Bom Dia!*

(*Bohn JEE-yah, meaning “Good Day” in Portuguese)

A cheerfully painted home on a street just north of Pelhourino

My anticipations for Brazil have always been high. Ever since I was a little girl, I can remember catching my first glimpse of the country and her beautiful women in a spread in Allure Magazine. From then on I had always secretly wished that I had been born with the beauty of a Brazilian, and now, as an adult, I realize that the Brazilians and I are related in a much more profound level.

The following are a few journal entries:10.20
Arrival

On the way from the airport

My first night I arrive, and I am overjoyed and shaking with anticipation. I am actually here, visiting the land of my childhood dreams! And on my birthday, of all things! I whisk through the corridor of long arching palm trees in the small car that Jean-Paul, the owner of the bed and breakfast of which I will be staying, is driving. It is deliciously warm, and I welcome the calm heat through my sweatsuit that had only hours before shielded me from the brisk New York autumn air. As we drive along, the soft breeze soothes my mind and cools my body, and I luxuriate in the fragrant air. Brasil.

We arrive at the pousada in Santo Antonio and Jean Paul leads me to my room where I unwind and thank God for getting me there in one piece. The room is wonderfully simplistic with its soft blue linens and nautically-inspired pillow cases. Adjacent to my bed are a set of French doors that lead out to an open area with a hammock. A hammock! I look up, and to my pleasant surprise I could see the rooftop of the adjacent house, and the deep, black, heavenly sky. That night I truly slept under the stars.

 

Something to wake up to…

10.21
Little Blessings

I wake up, well rested and a little bit frantic. What time is it?? How long have I slept? So much to do!!! I unroll myself from the hammock and rush to the doorless bathroom/shower and prepare myself for the day. I slip on a colorful bikini, a soft, simple white dress, a straw hat, and a beach bag loaded with my materials for the day. I would soon learn that less is more, and less–is the Brazilian way!

Down the winding stairs from my room I walk, hungrily awaiting breakfast and positive that I had missed the meal. I was shocked to realize that it was only 10 in the morning! I could have sworn it was much later because I remember waking up to the light and dozing back to sleep. What I learned later was that the sun rose a little after 5 o’clock-which would explain my body’s ‘early’ rise.

 

This is breakfast.

As I descend, I smell the aroma of deeply roasted coffee and the soft, sweet smell of vanilla and fruit. Zelima, Jean-Paul’s wife, and hostess, welcomes me to breakfast. As I sit at the table my eyes well with tears of joy. Before me lies a buffet of fresh fruits in every color of the rainbow-succulent, fully ripened mango slices, bananas, pineapples, wild melons, and other exotic fruits; a guava tarte; a raisin loaf; hot and crusty bread buns; passionfruit marmalade; sweet plantains; fresh yogurt and hearty granola; cold cuts and cheese, and miniature french toasts sprinkled with brown sugar. I sit there in profound happiness as the sun blesses the table with an incredible blazing light that soars over the rocky hills, past the palm tree leaves, through the open windows, and into my soul. I am in paradise.

 

The hill to Pelhourino

They say that Bahia is the land of happiness. I couldn’t have named it better. My day, although simplistic, took me on a journey via foot from the tranquil yet lively working class neighborhood of Santo Antonio, down the hills to the storied Pelhourino, inside the lesser-traveled roads leading to Barroquina, through Comercio, and finally, gloriously, to Barra, where I began my beach sampling. I traveled down Oceania Avenue, past the gently imposing lighthouse, while watching capoeristas flaunt their agile, muscled bodies in the sand. The sea is a blue as ever, and the sun envelopes me with the intensity of a passionate lover. How could I be sad?

 

Lighthouse in Barra

I thoroughly soak in the day, tasting sweet and savory treats along the oceanfront from the various vendors and on the beach. I half expected to smell the heavy salty ocean air that I had become so accustomed to as a child growing up along the Babylon beaches of Long Island. But the smell was faint, and I settled on the sand, my heavy beach bag in hand. Funny, but I was the only one with a huge bag–my sunscreen, my bottled water, my extra towel, a book to read, my straw hat, some snacks. As I looked around at the carefree Brazilians carrying nothing more than a small towel and change purse, I thought to myself How silly of me. Was this bag really necessary? Everywhere I looked there were beach vendors walking aroung selling 50 cent bottles of sunscreen, 1 real bottles of water, and basically anything else I needed for a day at the beach. From then on, I resolved to bring only the barest of necessities. Besides, it was annoying having to constanly worry about my bag every time I got up!

After settling myself, and securing my wallet discreetly on my person, I timidly ventured off to the water. This would be my first beach experience this year. Paris was cold this summer, and I barely made it back home to Long Island, so I really missed out on the sun and fun. I took off my airy white sun dress, and felt the delicious warmth of the sun against my body. I momentarily became aware of the flaws on my less-than perfect body. But as I looked around, I saw beautiful women–beautiful Black Brazilian women in all shapes and sizes flaunting their glorious ample-sized frames in tiny bikinis. And I saw their men beside them, loving them and adoring their bodies. It was then and there that I realized that I was truly a beautiful being regardless of what the warped magazines and television shows at home dictated. I was a Negra bonita.

 

Golden grapes on the backstreets

 

10.22
Acarajé

One of the great advantages of being a brown-skinned sister in Brazil is that everyone thinks you are a native. And so you are given the familial treatment and avoid the gringo tax every time. My lack of Portuguese was taken as shyness (or conceitedness by persistent males), and my skin and hair signaled the locals to let their hair down, so to speak. Which wasn’t so bad when I started getting free stuff, clothing discounts, and extra servings of food. Boy, can Brazilians EAT! I learned to exploit my “Bahian” looks quickly. One such occasion came when I was itching to try the acarajé, a local dish that my friend Nici insisted I try out. I came across a family of darker-skinned Bahian’s, selling the acarajé dish, and without skipping a beat, they began having an animated conversation with the false Bahian. At the stand sat a fat Bahian woman with short kinky hair covered with a colorful scarf, a wide smile, and a welcoming face, weathered by her years in the Brazilian sun. Next to her was a teenage boy, maybe her grandson, a young woman with a cropped haircut in her late 20’s and a man in his early 30’s that stood at about 5’7″. They all sat, with their roasted chestnut skin, passing the time, and sampling the food the older mama had prepared for the day’s sales. They barraged me with questions. I recognized the first comment. Bonita. Beautiful. I had been responding to that all day. Obrigada. Then the comments got more complex, and, overwhelmed, I stared at the family at a complete loss. Sheepishly I whimpered “Não falo português munto bien.” But the Brazilian’s weren’t buying it, and kept speaking to me in Portuguese. I repeated once more that I didn’t speak Portuguese, and they asked me where I came from. I replied Estados Unidos. They gasped and stared at me incredulously. A Black American woman is here? On vacation? And she looks just like us? I laughed out loud, and laughed to myself. I have an uncanny way of fitting in with the locals, no matter where I go. When I was in Amsterdam, everyone thought I was Nigerian, in Paris, the American tourists struggled to find the right French words to ask me directions, in Milan, the Italians asked “Nanga Def?” as if I were a Senegalese woman from out of town. And now the Brazilians refused to believe that I was not another Bahian! I cut to the chase and ask the mama to prepare the snack for me. And boy did she prepare a plate! Out from the bubbling dende oil she pulled a golden brown lump of a bread-y textured bean pastry, of which she sliced in half. Steam arose from the hot bun, as she asked Pimente? I nodded as she slathered the spicy hot sauce mixture on the inside of the bun. She then added an okra mixture, followed by chopped tomatoes, peppers, and onions, and crowned with a drool-inducing heap of broiled spiced shrimp. I salivated as I watched her prepare a plate for me. She added a side of rice and beans to complete my feast, and the woman with the short cropped hair pulled up a milk crate so that I could eat beside them. They talked excitedly as they watched me eat, still flabbergasted that I was from Esatdos Unidos and that I spoke no Portuguese. I savored that meal. With every bite my mouth exploded with intense flavors of seafood, salt, spice, and okra. As I bit into the succulent shrimp, with their crispy tasty shells still attached, I reveled in the awesome flavorful juices bursting into my mouth with every bite. A few customers came by, and I noticed that they weren’t getting the same plate I was getting. Theirs came in a much smaller, wrapped piece of paper–acarajé to go. I was flattered. With every bite I took, the sweet Black mama would load my plate with two heaping spoonfuls more. Completely stuffed, I pleaded with her that I had had enough. This was no snack. This meal would last me through the night!
A less extensive version of acarajé on a typical shopping day in Bahia
The colors of Brazil

The rustic beauty of Santo Antonio.

Baia de Todos os Santos’ beautiful waters

2 Comments on “Bom Dia!*

  1. Wow!!! I have also been to Bahia and it was amazing to read something from a stranger that felt the same way about everything I experienced!! I fell in love with Bahia so hard the first time that I had to go back for a semester which was a year ago. I still dream of that amazing place at least once a week.

    Acaraje!! I miss it so much and thank you for taking me back!

    Katrina

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