Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Fishing with Zé

Zé´s cobra

Zé and his parrot

fishing for shrimps...


the fish i caught :)

some of the fish Zé caught...

the massive tilapia Zé caught

our samba party

Adventures with Zé

Two weeks ago i had a mini adventure that i had been wanting to take since i got here. Zé (pescador e casador), is like the Association´s handyman and he´s volunteered and worked here forever. He´s also a good friend of everyone´s. Charles had always talked about how him and Jamile (past volunteer) would go on bike trips to different farms and nearby towns to explore... i of course wanted to go not only for the adventure but also for taking pictures. we finally organized with him to get the three bikes and go to this place called Morro Branco on a private farm called Melançia that one of his relatives owns about 10km (i think roughly 5 miles) from here. To meet Zé at his place, Charles and I had to borrow Kel´s bike (that had no gears or brakes) a mile or so away. i sat on the rail of the bike as Charles pedaled over speedbumps and almost killed the two of us as we rode through traffic. Zé´s house was just as eccentric as he is. his cement walls and floors that make us his house are covered in dirt and every room has junk piled everywhere. among many things, Zé is an archaeologist. he goes out on his adventures and literally scrapes gold out of the mountains.. he even takes several grams of it to São Paulo (when he has enough) to sell. and not just gold... he has an entire collection (looks like a pile of junk) of rare stones and rocks that he found. one of the rooms in his house, where he keeps his birds, he has an entire wall filled with stones, coral, and rocks that are all hung from the ceiling by transparent thread, so it looks like they´re floating. the room is just as surreal as it sounds. at the back of his house, is like a mini farm... his two dogs, his massive poisonous cobra, and enough herbs and plants to fill a greenhouse. his two dogs are really skinny and stay behind a wooden gate next to the garden. i was there when he fed them and it was the most amazing thing.. he put their food down in front of them, but the dog wouldn´t eat it until he said "vai". they were going nuts and jumping and wagging their tails, but when Zé gave the command, sure enough they ate it immediately. it was like something out of the dog whisperer! haha.

so we got on the bikes and headed out to the farm. it was so nice to be on a bike and see the countryside - it was so freeing. we biked about 30 mins on the two-lane highway that leads outside of the town and finally reached the farm. it´s so funny how beautiful everything becomes once you go into the countryside. from the road, everything seems so flat and desert-like, but when we entered the farm and rode back into the hills of the farm, everything was so lush. we stopped several times to let the cows go by, to see the baby goats, and horses. we turned off the dirt road and Zé picked up the barb-wired fence and we rode on through. 10 mins later, we arrived at Morro Branco. it´s an old mining area where they still mine for quartz - a snow white stone that is found in abundance here. there were mounds of it. i´ve never seen anything like it. there once was a mountain there, and now it was a valley filled with broken quartz and organized into piles to eventually sell by the ton. it´s not a terribly valuable stone, but in large amounts can make a small fortune. we parked the bikes and walked around. huge cliffs rose around us, making you feel really small. while charles and i were busy taking pictures of the place, Zé was already checking out the sides of the cliff trying to figure out the best way up. i didn´t know there would be any hiking involved this day, and thus came unprepared in my flip flops (as did charles). we proceeded to climb up the mountain trying not to slip as Zé turned into Indiana Jones. he inspected every rock i stepped on and lifted me over every ridge, all the while keeping his dog ears open to beehives. we were walking all the cliff and enjoying the amazing view when suddenly Zé hears bees.. the beehive was 20 feet away.. that´s how good he is. we had to be very quiet and walk quickly past the area because he said that if you disturbed the bees they would follow you and attack. needless to say, we headed back to the bikes. there was another place that he wanted to take us. there was an old cemetery - one of the oldest in the area - dating back to the 1800s. it came out of nowhere too. it was getting to be dusk, so it made everything especially creepy. behind the cemetery there was another morro that had tons of quartz, coral, and other oxidized stones that Zé educated me on, and huge cliff that we hiked up and saw views from.
it was getting dark so we headed back. i still think the ride back to capim grosso was the prettiest part. the sun was setting on my right and the moon was full and huge that night to my left. the moon lit our path back home. it was a perfect ending to such a great day. i had so much fun that Zé invited me to go fishing the next morning.

i must have been crazy for agreeing to get up at 6:30am the next day after biking all afternoon, only to bike more the next morning and fish for 5 hours. i´m glad i did. this time, vitor came along. me, vitor, and zé rode bikes to a water hole off the side of the highway. it was filled with cow and horse poop. this was not where we were going to fish, but where we had to fish for shrimp for the bait. Zé and Vitor, equipped with a fishing bag and net, got knee deep in the shitty water (literally) and each time they lifted their net, there were shrimps, but a lot of poop too haha. and yes, i had to fish for my bait too! so as zé coached us through it, we managed to gather over a hundred shrimps for our day of fishing. A 15 minute bike ride later, we arrived in Agua Nova, one of the poorer borrows on the outskirts of town. the lake where we fished was literally off the highway. people there fish for piaba and tilapia (very common for this area). it was the first time i fished without a reel. these fishing poles were made of bamboo and wire - that´s it. it was a long day, but i caught 3 piabas! vitor caught none haha. but zé, well he´s an award-winning pescador, so i wasn´t surprised when he caught his tenth piaba and one HUGE tilapia roughly 10 lbs! it was amazing watching him wrestle the fish to the ground. after 4 hours fishing, Vitor and i were burned and tired. when we got back to the association we had a fejoado waiting for us and some samba with the cavaquinha, guitar, and drums. it was a good day.

the farm.. waiting on the roadside for cattle to pass

cattle hearder

arriving at Morro Branco

lots of quartz

the cemetery that was built by slaves

Friday, October 30, 2009

An email to my family

Oi família,

Ohhhh chente! Que saudades... My emails are back by popular demand.
This weekend, as you all know, was my birthday. I was so excited all week since we were making lots of plans. On Saturday, my roommates all made me a huge Fejoada. It had pig ears in it and everything. I have pictures, but those will come later since they are on another computer. I also attempted to make my own cake... Vanilla cake with brigadeiro poured on it (my specialty). Once I made the batter though, we realized that our oven's temperature knob is a mere picture of a little fogo (fire) and a large fogo.. I had to go to Kel's bar/house to use his mother's oven. I figured it was better this way anyway since she knows more about what she's doing and makes all of Kel's cakes. When I came back 30 mins later, the cake was perfect! However, once the cake cooled, and my friend and I flipped it over, half of the cake stayed in the pan. We then proceeded to try to piece it together without success. The cake ended up being a big pile of broken cake covered in brigadeiro. It was such a disaster, but SO good. We had fejão with tons of sausage, some farofa com banana, arroz, salada, and lots of beer, none other than Capim Grosso´s best, Nova Schin (equivalent to Bud Light or something worse). There was samba and dancing.

Then I went to this Carreru that was at one of my students´ neighbor´s house. It´s kind of like Santaria.. at least the same idea with the Catholic saints and the african religion hidden behind it. So they have seven 7 yr olds who each apparently represent an offerring for each Saint, and they are all sitting in a circle with these paper crowns and have to eat a full plate of food with their bare hands as the whole group around them sing. They have to finish everything on their plate and then a bowl of water is passed around as a song is sung (nothing is done without singing) for the kids to wash their hands Then we all sat around the circle after the kids stuffed their faces, and watched the lady of the house - who made me look tall, and had long long black hair, and was probably around 60 yrs old - dance in cirlces as she became posessed by the saint´s spirit.. it was amazing. Then we all got in a small circle holding hands and danced as random women from the circle hooked arms in the middle and danced together and so on. I was hoping dinner was next, but unfortunately, they proceeded to all go into the room together and sit on their knees and pray for the next hour... it was 10pm... i was starving. Me, Pete, and Jenni (the one from Finland), were outside where a lot of kids gathered around us and kept asking us to say things in English as some bonfire went on in the background and random fireworks went off. Finally, I think it was 11pm, they started to call people in to come inside. I thought it was the food, but nope. A bunch of old men in real leather vests and hats (bahian cowboys) armed with eucalalies (not sure how to spell) and pandeiros, and yes, a spoon and bowl, gathered at the front door of the lady´s house as we all stood behind. The tradition is they have to play the same song over and over again - a song about how they want her to let them in - until she opens the door and lets them in. After about 10 mins, i was like, "open the damn door lady!" Once we got in the food line, a lady behind a table in the house had big buckets of freshly killed chicken, vatapa, kiabo (okra), salada, and some stuff i didnt know what it was.. oh, and some orange soda. We all went outside and ate our food with our hands. It was hard to eat with your hands! Stuff was falling everywhere and i couldnt hold my cup cause my hand was slippery with olho de dendê.

The next morning we all got up at 7am to meet a van outside our place and go to this river in Pedras Altas on some lady´s farm (where apparently a lot of people go, since we werent the only ones there) about an hour away. It was this big lagoon type of river.. More like swimming holes all around. it was nice. we got there around 10 and the van was only picking us up again at 4. It was so fun. I actually got to lay out and get some sun and I think we were all just so excited to be near a body of water (not so easy to come by in the desert here). We jumped off the trees and into the water and swam and just relaxed.

Last week I also had the Regional Cultural Conference to go to. It was in Jacobina (another town twice the size at least of Capim Grosso and in the mountains) about an hour away. Sacia and Fabio (founders of AEC-TEA), Lo (coordinator), Charles and I, and one of our students, Eulalia, went to represent one of the Pontos de Cultura. Charles and I presented 3 photo clips (short documentaries with images the students made on a social issue regarding their region or town) the students did last semester. It was great. They also had Jacobina´s Ponto de Cultura showcase their Filarmonica and Afro-Brazilian dance and music group. It was really nice. The point of this conference however is, like in the States, written proposals or bills that are sent first to the municipal court to approve, then the city courts, then the state, then the federal.. until it is passed by the federal secretary of culture. These proposals are to find ways to incentivate cultural educational opportunities and integrate cultural history and arts in the school system and support artists and educational institutions. It´s a really amazing thing that is going on, but i can imagine, very bureaucratic as well. This is only the 3rd conference in Brazil´s history. They passed a law about 4 years ago that required all schools to incorporate cultural education (including capoeira, brazilian/african history, music, etc.) in the curriculum. The problem is that it isnt being enforced and the teachers are not qualified nor know how to teach those subjects let alone know anything about them. So slowly, things are hopefully changing with the help of the government.

Anyways, aside from the conference, the three of us stayed at Bobby´s, an old friend of Charles´ who is from Porto Alegre (southern Brazil) and has lived there for 4 years now teaching English and History at the public college. The next day, Aleah and Jenni came up for the day and met us for lunch and then visited the Ponto de Cultura. Jacobina has its charm since it was mined a century ago for its gold and still to this day, so it has a lot of history and architecture from that era. Its surrounding mountains have waterfalls and trails that I hope to return and visit, including the famous cross at the top of one of the mountains that bears views of the entire city.

Lastly and most importantly, some exciting news... I received my first Capoeira belt. I was initiated Sunday night. I am now an official capoeirista! At one point during the roda, there was a 300lb man playing named Tubarão (shark). Right after Pete and I whispered to one another, "man, that guy must be at least 300lbs!" he lost his balance and with his back to me, as if in slow motion, landed on me. i had nowhere to go.. i knew what was about to happen and i couldn´t go anywhere... i was trapped between the wall and Pete. He was so wide there was no getting around it. In the preceeding weeks, I tried to dedicate myself to practicing regularly and even privately with my instructor in attempt to avoid making a fool of myself. I also received my official Capoeira name, Miuda (little person). Fitting, huh? They have all been calling me that since the beginning so it stuck.

I also visited another neighboring town Sunday morning. My capoeira teacher Dio, me, Mizeré (another capoeirista and teacher), Nenne, and Patrycjia, went to Itatiaia (about 15 mins by car) to visit one of the other capoeira classes from the same group. The car we rented, was an old ´84 Chevy Station Wagon that was falling to pieces. Every time we went over a speed hump (which was often), the bottom of the car scraped the ground. The odometer was completely broken and just swung back and forth between 40 and 100 kph, and the fuel tank read empty the entire ride there and back. Tigre was the teacher. The classes were taught in a rundown elementary school that had surrounding mango and cajú trees. It was funny cause when we got there, the kids were moving the desks out of the classroom so we could play in there, but instead of carrying them out the door, they passed them through the window..

I will send more updates soon...
Talk to you soon.

Nicki ("Miuda")

Birthday Samba



The river

A square in Jacobina

Jacobina - View from Bobby´s place

The cross

Filarmonica in Jacobina - Cultural Conf