Blog » Thoughts after 2 weeks in Brazil

entrytitleThoughts after 2 weeks in Brazilentrytitle

This was written in mid-May 2004
I could quite get used to this travelling lark!
I have just spent a long weekend in Salvador. Salvador is the centre of Afro-Brazilian music and art in Brazil, a really alive and funky town. Architecture and culture wise it’s about as close as you could get to Florence in Latin America so as you can imagine, I completely and utterly feel in love with the place. It’s 14 hours on a bus away from Recife (where I am) in the next state along – Bahia. The plane only takes 50 minutes and is 60 pounds so I opted for that.

The town is on the coast and a maze of cobbled streets, pastel buildings and large open squares with beautiful fountains. It’s on a tremendously steep hill so my calf muscles have had quite a work out! As soon as we arrived I could feel the vibe of the place – music, dancing and art everywhere you look…everyone seems pleased to see you and smiles.
I spent the weekend exploring churches and museums, admiring beautiful views (and I don’t just men the Brazilian men!), drinking – Caipirihas and espresso, dancing, listening to drum bands playing in the street, eating far too much good food and generally just chilling in a major way.

I could have stayed there for much longer, I left feeling very wistful. It was timed quite perfectly…my parting memory being of the most breath-taking sunset over the bay. A group of about 6 teenagers were watching it together singing samba, I could still hear them as I walked away and couldn’t help but sigh. The place is just begging me to come back.

My volunteering is going well, I am working with another English girl called Nicola and we’re getting on really well. We are doing a combination of two different projects. The first involves teaching the children’s choir at a local music school on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons – so far, we have sung ´Yellow Submarine´ and ´Little help from my friends´. At times it seems like chaos, the children shout, seem to arrive and leave whenever they feel like it, and play random instruments – but they are so adorable and we are getting results. Wednesday afternoons we run an English class at the school.

The second project is working with an African percussion band who are well established in the area. I saw them perform at one of the street parties the first week that I arrived. They play so well, and the sound is hypnotic. They are a mix of girls and guys and range from 18-25, the leader is called Allysson (that provoked hilarity as Allysson is a guys name over here) and we go to his house on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and all day Friday. All the band seem to hang out there when they are not working or studying and we have spent hours chilling, eating, cooking and laughing with them. I feel so privileged that my work actually involves being welcomed into a Brazilian household. We teach them English in their porch on Tuesday and Thursday and then Friday we watch them play the drums and they teach us – then we go out into the streets and play with them. They play in Favelas (huge shanty towns) and get the children whose only path appears to be drugs or prostitution learning the instruments, giving them a glimpse of another life.

Last Friday we were cooked Fejoida for lunch. It’s a big Brazilian stew with seemingly indiscriminate ingredients. Nicola and I were so impressed that (stupidly) I asked Marta, the lady who cooked it, to write down the ingredients. We got stuck on the translation of one, and after about 5 minutes of pointing and the help of a dictionary I realised the missing ingredient was dried horse meat!
My birthday was one to remember. I had a cake, card and was sung to here by the staff and around 20 other volunteers. The cakes here all seem to just be drowned in condensed milk, add that to the other goodies and I seem to have easily found my sweet tooth again! Later I was sung ´Happy Birthday ´ in Brazilian by a very over-excited band at Allysson´s house. In the evening we went out in Olinda (the town where I am staying) – up the cobbled hill to a bar, then around midnight we moved to a Forro club in town. Forro (pronounced Foho) is a wildly popular dance here, always accompanied by musicians in clubs. It is fast paced and very sexy – sort of a cross between rumba and lambada. I was taught by a couple of different Brazilian guys, which was amusing as I was so bad at it, and also because dancing with a Brazilian guy should have a health warning attached, once they get interested they don’t stop!
Transport arrangements and timings take some getting used to here. Brazilian time seems to constantly run anything from 15 to 60 minutes behind the real time. By far, however, the funniest things are the buses. They are everywhere – literally 10 arriving at any one bus stop at one time. They are packed and the driver is either breaking as if about to crash (amusing when your only support is one hand hanging onto a pole) or driving at 50 mph around a corner. No-one ever has any change so you have to have the exact money, pay the conductor and then push your way through a turnstile – all while the bus is hurtling over pot holes at break-neck speed. Everyone stares at us all the time – it is only curiosity but it is done with no shame..initially this is quite perturbing! Nicola and I feel very grateful to have each other, and it works well as we seem to spend most of the time in fits of laughter. We have got stuck in turnstiles, run after buses in the middle of the road, gone whizzing past our stop at 50 mph, got lost and even lost a pair of sunglasses out of the window – after a few days of it you just end up crying with laughter.
I can’t believe that I am over half way through my time in Brazil. I only have one more weekend until I fly to Rio. The plans for the weekend include a beautiful beach up the coast Saturday and then going with the band to one of their gigs Sunday.
I am having the most amazing time here. It is a wonderful country – so vibrant and I adore the fact that people sing, play and dance in places we would be far to scared to. They are not embarrassed, have the ability to express themselves and abound fun.
Yesterday, as I was looking out over the bay in Salvador, I was thinking about the little bit of teaching work I am doing here. It is so touching to watch members of the band trying so hard to learn basic English. After we have left for the day they copy out what we have taught neatly into a big text book. Marta showed me some lessons she had had with another volunteer last year – and it was obvious the book was a prized possession for her…she will look over the words and phrases I am teaching in these few weeks long after I am back home and most probably into a routine. This project provides their only exposure to English besides the little bit of media they have available. My perspective has been changed hugely in just two weeks. It is easy to give 100% to them without even trying as everything is such fun, in return just by being themselves I feel as if I am getting 110% back from every Brazilian I am working with.
Hope everyone is well.

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