Friday 27th October 10:00pm
Okay folks, here we are again, these have been posted late on so just imagine you are reading last Friday...
Isn’t it funny the way that things work out sometimes. Today started badly, somehow all those things which I felt I really had to do just weren’t working out. So eventually I decided to stop trying to force it and give in to the Brazilian way and head to the beach. I tell you, letting go of the idea that everything needs to be done right now and every minute has to be filled with useful activities and plans is one of the things that I am finding hardest to let go of. Somehow this is a place where things just happen and they happen at the right time, there’s no forcing things and no way of knowing what may be around the corner.
So I head to the beach, it’s about 4pm which means there is only really an hour or so of sunbathing sun left and evening is already in the air, the harsh heat of the day is gone. The tide is coming in and the sand which has been churned up considerably in the last week of heavy rain casts shadows across itself as the sun fades. I am beginning to wonder whether or not it will be possible to make (17 year olds aside) true friends here, how to weed out the genuinely interested and amiable from the assailants who’s number appears to be growing by the day.
Far from gathering less attention the longer I stay, the exact opposite is happening and more and more I am being approached and accosted. Usually by young men selling jewellery and who after initial niceties then seem happy to offer their services as a ‘Bahian namorado’. On saying no to such offers/requests to get to know me better, albeit whilst trying to maintain a sense of joviality and not to cause offence, I have been accused of being racist and of not trusting those that I am speaking to.
This is a place of tribes just like any other. The monied, the workers, the jobless, the poor, the surfers, the street vendors, the jewellery makers et al and it can be difficult to know who to respond to and who to walk on by. As a lone traveller you certainly meet more people and I have to say that most of those with whom I have spoken seem to be genuine although other interactions are definitely underlined by a certain amount of malice, of a desire or expectation of getting something from you although what this might be I’m not always sure. Such is the other side of the travelling coin, as we come to experience and observe other countries and cultures, irrevocably changing areas to suit the needs of tourists and outsiders, then it is only fair and obvious that those local people affected build expectations of us, what we might have, what we might want and what also they can get from us in exchange. And it is only through having these conversations and interactions that we learn from each other and also learn not to judge and that some people are good-hearted, some are voyeurs and others are out purely for their own means.
So, yes, it can be hard to read people’s real motivations for wanting to talk. At what point does a conversation become a flirtation and at what point does a flirtation become a threat? Easy friendly banter become an invitation? These are the lines that are blurred and also the times when communication differences between Brazil and the UK highlighted, as I was warned they would be!
This is not helped by the climate of distrust and fear. There is a constant message being banged into your head, that it is not safe. Not safe to take the bus at night, not safe to walk certain streets, not safe to wear a watch or jewellery, not safe to carry your bags or to talk to people. Street vendors only want to sell you stuff, people are only interested in your money. There are right people and wrong people to talk to.
Much of this is purely what I am absorbing from the family that I live with who live in a very particular way, with their own values and beliefs, some of which I vehemently disagree with and others of which I also can empathise. But it is also the very nature of Brazil. That massive ambiguity I spoke of before between this and the great positive and passionately obvious life force.
So back to the beach and I am perusing my fate, wondering whether I’d be better off in Rio after all, whether things will actually improve wherever I am.
I’m watching the surfers, considering the tribes and imagining how they appear to be a self-contained and honest lot and how also I would never dare to attempt to surf. I think it looks absolutely amazing but I would be absolutely terrible and as we know I hate to make a spectacle of myself (apart from very rare wellie-wearing, break-dancing moments for those in the know!). And 50% of surfing is the spectacle, the people watching idly from the beach, the crowds gathering on the roadside as the sun lowers and the surfers spread further and further along the emptying bay, twisting, turning, paddling hard against crashing waves and speeding gracefully along the tops of them. I decide they would be good folk to meet but also impenetrable.
I leave the beach, my head is calmer than before and I have come to a consensus about trying to allow things to happen. Trying. As the shadows cast longer and I still have had no real conversation for the day, I suppose it’s time to get off the dangerous streets and ambivalently head back to the apartment. At the moment I am judging my days on the number of meaningful interactions or conversations I have during them, one a day usually suffices to keep me going and so far today I’m scoring zero.
On the way up the steps I bump into a surfer. He asks if I surf, I laugh. He’s going to stay with friends in Brighton next month, he’s excited but worried about the cold. We’re walking in the same direction, he has a friend called Vinnie who works with street kids and wonders if I know him, he’s impressed by my Portuguese and doesn’t try anything on in any way. This person is, I am pretty sure, genuine. My smile carries me home, it looks like I might attempt surfing after all.