A “Brazilian” in Blighty

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Photo by wynand van niekerk

 

When I used to visit the UK while living in Brazil, I sometimes found myself doing what I would do in Bahia – like slapping the side of a London bus that was pulling away from the stop in hopes that it would let me on (not a chance, and I found myself stared at). Now that I live here, I am becoming rapidly acculturated. I even think 14 degrees (Celsius) is mild! However, a recent experience has shown that I haven’t stopped being (or acting) Brazilian in Blighty.

When my daughter was visiting me in Birmingham, we went out for an Indian meal with an old friend who wanted to meet her. My friend had advised me to use a particular car park, so when we got there I pulled out the ticket as the gate spat it out, and popped it under the windscreen. I think. As we were walking away from the car, I realised that it wasn’t a “pay and display” but a “walk and pay” system, so I went back for the ticket. It was nowhere to be found. Neither my daughter nor I could remember what I’d done with it after I pulled it from the gate, although I was sure I had stuck it under the windscreen. We tore the car apart. No ticket to be seen. Finally, I resigned myself to paying the full fee – about £16 – and we walked glumly to the restaurant to meet up with my friend.

Hours later, cheered by a varied and not-too-pricey meal at Jimmy Spices, the three of us returned to the car park. While my daughter went back to the car to make a last-ditch effort to retrieve the *&(£$% ticket, my friend and I tried to find someone I could pay to let us leave. The glassed-in office was dark and empty, and for a moment I thought we would be there all night, but then I noticed a light gleaming through a crack in an inner door. Instinct took over and I suddenly slapped on the glass. Instantly, a man sprang out and opened the outer door to see what the fuss was about. “My ticket has vanished!” I cried with all the scene-chewing passion of a Brazilian soap star. “Here, take this,” he blurted, handing me a ticket. “It’ll let you out.” I was confused at first. How much would I have to pay? I tried to validate the ticket but the machine refused to recognise its existence. Finally, I decided to take a chance, said good-night to my friend and drove up to the barrier. The ticket went in, the barrier went up, and my daughter and I drove through. Free of charge. When I told my friend he couldn’t believe it. I still can’t. I wouldn’t try it again.

‘Freeing’ a modern-day slave (part two)

breaking chainsAs I wrote in part one, I like to think that I freed a slave – a young girl who was being forced to work as a maid for no pay in Brazil – but looking back, I realised that she was, in her own way, a free agent…

Although this story could have taken place today, it happened nearly twenty years ago. I was helping organise the first PercPan percussion festival in Salvador’s Castro Alves Theatre, and had to spend a few nights at the nearby Hotel da Bahia (now the Sheraton). Whilst there, I invited my daughters and Bela over to the hotel to enjoy the pool. I noticed (or was told) that Bela spent most of her time talking to the hotel manager’s son, who was about her age. I thought nothing of it. The next day, I rang home to see if anyone wanted to stay at the hotel whilst I was working (I usually got back at about 2 am). Bela answered the phone and pipped my daughters at the post, eagerly accepting the invitation. Again, I thought nothing of it. When I got back from work at the usual time, I knocked on the hotel room door and no one answered. I thought Bela must be asleep so I went down to the lobby and rang the room (I only had one key and had left it with her). No answer. Unable to get into my room and not knowing where Bela was or what she was doing, I decided to take the lift to the penthouse and say good night to my boss, thought better of it when I reached the 10th floor, and went back down the staircase. There, in the stairwell, I found Bela canoodling with the hotel manager’s son!

As a result of that and other indications, I began to worry that Bela was trying to use her youthful sexual charms to get a leg up in life. I feared that if she stayed in the ‘big city’ she would finish up as a prostitute, so I purchased a bus ticket to her home town and sent her back to her mother with a small amount of cash to tide her over. She rang me when she arrived to say she had ‘lost’ the money and I expressed my commiseration but didn’t offer any more.

It turns out that I was right about Bela’s use of her sexuality, but she did so within the legal smokescreen of marriage. She accepted a much older suitor who had been pursuing her before she moved to Salvador (yes, she was still underage) and eventually came to own a chain of beauty parlours. Either divorced or widowed, she went on to marry a doctor who was closer to her age, and as far as I know, she is still happily married and a successful businesswoman to boot.

Did I ‘rescue’ Bela or was I merely a pawn in her gambit for freedom? I don’t believe I would have done anything differently, either way. Also, I can’t help wondering how many other young women are still enduring a similar situation but cannot find a ‘saviour’ – or save themselves.

 

 

Short stories in Portuguese

img_0554New Year’s Resolution in 2016: taking myself more seriously as a writer (in English and Portuguese)

Eye on Brazil: Observations of an Ex-Expat

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Looking back on 2015: A disturbing trend in Brazil

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Graffiti artists’ protest against the Cabula massacre, seen in that district in 2015. Photo by Sabrina Gledhill (all rights reserved)

On 6 February, 2015, policemen shot and killed 12 robbery suspects in the Cabula district of Salvador, Bahia. An internal investigation by state’s Public Prosecutor’s office found that the victims – all of them young black men – had been executed. The black movement calls it genocide, a disturbing trend in a country where racism has traditionally been veiled and racially motivated lynching almost unheard of. That being said, exterminating street children (the best-known incident being the Candelaria massacre in Rio in 1993) and known or suspected criminals as if they were vermin is nothing new in Brazil. Ironically, there is no official death penalty in that country.

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The graffiti art in the photo illustrating this post was not the only response to the Cabula massacre by the Bahian arts community. From May to August 2015, the Museu Afro-Brasileiro (MAFRO) held an exhibition curated by the museum’s director, Graça Teixeira that displayed thought-provoking installations and artworks protesting the genocide of black youth in Brazil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Coup-driven change?

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Ernesto Geisel (far right) with Juracy Magalhaes, Agildo Barata and other prominent figures of the ‘1930 Revolution’

I am increasingly concerned by the upsurge in demands for a military or political coup to overthrow the Dilma Rousseff/PT administration. I arrived in Brazil shortly after the end of the 1964 coup – which its perpetrators and sympathisers called a ‘revolution’. It lasted 21 years and left deep scars (physical and metaphorical) on the Brazilian people. History shows that coups have been a standard form of regime change in Brazil since the early nineteenth century. It’s time for a fresh start and a different approach

Years ago, when I was working on a biographical project about political figures in Bahia for the late Brazilian historian Consuelo Novais, I noticed that at least one of the generals who took part in the 1964 coup had also played an important role in the so-called Revolution of 1930 that overthrew the First Republic and brought Getulio Vargas to power.

That got me thinking. Brazil negotiated the independence of the south, but had to fight to free the northeast and north from Portuguese rule (with the help of Lord Cochrane, but that is another story for another post). The first Brazilian emperor, Pedro I, was the son of the ousted Portuguese king, Joao (John) VI. Pedro was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Pedro II, who was ousted by the 1889 coup that established the First Republic. Are you sensing a pattern here?

When I suggested to Consuelo Novais that the 1964 coup was just another link in a chain of ‘regime-change revolutions’, she interrupted me vehemently and said that, no, it was the Americans who engineered it. Admittedly, the CIA played a key role, but a seed has to fall on fertile soil…

That is why I am extremely concerned about the current machinations to remove Dilma from office (Brazil is a first-name culture). Although the PT (Workers’ Party) has been in office far too long and may well have rigged the last elections as its opponents claim, it would be salutary for Brazil to see her mandate through and elect an anti-corruption candidate from another party. However, as I have written elsewhere, all of Brazil’s political parties are alike in that respect. None is less venal than any other, and all of them have (or would, given an opportunity) looted the public coffers. Eliminating corruption in politics requires a cultural sea change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Divorce, Brazilian Style

Never throw the key away!

Never throw the key away!

In my recent post “Playing by the Rules and Rueing It,” I mentioned that I got married to stay in Brazil as a legal resident. I was in a committed relationship, but marriage was against my philosophy. And, as it turned out, it was entirely unnecessary. If I had only known how hard it would be to get a contested (non-consensual) divorce…

When my marriage was no longer bearable; when I finally managed to overcome the inertia, gain momentum and break free, I found myself in a legal maze that would have made Kafka laugh.

First, under Brazilian law, I had to say that I left my husband because I was in fear of my life to avoid being charged with “abandoning the home” (abandono do lar) and losing custody of my daughter. Luckily (?) he actually had threatened to kill me – when I told him I’d slap him if he ever belted our daughter again. That remark was the death knell of our marriage. When we sat before the police officer who was taking our statements, he countered that I had threatened him too, as I’d told him that if he ever hit me, I’d pour boiling water in his ear when he was sleeping. All true, though it was mentioned as an anecdote (advice my mother gave me), not uttered as a threat. The female police officer looked knowingly at the female clerk and I realised that he had merely confirmed that I was under threat of physical violence, if not death. First step towards freedom – check.

Then I had to hire a lawyer. I turned to the foster mother of a friend of my adopted daughter and paid her R$1,000 up front (a considerable sum in those days). After a while – was it years? – the process stalled, and eventually the lawyer moved to another state, handing my case over to a colleague, and…nothing happened. I was separated but nowhere near divorced – languishing in marital limbo.

Finally, I came across another lawyer, who told me that my divorce proceedings had probably been “filed in a drawer” at the request of my husband’s uncle/attorney – the unscrupulous jailhouse kind. Fortunately, my new acquaintance knew someone at the notary’s office that had “filed” the proceedings and got them “unfiled.” On both sides, it was all about whom you knew. So far so good – what a relief! Months later, I received word that the divorce had gone through. Free at last…or was I?

One or two years down the line, when I wanted to travel abroad with my daughter, I needed her father’s authorisation, as she was still a minor. We both had to be present, and the official asked us if we had a divorce certificate. A what?? My elder daughter checked into it and found that I would have to go to several notary’s offices – all housed in the same courthouse by that time – to get the right stamps and signatures. Finally, my marriage certificate had a big stamp on the back saying the divorce had been finalised.

Oh by the way, I don’t think my ex ever knew that I managed to push the divorce through. I don’t believe he’ll read this, since he never learned English, but if anyone wants to tell him, feel free…