So it´s been a while...
28.11.2006 30 °C
So this is how it happened… When I arrived here and when I decided that I was going to stay in Salvador, I realised that I would have to find some sort of project to work with. I was told there was plenty and also told that there was an office in Pelourhino (the historical, tourist centre) that had information of all the NGO’S. I was also told twice, in the same day by two different people that if I was going to Pelourhino I had to visit the gallery of Pierre Verger.
Pierre Verger was a French photographer who came to Bahia in the 30’s/40’s and couldn’t leave. His legacy remains in his astonishingly beautiful and powerful photographs which encapsulate the history of Brazil, South America, Africa but especially of Bahia where Pierre Verger lost his heart.
Having visited the gallery I head to the streets to seek out the NGO office, whilst wandering I am approached once more by a young street vendor. We have the usual exchange and he attempts to put a ribbon of Senhor de Bonfim on my wrist. These are coloured ribbons affiliated to a local church and saint, which are meant to bring good luck. They are tied with 3 knots and for each knot you make a wish. Once on, the ribbon cannot be removed until it falls off of it’s own accord or else your wishes won’t come true.
If you walk around Pelourhino without a ribbon you will be accosted until you have one, often offered as a present but once on, miraculously entailing some sort of cost. This young man is called Cesar. After realising that no I don’t want a Bahian boyfriend, and no I am not racist, he asks what I am doing in Salvador and I explain that I am looking for voluntary work. Cesar asks if I have been to Tourist Information – the last place I had thought of going – and tells me I must go there. He gives me a ribbon for free (I make no wishes – last time I had one of these babies it still hadn’t fallen off after a year ) and takes me to the tourist office.
Inside, the operators seem bemused by my request and seek out various web pages for me to look at, then the girl at the front calls through a man from the back who can speak some English (at this point my Portuguese was still pretty ropey). This guy is very helpful and interested, he knows of a project run by a woman named Angela who can speak English, he writes down a phone number. I can’t read the name of the project but I remember the name Angela and can read the number.
A week later and I go to visit. The project is in an area called Vila America, a district built up on the side of a huge main road, I get a Taxi there and the driver doesn’t know exactly where it is. Nobody seems to have heard of Villa America even though it’s on the map. I am two hours early, my Portuguese having failed once again when it comes to telling the time but at least now I know the name of the project, Fondacao Pierre Verger.
This place is amazing. Downstairs offices selling books, t-shirts, Pierre Verger merchandise and upstairs a cultural space and social project. There is a huge shaded terrace where shows take place on the weekends and kids run about or play badminton or take various classes during the day, a small library, a small computer suite, a photography suite, an art room and dance studio. They have lessons for children in the local area, dance, Capoiera, art, French, music and they are committed to fighting racism and discrimination and to education on these same subjects. Everyone is friendly and helpful and relaxed, the energy is 100% positive. After spending an overwhelming afternoon in the art room I find myself offering to give English lessons. This is greeted with delight and I am welcomed into the Pierre Verger fold.
So this is how I found my job and I honestly do not know what I would do without this place. Currently my lessons are only on a Monday and Wednesday afternoons but when I’m there I don’t want to leave. The people are beautiful in spirit. The favela where it is based is the place where I have felt safest and least under threat for the whole time that I have been there. The children are energetic and motivated and polite. It is a haven away from the turmoil of Barra where I currently live and where the struggle between rich and poor can be felt on the beach, on the streets, everywhere that you go.
On the last Saturday of every month they have a show. Last weekend, their dance group performed a dance about the history of Bahia, last week they were on tour in Miami with the same dance. They missed Brazilian food. Before the dance we sang a song about racism and had a discussion with the children about what it meant.
In the morning I was in Vila America to meet up with a guy who has befriended me called Andre. He is an angel and has made it his own personal project to ensure my well-being. He has been hunting out rooms for me and we walked for half a day, him introducing me to areas that I would otherwise never see. I was welcomed into his home, a roughly hewn third storey house, towering narrowly on the edge of a hill 2 minutes from the project. The favelas are amazing and it feels like a film set walking around down tiny alleyways with self-made houses towering on either side, kids playing in the shadowy orangey blue light, all you can hear and see is kids laughing and running around, people crammed into tiny spaces, building their own homes as and when they earn enough money. Inside these homes are also incredible, some of the most basic looking shacks contain huge TV’s, DVD players, sound systems and 3-piece suites. Some have wooden door frames and tiled floors, double beds, dogs, these are real living, breathing, communities.
From the top of Andre’s house there is an incredible view looking down over the favela to the main road and then on the other side, more communities built up on the steep hills, lights, noise, only a 15 minute bus journey from the centre where I am living but a million miles away in appearance and feeling. I get driven home and the next day Andre calls and invites me to move into his house with his family, I have already been invited to the beach next weekend and to spend New Year with the family. As much as I would love to I just don’t think I could quite manage to live with them, there are already 6 of them sharing minimalist space and I realise that I too need my space. These are the moments that can be difficult, when the culture differences really show. Here they are so open, affectionate, inviting and kind and it is hard to turn down such an offer without appearing rude or ungrateful. However, my aim is definitely to move to Vila America when the time is right and when the right place comes up.
In the meantime I am considering moving in with a troupe of Italian students who live in the same area that I currently live on the other side of town, two minutes from the beach. My support network here is entirely different to the one in Vila America. A bunch of International students on various exchange programmes from all over the world, Germany, Italy, USA, they are friendly and go out together and have parties but there is a definite distance from the sort of experience that I want to have and things don’t sit as easily for me here. Don’t run so smoothly. When in Barra, I feel that I need to leave, to get out, that I’m not fulfilling my goals and yet the familiar comforts of home, the knowledge of an area, of Europeans, of the beach nearby, internet cafes and shopping centres is also keeping me here, a fear of stepping into an unknown which ultimately feels more comfortable to what I am currently doing. My Portuguese, although this is all that I speak most days, is also faltering and despite the joy of Vila America, it is hard to find the motivation to prepare English lessons., This is very hard work! I teach 3 different lessons twice a week, I have new students every week, students that arrive 30 minutes late and expect me to work 30 minutes later in return, students who mimic my Portuguese accent and others who ask me to translate words in English that I can’t understand! It’s definitely a challenge.
And of course the fact that I learned a hard lesson here in Barra, that I had my fingers burned and my emotions seriously battered by one of the beach boys, a surfer who I had believed was legit, was a good person, a genuine friend but who it turns out to be no better than all the rest. An important lesson, an experience in so many different ways, helping me to re-connect with my real reasons for being here when I had allowed myself to become distracted and lose my way.
A realisation as well that this game of flirting with tourists stems in the most part from boredom, from a huge lack of opportunities and from an anger. An anger against those people that can come and travel and spend days on the beach, partying and relaxing before heading off to experience another part of the world.
Having been involved and now watching from the outside, it is intriguing and sad. The idea that this is all there is in life, watching and waiting for a woman, any woman, to try and win anything that you can, be it a beer or a blowjob or any other thing. The coarseness and the disposability of sex, relationships, emotions. One of the girls I met here said that some of these guys would make incredible actors and she is so right. They have the whole act down to a t, exactly how much to say, how much to touch, how to hold someone’s face in bed and look lovingly at them, which girls like the more subtle approach and those who prefer the ballsy, noisy messing about. And underneath it all the ego plays out, the ego of the men that believe that they can get whatever they want and the ego of the women who want to believe that these guys really mean what they say, especially the ones that they find attractive and there’s bound to be one that you find attractive eventually.
So, currently accommodation and motivation to work are top of my list, to speak more Portuguese and better, to lose the European accent, my physical body is also struggling, with the lack of exercise, buses everywhere, with the heat which is beautiful but forceful. But overall a peace in the knowledge that I am here and that the right things will come as long as I keep looking in the right places.