I KNEW I was going to be the first person at my friend Camille’s birthday party on Wednesday night, as I’m always early while she is always late.
I rang the doorbell of the apartment of her friend S and was surprised when a slightly overweight, middle-aged woman opened the door. I knew S was around the same age as Camille and I, but she just looked so much older than us.
“Good evening, I’m Rasheed, Camille’s friend,” I said as I extended my hand to her. She invited me in, and after saying hello to her 12-year-old daughter we sat down in the living room and chatted about Camille, my life as a journalist and Saudi Arabia.
S and Camille had studied together, just as Camille and I had too. She was now a housewife with three children and a husband who traveled a lot. Later Camille told me that she spends all of her free time doing charity work. It also transpired that she is an Espiritualista, or Spiritualist. This religious movement has many members in Brazil, its mixture of Christianity and a belief in reincarnation a magnet for many people here.
Camille and her husband are also interested in Spiritualism, so we spent the evening discussing various aspects of it, in between having a debate on whether drugs should be legalized in Brazil, in the context of the ongoing drug turf wars in Rio de Janeiro which saw the dramatic and fiery shooting down of a police helicopter by criminals last week.
I felt a bit strange discussing the merits of legalizing some drugs, to take the business out of the hands of organized crime, in front of S’s young children. But it was she who had brought up the subject as we ate pizza and birthday cake.
Spiritualists believe that everyone is reincarnated many times in a quest to become better beings and to learn from past mistakes. They also believe that people can be reincarnated on other planets, not just here on Earth. But reincarnation for them is an educational process and not a vengeful one. At their prayer meetings, mediums communicate with the spirits of people who have passed on, relying messages from both the living and dead in two-way traffic.
“Spiritualism is the quest for love in everything we do, following the example of Jesus Christ,” explained S when I asked her about her religion.
As we left, I could not help feeling how S was on a completely different planet than Camille and I. Not a better or a worse one, just a very different one.