My First Impressions of Ilheus
As I boarded my plane in Sao Paulo I was flooded with a mixture of emotions. I was thrilled to finally see my new city in person and excited by the fact that I would soon be basking in the sun and splashing in the ocean again. I was anxious about meeting Shalon, Taty and Isaias. I had been in contact with them over the last few weeks, but I had no idea who they were, how they would receive me and if they would like me. I was ready to move into my new apartment and get settled–I had been living out of suitcase for about 3 weeks at this point I was ready to unpack and feel at home again. I was scared that Ilheus wouldn’t be what I was expecting and that I would regret choosing that city. Then I was angry when I thought about how I just paid $800 dollars for my luggage on TAM airlines and my euphoric moment was ruined.
Sarah and I nervously chatted during the entire flight. She had the same fears, preconceptions and expectations as I did. This was reassuring for me. I was glad to know that I wasn’t alone on this journey.
As we stepped off the plane my body almost went into shock. My nostril were flooded with warm humid air, and my body began to sweat like it had never sweated before. Even though we were in the “airport”, I could still smell the ocean and sense the taste of salt in the air. I had arrived in Ilheus—tropical, hot, paradise-like Ilheus. As we walked into the airport the first person we saw was Shalon. His kind smile and adorable sign was exactly what I needed in the moment. No matter what adventures, mishaps or confusion was in our future, we had a Brazilian there to hold our hand through the process. To our surprise, Patricia (a gorgeous and loving professor at UESC) was also there to pick us up with Shalon and Isaias (our new coordinator). They took us to our apartment where we haggled a better deal and verbally signed our new rental agreement.
Our neighborhood itself is not at all what I pictured. Pontal is supposed to be one of the, if not the safest neighborhoods in Ilheus, but it seemed very rundown and nothing like I had imagined. I knew Ilheus was a beach town and assumed that it would be more touristy and well kept. Parts of my street actually remind me of Haiti and some of the rougher parts of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Besides the run down buildings, the beaches are gorgeous! I can see the ocean from my balcony and the beach is only one block away. One block! There are palm trees everywhere ❤ To the
North we have Playa da Concha which is a small hidden beach with almost no waves and a gorgeous view of the bay. To the South, we have Praias do sul where everyone goes on Sundays. This is a long stretch of beach that eventually reaches Olivenca where you can surf, play fresco ball, join a soccer match or just enjoy an ice cold beer or coconut. I am not ashamed to say that I will soon be a beach bum.
Anyways, that evening, we had a wonderful dinner with Tatiany (the old Fulbright coordinator at UESC). The dinner was delicious and her family was very welcoming and kind. I was grateful to spend my first night in Brazil with a family and a home-cooked meal.
We spent the next couple days getting to know the city (and the horrible bus system) and trying to get some important paperwork down with Shalon. On one of those occasions, Shalon came home with us and waited while we showered and searched for the endless number of “official documents” that we needed to take with us. I told him that he could watch TV in the living room or use my computer while he was waiting for us. To my surprise, I came out of my bedroom, showered and ready to go, and instead of sitting in front of the TV or computer, he had taken one of our chairs out on the balcony and was just sitting there. Perhaps he was looking at the ocean, or watching the neighborhood children play in the street, or maybe just lost in his own thoughts. But whatever he was doing, I wanted to do it too. He looked so calm and at peace, and so Baiano (all the Bahians sit on the sidewalks during the day engaging in neighborhood gossip, chatting about the weather and news or just watching the daily commotion on the street). He was living and relaxing in the moment–a trait that I very much admire. It was then that I realized I had been placed in Bahia for a reason. If I make any changes in my life or achieve any personal growth, I want it to be like that. I want to be at peace. I want to be at peace with myself , with the world and the moment. I often get caught up with sulking in the past and dreaming in the future. It’s time I start living in and enjoying the present. I mentioned before that this is Brazil’s moment in history, well, this is also my moment too. So I’m letting Bahia run it’s course in my life and hopefully I’ll come out a better, more relaxed and tanner version of myself.