Since the very first day I arrived at my new host family, I noticed that this was a starkly different scene I was walking up to. The large gate I stood outside of, waiting to open, sat 10 meters from the busy mainstreet that ran along the beautiful Lagoa de Conceição, where we had passed many waiters waving us into parking lots, advertising what they said were low prices for a lunch. It was filled with dormant clubs and bars, that would later exchange their dormancy with the loud, blaring sun that shone down on the many people lying on the grass-strip before the lagoon itself.
The gate opened and beyond me lay a large house, with a beautiful courtyard of greenery that hung from the ceiling of the small roof that led to the side door to the kitchen. There was a small buddha statue and a bench under a small wooden pavilion. The house was as grand inside as it was out, the place had the air of a family who had gotten around, small figures from other cultures filled the room, I had never seen those sold by the hawkers on the street. There were Picture-frames with a variety of sites from both Brazil and other postcard sites of the world. Unlike before, the kitchen was new, it was not self-built by the family like I had seen before. The house was laid with beautiful tiles, it had an airy feel and a dampened sound of samba music playing throughout the house. The office upstairs had an elevated view of the lagoon and the street busy with people.
It was hard to ignore the disparity of wealth that lay so blatantly in front of me. I think that, for the first hour or so, I was a little taken aback. My expectations had been flawed, and I felt the sensation of worry crawl under my skin. This wasn’t what I had seen on the website. This didn’t look like the scenes set before me at the Pre-Departure Training by the past fellows who told us the many stories of their experiences. What would honestly challenge me?
Photos are peculiar in the sense that they can capture so much, and yet so little too. I had not taken the time to wonder what might be beyond the frames of those pictures and what I might not have been seeing. I started taking pictures of my new setting and came to realize that I could simply not convey what I could not put into a picture.
My host-mum had embraced me with a warm hug and a thick Carioca accent (she is originally from Rio de Janeiro), shown me my room and introduced me to the life they lived, tried to explain again and again who they were and what they did, setting my expectations and prejudices about the new family. Their life not only included a strong position at Petrobras and a well-decorated house, but it included trails I did not know existed, which infiltrated the island like roots, leading to hidden beaches and communities. It involved the mother being the President of the neighborhood security council. It involved feijoadas and churrascas (these is a Brazilian bean stew and a Brazilian BBQ respectively, but they are also commonly a social function amongst family and friends, lasting for entire Saturdays or Sundays). It involved a family a part of the Alliance Française (my host father is originally French) and my host mum dancing and singing to the samba that plays in the house and sometimes trying to get my two left feet involved.
It brought me back into the circle of internationalism and multiculturalism again, much like my life had been, except now it holds a strong Brazilian theme to it. It continues to challenge me to reflect on class difference and opportunity in Brazil, the strong difference in the communities I have seen and work both around and in. It makes for so much to write about, so much to learn and understand.
I am continuously being pushed into this serious learning curve, despite living in an atmosphere that should be so familiar. I am reminded, however, how unfamiliar my life actually has become through the small things, such as the fact the bus still doesn’t work more efficiently despite the upped standard of life here, or the fact I still feel like there is an underlying meaning to what people say that I don’t always catch.
All of this has strengthened my motivation to get out and meet new people, take on an new energy in what I do, talk to strangers on the bus and visit new places. I’m exploring the differences that makes this island so vividly beautiful!