From Iguassu Falls I flew to Salvador, to see a friend I’d met in Buenos Aires. Knowing Paulo didn’t speak much English, and I spoke even less Portuguese, communication was going to be interesting. I am however, very good at understanding conversations and the general idea of what is going on without knowing the language, so I figured we would be ok – and with the occasional help of my Google Translate app, we were. I arrived without any accommodation booked, or any plans made, and in the three and a half days I spent in Salvador, I was treated like a Queen.
I met some of Paulo’s family and many friends, and the guys were like my personal body guards, ensuring I was safe and happy everywhere we went. Positive and caring adult males were missing from my life for many of my younger years, and although I’ve now got some wonderful male friends, Paulo’s friends looked after me in a very protective, older brother sort of way, and it was really nice. I felt taken care of, and looked out for, which is rare when I travel, and when I’m at home.
The level of hospitality I received in Salvador was unrivalled anywhere else. Every person I met was wonderful, and although I understood very little of the language, I was welcomed by everyone, everywhere. The hospitality was actually very humbling. I was given the best of everything: the best seat, the best viewing spot, the best food, the best bed and so on. Often I was given the only bed in the house, while everyone else slept on the floor.
I had misunderstood plans Paulo had made to visit his family in another city, and I had booked another flight to visit another friend in another city. My flight was at 6am and I expected to go to the airport that night and wait there to board the plane, however Paulo wouldn’t hear of it and organised for me, him and Vini to stay at his friend’s house in the favela. I had no issues staying there, but I was embarrassed when the Mama offered to boil water so I could have a hot shower, and when she gave me a brand new soap and towel. I declined the hot water, and accepted the soap and towel.
There is a fine line between appearing ungrateful, and simply not wanting to cause someone unnecessary effort, and that line is blurred further when you add a language barrier. I had no idea what was being said most of the time, so I had even less time to prepare a defence when something was offered to me. The family gave me a necklace with charms to ward off evil spirits and keep me safe while travelling, and night dress to wear around the house. I felt extremely unprepared with gifts for them, as all I had were some Australian flag stickers.. so I gave the stickers to the kids, and soon there were Aussie flags stuck on the front doors of a few houses in the favela!
One of the families had a very shy young boy who would cry when anyone except his parents came close. I played peek-a-boo from across the room, and he eventually warmed to me and would look out from behind his mum’s arms. Another hour or so and his mum held him out to me, and I was as surprised as everyone else because he didn’t cry when I picked him up. People suddenly took pictures, and I guessed it was a rare and special event I was a part of.
The night wore on, and I was tired and emotional. Emotional from the amazing time I’d had with Paulo and Vini, and from the abundant hospitality showered on me by everyone I met, including the family in the favela. Although I was happy to sleep on the floor, conversation had once again occurred without my understanding, and I was shown to the double bed in the only bedroom. Trying to politely refuse was not an option at that point, and I was glad that Mama left the teenage girl already asleep on the bed as she was. As I lay down however, one of the teenage boys I’d thought was asleep on the floor, got up and carried the sleeping girl to the floor next to him.
I didn’t need a bed, let alone a double bed, all to myself, yet there was no point in arguing, and as tired as I was, I had too many thoughts racing around my head to sleep easily. I was absolutely awed by the hospitality of these people, with such modest lives yet who gave so much, and wondered what I’d done to deserve such good treatment. I am often welcomed into people’s homes, and I am beginning to wonder if it’s simply my curiosity and respect for how other people live that grants me such access? I am fascinated by people, and want to learn from them and give back somehow – the question now, is exactly what is the best way to give back?
The morning came quickly and I had forgotten it was the Easter weekend. On the way to the airport, in the car Paulo had borrowed especially for my visit, I realised that he and Vini had both delayed their plans to visit their families for Easter, just to stay with me before my early flight. I felt even more awful when I realised Paulo had organised for me to visit his family for Easter, and I could hear the disappointment in his mum’s voice when he called to tell her I wasn’t coming. I have invites to come back for New Years Eve and for Carnival in February, and I promised I’d be back to visit, although I think it will be sooner than next year..