I had the pleasure of working with two lovely Brazilian ladies born and raised from Pintadas, Laise (La-ee-zee) and Bêtania. I mentioned them in previous posts, but I feel I need to talk about them more here. We were lucky that they hung out with us outside of work, we shared many jokes, and they helped us out with different things. Laise had her own manicure/pedicure business she would run from home mostly on the weekends but some evenings too. We loved getting nails done almost every other weekend we were there because she created her own little floral designs she would stick on our nails, and she charged us about $20 Reais for both mani-pedi (which is about $9 at that time)!!!! We made sure to leave her a tip though she never wanted to accept it, but we had to with that price. We loved asking her about her life growing up on the farm, working for Adapta Sertão, getting ready for her marriage since she was recently engaged at the time, and many more conversations about life. She is a very well connected young lady in the community, and one can tell she loves what she does.
Bêtania was a bit younger, about 17 years old. She was working with the cooperative, but I think it was more like an internship. She had a strong personality, and she got along best with Helen. They would joke around sarcastically like it was their business. They say you know you’ve reached a high level of learning a language when you can exchange stories and jokes in that new language. It was interesting to learn about her involvement with the Evangelical Church, especially since most Brazilians are Catholic. She would talk about how she didn’t drink alcohol and chose to dress modestly. She was very happy about her religion, and she would attend Church more than once a week.
Our weekly ritual with our co-workers outside of work hours was most especially done on Mondays. In Pintadas, people didn’t work much on Mondays because it was the Feira, or farmer’s market day. Everyone did their groceries or sold their own products around the town square on Mondays. At night, it was a big get together in the town square where we sat and talked to mostly Laise and Bêtania, and we met other people too. People would play loud music like Funk (pronounced Funk-ee, a Brazilian type of Hip-hop) or more regional music like Forro or Pagode. What rendered me speechless was that people didn’t really dance. I made myself look like the crazy foreigner because there was times I was able to get some people to dance, mostly young people who were very curious about us. We would eat acarajé , a delicious small dish only served on Mondays because the shrimp was brought in fresh from Salvador. This dish is prevalently served in Salvador on the street everywhere by Afro-Brazilian women wearing traditional outfits. The dish, known as black-eyed pea fritters, is made out of a spicy black-eyed pea paste, molded into medium-sized balls, and deep-fried in red palm oil. It is later split and stuffed with spicy shrimp, where of course Helen added more pimenta (spicy sauce/ salsa).
One of the funnest events we went to with our co-workers was the Cavalgada, which translates as a Horse Festival. The one we went to consisted of the municipality (Pintadas and surrounding townships) coming together to celebrate the tradition. We saw a 20 minute parade of people of all ages (I think I saw as young as 7 years old!) riding horses. There were street food vendors all over a plaza in the other town we were in. Once it got darker, there was a small concert stage where a diverse array of musicians played music. This was towards the end of our two months there, and it was the first time I saw everyone dancing without me having to act a fool first.
One of the biggest revelations was finding out that the Donha (pronounced Don-y-aa, the title given to a female who runs a business), the manager of our Pousada hostel stay, is a nun. It made me realize that you can’t assume that all nuns are the same, and that it is possible that they don’t all dress like the stereotypical nun would. There were many things that finally made more sense about my observations with the Donha. She was always so warm and open and ready to talk. I could tell that many people who wanted help would come to her for an odd job to make some extra money. I had a small incident involving inappropriate photos accidentally appearing on my tablet computer, and she acted like nothing happened, no judgement at all. She simply said, “be careful, someone might break that!” I was so embarrassed, but I was comforted later on for some reason when I learned she is a nun.
There were many young adults who would come and visit her and stay for a couple of days, which I later learned were all orphans or kids who decided to leave their broken homes and stay with with the Donha instead. She provided a better life for at least 5 young adults and kids that I met and knew of. We interacted most with Riquelme and Floris. I bonded with Riquelme because of his love for break-dancing and making a living by teaching kids his art. I got to take some awesome pictures of him doing his thing. We interacted with Floris the most since he was the only kid living at the Pousada at the time. He became a “little brother” to us in our time there. Floris was all about soccer (as most Brazilians are), so we went to support him at one of his soccer games. His coaches allowed us to ride on his team bus which was interesting to hang out with 15-20 middle school aged Brazilian boys. They didn’t pay us much mind at all, we got to see a new little town, and Floris was happy to see us support him. Currently, Floris is in an advanced soccer club and lives in Salvador for that purpose.
Donha also organized a little weekly English class for me to teach of which failed miserably. Floris was in my class with about 10 kids a bit younger than him mostly from his school. I taught them once a week at about 8pm at the Catholic church nearby. The first two classes were great and fun. The kids loved learning and were genuinely interested. Floris, on the other hand, was very comfortable with me, and was also making it a way to be “too cool” for class. It was a very confusing thing to me because I thought he wanted to learn since he helped me organize it, but in the end he acted like he didn’t want to be in class and was more worried about pursuing a little gatinha (pronounced: ga-tee-nya, which literally means kitten but is used to refer to a girl) who was there too. It was hard to create structure and discipline for the kids when it was really just for fun. I had to make a couple of the kids leave two different times for what I remember was some foul language used, huge distractions, and something to do with Floris too. By the 5th or 6th class, the kids stopped coming. I was really sad and still think about what I could have done better. In the end, I think it turned into a babysitting gig for me, which wasn’t fun for them or I.
Overall, it was a pleasure to get to know Donha, Floris, and Riquelme and the Pousada‘s rich stories. Many including the property rooster who hung around and crowed in the morning, the black kitten that was run over by a car the day after it snuggled and slept with me in my room, 3 spotted tarantulas in our rooms, 1 drunken man screaming in the courtyard who I later learned was Floris’ father, growing mold on the walls of our rooms that caused me to have an asthmatic reaction, and much much more. The Pousada will always hold a place in my heart, especially for the people who are given a chance to have a better opportunity in life.
The last week in Brazil
I remember that last week in September was very difficult for me. I have not mentioned it in the previous articles because I try not to shed too much light on the negative, but I was battling severe depression. The most severe I had experienced since my puberty years, except I was now in my mid 20’s and mentally punishing myself for allowing myself to feel depressed during such a wonderful experience. I was very upset with myself, but later on I would acknowledge and accept that depression can happen to anyone and it is better to deal with it with the support of loved ones. I was really thankful to have a significant other that helped me through this, along with some of my closest friends.
There was a large important meeting held with Adapta Sertão, REDEH, and visitors from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on the last full day we were in Pintadas. The IDB representatives were staying at the Pousada with us, and they were all very kind and eager to learn our perspective on things. They were all men: 2 Americans, 1 Mexican, and 1 Spanish. It was exciting to see how the IDB wanted to learn more about the cooperative and understand how effective it was in that area. They were at the time deciding if they wanted to invest in the cooperative, and how much. Funding was later organized and approved in 2014. For more information on this specific IDB project, here is a direct link. Our professor’s findings were presented at this meeting, our general research initiative, along with more detailed information about what the cooperative does to help smallholder farmers and agricultural workers. Considering the fact that this meeting felt more like a mini-conference, we left Pintadas with a BANG of a meeting with live music, beautiful decorations, and delicious snacks like maracujá (pronounced: ma-ra-cu-sha, it means passion fruit) pudding. I think all meetings or conferences should be held like this!
Our last 2-3 days were spent in Rio. We hitched a ride with one of the Brazilian government representatives who was in town for the IDB meeting. He made sure to let all of our REDEH and UCSD supervisors know that we were a pleasure to work with and that he recommends us for any job. He was so sweet! He encouraged us to stop at the large store Coubali to buy last minute quality Bahian leather products for our loved ones. I got my sister a beautiful pair of red, wide strappy, summery, shoes with a short and wide heel; my mom a gorgeous red, squared, puffy, medium-sized purse; and my dad a really fancy dark brown belt. I’m really careful about not spending too much money, and I saved up the majority of the stipend given to me from UCSD, so I treated myself to some nice turquoise wedged summery shoes. Everything cost about $100. I am pretty sure all of these products imported from Brazil would have cost a total of at least $250 in the US. We actually ran into our “Salvador host family” in the airport, coincidentally. It was a perfect way to give them a big hug farewell.
The second I stepped out of the airplane into the Rio airport, I knew I wanted to make the most of our last few days in Rio. We did nothing short of paragliding to see Rio from above, visited the Island off the coast called Ilha Grande (2 days, 1 night), and went out dancing almost every night. Dancing included: Forro with our paragliding professional, a random club that played a Brazilian mix of everything where we met a random group of firemen, and Samba by ourselves in the Lapa district drinking caipirinhas from the street and interacting with the musicians (who let me play with their instruments). I can say I spent the majority of my stipend money in that week alone, and it was well worth it.
Thinking back to all of these memories, it only seems fitting to end with Aquarela do Brasil lyrics:
Meu Brasil Brasileiro
Meu mulato inzoneiro
Vou cantar-te nos meus versos
Brasil, samba que dá
Bamboleio, que faz gingar
O Brasil do meu amor
Terra de Nosso Senhor…