NOTHING BAD CAN STAY: A WEEK IN SALVADOR
Okay so by time this will be posted it will be a little more than a week (closer to a week and half) and let me tell you now, what a week it has been.
My day of travel to leave Ilhabela went, as I described to my parents and friends that checked in, divinely well. My taxi came right on time and I sweatlessly lifted my bags out the house. I waited less than 10 minutes for the balsa to come, load and leave. There was a familiar taxi fortuitously waiting on the other side (I used him during my previous trip to São Paulo) that took me to the bus station. With 10 minutes to spare, I enjoyed the remainder of the previous night's Capitan del Espacio (a chocolate/dulce de leche pastry from Argentina) with a cafezinho from Paulo's Lanchonete. This all was a sign, I imagined, of the seamlessness that was to come for my next month.
The plan (here we go again with the "planning") for my time in Salvador was to continue working on my fiction writing project, and essay writing, in general, for at least a month. To subsidize the cost of housing for such an extended period of time, I decided to seek out a volunteer opportunity through Workaway.info, a website where you can find accomodation in exchange for work at the the business. I'd stayed in several hostels in Brazil that operated under this model, where volunteers served officially as auxiliary staff and unofficially as the hostel's hype men, working reception, meeting (drinking) with guests and offering both guidance and company in common areas and common spaces. The ask was simple: 5 hours of work per day (cleaning, preparing breakfast, etc.) in exchange for a simple bunk bed in the "room" specifically for volunteers. Not knowing what to expect, I was nervous, but as there was no other choice but to be, also hopeful and excited.
There were some signs before I'd even arrived in Brazil. Long after I'd committed, I began haphazardly snooping around to see pictures and read reviews of the place, which revealed nothing other than what it functionally was: a pretty, if old, colonial house with bunkbeds thrown in some of the old bedrooms, the nicest ones with views of the sea. Closer to the date, I checked some review-based sites because I was getting one of those feelings that foreshadowed a lack of peace and was actively trying to rid myself of it. I checked Tripadvisor, a site that I considered reasonably reliable when used in tandem with the insertion of my own judgement. I used it mainly for reviews of tour companies rather than accommodation, but in this instance I decided to check out what visitors were saying. The Tripadvisor algorithm by default shows reviews by their rating so the glowing, positive ones were always the first ones at the top. In researching this hostel, I noticed that most of these were noticeably older, two, sometimes three years old. When filtered by the worst reviews (< 3 stars) and the most recent (2018), the venn diagram of the two was a circle. Deeply dependent on this element of my Grand Plan, I decided to take the bad reviews with a grain of salt and show up anyway. In short, I arrived Wednesday and was out of the place by Sunday.
Because I'm not in the business of airing folks out, I'll spare you all the explicit details but for a person providing costless labour, I did not feel welcomed or wanted. To make the experience worse, I got terribly sick from drinking a bottle of the "filtered" tap water that rendered me bedridden for the better part of my first weekend. I was feeling so uncomfortable in the place that I didn't want to leave my room on the second floor to go to the kitchen or closer to the WiFi router to use my phone (I wasted a lot of data those few days). One of my main purposes for visiting Salvador-- to continue learning Portuguese through immersion--was already suffering because I was so resistant to absorbing judgement that I wasn't speaking at all. I ran my dilemma by two friends, an ex-Fulbrighter to Oman and current Fulbrighter to Bahia here and they both emphasized the importance of finding space and home when working (especially creatively) in a new country. When I considered the benefit provided to me, the cost to her, and my purposes for being in Brazil overall, I knew that I had to go. For half the day that Sunday, I wrestled with how to best execute my decision, wondering if I was flaky, lazy, a quitter, a bad person, inconsiderate, or any combination of the former. But when I finally mustered up the courage to leave, I felt such relief, it was baffling I even considered imposing any of those judgements on myself the hour prior. Inspired by my new digs and the release from anxiety necessary to do good work, I wrote the essay The Power to Leave, that you can read here.
I was saved by my beloved Cafe Hostel Kebab in Pelourinho, the perfect place for me to reevaluate this leg of my journey. There was first the most obvious consequence: cost. It would be hard to beat a $0/R0 cost and I was not excited about the possibility of trying to find another volunteer opportunity on such short notice. And to be entirely honest with you all and myself, my Portuguese skills would've been a major hindrance at any place other than an English-language school so I figured it would be best to bite the bullet and determine a budget for housing costs. $500. $400. $300? I got overwhelmed just thinking about the hundreds of dollars I now inevitably and unexpectedly had to spend, so I took a breath and did this exercise that I do now where to feel grounded, I ask myself: What do I want from this? And taking the time to center my intended ends ("what do I want to walk away from this trip with?") rather than the means (money), helped me make my (next two weeks of) plans with calmness and clarity.
I'm currently writing this from my expat-writer-fantasy dream of an AirBnB I'm staying in for a few days while Cafe Hostel is booked and before I head further north to the mountains of Bahian national park, Chapada Diamantina. While I do simply enjoy the mountains, I am in part fleeing to be far from the Brazilian presidential elections happening this Sunday that's made it a strange time to be here, especially for Americans. The widespread fear and incredulity of right-wing candidate Jair Bolonarso's popularity feels identical to the sentiment in the US right before the election of Donald Trump. Just last weekend, a series of "Mulheres Contra Bolsonaro" protests occurred in most major cities around the country in a show of unified resistance against the historically sexist candidate. In a strange way, I was waiting with a cynical excitement for what the 2016 US election results would bring, but in this case, the state of the election here feels in many ways like a global, communal failure. It's all very..........strange.
BUT that's a blog post for a another day (specifically next week), where I'll cover the first-round election results (assuming there will be two rounds), the trouble of living in Brazil as a long-term tourist and (perhaps) a recap of my return to Chapada! So with that, I'll leave you with all there is here and some to look forward to...até logo!!!
Um beijoooooooo Jas