Jeremy and I have been fortunate to travel to so many wonderful places. I’m almost always excited about where we will go next, but there’s something special and different about Brazil. I still get a little nervous and nostalgic about traveling to Brazil because of the many memories of growing up there. Memories of my family, of its beautiful landscape, the amazing food, warm people, and the musical atmosphere.
In 2012-13, I headed back to Brazil for the first time in ten years with high hopes. We discovered, though a lot remained the same, there was still a distinct hope in the air. The World Cup was coming then and the economy was on the rise. Though the majority of the nation was discontent with how the money was being spent during the preparation for the World Cup, it seemed like things were somewhat improving.
We visited several different cities during our first visit and fell in love with Salvador, which is located in the state of Bahia. Salvador (considering five times as many African slaves were brought to Brazil than the US) is known for its strong African influence, which permeates everything from the food to the African rhythms performed by the drums in the streets of Pelourinho. It is truly a unique place.
This time, we decided to spend more time in Salvador and our expectations were high. However, as much as we were happy to be there, our hearts were also grieved. The economy is in decline as inflation rises and people seem to be losing hope. The infrastructure development that was so focused on the World Cup has now turned to Rio in preparation for the Olympics while the majority of the country suffers with poor road conditions, lagging education, slow job growth and the list goes on. Corruption in the government has run so ramped that most Brazilians have lost complete faith in their leaders. The president who once was celebrated is now being called upon for impeachment and now the people are eager for opportunity, cautious about change and hustling to survive.
On this second visit to Brazil, though we got some time to relax and visited some beautiful spots, we were constantly reminded that being there was more about connecting with loved ones. So, I am thankful for the sweet moments I got to spend with my family and friends because they were a good reminder of what truly matters. I am also grateful for being able to go back to one of the churches I used to go as a kid in Sao Paulo and minister to the congregation alongside Jeremy. It was definitely one of the highlights of our time there.
This trip not only surprised us in many ways, but also changed our view on how we might spend our future time in Brazil. On our first trip, we absolutely hated Sao Paulo and fell in love with Salvador. This time around was quite the opposite. We got to experience different parts of Sao Paulo and began to appreciate facets of the culture and history of the city – from the peacefulness of the Ibirapuera Park to the uniqueness of the Afro Brazil Museum and cool architecture of the Sao Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) in downtown, the eclectic eats at the 24/7 bakeries, and even the great street food in the busy Paulista avenue where there’s always music and people expressing themselves through some form of art.
Upon returning to the States, my brother-in-law asked me a question that I’ve still yet to fully answer. As I was describing my experience this time, he asked me “So, what do you hope for Brazil or how would you like Brazil to be?” My Americanized side quickly answered the question with something like: I would like Brazil to have more order, organization and better infrastructure. On the other hand, the Brazilian soul inside me wants more than just a false sense of “order” and “progress” because I truly believe in Brazil’s potential to overcome its own struggles. I believe in its hard-working and relentless people. I believe in a brighter future for Brazil and I hope that one day its people will rise up and not give up until true change occurs.