At home, far away from home

In my many travels in so many countries, I have been honoured with the unique privelege of having been invited into the homes of friends and families all over the world.

When I travel, I travel alone. Even when I am working and living with a team, I still feel unconnected to my home and my friends, my roots and the place I belong. So to be invited into a home, where there are friends, family, roots, and a sense of belonging, it’s a joy that doesn’t come around too often.

Last weekend, our friend (and, incidentally, our driver) Wilson invited us into his home for a churrascada, a backyard barbecue. Anyone who knows me in Chicago knows how much I love a barbecue, and anyone knows me in Spain knows how much I love churrasco, so Wilson hadn’t even finished his sentence before I was eagerly accepting his invitation, and on Saturday night we were driving past the city’s bright lights and endless highways to the outskirts of São Paulo.

Whenever I visit the home of someone in another country, I rarely know what to expect. Differences in income, lifestyle, culture, and tradition have led me to expect the unexpected, and usually, being invited into one’s home in a foreign country is much more of an “honour” than we in America might consider it.

Wilson’s home was long. Narrow, and very long. We were met by a dog, and then another, and then another, followed by a parade of kids and relatives. Wilson lives with his wife, his two grown daughters, his adopted seven-year-old son, and his five-year-old granddaughter, not to mention boyfriends and friends that regularaly flow in and out of the house. And then there’s the animals. In addition to his three dogs, Wilson has four birds, a rainbow of feathers, one of which whistles the Brazilian national anthem and the anthem of the Corinthians football team, and a tiny monkey with tufted white fur ears and curious eyes.

At the back of the house is the lareira, a brick fireplace, and the “txoko” (a word I learned on the farm in Spain), an outdoor room with a long table designed for family dinners and general good times. We were immediately handed beers and commanded to make ourselves at home. Not speaking Portguese, I sat back and watched. Wilson’s family is lively and goofy; they tease each other and laugh and love and enjoy sitting down to a feast together. They were welcoming and we had many laughs over our inability to communicate, but enjoying the company anyway. We sat around and chatted as Wilson salted slabs of meat and sausages, ribs and fillets. He grilled cubes of cheese (Brazilians really like cheese), and the plates of meat just kept coming. We had egg salad and potatoes in vinegar and sausages and sausages and more sausages. I was offered batida, which I thought was homemade milkshake, and I was half right. There were passionfruit and grape and apple juices, with a little extra alcoholic kick of cachaça added.

After a few batidas and caipirinhas, we laughed even more and enjoyed the warmth of the fire and the company. The photo albums came out, and the family stories of Wilson’s adventures in his 25 years of marriage. We teased the kids and played with the dogs and listened to Brazilian country music and tried to samba together.

Eventually, stuffed and tired, the warmth of the night began to take over, and soon it was time to go back home….though I felt like I’d just been at home for the past few hours. I was grateful to Wilson, to his family, for the food, for the welcome, for the company, because no matter how many years you live abroad and how many countries you’ve been to, sometimes, everyone needs to go home.

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