Jul 28, 2012

Brazil Week One - Settling In

To those not in the know, I'm spending the summer in Salvador, Bahia state, Brazil, volunteering in community projects through an organisation called Cross Cultural Solutions. I've been here since July 7th and have been writing weekly bulletins for my sponsors who donated money to help me make this possible. I reckon they won't mind so much if I post the bulletins here with an appropriate delay, for my other friends to read... This was my very fist effort:


Mostly this week has been about settling in; to the house, my 2 volunteer placements, the city... Building those early relationships, making all important first impressions and receiving them myself.

The volunteers all live in one big house, mostly in shared rooms with bunk beds. I'm very lucky in that, because the house isn't full, I've got a room all to myself, with my own bathroom to boot. I was really dreading not having my own space, and it's great that my fears were unfounded. I've attached a photo with my improvised laundry line. :)

I have two different placements that I volunteer at: Monday, Wednesday and Friday I teach English to a small group of students ranging in age from 6 to 72, in the tiny back room of church in one of the poorest slums in the city. On Tuesday and Thursday I help out at a Mother Teresa mission in a different (but pretty much just as poor) part of town. 

The areas where I spend my mornings look pretty much like a set from the movie City of God - ramshackle self-built houses, a chaos of wires and pipes, stray dogs, piles of garbage. It couldn't be more different than the neighbourhood where we live, which is relatively affluent and practically indistinguishable from a middle class residential area in any Mediterranean city. But life in the so called "slum" isn't as alien or different as that might imply. 

Yes, there are homeless people and drunks and whatever, and I'm sure it's dangerous, but somehow it's still just a bunch of people going to work, running businesses, enjoying a cup of coffee. I think there's a tendency to exoticise "The Poor", but to me they mostly seem like normal people with crap housing. Then again, what do I know? I've been here a week.