Africa in the Americas by Wanda Sabir
I don’t know if it is a will of iron, Ogun (smile)—or foolishness, but after catching something –viral which I refused to keep, on the plane Monday, December 23, when I flew to San Salvador, El Salvador by mistake—yes. The booking agent booked me for San Salvador when I clearly said, Salvador, BAHIA, Brazil (smile). I kept seeing San Salvador and thought, well perhaps this is another way of referencing Salvador, BAHIA. I didn’t know I was in the wrong country until I got to customs and the lady told me to pay $10 US for a tourism permit—I am like, why, when I have a visa? She looked at my passport and looked back at me and said, “You are not in Brazil.”
Okay, back to Monday, December 23, when I was in San Salvador to Tuesday, when I had to go get my luggage from San Francisco International Airport—Aviantas didn’t send my luggage with me. It was a turnaround trip. Spent all day in the airport with a really kind and patient agent trying to get the other agency that goofed up my ticket on the line so they could reissue a corrected ticket to me. It took seven hours, but eventually they admitted their mistake and promised to arrange another flight.
I didn’t know that if you go to a country without a visa, if you leave the airport, you can get arrested. It’s a good thing the mistake was to San Salvador, where not only do we not need a visa, they use US currency—like Zimbabwe (smile). Small world indeed.
Of course, when the woman at the travel agency that goofed told me in November, when I got the ticket, she could beat the price and travel time that I’d researched, I should have been suspicious—5 hours to get to Brazil?! Talk about wishful thinking. When I finally arrived in Salvador, BAHIA, Saturday, December 28, 2013, at 12:48 a.m. I’d spent 4 hours in Miami and 8 hours in Brasilia and then an additional 4 hours in Salvador.
Yep. I was tired but it is totally worth it (smile). I met a really nice and famous man in the airport last night. He started his career as a photographer, now he is a famous fashion designer. He launched the career of the first AfroBrazilian model, Luana de Noailles, whose given name is Raimunda Nonata of Sacramento, also from Salvador. She became a legend in the 1970s and 80s, 15 years before Naomi Campbell. In Brazil she modeled for Rhodia, a powerful textile industry—where she met Carlos Dantas, my friend at the airport in Salvador. She then went to Italy and France where her name graced fashion houses, Yves Saint Laurent and Christine Dior. She married a French count and retired.
Mr. Dantas has a business in Miami where he has lived for the past 24 or so years. He and his partner design costumes for the Miami opera and others at ABC Costume Shop. He was fun to talk too. He also makes porcheline dolls and is coming up with a clothes line using recycled materials. Lately he has been doing a lot with denium. Cosmopolitan, he was visiting his brother in Salvador and told me that he’s lived in Italy, France and Bangkok, now Miami (smile).
I do not recommend traveling with so many stops, but hey I was excited and after a false start, I took the new itenieary without the critiquing the details—they didn’t appear until the day before in my email box.
But when I turned 50, 5 years ago I told myself I would not spend another New Years in the United States and well, I broke my stride last year because my grandson was born in December and I’d plans to take his sister to the inaugaration. It was an economic decision. Bree turned 10 on the flight back from DC January 2013. She’s a great kid sister too. (Photos are from Robert’s 1 year birthday party.)
So I was overdue for the homeland – I had to go to Africa this summer, East Africa where I met Mzee Pete O’Neal and got a chance to see Mama C at home with her king. Quite remarkable paradise they have created –It is truly America in Africa. Loved it there. I miss Upesi whose guest house I stayed at this summer. She is an ancestor now.
The misquotes are eating me alive here as I write, but I don’t feel like going to get my spray, but I might have too (smile).
So anyway, I get through immigration in Brasilia where I think they are going to ask for my shot record and the address where I am staying and a lot of other information and the Brazilian immigration officers are so low key. They even smile, something the SFO guys never do.
At baggage claim, I am looking for my luggage and then find out almost an hour later it’s on another carrousel. I brought a box with toys and crayons and coloring books and other little toys for the kids. I hope to get to a favela here. I hear there is one in Salvador. After having a packed suitcase for Dec. 23, and having another two days to try it again, you would think I would have it together Dec. 26? Well maybe if my name wasn’t Wanda Sabir or as my passport reads Wanda Ali Batin Sabir (smile).
I am feeling rotten Thursday, the first day of Kwanzaa—Habari Gani?! What’s the news? Sore throat, slight cough and maybe a fever (smile).
Sunrise called me after hugging me at a drugstore earlier departure day to see if I might reconsider my departure. She said I felt warm—I was like, I might have felt warm because I had on a lot of clothes (smile). I was wearing my heavy Washington D.C. coat. I wore it here to Salvador with thermals and a jogging suit. It is so hot here, at least in the 80s maybe hotter. I am drenched again as soon as I get out of the shower which at the first place I stay, has just cold water. The lounge furniture is made from plastic soft drink bottles. Really chic and stylish.
I go to the health food store after I leave the drugstore and buy homeopathic cough medicine and put some in a travel bottle to take along the way. I start taking the Wellness formula and Defense Plus and swallow liquid garlic pills by the handful. I also do granulated vitamin C and carry ginger tea and a thermal cup which I keep filled with hot liquid. I am feeling pretty good now Saturday night, maybe it’s Sunday—we are five hours ahead of California. I am also carrying oatmeal and trail mix, just in case I can’t eat the breakfast. Today I didn’t get dinner. I missed the vegetarian restaurant where one of my housemates told me they sell vegan beans and rice.
I will have to locate beans and rice tomorrow. I am hungry.
So TaSin, my younger daughter, comes to pick me up Thurday evening and guess what? When we arrive at the airport, I realize that I left my carry-on at home. TaSin drives back to my apartment to get it for me—bless her (smile). I am worried because the plane door will lock at 9 p.m. and well, for those who have traveled, TSA is not a process one can rush. I explain my situation to an agent in first class and she writes on my boarding pass “expedite,” so I go through another line which is not a line—I am the only one in it. Yes, TaSin makes it back –she calculated the journey mathematically and it took her exactly 80 minutes round trip.
She leaves at 7:20 p.m. At 8:40 she rolls up and I get the suitcase and walk back in.
I get through security and to the gate with time to spare. I am amazed. Now that I am here in Salvador, I wish I’d left some of my clothes behind. There was heat on the flight. I flew American to Miami and then switched to TAM. Miami airport is another story—it is like a city. I had to walk for almost an hour to the airport wing where TAM was located. In Brasilia I had another long journey in Portuguese. Some places in the world one can manage with English, Brazil is not that place. No one speaks English, not even officials.
They smile and look as if Portuguese will come from lips that speak with one of many forked linguistic tongues. I haven’t been carrying my English Portuguese dictionary TaSin’s friend, Cassie loaned me. I will have to start doing so. Also I usually get a cell phone when I arrive in a new country. It is not easy to get a cell phone here either and the public phones take a pre-paid credit card. I don’t know how this will work if everything is in Portuguese. I have been carrying the card with the address for where I am staying and everyone has kindly pointed me in the right direction. I get lost easily and my navigators TaSin and Brianna are not with me (smile).
I say all this to say, I am having fun despite traveling since Thursday evening. I went to bed at 5 a.m. this morning and then moved to another hostel, Laranjeiras Hostel —one of the Hosteling International group—much better facility—there are tours and Francisco speaks English. We walked my luggage up the street from HospedaSalvador in Pelrourinho district. David was nice, but the place is more for the traveler with everything a bit more together than me—it is like living with a family.
We walked my luggage to the next spot. It’s hard rolling luggage on cobble stones (smile).
I don’t have the rest of my stay planned out. I just know I really want to get to see the Sisters of the Good Death and to a quilombo, towns settled by escaped and free Africans. I wanted to see Palmares where Zumbi made his stand. We shall see (smile). I have some options to explore. Brazil is expensive, but the people making the money are the capitalists. I don’t think the poorer people in the favelas who are probably making these goods are raking in the money I am paying.
After the Balé Folclórico da Bahia concert where they danced the orishas into my heart, I heard music coming from a window above just across the street. It was a capoeirista that brought together folks from across Brazil and the world. A really nice brother from Atlanta, who’d followed Balé Folclórico across the country and the world, told me that there are two distinct capoeiria styles, Angola and Bimbra. Angola is closer to the earth or ground. I asked some older men how to get upstairs to the demonstration and I went up where I was welcomed. Mestre Jogo De Dentro, Capoeira Mandinga, host, was sparing with capoeiristas, one was a really young child; he must have been four if that old. The child was impressive as was the head of the school or house, Mestre Jogo. He sparred with women and men, older than him and younger. The styles and ceremony involved was really impressive.
I am going on a walking tour Monday. I have an interview with the director of Balé Folclórico that evening, but that is tentative on my part. I want to attend a traditional Condomble New Year's ceremony. Haven't located one yet. Ilê Aiyê is performing Monday too at 21 hr. I am going to go to that (smile). Don’t know quite how I am going to be able to be in multiple places at once (smile). I am also going to see if I can get an audience with Mestre Jogo De Dentro. I’ll keep you posted.
Forgot to mention that I got an opportunity to finally see the film about Jackie Robinson on one of the many flights between the Bay and Bahia– what a great man. He was a man of great integrity. He and his wife were a great team. It is rare for a film to show how a man draws strength from his woman, yet, Brian Helgeland, the director/writer of 42 allowed this to happen in the capable hands of actors: Nicole Beharie of American Violet fame—a really different film; and Chadwick Boseman (as Robinson). If you missed it, see it with your family, especially kids.
One last thing. People always ask me why I travel to these places where I don’t know anyone. I always say the same thing, to meet my people. Well, I am Yoruba and Fulani on my mother’s side and really am meeting family here in Salvador, Bahia. So this time, I can say I am going home. I have been reading Sacred Leaves of Candomble: African Magic, Medicine, and Religion in Brazil by Robert A. Voeks.