Salvador's culture stems from its African influences : About 80 percent of the city's population is of African descent, according to figures from the 2010 census.

The city was once one of the largest slave-trade ports in the Americas. For more than 300 years, beginning in 1500s, around 4.9 million enslaved Africans were transported to Brazil, according to data from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.

Around 1.5 million were brought to Bahia alone. By comparison, around 389,000 enslaved Africans were taken to mainland North America during the same period.

Brazil was also the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888. Now, despite centuries of repression, brutal treatment and collective trauma, African culture thrives in Salvador, finding expression in the city's African-Brazilian musical, culinary, artistic and literary traditions.

Salavdor faces many challenges. The state of Bahia is among Brazilian states with the fewest formally  educated people. It's also impoverished, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. And in recent years, economic inequality has exacted a heavy toll on the city.

The first time I told someone I was traveling to Salvador, in the Brazilian state of Bahia, I was discouraged from going.

I was heading south along the coast when a Brazilian woman I had befriended at a pousada [a guesthouse]  explained how bad the crime was and how I was bound to get robbed. Despite her warning, I went.

As a naive 22-year-old solo back-packer, I wasn't the type to change any plans based on one person's advice. From what I had read about the region, it was vibrant unlike any other part of Brazil.

But when I arrived at my hostel in Pelourinho, Salcvador's candy-colored historic center and a UNESCO World Heritage site, i continued to hear warnings that the city was unsafe.

Typically, when I travel to a new place, I try to explore all the nooks and crannies. I wonder down alleyways and like to get lost before finding my way back. This time it was different. I felt timid and unsure where to go. Certain streets, Id been warned, were no-go areas. I couldn't relax and take in the city.

The next day i met a quirky Brazilian with a deep passion for the state of Bahia and the rest of northeast Brazil. It was refreshing to hear about his version of Salvador. We became fast friends, and he turned into my guide, showing me all over the city. It was beautiful to see the place through his eyes.

I fell in love with Salvador. I fell hard - so much so that, before I knew it, months had passed, then years. Salavador became my home for nearly half a decade.

I always wanted to share the version of the city I came to know and love with others - the version described by the Baiano writer Jorge Amado : ''The city of Bahia, Black and religious, is almost as mysterious as the green sea.''

Photographing here has always been a joy : The colors are plentiful, the light is sparkling and the people - they're everything.

Even in Brazil, a culturally unique country, the state of Bahia still stands out to me like no other. 

There are sounds, smells, food and music distinct to this region. At almost anytime, you can hear drumming in the streets, smell the aroma of moqueca [a fish stew made with coconut milk] or come across a group of capoeiristas [dancers of the African-Brazilian martial art].

The World Students Society thanks author Stephanie Foden.


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