On my first Saturday in Bahia, my friend invited me for his uncle's 60th birthday party. It was lovely! His family were really great and the food was amazing. I couldn't eat as much as I was still having contractions from that herbal cough remedy. I did have some little dough coated cheese and shrimp delights. The cake was beautiful, and was surrounded by hundreds of cute little chocolates. I think it's a birthday tradition because the next birthday party I went to also had a cake surrounded by little chocolates. I had the most interesting discussions with his cousin's and siblings about race in Brazil. They said that even though Bahia is predominantly black, there is still quite a bit of discrimination against blacks with most of them being economically disenfranchised and many times being passed over for jobs in favor of hiring whites. There are quite a few Indian native tribes in Bahia, and the situation was said to not be any better for them. It was a very thought provoking discussion because I wondered how it works for those who are of mixed ethnicities. Of course I had seen many black people who completely looked like Africans, and I had seen white people who looked European, but I had also seen dark black people with green eyes or naturally blond hair or white people with tough afros or black people with Indian hair. I have always thought racism is such a stupid thing, and a lot of work too. To think that in South Africa, they had Black, White, Indian and then Colored (which I guess was the catch-all for mixed). In Brazil you even have more permutations of what people could be. Why is skin color such an important thing? It is so arbitrary. Discrimination could even have been along the lines of hair color for all you know. It would be a world of dark haired against brown haired, against blondes etc. What would happen if you grow old and your hair turned from black to white? Would you then move to the group? Anyway, my basic logic is that racism = stupidity. They also did highlight a bit that class issues are quite serious in Brazil. To quote one of the cousins "The poor people, we all get along/intermarry/work together/mix whether Black, White or Indigenous, but the higher social classes are the ones who discriminate against us."
Later that evening, we went back to the Old town and went out to a Samba club in the area. It was lots of fun dancing - it is all about shaking your hips and butt, which I can do. I was happy it had nothing to do with leg-hand coordination - of which I have none. The next day we left for the lovely island of Vera Cruz. Specifically we were going to a part called Nazare to visit my friend's sister. On our way out of Salvador, we passed by the large Bahiana woman statue, and we also took the Elevador Lacerda - the elevator connecting the lower part of the city to the upper part. If I am not wrong, I think Salvador must be the only town that has an elevator for public transportation. Salvador is unique in that the city is split into two parts by an escarpment with the top part of the city being close to 300 feet above the lower part. Since 1873 there has been an elevator linking both parts together.
We got on the boat to Vera Cruz and instantly people came on the boat selling cold beers. I could tell this day was going to be a fun one. It was a 45 minute boat ride to the island then a 1.5 hour cab ride to get to Nazare.
The first thing that struck me in Nazare were the horses. There were horses everywhere, and not just the Karen types like in Kenya. These were functional horses, skinny horses, worn horses. It was a strange sight. All the horses I have seen in Kenya are mostly ornamental/for show. No one actually gets around town on a horse, but in Nazare that was one of the forms of transportation. We got to my friend's sister's place and drank feijoada. Instead of the usually thick meal, this was a lighter version that you drank from a cup "to prevent you from falling asleep." It is crazy but true, Brazil is so hot that any time I have had a heavy meal for lunch, I have wanted to pass out.
We then left the house and walked along a lovely river and crossed a bridge. From there we got a lift to a birthday party my friend's family had been invited to. Yes, I know. I am a major poxer. Showing up at a 15 year old's birthday party when I don't know them:-) 15 year birthday parties are a big deal in Brazil for girls. I was told it is the equivalent of 18 year old birthday parties the world over. The party was great. Lots of nice people, lots of food and drinks. The music was so fascinating. It was zouk/kizomba. I could have closed my eyes and been in Angola or Cape Verde. It was really fascinating how African the music was. The other fascinating thing was how people dance. The birthday had people of all ages, but there was quite a bit of booty-shaking - even by the older people. I tried to picture a similar party in Kenya and most likely there would be two parts. One part where the older folks drank tea/pretended to drink tea as they were actually getting smashed and the other part where the younger people would be - probably with some booty shaking......but definitely no bootys would be shaking infront of the older crowd:-) It's a different culture I guess. I always say that culture is not a constant. What might seem normal to me based on my culture, might be completely strange to someone else based on theirs.
Another thing that fascinates me about Brazil is how old people are very flirtatious. I remember an older lady in booty shorts at the party telling a young guy that she wishes she was younger so she could take him. I was so amused. It is the same with guys. I have been hit on by really old guys, and I remember a friend of mine saying that guys even in their 80s still think they have a chance. They are quite confident though, and you have to give them marks in Brazil for all keeping themselves looking good even when much older. I definitely did get shown a family photo album in Bahia with grandparents kissing passionately....the things you will never find in Kenyan family photo albums....Hell, you might not even find one of grandparents holding hands, let alone standing closer than 1m apart....always have to have a tree or a chair in between them for decency's sake:-)
After the party, we went to a bar close by. I have never seen such amazing dancing as I did from two girls outside the club. It was a mash up of full 100, twerking, doing a split etc. Do not try this at home unless you are ready to be carried out on a stretcher. Nazare was also my first time I heard this music called pagochi. It was love at first beat. It started off when we were on the boat. This group of 8-10 guys started playing drums and a one stringed instrument (random musical outbursts in Bahia are quite common:-) It was amazing! You couldn't help but dance. Later that night we went to a larger club. That was where I witnessed the funniest scene. Here is the excerpt from a whatsapp conversation I had with my sister the next day:
Thekenyanexplorer: Yesterday at the club, there were some thugtypes who were speeding off on horses....and they had guns in their pockets
My sister: What?
Thekenyanexplorer: Yeah, like it's a motorbike
My sister: Speeding off on horses with guns? Now that's a blog entry
Thekenyanexplorer: You know! They were kanyagaing (stepping on) the brakes last minute. So you hear "Clopp! Cloppp! Clopppp! Neeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiggggghhhh!"
My sister: lol!
Thekenyanexplorer: Yeah, it was even scarier than a matatu (minibus) pandaing (climbing) the curb behind you.
That was a fun and strange night. The next day the process of leaving the island was a tough one. I hadn't realized that the part of the island we were in didn't accept credit cards, and we were out of cash to leave the island. Yeah, I know it's kinda pathetic. My main memories were dying of thirst and at some point sitting on the floor of Banco Brazil as we waited for my friend to get some money transferred into his account so we could get back to the mainland. This reminds me of one time I was almost stuck in Sicily, but that's a story for another day. We finally got back to Salvador and the main item on my agenda, was to go to the bus station and cancel my ticket out of Bahia. I was having so much fun that I knew I just couldn't leave. It was a long process though. You would think I was revoking my citizenship instead of just canceling a bus ticket - had to fill in lots of documents asking me if I was really sure I wanted to cancel my bus ticket. I was even expecting them to chuck alcoblow for me - "M'aam, are you sure you are in the right frame of mind as you cancel this ticket?" [Translated to Portuguese of course:-) ]