Sunday, July 27, 2008

Domingo (Sunday)

Today I had the good fortune to receive an invitation from one of my wealthy students to go out on the Bay of All Saints on his yacht. I have been on his boat a couple of times in the past, and each time it is pretty mind blowing for the pure fact of actually riding on an expensive yacht, but also for the views of the city and the island that are only visible by private boat.

Something unusual happened on this ride...we saw 2 dead penguins! I saw on the news about 2 weeks ago that people have been finding penguins, alive and dead, on the coast in and around Salvador. Apparently there is some kind of El Nina happening, and the tides in this part of the Atlantic are getting all turned around. These penguins are from the southern part of South America, but somehow have ended up here in the tropical waters of northern Brazil. The live ones are being stabilized and will be returned to Argentina (I think that is what they said on the news!) when they are back to their normal state. Here is a picture of one of the bodies. Sorry if it is kind of gruesome, but I thought it was interesting.

Another fact that is hard to ignore when cruising around off the coast of the city is the vast divide between the rich and poor. Someone told me that the gap between rich and poor here is the second greatest in the world, after Sierra Leone. I´m not sure how true this is, but it is certainly evident when you see a favela (slum) situated right next to one of the most expensive apartment buildings in Salvador. Apartments in this building go for R$2.5 million and up, which in US currency is about $1,560,000. Wow- imagine that for one apartment?!

It also is pretty strange to be cruising around on this expensive yacht and to pass fisherman on their little boats trying to eek out a living catching fish. A lot of fisherman live in the favela in this picture, which is right next to the building where my student lives. In the morning when we are having our English classes on his veranda, I sometimes look out to see the guys getting their boats all prepared to head out and try to get the days catch. Then I think too about how polluted the water is and the fact that they eat the fish and seafood that they catch, and how unhealthy it is for them, but that it is their only option. If only there was some way to spread things around a little more evenly!

All in all, it was a nice morning/early afternoon. The ocean was a bit rough, but it was fun to be out and in the sun. Being winter and pretty rainy as of late, I don´t even remember the last time I wore my bathing suit out in the sun! After our cruise we went back to his apartment, had a great traditional Bahian lunch and now I am back in my apartment chilling out. Ahh, Sunday.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Salvador is full of all kinds of pollution, similar to any large city in the world. Air, water, noise, light, and garbage pollution are abundant and unavoidable. While all forms of pollution bother me, I think the pollution that most irritates and confuses me is the garbage/littering situation.

I took this photo outside of my building to illustrate one part of the garbage problem, which is the street cleaning guys. These guys are everywhere with brooms and garbage cans, cleaning up the litter. There is even an ad on TV here that tries to show the city government´s pride in these cleaning guys. The ad shows this cleaning guy who is like the neighborhood savior. In addition to sweeping (with a huge smile on his face), this guy helps old ladies across the road, gets a kid´s ball so the kid doesn´t have to run in front of a bus, and other good deeds. In reality these guys make minimum wage (R$400 per month) to kind of half heartedly sweep up the trash and leave it in bags, such as this one, for the garbage truck to pick up (garbage pick up is paid for with city taxes here, residents don´t pay anything, which I also think adds to the problem). This is Salvador´s solution to the littering/garbage problem.

The problem with this solution is that it actually encourages littering, and believe me, there is no need for any encouragement in this matter. I have heard more than one Brazilian say to me, "But when I litter, I am giving the cleaning guy a job!". The lack of education in this country, coupled with this false notion that littering is OK, makes the streets here full of trash and dog poop (don´t even get me started about the lack of a scoop law here!!). My emotions around this issue have cycled through surprise, anger, motivation to make change, and finally a resigned acceptance that this is how it is here. The only real change I have managed to effect in regard to this problem is that I have finally managed to break Vilma of the littering habit. After repeatedly saying "The world is not your garbage can" and giving dagger-like dirty looks each time she littered, I would say that she is about 90% cured of this habit and now agrees with me that it is not our job to give the cleaning guys work to do.

The confusing part of this issue for me is that in all other areas of life, Brazilians are uber-clean. Like they think that Americans and other foreigners are slobs. 3-4 showers per day, and houses that are spotless and cleaned daily are the norm here. When you pick up appetizers at a party, you always use a napkin and don´t touch the food with your hands, otherwise you are looked at like your hands are dripping with bacteria.

So with ultra-cleanliness being the accepted way to live here, why are they so carefree about throwing trash everywhere?! I can´t tell you the number of times I have seen people just throw stuff out of bus windows! It really drives me crazy! But I guess if I had a good answer to why these two totally opposite ways of being co-exist, there would not be the garbage problem here and all of the cleaning guys would be unemployed. And by the way, these pictures are nothing compared with some of the trash piles I have seen here. I just took these pics quickly outside of my building and these were the only examples I could find on short notice!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Birthday party pics

Here are some pictures from the birthday party that I went to 2 weeks ago. It was at a farm about 1 hour from Salvador. The highlight was definitely the horseback riding!

This was the main area where the decorations and cake were. Parabens means "Congratulations" in English. It is more traditional here to say "Parabens" when it is your birthday, instead of the American "Happy Birthday", although some folks do say "Feliz Anniversario".

And here is a picture of the house. I spent a good part of the day on the porch drinking chocolate liquor :) Yum!!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Indoor skiing

The other day I read a travel blog by this guy who talked about indoor skiing in Dubai. I had never heard about an indoor ski park, and before I had a chance to do an online search to see what it looks like, I had a dream last night about skiing in such a park.

I was with my brother and we were skiing. The park staff kept changing the difficulty of the slope, making it more and more difficult. The slope was literally changing below our feet! I remember that both of us were falling a lot. That was the bulk of the dream, I don´t really remember any more of it. What it means, I have no idea, but it did inspire me to do a web search for the ski park´s website, and also to search on Youtube to see if there were any videos of folks skiing at this park. Sure enough, here is one that I thought I would share with you. At least we know that no matter how bad global warming gets, we can always find a place to ski. Just be prepared to pay $300 for a day of skiing there.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Drug problems in Brazil

This situation happened last week in Porto Alegre, which is in the southern-most state in Brazil:
Uma mulher vendeu a filha recém-nascida por R$ 15 para comprar crack, em Porto Alegre. A denúncia chegou ao Conselho Tutelar no final da tarde desta quinta-feira (10).

De acordo com o conselho, uma moradora da periferia da cidade ofereceu a filha de um mês de idade para traficantes em troca de R$ 5 em crack. Ao tomar conhecimento da situação, outra mulher ofereceu R$ 15 à mãe da criança para evitar que o bebê fosse parar nas mãos de traficantes.

A criança está no Conselho Tutelar aguardando vaga em um abrigo. A mulher que vendeu a filha é procurada pela polícia, mas ainda não há pistas. (Copied from Globo news online)

Translation: A woman sold her recently-born daughter for R$15 (equivalent to about $9.40US with the current exchange rate) to buy crack, in Porto Alegre. The complaint was made at the "Conselho Tutelar" (I don´t know the translation for this) at the end of the afternoon this Thursday (July 10).

According to the conselho, a resident of the outskirts of the city offered the one month old child to drug dealers in exchange for R$5 worth of crack. After seeing what was happening, another woman offered R$15 to the mother of the child to avoid the baby being in the hands of the dealers.

The child is at the Conselho Tutelar waiting a vacancy in a shelter. The woman who sold the child is wanted by the police, but is still at large.

So sad...but not surprising. The crack problem here is HUGE. If you go to the center of Salvador, the vast majority of homeless people are all on crack. For this reason, I rarely go to this part of the city. It´s a complicated problem with no easy solution.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Weekend events

The main events over the weekend for me were going to the birthday party of the son of one of my students, and seeing a woman get robbed (well an attempt anyway) while I was jogging. Lets start with the birthday party.

My student´s son turned 8 years old, so he rented a farm from a friend and took a group of 8 kids and some adults out there for some birthday activities. I found out that Brazilians play the same kinds of kid games that we play in the US at birthday parties. The boys had a sack race, a race where you hold a spoon in your mouth that has an egg in it, and another race where you have to put on oversized clothes over your clothes and then run back so that the next guy on your team can also run down and put on clothes, etc. They did have one activity that I have not seen as an official "game" in the US which was to throw a plate full of whipped cream at another kid´s face. Then they all jumped into the pool. The farm also had some horses which the kids, and some adults (including me!) rode. I think that the horses were the favorite activity. I got to hang out with the adults, drink chocolate liquor and listen to kid music play in a loop on the sound system. I think I heard the theme songs to "Powerangers" and "Scooby Doo" about 4 times. I was glad I went was fun to get out of the city and hang out on a farm.

On Saturday Vilma and I were running on the road that goes along the beach. I am trying to start running at least 4 days per week as I have gained some weight since stopping capoeira. It´s all that feijoada! Anyway, it was about 7:30AM and I was just cruising along looking at the ocean and trying not to think about how out of shape I am, when I saw a woman ahead of me suddenly get thrown to the ground by this guy. They kind of struggled and then she got up and kept running at the same pace she was running before. My first thought (how dumb is this one!) was that the guy was someone she knew who was mad at her about something. Sometimes I am so naive! Anyway, Vilma got a good look at the guys who did it and so we stopped at the police post a little ways up the road. The woman who was robbed was there, and explained that the guy was trying to pull a gold chain off her neck, but was unsuccessful. We told the cop what we saw and gave a description of the guys, and then proceeded to see how little the cops here care and how ineffective the police force really is.

There was ONE police officer at the post without access to a car, and he said he could not leave his post. He called one of the 2 cars that are supposed to work the area and they were a good 15 minute drive away. The other car was not working due to brake problems. He really didn´t seem to care at all and then went on to complain about how the police force is in the same situation as the health and education systems in Brazil (which is basically saying that it is useless). We finally decided that enough was enough and just took off, spending the next 15 or so minutes complaining about how lame it is that with all the people running along that walkway, that the police can´t do anything to make sure it is safe. Vilma made the comment that if it is like this in a richer area (where we live and were running is a middle-upper middle class neighborhood), then imagine what it is like in a poor neighborhood!

I have been rather intimidated by the outward appearance of the police here. They are a part of the military, so look like soldiers, complete with machine guns. Most Brazilians seem to view them all as being corrupt and not to be trusted. Another student told me a story about once he got lost in Rio, saw a cop and went over to ask directions. The cop told him to hand over his wallet and cell phone! Imagine being robbed by a cop!!! Anyway, despite all the stories, I have up until now still kept the faith that if I get into some kind of trouble, that the police will help me. Now I am not so sure...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Things I miss

I have been feeling pretty homesick lately. I find myself missing my community of friends back in Portland and just things about the city itself that I took for granted while living there. So, as an attempt to feel better, I thought I would reminisce a little here about the things that I miss about Portland and the US in general.

I miss this beautiful park (in the photo) near Reed College where the rhododendrons bloom each spring. I miss fish tacos at La Bonita on Alberta Street. I miss New Seasons (although I don't miss the prices). I miss my capoeira group and all the fun times we have in and out of class. I miss riding my bike all over the city. I miss living in a city where it is relatively safe to ride your bike around. I miss the artistic vibe that runs through all the crazy events that are put on year round (soapbox derby anyone?). I miss Stumptown coffee. I miss the farmer's market at PSU (although there are interesting farmers markets here too!). I miss the consciousness that folks have about recycling and not using a lot of resources. I miss bacon. I miss eating breakfast out on the weekends. I miss Last Thursday. I miss fresh berries (strawberries here are gross!). I miss naked lady clothing exchange parties. I miss Burning Man parties. I miss all the great DJs that Portland has. I miss the architecture of the pacific NW. I miss hiking in the gorge. I could go on forever with the things that I miss about the US, but the most important things I miss are my family and my friends. It is not the same without all of you here with me!!!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Graffiti Sunday

Yesterday a new friend kindly agreed to drive me around while I took some graffiti pics. I have seen some pieces from the bus or while in one of my student´s cars and wanted to be able to go to these places in a car to be able to get out and take some pictures. Here is a sampling:
I took this one while sitting in the car. Note the guy sleeping underneath! I really love this piece because it says "Natureza que saudades" which basically means, "Nature how I miss you".
This one is kind of funny because you can see the umbrella in the top of the photo. This was one of the last pictures I took yesterday because it started raining and then started pouring! I was kind of bummed out because I wanted to get a shot of this whole picture, but there was also a woman selling some stuff in front of one side of the piece, so I just got this part of it. I think that I will go back another time to try and get a better shot because I really love this piece. There is writing in the middle of it that says "Não perca suas raizes" which means "Don´t lose your roots". An important reminder.

Cultural differences

Now I have never read this book, but the title captures the feelings that I sometimes have about being in a different culture. A perfect example of this happened on Saturday.

Vilma and I were down on this boardwalk that goes along the beach, close to our apartment. We have been trying to start running/walking to get some exercise and were on our way back to the house. I saw a couple on the beach with three dogs and made a comment to Vilma about how much I love to watch dogs play because they always seem so joyful as they jump about. About 2 minutes after making this comment, we continued to watch the dogs and the owners and then saw an older woman (about 65 or so) walking towards them on the beach. The biggest dog proceeded to run and bark aggressively, jumping up on the woman and trying to bite her. The woman screamed "Help, help!" and tried to run away from the dog. The owner saw this happening and walked towards the scene, yelling at the dog but not really trying to do much. Finally he arrived and kind of shooed the dog away, but did not make any attempt to grab the dog by the collar or really do much of anything.

As this scene was unfolding, the wife or girlfriend of the man was just standing there smoking and doing nothing. Two of the dogs were involved in the attack, and the third was off on his own, not involved. These dogs tried to attack the woman like 4 times, with the male owner just shooing them away and the female owner standing there doing nothing, even when the biggest dog came over next to her.

There was another couple up on the boardwalk who yelled at the woman to grab the dog, and her reaction was to completely ignore what they were saying and just stand there smoking, pretending that she didn´t see or hear them.

Finally the older woman managed to get away, and as she was walking away the couple on the boardwalk who had been yelling at the woman saw a police car passing, called the cops over and told them what happened. As Vilma and I left the scene, the cops were actually talking to the couple (this is a minor miracle in and of itself as usually the cops do nothing) and we passed the older woman a ways up the road, told her that the cops were there dealing with the matter and she proceeded to head back down to give her side of the story to the police.

Now you may be wondering why I am writing about this, since it had a sort of happy ending. I guess I was just struck by the attitude of the dog owners and have seen many examples of this attitude here in Brazil. It is kind of like the people only think about themselves and don´t care at all about the other person´s feelings. It´s every man (or woman) for him/herself. And if you don´t take on this attitude, well you end up never getting anywhere.

I have spoken with some of my students about this kind of attitude, and they all think it is horrible and complain about it. And yet it exists and even thrives in all parts of the society here. I just can´t accept it. I hate it!

So what does one do when faced with a cultural difference that is unacceptable? I have gone through a lot of cultural diversity training because of my old life as a social worker, and yet I feel totally at a loss in trying to figure out how to deal with this. Do you just stand back and let this stuff happen and do nothing? Do you say something? Do you try to accept this as normal and just ignore when someone is doing something like this? So many questions and no answers... I guess this is part of learning how to live in another culture, but I have to say that this is definitely not a challenge that I am happy to face.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The fruit/veggie van

Many neighborhoods in Salvador have the joy of the fruit and veggie guys that drive by on a weekly, or in some places daily, basis. These guys have either white VW vans or pickup trucks filled with fruits and veggies that you can buy for a lot cheaper than in the store. Plus you only have to carry them from your front door to your apartment! What a great deal!

Here is today´s buy: 16 bananas, a bag of sweet potatoes, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, passion fruit and a papaya. The grand total? R$9! That´s $5.63US with the current crappy exchange rate of R$1.60 to $1US. Keep in mind that on my first visit to Brazil in 2004, the rate was R$3 to $1US. Also, food prices here have been increasing, and lots of folks are complaining that everything is so expensive. But in my gringo mind, this is still an incredible deal. Bon appetite!!!