Short stories in Portuguese

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

Brazil, Blighty and Beyond

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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?

juraci e agildo barata em 1930

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…

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

breaking chains 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…

The regulations governing domestic service in Brazil have changed dramatically in recent years, giving maids and nannies nearly all the rights provided to officially employed workers under the country’s draconian labour laws. Their most recent achievement is the right to the Length-of-Service Guarantee Fund (FGTS). Unfortunately, as householders find themselves having to pay their servants the minimum salary plus benefits, and the tax burden rises, many are no longer able to afford full-time, live-in help and are adopting a system more common in the ‘First World’ – having cleaners come by twice a week at most, to avoid the risk of being sued for failing to sign their work papers.

One way of getting around this is bringing in a young girl from the countryside to work as a maid in exchange for an education. Sometimes the bargain is honoured. In many cases, she becomes a modern-day slave.

My elder daughter befriended one such domestic worker, a fourteen-year-old girl I’ll call Bela. She worked for a couple that lived in the flat above ours. Through my daughter, I would hear that, although Bela was allowed to study, her activities were being increasingly curtailed. After a while, she was only allowed to leave the flat to go to the bakery, and made to work every day of the week, including Sunday, when she did the ironing.

Another sad fact about Brazilian maids is that they are often subjected to sexual harassment. I gathered from the news that filtered through my daughter that this underage girl was being sexually stalked by the man of the house. His jealousy might be the reason for her virtual house arrest, as she was even accused of flirting with the baker!

Even worse – again, according to Bela – she did not receive any money directly. The couple claimed to be depositing her wages in a savings account in Bela’s home town, but there was no proof that this was actually the case.

One weekend, I was taking my family with me on a scouting mission to organise a tour of the region for architects who would be planning a resort on the North Coast of Bahia, and invited Bela to go along. My daughter wanted her to go with us to keep her company, and I felt sorry for her, as she was rarely allowed to cross the street, let alone go on a day trip into the countryside. Bela agreed with alacrity, and we all had a good time visiting the colonial landmarks and resorts I selected for the architects’ itinerary.

When we got back, I was startled to hear Bela say that she could not return to her home/workplace because she had left without permission. She seemed fearful of the consequences. I immediately offered to let her stay with us, and she accepted. My daughter was pleased and I thought I had done a good deed. Then things got complicated…

 

 

Playing by the rules and rueing it

6 months

Happily pregnant, at 6 months, I had no idea that it was my ‘bump’ that would get me over the ‘hump’  and make me an official resident alien in Brazil. 

When I arrived in Brazil, I had a three-month tourist visa and no intention of overstaying. By the time the three months were up, I had decided to stay, and my Brazilian friends told me not to worry when it expired, since that would happen on Fat Tuesday. “Just tell them it was Carnival! They’ll understand.”

Carnival came and went, and then I was told that I should wait until a “friendly” federal policeman returned from holiday. I waited a few more weeks, and there was no sign of him. Finally I decided to fling myself on the mercy of the immigration office, which was run by the fearsome Federal Police (note that this was shortly after the end of the dictatorship, when they had had a hand in torture and “disappearing” people, and that mentality still lingered), and found no sympathy at all. I was fingerprinted for the first time in my life – with black ink – fined and given a few days to leave the country.

Fortunately, a friend lent me the money for a plane ticket, for there were no buses available at such short notice. I paid the fine and headed for Paraguay to renew my visa. In those days, that was possible. If it had happened nowadays, I would have had to return to my home country. That gave me another three months, renewable in Brazil for another three, after which I would once again have to go to Paraguay. I enjoyed the beautiful blue butterflies at Iguaçu Falls, crossed the Friendship Bridge on the Paraguayan border, got my visa renewed and headed back to Salvador, Bahia.

By the time I was due to travel to Paraguay for the second time, I was engaged to be married. Normally, I would not have done so, since it was against my philosophy, but since I was in a committed relationship and it seemed to be the only way to become a legal resident, I decided to tie the noose, erm, knot. Before I left, I had a divination reading done – a consultation with the cowries – and all sorts of negative portents appeared. “Work” was done to protect me and I set off on my own, this time by plane to Sao Paulo and bus from there to the triple border region where I would once again cross the bridge and briefly enter Paraguay. The first time I had done it, I had walked across, done some shopping and walked back before I realised that the most important thing was missing – a stamp in my passport! I then had to go back and sit in the Paraguay immigration office, where men in dark sunglasses scrutinised my documents, gave me the stamp – for a fee – and watched me head back across the bridge to their Brazilian counterpart, which looked for all the world like a toll booth.

The first time, I had got my stamp and headed back home. This time, however, the computer said I couldn’t re-enter because I hadn’t paid the fine levied when I overstayed my visa. But I had paid it! Unfortunately, I had left the receipt behind in Salvador. For the Federal Police, the computer was never wrong, so I wandered disconsolately back to my hotel, and listened to pigeons (doves?) rustling and cooing outside my hotel window over the course of a sleepless night. Later I was told that was a blessing. Fortunately, the Federal Police officer I saw the next morning allowed me to re-enter the country officially, but just for three days! Enough time to go home, fetch the receipt and take it to the local immigration office so they could renew my visa for another three months. Three months and three days instead of six months to plan the wedding and, of course, get married!

When I arrived at the Federal Police office in Salvador, receipt in hand, the officer – the same one who had had me fined and fingerprinted – was very understanding. He told me to go to the bank where I had paid the fine to get the receipt officialised. I did, but when I returned to the policeman with the proper stamps, I realised that his supposed understanding had masked utter disbelief. He clearly thought I had either bribed someone at the bank or forged the stamp, because he rushed off with the paper in hand to see for himself. Some time later, he returned and admitted that, this time, the computer really had made a mistake. I got my three months, got married, and was at least spared the need to make a third visit to Paraguay. So far so good, and I was still perfectly legal.

Fast forward about a year. I was nine months pregnant. An amnesty programme was in effect for illegal aliens. When I visited the Federal Police to see about applying for permanent residence, I was advised to apply for amnesty! “But, but, I’m not here illegally, never have been,” I stammered. “It’s easier for us if we do it that way.” And then, looking at my belly: “How far along are you?” When I told the officer, he gave me a form to fill out and sign, stamped it, and told me that that should suffice. It did. Because I was having a baby in Brazil. There had been no need to get married at all, except to give my child my surname…

After making every effort to play by the rules, I finished up getting the same treatment that every illegal immigrant received when they even remotely qualified for residency. That was typical of my experience in Brazil – play by the rules and rue it. I’m not advocating unlawful behaviour, certainly not malandragembut it did make me understand why Brazilians tend to view the law as a “guideline” and invented the jeitinho brasileiro.