Looking for accommodation in Salvador, we get an invitation from Manja. She doesn’t live in the city itself, but on the island of Itaparica on the other side of the Bay of All Saints. At first, we think that we will be coming from there to Salvador, but Manja’s hospitality and the atmosphere at her place make us stay for five days. During this time, we can see what an extraordinary person she is. We listen to stories from her interesting life, in the end she is a person who came to live in Switzerland, Morocco, Senegal and Brazil.
Manja was born in Switzerland, she is 75 years old, although sometimes she feels like she was 50 or even 16. In particular, when she receives guests from Couchsurfing. Young, intelligent people from around the world let her stay open and don’t forget what it was like to be a teenager.
She lives in the town of Itaparica on the island of the same name, on the other side of the bay, by which lies Salvador. She moved to Brazil 10 years ago. She bought and renovated an old farm, where she now lives with 8 dogs, 3.5 cats (the fourth cat spends half its time at her neighbour) and a flock of ducks. A garden with 3 mango varieties, coconut palms, caramboles and banana trees is visited by monkey herds every morning.
MandO: Why have you moved to Brazil?
Manja: When I lived in Switzerland, I had everything an ordinary person needed. However, I felt that something was missing. Here in Bahia, I discovered what it was. It’s the people with a good heart. Their warm smiles, hospitality and openness. They take you as you are. For many years I haven’t felt that I can be fully accepted. Here I have found a place where it is possible. Of course, this works both ways – I must also accept them as they are. And often the differences between us and between themselves are very big. They have different skin colours, different habits. Each of them has different dreams, often so different from ours that it is difficult to imagine.
M&O: What are you doing on a daily basis?
M: After doing tasks which I had received for all my life I was able to do things my own way. I deal with a bit of handicraft, I draw a little, paint, I also arrange my farm – I build elements of small architecture, renovate old buildings. I’m not aiming for any purpose, I’m just doing what I enjoy.
And what I’m trying to do in life in general is to open doors. I don’t know the reason or purpose, why I arrived in this world, so I try to do what in my opinion is right. I listen to people and give them opportunities to grow and improve their status, of course, if they choose so. I don’t give money to the locals, but I give them a job. There is a difference when someone gives a fish and when someone teaches to fish.
M&O: Can you say something about your dreams?
M: Actually, I have two dreams. One that doesn’t only cover me and the other, which is 100% selfish
The first one concerns the place where we are now – my farm with 3 houses, peas, pool, trees and the entire inventory. I would like to prepare them for people who have mobility problems – people using wheelchairs or crutches. I want to do something for them, because here in Brazil, such people and their families can’t count on any help from the government. In the case of a child with a disability in the family, all their attention is focused on it. The other children stay a bit in the shade. Parents can’t count on additional leave to care for a disabled child. I would like such families to come for a holiday for a symbolic fee, use the pool and garden. Such common spending of time is usually lacking in poor families.
The second dream is more about me. I would like to sell my property after some time at a good price and move to the interior of Brazil, somewhere where there are more hills. I would build two houses there – one for my stitched family – my friends whom I met here. For Claudinho, his wife, mother and sons (Claudinho is a neighbour and an employee of Manja – he performs construction works and helps in dealing with official matters). The second house will be for me. Simple, sustainable, but completely independent when it comes to the matter of media. With water taken from its own intake and with a small wind and solar power plant, to become independent of the incredibly oppressive companies, who are very backward here. Even if they make me connect to the network, I won’t use these connections. The house will be built on the hillside in such a way that it will only touch the ground with pillars on which it will be placed. The roof and walls will be covered with greenery. I would like to continue there what I am doing here. Create small things and strengthen ties with the local community. Give the children lessons of this and that, but without cooperation with any organization.
M&O: What does it mean to you to be happy?
M: Happiness is not a big event, “big luck” doesn’t last long. Its essence lies in small things that meet us every day. Having friends, the opportunity to meet with them, eating tasty cheese with a good wine or a bunch of my dogs sleeping at my feet, or happily running around, living thair dog life. Today I saw a beautiful lily in my garden and I felt happiness. I am happy to see my friend Claudinho singing while working. He works for me and likes to do it. I am happy when I see that he is happy.
M&O: What are you doing to be happy?
M: Hmm… a serious question. As I said – I open doors. I’m sharing. Opening doors is also taking in all the dogs and cats that live with me. I have received so much in my life that now is the time to share and give. For me, this is natural, like breathing. Without it, I would feel like a vegetable. You can share not only material goods but also yourself. Even sharing your sorrows or hearing someone, dedicating time to him is a thing that can bring happiness to both people. It is also important to accept yourself. Know who you are and live in harmony with yourself.
After the interview, we talk for a long time, with mango ice cream made the previous evening, a glass of cachaça and singing birds sitting on coconut palms growing in the garden 🙂