It was late at night when my sister and I finally arrived at the Deputado Luiz Eduardo Magalhães Airport in Salvador. That Friday had been a very long day. We waked up in the silent and foggy countryside of Arealva, in São Paulo, travelled for 40 minutes to Bauru, where we studied at D’Incao Instituto de Ensino, and then just after lunch went back to Arealva to catch a plane to Campinas. There we waited for endless hours, until a friendly voice on the entrance gate informed the passengers that boarding procedures were authorized. After a couple of hours in flight we landed in our birthplace, Salvador.
The airport was very familiar to us. I can’t even remember how many times we disembarked there, many of them just the two of us. The same escalator took us to the baggage claim floor, the same baggage carousel brought our belongings back, the same automatic doors opened to the hall where relatives awaited, and the same happy and anxious faces stood behind the “do-not-cross” black line on the floor. We ran to hug our grandmother and uncle.
On our way to grandma’s house (actually it was an apartment, but it felt like a house) we talked and laughed a lot, as it always happens in reencounters. As usual, Grandma asked us about our novidades (news in Portuguese). And then we told her everything that had happened since our last time together. The good news: our excellent grades, our achievements, and challenges we overcame. And the bad news: some annoying classmate in school, points of disagreement we had with our parents, moments that we failed. She listened attentively to all we said. She praised us for the good news, and comforted us for the bad ones.
We arrived at Grandma’s house and I was glad to see that our room was still there. Of course it now had toys from our younger cousins, but it was still our room. I was even gladder to see that the delicious, six-generation-recipe chocolate cake stood on the kitchen table, waiting just for us. After grandma had gone to bed we spent the whole night talking to our uncle about politics and economy, and after the first two hours of conversation, we shifted the topic to family anecdotes.
All the similarities of this reencounter with the previous ones almost made me forget the purpose of our trip. Unlike any of the other visits this one was more than just about family. It was about helping other people. And how desperately I needed to help others and feel that my life had a purpose other than studying. My sister and I were volunteering at the Feira da Fraternidade (Fraternity Fair) held every year by the Nossa Senhora da Vitória Parish. The fair fundraised money to institutions that helped in the education and health of underprivileged children. I am not a religious person, but I am more than willing to participate in religious events that support a cause that I believe in.
I was assigned to work in the kitchen for the American stall. I was responsible for assembling and dispatching the dishes. I made burgers, cheeseburgers and hot dogs and organized them in trays with generous amounts of fries. This task was more challenging than it had initially seemed, especially when orders started to accumulate and some customers returned their dishes because apparently their hot dogs didn’t have enough chili sauce. Still, even in the most stressful of moments I felt motivated and fulfilled. I thought of the children I was helping and all that they have been through. If they had endured hunger, poverty and neglect, I certainly could endure a few unsatisfied customers.
The fair was quite a success. Later I heard that it had raised more funds than any of the previous fairs. I felt proud of having participated, but I was happier for the children. The success meant that people were willing to help them, and it brought attention to the purpose of the fair, which is now advertised in major TV stations in Brazil. Undoubtedly publicity paved the way for even more successful fairs in the future.
On the next Tuesday we returned to Arealva and to our daily routine. We said goodbye to our grandmother and uncle and embarked on the plane that would take us to Campinas. During take off I could feel the effort of the engines trying to lift the plane off the ground, until that critical point where gravity is overcome and against all common-sense the heavy plane flies like an elegant bird. Whenever I left Salvador, this disconnection to the ground usually made me sad. I was leaving my birthplace. The only place in the world where I can never go to, but only come back to. I wasn’t sad this time, though.
I often felt as if I had abandoned Salvador. I was only three when we moved to São Paulo. There I only heard shocking news of poverty, hunger, violence and death in Salvador. When I visited my family, I saw only a partial view of the reality. But the feeling of having left others there to suffer always followed me. I needed to redeem myself, and feel that I was helping to make Salvador a better place, and giving its underprivileged population a dignified place to live.
The fair was my redemption. I no longer felt that I was turning my back to a problematic birthplace. Rather, I felt that I had made an impact, even if insignificantly small, to improve it. Definitely the fair will not be a stand-alone event that just by itself will make me feel completely better about my relationship with Salvador, but it was the perfect start.
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