Monday, December 29, 2008


Yesterday was another first for me here in Brazil. I went bowling. Now I´ve bowled on a number of occasions in the US, but I didn´t even know that there was a bowling alley here in Salvador until yesterday.

I called up my friend Mark to see if he wanted to hang out and he invited Vilma and I to go with him and his kids to a park that is right on the beach. He graciously picked us up in his car and off we went. The park we went to is a great place for kids (and adults!). There´s a basketball court, a place to skateboard or roller skate, a craft fair that is always there on the weekends, and a couple of large, plastic playground toys for the kids to play on. We hung out there for a while, drank some coconut water, and let the kids play around on the toys and in the sand. After some time passed Mark asked if we wanted to go bowling! It didn´t take a lot of arm twisting to get me to agree.

The Portuguese word for bowling is "boliche" and that´s what the sign said on the side of the building as we went in. The bowling alley is located a short drive from the park we were at, in a mall called "Aeroclube". Apparently back in the day Aeroclube was considered a really fashionable and fancy mall, but has been in various stages of remodeling for some time now and is basically abandoned. Folks still go there for the movie theatre, but that´s about it, or so I thought. Now I know that they still go there to bowl as well.

Bowling here is pretty much identical to bowling in the US except that all the lanes use gutter-ball-proof gutters and instead of paying by the game, you pay by the hour. But the computerized scoring, people jumping up and down and screaming, and that sound of the balls hitting the pins is exactly the same.

And I scored better than usual, 100 points!

Will I go back to bowl again? Probably not because it was kind of expensive, but it sure was fun!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas sightings

Here´s some stuff that I´ve seen or heard about over this holiday season:

-The malls totally decked out with tons of decorations, starting in October!

-Long lines of kids and parents waiting to sit on Santa´s lap.

-Almost every store with a wrapped up box at the cash register where you can put your spare change in to give to the employees. (I think) They split the money that they get from the box.

-All the street kids who normally beg for money holding these same wrapped up boxes for people to put their change into. Do they get to keep the money? Well, there is lots of child exploitation here so I imagine that in many situations they have to give what they make to some adult who is "in charge" of them.

-A MUCH larger number than normal of families with kids begging for money on the streets. On one street corner I saw at least 10 kids with only one or two adults.

-The amount of crime in the month leading up to Christmas increases a LOT. I almost got mugged by 2 guys on motorcycles who came up behind the taxi I was getting out of. I had to run into the apartment building I was going into to escape. Luckily the doorman saw them, opened the door for me and the motorcyclists drove off after I went in.

-Everyone who has legitimate work gets what they call "13th month bonus" in December. They receive a month´s extra salary every December. This is one of the reasons that crime increases so much...everyone is walking around with more money.

-Panetone. This is a yummy Brazilian version of fruitcake. It´s more like a fruit bread and much tastier than the US version that often gets passed around and re-gifted. Everyone eats it as a traditional Christmas food. Trader Joe´s sells it if you want to try it in the US.

-Yesterday I saw a group of boys, about 12 years old or so, who had taken over this parking area and were "helping park cars" (this is code for standing around, half-heartedly waving their hands to pretend that they are helping the drivers park, "guarding the cars", and then wanting money when the person leaves as payment for the services). They were obviously poor and I saw a SUV stop close by them and hand out wrapped presents to all of the boys. They opened them up and had received new shirts. There was lots of comparing and trying on of the shirts, but then they went back to "helping park cars" pretty quickly, in hope of more presents or money.

-A more obvious display of the distance between rich and poor in this country because of the consumerism of the holiday and the inability of folks to participate because of poverty.

-Talking to my family and feeling homesick.

-Spending Christmas with Vilma, enjoying the gift exchange and Christmas dinner with her friends.

-Wishing happy holidays to all my friends and family. May 2009 be a year filled with peace, love, security, happiness, and freedom for all.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone. To all my family and friends...I miss you soooo much! I wish we were together today and hope you are having a great holiday.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I haven´t posted a blog in a while because I´ve had visitors from the US here and so have been pretty much off-line except for checking my email. It´s been really fun to have three folks here to hang out with and for an excuse to cancel some classes and take some time off. I´ll tell you a bit about what I did over the last week...

My friend Jodie arrived on Saturday the 13th, and we hung out a bit over the weekend, but she was mostly hanging out with this guy she´s dating, so my "time off" really didn´t start until Tuesday the 16th, when she came to stay at my house. On Wednesday we went up to Praia do Forte, which is a little resort town north of Salvador. It´s a great place to relax and get away from the city. There´s a pedestrian walkway, a beach, and a turtle sanctuary that hosts a "save the sea turtle" program. We checked out all of these, ate some amazing Italian food, shopped, and enjoyed just chilling out.

On Thursday we took a bus up to Muritiba with our capoeira teacher, who is also in town visiting. We got to go to Mestre Medicina´s capoeira class, which was cool for Jodie since she has never met him or been to his academy (he´s the founder of our capoeira group). We stayed at my friend Sonia´s house, and had fun hanging out and chatting. We wanted to stay longer, but Jodie´s friend was arriving on Saturday morning, so we had to be back in Salvador on Friday.

We arrived in Salvador on Friday afternoon and went back to my house to unpack and relax. Then my friend/student called and invited us to go out and drink some wine. We ended up going to this super cool bar with a beautiful outside patio for some snacks, drinks, and hilarious conversation. It was a great time, and he was nice enough to pick us up at the house and give us a ride there and back home.

Saturday morning we went to the airport to pick up Jodie´s friend Jane and from there we went straight to the beach! Jane only has 8 days here, so really wanted to make the most of them. Both Jane and Jodie surf, so we met up with our capoeira teacher, who also surfs, and hung out all day at this beach bar. We ended up meeting this guy who runs a surf school who rented boards to Jane and Jodie. Coincidentally, we stopped at a salon on the way home so that Jane could get waxed and ran into the surf school guy who offered us a ride back to Salvador. It was so nice to get a ride and not have to take a LONG bus ride home, especially with Jane´s luggage!

Saturday night was spent eating lots and lots of amazing food at a Brazilian steakhouse. Jodie and Jane treated Vilma and I, along with the surf school guy and his friend to dinner at Boi Preto (Black cow), which is one of the best steakhouses in Salvador. All I can say is: YUM! It was sooooo amazing and with great service too.

Sunday we got a ride up to the same beach with the surf school guy and spent the day in a similar manner as we did on Saturday. Swimming, surfing, sunbathing, drinking coconut water and caipirinhas, eating clams and beach snacks, and most of all RELAXING. It was heaven :)

Jodie and Jane took off Sunday night on the overnight bus to Itabuna. They are going to spend some time at a famous surf spot in Bahia and Jodie is going to a capoeira event called "Capoeirando" which is an international event held there every year. I wish I had more time off and money to go with them, but alas will just have to enjoy the stories afterwards. It´s not in the cards for me to go this time around.

I taught a couple of classes yesterday and today, but most of my students are taking a break until the week after New Years. So now I´m ready to enjoy some down time over the holidays and hopefully spend some more time at the beach.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, December 15, 2008


I´ve been aware for some time now about Xuxa (pronounced Shoe-shah), who is known in Brazil as the "Queen of Children". She´s a blond, blue-eyed woman who has built an empire here hosting a children´s program, making CD´s and DVD´s and even giving concerts where she sings and dances to adoring Brazilian children (and adults!) everywhere. What I didn´t know until this past Saturday night is that she´s also a gay icon. Imagine if Cher did children´s programming as a full time job, and that would be the equivalent of what Xuxa is.

On Saturday I went to a party where Vilma and I were the only women, everyone else was a gay man. The theme of the party was Xuxa and that is when I was informed that "all the gays" love Xuxa. There were various Xuxa inspired activities, my favorite being a big white posterboard on the wall with "Xuxa", written at the top where everyone had to put on lipstick, leave a kiss mark on the poster, and then write their name below with the first letter of the name being replaced by an "X". So I kissed the poster and wrote "Xheryl". There was also a "show" where three guys came out all dressed up in crazy outfits and lipsynched to some of Xuxa´s music. And all night long there was a laptop with old Xuxa videos from the 80´s playing, with guys gathered around and singing along. Hilarity at its best.

I was pretty disturbed by one video in particular, which I´ve posted below. The name of the song is "Indios", which means "Indians" and as you can see, there are some genuine Indians from the Amazon here in the video looking pretty bummed out. I asked Vilma and my friend if the song and video are prejudiced against Indians and they swore that they´re not, but I´m not so sure. Especially since when I looked at some of the comments listed on the Youtube page. But you can see for yourself what I´m talking about.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The beach house

This past weekend I was invited to go to one of my student´s (who is also my friend) beach house, just north of Salvador. The house is located in a place called Jauá, and is about a 45 minute drive from Salvador. My student bought the land for the house a couple of years ago and had it built, after dreaming his whole life of having a house right on the beach. This picture is the view that I had from my bed when I woke up on Sunday morning. It about says it all.

This weekend was a holiday weekend in Salvador, Monday being a religious holiday. I was happy for the chance to escape the city for a couple of days, and to go a place where I could totally relax. We arrived on Saturday afternoon and planned to stay through Monday, although due to the water not working properly, we had to leave on Sunday evening.

The time there was spent walking on the beach, talking, cooking and eating, drinking wine, and overall just enjoying everyone´s company. There were 5 of us there and we all had a great time. One of the hightlights for me was eating this yummy seafood dish (I can´t remember the name of it now) that was like a mixture of a bunch of different kinds of seafood, lobster included, in a broth served with rice and yucca root flour. Delicious!

Here´s a view from the back of the house looking at the beach:
And here´s a pic of me standing in front of the house:
Luckily my student said that he wants to go up to the house more often, and that I am always welcome. So hopefully I´ll be spending some more time in this oasis, far from the noise and crime of the city, eating more yummy seafood and enjoying the sun and sand!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Driving in Salvador

The other day I drove in Salvador for the first time. It was not as scary as I thought it would be, but very different from the US. It's pretty intense out there on the roads, but now I understand the draw of having a car here. I felt at least 90% safer driving than I do walking around and taking the bus.

Vilma took her drivers license test on Thursday morning and wanted to practice driving beforehand, so we rented a car for one day. I took advantage of the rental to drive to a couple of my classes, and I must say that I felt like I was living in the lap of luxury. It was really hard to return the car, knowing it also meant returning to a life of walking and riding the bus.

The things that are most difficult to adjust to on the roads here are the way that folks don't really stay in their lanes and also how the motorcycles will drive between cars, super fast, without regard for the fact that your car could kill them much easier than their motorcycle could kill you. I drove in rush hour traffic, and it was difficult to change lanes with the motorcycles constantly zooming by, usually out of nowhere.

All of my students have cars, and now I know why. It's much quicker and more convenient to drive, but the more important reason is that the safety factor increases by a lot. Of course you do have to keep your eyes open for carjackers or guys who will throw a rock through your window and grab your purse (best idea, put your purse in the trunk). But this happens much less than the street crime that is a daily battle here for pedestrians and bus riders.

Now I just have to get that winning lottery ticket and I'll be driving every day too!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Air conditioning

The social classes in Brazil are very segregated. Rich folks hang out with rich folks, poor folks hang out with poor folks and there are not many places where rich and poor socialize together as equals. There are lots of very obvious ways that this segregation takes place. For example, a poor person will not want to pay a R$20 cover charge to go into a bar or club, so this is an obvious way of keeping out folks who don´t have money. But since moving here, I have noticed that there are also some very subtle ways to indicate who has money and who doesn´t. One of these ways is the clothes people wear and how this is related to air conditioning.

Salvador is really hot and humid, especially in the summer. Summer temperatures here hover around 90 degrees farenheit, with humidity. Winter is a bit cooler, in the 70´s, but it still gets up there some days and it´s still what would be considered by Portland, Oregon standards as hot. Yet despite this heat, you see people around wearing suits (including sports coats!) and ties, jeans, and other "cold weather" clothes. The reason? Air conditioning.

People here who have money have air conditioned homes, cars and offices. People here who don´t have money and have to take the bus don´t have air conditioning and have to wear "hot weather" clothes. It´s easy to see just by the type of clothes that someone is wearing what their social status is. And I´m not talking about brand name clothes, I´m talking about what kind of clothes the person is wearing.

This dilemma poses a problem for the foreign English teacher who is trying to teach people from the upper classes, but who doesn´t have access to a car and has to live the "non-air conditioning" lifestyle. Try wearing jeans and riding the bus, carrying a huge armful of books in 90+ degree weather with humidity. It´s hard to be professional when you show up to teach all sweaty! But that´s my reality here.

So until I win the lottery and get a car, I have to make do with taking refuge in the air conditioning when I´m teaching, and trying not to sweat my ass off while I´m on my way there.