Living in the city of Salvador has presented the greatest challenge for me thus far. As an enthusiastic hiker and camper, I’ve been having nature withdrawals in this crowded, polluted, and relentlessly noisy city of three million people. I have yet to spend a night in Brazil in which I do not fall asleep to impatient cars honking, music blasting, or the sounds of people celebrating a futebol goal. I did not expect to live in a city for seven months, but it just goes to show that the advice of nearly all of last year’s fellows to “expect the unexpected” was completely appropriate.
At some point every day when the heat is most unbearable, I’ll climb up to the roof, where I have an unobstructed view of Baía de Todos os Santos (Bay of All Saints) from one side and the seemingly endless city stretched out in front of me from the other. It’s a stunning view, and indicative of Salvador’s interesting position at the moment. Large oil takers harbor in the bay, almost to prove that Brazil is a rising power in oil exportation. The colonial architecture around our neighborhood clashes next to the makeshift homes of favelas on the hill below us. Until recently, the roof itself was crowded with Brazilian construction workers who are building the stadium for the 2014 World Cup. Just as I begin to think that Salvador looks genuinely peaceful, a dozen homemade fireworks will go off (a sound often mistaken for gunfire) or a group of drunken men will begin to sing the Bahia futebol team’s fight song. The city is never quiet and often feels claustrophobic.
This is not to suggest that life in the city is without its charms. Something is always happening here, and we often get swept up in the energy. On Saturday morning, Laura and I stepped out of the apartment with the intention of running several errands. We hadn’t walked far before we noticed that there were literally thousands of people clogging our street. Everyone was wearing red shirts and there were red flower petals scattered all over the cobblestone roads. Two stages had been assembled within a five minute walk of one another and were competing to play the loudest live music. In between the stages, percussion bands were leading small parades of dancing festival-goers through the side streets. We learned that this was Festa de Santa Barbara, a figure we knew to be one of the city’s patron saints. So we went home, put on red shirts, and joined the festival.
It’s these unexpected experiences that make me appreciative to live in an uncomfortable environment like Salvador. While I will certainly take advantage of every opportunity to travel to the interior for a few days of fresh air and trees, I’m learning a great deal about myself and Brazil by living in this enigmatic city.