Two portraits of life in Salvador

Portrait 1

Salvador is a dirty and violent city. I have to clean the house several times a week because of all the grit that blows in from the street. During the rainy season, mold takes over an entire wall of our kitchen, and as clean as we keep things, the occasional cockroach is inevitable. Our house is small, our TV only gets 4 channels, there’s no hot water, and we have to wash clothes by hand.

Living in the city center is suffocating, but there are no accessible parks or green spaces – the nearest ones are an hour away by bus. Speaking of buses, I spend at least two hours a day on them, mostly sitting in traffic jams. I’m constantly running around among 3 jobs, each of which pressures me to give more of my time and energy than I can afford. I often feel overworked and under-rested.

My teaching wages barely put me into the middle class, and the commute and unpaid prep time cuts my effective hourly rate in half. There are no merit raises, bonuses, paid sick days, paid vacation days, health insurance or retirement benefits.

My husband both works and studies full-time, so all the household chores fall on my shoulders. My schedule is so packed I often have to skip capoeira in order to get everything done, and I have zero time for a social life. Most nights I work until 9:30 PM and then have a 7 AM class the next day. I’m a hemisphere away from my American family and I often feel guilty for not keeping in touch better.

Portrait 2

Salvador’s climate is perfect – the temperature never dips below 70 degrees. There’s no snow, ice, freezing rain, or need for bulky winter clothes. There are numerous beaches both inside and outside the city, and lots of holidays and festivals – one thing Salvador doesn’t lack is culture!

We live in a charming, cozy apartment in the center of the city with lots of bus lines nearby. Our neighborhood is safe enough for me to walk home alone at 10 PM. The apartment is well-ventilated so there’s no need for air conditioning, and there’s a covered veranda with a hammock to relax in. We have internet at home, so I can do my translation and website work on my own schedule and in my PJs if I want. Although our place is small, being outside the advertising-saturated, consumeristic culture of the U.S. means there’s less temptation to buy a ton of stuff – so we have only what we need.

My teaching work is very fulfilling; I love helping my students learn something that will benefit them in both their personal and professional lives, and I celebrate every small victory and advancement in their English skills. I feel energized after teaching a good class in which the students learned the lesson while having fun. I like having a non-traditional schedule and not having to sit in an office for 8 hours a day. Although I spend a lot of time commuting, the long bus rides actually give me a nice “time-out” to think, pray, plan, or just relax and zone out.

I’m married to a handsome man who is loving, cheerful, and funny. He’s pursuing his university degree, which has been a dream of his for years – I’m so proud of him! Our schedules line up so that we can have lunch at home together almost every day. (He’s also an excellent cook.) Since mangoes, papayas, guavas and other tropical fruits are cheaper than apples, we often have fresh fruit juice with our meals.

Salvador is one of the best places to train capoeira, and my group has great instructors and great energy. Because many people visit the group, I get to meet capoeiristas from all over the world. People in the capoeira community – and in Bahia in general – are warm and friendly. Salvador’s nickname is a terra da alegria (the land of joy) – I think in part because of the positive, fun-loving attitude of its people.

I’m very thankful for technology such as Skype, e-mail, and Facebook, which enable me to talk to and share pictures with my family in the States. If I’d been living a century ago, none of this would be possible. The week my family visited us here was one of the sweetest weeks of my life, and I have so many wonderful memories to reflect on.

My husband and I both have good health; we share many hopes and dreams for the future; we greatly enjoy each other’s company; and we thank God for the blessings of every day of life.

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Everything I wrote in both portraits is true.

In this New Year, Lord, please help me to focus more on Portrait #2.

  • Orlando Conde

    Great text as always! I still remember when I came to the U.S. it cost $1.65 to call Brasil. We are so lucky now!

  • Thank you for this post…please, God, let me focus on the second portrait of Buritis.

  • Some days, Portrait 1 dominates. Some days, Portrait 2 dominates. The challenge, as you’ve suggested, is getting Portrait 2 to dominate more.

    • Shayna

      Yes… I think it’s hardest when all the Portrait 1 stuff piles up at the same time. Like on a day when I have four classes to give and tons of laundry is waiting to be done and some unexpected large expense occurs. And the bus drivers go on strike. That is the WORST!

  • debbie

    Shayna,
    RELAX, sit back and take a deep breath! Yes, life is hectic most of the time but it is our job to see the joy in the chaotic times. It’s the little joys in life that put a smile on my face most days. How right you are about the advancement of technology helping you keep in touch with the family members on the other side of the world. I find much joy hearing good/bad comments from your postings so I am extremely thankful for the advancement. Snail mail is nice, but, there is nothing like email and skype!
    Happy to hear you are enjoying your time with Christian! Tell him to keep up the good work with his schooling.
    Wishing you a Happy New Year!

    Love,

    Debbie and boys

    • Shayna

      Thanks, Debbie (and boys)!

  • Thank you for your candor, Shayna. You wax eloquent and courageously – stay strong in the Lord and in the power of His might — bendiga!

  • Anna

    great post!

    what if u get a washing machine and get a job at a school that will allow you to have “paid sick days, paid vacation days, health insurance or retirement benefits”?

    • Shayna

      Thanks for commenting, Anna 🙂

      We’re currently looking for a washing machine at a decent price… so, yes, we probably will end up with a machine in the near future.

      However, jobs for English teachers with those kind of benefits simply don’t exist in Brazil. There’s one school I know of that offers paid vacation and health insurance, but their per-hour rate is less than half of what I’m currently making, so it’s not worth it…

  • nina

    YES! In Brazil we really do have two different pictures. One where I am complaining, angry and upset. Then the other where I am thankful, peaceful and happy. I was told by a friend we are young and still on our earning curve so we do have something to look forward to.

  • LOVE this post. It is truly a daily struggle trying to view my life in small town Brazil through the Portrait 2 lens because, dangit, Portrait 1 keeps kicking me in the face! It is comforting to know I’m not alone in this aspect. Thank you!