Sunday, August 31, 2008

A different type of community

First of all I want to send a shout out to all my friends who are at Burning Man right now. I have been thinking about you all this week and have been wearing my Burning Man necklaces in solidarity (see picture). Have fun at the Burn tonight and know that my thoughts are with you all!

In response to thinking about Burning Man all this week and especially today, I have been thinking a lot about the idea of community. I was blessed to live in Portland for 10 years and to have an amazing community of friends and support, both professionally and personally. It was a difficult decision to leave this safety net and dive into not just a different city, but a different country and culture as well. I missed, and still continue to miss, my close group of friends and colleagues who were always there (and who continue to be there) to help me, support me, have fun with me, and watch my back. It is a treasure to feel so much love and support. I miss having this on a day to day basis.

Since arriving in Brazil, I have felt a real lack of community in my life. Now community is a huge part of Brazilian culture, but I have found it difficult to find a community to be a part of. I participated in the capoeira community for a while, but now don´t have time to train and attend classes, so I am kind of cut off from this group of folks. I was doing volunteer work for a while at the beginning of my time in Salvador and was sort of a part of a community of lesbians, but always felt like an outsider due to my language skills at the time. Now, I guess I find myself part of two communities: the English teaching community and the community of family and friends that my students have. Neither of these communities have the same elements as my community in Portland, and I wonder- is it enough?

In my mind, community provides a number of areas of support. It is a place to share and receive, be it material goods, services, ideas, money, or other things. It is a place where you can ask for and give your time, emotional support, or a helping hand to a friend. It provides a place to feel safe, valued, and a part of something bigger than yourself. The communities that I am a part of here have some of these elements, but not all. And the one that I miss the most is the emotional support and equal friendship that I had an abundance of when I was living in Portland. I just don´t have those kind of friends here that I can call up and say "Hey, lets hang out!" or "I am feeling bummed out, can I talk with you?". The longer I am away from this, the more I realize that I really need this in my life.

So enjoy the community out in the Nevada desert and soak it all in while you can. You never know when you might be cut off from it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Loud music

One thing about living in another culture is learning to live with cultural differences. I used to have kind of a Pollyanna view of cultural diversity and differences, thinking that everyone should embrace and even love every aspect of all cultures. Now I am under the belief that while all cultural differences deserve respect and understanding, you don´t have to actually *like* all the different aspects of another culture.

Take music for example. Brazilians seem to have a different set of eardrums from mine. They love listening to their favorite songs over and over again and at a very loud volume. And it doesn´t seem to matter what time of day it is, they like their music good and loud.

I have this neighbor who lives in the apartment below mine. He listens to two kinds of music- Axe (the music of Carnaval) and really bad club music from the late 90´s/early 2000´s. Now I am all for Carnaval music, but only during Carnaval and not at 6:30AM or 11:45PM when others are trying to sleep. I have been woken up a number of times by his music, which is just really awful to listen to. He has horrible taste.

Last weekend I was awoken at about 12:30PM on Friday night by the song in this video. I go to bed early and so was sound asleep and rather irritated by the noise. I thought it was the guy downstairs, but it turns out that it was a sort of rave happening at this space down the hill from my apartment (and I should have known it wasn´t my neighbor, this song is too good for his tastes!). There has been one other party there, and both these events were unusual as my neighborhood is generally pretty quiet and totally residential. I could see disco lights eminating from the doorway and everything!

So if you want to get a taste of what it´s like to be in Brazil, you can put this video on a timer, have it go off in the middle of the night when you are sleeping, and play it really really loud and you will have some sense of what I experience on a regular basis here. Bonus points if you listen to Ivete Sangalo after this song is over!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ebb and flow

Life in Salvador is never dull or boring. I have a tendency to get into the rhythm of my life here and start to feel more comfortable, almost relaxed, and then something happens to shake things up. Generally not in a good way.

This morning I was walking to the bus stop and ran into my across the hall neighbor. She informed me that she was robbed on August 7 at about 6:15PM. At gunpoint. And at the bottom of the hill where I walk every single day, generally several times per day. I was just starting to feel more relaxed about being out and about on the street and now I feel like I am back to being totally paranoid and scared about walking around, which I have to do every day since I have no car and no plans to buy one. This sucks.

One of the problems is that I live just over the border between an upper-middle class neighborhood and a favela (slum). To get to my house you have to walk along the "border" (check out my "Scary Hill" post from a couple months ago) and very close to the entrance of the favela. A lot of robbers hang out around the entrance, rob people, and then run into the favela to escape. I was talking with one of the security guards who works at an apartment building close to where my neighbor was robbed and he said that the robbers will go on a little spree, then take a break so as not to raise too much suspicion with the cops. Not that the police do a whole lot to take care of this situation, but this is the rationale. And he said that more assaults happen on the weekends, but they do happen at all times of the day when folks are coming and going to work, morning and late afternoon/early evening. Just when I am walking up and down that hill.

So what to do? Well, Vilma does meet me at the bus stop to walk with me when she is home. I think that this is a deterrant to have more than one person walking together. And I do carry pepper spray, although if faced with someone who has a gun, I will certainly not be using it! I try not to carry anything of real value, but I do have to carry my cell phone because of my work. I guess there is no real answer, I just have to try thinking positive that nothing will happen to me.

A few other odds and ends:
-Vilma and I have been feeding the micos (squirrel monkeys). They are often in this tree near our building in the afternoons, and the other day one even ate a piece of banana from Vilma´s hand!
-"My" adopted dog, O Chefe, has appeared to have disappeared. Vilma said that sometimes people will call a guy who acts as a dog catcher and who takes the dogs away to some unknown fate (I don´t think that this fate involves living). It has been almost a week since I have seen him. It makes me sad to think that he might be dead.
-This picture was taken from the online newspaper "A Tarde" and is a bullet hole in a building in the favela next to where I live. There was some shoot out about a month ago that killed 4 innocent people. Drug traffickers were fighting over turf and decided to show up at this bar and open fire on innocent people. Bastards.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

He´s already been elected?!

Well for all of you who have been worrying about the upcoming election and thinking that perhaps Obama doesn´t have what it takes to prevent another 4 years of Republican hell, you can relax. According to the shopping mall near my house, Obama has already been elected! I took this picture yesterday, after seeing it the other day and having my jaw pretty much drop down to the floor of the bus as I was passing by. The words on this advertisement say "O Poder Mudou", which translated into English mean "The power has moved". Now this ad has no other information, and at the time I had no idea what this sign was advertising. But the day after I saw it a friend of one of my students told me that it is for some kind of new apartment complex (WTF?!?!). Anyway, since seeing it on the mall sign, I have seen the same billboard all over the city. I guess as far as getting people´s attention, this advertising company sure did a great job! Now if only their prediction is correct!!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fighting back

I just read an article in the online edition of the Salvador newspaper, A Tarde, that this week alone, there have been 2 attempted assaults on busses where another passenger on the bus shot and killed the robber. In both cases, the person who did the shooting was not a police officer, just a passenger who happened to be packing heat. With the increase in crime here, it seems like people are getting fed up and are taking matters into their own hands. There is so much corruption among the police, and most folks know that if they report a crime, that nothing will come of it, so they are doing what they feel necessary.

It´s interesting because if you tell a Brazilian about the above situations, most of them say "good" or "he deserved it" or "one less robber". There is not a lot of compassion for human life here when it comes to thieves.

On a follow up note, one of my students told me that he saw on the news that the body of that guy they found yesterday was a surfer who drowned. No foul play. At least it wasn´t a murder victim or something.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

OK this is just ridiculous

Ummm, why do they have a picture of what looks like Mexico when it is supposed to be Rio de Janeiro? And why do they have the Brazilian soccer player speaking Portuguese with a Spanish accent? Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish!

I saw a news story today about this commercial, and just watched the whole thing. It is ridiculous and a perfect example of how Americans think that the USA is the world and every other country can just be lumped into one. "South/Central America" is just a big land mass where everyone speaks Spanish, not the rich, vastly different area filled with a multidude of different climates, cultures, and people.

Highlights of the week (so far)

Well, I have been neglecting my blog more than I would like, so thought I would send out a quick "highlights" entry to let you all know what is going on this week so far. There have been some interesting events!

-This morning while running, Vilma and I saw a camera crew and some people standing around by the Christ statue in Barra. I thought the TV crew was just filming some footage for the nightly news, you know those kind of filler shots of people walking by, cars, etc. But no... we found out at the end of the run (from the lady who sells coconut water) that they found a dead body washed up on the rocks below the statue. I don´t know what happened, but will hopefully see some more info on the nightly news.
-Yesterday, Vilma and I spent about 20 minutes feeding the micos (little monkeys) near our apartment. Vilma got a banana, broke it into little pieces, and put it on a tree branch. We had fun watching the monkeys come down to get the pieces. So cute!
-I have "adopted" a dog. OK, well I can´t have dogs in my apartment, but there is this street dog that I have fallen for. He is black, with long fur and looks to be in pretty good shape compared to the other street dogs. So I bought some dog treats and now everytime I pass the spot where I hangs out, I give him a treat in an attempt to make friends. He is very suspicious of people, but seems to be sort of coming around. I have named him "O Chefe", which means "The Chief".
-My work is getting really busy. I am almost to the point of not accepting any more students because I have no more times available! This is a good thing, and I am glad to have the work after kind of a dry spell.
-In the Olympics today, there was a gold medal match between the US and Brazil in women´s soccer. Surprisingly, the US won! I was happy, but kind of sad for Brazil because they have only won one gold medal so far.

I guess that is about it for highlights. At least I can´t think of any more right now so I will sign off. Hope this post finds everyone well!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Things I saw on my run this morning

For those of you who don´t know, I have been running for about 2 months now. I run about 4-5 times per week, and as of today am up to 5K, which is just over 3 miles. I feel fortunate in that the ocean is a 5 minute walk from my house, and my running route is along the beach. It is a rejuvenating way to wake up in the morning!

Here are some things that I saw this morning on my run:

-Blue sky and sun! Woo hoo!
-The beautiful ocean :)
-A woman who had just bought her dog a coconut water, the dog was lapping water out of half of an opened coconut.
-Cops standing around trying to look tough
-3 people at a cafe sharing a large bottle of beer. Mind you, this was 8AM. I wasn´t sure if it was an early start to the day or a late end to the night.
-LOTS of other runners and walkers
-The weekly Sunday soccer games on the beach. Tons of guys come out every week to play soccer and hang out with their buddies.
-Construction, construction, construction. They are totally redoing the sidewalks along the route I run. This is nice because it needed to be replaced, but I am hoping that they will finish before the elections in October because otherwise the work will stop then and never be finished. I guess before every election there is a flurry of work that is started in an attempt by the current politicians to "prove" they are "doing something", but as soon as the election is over, all the work stops.
-The lighthouse at the edge of the bay- I run by here every day, but every time I see it I still think it looks cool.
-And finally, the lady that always sells me the coconut water that I drink after every run. Everyone here gives almost mystical powers to coconut water, in that it is a cure for almost any ailment. All I know is that I love to finish my run with one and the thought of drinking a cold coconut water is often the thought that pushes me to actually run as far as I do!

Happy Sunday my friends!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Big Apple

Hey, anyone got any tips for things to do and see in New York City? I have a student who is very wealthy and planning a 10 day trip to NYC in September, so money is really no object. I have only been there once, so am not much good at making suggestions for things to do. I told him he should check out the cliche tourist stuff: Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Central Park, etc. I also suggested Atlantic City, since he loves to gamble.

Any other tips would be much appreciated. Also, is Atlantic City worth it? I have never been there.


Saturday, August 9, 2008


I heart comments. Nuff said.

The rich/poor divide

Some time ago my friend Jerry emailed this picture to me. In his email he was talking about the division between rich and poor in Brazil (he is an American living in Rio de Janeiro) and sent this photo as a rather shocking example of how the rich here are super rich and the poor are super poor. This photo was taken in São Paulo, and the name of the favela is Paraisópolis favela. The translation of "Paraisópolis" is roughly "Paradise City". Kind of ironic huh?

Anyway, Salvador is in the state of Bahia, which is a poorer state than São Paulo, but we certainly have our share of rich folks living in the lap of luxury while the poor folks (many of whom live right next to the rich folks) have to stare this luxury in the face every day as they pass by the million dollar apartments on their way home to their simple houses, trying to make ends meet on the minimum wage that is shockingly low and seemingly impossible to live on (R$400 per month, which is about $250US for FULL TIME WORK!).

I don´t have any answers to the economic problems of Brazil, but I guess I wanted to post this to remind all of us that we need to really count our blessings and be thankful for what we do have. The picture here kind of speaks for itself.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Drink, fall down, get up, repeat

This is a popular song down here, and the video is hilarious! Translation:

Lets go out to a bar.
Drink, fall down, and get up.
Lets go out to a bar.
Drink, fall down, and get up.

Drink, fall down, and get up.......

With the new "no tolerance" drinking and driving law here, more and more people are taking their bikes! Also, many bars and restaurants are now offering to drive you and your car home followed by a guy on a motorcycle, who then drives the driver back to the restaurant. People seem to actually be trying to abide by the new law, which is great! The drinking and driving problem before was really out of control.

Anyway, enjoy :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

More penguin news!

I decided to write some more about the penguin phenomenon that is happening here because I actually saw a live one on Monday! I went running, and stopped for my standard post-run coconut water that I buy from a woman who has a little stand in view of the ocean. I was spacing out, drinking my coconut and looking at the water when I caught a glimpse of what looked like a large, black bird swimming right off the coast. I said to the lady, "Is that a penguin?" and at first she said "no", but after we sat there and watched it for a while, it soon turned over on its back and we could see the white belly. It was a penguin all right! I felt real bad for the little guy and decided that I should call the group that is helping the penguins to see if they could send someone to rescue the guy. Well, turns out they only rescue them if they are on land. When they are still out there swimming, they have to fend for themselves.

The penguins are making quite a stir here. They started to appear in mid-July, and so far like 120 or so have appeared in the Salvador area. Some folks are doing really lame things, like trying to sell them for R$500 (about $312 US with the current exchange rate) or even BBQing them, as Vilma saw on the news (so sad!). But there is one group that is doing its best to gather up the live ones, give them fish and medicine, and then ship them back down to southern Argentina where they belong.

There was a super cute photo on the front page of the print newspaper yesterday of a group of penguins at the institute that is helping them, all standing around looking adorable. I love penguins! I just hope that this phenomenon will end soon, and that there won´t be an even larger number of them appearing here that are obviously mixed up somehow and migrating to the north, when they should be in their native cold water down in Patagonia.

PS. I took this photo from the online Salvador newspaper, A Tarde.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Era uma vez

So last night I went to see "Era Uma Vez". My translation for this was wrong in the last posting, the proper translation is "Once Upon a Time". Anyway, here is the trailer for the film, and for those of you who don´t speak Portuguese, well you can still kind of get the idea.

It was a beautiful but tragic film, kind of a Romeo and Juliet story. I liked it for a couple of reasons. First of all it really shows the classism/racism that is so prevelant here in this country. People from different social classes rarely hang out socially or get intimate, and yet this young couple fell in love and tried to make a go at it. I also like any film that is shot in Rio de Janeiro, because it is such a beautiful city and the scenery is incredible. And finally, I loved this movie because I understood almost everything that happened, without having to ask Vilma too many times about what was going on.

I have seen 3 Brazilian films since being here: "Tropa de Elite", "Meu Nome Nao e Johnnie" and now this one. With each film, I had increased understanding of the dialogue and story with (obviously) no English subtitles. I am so proud of myself and my Portuguese language learning!

That being said, if you get a chance to see this film, or the other 2 for that matter, by all means go. All three are excellent movies, and show one side of life in Brazil that really goes on. "Tropa de Elite" and "Meu Nome Nao e Johnnie" are based on true stories. Perhaps one or all of these will be at the International film festival in Portland this year? Lets only hope!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

"You´ll never no"

I apologize for the lack of postings this week. I have no real good reason, other than laziness! I will for sure make more of an effort to keep posting at least 2-3 postings per week so you all will know what is up with me down here in the land of capoeira and samba.

The title of this posting is taken from a t-shirt that I saw a woman wearing. I get a kick out of checking out all the t-shirts that folks have here that have English words, but that are misspelled or make absolutely no sense. One of my favorites was one that an American friend of mine found to buy that said "I am dance cowntry". Another classic was the woman on the bus the other day who was pushing 60 with a t-shirt that said "Wanted: drummer for midnight rock band". Searching for these gems among the crowd make my outings on the street more fun.

An upcoming event here in Brazil that is stirring things up is the city government election in October. They are electing city mayor and city government representative positions, and the advertising has been slowly building up to what will certainly not reach the ferver that the presidential elections had back in 2006 when I first arrived here, but that is definitely annoying in its own right. Some of the advertising is similar to that in the US: television ads, billboards, bumper stickers, t-shirts, etc. But some advertising here is uniquely Brazilian, mainly the "carros de som" or sound cars, which are cars painted with the candidates names that drive around blasting special songs that have been written and recorded to promote the different candidates. These cars drive very slowly all over the city, pausing long enough in each neighborhood so that you have time to memorize the annoying lyrics and so that this music can intrude upon your otherwise peaceful and quiet day. And to think that we are only in August now, and have 2 more months until election day! You have to just learn to tune these things out, but it sure is challenging to do this.

Another annoying thing for me, and I am sure for the graffiti artists it is heartbreaking, is that many political candidates have hired people to paint over some beautiful works of street art with ugly signs advertising the political candidates. I will try to take a picture in the next week to show you what I mean, but take my word for it, they are much uglier than the beautiful art they have decided it is their right to cover up. Now I don´t have the historical perspective to know if this always happens during elections, but it sure makes me sad to see that some of my favorite pieces have disappeared!

I guess that is all for today. I am going to head to see a Brazilian movie called "Era uma vez" (It was one time) with Vilma and will let you all know how it is. It is supposed to be a story about love between a rich girl and a poor guy from a favela. Looks like a good one!