‘Couch Surfing’ in Brazil

Magid Mah learns to fish
Magid Mah learns to fish

Story: John Mellor

Magid Mah, a Somalian resident from Burngreave who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last year (see Burngreave Messenger, December 2009) had another exciting and ground-breaking expedition over the summer, this time to Brazil and the Amazon.

He completed his first year studying Aquatic Zoology at Hull University in June (gaining a 'first' in the year-end exams) then took an unexpected three-month trip to Brazil, a country he had been keen to visit for some time. With insufficient funds, he discovered an ingenious way around the problem. Magid told me,

"I checked the couchsurfing.com website and found several contacts in Brazil willing to give free hospitality to visitors. 'Couch-Surfing' is a volunteer-based worldwide network connecting travellers with members of local communities who offer free accommodation.

"It's not only a cheap way of travelling around the world but also gives much greater contact with local people and communities than you get by staying in hotels. I've invited people to stay with me and have recently hosted a tennis player from Poland."

Magid was in Brazil during the World Cup in South Africa:

"Brazilians go crazy over football; everyone was wearing Brazil jerseys and everything came to a standstill. But even though they lost to Holland, everyone was still happy!

"I stayed in a favela near Rio de Janeiro for a lot of the time. Favelas are shanty towns run by drugs lords; everyone carries guns but things are generally peaceful except when the police pay a visit and shooting starts - fortunately this happens only very occasionally. I felt quite safe and there was never any stealing. People left their doors open when they went out.

"The drugs lords put a lot into the community and provide services which would normally be the responsibility of government or local authorities, including a drama school to train actors, with regular talent shows. The drug lords were some of the best people I met; they invited me to their houses to meet their families and were really nice people to talk to.

"Whilst there, I taught English and soon learned to speak Portuguese, the national language. I set up a small video project with local children about the World Cup and did some training in Brazilian jujitsu."

From there, Magid took a 6-hour flight to Belem, 'the city of mangoes', and he began to realise how vast the country is.

"It's the largest country in South America, in two time zones with 27 different states and is not much smaller than the USA. From Belem I travelled for 36 hours by bus to Altamera in the Amazon valley, then 10 hours by canoe to remote communities on the Xingu River, a tributary to the Amazon.

"I stayed for a week with a small tribe of about 70 people who welcomed me with open arms and were amazed to meet someone from Somalia living in Sheffield! I was taught how to fish by a 6-year-old boy, despite not knowing the language and they didn't speak Portuguese. They had a very relaxed, easy-going lifestyle and were self-sufficient in crops and animals. I received generous hospitality from the tribal chief who then took me on a 5-hour canoe trip to a neighbouring tribe of Kayapo Indians where I received an equally warm welcome and learned about their local customs. Two-thirds of Brazil is covered by dense forests and one of my hosts took me on a 4-day tree climbing expedition, living and camping in the trees.

"Without couch surfing I wouldn't have seen as much of Brazil as I did or met as many people. I really got to know the real Brazil, staying with a millionaire as well as with very poor people. I took a risk by travelling to Brazil with very little money but it all worked out very well and it was an amazing experience - the best 3 months I've ever had."

Magid is now back at University in the 2nd year of the Aquatic Zoology degree. I look forward to hearing about his next adventure!

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The content on this page was added to the website by Chris Blythe on 2010-11-28 21:44:51.
The content of the page was last modified by Jamie Marriott on 2010-11-30 12:33:23.

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