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Going back to family

18 Jun

After a series of unfortunate travel events trying to get back to the States, I am finally back to give my last debrief of my travels to Brazil

As I spend Sunday as my last day in Brazil, it is only appropriate that it is our “free” day.  I now get an opportunity to view a bit more of leisure life in Bahia.  The plan was to visit the Museu do Rodin.  Also a part of this plan was to walk…extensively (I’m not sure some of colleagues knew about the “extensive” part).

First things first:  the streets of Salvador are not conducive to strollers, so if vacationing with babies consider the baby harness (check Babies R Us or your baby gear outlet of choice).  As we walked along the coastline of the Barra (BAH-ha) neighborhood, families filled the beach and the streets.  There were also running groups and other groups of people living an “active” Sunday.

There is a portion of Avenida Oceanica, between the lighthouse and the fort that is closed off to through traffic for trampolines, children’s bike lanes and family dance classes to be put in the street for family entertainment.  This definitely caters to the middle class life of Brazil, so do not expect to see much diversity among the group when it comes to Brazilians.

There are a few things that I have learned on this trip that I did not expect to learn:

1) Afro-Brazilians are appreciated by culture only.  There are many Brazilians who tout the democratic horn of cultural and traditional appreciation, yet the people of whom these cultures and traditions belong have a difficult time rising up the socioeconomic ladder in the country.  This is not to say that ALL Afro-Brazilians are poor, however, it IS to say that if Afro-Brazilians make up 76% of the state of Bahia’s population and 95% of it’s poor,….well you draw your own conclusion.

2) Despite some of the grim and grimy aspects of the country, it is a place you MUST visit.  See it for yourself, experience it, and take it all in.   If traveling with family, I recommend you stay in the Barra neighborhood.  It is safe for family to travel and you can get taxis relatively quickly and easily to visit Pelourinho and other parts of town.

3) If you are of African descent, living in America, by all means, LEARN PORTUGUESE.  I liken this advice to what we tend to say here among certain circles, “if you model it, eventually, somebody will repeat it.”  I say this because I, in my humblest of opinions, believe that if we as African Americans take the time and the effort to adapt culturally to as much as we can about Brazil and then go visit, we will in essence be modeling the Black intellectual for the Afro-Brazilians (a 2006 statistic states that Afro-Brazilians make up 2% of the intellectuals at the universities partly due to the blight that is the public education system there).  I am convinced in a Washington/Duboisian mixed model, it can do some good in motivation.  I’m sure I may catch a bit a flack for this statement, but I ask you to think about your role models or people you admire, what did you do in your life because of just seeing them live theirs?

I leave Brazil with a desire to return…with my family.  I need my children to experience what I experienced and I want my family to see what I saw.  I cannot say we will definitely be there for the World Cup 2014 (some airports need a bit of work to handle that traffic still), but we can always make it a goal.

Back the US reality, but I do have a lot of writing to begin!

Ciaociao!

 

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To the margins…in order to push it center

10 Jun

English: Hospital of Bahia, Salvador, Bahia, B...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As my time winds down here in Brazil, there is a burning question that I cannot seem to put at ease:  Of all these wonderfully beautiful Black people, where do they live?  I have not seen a Black person leave any of the ritzy homes around this hotel?  I see them in the streets.  I see them heading somewhere when they leave their jobs at the end of the day.  But where are they going?  Why haven’t we been able to see those neighborhoods?  The program’s title does include “Afro-Brazilian Heartland.” Where is the heart of this land?

The program of which I am participating is wonderful in terms of exposing us to various aspects of Bahian culture: the African roots of food, dance, religion, music…..but what about where the Africans planted their roots?

The other day, we had a scholar on environmental justice talk to us about about the concept of environmental racism in Bahia.  Aside from wonderful information about that (I encourage ALL people to read up on it, we might learn a thing or two about our own society), she showed us some maps of Salvador….demographic maps. Salvador is 77% Black (I think I said 85% in another blog, here is my correction), many of whom live in substandard conditions around the city.  I urge you to do a quick internet search of Salvador, look at the images that come up, and point to where those areas “around the city” are located in those images.  I am almost positive you will not see them.

I visted Saramandaia neighborhood (what we Americans would call a favela).  To get to this neighborhood, we had to park the van and walk through and up very narrow streets.  With all the twists and turns, we probably walked about 1/2 mile above where we parked.  This neighborhood, although visible by the main roads, is not accessible by the main roads.  Here in this visibly invisible neighborhood above the city, I found where the Blacks (that make of the majority of this 77%) were living.

Saramandaia was and may still be considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Salvador.  But if I go back to the environmental racism lecture, the reasons may be similar to whythere is  Black on Black crime in the United States.  My brother -in-law says (paraphrasing) “there’s nothing worse than a man who thinks he’s got nothing to lose.”  What do we tend to do when we think we have no options and no way out?  We fight back with whatever is closest, sometimes, that’s our own.

But there is hope for Saramandaia.  There are a group of men who grew up in the neighborhood who are giving the children other options.  Grupo Cultural Arte Consciente.  Look it up.  Learn about it.  Share it with a friend.  Why?  Because too many people come to Brazil and will never have the desire nor the opportunity to visit the favelas.  They will remain, hidden from the tourists, and pushed aside by the state.  Environmental racism:  Because no one in a favela has the money to own the  land in which they live, the Brazilian government will not fund programs to ensure that there is public sewage and solid waste disposal.  So long as nobody knows about them to help them with land rights, it will never happen.

Afro-Brazil is the pulse that drives tourists to flock to its land.  The pulse of samba, the pulse of the cuisine, the pulse of the vibrancy that is Brazil.  But the coracao (I know, no accents) of this pulse is pushed to hills, by way too expensive property and a desire by mainstream society for the true Afro-Brazil to be heard but not seen.

 

I want to expose the heart.  So we can watch it beat.

 

Boa noite!

 

 

 

Bahian Cuisine: Part European, part African, part Amerindian….All GOOD!

9 Jun
Moqueca capixaba

Moqueca capixaba (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So let me just preface this by saying Bahian cuisine by United States health food standards could possibly be a coronary in training according to preparation; however to be able to taste it and to learn the modifications for it, is REALLY worth it.

We visited the SENAC Culinary Museum and School in Pelourinho this afternoon.  Admittedly, after an entire morning of lectures I think we may have all been too tired to recall what SENAC stood for, so I will not try to guess it now.  We had a fabulous chef and instructor teach all about the history of Bahian cuisine and taught us how to prepare some of the meals that were most closely asscoiated with Africans, particularly, those dishes used for offerings in Candomble.

Let me say two words in regards to food preparation….palm oil…..used in abundance and with a VERY free hand.  Now there is a myth that palm oil is horrible for you because of a high cholesterol content.  After today, I have reason to believe this is a myth created in order to degrade all things African as it is used almost exclusively in African and Bahian cooking.  Truth is, palm oil is a great source of Viatmins A and B and is not high cholesterol, it binds to the enzymes of cholesterol to help balance it in the body (quote the chef, he said it, not me, but I did look a little bit to verify his info).  I do have two more words in regards to Bahian cooking….coconut milk…also in abundance and with a free hand.  Every single dish we had today contained both of these ingredients and they’re the only ingredients  for which there are no exact measurements in our recipes.

So what did we have?  Moqueca de peixe e camarao, farofa, vatapa, pepper sauce and coconut rice.  Now I know my husband has already tuned most of this blog out due to the use of coconut, and he may very well be “taking a reading break” at the mention of the coconut rice, but he’ll be back to finish reading later to at least see what all these names mean (to look out for them should they appear in our kitchen in the future, lol).

Moqueca is a type of stew made with tomatoes, onions (again, my husband has left the blog), cilantro, green peppers, LOTS of coconut milk and palm oil.  You layer it almost like lasagna with the fish in between the vegtables (let the fish sit for 40minutes in lime juice before adding).  Once the dish starts boiling you’ve got about 15minutes left to cook.  In the last few minutes, add the shrimp.

Farofa is of African origin, it is cassava meal with dried shrimp and this “secret ingredient” of a shrimp, cashew mix.  It’s cooked in (of course) palm oil.  This dish needs to be dry and mealy if you prepare it.

Vatapa is a very thick stew of palm oil, blended onions, coconut milk, shrimp, cassava flour, bread crumbs blended with coconut milk and mixed well until a thick paste consistency.

Now some of this may not seem the most attractive in their description, but if the Internet would let me leave a taste at the end of each description, you wouldn’t care about the appearance.  Also, it is crucial to note, these are Afro-Bahian dishes, therefore born out of a slave culture.  How often have you heard of slaves having lavish meals that were beautiful to look at and eat?  The meals fulfilled their purpose.  The chef did note that as Afro-Bahians moved up in status economically (which we learned in one of our lectures this morning could have been by owning slaves….stick a pin there, more on that in another blog), the shrimp was added because the inclusion of protein in these dishes reflected your wealth.

The layers of flavor including the pepper sauce made for a wonderfully delicious, satisfying meal.  That is why this evening, I am only have a few pieces of bread and water because I am still full!

Tomorrow is our last day of lectures.  We begin our transition back home.  I may begin to re-pack my suitcase tonight.  I have gifts for my family I need to squeeze in.

 

Boa noite!

Syncretism and the Brazilian Way

7 Jun

So in a teachable moment, it is important to note, that the Internet is not always reliable in Salvador.  Here’s hoping my notes and my  memory can merge yesterday and today into one blog post.

The idea of syncretism has been discussed a lot by the lecturers in this program over the past few days.  But what exactly is it and how can the average person understand it?  I hope to use some cultural information about Salavdor and Bahia in order to help to provide some insight into syncretism, the layers upon layers of culture and traditions that make up what is Afro-Brazilian and in essence, Brazilian.

One of our guides told us it is custom to keep the colonial face of buildings and renovate everything behind it.  This would be part one of syncretism, the Portguese culture.  Why is it first when it is the least ethnically prominent in the rgion (Afro-Bahians make up 85% of the population).  Because it was with the Portuguese that society and social mores were founded, therefore it is the foundation upon which the other layers are placed.

In Cachoeira (ka-SHWEAR-ah), there is a sisterhood of “more seasoned” (the youngest is a vivacious 55) Afro-Bahian women who use the principles of Catholicism to serve the community in particular ways.  They also have a Celebration of Boa Morte (good death) every August.  The Public Relations person for the Sisterhood told us that the majority of the participants are African Americans who travel to Bahia to celebrate with the women.  However the Sisterhood did not start off as an Afro-Bahian organization.  It began as a Portuguese women’s sisterhood and the older slave women requested to be a part as a way of devoting to God.  The Portuguese women allowed it and tasked them to collect the alms to pay for the annual celebration.  There were 200 slave women who were a part of the Sisterhood collecting alms around Bahia.  When they finished, they kept a portion in order to buy the freedom of one of the slave women.

Over time, more slave women joined and it soon became known as a way to gain your freedom.  After a number of years in the Sisterhood, the slave women were granted freedom and it continued until slavery was abolished in 1888.  Now the Irmandade de Boa Morte is exclusively Afro-Bahian.  The oldest woman currently is 108 years old!  Part two of syncretism: The implementation of African traditions adapted through slavery and placed on top of what is Portuguese to a point where over time it is difficult to distinuguish what is Portuguese and what is African but you know for sure, it is Brazilian.

Tonight we are going to a candomble celebrating the orixa (oh-REE-shah) Oxossi (oh-SHO-see), the hunter.  Candomble is an African-rooted religion that has infused elements of Catholicism (it just so happens this celebration falls on the national holiday, Feast of St. John…well not really, St. John is the Catholic equivalent to Oxossi).  Candomble is also syncretism.  Traditonally African, infused with Catholicism practiced by ANYONE, not just the Blacks.  Remember the UK-born, Puerto Rican raised White woman lecturer I mentioned in an earlier blog?  She was initiated in the house of Oxum in a terreiro (the equivalent to what US practitioners of Yoruba call an ile) in Salvador.  This in essence, makes her syncretism manifested.  Like it or not, agree with it or not, syncretism encompasses all things in Brazil.  The Brazilian way is how you adpat the Portuguese and the African to make up your life.  Which means the evidence of syncretism can look different from Brazilian to Brazilian.  How the white by appearance Brazilian incorporates syncretism will look very different from the Afro-Bahian selling the African based acaraje to her, incorporates syncretism.

One thing I do know, syncretism or not, this is going to be a long night…..lol

Boa noite!

What to do in Salvador

5 Jun

I realize, I’ve spent the past few days pontificating on what I’m learning, but this is a TRAVEL blog so here’s some useful information about seeing sights in Salvador.  I will admit, purchasing airfare will be pretty steep, but with proper planning, you can visit Salvador with your family and not break the bank.

Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

Here are some links to some inexpensive, family-friendly activities you can do in Salvador.  The list is not complete, as I am still here and know I won’t see everything, but these are definitely things that when I bring my family back, I’ll do again.

Bale Folclorico da Bahia

This troupe does daily evening performances at Teatro Miguel Santana in the Pelourinho Historic Center.  They specialize in Afro-Bahian dance.  Please take your family to see this troupe.

http://www.balefolcloricodabahia.com.br/

Pelourinho: Salvador’s Historic Center

This is the neighborhood where it all began in Salvador.  It’s the colonial area of the city. There are several churches you can tour for less than 3 reais (about 2 bucks) per person.  There is a Museum of Afro-Brazilian History in the old medical school.  This entrance fee will probably be the most expensive here (about 5 bucks per person).  Of course there are guides that will give you a tour, but you can easily explore the neighborhood as a family with a map.  Be mindful it is a touristy area so what comes with that (vendors, etc.) will be present.  However do not go on Sundays.  Pelourinho is pretty desolate on Sundays therefore ripe for crime.

http://gosouthamerica.about.com/cs/southamerica/a/BraPelourinho.htm

Lacerda Elevator

This is probably one of the coolest things your kids will like.  In 1849, a huge elevator was built to link Pelourinho to the Cidade Baixa (Lower City).  A family of four can take a one way ride on this elevator for the grand total of 25 cents.  On the lower city side, you will walk right into Mercado which will have souvenirs for you to peruse through.

http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/South_America/Brazil/Estado_da_Bahia/Salvador_da_Bahia-1503499/Things_To_Do-Salvador_da_Bahia-Lacerda_Elevator-BR-1.html

Colonial opulence on the backs of the oppressed; agency as a slap in the face

5 Jun

I beg your pardon as I use this blog to sort through the information on Salvadoran history I received today. I am processing as best I can all that I have heard, sifting through contradictions and delusions of grandeur in regards to what really is and what people think they see.

Yesterday’s post ended with me wondering whether or not what I see as Black is what Salvadorans see as Black. In two lectures (both by non-Afro-Brazilians), we were told about all th reasons why racism is not really an issue in Brazil. The justification was eloquently practiced and poised however fragile in its reasoning because in the same lectures two things were shared: 1) There are at least 5 terms that are used to address how Black you are and what type of Afro-Brazilian with whom you are to be grouped.

If there is no racism, than why is it almost offensive to be called nego (black) instead of pardo (brown), but mulatos are who have better access to resources (Yes, this is 2012)?

2) The class issue is the biggest issue when it comes to Brazil, never mind that the poorest of the poor are the Afro-Brazilians who have been systematically placed at the bottom rung of Brazilian society.

I see that although slavery ended in Brazil only 23 years after it “ended” in the US, I’m guessing Brazil is currently about 2-3 generations behind the US in regards to understanding the nature of race relations. I could very well be wrong in this guess, but I am continuing to process this day and further indulge your attention as I work it out.

No. I’m not saying Brazil is either, backwards or retarded when it comes to race. I am saying that there is a naivete when it comes to “know your place and stay there” that has misled the population into thinking that surface level, everything is copastetic between the races in Brazil.

For example, a UK born, Puerto Rican bred white woman lecturing to us today actually said (ahem) “Because the economy is booming and more Afro-Brazilians are being educated, it is harder to find nannies now, because they think they’re above those kinds of jobs now that they have education.” My instinctual reaction would have been offensive and possibly would have caused an international incident, but as I pondered how best to react, I realized that this “innocent” remark, was not perceived as incorrect because in Brazil, there is a place that each color group has and has had for centuries and the Black Activists in Brazil have only recently disrupted that status quo to the point of unrest ideologically.

Lectures completed, we (I think ironically) go to visit the Historic Center, Pelourinho. This is the old colonial part of Salvador. We enter into the Franciscan Church which is, floor to ceiling, layered in gold. I pause for a moment here—-If you read the “about” section, you know that I have traveled other places but hadn’t blogged about them before so will try to include these trips in my blogs when possible—-

When I went to London and visted the Crown Jewels, the line to get on the moving ramp to lay your eyes on diamonds and gold and silver and other bedazzled extravagance, was epic. Standing on that ramp, the closer I got to those jewels , the more uncomfortable I felt as I began to recall the exact means “Jolly Old England” retrieved those precious metals and stones to create the royal ecoutrement.

This feeling came back as I stood in the middle of Franciscan Church in Pelourinho. Especially when our guide (the same fabulous wealth of knowledge from yesterday) proceeded to tell us that all the gold was laid by slaves. The slaves carved all the wood, polished it, varnished it and laid all the gold on every inch of the church. How can one marvel when you understand the road to this finshed product?

I have to admit, I did feel a bit of ease to my spirit when the guide (I apologize, he does have a name, Josuel) informed us that the Africans actually gave some of the angels in the church Black features intentionally. I had to chuckle out loud.

Continuing through Pelourinho, we approach the square for which the neighborhood is named. My bad, Pelourinho means “whipping post,” the place where slaves were brought to be publicly flogged during slavery in Salvador. Directly across from that square is a church, financed, built and attended only by AFRICANS in Salvador. Although it took them 100 years to finance and build it, my mindset shifted from oppression to agency and began to look at Pelourinho with a new set of eyes.

There is modern-day evidence all through Pelourinho of how Afro-Brazilians are asserting a new identity. Statues of Quilombo heroes, Afro-Brazilian museums with rooms dedicated to Orixas and schools and NGOs for the benefit of Afro-Brazilian childen all communicate a sense of agency that is a marker for the changes taking place in Salvador.

Salvador specifically, and Brazil in general, since the election of Lula in 2002, see that to be Black is to represent the people (I need to credit Livio Sansone for this remark). This o povo mentality is going to assert Afro-Brazilian identity in a new way.

OH! I think I just found my publishable piece for this trip……

Lessons learned from those with little

3 Jun

Day two of Brazil has us taking the obligatory tourist-centered driving tour of Salvador.  We tour all of the sites of Bahia on this lovely Sunday afternoon/evening (the scheduled 2-hour tour turned into 3 1/2 hours relatively easily but it was still an awesome tour).  When we toured through Cidade Baixa where the “poorer Bahians” (the guide’s words, not mine) live, I saw more than just the sorveteria (which has awesome ice cream by the way). There were a lot more people out and enjoying themselves.  More people…more Black people…more Black families.

As African American families how often do we REALLY take the time to enjoy one another?  I’m not talking about the $100 we may spend on our family to have a night at the movies.  I’m not talking about the money we spent on the Xbox or Wii that in turn has our family cooped up in the house.  I’m talking about Sunday afternoon in the park, walking the neighborhood, spending little to no money, but enjoying the company of our families.

What I enjoyed most about the tour was not just the beautiful sites, but the beautiful Black families walking along the beach enjoying the sea breeze; the wonderful Black families who were sitting in an outdoor restaurant, just enjoying a soda; the fabulous Black families who were dancing outside of the places where live music was being played; the magnificent Black families who were just sitting and TALKING to one another.

I’ve learned a lesson in family fun today.  Too often we get caught up in the nonsensical material things and forget that enjoying family doesn’t need to be expensive or strenuous.  I am changing my mindset about how I will enjoy my family.

Now tomorrow….I get to learn whether or not I am correct in even calling these families Black.  I have a couple lectures I will be attending that are going to help to explain this idea of “racial democracy” in Brazil.  Here’s to (my) open mind………

Boa noite

Bom dia no Brasil!

3 Jun

It is my first day in Salvador, Brazil.  After an overnight flight, I am a bit exhausted, but excited about a brand new adventure.  I’m here for a development workshop and caught up with a fellow participant and we spent the day just walking around the neighborhood of the hotel.

I like to not only people watch but also observe how the people watch me.  Today, I got a brief run down of what’s “air of Brazil.”

1) Brazilians have a self love that goes without question.  I have never seen so many men a little larger than the average bear in tiny beach shorts just cruising the streets.  Admittedly the hotel is right on the beach so there a bit a motivation for such carrying on, but the men walk as though there is nothing finer.  That is a level of confindence that not many of us have.  Yes my brothas in the US do have a degree of swag, but the swag I witnessed today is a bit different.  The men seem to not care what you think about the way they look.

Another observation here: women of all sizes are going to wear something that accentuates their God-blessed curves.  No, this does not mean that all the women are running around in spandex.  This is a myth perpetuated by somebody that just is not true.  However, every woman I saw today is clear about what their body type is, and what clothing will make that type look absolutely awesome.  This is a lesson I would like to learn….someday….for now, I’ll settle for what my pocket can afford and doesn’t squeeze me in like a sausage.

2)  Farafol restaurant on Avenida Oceanica is fabulous!  I ordered the shrimp soup and a cod pasty (my midwesterners know what a pasty is).  Flavorful and inexpensive.  The whole meal plus two bottles of what was less than $10 US.

Being Black in Brazil:

Since the purpose of this blog is to discuss my experiences as a Black woman in these various locations across the globe, I must provide a commentary on other things I have seen today.

When I walked into my hotel this morning, I saw a Salvadoran woman, dressed in traditional Bahian dress in order to serve breakfast to the guests.  I could not help be a bit reminiscent of Sarah Barton and the exoticizing of blackness and our traditions for the sake of tourism.  Her costume, although beautiful served no purpose but to showcase a white heteronormative desire to relive the past through brilliant fantasy.  It was out of place in my opinion, and it leaves me to wonder what else will I see over the course of these days?

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