A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: chlojo

Samba Reggae No Sangue

Carnaval, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

So Carnaval has come to an end, and after weeks of anticipation, excitement, construction and the final explosion of energy that was Carnaval everyone is feeling the loss. I can safely say that Carnaval was one of the best experiences of my life, mainly due to the new passion that I have for Samba Reggae…
How it all began…
3 years ago when I visited Brazil for the first time I fell in love with the energy of the people and I also fell in love with a sound, the sound of Samba Reggae. Salvador is the birthplace of Samba Reggae and there are a number of different groups who take to the cobbled streets of Pelourhino every Tuesday night and more with their drums and their music. The energy that these bands have, the euphoria and the freedom that their pounding beats create are very hard to describe but when playing they attract crowds of dancing, smiling people. The music of Samba Reggae is simple, repetitive and rhythmical, there are 4 types of drum that are used and each has it’s own place in the group.
Samba Reggae is a mix of the cultures of Brazil and Africa and one of the most important cultural expressions of the black community here. Three years ago I watched the bands in wonderment and coming back I was eager to hear them again.
Then about a month ago I went to the Lavagem de Bonfim, an important festival here for the washing of the steps of one of the most well known churches in Salvador. As with all things Brazilian, a religious festival also means an excuse for a huge party, for a days holiday and plenty of music. For the Lavagem you walk from Pelourhino to the church, about 6km and the Brazilians are ready early. For the whole walk you are accompanied by different groups of musicians and their entourages. One of these groups was called ‘Sempre Negroes’ and they were incredible. The music that they create lifts everybody’s spirits and there is a ‘forca’, soon enough we were dancing and sweating behind the band, learning the moves. One of the guys behind the group was a real character, a tiny man, made entirely of muscle, with a white Nike visor, huge sunglasses and Bling earrings. His dance moves were fast, energetic and use every part of the body and he got everyone joining in. This was my first sighting of Samuel, a person who makes things happen, who sets his sights on a goal and who gets there, someone who has helped me out and introduced me to a world which I only ever dreamed of joining.
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We followed the group until they stopped and the words that I wanted to learn how to play the drums just fell out of my mouth. ‘Okay, you can start now’, within minutes Samuel had strapped a huge ‘fundo’ drum around my waist, put a ‘baqueta’ in my hand and had me banging out a rhythm with the group. ‘We’ll meet on Sunday’ he said ‘and then on Tuesday you’ll play’. I didn’t make the Sunday meeting but the next day went to see Oludum play. Oludum are the biggest and most well known Samba Reggae group here, they have one of the most popular trios at Carnaval and have done a song with Micheal Jackson, there are 200 male musicians in Oludum and singers. Their sound is tight and they have troupes of fans who know the words of all the songs and all the dance moves.
Samuel plays ‘fundo’ for Oludum, which is basically the bass, the fundo play the simplest beats but carry the band, keeping the rhythm. As well as playing the drum, these guys are incredible dancers, they dance with the drums, spin their baquetas, hold the drums in the air and do all sorts of tricks. After Oludum Samuel was outside making good use of his outgoing personality and charisma to sell CD’s, Samuel knows how to work the crowds and always has an eye on the money as with all people here. He remembered me and promised to buy my equipment, introducing me to his ‘Maestre’ Ivan who has a group called ‘Swing do Pelo.’ Tomorrow I’ll play with you and Swing do Pelo he told me.
The next day I turned up to Pelourhino and Samuel was nowhere in sight, I kept the faith and eventually sported a guy who I knew, knew him and who turns out to be his brother – Carlos. We found Samuel who handed me a belt, knee pads, shin pads and drum sticks. He took me down to the office of Swing Do Pelo promising to be back and play with me. He didn’t come back.
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Let’s remember I have never played a musical instrument in my life since a disastrous attempt at learning the guitar about 15 years ago and certainly have never had the confidence to do anything in the public eye let alone something which I do not know how to do. My heart was pounding, I felt sick, I couldn’t believe I was going on to the streets and would surely make a complete fool of myself. The rest of the band eyed me with a mix of curiosity and suspicion. As with all things here involving ‘gringoes’ and Brazilians, there is always an expectation that you are either sleeping with someone or paying a lot of money to participate. However, one young guy took me under his wing, helping me with my belt and shin pads, he was going to play the first part and I the second, so basically as long as my drum hits followed his everything would be fine. There was something incredible about this night, I could feel the energy flowing through my hands and I seemed to play without problems, I had someone to follow and we played for about 2 hours, a huge crowd generated behind us as we walked, dancing and flying. The energy of the group carried me and suddenly I was doing something that I had only ever dreamt of and I was experiencing the biggest buzz of my life. The music of Samba reggae, gets into your blood, into the very core of your being and flows there.
After this there were various halts and starts to my playing, On embarking on such ventures I was entering into a new world, I had to dig in my heels and avoid getting too close to Samuel, as a gringo people are always trying to get you into bed. I still question the real reasons why people try to do this. I could see that he wasn’t genuinely attracted to me but I think it is a machisimo thing and again the idea that in sleeping with a tourist you have somehow won something. It is almost a hobby of people here and of course free sex without strings is probably always on most men’s minds. Then of course there was the question of money, why do so much for someone without asking outright for any money, here in Brazil this is an anomaly – you pay for everything, With Ivan it was the same but with Ivan I paid for lessons, I paid a price which I thought was fair although up to now I have only had two private lessons with him. What I have since realised is that the more I play with the group the more I learn and these experiences are more valuable and more enjoyable than private lessons. After such an explosive begin, my fear of taking on something new and performing in public began to take over, I begun to worry about the thought of playing again, change lesson times, easy when Ivan forgot all our lesson times until I eventually realised that this was something that I love to do, I wanted to play in carnival and I had to make the effort.
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So I started turning up to lessons without calling first. The first time I did this Ivan had indeed forgotten and was going to play in a show with the Bloco ‘Colletivo Entidade Negros’ – the name speaks for itself. ‘You’re playing’ he told me. My mind raced with excuses to get out of it, I didn’t have my kit with me – Ivan gave me shin pads, belt and baquetas and I remembered my promise to myself that this was something that I loved. We went and got dressed and joined the rest of the group, a guy called Mascara – another huge character and person who keeps Swing Do Pelo going promised I’d be fine, ‘Relax!’ he told me. I had a few hostile looks entering the show – I was the only white person in the group, the only white person in the show, which was very swanky, audience and all. It was incredible, we played the streets again and then later inside the show. I had to leave and the leader of the group (not Ivan) who had originally been unsure of my presence asked me to stay. It seemed I had been accepted, people were smiling and friendly and asked when I would be playing next.
After this things started going my way and the next big gig I did was the opening of Carnival. I turned up to the office at 5pm, we were meant to play at 6pm, but here in Brazil and especially at Cranival timetables are meaningless. Samuel turned up as well, we were now becoming firm friends and are currently working on a project with another English girl I know to get him over to England to teach Samba to kids in Manchester. It was great to see him although with him I am always distanced from the group somewhat and there are definite power struggles between him and Ivan. Samuel is confident and cocky and has been playing for 15 years, he believes in organisation and respect for the players and is not afraid of kicking up a fuss. Eventually we started the walk to Campo Grande where our drums were waiting on the outskirts of Carnival. It was raining and we waited in the rain for 4 hours without any real indication of what was happening. I was cold and wet and the anticipation I had had for playing was wearing off, I was tired of battling to understand Samuel’s rapid fire Portuguese and on the verge of going home, also aware that my friends had been expecting me to start playing at 8pm and were waiting in the cold.
Then suddenly the rest of the groups arrived, there were 200 drummers in all including a Japanese troupe who are out here. We armed ourselves with our instruments and were off, despite the rain the crowds were out in force… I drummed for 6 hours that night, until 4am in the morning, we walked from Campo Grande to Pelourhino playing all the way. By the end of the night I was exhausted but happy, it was heard to believe what I had just done. As I sat with the group on the cobbled alleyways of Pelo, decorations swinging overhead and the strange green light that always occurs there I thought what beautiful photos I could take if I had my camera. I had the strange sensation of being an outsider looking in and had to remind myself that this was not a photo opportunity but in fact my life.
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Carnival is huge. There are approximately 3,000,000 people in Salvador and numerous tourists from other countires and states who take to the streets. There are 3 main carnival routes, one along the beach from Barra where I live to Ondina, one in the centre of town from Canela, Campo Grande up to Prace da Se and another parallel one from Praca De Se towards Campo Grande and a smaller one in Pelourhino. Along the first 3 routes drive the Electric Trios, huge lorries with soundsystems and buit in stages on their roofs where some of Brazilians biggest musical names sing. Along the routes there are ‘Camarotes’ scaffolds and closed off areas in buildings for which you pay to enter and watch carnival as it passes. You can also buy ‘Abada’s’ (t-shirts) for the Bloccos that you want to see and with these you enter into a roped off area around the Trio that you have chosen and walk/dance with the lorries for the whole route or as long as you want to stay. The third and final way to participate in Carnaval is as ‘Pipoca’ (popcorn) on the street, where you pay nothing and are free to do as you please as long as you don’t enter into the Bloccos. Every Blocco has an army of ‘Cordeiras’ who hold the ropes and keep the crowds inside and an army of security guards who keep people without Abadabas out. The Trios leave their starting points every 20 minutes from about 11am until 2am. I have never in my life seen so many people partying in the same place at the same time. The streets around the main routes are also full of people selling beer, ‘barracas’ or makeshift bars selling fruit cocktails and caipirinhas, churrasco, acaraje… The streets are full, it is an overwhelming experience. It can also be a terrifying one, in points where the roads narrow or when there is a particularly huge Blocco people cram into you and you feel like you’re feet aren’t touching the ground, people try to pickpocket you and men grope you – luckily I only experienced this the first time I went to ‘observe’ carnival. Each area attracts a different crowd of people and has a different vibe, as usual here, Barra, despite being the smartest area of Carnival in terms of the population who live there also felt the most uncomfortable and hostile. Fights break out, the police are out in force, marching sporadically among the crowds in lines and at this carnival 3 people including a 9 year old were shot dead, 21 deaths in all. The papers proclaim that there was a 60% rise in violence at carnival this year and yet the people on the streets are saying there was less violence than usual it’s hard to say.
Carnival is an experience that is indescribable with words, it is incredibly commercial and at the same time incredibly free. The streets fill with litter during the day and at dawn after the last trio has passed, are cleaned by an army of workers with hoses, considering the amount of work involved and considering that we are in Brazil, it is incredibly organised although it appears to be chaos. After the trios stop the streets are full vendors sleeping camped out on the pavements under umbrellas, at bus stops under cardboard boxes waiting for the next day of sales. Carnival is also a time for making big money if you have the stamina to keep going.
So I played on Thursday and by Saturday I wanted to play more. We had been to see the Saio of Ilhe Ayae, the oldest and greatest percussion troupe in Salvador in Liberdade, the biggest Black community ourside of Africa. We were virtually the only white people there and walking amongst thousands of people singing ‘Black Power’ was an incredibly powerful experience, hearing the drums also made me want to play more. Sunday I called Ivan ‘you disappeared!’ he told me, we play tonight… I played twice more in Pelourhino, the second time with Samuel and his brother who then took me to Ondina to watch the trios and dance ‘Pagode’ a form of Samba, Pagode is all about shaking your arse as much as you can in every direction possible at triple speed – for me it is impossible. Carnival is all about sex, the sweaty bodies, the close contact, men grabbing women, there is a carnal hunger in the air.
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The last day of Carnival has to be my best. I arrived to play as usual, bang on time and approximately an hour ahead of everyone else. We were going to play with CEN again, 100 drummers, this time going out in the day. I was now really getting to know the different drummers, the way things work and feeling more accepted, the sun was shining and although I was entirely exhausted it was going to be good and indeed it was. The sound was a lot better than the first time we played with so many drummers, tighter and the fundo’s were in their element.
We were told we would be drumming for approximately 2 hours up to the beginning of one of the Carnival routes, however, once we got there we hooked up behind the trio and the masters kept going, descending into the madness. At this point the Fundo’s rioted, they refused to go any further.
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If we had gone into carnival at this point we would have been walking for approximately another 3 hours, with a huge drum strapped to your waist, with dancing, spinning and walking this is not a mean feat. I have realised that playing for a Samba Reggae band is very hard work, Samuel for example had played for 9 hours without break the day before. The good players play with a number of different groups and get paid for each ‘Saio’ that they do, it is no surprise that these guys are wiry and made entirely of muscle. According to Samuel for Swing Do Pelo they get approximately 30 Reais, or £15 and bus tickets, I was never expecting to be paid and was never offered any money to play and barely knew that they get paid. Unfortunately corruption is rife in these bands as across Brazil. For example the first day we played we played with virtually no water, on returning to base at 4am in the morning Samuel discovered boxes of water and soft drinks which were meant for the musicians but had been hoarded by the Mestres to re-sell. It seems like Ivan is the worst of the masters, the other guy Timalira always providing water to his players.
The Samba Reggae groups are given money for Carnival and throughout the year by the government as they help kids stay off the streets and are also one of the main tourist attractions in the city. According to my friend Paula they didn’t receive any money this year as so much of it went missing last year, but this stream of corruption and robbery is unfortunately the way of Brazil from the top politicians to the people on the ground. Everybody wants the money and when you see people living in such abject poverty it’s not really surprising to see why.
So drums were downed and our plunge into Carnival ground to a halt, half the band, still riding on the buzz of playing to thousands and who had much smaller drums to carry kept going but without the Fundo there was nothing going. There was a moment of panic, we sat on our drums in the middle of the carnival route, the mestres screaming at us to continue from one side, the drummers shouting back about their rights and how we had been told we were only going to drum to a certain destination and the carnival organisers shouting that we either had to play or move as we were holding up all the trios.
The main problem that the drummers have is that they are not organised enough and don’t have the structures in place to really fight for their rights. The buzz of playing for crowds and the pleasure that the musicians get out of it also means that they keep going back to play for their groups again and again even when they know that they won’t get paid on time and most likely won’t get paid the right amount and so the problems continue and outbursts like these are the only way the musicians have of expressing their feelings. As you can imagine there is also a real sense of showmanship and kudos in playing, every week you have an audience and the guys love to wear huge sunglasses – whether it is day or night- do funky stuff to their hair and generally look cool and of course it gives people a focus, an outlet, a sense of belonging, participating, entertaining and makes you feel good. It is predominantly a male profession, the women usually playing the smaller, lighter instruments or dancing – I play fundo as it is the most simple drum to play and after only 6 weeks or so of playing there is still a lot to learn.
So with a final flourish the drummers won and we started the long walk back to bass, drums balanced on the heads of their players, fighting through carnival crowds, the first part of my day was done. We returned to camp and more hot-headed discussions around the day’s events. Unfortunately my Portuguese is not yet good enough to make any valuable contributions to such arguments and often I still only understand 50% of what is being said.
And so the final and climatic end to my Carnival experience was going to the last Saio of Oludum with Samuel. Before Carnival all I had thought was that I wanted to expereience Carnaval the Brazilian way and I wanted to see a saio of Oludum, this up to now had evaded me and now suddenly here I was going to Oludum, I was virtually in tears but realised that Samuel and his brother would probably not understand such an outpouring of emotion!
As I said Samuel is someone who makes things happen, the Adaba for Oludum was a yellow vest and a skirt, he had brought me half his sister’s Adaba to try and get me in the Bloco. There were problems, he told the guys my vest had been pulled off me, spoke to some people in the know and got me on the top of the Trio! He returned 20 minutes later with a vest at the snip price of 50Reais (£15) bear in mind that the usual proce is 180Rs. Once again there was a wait of about 3 hours until the Trio set off but once it did there was no stopping us. We danced and we danced and we sang and we laughed and we walked and we jumped for the cameras and it was the greatest party atmosphere I had ever been in. Everyone at carnival gives 100%, you have to have your wits about you to keep your feet on the floor and any self-consciousness flies out of the window, I felt free and happy – carnival had given me all that I could ever have expected and more.
My 15 hour day marathon eventually ended at 3am in the morning, my knees, my whole body was aching and my legs could barely move although my brain was saying more partying there was just no way. Samuel walked me half the way home and returned to the mayhem whilst I hobbled home on a natural high.

Posted by chlojo 21:12 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Update 2007

sunny 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.

Posted by chlojo 15:55 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Pierre Verger

So it´s been a while...

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.

Posted by chlojo 14:13 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Home Sweet Home

Wednesday 8th November 2006, 9.15pm

Home Sweet Home

So I guess this is it, I am now totally out there, independent and on my own. I finally moved into my bedsit today, welcomed by a glorious cockroach. Funny because all day I had been imagining a room riddled with roaches and praying that it wouldn’t be… and lo… I heard it before I saw it, the click and screech of iron skinned legs as it peeled itself from under the gas rings to have a look at what was going on. I hate cockroaches. They are my worst phobia, as anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting one whilst in my company will know. But, I’m on my own now, what’s the point of screaming if there’s no one to hear you or no one to get rid of the roach.
I meticulously covered it with a pan, trapping it inside with the lid and removed it downstairs to throw into the bushes, it’s legs skittered and scratched the metal while I tried not to wretch. I have visions of hundreds more crawling out from under the bed, trails of them along the wall, running across my sheets as I sleep like in all those stories you hear of people in Africa who go to sleep with one roach in the room, turn the light off and suddenly the whole place is alive and breathing with glistening shiny, black orange bodies and flickering antenna, but so far so good – I have yet to turn off the light.
The light is halgoen (grim), energy saving, fixed to the ceiling fan and it crackles and buzzes, flashing like a strobe, the Italian guy who owns the place came to my rescue with a halogen (still grim) table lamp and says he will fix it tomorrow, I’m not quite sure how. Good lighting seems to be a problem wherever you go. Catching glimpses through other’s doorways it is amazing what people have done and amazing how much stuff they have. It I seem to have joined an intriguing community of long-term travellers (supposedly although I’ve yet to meet them) and Brazilians who have made the rooms into homes. I wonder if I will like it…
The one saving grace is that I have my own balcony where I currently sit, I am surrounded by tower blocks of varying shapes, sizes and colours (mine a small 3 storied building with palm trees out front) and the sounds of a hot, gritty city slowing down for the day mingle with the constant chirping of insects although quite where these insects abide is hard to fathom. Even on the 9th floor of my tower block, I slept to the sound of crickets and imagined a fantasy ecosystem of wild plants, animals and trees growing in the clouds atop the tightly packed ‘edificios’ where people live one on top of the other.
From either side once more the incessant chattering of TV’s from my neighbours’ quarters. Probably engrossed in one of the off-the-wall soaps that are so popular here. In the street below me a man stamps on drink cans to crunch them and exchange them for cash and in the block opposite the fairy lights on a fake Christmas tree flicker and flash.
Quite a change from my yoga weekend away to the valley of Capao, one of the most beautiful and formidably powerful places in the world. I spent four days in the middle of nature, the middle of nowhere, towards the middle of Brazil . A natural paradise where it feels like the stones are breathing and as if the world itself began there. Six kilometre hikes up mountains, across plains atop mountains, to see the biggest waterfall in Brazil, to lie on the edge and look down, climbing behind waterfalls to watch the water fall and catch the sun creating thousands of tiny rainbows and white light which looks like electricity sparking, swimming in the cleanest, softest, cold but not cold, clear but orange stained water whilst everything around you breathes harmony and life. I cannot explain how breathtaking this place is, you would never imagine somewhere like it existing, let alone in Brazil. It was painful to have to leave. I am going to go back at some point, for at least a month to practice Reiki – at times my hands would hurt just from the energy out there – and to consider another way of living. There is a small alternative community in Capao of travellers from all over the world who arrived and could not leave and of locals of course. There is a self-sufficient way of life, houses built from wood and stone, vegetable plots, honey and propolis for sale on every corner, goods and skills are exchanged rather than paid for, everybody knows everybody else. There is no tarmac, no street lights, just the moon, a chorus of frogs, fresh, pure, cool air in the evening and horses hovering restlessly in the shadows. Of course there is also the ever-increasing flow of tourists…
My plans as always are vicarious, I came back full of energy, beaming radiant sunshine smiles and now Portuguese lessons are over, I am on my own with only a handful of acquaintances whom I’m still trying to work out; staying in, wandering aimlessly by day and afraid of the great but nerve-wracking challenge of giving English lessons to kids. My month of acclimatisation and relative relaxation is done and I need to get out there, get back in tune with the other reasons why I came and what I can do to help, It is a matter of motivation and courage, the typical Jones tryst of wanting to do so much and the self-paralysis of laziness (?) and nerves. I am afraid of losing the language I have learned through not having lessons every day and afraid that having given up my teacher I have also given up the only confidante that I have here.
The seventeen year old is seventeen and slightly unhinged, lost in a quagmire of unrequited love (no longer for me but for an ex-model Austrian girl who we met on the beach) and confused about the relationships between tourists and Brazilian men. The surfer that I spoke of pops up every now and again and his smile warms my heart, still I think one of the more likely friendships that I am to make and yet as far as I can make out he’s leaving for Brighton tomorrow. And still no women… I have decided I need to make some girlfriends.
And start my job.

Posted by chlojo 10:14 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

An ounce of common sense

Saturday 28th October 2006, 22:00hrs

Once again backdated...

How nice to finally meet somebody with an ounce of common sense. Sergio is a friend of two French friends that I made the first time I came to Brazil. He is a Rasta and a musician and that is how he knows them as they too are musicians. He very kindly agreed to meet me and take me out, albeit only for a few beers and we managed to have the first really intelligent conversation that I have had since being here. Okay he had that typical slightly egotistical stance of someone who has been lucky enough in life to make a living from doing what they are passionate about and the chip on the shoulder that someone who immediately describes himself outwardly as a rebel must have but he was a good person. We seemed to share the same ideas about the world and the same values about the need to put an end to social inequality and injustice although I always imagine that people are circumspect about my postion on this as I am often seen as one of the privileged, which in many ways I am... A whole nother debate for another time.
I explained to Sergio that I was having trouble making true friends, that conversations started in innocence would suddenly take a turn in an unwanted direction and he in turn explained to me the phenomenon of male prostitution that is rife over here and which I have been party to over the last few days.
For the first time, my appearance makes me stand out as a commodity. People look at me and see tourist, blonde, white, money, whatever, I’m fair game. This is something entirely different to the Brazilian way of all women up to the age of 35 being amenable to the approaches of any post-pubescent male, this is about the colour of my skin and the way that I am perceived by those around me or at least by some of those around me and it is an uncomfortable if interesting position to be in.
I am sick to the back teeth now of staying in, of playing safe, of keeping myself really to myself. I am in desperate need of people to talk to, people on the level, to go out with and relax.
Speaking to Sergio also helped me to re-evaluate and re-balance the worry that I am absorbing from the family. I am not a person who walks in fear of thier possessions or of being attacked, I generally take people at face value and one of the very reasons I am here is to meet people and to become part of a community. I have been thinking to myself that the streets really don´t appear to be as dangerous as I am told and actually i don´t see any problem with taking a bus after dark as long as i´m not doing anything silly likely roaming dark corners or taking public transport at some ungodly hour of the morning. That is just common sense. And it can be gratifying to talk to someone who has the same voice as your intuition. As Sergio pointed out there are plenty of women who work late and who get the bus home, that people are going to be more looking out for the safe-guarding of toursits than of attacking them and that taking a taxi which could drive you anywhere on your own is equally if not more dangerous. As I said it´s good to hear some common sense, to feel enabled to take part and explore a city without feeling a constant fear.
What I have also realised about the family I live with is that they are incredibly close-minded and in fact their fear is making them prisoners of their own domain. To never leave your apartment because you do not want to mix with certain types or think that you are above them, to refuse to leave the house after a certain time without taking a taxi these are extreme ways of living. People here who have money generally live in huge towering apartment blocks, sharing rooms, with porters on the locked gates. It´s a very different way of life and I am not sure how much better off they are than people in the favelas who have more of a sense of community, of openess, of security to come and go and leave their doors open for the neightbours. I don´t want to be too harsh on my family, they´re circumstances are hard but I think it´s a shame that Manuella (my age) refuses to go to the local beach because of the people there.
In contrast to Rio, I have not felt unsafe at any time here. I have felt harassed yes but this is something different. In actual fact the place that I have felt most uncomfortable is the tourist district of Pelourhino. This is the beautiful, faded grandiose, historical centre of Salvador that has taken on the worst of tourism. The shops all selling the same souvenirs and badly drawn paintings of the area, the street vendors en masse, the impoverished children begging for money, where the seething energy of the tangible want between the haves and the have-nots spirals up through the dark cobbled streets as night falls. There is generally stuff going on there, music, parties etc but as yet I have felt disinclined to hang around long enough to take part.
As we wandered around Sergio pointed out a church in the centre of Pelourhino, outside were suited couples being dropped off in black, shiny cars and a glimpse inside showed red carpets, white table cloths and the flamboyant table displays of a bourgeois do. At the bottom of the side alley just 5 metres away sat about 7 malnourished, bare-footed locals from the surrounding streets which are considered too dangerous for tourists. This Sergio pointed out was a glaring example of the discrimination that goes on. Of the rich coming in and taking over areas, turning communal buildings such as churches into private spaces to be hired out to those with the money, who want to appreciate the historical and ´quaint´beauty of an area without getting their hands dirty. This he said was a typical example of the discrimination that goes on and again is a typical example of the inherent indifference which people have adopted so they don´t notice those sleeping on the streets.

Posted by chlojo 11:43 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

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