I spent 10 weeks volunteering in Jocum Borel, Rio and it was by far the highlight of my trip. Yes I volunteered in Vietnam and Cambodia and yes here I experienced a different culture but nothing quite compares to my experience in Rio. I’m not entirely sure how I was lucky enough to be assigned this project but I’m so grateful that I was. I was welcomed from day one despite being able to speak next to no Portuguese. I was accepted by everyone there despite not being Christian and at no point was I encouraged to convert. I felt like part of the community, I felt like I belonged even though I am so very different. I was able to improve my Portuguese whilst teaching English to the women every week. As the weeks went by, sure enough I began to understand a lot more Portuguese and in turn the women wrote down pages of English! I spent the rest of my time working in the ceshewhich was amazing. I love children, working with them, playing with them, it’s great fun to say the least. Again, the children spoke to me in Portuguese and with time I could interact them.
During my time at Borel, I learnt many things from all the people I met. I learnt how to communicate with no common language and just how amusing this could be. I certainly did not have this expectation that the people here would speak English – why would they? The national language is Portuguese not English. So when I hear others complaining that no one speaks English, I want to question why they came here with that assumption, surely if you are going to come this far you would do a little research? Speaking the local language also helps with integrating with others, having a laugh and sharing a beer. I learnt provided I was trying to communicate in Portuguese others would help, I was laughed at but not ridiculed for my bad pronunciation. I was encouraged to communicate more as the more Ipracticed speaking, the more confident I would become. I learnt no matter where I was from, what my cultural background, my history, I would be accepted. I was never judged or questioned for any of my beliefs.
When I left home, I knew I was searching for something, many things but I was never entirely sure what these things were. I later realised, upon arriving in South America, that one of these things was to belong, to be part of a community, to be accepted how I am and not judged. I found this and much more whilst volunteering at Borel. I become one of them, I was one of the many volunteers there and we had a great time sharing ideas and stories. I met many Brazilians volunteering there as part of a 2 week program and in turn was able to gain different perspectives on life and religion from them. I was able to discuss human trafficking and how this increased during the world cup. How more and more women are at risk and children and little publicity this matter receives. Also, we shared differences in culture, how people here get married young for instance and how women are still not legally entitled to an abortion.
I become more attached then I realised and loved going to Borel so much so that I found it very hard to leave. I have struggled with goodbyes continuously on my journey but this was perhaps the hardest one. The project organised a farewell party for me and whilst one of them gave a beautiful speech, I could no longer hold back my tears. I felt overwhelmed with all the love, warmth and kindness that I received for 10 weeks from people that I just met and may never see again. I felt so humbled to have had the opportunity to work and be part of such an organisation. I could have easily extended and spent another few weeks, another month but no amount of time would be enough and prolonging my stay would have made saying goodbye even harder. So, sure enough I left Borel with my heart slightly broken but hoping that one day I come back.
After leaving Borel, I finally understood just how hard it was for my parents to see me venture out and travel. Whilst, I had always appreciated it was difficult for them, this one day just made it all the more evident. My parents are more attached to me than I am to them, they are protective of me and have constantly been worried whilst I’ve been on this journey. Me walking away from Borel with such a heavy heart, made me realise just how hard it was for my parents to see me go off and do my own things. I was able to understand their heart ache and appreciate just how much I drive them crazy. This is not to say that I’m booking my flight home but I’m more aware of how I make them feel and whilst I can’t help how they feel, I can control my actions towards them.
Leaving the project wasn’t the only goodbye. Over the last 10 weeks I was living in a volunteer house in Rio and I was able to meet some amazing people and make some great friends. Now, not all volunteers stayed in the house for 10 weeks, so before I left many people, who I become good friends left and this too was hard. Our volunteer house is pretty big and at one point every bed was occupied so we had over 25 volunteers. Going from this to under half is a big drop and a big change. Again, I’ve had my dad tell me about how our house is empty with me travelling around and my other sister married, it only leaves one sister and she too is not always at home. My dad very much dislikes this feeling of emptiness, this feeling of being lonely especially when you were surrounded by so many people. I was able to experience just this as the volunteers started to leave. I had this some feeling of emptiness and I wasn’t quite sure how I could fill this void. Money can replace most things but how does one replace the amazing people in your life? Sure, people come and go and I’m used to this but again watching people leave this house, knowing that I may never see some of them again was hard.
Despite such sad moments, I’ve learnt it’s better to give, to give nothing but love and spread kindness. Whilst, I struggle with almost every goodbye, I haven’t become cold or closed. I remain very much open to meeting new people, sharing experiences and having a laugh. I appreciate it is better to have met someone than not at all. Even if it is just one conversation, one night out, one cup of coffee, it’s worth it because everytime either they walk away having gained something or I leave with a great memory. I have stayed in touch with many of the amazing people I’ve met and I like to think that our paths will cross again, I don’t know when or how but I’m hopeful nonetheless.
As my journey continues, my faith in humanity is continuously restored. I’ve had people go out of their way to help me, try and understand me, give me advice when I’ve needed it most. I’ve had women strike up conversations with me whilst in the supermarket or the bus station. I’ve even been mistaken for a Brazilian! Despite all the hardships and difficulties in Brazil, people forever remain optimistic and friendly. The street samba continues with the endless stream of beer and street food. Spirits are high with live music in the square, hip-shaking locals have no problem dancing along. Guys very often dance just as well as the women and don’t hold back. Here, for the most part, life is about having a good time, having a cold beer and chilling. People here are in no hurry and I have yet to meet ones that are stressed out. The culture is very different but amazing, good food, great music, a drink and a dance does wonders for the soul. You feel the love, the warmth, kindness, friendliest, happiness and you can’t help but become part of it.
My fear isn’t that I won’t meet such amazing people again, rather I feel I will continue to meet them but it’s having to say goodbye all over again that I don’t look forward to. I like to think that South America has this contagious energy, vibe, love for life which is spread no matter where you go. I carry on with the anticipation that I will meet other amazing people with whom I can share my culture with, my ideas on life, politics and religion with. I look forward to the many good conversations yet to happen. As my chapter in Brazil draws to a close, I know that another one is about to begin. For now, my heart will remain in Rio and one day I will return but for now, I know I have to continue, continue exploring and searching for what else South America has to offer.