In the Sao Paulo airport, while waiting for our flight to take us on to Maceio, Al Gerwing told me that the purpose of this journey was to expose us to the reality of life in a Third World country. He definitely succeeded in that goal.
Thinking of a country on the other side of the globe may lead a person to get the view that our culture would be 100 per cent different from theirs. Although there are obvious, prevalent differences, complete separation from our view of "normal" is far from the mark. In Brazil, it is impossible to escape without making a few friends. The hearty welcomes and teary-eyed departures are also commonplace in the highly emotional culture. Their sense of community echoes the feelings of our own prairie bonds with each other. The recognition of something familiar cements the bonds of friendship and almost shatters the language barrier. Entering a middle-class Brazilian family gathering reminds one of being at the table during a German or Ukrainian feast. Every family member is graciously welcomed, well fed and hugged to no end!
The most striking feature about Brazil is their reality. One simply cannot fully understand this through pictures or stories; it must be experienced personally.
The sights of Brazil -- striking and heart-wrenching at times -- are only the tip of the iceberg. Lively markets and dancing are a feast for all the senses and provide the visitor with a full-blown shot of Northeast culture. Even the vendors who roam the beaches and town streets carry with them talents so well-honed they would rival those of North American artists.
To fully appreciate the plight of the nation's poor, one must feel the noonday sun pounding with all its fury, so even the act of breathing causes one to break into a sweat. The humidity alone this close to the equator makes for a heavy chest. Those suffering from dry winter skin and eyes will find temporary reprieve, as these ailments are forgotten until the return to Canada. Even the thought of slashing away with a machete at cane stalks would be too much for the average North American, let alone to spend long hours in the fields under an unforgiving sun. The workers receive almost no pay for their intense labour. For the most part, their efforts at a better life seem hopeless. The allure of the cities attracts many with few attaining the sought-after grandeur.
The sounds of Brazil represent a large part of the experience. The Portuguese language itself, rich in expression and zeal, floats like a song, making one feel warmly welcomed by a stranger turned friend. Hearty laughter is also common. Aside from the obvious American pop music influence flooding the airwaves, reggae is popular throughout the Northeast. Although traditional music is indeed hard to come by in modern-day Alagoas, reggae ranks a close second as "the sound of the people." Visiting only tourist areas would not provide travellers with the full cultural impact this unique nation possesses.
As a visitor, one may return home with many items from Brazil, but there is one thing every visitor leaves behind in that country: the heart.