The World Youth Day is an event for young people and the young at heart organised by the Catholic church. It is an international event with all nationalities invited and all countries invited to send pilgrims. It is held in different cities across the globe and over the years and 2013 marked the 15th celebration. This year Rio de Janeiro got the opportunity to host the fete and I got an opportunity to participate.
Getting there took a good 26hrs on Ethiopian Airlines. The flight wasn’t necessarily 24hrs but the stop overs and waits were rather long especially in Lome and Addis Ababa. The travel was mostly uneventful save for one drunk guy causing drama at the the Addis terminal and subsequently missing his flight. The ground crew and staff had phenomenal patience with him in my opinion.
The first problem that hit us (the contingent I travelled with repping our parish) was the language barrier. We had been warned severally of the fact that only portugese is spoken in Brazil but we assumed we will find english speakers there. Well we did find people who speak in english but these were other kenyans and other Africans working at the Consolata Mission in Sao Paolo. The more interesting people were Brazilians and the other South Americans who joined us for the missionary week. With them only Portuguese or Spanish made any sense.
We got by but the struggle was real and I vowed that next time I travel to a non-English speaking country it would be a matter of necessity to have at least a rudimentary grasp of the official language.
South Americans are generally very friendly people or maybe the warm reception was due to us being African. We were generally referred to as Africanus or Quenyanos which may at first sound like insults but the smiles and hugs allay most of these fears. We were a rather popular tourist attraction with our ornate flag and queer accent and mannerisms. Just about everyone was curious about these strange loud people who cant speak Spanish or Portuguese and don’t know how to dance to Brazilian cultural music.
I had a series of culture shocks starting of with the liberal nature of the girls dressing. The girls could practically walk around with hotpant or yogapants including during mass and not an eyebrow would be raised. They would walk out of their houses with their parents in tow dressed like this and it would be as normal as the sun rising in the morning. 13 yr old boys and girls also happily make out in public and on their parents sofas as their parents watch the news. Being gay is like being protestant. This has led to a government policy that severely punishes any form of discrimination whether based on gender, race, sexual orientation, age etc that attracts a 7 year jail-term if found guilty. The church thus plays safe and does not broach the subject of homosexuality and the related fire and brimstone.
Brazil is a matriarchal society where the females dominate most affairs specifically the household. This may explain the intense emotional state of the population. Those guys will cry over anything and will go out of their way to help you in a manner that is quite strange for modern Africans. All the families we stayed with cried when we left and you could tell the emotion was real.
The Brazilian diet is as diverse as any other but is more euro-centric with bread being present at just about every meal. Wheat based products are in plenty including pasta, pizza, bread, biscuits etc. I also found the food to be too salty and sugary where applicable to my taste. There is very little obesity however since there is a very robust exercise culture with all the parks and common areas fitted with exercise equipment. Maybe the problem with lifestyle diseases here is that we simply don’t exercise enough and not necessarily what we eat. They are also generally not heavy drinkers with even the national cocktail Capirinha, having way more mixer than alcohol.
Brazil is a beautiful country with friendly people. Lots to see hear, taste and feel. The women love geting hugged too. Thats always a plus.