After the long journey from Boston to Bahia, I didn't really know what to expect upon setting foot outside the airport in Salvador. I can't really remember anything from the first few hours but the famous "chip! chip!" incident and the breathtaking sight of "favellas" carved into the hills. From the bus, I could immediately gather that these were poorer areas of the city, and seeing what looked like shacks literally stacked on top of each other like colorful life sized legos intrigued me. As for the rest of the city, quite honestly, I wasn't impressed. Arriving in Victoria, a more well off part of town, I was greeted with lines of skyscrapers. Some more fancy than others, it was a pretty bland plan of buildings, whether a private edificio, a hotel, or government building, all were built like standard condo skyscrapers. I was really disappointed that I was feeling like this, it was a first for me. I didn't have any out of this world expectations of Brasil, so I couldn't understand why I felt this way. Along with disappointed, I also felt a little overwhelmed. Over the first night in the hotel, I self diagnosed this nervous feeling as a sort of reverse culture shock. I have just returned from a far less developed country about two weeks ago, and barely had time to adjust to life in New York before shipping out to a different continent. After some much needed rest, I attempted to wipe my initial reactions from my mind and take a walk outside the cluster of skyscrapers. When my roommates and I reached la priah de Barra. All of my feelings of disappointed were gone. Every person I saw spanned every variation of skin tones. It quickly became apparent that many people here were of African descent. At this moment I felt a bit of relief, similar to what I felt in Ghana when I realized that here, I am not a minority.
How I Met My Mother
On our first day at ACBEU, our language and cultural school. We were oriented to the ins & outs of Bahia and afterward, introduced to our new mothers. Homestays are a major part of this program. They are supposed to help us get a better grip on the Portuguese language, and naturally integrate students into the city of Salvador. My mother, Arlene is a petite woman, recently divorced with a fourteen year old daughter, my new sister Maria Clara, and a cute dog named Lila. I also have another sister from NU named Janet. We were immediately given keys to the house, shown around and informed that Their casa was our casa. So far this has been a very different experience from other dialogues, we live in an upper middle class neighborhood called Graca, and have found our way around pretty easily on the frequently running buses.Historia do Brasil.
After moving into our apartments, it was time to get acquainted with the rich history of Bahia, essentially the birthplace of Brasil. Dr. Fred (pronounced "Freh-gee") met us at the old town's center, Praca de Ser. This is also the location of les Levantras, elevators that connect the upper city to the lower city with an approximately 15 second ride. Fred began his tour by telling us about the first buildings built by the Portuguese in this part of the city. Part huge of Portugal's colonization included the trading of slaves. Many came from West Africa and specifically Ibo, Yoruba, and Ewe tribes among many others. Many ancient African traditions and religions have a strong presence in the lives of Bahians and Brasilianos in general. Including the widely practiced religion of Candomble. It is belief system based on nature, music, and rituals complete with deities dedicated to water, fertility, weather, etc. Many people in mainstream religious communities associate Candomble with devil worshipping and voodoo. While it has rituals and practices that delve into the realm of voodoo. Fred made it very clear that Candomble is NOT a devil worshiping religion. We visited an are gallery with an exhibition by photographer Pierre Verger, who was given a rare look into the sacred and secret traditions of Candomle.
At the end of the week, I got to visit one of the favelas i mentioned earlier. We were taken to a small after school music and dance program called Bangucaco. The children and adolescents there greeted us with a vibrant performance on various creatively crafted drums and other instruments. This program was started for the kids to stay off of the streets and give them refuge in music, dance, arts, and media. For most of the kids it is a second home. Parents and people from the neighborhood often help out at the program and kids who grew up in Bangucaco also come back to instruct and guide newcomers. After meeting the kids on the first day, and getting a brief background and tour of the place, we returned the next day for some fun activities. The kids hosted workshops to teach us how to play their drums and dance the Samba, Capoeira, and some traditional dances for carnival. The kids possessed an endless energy for their passions, whether it be music, dance, or both. One girl, Stephanie, insisted that I ,continue to dance after almost 3 hours of non-stop grooving to the live drumming supplied by the kids. At that moment, my energy spent, Stephanie's smile encouraged me to power through for, one, than two, than three more dances. The kids and this program are absolutely amazing.
Until next time, Tchau!