In December 1994, landing in Salvador with very, very thick rose-colored glasses, all I could see were the palms waving in the ocean breeze and the vibrant colors in every view. I think what an American would miss on such a trip is the essential element of gentleness in this culture. We are not a gentle people. I don't know if we ever were or if I say that because I was born and raised in the Midwest, and possibly in the American South there are hints of this gentleness, but I have not spent time there, so I cannot say. I was not expecting to find gentleness -- my only experience with a culture south of the U.S. was that of Mexico (not that I have spent time there), so perhaps I am wrong too about Mexico, but it has always seemed to me to be a bit more violent and aggressive -- their horsemen using whips, cruel bits and spurs on their horses impressed this upon me. I practically grew up on a horse and if you know something of horses, then perhaps you know where I am pointing.
Now that I cast my thoughts back to those first days in Bahia, I am remembering that one of the first acts of gentleness I experienced was not one of those we usually associate with it. It seems to me that I was standing with a large crowd, waiting for a city bus to go I don't know where, with all the sounds, smells and heat of the busy highway, when there was a soft touch at my bare elbow, so delicate, so faint, nearly imperceptible, and I looked down into the anguished eyes of a small boy. I don't know if I had any coins to give him, and I would have adopted him on the spot if it had been possible, but instead somehow I ended up on that bus crying inconsolably. Almost 13 years have passed, so I don't cry anymore when I remember that tiny soft touch on my arm, unless I think a while about it.
I don't think that I cry for that little boy. There are many remarkable people in this world and they see problems and with a marvelous force that comes from within them, they take it upon themselves to save and love many of these children, adopting one, two, three, ten, twenty and even forty. They manage to do this, they find a way.