Friday, May 30, 2008

Computer problems

Our computer has a virus and is basically out of commission until we get the problem fixed, so I am going be a little short on the blog entries for a while. I will do my best to put an update in here and there from the language school computer lab until the home computer is back up and running.

Last night I had kind of a meltdown. Vilma and I were walking from our apartment down to the language school and I saw these 3 guys who looked like they were totally scoping out the scene to get ready to rob someone (there was another woman walking near them as well). It was like 6:30 at night. We needless to say got the hell out of there as fast as we could, and nothing happened, but the whole situation just made me furious. I walked the rest of the way to the school and then to the supermarket swearing and cursing them for making me feel scared, cursing Brazil for having all these problems with violence, and cursing the São João holiday that is coming up at the end of June because the crime level goes up a lot the month before as people are trying to get money in order to travel and celebrate this holiday. After going to the market and then returning home (on the way back they were not there and it was totally safe), I had all kinds of feelings about how I am fed up with feeling scared, how I hate that I can´t relax on the street at any hour, and how the problem is so huge and societal that there seems to be no solution.

I understand now why Brazilians have this kind of reluctant acceptance of the violence here. It is easier to just not think about it than to constantly be trying to fight against it. The problem is so big, that it almost doesn´t seem worth the fight.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Jogo de futebol (Soccer game)

Last night I went to my first ever Brazilian soccer game. I have been wanting to go to a game, but was always kind of nervous about it after reading in various travel resources that people get super crazy and even go so far as to pee in cups and then throw the urine into the crowds. Not wanting to get sprayed with pee, I have avoided this initiation rite towards becoming a "real Brazilian".

One of my students, Pissica, invited me to go with him to this game. It was Vitoria, which is one of the teams from Bahia, against Figueirense, a team from Santa Catarina. I figured that since he was bringing his 7 year old son, that it was probably relatively safe for me to go. So after battling the crowds at the "Marcha para Jesus" (March for Jesus) that closed down the bus system that goes to Pissica´s house, I finally made it to his house and then we were off to the stadium.

Pissica has some kind of season pass for everyone in his family which includes VIP parking right by the entrance to the stadium and a seat at the mid-field line that actually had chairs (the rest of the stadium has cement benches with no back rests), so we went in style and security. I wanted to bring my camera to take some pics, but Vilma advised against it. Turns out it totally would have been fine to bring it. Oh well, next time!

Anyway, I enjoyed the game a lot (!) and went back and forth between watching the game and watching the crowd. There was a large section of crowd that had an informal drumming group who kind of led the group cheers. There were various chants, together with hand motions that the crowd did throughout the game to motivate both the team and the crowd. It also seemed to be common practice to bring a small hand-held radio to listen to the commentators´ broadcast. Most of the older men in the crowd had one of these radios.

All in all it was an enjoyable evening and Vitoria won, 4-0. I was invited to go to a wedding afterwards, but passed due to the fact that I was not really dressed for the occasion and also because I wanted to get back home and hang out with Vilma.

The 2 teams in Bahia (Vitoria and Bahia) have a HUGE rivalry. You are either for Vitoria or Bahia, and once you support a team, it is like you are a part of a family feud against the other team. I heard parts of chants last night "Eu sou Vitoria" (I am Vitoria), "Vitoria minha vida" (Vitoria, my life), and "Vitoria meu amor" (Vitoria my love) that demostrated the ferver with which people believe in and support their team. You might ask if I am now Vitoria. Well, given that the majority of my students seem to be Vitoria, and I went to my first game in Vitoria´s stadium, I guess my leanings are more towards this team than the other. But who knows, maybe I will have the chance to go to a Bahia game and my allegiance will change! All I know is that for someone who doesn´t really like or follow any sports in the US, I sure do love me some Brazilian futebol!

Image taken from

Friday, May 23, 2008

Uma peça de teatro (A Play)

Last night I went to see a play called "A Bofetada", which means "A slap in the face". It was a comedy and was playing at one of the English schools that also has a theatre in their building. I went with Pissica, his girlfriend and 2 daughters. I went because I thought it would be cool to check out another play (culture=good) and to see if I would be able to understand more of the dialogue than I did at the first and only other play that I saw here in Salvador. That play was called "Josefina, cantora dos ratos" (translation: Josefina, singer of the rats) and I saw it back in October. I understood probably about 50-60% of the dialogue and thought that was pretty good given where I was with my language development at the time.

Well, last night I think I understood about 25% of the dialogue. I left feeling kind of bummed out about my language skills. I start to feel really confident like, "yeah I´m fluent", and then something like this happens. The same thing happens to me when I watch movies that are in Portuguese. I have been to 2 Brazilian movies since being here, "Tropa de Elite" (Elite Squad) and "Meu nome não e Johnnie" (My name isn´t Johnnie). I spent a good portion of both of these movies whispering in Vilma´s ear, "what did he say?" and "I don´t understand what is happening!" I´m sure it must have been slightly irritating for the other people in the theatre around us, but at least I walked out of both films understanding the story and the general idea of what happened.

At the play I sat next to Pissica´s daughter, who is 15. She was cracking up the whole time and I didn´t really feel comfortable asking her what was happening, especially since the theatre was totally sold out, the action in the play happened really quickly, and our previous interactions have been limited to "good morning", "how are you?", and "is your father here?".

So I basically sat there the whole time, was able to pick up on individual words, and a few general themes. Then was happy when it was time to go and eat crepes at this cool restaurant down the street. Yay for shrimp crepes!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Scary Hill

This is a view of the hill that I walk up and down every day. It leads from the main drag with all the bus stops up to my apartment building. I have nicknamed it "Scary Hill" for 2 reasons. First of all, as you can see there really is no sidewalk. There is kind of a mini-one on the right side, but it is below a bunch of houses and people are known for dropping stuff out of the windows, spitting, etc and so you take your chances if you walk on that side. Plus it is the side that goes with traffic, so is not so safe if you try to walk just off the small sidewalk in an attempt to avoid being rained on by unknown objects from above.

People drive like complete maniacs here and cars generally speed up and down the hill and take little or no notice of pedestrians. I have more than once had to kind of jump off to the side (there are parts of the hill where this is not an option as you are walking on the edge of a ledge!) in order to avoid being nailed by a speeding car, usually driven by someone who is talking on their cell phone and not paying attention.

The second reason that this hill is scary is that it borders a favela (slum). My apartment is actually in an upper-middle class neighborhood, but I am on the edge of this neighborhood which borders a favela. I was going to walk down this hill to take a picture of the favela, but there were a bunch of guys sitting at the top of the hill and I didn´t want them to see that I had a camera with me. So I will try to get a pic at a later date.

Here is a picture of the street that my building is on. So after you walk up the hill, you turn onto this street and my apartment is like 1/2 a block up on the right. I always breathe a sigh of relief when I get up to the top of the hill in one piece. My street is super quiet, super chill and I feel safe because there are security guys who work in most of the buildings keeping an eye on things. I could always ask to be let into a building if I needed to.

I thought you all might like to see a bit more about my day to day, and where I live is certainly a part of this! Enjoy :)

Primeira pintura

I bought my first painting ever. And here is a photo of it! An aquaintance (now a friend) from Portland came here to Salvador to spend a month training capoeira and checking out the city. His girlfriend, who painted the above picture and who is also now a friend, came with him. Being so happy to hang out with fellow Portlanders, I spent quite a bit of time with both of them. After seeing Flora´s work, I decided to take the plunge and buy my first painting. Also, my apartment (see my previous post with pictures) was severely lacking in the art/decorations on the wall department, and so this painting now beautifully fills up a previously empty wall. I love it!!! The name of the painting is "Magia" which in English means magic.

Flora´s website is here: if you want to check out her work. She also hosted a cool art show in Portland last December called Thirty and will be hosting a follow up show in August (? I think it´s August!) called Thirty-one. If you are in Portland, you should check it out.

Thanks a million Flora!!! I already miss you guys!


I heart comments. Yes, I do look at my blog on a regular basis to see who is reading it. And unless you leave a comment, I will not know you have been here reading about my adventures. So please, take a quick moment and let me know what you think!


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Thinking positive

In the last week or so, I have been feeling pretty down and negative. Of course finding out about my grandfather yesterday did not help matters, but I woke up today determined to try to start thinking more positively. Recently I watched the movie "The Secret" and while some of you may think that it is kind of cheesy, the idea about the law of attraction really resonated with me. If I am walking around thinking negatively, negative things will come my way. I need to focus on the positive so that more positive things will happen. So I am posting this picture and will now tell you about one of the most positive (and unusual) friendships that I have here in Salvador.

Yes, this is a picture of me driving a yacht. No, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would ever ride on, never mind drive, a yacht. But here I am, thanks to one of my students, and now friend, Pissica.

I started teaching him in October, and he very quickly decided that he wanted to be my friend as well as my student. He started inviting me to hang out with him, his girlfriend and his other friends. Now what makes him one of the most unusual friends I have ever had is that he is 60 years old and super rich. And his philosophy is that he likes to have fun, go out, bring people with him, and cover the bill. This means that I get to go out on his boat, go eat at fancy restaurants, go to family dinners and parties and that he does not expect any financial contribution. This has allowed me eat at places I would never had eaten because the bill is in the range of my monthly rent!

Now I have never been a "gold digger", nor have I been very concerned with the amount of money that people make. I have friends in the US who have some money, and I have friends who have little. For me, I don´t really care about what brand of shoes you are wearing or how much is in your bank account. I have to say that experiencing all of this with Pissica has not changed my views about this. And yet I also have to say that it is kind of nice to be treated to all of these luxuries!

He really has proven to be a good friend to me, offering help at any time. He said to me once that if anything bad ever happens to me here, that I should call him and he will "take care of it". I heard about 2 women getting mugged at gunpoint on the street that I walk on every day to go to the English school. I called Pissica and he immediately got on the phone with some high ranking cop who then met with me and went to talk with one of the witnesses of the crime to get more information. I am not sure how it all ended up, but I do know that there have been no more muggings in that area.

The only thing that Pissica expects in return for all of this is that I only speak English with him. That I can do.

So when I start to think negatively about my situation, or about Salvador in general, I am going to think about Pissica- his generousity, openness and friendship, and know that this will help me to focus on the positive side of where I am now.

Friday, May 16, 2008


My Grandpa died this morning at 5AM eastern time. It´s times like this when I really regret being so far away. He was 91 years old and had a full, interesting, active life. He was diagnosed with cancer last fall and got sick really fast. I won´t be able to go to the funeral..... Damn this distance.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


On Tuesday I felt like I was at the end of my rope. My relationship with Brazil in general and Salvador in particular is what I would classify as a "like/hate" relationship. I used to say that I had a love/hate relationship with Salvador, but it has moved from love to like, and from hate to really hate at times. Tuesday was in the category of "get me on the next plane back to the US"!

Here´s what happened...
I was on the bus to go teach a class. When I go teach this student every Tuesday, I sometimes treat myself and take the air-conditioned bus. This bus costs twice the price of the normal bus, but is (obviously) a lot cooler and goes faster because less people ride it. I saw this bus go by and thought about flagging it down, but then decided to just ride the normal bus to save the R$2. I should have listened to my inner voice about taking the more expensive one, but of course hindsight is 20/20 now isn´t it?!

I get on the bus, give the ticket guy my money, and then move to take a seat up near the front. There are actually some busses in Salvador that have a wheelchair lift, and this was one of them. There was a man in a wheelchair sitting in the area where they strap the chairs down once they are on the bus. I glanced at him, saw that he had one leg missing and the other leg in real bad shape, and decided to try not to look at him and just go about my business.

I was sitting there staring out the window at the ocean and trying to think pleasant thoughts when I saw a movement on the floor out of the corner of my eye. I look down and there is the guy from the wheelchair who had climbed out of the chair and was dragging himself across the floor of the bus to get to the front.

A side note about busses in Salvador... Some bus drivers will allow people to come onto the bus and beg for money. This usually involves them standing (or sitting as it were) at the front of the bus, loudly telling their sad story about why they need money, and then walking along the aisle collecting money from any folks who will give it to them. I have to admit that this kind of makes me mad because I just want to space out and look out the window when I am riding the bus, and it is hard to focus on relaxing when you have someone telling their sad story and sometimes being aggressively insistent that you give them money afterwards. But I digress...

This guy starts talking about how he lost his leg, he is going to lose his other leg, his leg is "cheio de bichos" (there is not really a good English translation for this phrase, the closest I can get is "full of bugs"), he can´t work and has 3 kids to feed. Now I don´t give money to people on the streets, and I did not give this guy any money, but his story, appearance, and situation in general was such the epitemy of misery here that I started to cry.

Seeing so much povery and misery, day after day, can be really draining. Especially for someone who has not grown up here, it can be a bit much to emotionally deal with. Now of course I know there is misery in the USA (come on, I was a social worker for 10 years!), and there are also people in worse situations in other parts of the world, but this is the first time I have been face to face with some serious misery and poverty.

Since being in Salvador I have struggled between being open and sympathetic towards people´s plights or putting up a wall and blocking it all out, and I have to admit that in recent months I have been leaning towards the wall side of things. But on this bus, on this day, the wall fell down and I just felt so sad and overwhelmed that I couldn´t bear to see another sad, miserable, poor Brazilian.

That night I was talking with one of the Brazilian English teachers at the English school and described the situation to him. He told me that in his opinion, Salvador is like this because people live so close together, that we get to see the good, the bad, the ugly side of everything and everyone. And it´s true. Look at the city plan (or lack of it) and there are all these super tall buildings, crammed close together, or favela houses that are built up on top of each other. People here have a different sense of personal space, think nothing of touching each other and just cramming all in together where in the US we would be saying "excuse me, sorry" left and right. They just go with this flow of closeness and seem to be ok with it. Throw a North-Americana into this mix and it can get a little uncomfortable for her.

So what happens now? Well, Salvador is still Salvador, and I am still me. Maybe I will take the more expensive bus next Tuesday, maybe I will break down and actually give R$1 to a guy on the street, maybe the wall will stay up, maybe it will come down. I guess the only thing I know for sure, is that whatever happens someone will be sure to be close enough to me to see it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Warning: If you don´t want to read about "that time of the month", better known as menstruation, then please don´t read any further!

As often happens with women, Vilma and I are pretty much on the same menstruation cycle. This happened to me at my last job in Portland too. All the women would have their periods at the same time each month, give or take a day. Anyway, she usually starts first and then one day or so later I get mine. Here is a picture of some pads from Brazil. The name "Sempre livre" means "Always free" and "com abas" means "with wings or tabs".

Learning about the "female condition" and how it is viewed here in Brazil has been an interesting experience, to say the least. Here are some notes about what I have come to understand about "menstruacão".

  • People are a lot more open about talking about it, men and women. I once had a Brazilian guy try to give me advice about what kind of pad to buy (I wanted tampons, and he couldn´t understand why I would want to use them because they are more expensive than pads)! You can just call in sick to work and say that you have cramps and the other person (man or woman) will say in a sympathetic voice, "Ohhhh, tranquilo".
  • Women here don´t use tampons. They also are not into using any of the alternative types of feminine hygiene products that some women in the US use, like the keeper.
  • Many women stay in bed all day long on the first day of their period, no matter what (like Vilma!).
Anyway, these are the main differences between here and the US with regards to "the curse". I guess my last question is, why does writing about this topic involve a lot of quotation marks?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Outside the apartment window

I have always enjoyed watching birds. I mean, I am not one of those bird watching fanatics that live by their windows with a pair of binoculars, but I do enjoy checking out birds, especially unusual ones. It has been fun to be in South America where it is totally normal to have parakeets, parrots, and other "exotic" (to us North Americans) birds just flying around free. I even got to see a toucan in the wild when I was down visiting the Foz do Iguacu waterfalls! Talk about a cool bird!

For some unknown reason, some birds that I think are small parrots (Vilma is convinced they are parakeets) have decided that our neighborhood is a cool place to hang out. So when I hear their song, which is more like a racket, I find myself running to the window to catch a glimpse of them. Their way of flying is very distinct, their song is very loud and they are bright green which makes them hard to miss. It is a comfort to me I think, living in this big polluted city, to be able to see so many birds and that there are actually trees in our neighborhood where they can hang out!

There are 2 other main types of wildlife here in the city that I have seen. One, which is my favorite, is the "mico" which is Portuguese for squirrel monkey. These guys are kind of elusive, but live in large numbers all over the city. 1-2 months will pass without my seeing any of them, but then I will have luck and get a glimpse of one running in the other direction. They like to run along the phone wires and hang out in trees. They are sooooooo cute! The other type that I see a fair amount of are lizards. Now I am not a scientist, so can´t say exactly what kind of lizard they are, but they are generally about the size of your hand and are green. I have seen one snake, and it was poisonous, but it was at the entrance of the zoo, which is pretty forested, so you don´t have to worry too much about seeing snakes when you are out and about walking on the street.

I guess that is all I have to say about city wildlife here in Salvador. It´s nice to be able to see some living creatures besides humans, but I sure do miss being able to hop in a car, drive 30 minutes, and do some hiking in the Columbia Gorge forest, where the diversity of wildlife is a lot greater than here in this city.

By the way, the photos here are a view out my bedroom window, and me trying to use the zoom on my little hand held digital camera to get a picture of what I think is a parrot, but Vilma swears is a parakeet, sitting on the top of the apartment building next door.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Leaving comments

A couple of you have emailed me saying that you tried to leave a comment but couldn´t due to not being a registered user. I have changed the setting and it should work now so that anyone can leave a comment. I will write more soon. Thanks for reading!


Saturday, May 3, 2008

My apartment

Some of you may be wondering where I am living now. I mentioned in my last post that I have a small one-bedroom apartment in Ondina. Well, I thought I would send off some photos of my place so you can get a better idea of what my life is like here. I have to say that this is the smallest place I have ever lived. But for just Vilma and I, well it works out ok.

So here is the living room:

Here is the tiny tiny kitchen. I do miss having counter space!!!

Here is the bathroom. It is a decent size for a bathroom I think. And the shower head has hot water, which is nice when it is chilly (which doesn´t happen very often). For those of you not familiar with the Brazilian hot water system, the showerhead has a compartment that fills up with water. In this compartment are electric coils that heat the water. You might be thinking, water and electricity together? Well, you are right...many people (myself included) have been shocked while adjusting the showerhead. Especially if the showerhead is old. Luckily the one we have here is new so neither of us has been shocked. You can see the showerhead at the top of the picture. It is the white thing with the silver showerhead hanging down.

Finally, here is the bedroom. It is small and does not have a closet. Closets are non-existent here in Brazil. Everyone has these wardrobe armoire kind of things. The one we have here was one of the first things I bought when Vilma and I started living together. She had a very small one that was not big enough for my stuff, so I got this one on sale.

It is pretty basic, but I like it so much more than our last apartment. This neighborhood is really quiet and I can walk to the english school. Now we just have to get some more stuff to put on the walls and it will feel "homier".

That´s it for today....enjoy!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Primeira entrada

Hi all-
I have started, and failed, at keeping a blog on a number of occasions. Now I am going to do my best to actually have a blog and keep up on it. Your comments will be sure to give me some needed encouragement, so feel free to leave them!

Here is a bit about my current situation, for those of you who don´t know....

I have been in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil off and on (mostly on) since June 2006. I originally came here to continue learning Portuguese and to train capoeira. My plan was to stay for 6 months. But as fate would have it, during my last month here I met this incredible woman and there was no way for me to even consider not pursuing the relationship. So after 3 months in the US I returned on a student visa to study some more Portuguese and be with her.

Fast forward to now, May 1, 2008 and I am living with my girlfriend in a neighborhood called Ondina, in a little one-bedroom apartment that is within walking distance to the English school where I teach. I also teach private students, which is better for me as I can make more money and have more flexibility. I have had many adventures, struggles, laughter, tears, self questioning, doubts, dreams, ideas, and hopes for the future since I arrived, and I still don´t know what the hell I am doing. I want to move back to the US, but visa issues for my girlfriend are an obstacle, and I am in a position of choosing love for her vs. love for my country.

I never really thought I would say that I love the USA...and it is true that there is a lot about it that I don´t like or even hate. But after living outside of it for almost 2 years, I miss it! I miss my friends and family, my community. I miss Portland, the city where I lived for 10 years. I miss Portland restaurants...thai corn cakes at La Vida, pizza from the Blind Onion, and what I wouldn´t give to be chowing down on fish tacos from La Bonita!!! I miss my capoeira group in Portland. I miss having a dog. I miss being able to walk down the street and not worry about being mugged. I miss the mountains and hiking. The list goes on and on.

That is not to say that there are not cool things here. First of all I love my girlfriend! I love the fruits and juices. I love agua de coco (coconut water) that you can buy on every street corner for R$1. I love living by the sea. I love the warm weather and sun. I love how musical everyone is. I love the feeling of history and culture here. I love feeling the intense energy that this city is teeming with. I love my little apartment. I love teaching english and my students...

But that said, the things that I hate about this city are overshadowing my loves. I hate the level of crime and violence here. I hate having to think about getting mugged every time I walk out the door. I hate that nobody trusts anyone here. I hate the economic disparity- the rich are super rich and the poor are living in shacks with no plumbing and stolen electricity. I hate the drug problem in this city that infiltrates every layer of society. And I hate that because the US immigration does not recognize same-sex relationships, that my girlfriend and I (for now) are forced to stay here because it is our only option.

Here is a picture of us, so you can see what she looks like...

Well, I think that this is enough for a first entry (primeira entrada in Portuguese) so I will sign off. But look here for more stories and thoughts about my time in this land of contradictions.

Abracos (hugs)-