DSC_0206 (2)If you ever arrived in a place for the first time and was taken over by an incredible feeling of familiarity, of “home-ness” and felt you simply belonged there, you will understand how I feel like being in Brazil. Ever since I first stepped off the plane on my first trip in February I simply felt I arrived. Every time I had to leave I left a small part of my soul behind, only to find it again when I returned. Now, on my third trip this year, I cannot help smiling when people back home in Romania still ask me: “Aren’t you afraid? Brazil is a dangerous place!”.

To all my friends concerned about my safety, here is why I feel so at home in Brazil:

I love to smile. I do it most of the time. I smile for no particular reason. Back in Bucharest some people find this odd and often they ask me what am I so happy about. I sometimes feel others consider my joy inappropriate.  I never get this question in Brazil. This is the place where everybody smiles. It’s not unusual to say “Hi” to people on the street, smile and get a smile back. If you’ve met them before they not only smile, but they kiss and hug you every time they see you.

In the restaurant where Copo now happily lives out his own love-story with Brazil, the working day opens and closes with hugs. They hug each other at the beginning of the day, as a sign of joy for spending yet another evening putting happiness on people’s plates and they hug each-other at the end of the day for a job well done. When I’m here I’m included in the hugs. Joyce, the sous-chef, affectionately calls me “meu amor”.

In the shops people ask me where I’m from, what I am doing here, if I like Brazil. Two days ago I basically ended up sharing my life story in my rudimentary Portuguese to a shop attendant who wanted to know everything about “Rumania”, that country about which they heard only vaguely and know nothing more than that it’s “longe” – that is “far far away”.

Most of them speak no English, but they are so enthusiastic in encouraging you to speak their language that you can’t help learning a bit of Portuguese, just for the love of being able to communicate with them other than through smiles and hugs. The best, most rewarding and motivating feedback I got on my linguistic efforts was from Magno, the taxi driver who takes me to and from the airport on every visit and who, I am almost sure, is one of the kindest souls I’ve ever had the chance to meet. He told me how impressed he was of my progress with the language. I’ve never missed an opportunity to get into a conversation ever since, just because I don’t want to disappoint him.

Why else do I love Brazil?

Well, speaking of kindness, I’ve come to think that it’s the air these people breathe. I’ve yet to meet someone rude or aggressive in this country.

Two weeks ago we took a 2000 km trip to Chapada Diamantina – one of the most amazing natural reservations in Brazil. We travelled the old-fashioned way, without a GPS, only with a map – and that one not too good either. So there were plenty of opportunities to get lost and plenty of people to ask for directions. Not once were we refused or pointed the wrong way. Not one person that we met on the way was unkind or unwilling to help if asked.

Last week we took a trip closer to home, and, since it had rained heavily, we got our car stuck on a mud road in the middle of nowhere. It only took a 10 minute walk to the closest village and a call for help. In no time 4 villagers and a truck were mobilised – they took us out of the mud, they explained how to drive through the water holes without getting stuck and were even willing to drive us to where we needed to go. They wanted nothing for their trouble – we insisted to give them a few Reais for a beer.

I was left wondering: Who in my home-country would leave their work in the middle of the day to help out some stranger and not ask for anything in return? This incident also got me thinking about the incredible power of kindness. If anything will ever change this world we live in for the better, kindness will. Sadly we are still so far away from that moment that I can only consider myself blessed whenever I get a chance to stumble upon kindness on my way through life. And here’s one more reason to love Brazil.

Does this mean everything is pink in Brazil? No way!

There’s a lot of poverty. There’s drugs. There’s Favelas. There’s teenage pregnancies. There’s way too much plastic. There’s too much unhealthy food. Yet, at the same time, there are some of the cleanliest people I have ever seen – inside and out. You won’t feel a bad odour in a public buss in this country. People smell of soap and sun. You won’t see people throwing garbage on the street, nor out of car windows. You will hardly see plastic bottles by the side of the road. You will see impeccably clean clothes hanging out to dry on some fence by the side of a dirt road in the middle of the jungle. You will taste great food somewhere in a crazy busy port and you will be amazed to see huge trucks on the main roads routinely making room for your tiny Fiat. You won’t see topless women on the beach. You will see amazingly beautiful bodies and faces soaking up in the sun. You won’t see parents yelling at their children. You will see fathers teaching their 4 year old sons Capoeira by the ocean. You won’t see skinny women here. You will see curvaceous beauties and you will see a lot of chubby ones too – none of them ashamed of their bodies and all of them proudly dressed in fitting clothes. There’s no such thing as too much cleavage or too much leg in this country, yet somehow you never get a feeling of vulgarity.

We took the picture illustrating this post in a remote village, from the car. These gorgeous girls are not an exception, they are the norm here. I believe Brazil has some of the most beautiful children in the world. I also believe it is the land of contrasts. Nature at it’s best. People at their most fascinating.

And these are just a few of the reasons why I feel so at home in Brazil.