After roughly 28 hours of traveling we arrived in Salvador and immediately began to soak up our surroundings. We sat down for dinner at a few plastic tables situated in the middle of a street, but before we could order we were engulfed by a political parade. I honestly thought that the stories about Brazilian parades were exaggerated, but as it turns out, they’re not. A car with speakers attached to the roof blasted what sounded like an endorsement speech, while two girls danced on top of a float that played incredibly loud music. A crowd of dancing supporters surrounded us, and our hands were quickly filled with flags, flyers and bumper stickers. We shook hands with the candidate in question, an incumbent senator, and later found stickers with pictures of his face where we thought he had only patted our backs.
The parade eventually moved down the street, and our food was served. If it hadn’t yet hit me that I was in Brazil, this meal did the trick. Bowls of arroz and feijao made their way around the table, and we learned to add farinha in order to make the consistency thicker. The main dish was delicious frango and carne, with a side of aipim, at which point I understood why Brazil was the second-largest consumer of beef after the U.S. Somehow this meal made me feel more welcome in Brazil, and it serves as an important lesson that food is an excellent antidote to language barriers. As a woman explained to us later that night, “in your stomach there is no language.” I’ll keep that in mind as I struggle to communicate with my host family, because even though my Portuguese is basically nonexistent, some things don’t require words.