has been a symbol of celebration and liveliness to me. I remember on the day I joined my homestay family, I went to my grandmother’s birthday party and danced the samba with my new mom and dad. It was the moment I felt a part of the family. I remember walking the five kilometers to the Lavagem do Bonfim, dancing and singing along with the Brazilians next to me. I felt included in the tradition.
Contrarily, I view capoeira as a symbol of resilience and a fighting spirit. I remember on a trip to the mall, witnessing young Brazilians form their own rodas and perform capoeira in protest of the lack of community centers in their neighborhoods. I remember walking down the avenues and seeing various capoeira groups performing, striving to keep their cultures alive.
The contrast between the liveliness and the celebration, and the fighting spirit and resilience is one that I observe on a daily basis here in Salvador. I see the celebration in the late afternoons when families and friends crowd the beach to applaud the sunset. I see the liveliness when Sister Céline spins around with the toddlers at Madre Teresa singing songs about swimming ducks. I see the fighting spirit in the discussions and protests the citizens hold for better rights. I see the resilience in the people I volunteer with at my service placements, who work to achieve change.
And although I’ve thought about it a lot, I still haven’t figured out which conclusions to draw from this particular contrast. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I simply haven’t been here long enough and don’t understand the city with its many complexities. So for now, I think I’ll have to content myself with continuing to samba with my mom and dad, taking on my opponents in the capoeira roda, and continuing to examine and contemplate the examples of the contrast.
At ten in the morning, it was already so hot that the dirt road shimmered in front of us, as did my nerves. For the first time, I was leaving the gates of the community preschool where I worked to venture into the community itself. Mirian, the director of the preschool, regularly visits families to check up and remind them to bring their children to school (student attendance is spotty). As the volunteer teacher in charge of the five-year-olds, I was invited to accompany her this time. After winding for hours through Alagados’s gritty alleys on our mission, I found myself astounded both by the community and by Mirian’s intimate familiarity with it.
Community is a group of entities that belong together — recognizable by nature of their easy and analogous presence. People lean around a fruit stand to exchange news, elbows resting on a wooden counter. The wood seems to give for them. The sun-yellow bananas and papayas brighten, sweeten, and diffuse the struggle of daily life. An old man in a neon tank top kisses the head of a baby. Shirts are strung up on clothing lines and beer bottles laid out. An elderly woman sits on a house stoop with a blanketed infant while a teenager sweeps nearby. We stop at the stoop; Mirian has recognized a preschool graduate from fifteen long years ago. She remarks on how he’s grown, and he pauses from sweeping to reminisce with her, intermittently breaking into song and dance from the radio inside. As I watch them, I think: community here means no acquaintances avoided or eyes averted. Alagados sustains a culture of casual interaction. When Mirian inquires about the whereabouts of a mother and student, people give us more than simple directions. They accompany us to the house in question, rap on the door, and even yell out to announce our presence. Our quest becomes wholeheartedly theirs.
In Salvador’s wealthy city center, where my homestay is located, there is an emphasis on stylishly presenting your best face. But Mirian introduced me to a culture that doesn’t require prior warning or dressed-up clothing for house visits; you arrive and are almost always welcomed into the intimacy of a home no matter how humble it is. These homes hold families that stick close by each other. I'd guess half of my students are brought to school by a grandma. Whether this is a result of an absence on the part of the parent or not, the support network certainly seems strong and multigenerational. Three generations of matriarchs in particular are the backbone of our community preschool. First is Tia Mira, who decades ago watched the children of working mothers, accepting a kilo of beans or rice as payment. Slowly this arrangement became the preschool as it is today. Tia Mira’s daughter is Mirian. And Mirian’s daughter, Maykelly, comes to help each day, trailed by her own small daughters. These women invest deeply in their community.
In a movement to be more politically correct, some have started calling Brazilian shantytowns comunidades (communities) instead of favelas. Others insist that the word favela shouldn't be construed as inherently negative — a favela is simply a place, underserved by the government, that was settled by former slaves and more recently by migrants from rural areas; a place that long ago cultivated a collectivist culture contrasting the more privatized culture developed by colonial plantation owners and elite. Whatever the connotations, I think comunidades is a name that gets to the heart of the favelas’ greatest strength: communities grow out of a basic need to connect with and trust in others and within favela communities there is a greater need for this security and trust. A mother unable to pay to put her child in daycare leaves him at his aunt’s house - or in Tia Mira's care. Dependency is less a reason for shame.
Favelas are also more connected in the literal sense: houses are joined together, their bricks allowing for direct transmission of babies’ cries and clanging pots. (In contrast is the physical layout of Salvador's city center, where apartments stand like pillars, pockets of sky wrapped around each one, their guarded fences buffers.) The paucity of privacy lends itself to more easily knocking on a neighbor’s door to borrow baking flour in a pinch. Yet the strength of human connection in the favela is contrasted with the weakness of other aspects of community, such as its social needs: health care and education are weak; violence and drug use are common.
The more communities I experience and share in, the more I realize how relative to each other we as humans seem to be — and, for me, how instinctively right it feels to be relevant. Here, where the spark of loud communication and literal closeness is so tangible, I've really become aware of the contrast between the sprawling, collectivist communities I work in and the more privileged, individualized, and technologically-heavy communities where I've lived. It is amazing to me that at the same time one can be part of both Facebook’s billion-plus community and the smallest neighborhood fruit stand. I know that in a few months I will return to a world where I feel increasingly removed from the latter. It's not so much the surface-level cultural differences that will jar me (trading back papayas and soccer for apple pie and football) but rather the deep, ingrained ones (the way one approaches human interaction). Life is made up of communities that mingle and merge, react and shrink. Slowly diversifying suburban communities in middle America. City communities that never stop. Communities that constellate, invisible, on the peripheries of Brazilian metropolises. I'm grateful for the time and the hospitality I've been gifted here and what they have let me discover. When I go home, and when I go to Princeton, I will take with me the lessons I’ve learned: don't be afraid to interact, to support, to trust, to lean on people…and when asked for directions, give them with your whole heart.
On Christmas morning, while my host family peacefully slept off the effects of Christmas Eve festivities, I curled up on my bed and cried. I cried for childish reasons: 80-degree temperatures instead of wintry weather; the lack of Christmas carols playing on the radio; the fact that I had missed Christmas Eve Mass for the first time ever. I cried because Christmas is my favorite time of the year, and without all of the little things that make the holiday so special, I felt like I had missed out on the entire season. Mostly, though, I cried because I missed my family. The night before, my entire extended host family had gathered to celebrate Christmas Eve together, and despite their best efforts to include me, I couldn’t help feeling like an outsider.
Two weeks later, another party took place at my host family’s apartment. This time, my BYP companions joined my host family and me in celebrating my nineteenth birthday. The difference between the way I felt on Christmas and the way I felt on my birthday was striking. On Christmas, I felt overwhelmed by the things I was missing: not only Christmas traditions back home, but also the type of strong familial connection shared by my host family — a connection that, owing to my separation from my own family, paradoxically intensified my sense of isolation. But on my birthday, surrounded by my close friends and host family members, I marveled at the beautiful niche that I have come to occupy here. Never before had I felt so seamlessly integrated into the fabric of local life.
The contrast between isolation and inclusion is one I have felt acutely throughout my first six months here in Brazil. It’s a dichotomy that exists chiefly in my own mind — a matter of perception rather than of physical separation or togetherness — so only I can control how integrated I feel. For this reason, I force myself to step outside of my comfort zone by starting conversations with friends and strangers, seeking out new experiences, and learning by trial and error. If I feel shy, I remind myself that Brazilians are overwhelmingly warm, friendly people, and it just takes a little effort to break the initial ice.
I used to think that the trick to assimilation was to act as Brazilian as possible. I have come to realize, however, that although imitation is an important part of cultural adjustment, I don’t have to pretend to be Brazilian in order to belong here. In fact, I feel most integrated when I am able to use my identity as an American to shape my contributions as a host student and a volunteer. For example, I love sharing American candies and music with my host family. And my background as a native English speaker allows me to teach English to children and adults in a poor community. When Brazilians ask me questions about life in the United States, I am able to use my American upbringing to open a window between two cultures. Being a foreigner, I have realized, does not necessitate being an outsider.
Of course, there are still times when I feel out of place. A cashier asks me a question that I can’t understand, and I panic, confusing my grammar and mispronouncing basic words. I become flustered at capoeira class, paired with a six-year-old who is infinitely more skilled and graceful than I am, and I can sense his impatience with me as we face off in the circle. At a family holiday, I allow the commotion of my host family’s celebration to fade and become the backdrop to my own nostalgic Christmas memories, instead of forcing myself to live in the moment and join in the party. That’s the real reason behind my Christmas blues. I spent so much time comparing my idealized American Christmas to the inevitably disappointing Brazilian version that I allowed myself to slip back into the mindset of an outsider. It’s a mistake I regret — one that cost me what should have been a great holiday experience with my host family.
I don’t pretend to have figured out the key to overcoming isolation, but I do know that I always feel more included when I make the effort to involve myself. That’s why, at my birthday party, I volunteered to help bake the pão delícia, instead of standing awkwardly off to the side. It’s why I spoke Portuguese instead of English with my BYP companions, so that our conversation was open to everyone. It’s why I swallowed my self-consciousness and danced samba with my host sister when the music came on, instead of refusing as I usually do. I definitely looked a little out of place, but this time, I felt right at home.
The music thumping in my chest drowned out my heart’s beat. The vibrations must have been similar to that of any other participant of Carnaval — a cornucopia of music, alcohol, and dance. What started out as a time to let loose and pig out before Lent begins has grown to epic proportions. Sweat, beer, and a host of other bodily fluids I would rather not identify were exchanged for seven days of street music craziness. With everyone carelessly dancing and singing in unison, I felt as coordinated as the Carnaval choreography, as large as the crowd, and as vital as the singers' voices. Every second held a new stimulus; I observed the multicolored light patterns, foam flecks of questionable origin, and inevitable brushes and bumps of fellow celebrators with nothing but enthusiasm. Could six hours of nonstop dance-walking be accomplished without relinquishing some inhibitions? After six months of community service, cultural immersion, and language learning, with some tourism sprinkled in, this experience felt markedly less deliberate. I don't mind taking advantage of great cuisine, thriving nightlife, or any of Brazil's natural beauty. I just don't want to lose sight of my purpose and goals while doing so.
People seemed to lose focus of the blatant inequality, racial tension, and disdain for Brazilian government they feel in the face of an opportunity to let it all go. Even Carnaval, which you can enjoy in three different fashions, seemed to have the same dividing lines as other aspects of life in Salvador. Pipoca is the free version where you can follow the trio electricos, or large music trucks, at a distance. If you join a Bloco, you get to dance right beside the trio electricos as they cruise down the street. Only a cord separates Pipoca from Blocos. Camarotes are the most expensive and elaborate options. Camarotes have almost every amenity one could want. Private shows, beauty salons, massages, food, movies, games, and more are stationed in large structures, camarotes, that line the streets where the trio electricos pass. These issues of race, socioeconomic status, and gender, as they presented themselves through Carnaval, were also far from my principal thoughts as Carnaval came closer, or during it for that matter. I mostly preoccupied myself with staying safe in what I had been told was the most dangerous event I would witness in Brazil. It wasn't as unsafe as I thought it would be, and we thankfully enjoyed our two-day adventure without incident.
Though much of what was told to us was well-intentioned and meant only to protect us, some comments created a boundary to overcome when it came to processing my experience. It can be easier to characterize those who live in poverty as a danger to be avoided than it is to see the whole picture. Not that there aren't those who will steal or get into fights, but most participants just want to have a good time. I initially found it difficult to let loose and enjoy the experience without thinking about all that we had been warned about. Keeping an open mind while considering risks, as opposed to fearing my preconceptions, could have reduced the likelihood of unwanted consequences while also allowing for a deeper understanding of the events and their participants.
With all the commotion of Carnaval, or even my daily routine, it can be difficult to find moments in which I can reflect honestly on what I'm doing. Even when I have the time, it can be hard to find the concentration to do so. Our visiting a farm in Entre Rios provided an opportune setting to digest the two-day, sleep-deprived blur that was Carnaval, as well as the six-month whirlwind of a program. The small farm ended up being home to a warm, welcoming family, horses to ride, fruits and vegetables to eat, and plenty of opportunities for rest and relaxation. I felt like a ragdoll after arriving. I had just started growing accustomed to my routine a week ago. Then, I went from the biggest street celebration in the world to a quaint farm three hours outside Salvador. I went from order, to chaos, to idleness. Stars replaced strobe lights and disco balls. A pack of five farm dogs replaced thousands of people in the streets. I had time to let my mind wander.
One night, as trillions of stars unscathed by a grand city's bright lights lay before me, I couldn’t help but feel tiny after having so recently felt so big. I imagined how long it would take me to walk back to Salvador and whether I could do it alone. I mused whether things would be all that different if I had never come to Salvador, to Brazil, or to the world. Then I speculated, even if things would be different, I'd have done nothing to improve the unfathomable number of places that appeared above me. I was spooked by barks from a pack of dogs approaching me growling. I petted them, then they trotted off and I walked back to my room to sleep. I woke up early and stumbled outside to see the sun rise. The sun, one of trillions of stars I'd seen last night, sustains life on just one planet. It consistently provides for a place hundreds of thousands times smaller. I admired it, and not only for the aesthetically pleasing hues and functional wavelengths it provided. I sometimes feel small, clueless, and afraid. Having the courage to appreciate and do what is within my means despite how seemingly miniscule that can appear seems fundamental to long-term sustainable service. I need only stop and look skyward to be reminded.
“José” by Carlos Drummond de Andrade
E agora, José? And now, José?
A festa acabou, The party ended,
a luz apagou, The light went out,
o povo sumiu, The people disappeared,
a noite esfriou, The night chilled,
e agora, José? and now, José?
e agora, você? and now, you?
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL — It is 22:00 when the heavy Cariocan night splits open, beaten back by incandescent vitrines of clinical fastidiousness: Noir, Le Lis/Le Lis Blanc, Burberry, Prada, Tiffany & Co., Gucci, Michael Kors and Carolina Herrera (Valentino coming soon) — Oh! — and Latin America’s first Apple store opening tomorrow, already crowded with well-groomed, alternative youth donning oversized, punched-out Wayfarers (if not clear-lensed Clubmasters), iProducts in hand.
Sold at six times the price of those in the United States, Apple products in Brazil are owned exclusively by those wealthy enough to leave Rio’s Mecca for the super-rich, VillageMall, with a myriad of bags in tow and little thought of the small fortune just spent. The opulence is staggering and the mall’s tagline shamelessly celebrates “the luxury of being Carioca.”
But what luxury?
Rio de Janeiro remains one of Brazil’s most economically disparate, violent and crime-ridden metropolitan areas: its military police’s brutality has drawn heavy criticism internationally; its public transportation system’s recent price-hikes have sent millions to the streets in protest and an estimated fifth of its population lives in vast, informal, unregulated shanty towns called favelas, a term coined in Rio and now employed across Brazil to refer to the slums, which are often centers of assault, drug-trafficking and gang warfare.
Yet, it was neither the tagline’s blatant disregard for these aspects of Rio nor its excess which unsettled me most, but the facility with which it lulled me into delusion. Amidst such light, it seemed incomprehensible that elsewhere darkness lurked: it was all too easy to compartmentalize my experience in Brazil, relegating abject poverty, profound social problems and pervasive inequality to my work placements in Salvador’s lower city while experiencing the best of Rio in high-style; it was all too easy to forget that — not fifteen minutes down the road from where I sat, soaking in the smooth bossa nova of Rio’s hottest bodega and sipping Clericot with my host family in celebration of my host mom’s fifty-third birthday — sits Rocinha, Brazil’s largest favela; it was all too easy to dismiss Rio’s darker side completely.
It was all too easy.
There I sat in the penumbra at Pobre Juan: twenty-somethings in stilettos with fifty-somethings in suits, cocktails in hand, whispers in ears, manicured touches, smiles slow to unfurl. A contrabass thumped deep purple, a baby grand splayed dark blue, a cymbal brushed bright gold and another tagline came to mind. It was one that had caught my eye that morning as I was running along the beach. Plastered across a real estate billboard for a multimillion-dollar beachfront flat in Recreio, the alleged Beverley Hills of Rio, were the words: “the privilege of being unique.” I snorted at the time, but the words stuck and as I began to reflect on them in the context of my trip to Rio with my host family and of my greater experience here in Brazil I became increasingly exasperated with the sentiment they expressed.
I have the “privilege of being unique”: I am not ignored; I am not glossed over; I am not hidden away in the dark. Yet, there are tens if not hundreds of thousands who will be, whose voices will not be heard, whose messages will not be received, whose reality will not be seen. These are those in the favelas, those who compose a shadowy underbelly Brazil would rather conceal, contain and suppress than risk exposing fault.
When visitors come flocking by the thousands for Carnaval, the World Cup and the Olympics in the coming days, months and years, I am scared all they will see, amidst the orgastic festivities, will be a whitewashed Brazil. I am scared Brazil will be exactly as the world expects it to be — showcased. I am scared they will only see the light.
Back home in Maryland, I live in a city of around sixty thousand people. My house sits near a railroad track and the intersection of two major roads. Trains rattle by every hour — metros even more frequently — and with the honks and screeches of rush hour traffic, my day is filled with a cacophony of sounds. Nights can be just as loud, with neighborhood festivities, barking dogs, and the ever-present mass transit. Coming to Brazil, I thought I understood living in a loud area. Yet over the past six months in Salvador, I've learned that loudness is more than just a high noise level.
For the first eight weeks of the program, my cohorts and I lived together in our program’s home-base. This house sits at the end of an otherwise fairly quiet street, with mostly other residential buildings and limited traffic. But being practically adjacent to the main street, near a busy intersection in one direction, next to a museum in the other, the home-base might as well have been on the main road with how the street noises pervaded. In this city of three million people, traffic is crazy and horns blare all day. Vendors weave through stopped traffic, insistently shouting for motorists to buy their wares. Music constantly plays from various sources. At night, the hubbub of persistent traffic, rowdy pedestrians, and the loud music from the museum’s frequent events continued to permeate the home-base. After long days at work, when I wanted to unwind in peace, I could not escape the din that came from just outside the window.
At the end of October we moved in with host families. A few of the others moved to different neighborhoods, some just a couple streets away. But imagine my surprise when I learned that my host family lives on the same street as the home-base! While the home-base is by the end of the street near the main road, my new home is farther down this street and directly faces a cul-de-sac. My first night in my new home, I immediately noticed that something felt different. I couldn’t place it at first, but then I realized that the night seemed so much quieter. Even though I was living on the same street, being farther removed from the main road really made an impact.
With the commotion of the main street out of earshot, my host family now fills this newfound silence. Living with my host mom, two older host brothers, a female host cousin and our dog, Clara, there is always cause for excitement. One of my favorite things to do is watch futebol games with my host brothers. Having lived in Rio de Janeiro for a few years, my host family became Flamengo fans (or Flamenguistas). This stuck with them once they moved back to Salvador and now they’ve passed it onto me. It seems like there are games on every night, but I usually only watch when Flamengo is playing. I watch the games quietly, though I will cheer when our team scores and groan when the opponent does. Conversely, my host-brothers really get into it: "GOOOOOOL!" they happily exclaim when Flamengo scores; "Bora, meu filho!" ("Come on, my son!") they might angrily shout when someone misses a pass. I've also learned some more colorful language that they yell whenever something else goes wrong for Flamengo. This energy only intensifies when we have guests over.
My host family likes to entertain anyone and everyone — from family to friends to neighbors. We invite people over for any reason: to watch a futebol game, to have a meal (my host mom is an amazing cook!), or just to chat. Regardless of the time of day, the guests usually bring beer; with the alcohol flowing, the noise levels increase. And we are not the only family who likes to entertain. Noise travels easily through the open windows, so if one apartment is hosting a party, everyone in the vicinity can hear it. While the guests can become loud, I find this atmosphere more relaxing than the clamor of the main road.
In general, one could describe me as a quiet person: I am usually found listening or observing rather than talking. From my experience in Salvador thus far, this behavior is atypical. The people I’ve met are very talkative, enthusiastic, and uninhibited. They are loud not only in volume, but also in their boldness. Conversations flow easily and people have no problem opening up to complete strangers. It’s very interesting trying to acclimate to the vibrancy of the people and the city. While similar to what I know at home, everything here is greatly augmented and with a distinctive Brazilian flair. I'm a quiet person living in a loud society. And if you listen closely, you can hear me loving it.