On a more serious note, the worst experience I ever had with a taxi driver was very recent. It was fortunately just a short way from the Historic District to the Historical and Geographic Institute. Somewhere en route, the driver and I got to talking about crime (always a meaty subject with taxi drivers, as they are unusually exposed to it) and he revealed that he was a police officer. Then he regaled me with the story of how he was jogging along Dique do Tororo in his expensive trainers, wearing an even more expensive watch, when a mugger pointed a knife at him and demanded that he hand them over.
He did, but as the mugger was walking away, the cop/cabbie pulled out his concealed gun and aimed it at his assailant. When the mugger pleaded for his life, the former victim, now executioner, said he was going to send him somewhere no lawyer could get him out of and riddled him with bullets. Then he rang up his friends on the force and had forensics clean up the crime scene!
I was chilled. And terrified. There I was in the same vehicle with a confessed cold-blooded killer who was clearly proud of his exploits. We were close to the institute, so instead of asking him to go around Piedade Square and leave me at the front gate as I would normally have done, I asked him to pull over at the other side of the square, hopped out, paid my fare, and breathed untainted air again. I was reminded of my first impression of Brazil when I arrived in December 1986 – people seemed to be more afraid of the cops than of the robbers. In nearly 30 years, nothing seems to have changed…
The new view makes it all worthwhile
We are now living in Cabula, a district of Salvador with a distinctly African-sounding name that is home to one of its greatest terreiros (Afro-Brazilian temples). According to Wikipedia – caveats duly noted – this area used to be a maroon settlement, or quilombo, formed by escaped slaves of Bantu origin – from cultural groups currently found in Angola. Cabula is also the name of a secret 19th-century sect that combined elements of Spiritism, Islam and Bantu religious beliefs. Powerful stuff! I have also found that Cabula might also be the name of a town or region in Angola itself. Any confirmation of that will be greatly appreciated.
One thing I noticed right off when we moved into our new place was the high level of security – or at least, security preparedness. We received lots of keys, but the main doors to the two buildings in the complex are most always open. Now I know what all the keys are for.
Early this morning, before 6 am, I heard loud voices outside my bedroom door, which also leads to the outer staircase and the top end of the lift shaft. The building management had already advised us about a scheduled power outage that was supposed to start at 8 am, so I thought the voices and banging I heard were maintenance workers getting a head start. I almost popped my head out the door to complain. So glad I didn’t.
After tossing and turning in bed for a while, I heard more voices, and then the original two identified themselves as “police”. That gave me a chill, because the last time someone had shouted “police” outside my bedroom was when I lived in a very low-income district, and I had just heard the same voice issue death threats to the kids who were sheltering under our house’s overhang. I played possum both times.
This time around – and this is the most credible version of the story I’ve heard so far – an individual was seen running into the complex and the security guard called the police. The most incredible part – though I know it’s true – is that they actually came! They must have spent hours scouring every floor and stairwell, because I later heard that the police were still there when my housekeeper arrived at 7:30 am. They don’t seem to have found the intruder, and the janitor tells me no one was burglarised. The mystery deepens.
It is a bit strange after 17 years in a much larger complex with – presumably – much better security. Living in a country with such huge income disparities, where even people renting a flat in a run-down building in an up-and-coming neighbourhood would seem rich compared to those living in shacks in hardscrabble slums, invasions of apartment complexes are bound to happen. It’s not the first time we’ve experienced it – the last time was nearly 20 years ago. Two apartments in our building in Rio Vermelho were burglarised on All Souls’ Day, when many people in Bahia head for the cemeteries to remember their dead (we were home at the time, which may explain why we were spared).
Perhaps the main doors of this complex in Cabula will be locked from now on – or until we let our guard down once again.
One of the first words I learned in my Portuguese class for Spanish-speakers at UCLA was greve. “Strike” is huelga in Spanish. Like earthquakes, your first police strike is the hardest. The shock of seeing troops and military tanks in the streets before realising that, no, it isn’t another coup. But this one – the third in my experience – is the worst in terms of violence and fear. A siege mentality has set in, and it’s only day two. Salvador’s unarmed municipal guard is refusing to police the streets because it isn’t safe for them, so imagine how ordinary civilians feel. Some buses run, others don’t. All of them stop much earlier than the 6-pm “curfew.” Most shops are shut, including grocery stores. Opportunistic individuals and gangs are robbing business establishments and sweeping down streets and beaches snatching wallets, mobile phones, handbags, necklaces, whatever dangles. Some of the “hooligans” are probably striking police officers, making sure we miss them – they’re never around when they aren’t on strike.
Another day in Paradise.
Quick update on April 18, 2014
OK…so the military police strike ended last night, and today one of the leaders (now a city councilman) was arrested for his role in the 2012 strike – just a coincidence, I’m sure. And now the strike seems to be back on, in reprisal for the arrest of the city councilman who, by rights, shouldn’t be out there leading strikes in the first place… And the beat(down) goes on.