It was a hot bus ride home at the end of a day of touristing in Salvador, Bahia. We were taking advantage of my pregnant belly to sit up front in the preferential service seats, so I could see them hop onto the bus out of the corner of my eye.
They started to introduce themselves “Ladies and Gentlemen, if we could just have your attention, a few minutes of your time…”
“Oh crap–not again!” I groaned silently. Salvador’s panhandlers are notably, remarkably, amazingly persistent; we had fended them off all day. I didn’t think I could take one more round.
“Don’t make eye contact. Don’t get sucked into their spiel. Just look out the window. Ignore it if you can.” I focused all my attention on the window next to me, furiously studying the passing buildings.
Brazil has this trend where alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery programs are sent out into the community by the program to sell hand-made products to generate revenue. Their presentations are especially common on the beaches and on bus rides. You can call me jaded if you want. I’m sure the revenue helps; there isn’t a lot of money for social programs here. I’m sure that the making and selling of the products help fill empty hours once passed by getting high. I get it. In fact, I used to work at a homeless shelter. I really get it. At the same time, it always feels exploitative to me. This program can’t get a better job for this person than what essentially distills down to panhandling? Declaring to the world that they were once an addict? Over and over again? How do I know this money is actually going to help this person and not to line the program director’s pockets?
They got around to their names: “My name is Som (Sound),” he said in Portuguese with a slight Argentinian accent, “This here is my friend Alegria (Joy).”
My eyes jumped from the window to their faces in surprise. This wasn’t your usual bus-ride-beg-and-sell. I looked them over; these were two clean-cut young men in their 20s with a few hippy-esque accessories and guitar and mandolin.
They slung their instruments into place and they started to play. Not only were they not going to preach religion or try to sell me a rehab-program trinket, they were really good. Their messages were positive and joyous. They did ask for donations at the end, but in their words the donation could be “as simple as a smile or a thank you if we improved your day.”
I passed them some cash, a R$2,00 bill (USD$1.00). Alegria’s eyebrows raised; I think it was more than they usually get. No worries–they had just restored my faith in people for that afternoon. Money well spent.
They played a short set of three bus stops, jumped off the bus with a wave and a reminder to “Throw Trash in the Trash and Not on the Ground!” and they were gone. Thanks to them for brightening our afternoon ride home.
Here’s a sample of their Sound and Joy, straight from Salvador to you.