Tag Archives: Brazil

London, March 6, 2010

19 Jun
English: The City of London skyline as viewed ...

English: The City of London skyline as viewed toward the north-west from the top floor viewing platform of London City Hall on the southern side of the Thames. In the foreground: Dixie Queen and Millennium Time at Tower Millennium Pier. This is a 5 segment panoramic image taken by myself with a Canon 5D and 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


So, although my trip to Brazil has since ended, my travel blogging has not.  As I await my next adventure, I figured I’d bring you up to speed of some of my “pre-blog” thoughts with my travel to London.

London- Day 1(1/2) March 6, 2010

Note to self: seasons are exactly the same as the US.  It is cold!  There was a brief moment of “good” weather complete with sunshine.  That did not last very long.

I went to the bar across from the hotel to observe.  A Manchester United game was on.  There weren’t many women in the bar unaccompanied, so that felt a bit awkward.  I saw a total of 3 Black men.  However I did not have my usual rush of comfort as I do in other foreign cities. It was mere novelty than anything else.  My “that’s cool” moment when I see something intriguing but not quite interesting enough to warrant further analysis and reflection.  It could be travel delirium and all will be well and normal tomorrow.

The one thing I see almost immediately in regards to ethnicity is the shear number of groups that travel in “formula packs” but not necessarily for the sake of tokenism.  Surviving my first day on the Tube and the National Rail today, I witnessed that many of the groups were diverse to their own level of comfort, but no member appeared outwardly out of place.

I recall how in the US when you see a group of White youth with the lone friend of a different ethnicity, be it Black, Asian or Latino (or even the reverse), that lone friend can often stick out like a sore thumb raising critical questions in my mind that go so far as to speculate the intended desires of his/her parents that may have resulted in the group of “friends.”

I find here in London though that rationale does not cross my mind when I see an ethnically diverse group.  Have I put qualifiers to bracket this bias just because I know I am in another country?

Day 1, I feel more AMERICAN than anything else.  However the trip has only just begun……..

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!



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!




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.


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.


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.


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

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