Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, 2018
Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa, 2016
At the time I arrive, military occupation of the favelas has been ongoing for two months. There is calmness but not settledness. It’s the type of calm that exists only before storms. For a while, I fail to articulate the implication of the ubiquitous graffiti painted all over the city’s buildings and walls, but eventually I come to the conclusion that the street art itself carried that sentiment of unrest. Artists “sacrilege” federal buildings, local infrastructure, the bare walls of churches. Completely, with impartaility, as if to remind the ruling classes public, private and parochial that the city belongs to the people, the same way the art does, and cities, like art, came from the people and inevitably shall be returned to them.
APRAITHEID Exploring race in Rio
The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth... - African proverb or, in the nicest of places, they might be the same I’m expecting magic when I hop off the bright color as the house. Depending on the season, plane, at the very least in the form of sunshine but wildflowers and vines grows on them and and the I’m not given even that. It’s early but shaping up fortification is now inviting rather than intimidatto be one of the many days the fog is so thick you ing. There are cute bars and hostels run by people that can’t even see Cristo watching over the city. born and raised in the neighborhood, but there is Rio de Janeiro knows she is beautiful regardless, so also a Sofitel Santa Teresa and a restaurant run by she is a tease, letting the clouds hang over the city a family of Germans. Cabby shifts gears three or ominously, maybe it’ll rain, maybe it won’t. It takes four times attempting to climb the neighborhood’s forty-five minutes, 200 reales (a massive rip-off) steep hills, he and the vehicle sputtering as it goes. and one cab (“Cabby”) to drive from the Tom Jobim In the ten minutes it takes to drive up and over the International airport to the the bohemian-arts hilly maze of this side of the neighborhood, I have neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Some of the asphalt seen a wealth of extranjeros in all their conspicuity. streets are reminiscent of Sausalito, California, There are around ten favelas occupying the hillsides other cobblestone streets share elements with the of Santa Teresa which, depending on the location of ninth arrondissement in Paris, but Santa Teresa your hostel, to some tourists is a point-of-concern. posses a charisma all its own, tucked away from the The closest interaction I have with any of them is ocean, streets lined with houses painted in bright during one of my first days, when I am roused in yellows and purples, some with the brick and adobe the middle of the night by the sounds of rapid small mouldings characteristic of Spanish and Portuguese fireworks (foguetes), also known as bottle rockets architecture. Many homes are gated for safety and (as we call them in US), that are marked by their security, similarly to the wealthier suburbs I’d enlong wailing countered in Cape Town, but instead of tall concrete walls with barbed wire trimmings, there are iron fences and intricate iron gates outside the doors and windows, sometimes wrapping around the contour of the property itself. In many cases, the iron is not painted at all, taking on the natural rusted color of oxidation; otherwise, they’re painted white,
Peeeewwwwwww before Brap! Brap! Brap!
The sound is familiar, reminiscent of sum-
mer evenings in the neighborhood I grew up in, when the leftover firecrackers from the Fourth were expensed in loud and colorful nightly displays all throughout July. Suddenly, the fireworks started going off wildly,
Peeeeeewwwwwwwwww! Brap! Brap! Brap! Brap! Brap! Brap! Brap! BOOM. Peeeeeewwwwwwwwwww, BOOM , Brap! Brap! Brap! Brap! Brap! Silence. ~ It’s a man made of fire running through gun Favelas, for those of you who haven’t seen City powder. of God, are the colloquial term for the informal housing settlements that developed out of slavery in Brazil; Peeeewwwwwww! when denied capital for or access to housing in the ex panding urban centers, freed ex-slaves built their own My neighborhood sounds different now I communities. These “shantytowns” were technically notice that night, quieter mostly, now that folks all (and still are) illegal in the eyes of the government and, grew up, moved out, forced out, moved down South, as a result, were developed unregulated with respect to got locked up, died. It’s only been a few years since the basic infrastructure including but not limited to buildnew young people started getting their hands on the ing/zoning codes, electricity and power grids, sanitalarger fireworks, commercial-grade almost, the ones tion and waste removal, etc. As Cabby is driving me that sailed up high over the projects and homes and that first car ride into the city, I peek down the streets exploded with loud BOOM!s, that shook the neighof some of the favelas lining the outskirts of the highborhood from its foundations, sounding like gunfire way. I can see young people riding motorcycles, sans during wartime. With the comfort of the knowledge helmets, weaving around puddles and down wires left that for all that it was, shootings didn’t really happen by the thunderstorms earlier in the week. Stacked brick in our neighborhood, so the BOOM!s were always first and aluminum shanties (again, I’m reluctant to use that investigated as fireworks, anything else second. word as, design-wise some of the homes appear both complete and advanced) are tucked into the winding I tried to fall back asleep. hillside shores of a river bed, the broad sides of Dois
Irmãos and Corcovado. It looked as if the people pointed to the mountain and said “If they won’t have us, fine. We’ll build a house there and there and there and in there, too, and as we live in them, they’ll be reminded of our humanity, whereby the strength of our will, we transform our houses into homes and our people into a community.” When I bring up the fireworks during a lazy day on Copacabana beach, because I have befriended only the heaviest of sleepers, no one had heard them but me. I considered that perhaps I had imagined them in a nostalgic episode induced by the humidity, but reading a local publication online, I later learn that fireworks were used as a signal to others that the police had entered a favela. If you stayed at the beach late enough, though further away, you might hear similar sounds. On any given day, Copa was equal parts paradise and tourist trap because everything was for sale but the pursuit of profit wasn’t weighted with the same relent it might’ve brought elsewhere. Or perhaps it could have been that I was just simply more interested in purchasing rings, bikinis, açai with granola and mango from the comfort of my canga (the thin scarf-like blanket Brazilians have introduced as the superior beach towel) than I would be elsewhere. Occasionally, one might get asked to buy some seemingly strange item like plastic ponchos on a sunny day and the salesperson will kneel down so you are face-to-face, eye-to-eye and then make their genuine offer for maconha or cocaína. In one of these encounters, I realize, though this person smiling so close to my face might not be so preto, black, as we are, he is at least pardo, brown or mixed, and regardless, one of the first preto o pardo, I’ve seen on this beach outing, the few exceptions having been the woman from whom I bought the açai, the Senegalese expat from whom we bought rings, a younger guy who chatted with us during his break from selling Skols and Heinekens. Rio is much less black than I thought it would be, I observe aloud, taking a quick glance around our spot at the beach, squinting in both directions scoping for other blacks. I see definitely one, two, down the beach, a few potential, three, three and a half, four, scattered swimming in the ocean, a few hiring out chairs, five, six, seven. There are not many, but some.
Negros e Praias In November of 2015, the arrest of 150 youths who were not carrying drugs or weapons sparked outrage in Rio de Janeiro. The police presence on beaches that predicated this incident were aimed at addressing the threat of arrastao (translated as “dragnet”), a social situation where waves of young people descend on beaches to rob those present, particularly in the summer months. Vitor Coff del Rey, a worker for Educafro, a Rio organization that works in improving educational access for the black youth population of Rio called the act “symbolic apartheid.”
Del Rey’s phrasing, albeit, any association made to the South African-born system of racial discrimination and legislative oppression, could be criticized for being sensationalized or even inflammatory. In reading the report, I definitely formed my own opinions on his statement based on my experiences thus far in both countries. To confirm my own suspicions and Del Rey’s assertion, I decided to look at some graphic depictions of the demographics of the beaches in Rio de Janeiro and compare its appearance to Cape Town, South Africa, a city that has been referred to as the “last bastion of white rule” in post-apartheid society. A Brazilian student, Hugo Nicolau Barbosa de Gusmão and freelance statistician Adrian Firth prepared comparable dot-maps to show the concentration of the ethnic groups on the coastlines of Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town, respectively. The South Zone, the most “famous” part of Rio that includes much of Tijuca National Park, Sugarloaf Mountain, Corcovado Mountain, the Christ the Redeemer statue and Copacabana/Ipanema neighborhoods is 80 percent white, while nationwide, the amount of people who identify as white is only 48 percent. Whites are the vast majority around these beaches (Ipanema, Copacabana, Barra)
where the real estate prices are highest, while black and mixed race peoples are concentrated in certain inland neighborhoods, the density of blacks highest in the nearby favelas (Santa Marta, Rocinha, Pavão/Pavãozinho, Vidigal). The map of Cape Town shows similar results: whites, merely 9 percent of the population, almost exclusively dominate the beach regions while black and coloured populations, who make up 77 percent and 9 percent, respectively are pushed inland into the Cape Flats region. This image is jarring not necessarily because of the density of whites, but the relative spatial concentration of blacks. The interrelations between policy, policing and people that exist at the beach are, at times, microcosmic of a larger, flawed system that consequently controls the space and movement of the black population. Black containment and concentration at this scale are maintained dually by expropriation and policing. I would predict that when the dynamics of race and beach occupation in Cape Town are fur-
ther analyzed, or even extended to land ownership and wealth, the results would be starkly similar to Rio. The title of this piece Apraitheid is the amalgam of “apartheid”, translated from Afrikaans as “separateness” and “praia” meaning beach in Portuguese, a term I’ve concocted to describe the symptomatic racism that manifests on Rio’s beaches. At the time of these events, Rio’s security chief, Jose Mariano Beltrame, defended the “preventative” action, which Educafro noted effected overwhelmingly those from poorer regions. Later, the security chief admitted that there was, in fact, nothing to prove that the arrested youths were going to commit an offense, deflecting to the fact that many of them had taken buses into the city without paying the fares or without ways (and therefore, intention) to return. This state-sanctioned surveillance of black and brown youth in the country was nothing new. According to the National Public Safety Department statistics captured in an Amnesty International report, people aged
16-18 committed 0.9 country, while homic 56,000 killings record young people aged 15 were black. This figur actual numbers due t in that year, there wa the criminal age of re which was again, met outrage and Amnesty the position of then-P who came out agains Sociologist Ignacio C of the State of Rio de issue, saying that “An nightmare for the hig deep-rooted fear that plode into political vi
Fumaça na Cidade It is no wonde cial disparity has inci upper class. In Rio, o
9 percent of crimes in the cide data shows that of ded, 30,000 victims were 5-29 years, and 77 percent re is likely to be less than to unrecorded cases. Also as a failed attempt to lower esponsibility from 18 to 16, t with widespread public y International supported President Dilma Rousseff st the proposed change. Cano from the University e Janeiro opined on the n arrastao is the ultimate gher classes of Rio. It’s a t social exclusion will exiolence.”
er that this kind of raited paranoia within the over 1,000 favelas house
around 25 percent of the population or 1.5 million people. Congruously, the Rio Times reported in December 2017 that a study found that more than 50 million Brazilians are living below the poverty line, nearly 25 percent of the population. The lowest levels of the poverty index are found in the South region of the nation (which includes the Rio de Janeiro State) at 12.3 percent, the highest figures are found in the North. Inequality, unsurprisingly, trickles down at a granular level, as well. Among the Bottom Ten Percent of the lowest income in the country, 78.5 percent are black or mixed race, while only 20.8 percent are white; this analysis becomes particularly egregious in context of the Oxfam International report that stated in Brazil, the 100 million poorest Brazilians have the same wealth and equity as the six largest billionaires. Fast-forward two and some odd years and over-policing has reappeared again in the state of Rio with the current
military occupation of the favelas. In February of 2018, incumbent president Michel Temer signed a decree enforcing his claim that “circumstances demanded” he hand over the control of Rio’s police forces to the military in order to implement the “hard and firm responses” to the city’s criminal violence/organized crime problem, particularly during Carnival season. Researchers at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs Nicholas Barnes and Stephanie Savell have called the move “short-sighted and reactionary, with the potential to threaten the state of Brazil’s democracy.” While many inhabitants of the favelas have previously invited periodic military intervention for places that sometimes can be overrun with organized crime, the lack of privacy and ownership over their personal possessions, homes and bodies, that are requisite for a military occupation of indeterminate length is fit to get old fast. The group most disadvantaged by this system is familiarly black men, who are unilaterally suspected by the military of being involved in the drug trade. Studies have shown that time and time again, while criminal activity is statistically suppressed under military force, when the military exits, crime levels have a tendency to return to the status quo. If the long-term effect of short-term policing is simple returns to the status quo, what does the repetitive use of this tactic look like into the future? Barnes argues that the continued empowerment of the military over civilian life, has the effect of normalizing authoritarianism and authoritarian suppression tactics in a supposed-democracy. This is a slippery slope for a country whose leadership has dwindling public legitimacy. The year of 2018 is already looking to be a trying year for Brazil’s democracy. On March 14, I am in a northern city adjacent to the Chapada Diamantina National Park by time it becomes front-page news that the Afro-Brazilian councilwoman of the Municipal Chamber of Rio de Janeiro for the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL), Marielle Franco, had been killed in Rio de
Janeiro. She was an outspoken critic of the police violence against black people in the favelas and was assassinated after leaving from a round table discussion, aptly titled Jovens Negras Movendo Estruturas or “Black Youth Moving [Power] Structures” when nine bullets were fired into her car. Her press secretary, who was riding in the car with her, survived sustaining injuries. The immediate days following, there were a number of organized actions including marches, parades and protests throughout Rio, Salvador and around the nation, calling for justice and demanding that accountability be taken for the execution-style killing. Her untimely death has led to an outpouring of support on the national and international stage beginning with the hashtag #MariellePresente yet another unifying tragedy in the global fight for black lives. As I was writing in the US (and fit to complete and publish) this piece, another related bombshell in Brazilian news and politics came when the ex-president, “leftist” and populist champion of the people, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s bid to avoid jail was rejected by the Brazilian Supreme Court. Admittedly, I was not too familiar with him before I had visited Brazil, but the polarizing nature of his popularity was more than enough to implore me to learn more. He was convicted in July of 2017 of corruption charges that landed him a ten-year sentence; this move by the Courts effectively ending any possibility of success in his bid for reelection. His conviction was praised by wealthy conservatives who viewed the action as symbolic of Brazil’s forward-looking stance against corruption in the government. However, the left and many moderate groups believe that its part of a larger effort to undermine the political efforts against wealth inequality and for the empowerment of Brazil’s poor that his campaign and election foregrounded. The consensus among many in Salvador, even those who did not consider themselves pundits or supporters of Lula or his policy seemed to be: there exists more and worse examples of corruption, in much higher places, who aren’t being as harshly punished. The judicial hammer does need to come down on corruption in business and politics, but few believed he should have been the first to bear the blow. In the three days between the court ruling and Lula
Photo source: Pitsburgh Courier. AP Photo/Leo Correa
turning himself in to the police, the decision sent an emotional current throughout Brazil, namely among his impassioned supporters who defended his defense of his innocence and doubled down on the assertion that this was to assure the impossibility of his reelection, thereby fracturing and “orphaning” his electorate. When trying to leave metalworkers factory where he spent his days in limbo to turn himself in, hordes of his supporters blocked the exit door in a show of resistance to the concession. According to a tweet by New York Times reporter covering Brazil, Shannon Sims, in his final speech before leaving with the authorities on April 7, Lula invokes two presidential candidates from other leftist parties: Manuela Davila of Communist Party and Guilherme Boulos of PSOL (the party of the late Marielle Franco). It may be too early to tell, but it is possible that his arrest will only aggrandize his image and impact. As all things appear in hindsight, the rough edges and moral pitfalls of his rise will be overshadowed by his successes, the lasting influence of a story that centers the marginalized and priortizes the after-thoughts; as he says himself in the last lines of his departing monologue: “Lula is no longer a human being, but an idea.”
A Falácia da Magia I’ve often heard the word magical thrown around by people who are traveling to describe a place or a people and over time, it’s gotten around to being a little annoying. It’s not that magic does not inhabit certain places; apraitheid aside, I have seen few combinations of colors so spectacular as an Ipanema sunset, few blues so blue as the ones luminescent on a sunny day at Barra. It is fact: much of Brazil (and it’s beaches) do emanate magic. Much of magic, however spectacular, can be reduced to illusion, the magician’s presentation of the visible and manipulation of the unseen. In the places we call magical then, the places we look for magic, how closely are we paying attention? And more importantly, what can’t we see?
â€œTo lift yourself out of a miserable mood, even if you have to do it by strength of will, should be easy. I force myself out of my chair, stride around the table, exercise my head and neck, make my eyes sparkle, tighten the muscles around them. Defy my own feelings, welcome A enthusiastically supposing he comes to see me, amiably tolerate B, swallow all that is said at Câ€™s, whatever pain and trouble it may cost me, in long draughts. Yet even if I manage that, one single slip, and a slip cannot be avoided, will stop the whole process, easy and painful alike, and I will have to shrink back into my own circle again. So perhaps the best resource is to meet everything passively, to make yourself an inert mass, and, if you feel that you are being carried away, not to let yourself be lured into taking a single unnecessary step, to stare at others with the eyes of an animal, to feel no compunction, in short, with your own hand to throttle down whatever ghostly life remains in you, that is, to enlarge the final peace of the graveyard and let nothing survive save that.â€? Franz Kafka in Meditations
Iguazu Falls, Foz do Iguazu, Brazil, March 2018. I will not lie, I arrived in Brazil carrying many of the anxieties that I experienced at home throughout the winter. People assume travel does that, cures the ailments that you battled with at home, provide answers to the day’s or year’s questions, but it does not. For me, it certainly does help, but it does not solve. Standing on the Brazil side of the Falls this one day, my thoughts got so loud I couldn’t even hear the damn thing over them and historically, this would have ruined that day, had I not had the thought that this is the truest triumph of the will of man, that over her own mind, more powerful than any working of the universe. It seems dramatic of claim but the mind is such that one could see something so spectacular as that waterfall and be overrun with such worry, fixated on so fabricated of a concern that it could silence, forget, even, the grandiosity sitting in front of it. The extraordinary thing is, in the same way, that same mind, out from terrific bleakness (as there is a natural bleakness that inhabits the mundane), might pull its host from the ashes to an unassailable and evolutionary hope that like muscle, tears and is strengthened, each time more familiar, each time more resilient. If trauma is generational, I’d like to believe the same of resilience, for if there is any inheritance given from my mother, my mother’s mother, my mother’s sisters, it is this —that they were forced to survive in a world which rather they not, a world where there is darkness that seeps into homes through sadness and rage and alcoholism and then anxiety and shame and fear...but in that same world, exists light like the sun shining over Iguazu Falls, that they will never see but heals me and in turn, heals them, too. An Iguazu Falls that looks like the Earth, weeping, besought the heavens on behalf of her inhabitants, and they returned her tears with nothing but life, lush grass and flowers on a mountainside. So now, those souls who, when facing death, asked freedom, are afforded temporary residence in the bodies of condors, to dive into the valley’s depths from great heights, to do little but free fall, breathe in, then save themselves just in time to sit on some perch and watch me down there, wide-eyed, the Falls’ spray sprinkling my forehead, then whole face, then whole body like a baptism, like many things, sprinkle then immersion, wow.
Dia Internacional da Mulher DĂa Internacional de la Mujer International Womenâ€™s Day Misiones, Argentina March 8, 2018
It is fitting that I talk about Foz du Iguazu last since I seem to have the least amount of words to describe it. The town was different than I expected it to be, a city in itâ€™s own right, on both the Brazilian and Argentinian side; I could imagine both thriving without the flow of visitors to the National Park. The contrast in development between the city and contents of the Park appeared quite consistently to the story of its origin: explorers ventured into some inhabited, but uncharted-by-European lands, developed cities around their missionary efforts overtime, slapped fencing around it and, irony intended, christened it Parque Nacional IguazĂş.
Iguazu Falls, Brazil, March 2018.
A general profession of love for Salvador:
I really love Salvador, specifically Pelourinho which is quaint, charming but with the added grit of buildings crumbling and deteriorating on the sides facing dark alleyways away from the main rues with pousadas and hosteles occupied with Brazilian and international tourists alike. Aptly, this neighborhood, too, is primarily dominated by the “colonial” architecture, as Salvador was the first capital of Brazil and the main port through which the Portuguese brought, bought and sold slaves into the New World. The slave trade through Brazil imported up 11 times more slaves than the United States and Rio alone was home to more slaves the all of the American South. Brazil imported more slaves than any other country and of the approximate 10 million slaves brought to the Americas, 4.86 million were brought to Brazil from 1532 until its (legislative) abolition in 1888. I do feel kinship with Brazilian brothers and sisters, in a way different than black people I met in Namibia or South Africa or England. This type of kinship is ancestral more than experiential, stretching further back than the recent imagination of apartheid, Jim Crow and slavery itself. While race here is certainly not engrained the way it is in the US or South Africa where your race precedes you (primarily because of the sheer difficulty of doing so with a population that is over 50% African-descendant and growing, those statistics further muddled by 400 years of miscegenation). Here, you are Brasileno first, everything else second. The look of some of the blacks in Brazil are so starkly familiar it is jarring, that I sneak a picture of a young boy at the airport to send to my mom because he looks just like someone we know from church, I squint at a woman I am positive I saw in the hair salon two weeks ago is sitting a row away from me in the Salvador airport. I am amazed by probability that I shared a nondescript number of “great”s-grandfather with one or hundreds of people here and the combined forces of time and white men separated us and we’ve birthed lineages oceans away from one another and as such lived and died in a world of a difference, but somehow still the same, asked for the same things in different tongues, within different borders, all of us fiercely resilient in the face of the same bullshit.
HOSTEL TIME A Short Story
The Hostel Morro do Santa Maria sat on a hill somewhereoutside but adjacent to the city of Salvador, in the state of Bahia, and it was named so ironically by the hostel’s owner. After his parents gave him the money to buy the property, he christened the place with this name knowing that it would house a den of youths and sinners. He painted the walls on the outside of the house pink and paid a street artist to emblazon it with a beautiful portrait of a Baiana Virgin Mary with brown skin, brightly-colored clothes, and transfigured by a golden glow starting from the Earth next to her left foot, arching over her head and shoulders down to the right. In one arm is the baby Christ, the other is outstretched to new visitors. Save for this striking image, you might miss Hostel Morro do Santa Maria driving quickly through the neighborhood and this image is often the directive given to cab drivers to assure visitors are brought to the correct place. On the opposite side of the entry door, written on the oncebare part of the pink wall is some graffiti that reads simply “JESUS ERA PRETO!!!” that the owner’s parents begged him to cover up after their first and last visit to the place but he repeatedly refused claiming that any person that has a problem with this declaration he would not want as a patron. This story takes place on a Sunday, the last day before an exodus of checkouts, after a long, leisurely and revelrous holiday break to celebrate New Year, Festival de Iemanja, Carnival and then a few weeks of uninterrupted summer. As such, the hostel has ebbed and flowed between mostly filled and mostly vacant for several months, the most recent guests have stayed for only a day or two, the most senior have been settled for at least two weeks. It is difficult to keep time with precision at Hostel Morro do Santa Maria, as it is at any hostel, really, as time is kept differently than in the normal world. Luiz, the owner of Hostel Morro do Santa Maria is definitely between twenty and forty years old, but no one is sure exactly, not even him, since he stopped keeping track two or three years after opening the hostel. The decision was made out of equal parts utility and self-preservation—it was simply getting lonesome celebrating it with strangers or remembering it and then not celebrating at all, so it was easier for him to pretend it didn’t exist altogether. He was born in raised in some town north of the town where Hostel Morro do Santa Maria sits and appears some mix of African and Indigenous Indian in the features—high cheekbones, sharp angular planes that shape his face, dark lashes and eyebrows—but has the deeply olive skin of Arabs, the color he attributes to a single grandparent or great-grandparent born and raised in Damascus. Hostel Morro do Santa Maria is not typically a hostel for gringos, given how cheap it is (15 reales per night), specifically not for American and Western European gringos who are not fond of the lack of amenities and the communal spaces that define its 5 USD price. In general, the guests are students from other cities in Brazil using the city as a stopping point before heading to some of the region’s pristine beaches off the coast and during holiday seasons, it is other South American travelers making their way around Brazil or the continent itself. Again, it is pretty simple in all its adornments—there is one “dorm room” with four bunk beds and six windows, three which open by way of two flap doors as if there would be a balcony beneath them but there’s only a thin bar stretched from one window side to the other to prevent drunk or careless guests from falling from the window’s height down into the street. There is a single bathroom with a shower and no tub to be used by all the occupants of the single dorm room. Luiz cleans it as often as it is necessary, usually twice per day, and there is no apparatus that holds the toilet paper roll, rather, it is placed on top the toilet bowl so you are forced to reach back
and grab it if you find yourself taking a well-deserved poop. Breakfast is not provided, save for if you happen to wake around the same time as Luiz, in which case he might French press a pot of coffee and serve it to the first four people that arrive from the four tea cups he owns, five, including his own, sometimes offering you a bowl of a sugar, and on a particularly good day there might be milk. While the hostel technically only sleeps eight, the place is rarely filled by less than 10 due to visitors that are friends and cousins of Luiz, new friends made by the hostel guests, friends of the guests that are staying in different pousadas because they prefer a more glamorous experience than the one that could be provided by Hostel Morro do Santa Maria. The one benefit it has over all the other, nicer hostels, is its rooftop. The rooftop has an astounding view of the Bay of All Saints, better than that capoeira school at the end of Pelhourino, or any other restaurant or viewpoint in Pelhourino or Rio Vermelho that might claim they have better views. The Bay stretches around the building on three sides because of its peculiar architecture and Rio Vermelho glitters on the one right free side during the night. The rooftop has been minimally decorated, as is Luiz’s aesthetic, but there is a single string of lights around one of the banister sides, a few wooden chairs made by another Brazilian-Syrian cousin of his and a long wooden table that could be used for group meals, if they ever had any. A week ago, he checked in two girls, either Americans or black Israelis or one of each, because they both speak English and wore those strappy-sandal-sneaker-shoes every day. At least one, “Ellen but Ellie”, might be from the Horn of Africa, Eritrea or Ethiopia, considering the darkness of her skin and slenderness of her features, the other, “Caroline” but transformed to “Carolina” by Baianas, was more the likely the American if there was one, medium-toned, appearing black by way of Angola, features similar to some of the morenas endemic to the region. If she was, in fact, an American, it would be unsurprising as America must have a habit of rejecting their own blacks since there were quite a few that have been living here in this neighborhood for some time now. A couple of them could be recalled specifically from top of mind, one man from Red Hook, Brooklyn who might’ve been a writer but never actually had been seen writing or reading, and the other was a dreadlocked woman from Riverside, California, who moved here to be with her partner, a writer who was rarely seen but to sell her books at the local bookstore. They had both emigrated there long enough ago that people don’t care to measure how long it’s been. They both now spoke fluent Portuguese and were afforded community acceptance first by way of their blackness, secondly, by their relationships with their partners who completed their assimilation into the culture. Despite these three important but not compulsory barriers to entry (blackness, Portuguese fluency and a Brazilian partner), the second of the black Israeli or American girls still recognized a schism between them and the local natives. She considered that perhaps the only way to close that gap is not only to move there or to speak Portuguese, but to birth a baby by a Brazilian man therein and raise the child there, and have them grow up believing that all children spend sunny days running through the waters in Serrano, eating banana and mango straight from the tree; and this was a lovely fantasy of hers until it was ruined by how close it came to reality after one particularly reckless weekend but regardless, if she ran into either of them at the grocery store that afternoon they would be invited to the impending Sunday dinner the hostel guests had planned for many of their’s last night in Hostel Morro do Santa Maria.
The idea for a Sunday dinner is brought up by a guest named Amanda, a girl born in Northern Brazil who was not a girl, but a woman of thirty-six, who had lived in the States and Brazil, and therefore spoke both fluent English and Portuguese. Her sun sign was Taurus and described them, and therefore herself, as one who was amicable so long as others did not impede on her pursuits of sex, food, or sleep, in that order. She was staying in Hostel Morro do Santa Maria as she had recently returned from Paris, and was en route home when she stopped in Bahia to take a four-day course taught by a Belém-born chef to make perfect pato no tucupi, or duck in tucupi sauce, a yellow sauce extracted from cassava plants in the Amazon. Tucupi sauce is a tempermental ingredient because in its extracted form can be toxic, she explained to them dramatically one day. To showcase her newfound expertise, if they split the costs of four fresh ducks, she offered to cook four pato no tucupi, for a Last Supper to be had at the Hostel Morro do Santa Maria. The timing of this Supper proposal was additionally fortuitous considering that the singular dorm was brought to capacity three days prior by the arrival of three new girls, part of an all-girl band from Chile, who from the time of their arrival, filled the room with trilling and whirring Spanish, their laughs and voices as sing-songy in speech as when they were used for music. One girl called Paola who answers only to her nickname “Chia,” was dark-featured with a long but pretty face, broad-stretching cheekbones that simiarly to Luiz, echoed both the Native and European inhabitants of her country. The other was Ana Elisa an Afro-Latina with brown skin and a mane of curly dark brown hair, who dressed what one might consider unsurprisingly to match her hair and looks, this day, a white ruffled top and brightly-colored, patterned skirt that swept the floor left in her wake. She looked like the Santa Maria painted on the pink wall, sung too loudly in the shower, but luckily for her and the other members of the dorm, it was too angelic to be annoying. Amanda’s Taurian belief set was most apparent when she took the Israeli or American and Chilean girls out to eat at a nearby restaurant and in doing so taught them how to authentically dine. The restaurant was a tiny, local place, homey and quaint, nothing particularly fancy but under her leadership, the dinner transformed from a dinner to a feast. It started with her demanding the girls order the elaborate fruit drinks that were the restaurant’s speciality, then appetizers (coxinhas and empadãos, fried pastries with chicken or beef on the inside with cheese, similar to pasteles and empanadas, respectively), they then ordered the most expensive of entrées (Filé de Tilápia para molho de laranja, tilapia with orange sauce, served with roasted rosemary potatoes and sauteed beets), then Brazilian beers and then dessert (bolo, cake in three different flavors to share among the table). Although she looked no older than them in the face and seniored them but hairs over a decade, they were as children sharing that meal with her. What an appetite for life she had! If everyone ate every meal placed on their plate with the fervor she did, might they all live a more fulfilling life. One of the girls quipped, that she was un-
able to eat so much as she did, to which Amanda simply responded, “Maybe you should try harder!” and they both laughed from their bellies, full as they were. On this morning of the dinner, the American girls that apparently elected to wear the Israeli sandals are the first awake, the lucky recipients of Luiz’s coffee and they accompanied Amanda on the fifteen-minute walk to the grocery store, then the bakery and finally, the churrascaria that is a restaurant at night but sells frozen cuts and poultry up until 15:00. The expectation was there would be 10 guests: Amanda, Luiz, Ellen but Ellie, Caroline but Carolina, Paola but Chia, Ana Elisa, the third Chilean girl who rarely speaks, Chris, the German-Swede who has been a guest for nearly a month, Luiz’s cousin Joao, and a friend of Joao’s called Romaro. Most guests will contribute a dish. Paula but Chia, Ana Elisa will make pebre (a type of pepper sauce) and “ensalada a la Chilena!” that generously could be described as bruschetta, but is fundamentally a plate of sliced tomato and onions sprinkled with olive oil and a rosemary-like spice. Amanda is cooking four ducks. Ellen but Ellie, Caroline but Carolina mash potatoes and sautée beets to imitate the restaurant meal for a few days prior and they buy a passion fruit cake from Dona Maria two homes down. Joao brings six bottles of wine, Luiz crushes maracuja, a sour yellow fruit to make caipirinhas. There is far too much alcohol and not enough food, but Chris’ contribution of a dozen small loaves of bread from the neighborhood bakery should keep the party sober enough. Romaro arrives after Joao, with two other male friends who are so high they hardly speak after their introduction. Romaro, who most everyone meets for the first time when he enters, is attractive in a way that transcends sexuality, possessing the ability to woo men and women alike. He has tanned skin that seems to radiate a glow from the inside, a head of curls hanging down to his shoulder in such perfect ringlets it is an unconvincing argument that they appear that way without product and a speaking voice that sounds just like his singing one, low and hoarse without rasp, smooth without slurring, soft but with volume. He wears a white linen oxford, shorts cuffed at the middle of his thigh and pushes his guitar to one side to greet each of the girls by holding a single hand of theirs in both of his, and kissing it so dramatically, that his eyelashes brush the top of her hand in the grandeur of the gesture. He speaks only Portuguese and does not attempt any other, speaking quickly and rapidly beyond even some Portuguese-speakers’ comprehension, reminiscent of the father of Juan Antonio in the film Vicky Cristina Barcelona, who offers that he does not want to dilute the potency of his expression in his mother tongue by learning another. He plays gentle songs with precision, his voice is as beautiful as he is. He brings tobacco papers and a single bottle of wine, it’s already opened, if anyone notices, no one says anything. Luiz insists that they start the meal the way meals should be with a prayer of grace, and they cannot tell if he is being serious or kitschy or ironic, but he starts in Portuguese anyway, then passes it off to Ana Elisa
militude of present lifestyle defined by being either broke or cheap or both and on the road.
who continues in Spanish, then to Ellen but Ellie whose English conclusion is only known to all because of the similarity across languages of the Amen. The food is lopsided in its selection but good, nonetheless. The duck meat melts off the bone and the four ducks is nowhere near enough meat for the now 13 or 14 people. The beets and potatoes are good but also sparse. Wine and cachaça, tobacco and marijuana flow; they are passed around the table graciously, shortly after beginning the meal they’re doing little more than eating pão and pebre with the red wine, the Last Supper now an Unholy Eucharist. While not so much the case in the smallness that is Hostel Morro do Santa Maria, in many other hostels it seems your sense of self is dually amplified and diminished, and you are passively enrolled in a competition to be more interesting than the most obvious trait about you (typically nationality). This is made more difficult by the fact that Hostel Time is distinctly present; any time beyond the present moment of travel is so far away from the individual as to not seem real. Accomplishments, accolades, aspirations are all distinctly localized in memory. What’d you do today? What are you doing tomorrow? And the day after that? As a result, age, too, becomes a strange thing since the inhabitants of the hostel are defined by their youth, if not literally in years, relatively, then, in experience or si-
They attempt to get to know one another by asking different versions of this question: What is the most interesting thing about you? The answers are translated from Portuguese to English and Portuguese to Spanish and Spanish to English and all the opposite cases. They are relentless in criticism and skepticism. You speak seven languages. Hm. That’s interesting. Not necessarily novel, boring, even, now that you’ve done it so many times. Why not learn something different? I’m learning to play the guitar. Oh, I play guitar, too. I wrote a song today, we should write a song together. Back to your languages. Perhaps there are diminishing returns to the impressiveness of collecting fluencies, 0-2 is the standard, 3-5 might be impressive, 5 or more seems manic, doesn’t it? You must be a savant, you must have too much time on your hands, we are all jealous of all that time in your hands.
“Don’t you feel some guilt, spending all this time and money on yourself?” someone asks. The friend of Romaro rolls another joint and mixes what’s left with some tobacco to roll a spliff, he take a hit, passes it and then begins to smoke the cigarette. By this time there are three empty wine bottles, two opened, one already-opened and untouched, seven empty caipirinha glasses and Luiz eats the last maracujá sans cachaça, he has been largely silent, as he is whenever talk swings to the remotely personal. “In truth, there is no reason ever to be ashamed,” the friend monologues in Portuguese, ashing his cigarette in the dish in the middle of the table. “I realize more and more that freedom is as much the absence of shame as it is the absence of fear. If an oppressor can’t shame you, at the very least, they can’t control your behavior...people shaming others about how they spend their time...” A smoky exhale of disgust. Amanda jumps in, this time in English for its pointed emphasis. “You girls are so young, you should have obligations to no one but yourselves. Until you have a partner, or maybe not even, a child, or maybe not even then...but you should be making concessions for no one. Let me be your example,” she gestures to the air/ aura around her, “My life is remorselessly my own.” For the many and most, her advice is right; and although this is hard to fathom at twenty-two or twenty-three or twenty-five or thirty-four when it feels that everyone and thing is putting down roots all around you, but until you decide it is not, your time is entirely yours and as such it should be expensed gratuitously, indulgently, the way one might be taught to enjoy a meal at a hostel, on a hill, on a Sunday in Bahia. Because sooner than you can imagine, you will have that baby with the brown skin and bright eyes, into which you willingly pour all your energy, time and devotion. And maybe you will, in fact, take them to bathe in Serrano or instead, Cachoeira do Mosquito, because the water is shallow enough for them to wade without you worrying about them slipping. And if one’s aspiration is not a baby, then some occupation with which you are passionately consumed, filled with direction and purpose. And if not some occupation, then a fascinating hobby like gourmet cooking or scuba diving that takes time and money and you around the world. But, the point is, from then on, willingly, (but not always contentedly) something will dominate the pace and content of your time and life. “What time is it?” someone asks, emptying the last of the last bottle into a glass. No one much has considered this. How much time has even passed? A few hours at least? Two, maybe three past the sunset? The hours are written in the pools of wax that once formed candles, the empty bottles of wine, melted ice in the caprihina glasses, the collection of butts and roaches in the ashtray. By happenstance, the phones of the guests have failed to make the journey from the kitchen or the common living room to the roof, so other than these symbolic indicators, the hour is entirely unclear. The Bay of All Saints has foghorns that go off at 17:00 and 18:00, both of which had hours since sounded, and there will not be another until 06:00, which at this time of year hardly beats the sunrise, the only next and definite indicator of time’s passage. How glamourous a life they’re afforded, ownership of all the hours from the advent of evening to the hour they decide to drift to sleep. “Strange that after tomorrow we’ll probably never see each other again,” one of the singers notes in Spanish. “Bem então...boa viagem, amigas! Good riddance! ” Luiz said in choppy English, then laughed, and the walls of Hostel Morro do Santa Maria beneath us laughed too, empty as she was.
NOTES, APPENDIX, LEGAL
NOTES The following works were factually referenced for the piece “Apraitheid”. I can’t thank these scholars, journalists, organizers and citizens for their work in reporting, recording and advocating on behalf of their communities. http://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/rio-politics/more-than-25-million-brazilians-living-below-povertyline/ https://www.amnestyusa.org/press-releases/brazil-lowering-age-of-adult-criminal-responsibility-will-consign-children-to-medieval-prison-system/ https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/outrage-over-rio-de-janeiro-polices-symbolic-apartheid-10478273.html https://www.usnews.com/opinion/world-report/articles/2018-02-23/giving-the-military-control-in-rio-threatens-brazilian-democracy https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/2016-rio-summer-olympics/what-favela-five-things-know-about-rio-sso-called-n622836 https://www.pri.org/stories/2015-11-02/brazilian-student-mapped-out-rios-racial-segregation-what-hefound-was-startling https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/outrage-over-rio-de-janeiro-polices-symbolic-apartheid-10478273.html https://www.pri.org/stories/2015-10-27/blacklivesmatter-has-gone-global-and-brazil-needs-it-badly https://psmag.com/news/brazil-mourns-the-death-of-marielle-franco https://desigualdadesespaciais.wordpress.com https://adrianfrith.com/dot-maps/ https://www.equaltimes.org/land-occupation-as-a-solution-to?lang=en#.WsE6E3eZNE4 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/south-africa-white-farms-land-seizure-anc-race-relations-a8234461.html https://newpittsburghcourieronline.com/2018/03/20/thousands-protest-assassination-of-beloved-afro-brazilian-activist-and-politician-marielle-franco/ https://www.wsj.com/articles/brazils-former-president-misses-deadline-to-turn-himself-in-1523057876 https://www.wsj.com/articles/brazils-supreme-court-rejects-former-presidents-bid-to-avoidjail-1522900133 https://www.wsj.com/articles/conviction-of-brazils-lula-tarnishes-a-storied-rise-1499901559?tesla=y
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On intergenerational trauma and transnational healing. But mostly blackness and beauty in Brazil.