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.”
I’d wondered why I understood the
language when I got off the plane, and why there were no black people or at
least people who looked like me (smile). I am still not seeing many black
people yet, now that I am in the right country. Folks are lighter
complexioned. It is like I got dropped
into New Orleans circa early nineteenth century on someone plantation. I know there have to be dark complexioned
Brazilians in Salvador; I just haven’t seen them yet—right?
I saw a pretty black sister dancing
in the Balé Folclórico da Bahia performance I went to Saturday night at Teatro
Miguel Santuro. That was fun, seeing this wonderful company at home. It is a
smaller ensemble—they probably trade off. The show was just an hour for $40 BRL
or $20 US, $25 US if you purchased the DVD of the performance, which I did. I
might go again and ask if I can take photos—
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
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
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.
That was no
excuse; I had the iteniary account number, but I was tired of holding for the
agent at the travel agency which I am intentionally not naming. The real reason
why I didn’t check was becasue I was grading portfolios for the four classes I
taught fall 2013. I was also trying to feel like writing my final papers. I
know—I should have stayed my globetrotting self home and taken care of the
bread and butter responsibilities and then well there is graduate school. . . .
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
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.
In the special
line I don’t have to take off my shoes. I don’t have to take my laptop out of
the suitcase. I could have kept on my jacket if I were wearing one. I was like
. . . why do they make the regular passengers jump through these extra hoops?
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
The cobble stone streets remind me
of Tana the capital of Madagascar. They
also remind me of Guanajuato, Mexico, Eurocentric picturesque. It isn't
a French look though, but the balconies call it to mind. Historic Salvador –Pelourinho, did not remind
me of the French Quarters in New Orleans, like Haiti's Milot did when I was
there a while back. But the French weren’t here, their brethren the Portuguese
were. Milot in Haiti is 12 miles from the Citadel in Cap-Haïtien, built by
General Henri Christophe. Loved the town and the people and the fort at the top
of the mountain along a cobbled road—where Africans kicked the French out of
Ayiti! Napoleon no less (smile).
I am going on a bus tour Sunday
afternoon of Salvador and on a walking tour on Monday morning. I am going to
the market in the morning with a new friend—she is Peruvian and arrived today by
bus from Rio by way of Los Angeles, California. She said she prayed for a bit
of assistance or companionship on her way from Rio and I walk into the lobby.
She is going to the historic city of Recife by bus on Monday-Tuesday.
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
There was a large photo of Vicente
Ferreira Pastinha on the wall in the studio where men and perhaps one woman
played the berimbau in the Roda. “Because of his passion for art and his eloquent
sayings, Mestre Pastinha, born in 1889, became known as the philosopher of
Capoeira. Because of his tireless teaching despite constant struggle with local
authorities, he became known as the father of Capoeira Angola”
(http://capoeira.union.rpi.edu/history.php?chapter=Pastinha). I hadn’t known the close relationship between
Capoeira Angola and African liberation visible in Quilombo culture. Yes, it is
all fitting together nicely (smile).
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.
Happy New Year! Remember, especially
when things are tough that life can only get better and it is –Ashay.
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.
Oh, another film I saw on another
plane in route was about magic. Now You See Me (2013), A French-American
film directed by Louis Leterrier with Woody Harrelson, Common, Morgan Freeman
and others was really good, almost as good as the Matrix (smile). It is really
good social commentary where the bad guys lose for a change!