07.02.2007 32 °C
Ok folks so I realise that I haven’t posted a blog for quite some time… Months in fact! This isn’t because I haven’t been writing them, I just haven’t got round to posting what I have written. So here for you is an accumulation of all that I have written but never posted, some of this dates back to way before Christmas but it gives you a flavour of what I’ve been up to over the last couple of months.
12th December 2007 Communication – Brazilian Style
So I’m gradually learning the art of communication, the Brazilian way. Mobile phones are fully in the area over here, the only problem is that they are extortionately expensive. What this means is that people will call you and then hang up as soon as you answer the phone so that you have to call them back. They will call over and over until you call them back. Your credit then disappears rapidly. Trying to overcome this problem by phoning mobiles using payphones is also defunct as once again you lose about 15 units in 2 minutes, it is cheaper to phone the UK with an international calling card, no joke. And the Brazilians, loving to talk as they do are, have not yet mastered the text message. I have yet to receive a reply to a text from a local nor even any acknowledgement that one has been sent.
Add on to this the very laidback attitude they have towards making meeting times and it is a wonder that people ever manage to hook up. For example, it is completely accepted to make an arrangement to meet someone and for them to turn up an hour late, this is the norm and nothing is said. On one occasion I made an arrangement to meet someone who said they were 10 minutes away, I waited 40 and still no show. I had to get to work, had no phone credit and left, only to be berated later with a series of phonecalls from said person who thought I had been kidnapped or had met with some gruesome end at the hands of a tourist snatcher. I have yet to slip into this groove 100%, still ensuring that I reach my targeted destination at the arranged time even though on every occasion so far I have had to kick dust in the kerb until my Brazilian counterpart arrived.
Saying this, on Sunday I was invited on a family outing to the beach and we left only 15 minutes after the allocated time, this despite me arriving to a house full of people in their pyjamas and waiting patiently whilst the whole household – a grand total of 8, had showers. I think this was possibly my best day in Brazil so far, the whole day was undertaken in such good humour and I was fully welcomed into the bosom of the family. It seems that those people who do work and especially those who work in the lower level jobs, work 6 days a week and work hard. Sunday is still a day of rest here with the majority of shops, boutiques etc, closing, so it is also the day that the families get together and hit the beach.
So I arrive at the house, have cake and coffee, Dad (who is like a Brazilian Homer Simpson) shows off his powerful stereo with some good old ’50 cent’ – they love fifty over here, obsessively - and we set off, 6 of us in a tiny car, we’re dropped off at the park whilst Dad drops Gran at home. Me, Joy (Mum and breadwinner), Diana (oldest sister) and I start to walk around the park with a tour group, after 2 kilometres and the realisation that there is another 14 to go, we take the easy route and turn back, this is way too much exercise in 30 degree heat. Dad re-appears with Frankie (brother number 2) in the car. We – me, Joy, Diana, Auntie, Frankie and Priscilla (daughter number 2) all pile into the car. I am feeling slightly guilty that my presence means that Diago (cousin and youngest member of the family) couldn’t come but lo we stop to get petrol and who should jump out of the boot but Diago! The whole family are here in force except of course Andre who has landed himself a precious job shelf-stacking at the local supermarket, a real cause for celebration with Christmas on the way.
And so the day continues, we stop for a wander in the supermarket where everyone exclaims at the prices, buy a bag of freshly roasted chicken at a local restaurant and finally hit the beach. You can barely see the sand due to the tables and chairs spread along the narrow beach, everyone is eating, drinking and making merry. People of all generations mix together and hang out, for once, despite being virtually the only white person on the beach, nobody stares or approaches me. We have competitions to see who can swim furthest underwater and spend hours diving off a rock, I feel like a kid again. A couple of hours later and it’s time to leave, we all pile back in the car and then out again when we realise it won’t make the hill out of the parking lot. On the way home, we pick up Gran, bringing us to a grand total of 9. Never again will I concern myself about the suspension of my car at home!
Back home and Iam instructed to take a shower and given a change of clothes whilst mine are put in the washing machine, which along with the large TV and huge stereo is one of the piece de resistances of the family home. Dinner is cooked and served in rounds as there aren’t enough plates for everyone. These people are incredible, they have virtually nothing and yet are willing to share everything and take me in as a member of the family. I have been invited to spend Christmas and New Year with them, to take all my dirty washing round to be washed (it is a subject of great amusement that I wash my clothes by hand) and to move in. This is one fact that they are insistent of. That I move in rent free, only helping out with food. The kids share single beds with foam mattresses, one room for the boys and one for the girls. I don’t know quite where I would go. This is a family full of warmth and love and laughter, it is impossible trying to explain to them that I am a person that needs my space, personal space is not a concept well known in the favelas.
6th January 2007 – Friends
So… The madness of Christmas and NY has finally passed and my life needs to settle back into some sort of regular regime. Everyone is exhausted by the excesses, by the push and tug, the energy of the sea, the end of the old year, the beginning of the new, the intense relationships and the goodbyes.
My group of ex-pat friends is dissipating fast, it is only me, the Italians and a Portuguese girl named Diana who are left. Days seem empty without a selection of faces next door, people coming by, days spent on the beach, evenings in a local bar or singing, playing guitars and banging tambourines in the next door building, balcony doors flung open to make the most of an incredible view over the sea, the city beach of Barra. Sunsets and sunrises, samba, lovesongs in Portuguese and English, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bossa Nova. A renaissance of sexuality and friendships, the mess of people all unconsciously searching for someone special, far from home, craving affection and shunning commitment and responsibility. Pieces of puzzles which almost fit but not quite, swapping languages and bodies and creativity and then leaving for new roads, new peoples, new experiences, with promises to meet up at some point in Europe.
But with the changing of tides and the moving on comes a sense of relief, a chance to get back on the right road, to remember why I came here and to get back to the business of work. This is something that has been missing from my days since before Christmas as my project shut down and I became entangled in sociability. I know that there is something that is missing and I know that I have lost my purpose somewhat. Fondacao Pierre Verger remains closed until the end of Feb as the whole of Brazil is on holiday for the hottest part of the year and in the run up to carnival. Leaving the house at the moment you walk into a wall of heat, a white sun and shimmering reality that saps your strength. The thought of working takes all your energy and yet I know that if I don’t do something soon I will just feel worse.
Last night I went out in Pelourhino to watch some people that I had met in their drum troop. A drum troop of 80 women from Brasilia, a formidable force and amazing sight, an incredible energy of female power and the rhythm of life. Afterwards we went to hang out and drink, a bunch of kids came past selling strings of beads, they’re proud of their beads, hanging them neatly of their arms, stroking them into smooth multicoloured curtains which they wave in your faces. On turning down their beads, the kids turned to walk off and loudly spoke ‘fuck off shit!’ in perfect English. One, two, three kids came past all saying the same thing, I called them back, asked if they thought this was good business sense, and where they learned such words. These kids work every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night to help out their families, they told me the bus home leaves at 3am and they would get in at 4am and go to bed. They were good kids and in the end their swearing did make good business sense as they all sold some beads and got a can of coca-cola to boot which was gulped down through 3 straws in a matter of seconds.
They told me they lived in Paripe another Barrio of Salvador that a friend of mine had been talking about the same day. He had told me that Paripe has ‘proper’ favelas, that he had gone with a friend who had got drunk and started kicking off and this was a bad thing as in Paripe the people in the favelas have guns and if you get in a fight you end up shot. Leon lives in a favela himself, the favela at the end of my road which rubs up against Barra, it’s beaches and shopping malls. Leon is a mechanic by trade, he has just got a 9 month contract in the military, he’s well pleased although it means he will miss carnival. I met Leon on the beach.
The beach is becoming an intolerable place to be, even after 3 months of getting to know people, there seems to be a constant stream of ogling men, of men who eat you with their eyes and are shameless in their offers of Bahian love. I am learning the ways of Brazilian relationships, the concept of ‘ficante’. Rather than have girlfriends or serious relationships, the Brasilans ‘ficar’ the verb whose literal meaning is ‘to stay.’ What this means is that if they see someone they want to sleep with, they will chase this person and ‘ficar’, the ‘ficando’ may last one night, a few days or weeks or months depending on how much they like the person. You can ‘ficar’ with more than one person at once and as long as that person is aware that you are just a ‘ficante’ there is no commitment or responsibility entailed and you are not entitled to be upset once whoever it is has ‘fico’ enough. For example I know a Brazilian guy who has been with the same girlfriend since I got here, he is not a beach boy, he goes to uni, he’s sensitive and intelligent, interesting. When with his girlfriend they look like a happy couple, stable and yet this guy refuses to acknowledge he is in a relationship, she is another ‘ficante’ and his wandering eyes are acceptable as she knows this apparently. It’s completely bizarre to me and a cop-out, a get out clause from relationships and an expression of the disrespect for women here although of course women supposedly ‘ficar’ as well...
People in Brazil do not trust each other. The climate of mistrust colours everything, every relationship, every business transaction, every word that is spoken and action that is made. People are fiercely caring but also fiercely jealous, a friend is a friend for life but will not necessarily take kindly to your other friends, or respect personal space. You have to watch what you say and never make any promises, this is exhausting in itself, in another language, another climate, in a world where you are entirely alone and searching desperately for a certain kind of experience it is even more so. Last week I was invited to a party by a guy I vaguely knew from work, I was surprised and pleased, this was an unexpected invitation. He lives with his German girlfriend on the outskirts of the bustling Centro. This is the part of town that is real Brazil, full of people during the day, bustling streets, people selling their wares on the pavements, coconut water, hot dogs, earrings, dish cloths, sweets, pasties, clay pigs. On arrival I was accosted by another guy from my work who it turns out is interested in me as a girlfriend – apparently he does not ‘ficar’ and really likes me,. The problem is I don’t like him in this way and on explaining this to him he got moody and upset and I had to question the reasons I was invited to the party…
5th February 2007, 11:30am
Which brings us swiftly up to today … Mum and Dad came to visit, I travelled to meet them in Buenos Aires which is a huge sophisticated and civilised city – a total culture shock after Brazil. It is like a cross between a European capital and an American road movie, full of big old Fords and Chevrolets. It was great to go and see some culture, amazing art galleries, antique shops and trendy boutiques – I even spotted Christy Turlington doing a touch of shopping. Weirdly enough for me though I didn’t like the shopping and felt really out of place, I am used to the simple life now flip-flops and shorts everyday, counting the pennies and feeling comfortable without being up to date with the latest trends.
We headed back to Brazil via the Foz de Iguazu, amazing waterfalls on the Argentinian, Uruguyan and Brazilian border, beautiful although now a tourist destination and so the view is slightly spoiled by wooden walkways and tour groups of all ages and nationalities.
It was good to come back to the madness of Salvador as mad it is. Life doesn’t change much here, it is relentlessly hot, the beach boys still work the beaches day in, day out and I am back to being woken everyday at about 6am s the bustling city comes to life with the cries of street vendors, the rumbling of heavy buses and the persistent drilling of new buildings. Carnival is approaching fast and huge scaffold constructions and stages are being built up along all the pavements. You can feel it in the air, everyone waiting for this huge gigantic explosion of partying and craziness. On the 12th February I will be homeless. Today I go back to work and begin to realise my dreams here.