written by Jim Kott, Maryknoll Lay Missioner serving in Brazil
All I wanted to do was get home and take a shower.
After spending a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon outside at a small health fair on the periphery of Sao Paulo, I was tired. The day began with a two hour walk/train/bus ride to the outer edges of the city. The neighborhood health fair my Maryknoll Lay Missioner colleagues and I helped support was an amazing experience. The health fair was organized by a group of Catholic nuns who themselves are missioners. One of our “Maryknollers” provided holistic healing in the form of acupuncture and reiki to the locals. The health fair also incorporated massage, music, health foods, plants, and hand crafts into the program. Overall it was one of many wonderful missioner experiences we have had in our first three months in mission.
But now it was time to return home…and I was not looking forward to another two-hour trip. After surviving the first 90 minutes on two different Sao Paulo busses (I will have to Blog about buses here some other time), I entered the metro train feeling exhausted, hot, and rumpled; I must have looked it too.
As I stepped onto the train, I spotted one open seat next to a middle-aged Brazilian woman who looked like she had just finished her own shopping for the day and was headed home too. She had dark brown hair and skin and could have been the age of an older mother or a young grandmother…it was hard to tell. As I sat down we exchanged glances and she looked at me like she knew I was not from “around here.” I used the customary “Tudo Bem” in my American accent and she smiled and replied “Tudo.”
The metro train moved and the homestretch began; I would soon be in our apartment close to the city center. As I looked over at my newest Brazilian friend sitting next to me she pulled out a small bottle of Coke from her shopping bag and opened it. She then unwrapped a small straw, placed the straw in the bottle, and handed the bottle to me. My eyes must have opened up wide because she gave me a small smile as I took the bottle and drank. Brazilians are know for their closeness, even with strangers, and this was a delicious example.
We chatted for a while in my broken Portuguese and I gave her the half-finished bottle back and and she drank too. It is not uncommon in Brazil to share in this way. As I approached my stop, I got up, thanked her for the drink, and gave her a light kiss on the cheek in normal Brazilian fashion. She graciously accepted the kiss, smiled and said “Tchau.”
The Brazilian people are known for their closeness. As a new Maryknoll Lay Missioner in this exciting country, it has taken me a while to adjust to this closeness and realize one has to adjust to much less personal space in Brazil. That train ride and my friend may have finally helped me to shrink the personal space bubble around me.