Category Archives: Brazil

Still in Brasil: A Slice of Bahia

Salvador, Brasil

Salvador, Brasil

I just finished a wonderful photography workshop in Bahia (a coastal region of central Brasil), with Ernesto Bazan. Ernesto is a terrific mentor and a man with the ability to explore new worlds, make connections with locals, and share his love of both a country and people with his students and friends.

Stall at the Feira de Sao Joachim, Salvador, Brasil

Stall at the Feira de Sao Joachim, Salvador, Brasil

As happened with Cambodia, Vietnam, and parts of China, I have fallen in love with Bahia. For starters, people spend much of their day on the streets, eating, playing, catching up with friends, dancing, singing, and working. That is enough to win me over! At the risk of generalizing, people there are friendly, open to life, mostly live simply and honestly, and are a giving people who seem to expect nothing in return. Thanks to Ernesto, I was fortunate to encounter multiple small and intimate worlds. First in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the very lively city of Salvador de Bahia, then on the island of Itaparica (including the peaceful town of Itaparica itself, where Portuguese colonial buildings are abundant). And after, back on the mainland, in the lovely, historical town of Cachoeira (nestled in a river valley, Cachoeira once prospered with the sugar and tobacco industries,) and nearby fishing villages and quilombos – very small, extremely humble, hamlets founded by freed slaves. On both the island of Itaparica and the areas surrounding Cachoeira, I was struck by a world that moves to its own rhythm.

Feira de Sao Joachim, Salvador, Brasil

Feira de Sao Joachim, Salvador, Brasil

Fishing Village, Itaparica, Brasil

Baicu, Itaparica, Brasil

Most people I encountered were willing to share a moment of their day. Despite great poverty almost everywhere, I discovered that openness and an attempt at communication on my part would trigger a smile and a similar response. The people were warm, welcoming, and appeared undisturbed by us as we walked around with cameras. Throughout my short travels in Bahia it was clear that the people are not suspicious of strangers; rather, they are eager to talk to them. As Calvin Chen (who took the photography workshop with me and eight others) wrote on Facebook, “It’s been a lesson in humanity and humility. Imagine being in a completely foreign country, unable to speak their language… knocking on a stranger’s door… and not just be allowed to photograph, but to be welcomed into their lives. I’d call that nothing short of a miracle.”

Fishing Village, Brasil

Coquiero, Brasil

Quilombo near Cachoeira, Brasil

Quilombo near Cachoeira, Brasil

Salvador, the oldest city in Brasil, was the first capital of the country, and is greatly influenced by African culture. In fact, throughout Bahia, Africa is present – from dance and carnival to food, music, and religion (The majority of African-heritage Brazilians were brought to Brasil beginning in the early 1500s by the Portuguese.  Brasil abolished the slave trade in 1888.).  Food-wise, coconut milk and dende (orange palm oil), and sweet tropical fruits such as mango, papaya, pineapple, caja, and pitanga, are ubiquitous. Many foods are sold on the streets including the delicious acarje which is a fried patty made of beans and sometimes okra, and dried shrimp which is served with a tomato salsa. It seemed that people congregate everywhere for drink, or food. I searched for the best moqueca (a fish stew) and ate as much mugunza as I could (a corn and coconut milk breakfast pudding).

Cachoeira, Brasil

Cachoeira, Brasil

Salvador is very large  – most tall buildings are actually not commercial spaces but apartment buildings. The downtown and historic centres are made up predominantly of colonial-era architecture which is mostly in disrepair.  It is a city with a population of over 2.5 million… edging toward the 3 million mark. The streets are crowded with people and cars (gridlock, although not as bad as in Sao Paulo, is an everyday reality).  Also like in Sao Paulo, motorcycles are everywhere. On the other hand, Itaparica and Cachoeira, are beautiful towns which have retained their colonial charm. Fishing villages appear sleepy but the people work hard, as do those who work in agriculture.

Fishing Village, Itaparica, Brasil

Baicu, Itaparica, Brasil

Brasil is not a European, North American, African, or East Asian country (although Bahia reminds me very much of Southeast Asia). Instead, it has a finger in each pot. It is a poor country that, over time, once amassed more than 40 million slaves (nearly 40% of its population). According to the article, Brazil and the Invention of Simulated Poverty,

Although the country is an important agricultural and industrial power, with the strongest economy in Latin America, poverty is widespread in Brazil. Despite recent improvements in income distribution, the issues of income inequality and social exclusion remain at the root of rural poverty. Brazil is a middle-income country and is rich in natural resources, but poverty levels and human development indicators in poor rural areas are comparable to those in the poorest countries of Latin America. In the country as a whole, about 35 per cent of the population lives in poverty, on less than two dollars a day. But in Brazil’s rural areas poverty affects about 51 per cent of the population.

Despite poverty and hardship, people in the countryside generally appeared to embrace life and live with satisfaction. As an outsider, it seemed to me that the Brazilians in Bahia choose to pull themselves out of their circumstances by trying to make the best of things and find as much joy as they can in the small pleasures of life. These pleasures are all too often ignored in the world I live in. I was struck by people who, at least on the surface, were thankful for the good in their lives, and celebrated accordingly.

Fishing Village, Itaparica, Brasil

Baicu, Itaparica, Brasil

The bottom line is, Brasil has more than its share of issues: poverty, crime, poor education for most (just to name a few). It is a complex place with complex people – many of whom have burdensome lives. Yet, it is a beautiful country that is rich in its natural landscape, cultures, colours, food, and customs. I fell in love with Bahia, where the people, like those I’ve met in Southeast Asia and China, have great dignity, and reminded me that life is precious.

XXX, in an abandoned church in Itaparica, Brasil

In an abandoned church near the fishing village of Baicu, Itaparica, Brasil

Abandoned Jesuit Church outside of Rio de Igreja, Brasil

In an abandoned Jesuit Church near Rio de Igreja, Brasil

Igrecia de Bonhim, Salvador, Brasil

Above is a photograph taken in the Igreja de Nosso Senhor do Bonfim, Salvador, Brasil. This church is shaped by both Christian and native African religions. The patron saint, Oxalá, is known as the father of all the gods and goddesses in the Candomblé religion. Most wondrous to me was the room filled with photographs of loved ones, and personal belongings and votive offerings of  wax, wooden, and plaster replicas of body parts (hung from the ceiling) that were left behind by those who had prayed for cures. Salvador, Brasil. (photo courtesy of Mark Caceres)

First Stop, Sao Paulo, Brasil

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Vinte e Tres de Maio Avenue,, Sao Paulo, Brazil

The Lonely Planet sums it up perfectly: “São Paulo is a monster. Enormous, intimidating and, at first glance at least, no great beauty.” People I know in Boston, who are originally from Brazil, warned me that I need to watch myself there at all times because I will clearly look like a foreigner and be an easy target for mugging. It is embarrassing to admit but… I initially wondered why I decided to stop here, on my way to Bahia province. I am staying with friends and am, as it turns out, glad I made this stop-over before heading east. They have graciously given me a small taste of this immense, sprawling, but likeable place.

Downtown, Sao Paulo, Brasil

Downtown, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, Brazil

There are over twenty million people who live in the greater metropolitan area of Sao Paulo. The divide between the haves and the have-nots of this city is great; the inequality is blatant. Many people live on the street and the barbed wire industry clearly thrives. The government and private citizens do not invest in long-term programmes that will get people off the street and re-integrated into society; the payback probably seems to distant.

Beco do Batman (Batman's Alley), Sao Paulo, Brazil

Beco do Batman (Batman’s Alley), Sao Paulo, Brazil

Graffiti is everywhere (as it turns out, Sao Paulo is known for its graffiti artists). I have learned that, as the city developed there was little planning, zoning, and vision. It appears to be a hodgepodge of a metropolis. Vehicular traffic is nothing but one giant snarl. Despite all the concrete, however, lush green is everywhere and the songs of birds surround you all day long, giving a clear sense that rain forest cannot be far away. Trees line the streets and there are a number of large parks here. I have also discovered that Sao Paulo is a superb place for a “foodie” like me. There are hundreds of cafes, bistros, and good, cheap food joints. Since my time here is short I have barely scratched the surface and, uncharacteristically, I have hardly explored this city on foot. Nonetheless, it is clear to me that this is a sophisticated city full of culture, life, and history.

In just a few days, I warmed up to this city that, at first sight, appeared to be a grey, concrete jungle that I thought would hold no interest. Already I can say that Sao Paulo is a region that, had I more time, I might learn to appreciate.

Downtown, Sao Paulo, Brasil

Downtown, Sao Paulo, Brasil

Beco do Batman (Batman's Alley), Sao Paulo, Brazil

Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Beco do Batman (Batman's Alley), Sao Paulo, Brazil

Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, Brazil

???, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Santo Amaro Avenue Sao Paulo, Brazil

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Santa Amaro Avenue, Sao Paulo, Brazil

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Santa Amaro Avenue, Sao Paulo, Brazil