Saturday, February 28, 2009


I don't think that I've mentioned this, but I am going back to the United States next week. On Thursday to be exact. The reasons are many, but the main one is that I have a house in Portland that needs some work done and I need to be there while it's going on. All of my students are asking me to come back to Salvador after the work is finished, but it's hard for me to say if this will happen or not.

There's a lot more stuff going on, but I don't really want to get into it on my blog. I'll just say that I won't be writing any more stuff about Brazil after next week, unless I decide to move back here again.

So thanks for reading, I hope my adventures here have been of interest. I'll try to post something more, but can't promise anything since I'm going to be pretty busy getting ready to go back. Best wishes to everyone!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Quarta-feira de cinzas (Ash Wednesday)

Well another Carnaval has come and gone and I made it through with little hassle and stress and some fun to boot. But I was pretty shocked on Wednesday when I took the bus from the edge of one of the Carnaval routes through the other Carnaval route to my student's house. It looked almost like a war zone!

Imagine what you would feel like if you had spent the last 6 days drinking beer non-stop, not eating much, drinking little water, possibly ingesting other illegal substances, standing on your feet and/or dancing for several hours per night, then being in the super hot sun all day, then not having money to get home and having no place to sleep.

Now imagine a large group of people all in the same situation who all decide to lie on the sidewalk for about a quarter of a mile along the Carnaval parade route, some sleeping, some just sitting there, some appearing dead. That's the sight I saw from the bus yesterday. The bus came around the corner and I almost couldn't believe my eyes...I had never seen anything like that before, and frankly I was scared and very glad to be on the bus and not walking around out there. It was almost like a scene out of "Night of the Living Dead" or something. Except that it was during the day.

Then the bus passed this area of beach where the Carnaval party had decided to continue and was filled with mostly drunk, shirtless men, drinking beer and yelling to each other. I was really hoping that the bus would quickly pass this area when 2 drunk guys stood in front of the bus, motioning it to stop. About 8 guys all got on in the part of the bus reserved for older people where you don't have to pay, despite being well under the age of free bus transport. The driver didn't say anything, I'm sure out of fear of getting hit. The worst case scenario was going through my mind that they were going to pull out guns and rob the bus, but luckily they just wanted a ride and didn't bother me or any of the other passengers, both on the bus and as folks got off the bus. I was so thankful to get off the bus and to get inside my student's apartment! What a relief!

The newspaper today was boasting about how the crime rate for Carnaval this year had dropped almost 8% and that there were no homicides in the area of the Carnaval parade routes during the 6 days of the festival. However, 55 people were killed in other parts of the city during the same time frame. I think all the cops were in the Carnaval areas trying to cut down on crime and protect the party-goers.

All I can say now is that I'm glad that Carnaval is over and I hope that there will be a little more peace on the streets, at least until the lead up to São João in June!

Friday, February 20, 2009


Well last night Vilma's sister gave her a free "abada" to go to a camarote for the first night of Carnaval. For those of you who aren't familiar with Salvador's Carnaval, an abada is a t-shirt that you buy and which acts as your "ticket" to go into either a bloco or camarote. Last year I only went out for one night of Carnaval, and we just hung out on the street. Vilma decided that she wanted me to go into the Camarote and that she would stay down on the street since it would be safer for me to be in an area with security.

When I've daydreamed about spending a lot of money at Carnaval, I always thought I would prefer a camarote to a bloco. When you are in a camarote, you get to see the whole Carnaval parade go by. Plus you are up high and can look down on the crowd, giving you a great vantage point for fights and other madness that goes on. Blocos are the groups that follow the individual bands as they make their way along the parade route. The bands are up on this big truck/stage and there is an area that is roped off (the ropes are held by people who walk along and act as security) that the bloco folks hang out in to dance, etc. There's also another truck that goes along behind that has a bathroom and a bar selling drinks. Blocos are good if you like a specific band a lot, but a camarote gives you the chance to see all the bands.

So off I went into the camarote, with Vilma down below waving at me. I felt kind of awkward about this, as I wanted her to be with me. But we didn't want to pony up the R$170 it would have cost for another abada. So when the trio-electricos went by, I went upstairs for the view and safety, but when there was an interval I went out to the street to hang out with Vilma.

I have to say that it was really fun and the camarote that I was in had the added bonus of an ocean view on the other side of the structure. I had the chance to see about 4 bands pass by before I got tired and we decided to go home. We picked a good time to go home too, because when we got to the bottom of the hill leading up to our apartment, a downpour started. We ran up the hill, got kind of wet and were in bed by around 12:30. I saw 2 guys get taken away by the cops, and Vilma saw 2 guys running who looked like they had just stolen something, but overall it was a super mellow first night to Carnaval and I'm glad I went out.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Carnaval starts tomorrow night. The party that so many folks have been waiting for is finally almost here! And the preparations are in FULL swing to be ready to go by the start of the first parade in Barra/Ondina. Here are some things that have been going on:

*Trimming of trees and grass along the parade routes.

*Putting up extra street lights. At night during Carnaval along the parade route it looks like it's daytime because of all the lights.

*Putting up lights along the telephone wires...these almost look like Christmas lights but are bigger. Vilma pointed out to me last night that on the hill going up to our apartment someone has already broken a row of these lights to make it darker. Preparation for robbing? Hard to say, but is the likely answer.

*Camarote building. Camarotes are structures that are located along the parade route. They are basically raised platforms that have been made into clubs/bars. You can hang out inside and look down as the parade goes by. This is the safest option to watch Carnaval, as you have to pay to enter and there is security to make sure that the people inside are safe. I wish I had some pictures to post of these structures because some of them are amazing! But I don't want to take my camera out on the street in these days leading up to Carnaval because there is a lot more crime happening right now.

*Tons of tourists arriving. Everywhere you look you see folks walking around who are not from here. The influx will continue for the next few days.

*Prices rising. Everything doubles or triples in value during Carnaval. I think that some folks make all their money for the year during this week.

*Vendors sleeping on the streets to reserve their places to sell stuff. This started about a week ago. I saw a bunch of folks with coolers, chairs, etc sleeping on the sidewalks in Barra. They have to stay there or someone else claims their spot. And Vilma said that there is definitely fighting that happens in the race to claim the best location to sell beer, etc.

*More cops. I'm surprised that the police are actually trying to make their presence known, but I have seen more of them patrolling around. Does it make a difference? I don't think it makes much of a dent in the crime problem leading up to and during Carnaval.

*More robbers. See above.

*More traffic jams. The neighborhoods where Carnaval will take place are filled with big trucks hauling supplies, which slows down the rest of the normal traffic. I hear lots of horn honking going on.

*More stress. Salvador is known for those t-shirts that say "No Stress". Well I think that is for all the other weeks of the year besides Carnaval. Everyone is stressed out by all of the stuff I've listed above.

The question...will I be participating in any Carnaval activities this year? Well, I might go out tomorrow night on the street by my house. The first night is the mellowest, and I went out last year. But after that I am not going out. I don't want to pay money for a Camarote or Bloco and it's not safe to stay on the street (in the "pipoca" as they call it). Let the festivities begin and I'll be enjoying a chill week relaxing at home.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Well as I mentioned in my last post, I went to see Manu Chao last Friday. I found out about the show kind of by accident. Every now and again I like to read the online version of the Salvador newspaper, but it's not a regular event, it happens pretty randomly. So I just so happened to look at the website last week and saw that Manu Chao would be coming to Salvador and that the show would be a "trade your receipts for a ticket" show. Apparently this has gone on in the past and now they are bringing this phenomenon back.

I was so happy to see that he was coming and that he would be here when my American friend would also be in town visiting. I've been a fan of Manu Chao for several years, but have never seen him play as he doesn't come to the US that often. I immediately started collecting receipts so that I would have enough and then also went about finding out information as to where I had to go and get the tickets.

The receipt collecting was kind of hilarious in and of itself. I started in our house, hunting through old grocery store bags. The receipts could be from any store and in any amount, it just had to say "Cupon fiscal" on it. After exhausting the house supply, I then went down to the little market and pharmacy near my house to see if they had any old receipts lying around that folks had left behind. I scored a few at both places, and also found some on the ground. Several visits later, I had 40 receipts...enough for 4 tickets.

The day the tickets were going to be released came and Vilma went to the mall to wait in line. She got there around 9AM and the line was already super long, extending out of the parking garage! She patiently waited until about 11AM when I arrived. I ended up cancelling a couple of my classes so that I could stay there, and she had to leave at 1:30PM to go to the dentist. I finally made it to the front of the line and scored 2 tickets at about 3PM.

Let me say that the line situation was rather organized, but odd. The main part of the line extended from one door, around the parking garage and then outside. When you got to the front of this line, you were then sent to a second, shorter line that led up to the ticket window. There were three tellers in the ticket window. Two were dealing with the "regular" line, and one was dealing with the "old people" line. It's common in Brazil that banks, grocery stores, and other establishments that have lines have a "fila de idosos", or "old people line". And sure enough they had one for this show too. Needless to say, the line moved VERY slowly, although when I got up to the front it seemed to go more quickly.

A word about the old people line. In this situation, the name of this line should have been the "old people and other random people who were getting paid by the scalpers plus the scalpers themselves line". Vilma told me that the scalpers either had friends who were the security guys, or they paid the security guys, or both for the privilege of using this line. At one point there was actually a fight when a guy from the normal line saw all the shadiness going on with the scalpers using the old people line, got mad, and tried to fight the scalpers and security. He got put in his place and things just continued on as they were, with the Manu Chao fans waiting hours while the scalpers just sat back and collected tickets that they would later sell for R$30-50 each.

At one point I went up to the front to check out the scene and saw a line of about 10 old people who I'm sure had absolutely no idea who Manu Chao is, waiting patiently for their turn. Then there was a line of scalpers, or "cambistas" in Portuguese, waiting to receive the tickets from them after they got to the front.

Was all of this worth it? Well, I loved the show and had a great time. The music rocked and the crowd was really fun. But I couldn't help but look around a couple of times, note the huge number of people there and think of how much money those cambistas made on the tickets that were basically free. And yes, I did see one older guy there, but the rest of the "idosos" were nowhere to be seen.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Manu Chao

Last night I saw one of the best shows I've seen in years! Manu Chao played at Teatro Castro Alves' outdoor arena to a packed crowd of people loving it! Here's a little clip that was posted after the show. I'll see if anyone else posts longer videos later today to post here.

The scene was super chill and it was the first time in a long time here in Salvador that I felt safe in a crowd of people. The opening band was really good, a mostly percussion group that included a guy playing berimbau! Manu Chao had a ton of energy, and was a great entertainer. He really knew how to get the audience totally involved in the music. He played some songs that I knew and some that I didn't, but I enjoyed every song and didn't want the show to end. He even came out for a second encore!

Getting the tickets was another story altogether and I'll post later today or tomorrow about the process. I will say that the concert was "free" in that you had to trade in 10 receipts from any store to receive one ticket. But you could only get 2 tickets per person and we ended up buying 2 more from a scalper so that we could go with our friends. It was all worth it though after I saw the show. I'm still feeling the good vibes this morning!

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Brazilians are a lot less strict about following copyright laws than we are in the US. Everything from music to books can be (pretty much) freely copied or purchased with little to no restrictions. A good example is the books I use for teaching English. Most of my students don't want to spend the money on new books, so they just make a photocopy of my book and have it bound. Voila, just as good as the original (well except that there's no color).

On practically every street corner you can find guys selling pirated DVDs. They usually have them laid out on a sheet or some kind of plastic, and someone once told me that it's so they can snatch it up really fast and run if needed, although the police don't seem to give these guys a second look. In fact, a sight I have burned into my memory is of 2 cops looking at a bunch of pirated DVDs and buying one from a vendor.

I think the funniest pirated DVD story I know is about this woman I used to be friends with who runs a pirated DVD rental place out of her apartment window. She lives on the ground floor of an apartment complex, and has a whole display of DVDs to rent. So other residents come by, look them over through the window and then rent them out for like R$1 or R$2 per night. She's smart in that she doesn't actually make the copies at her house, she makes them at her mother's house. I guess on some level she's worried about being caught, but not enough to shut down the operation. And from what I saw she does a pretty decent business...when she's home she just opens up the window and people start showing up to rent out a movie for the night.

The only pirated movies I have bought, I guiltily purchased because I had an eight hour layover in the São Paulo airport and I wanted to have something to do. It was kind of a last minute decision and so I was at the mercy of what the vendors had on sale. Sometimes they have kind of bizarre choices, things like "Anaconda 2". I ended up with Miami Vice and Shakira unplugged. I actually enjoyed both of them a lot!

Anyway, I sometimes feel guilty when I break copyright laws here, but not enough to not do it. But then again, everyone else is doing it too.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A real problem

I've been thinking about this for some time now, and after today it really came to a head for me. There is a HUGE problem of violence against women here in Salvador. Of course, all over the world there are problems with violence against women, but I'm seeing so many examples of it here, it's really hit me hard how much it sucks to be a woman in this city.

Today I was riding the bus to go teach a class and was running late. I called my student to tell her that I would be about 5-10 minutes behind schedule and she asked to cancel our class. Turns out that yesterday at about 6:30PM her sister was out with her boyfriend at this beach that is a well known tourist area. There were a ton of people around and she was drinking a coconut water with her boyfriend. Suddenly, 2 guys showed up, one with a gun and told her to get into a car. I didn't get all the details of what happened, but it was what is called here "sequestro relampago" or "lightning kidnapping". This usually involves someone getting kidnapped for a short time, during which the robbers take the person to various ATMs to withdraw as much money as they can and/or extract money in other ways. I don't know if my student's family had to pay some money or if they took her to a bunch of banks, but I do know that she showed up at the house in the middle of the night, shoeless, dirty and with a broken arm. Shit like this a) scares the hell out of me and b) makes me super f***ing angry.

I recently read a newspaper story in the local paper about the increase in assaults on cars here. Robbers will hang out at traffic lights, break the window of the car with a big rock and steal purses or whatever they can. The targets? Women and older people who are driving alone.

When I lived in the US I once went to a take back the night rally. I remember feeling empowered to be out and about with a huge group of women at night and was glad to have a chance to speak out about violence. But violence there seems like nothing compared to what it's like it here. I feel like I'm in the middle of a war-zone and that being a foreign woman just puts a huge target on my back.

How can these men sleep at night?

By the way...the banner above says "Where there's violence, everyone loses".

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The 25 things phenomenon

Well, I'm bending to Facebook's peer pressure and have created this list of 25 random facts about me that I thought I would share with you. Here goes:

1. I was born in Portland, Maine and have lived in North Carolina, Vermont, Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Salvador, Brazil. Some places I've lived longer than others, but I've learned something from every place I've lived.

2. I was a social worker for 10 years.

3. I came out when I was about 27.

4. I'm addicted to coffee.

5. I'm allergic to cats, horses, dust, pollen, almonds and various types of fruit.

6. When I was 10 years old, I got alopecia areata, which is a disease that causes your hair to fall out. This disease changed my life and has made me the person I am today.

7. I saw 42 Grateful Dead concerts when I was between the ages of 17-21.

8. I don't know how many times I've seen the band Phish play, but it's well over 100. My first show was in 1987.

9. When I was 22-23 I worked at a ski resort cleaning condos. My friend and I would spit on the fur coats that we found in people's rooms.

10. I was a vegetarian for 17 years. Now I eat meat.

11. I'm an avid reader. When I was a child my mother had to pry books out of my hands at the dinner table. That said, living in Brazil has been interesting for me because I've had to rely on cast-off books from other travelers. English books here are really expensive! Because of this, I've read some really interesting books that I never would have read.

12. I'm a serial hobbyist. I get really really into something, almost to the point of obsession, keep at it for a number of years and then move onto something else. I sometime wonder if this means I have commitment issues.

13. One of the most beautiful natural sights I have ever seen is the waterfalls of Foz de Iguacu, which is located on the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

14. I'm fluent in Portuguese and want to learn Spanish.

15. I've had three dogs in my life (Homer, Jack and Ruckus) and consistently had dogs from age 20-37. It's been three years now since I've had a dog and while I miss the companionship, I wonder if I'm really ready to commit to a dog again.

16. I don't wear makeup but I'm really picky about the health and beauty products that I use. I was sad to hear when Clorox bought Burt's Bees, but I'm still using their lip balm, deodorant, and baby oil.

17. My favorite movie of all time is "Harold and Maude".

18. I didn't vote in the last election because I didn't get my shit together in time with the absentee ballot. I feel guilty because I can't participate in the "I voted for Obama" euphoria, but I'm really glad he won.

19. I would do almost anything to help a friend and I have.

20. I walked on fire once. It was part of a workshop that I attended about experiential education and it was pretty mind blowing.

21. On that note, I used to be a fire dancer. I sometimes wonder how good I would be now if I had kept at it.

22. I love chocolate and have kind of an out of control sweet tooth.

23. When I lived in the US I didn't watch TV. Now I find myself watching pretty stupid American reality shows (A Double Shot at Love anyone?!). I think it's an attempt to stay in tune with American culture. I hope I can stop again when I go back to the US.

24. My best friend committed suicide when we were both 29. I still miss her.

25. I've been trying all my life to be a happy person and have been moderately successful at this.