Friday, 7 March 2008

Over and out...

Aiiiii, where are we now? After three months I find myself suddenly heading home.

We’ve spent a lovely six days in Sao Paulo, catching up with the near and dear and, after so many fleeting encounters, reveling in the long-term friendships with solid foundations. Sao Paulo feels oddly like home now, and it bizarrely it seems like a luxury getting out of the tourist circuit and vegging out in Ju’s suburban place. We’ve been to the fabulously named O! Do Borogodo, twice – and it really as brilliant as the name promises – done a couple of good parties and a lot of merciless shopping for all the bits of Brazil that you can buy and take home. Our packed bags are, as a consequence, remorselessly heavy.

Our friends have asked us about our time here, what’s changed for us. Brazil for me now is spelt with an “S”, for a start. What else?

I’ve come to understand how your adrenalin levels can be re-set by shocking or traumatic experiences, had to concede the disparity between what my rational mind wants to believe and what my body chemicals are screaming at me.

I’ve fallen in love with Portuguese but missed my language – the power it gives me to control situations, and I’ve really come to appreciate how I use it to extricate myself from situations, to force my way through the world. Without language, your judgement skills are seriously impeded. You can’t understand the nuance and the connotations of what people say. All ideas, ideologies, cultural references are gone. A softer word, a harder word, an ironic touch, word play, diplomacy, tact, persuasiveness, finesse, eloquence, articulacy, slang – all the ways we own our language normally are gone.

You have to express your basic needs in basic ways, and this leads to me finding myself being overly polite and compliant. It’s either a yes or an impolite refusal, nothing in between, which means people can push the envelope until we put our heavy foot down. The boundaries of what is acceptable have to change in the absence of a way to negotiate them.

But we also gain from this. It forces us to watch, to live in the present, to gauge people’s thoughts and emotional states through all the other means, physical clues, where their eyes go, where their tension a and attention is held. Most people are for the most part pretty transparent, in terms of judging what they are trying to get out of a situation. And so that’s all you have to go on – people’s objectives. The subtleties of how they try to achieve them are lost in translation.

The Brasilians have a term – “jeitinho Brasileiro” – little brazilian way – which describes the skill of getting around obstacles. It’s a mindset which affirms that there’s always a way to get what you want, you just have to talk the other person around. Nothing is fixed, everything is negotiable, and rules are there to be bent. It’s why there is chaos and corruption. It’s the favela that springs up on the unoccupied land. It’s the capoerista ducking the flying foot. It’s the skill that procures a restaurant table that didn’t exist, or persuades a bar that it’s not time to shut. It’s the cause of the politicians having to have their credit cards withdrawn, like little naughty children, because they’ve all been passing off private luxuries as business expenses. But it’s also a playfulness and joyousness, an approach to life that, for an English person, defined by queues and forms and taught to tick the boxes and respect their place in the world, is liberating and thrilling.

Brazil is a place of porous boundaries. As a country, its miles and miles of borders are unpolicable – hence the flow of drugs from Bolivia and Columbia being trafficked through for European consumption. Boundaries in Brazil are insubstantial. It’s the rope in Carnaval that divides the pipoca from the bloco, and the street that separates the favela from the luxury apartments.

But then, in another sense, the divides are unsurpassable. Brazil is a country that has driven me to angry desperation at the shameful state it’s in. It’s royally fucked. Brazil has one foot in the first world and one in the third. It’s a country where the haves and have-nots are savagely divided, the former barricading themselves in, the latter undertaking desperate acts of violence to try to get a grip. As a result of the massive underinvestment in the education of its populace, Brazil suffers an incredible derth of intellectual capital, which, it seems to me, no-one is doing anything to rectify. I lost count of the people who told me of the woeful state of Brazil’s public schools. The average Brazilian has only 5 years of education. The only way to get into University (only 4% of the population obtain a degree) is to be privately educated. On my last night in Sao Paulo, we debated the tyranny of Fidel’s regime, the lack of freedom that the Cubans have endured. The Cubans have the best health care system in the world and excellent education – but as my Brazilian friend pointed out, they can’t do anything with it, because they have no freedom of speech. How free in comparison, we debated, are the millions of Brazilians without access to any of this? For many in Brazil, I felt, the only way to get their voice heard is through acts of violence.

The horror stories are unending. Everyone you meet will tell you a new one – from the middle classes: tales of the hold-ups in restaurants, at wedding receptions, in. The street mugger who’s so high on crack the gun is shaking in his hand. The bus hijacks. The car-hijacks. The kidnapping. The break-ins. The bag-snatchings. The pickpocketing.

From the favelas: the police brutality, the lost bullets that pass through thin walls and kill children. The corrupt NGO in the favela that had fallen under the control of the trafficantes The endless turf wars, the unbelievable death toll of young men (the hole in the population that’s comparable to a country at war), the ruthless capitalism of the cocaine economy, the savagery of the Tropa de Elite. The police troupe who desecrated the Morrinho, pulling guns on 14 year old boys because they believed that their creation was actually a model for a war-strategy.

And between the two, the police who will empty your bank account if you’re caught with a joint, who sell guns to the trafficantes, who, dressed in plain clothes, hold up busloads of Japanese tourists and relieve them of their cameras. Who moonlight as security guards and are paid off by the robbers they let through. Who’ll crack their baton into your back in Carnaval because you accidentally bumped into them. On and on and on.

And the media, who can’t expose the political corruption, who don’t contribute to rigourous intelligent debate about the solutions, but who ruthlessly monger the horror stories, day after day after day. The inanity of the telenovelas, which occupy everyone’s interest instead.

Oh, and the racism, which everyone denies exists but is palpable. It's still inescapably a country built on the back of slavery, and despite the mixing up that's gone on since, the implied status of skin colour still casts a long shadow. The Brazilians have a plethora of words to describe the colour of someone’s skin, their ethnicity. In popular parlance, dark-skinned girls have “skin the colour of sin”, because it’s permitted to lust over them. There are people alive in Brazil today whose grandparents were owned by other people’s grandparents, but slavery is the elephant in the room. In the Mercado Modelo, in Salvador, a building which used to be the holding port and trading place for slaves, stalls selling African-inspired art jostle for the tourist dollar, whilst walk downstairs, and you find the unmarked, unlabeled, pit of hell where thousands of men and women were kept like battery chickens, a huge windowless wet circular cavern, a one-time warehouse for humans – but without a single sign admitting the building’s past. It truly is unspeakable.

And being white, over there, everyone assumes that you have the same ingrained notions about race and social class (which, having grown up in multi-cultural London, we don’t). That’s hard to get round.

At the airport, on our way out, the black security attendant who was passing our luggage through the scanner asked us where we were from. When we told him, he asked us “but you don’t have black people in London, do you?” He was surprised when we assured him that we did. “But not like me?” he asked, “not as dark as me?” We were unable to convince him.

It's also somewhere where you feel your sex. Men and women aren't friends in Brazil (certainly not platonic ones), and sex permeates nearly every exchange. Being there has made me feel, as I never have before, the 'weakness' of my sex - the places that are off-limits to women - and, perhaps even more tangibly, it's made me realise the ease of my path through the world in London, where I can count on one hand the times I've been on the frustrating end of someone putting an obstacle in my path because of my gender. I'm really fucking grateful for it.

The shame that creeps onto the face of the educated, intelligent, liberal, social-minded middle-class Brazilian if you talk about the problems that the country faces. What keeps coming back to me is the sociologist who stated that Brazilians have to ignore the problems, that they rationalise and deny facts, because if they were to confront this dreadful reality then they’d be forced to put everything on hold until the problem is fixed. And whose social conscience goes that far?

If I lived there, I’ve asked myself, what would my social position be? Could I bear it?

And at times it can be desperately depressing. But at the same time, it’s ruthlessly invigorating. Everything that matters – the forces that propel us – death, sex, desire – are so close to the surface. London, in comparison, seems flat.

We've also been on the receiving end of so much open-hearted friendship and generosity. In stark contrast to London's hostile pretence that everybody else doesn't exist, we've had so much genuine interest in who we are, where we're going. Everybody has time for a chat, and as a result your world gets infinitely enriched by other people's stories. Every Brazilian who heard of our bad experiences felt it personally, and apologised for it, to the extent that we felt more comfortable not mentioning it. But I definitely feel that the few instances where people wished to take from us were proportionally miniscule in comparison to the myriad of tiny and not so tiny kindnesses that so many people bestowed on us, and which will stay on just as forcefully in my memory. Knowing full well I'm running headlong into full-blown sentimentality here, it's nonetheless true to say that we were looked after by just so many, and it's made me hope that one day I'm capable of bestowing the same generous hospitality.

Back home now, everything seems depressingly the same. I ask for news. There isn’t any. Everyone is doing the same stuff they were before we left, have been living the same lives, day in and day out. It’s a bizarre sensation of having gone through the looking glass, or through the wardrobe into a topsy-turvy world that throws everything you thought you know on its head, and returning to the familiarity of the bedroom to find that not a minute has passed.

My little Brazil story – one that was inextricably bound up in the 15-year-long friendship between A and I. We grew to a level of interdependence that was extreme – but never wearing. We slept in the same beds, ate the same food, had the same experiences, read the same books, spent the same money, met the same people and told the same stories for 93 days. We looked at the world, for the most part, through the same lens, and found pleasure in the process of rooting out how it affected us differently. But we got to the stage where we knew intimately the state of each other's bowels, could count the blemishes on each other's skin, knew the ongoing soap-opera of each other's dreams, had worn all of each other's clothes, removed the offending pieces from each other's food without being asked to, finished each others sentences, if we were talking to others, and didn’t need to finish them if we were addressing each other. “Look at the…Yeah.” “I might just – alright then”. Back in London, in our shared flat, we’re remembering what it’s like to live at least semi-independently, and to break the habit of consulting each other automatically on each and every of life’s inane tiny decisions. That said, we've made a pact to stave off the remainder of the British winter with Series 2-5 of The Wire...

“When you travel” mused Anatole, “I think you leave a little piece of yourself in the places you’ve been, and after a time, you don’t feel complete, anywhere, because a part of you is always somewhere else.” I concur.

Where next? People keep asking me. But the list of countries to tick off has been relegated to a back page in my mental notebook. Why flit from one unsubstantial encounter to the next, meeting countries like fleeting “friends” in a bar – seeing only the side they like to project to the world, and never getting to know their secrets, inadequacies, longings, intricacies? I want to go back to Brazil, and get to know it better.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Cities of Gold

Last post from Brazil

Christ this has crept up on me….I’m miles behind in explaining our adventures, having left you last sitting around drinking beers with backpackers in Belo Horizonte…so an abbreviated catch up since then…

We went to Ouro Preto, one of the “cidades historicas” which was once the capital of Minas Gerais state when it was all about the mining. There is indeed a lot of history to be had in Ouro Preto; it’s been declared a World Heritage Site and seems very much like a living museum.

I hold the opinion that history is quite inaccessible unless you’re up close to it, which is why Ouro Preto is an amazing place to spend some time in terms of getting to grips with the forces that shaped the country over the last few centuries –– but also it’s very dull to have it described to you out of context, so I’ll stick to the abridged version.

Ouro Preto’s richness is a result of the ruthless exploitation of two commodotities – gold, and slaves. During the 1500s, gold was discovered in the region and of course everyone flooded in to try and get a piece of the action. Thousands of slaves were shipped in, and tons of gold sent back to Europe. There was quite a bit of warring between the Portuguese, who tried to control the flow of gold by taxing it at 20%, which wound up the settled Brazilians, who tried to get a revolution of the ground with the aim of getting Minas declared an independent state. This was quashed and the leader of the revolution, Tiradentes, (who actually was just the scapegoat fronting the campaign for the rich local gold-moguls) was killed in a rather nasty fashion and bits of his body spread all over the place.

We spent a day going on a long walk around the city, guided by Joao Baptiste, who we’d had the fortune to meet in a bar the previous night. He was an incredible auto-didact with a huge knowledge of architecture and history, who spoke not only perfect English but Spanish, French and German too despite never having finished school. He was born in Ouro Preto, and his family have been there for 8 generations.

The backbreaking work of getting the gold out of the ground was only possible due to the colonialist’s ability to treat humans as animals for their free labour, and the mines died off with abolition. Joao Baptiste was frank and forthright with his explanations of how his ancestors were bought, sold, selectively bred:

“You’ll notice that the black people here are short. Only the short ones were selected to come here and work the mines – the taller black folk were used to cut cotton and work the sugar fields. And then they were bred to be short – if a boy of 12 or 13 looked like he was growing too tall, he’d be castrated.”

In the Casa de Contas, basically for many years the main bank of Minas Gerais, the gold was held on the top floor and the slaves in the bottom – a basement room which is now filled with cases displaying instruments of human subjugation and torture. From my atheist perspective, the punitive Catholicism which gave rise to the glut of awe-inspiring Rococco and Baroque churches in the town was the mental instrument used for the same purpose.

From Ouro Preto, we went to Tiradentes, a small town in stunning countryside which nowadays, we discovered, is exploited for its prettiness (like, it seems, all the pretty towns in Brazil) by far too many antique shops and pousadas. “Some” warned the Lonely Planet, “may find the glut of antique shops cloying”. We were well and truly cloyed within about an hour and a half.Maybe we just weren’t in the mood for it, but I think when too many people are trying to make you pay attention to the history/prettiness of a place, it all just gets a bit irritating. And there’s always the strange phenomenon to be observed of everybody trying to ignore the modern, squinting to blot out the cars and adverts and telephone wires in order to see the “historical”, reframing their photos to crop out the bit that they don’t want to see, which is the reality of the here and now. I find the wilful refusal to accept the present - and the accompanying selective memory making - a little bit disturbing.

Tiradentes is odd to a city girl because of the number of unaccompanied animals wandering round the streets. Not only dogs (of which there are many) but horses and the occasional cow, having a snack outside the post office or ambling down the road. Quite often you’re walking somewhere and they follow you for a bit, which is slightly disconcerting. Sitting bored outside yet another cloying shop, I made the mistake of stroking a friendly dog. The owner of the shop came out and said something to me in Portuguese, which I took to be warning me off doing so, but I couldn’t really understand the explanation apart from something about “todo o mundo”.

Twenty minutes later, we did indeed have todo o mundo, as the dog I’d stroked was joined by another and another and another until we were apparently the leaders of a large pack of them. It’s hard to style out a thronging hoard of canines and we started to feel rather silly. It was however the most exciting thing that happened to us all day, bar an incident when A discovered to her utter horror that her icecream (she’d gone random with the flavours) had cheese in it. Really, it did. Cheese.

Tiradentes was the jumping point, however, for a really stunning day of horse-riding. A and I were taken off on great horses with their owner, Adriano, (followed, of course, by his two dogs) for 3 hours of cantering around the stunning local area. I had feared at one point that riding, which is one of my favourite things, was permanently written off by the slipped disc, so it was exhilarating to be back in the saddle.

And from Tiradentes, it was back to Sao Paulo, which felt strangely like coming home.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Changing states

We left Boipeba, mainly because we had to, not because we wanted to. Although our frugality and our good friend Visa had helped stay there about four times longer than we’d anticipated, our last remaining cash had to be spent, sadly, on taking the boat out.

Leaving Boipeba is no easy feat – and made no easier by the fact that we’d unintentionally stayed up til 4am the previous night drinking always mais uma cerveja with our rasta friends. Boipeba (off the coast of Bahia in the North-East) to Belo Horizonte (capital of the interior state of Minas Gerais) in one day was the mission, and this involved 14 hours of travelling – a boat, a bus, a mini-bus, a ferry into Salvador, then a taxi to the airport, a plane, then another bus and finally a taxi to our destination.

It’s sad to leave a place that you’ve loved – and that you fear might have fallen victim to progress and lost its soul if you ever make it back. Too tired, too pensive (and frankly, too hungover) to speak on the boat that left the village in the intimate hush of the early morning, I appreciated the quietness and stillness of the miles of mangroves that we journeyed through. Apart from the occasional fisherman (who, in this part of the world, still use the same method they’ve used for hundreds of years, with motorless wooden dug-out boats) and the odd incomprehensibly remote settlement, the mangroves seem impervious to human progress. At one point a huge rainbow arced above us, a complete semicircle with both ends finishing in the water. I tried to form some metaphorical significance to this optical phenomenon - but, in my barely-awake-and-still-somewhat-drunken state, failed miserably, told myself off for trying to be cleverer than necessary, and reconciled to just sitting there looking at the pretty colours.

After taking several hours to cross the stretch of mainland in a succession of slow cramped vehicles, we took the ferry from Bom Despacho to Salvador, sweating out the previous night’s alcohol in what we knew to be the last of our Bahian sun on the upper deck. Approaching the city from the sea, our second arrival, made us think of the anticipation of our first airborne arrival there exactly one month (and a carnival, and two robberies) previously, how much our perspectives had shifted.

I often think that getting to know cities is similar to getting to know people – the initial impression always giving way as the complexities and contradictions are discovered. Salvador, for me, was like a broadly smiling, beguilingly badly-behaved new lover, all non-stop fun until one day he lays you out with an unexpected and vicious punch.

A was glad to see the back of the city. I couldn’t help feeling sad that I hadn’t found what I was looking for there – we’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time (on the wrong bus) but every city is a never-ending set of permutations. Our perceptions had been irrevocably shaped, but I still wished I could go in again, from another angle, and find a different pathway through it, and forgive the city its misdemeanours. Saying that, I don’t think there’s any getting away from the fact that Salvador makes you feel your vulnerability as a young, clearly foreign, woman. There’s a territorial machismo there, present in all public spaces, which you can’t confront, that you have to avoid, or move around. It’s hard work – a lot of wasted energy - and not a sensation that I think would ever disappear, no matter how long one lived there - nor indeed, a way of living that I think I’d want to get used to.

If you’ve ever watched Capoeira closely, you can see how each player works to occupy space, and to push their opponent into a difficult physical position – and how good players have the physical flexibility and mental dexterity to escape in any number of improbable directions from the positions they are made to occupy. In the enclosed ring of the roda, capoeristas move away from the foot that’s flying towards their head, drop to the floor, reverse the flow, turning a defence into an attack and taking out with a sweeping low kick the other leg of their opponent, forcing them in turn to take their weight on their hands and move out of the way. An accomplished capoerista makes it seem that there is no direction that they can’t travel, and no position that they can’t move their body through, as stable on their hands as on their feet. Neither the normal limits of muscle and sinew nor the restrictions of gravity seem to apply. The body and the mind are highly trained to get oneself out of trouble and reverse the situation to one’s one advantage. And that, metaphorically and literally, it seems to me, is the way that you are able to successfully claim your space in Salvador. Capoeira is often dismissed by those who don’t understand it as some kind of ritualised dancing. It’s not – it’s about training oneself, mentally and physically, to survive in a difficult environment – not through blocking or confrontation but by finding escape routes.

Our escape route (I blame my slipped disc) was a taxi to the airport. On our two hours sleep, we became fairly delirious around the time we found ourselves pushing our backpacks around on trolleys in Salvador airport and for some reason pretending to be two mothers with pushchairs. It all became rather surreal, me with the open laptop wedged in the trolley’s front basket, pursuing a fluctuating broadband signal round the airport and trying to find the best place to pilfer wireless with my office on wheels. We thus managed to find ourselves a bed for the night at our destination before getting on the plane – and as we left Bahia airborne I finally dropped off to sleep.

Getting off the plane in Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais, was like arriving in a different country altogether. For a start, we couldn’t understand anyone, nor make ourselves understood (there’s a funny accent in Minas, which sometimes sounds a little like people are talking into their own mouths). Everything was calm, and organised, and, we quickly realised, no-one was looking at us funny. (There’s a look that we’ve been on the receiving end in Brazil more times than we like, where the person staring too intently – and it’s always a man - looks disturbingly like they either want to fuck you or kill you, but it’s impossible to tell which. We’ve taken to calling it “the fuckmekillme”, as in, “oh bloody hell, he’s giving it the old fuckmekillme”.) Anyway, Minas Gerais is renowned for its friendliness, and it appeared to be true – from the off, everyone in Belo Horizonte was incredibly friendly, and smiley, and helpful.

We had a couple of days in the city, which we spent enjoying the very-European-ness of it. Designed to plan, the centre of the city all fits together in a very sensible manner – none of the chaotic sprawl of Rio, Sao Paulo or Salvador. There’s lots of 1950s architecture, clean concrete curves and tiled surfaces, and a particularly beautiful of-the-age fonts used for the names of the edificios (I’m in love with fonts.) There’s a lot of intellectual capital in Minas Gerais, and Belo’s got a huge student population, and so there’s loads of excellent bookshops, lots of theatres, lots of art galleries, lots of good nightlife, and a kooky, alternative scene. It also felt, to our instant relief, incredibly safe.

What is it that makes one whole city feel safer than another? I’d put it down to the body language - a detail that you don't always register conciously, but, as human animals, I think the body language and the tension levels of those around us affects us profoundly. All the time, in a city, one has thousands and thousands of tiny, non-lingual transactions with others, and there is an over-riding quality to these transactions, which we quickly appropriate - which in turn, affects our own brain-chemical levels, our levels of adrenalin, seratonin, dopamine. In Belo Horizonte, I found myself analysing it - watching people out and about, watch their breathing, their tension, the way their eyes are moving. They’re just more relaxed, calm, efficient. The machismo is absent, and with it the sense of imminent threat. People don't move territorially, intentionally stepping into each other's space. People haven’t cultivated a habit of attempting 360 degree vision. Their eyes don’t flit to check out everybody in the vicinity. They don’t look as if they have to be aware, all the time. They’re lost in their own thoughts. Stepping from one city to another and finding people behaving, en-masse, so differently, really was incredibly palpable.

We were staying at a backpackers, and fell in with a motley crew from all over and spent a very well-needed evening drinking beers and speaking in English. The relief to be back in our mother-tongue, language at full speed, jokes rapid-firing and hitting with accuracy, was immense, almost giddying. (We’d spent a lot of evenings in Bahia getting stuck in very basic conversation, usually with men who spent a lot of time telling us repeatedly that we were linda or belleza, which is immensely boring. By the end of our time in Bahia, in our efforts to dispense with these guys, I had become engaged to my imaginary namorado and A’s had miraculously moved to Brazil. If we’d stayed much longer, we joked, we were going to have to change our names to Linda and Belleza and invent imaginary namorados who were definitely in the same city, if not the next room, and preferably members of the Tropa Elite.)

So now in Belo Horizonte, we were dealing with a whole different species of men – the Solo Male Backpackers, and it was a welcome change - they’re all far more interested in each other to start giving it the linda. We’d wondered before on this trip how it is that male backpackers can stand to sleep all crammed together in sweaty overcrowded dorms, but gradually we’ve come to the opinion that they like it. Male backpackers, we have decided, form packs for safety, kind of like little army units. There’s a bit of jostling for position when someone new arrives, but they tend to get the pack order sorted out fairly rapidly, and from that point on put up with each other’s snoring, inanities, strange habits and idiocies, form a little temporary unit and from thereon find each other’s jokes hilarious, and a great deal of joy in insulting each other. That’s male bonding for you.

Not to say that this lot weren’t fairly funny. We were regaled with horror stories, war stories, and – the favourite - stories of those who’d taken on the odds and won. Raphael, a witty American (who had the lot of us going for quite some time that he had a gun in his locker) told us about his time doing Salvador carnival. He’d been part of what sounded like an Elite Troupe, consisting of mainly reckless and enormous Australians, who all did non-stop pipoca for seven days. It sounded like they’d gone out with a mission to take on Carnaval and win. The leader of the pack, Ian, who Raphael described with some awe (“he was the size of a bear”) had, on discovering himself being pickpocketed in the carnival crowd, responded by putting his bear-size hand in the would-be-robber’s pocket, taking all his money, and telling him in no uncertain terms to fuck off. The way these guys were described to us, they sounded like some kind of heroic warriers, leading the charge in the Uprising of the Robbed Tourists.

We also heard the tale of some crazy (and, again, enormous) Finnish guy who’d recently passed through the hostel. “He was stabbed in Rio” our new friends told us with awe. The story was that Thor the Finn had been hanging out in Rio with an American guy (“who was like, an ex-Iraqi vet, completely crazy”). The American, on finding himself being pickpocketed, had pulled a knife and stabbed the kid through the cheek. A few days later, the stabbed kid’s mob caught up with them, and Thor had been caught in the middle of the ensuing ruckus. On closer interrogation, however, it turned out that Thor had actually just been attacked with a broken umbrella handle, which had glanced off his collarbone. But, I suppose, in the language of war stories “he was jabbed with an umbrella” doesn’t sound as cool as “he was stabbed in Rio.”

This, we decided, is the male way of dealing with feeling unsafe.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Slothful recuperation

So, we are still in Boipeba, being either mightily indulgent, or recuperating from our recent traumas, depending on how generously one looks upon spending many consecutive days reading a book on a sunlounger. Our many days here - strung out even further now that we’ve discovered a multitude of places where our good friend Visa can support our dining habits – have resulted in us crossing off the list many of the places to visit that, in a fit of unrealistic and uncharacteristic planning, we made a couple of weeks ago. This includes, unfortunately, a sloth rehabilitation centre in a nearby town which we read about in the good old Lonely Planet, the idea of which we find incredibly intriguing. How on earth do sloths recuperate? we speculate. And what are they recuperating from? They do bugger all in the first place. The irony is not lost on us that we have had to look up the word lazy (preguicoso) to explain to our new friends our own current predilections for the vertical life.

This is not to say our days here have not been without incident. A has, for the last week, been attempting to fax an insurance claim (with hand-written police report) to her insurance company. Unfortunately we realised after our first visit to the police station that in all their excitement over having a crime to solve they had omitted to write down on the report some of the equipment that was stolen with the camera. A’s daily attempts to get this rectified have been thwarted by the police’s preferences for sleeping, hanging out of the windows eating mangos, or strolling around the beach and saying “mais tarde”. According to them, the report has to be rectified by the woman who originally wrote it, who was, we gather, roped in from her job in the next-door juice bar to take the notes. She has been on holiday, or something, and apparently none of the actual police men are able to take on this very particular task of writing the word ‘lens filter’ on our now rather crumpled and sand-encrusted report.

To clarify things a little here, it might be worth me describing Boipeba police station. The station is unmarked – there’s no sign to give you a clue as to what it might be – and appears to have no fixed opening hours. It is manned by six or seven quite buff young men who all wear crisp white t-shirts with the police logo on them. The station itself consists of a desk, a fax, a couple of chairs and a notice board on the wall. The filing system for crimes seems to be that they are hand written (by the woman from the juice shop) in an exercise book with a picture of footballers on the front. We are quite intrigued by the notice board, which, in addition to photos of the policemen on their holidays, has a section entitled “thought for the week.” What is thought for the week, we wonder? “Get the woman from the juice shop to buy us some more mangoes”, perhaps.

Anyway, fresh light was thrown on the crime when Fausto, our Rastafarian friend, returned from a visit to Valenca and told us that he’d heard things about our camera being sold there. We of course went to tell the police this, who, after they’d finished eating their mango, told us to get Fausto to come and talk to them. Fausto being a man of no particular routine, this took some time to arrange. Eventually, he found us on the beach – Fausto, bless him, always seems to appear when there’s a packet of cigarettes and a bottle of beer on the table. But before we went to the police station, he had something he wanted to show me. “Meu cavallo” he declared.

Fausto is the kind of guy whose pronouncements you take with a generous pinch of salt. It always seems unlikely that it’s really going to happen – but actually, it always seems to – eventually. You can’t entirely blame us for our initial sceptism – we learnt recently that Fausto’s nickname amongst the other rastas is “Bobby Spongie”, on account of both his similarity to the great god of rastadom and his prodigious capacity to absorb cachaca, generally, it seems, on someone else’s tab. But I have a great affection for the man - in our post-robbery days, Fausto’s been a real friend to us. We spent an incredibly calming afternoon with him post our first police visit, sitting on the veranda of his friend Toshi’s reggae bar, drinking beer whilst he patiently conducted a lesson in black history for a tiny girl who lived in the house next door and had come to sit on his lap. “Who’s that?” she repeatedly asked him, turning the pages of the book on Bob Marley which he’d brought out to show us and pointing at the pictures. “Marcus Garvey” he explained. “Who’s that?” “Peter Tosh”. “Who’s that?” “Bob Marley” “Who’s that?” “A Rastafarian” “Who’s that?” “Another Rastafarian”. As well as cooking us delicious moquecas (he used to be a chef) Fausto has been playing seguranca and escorting us back along the dark beach at night.

Fausto had also been the person to arrange some horses for us, which had involved a day of walking around the entire village asking all and sundry if they had cavallos. The next day, sure enough, four beasts materialised and we all spent the day trotting off round the island, stopping off for an hour or so of crab-smashing at his friend’s place on a nearby hill. Fausto had his own cavallo, he informed us, but it was in Valenca, a nearby town three hours away on the boat – hence the reason for his visit. Anyway, to cut a long story short, post his Valenca trip, his horse appeared to be in Boipeba. “Where?!” I exclaimed, when I finally managed to grasp this improbable bit of information. “Alli. A perta do camping” he told me, striding off in that direction with me in tow. I tried to get him to explain how he got the horse here, but he just waved his hands in the air vaguely.

“Ele e um burro, nao e um cavallo” he admitted, as we neared the camping ground – a mule, not a horse. But they are stronger, he assured me, and they eat anything. Sure enough, there was a rather beautiful large tan-coloured mule, tied to a tree, eating mangos. What’s his name? I asked Fausto. Amarillo – “yellow man” – he replied. The mule looked at Fausto with what seemed like fondness as he retrieved it another mango.

And that was how we found ourselves in the unlikely and somewhat surreal position of riding to the police station on a large yellow donkey, accompanied by a slightly tipsy Rastafarian. Once inside, Fausto solemnly related his information to the policeman who’d parked himself behind the desk. Ultimately, all this lead to was another long round of talking about the crime – who might have done it, how it might have happened, where they might be now, who might buy such a camera - with Fausto and his friend gleefully adding to the speculation. “They’ll probably sell it for thirty reales for crack” they all agreed, which I could see A visibly wincing at. Every now and again, the fax on the desk next to the policeman rang, at which point he would pick up the receiver, look confusedly at it, and put it down again. The policeman related once again, with some pride, that when our bags had been handed in, he’d deduced that they were ours as he remembered seeing us taking photos of a coconut seller outside the day before. Aha! Everyone once again nodded approvingly at his feats of deduction. A and I sat looking at each other as the same pronouncements in Portuguese flew about over our heads, our suspicions being confirmed that despite this being the first exciting crime they’ve ever had to solve, possibly in their careers, the police in Boipeba actually prefer speculating and gossiping about it at great length to doing anything in particular to solve it. Perhaps, we agreed forlornly as we left, our expectations of what can be achieved by active policework have been unrealistically raised by The Wire. “I might bring them the box set so they can sit there and learn something while they’re eating their mangoes!” said A, crossly, as we left the station for what felt like the zillionth time. Given that they’re so sure that the culprits, as they frequently repeat to us “are from outside, ” and given that we’re on an island and there’s only one boat port with two daily departures, which is about a hundred metres from the police station, it wouldn’t have been too hard, we grumble to ourselves at least once a day, for them to check for two boys matching our description leaving Boipeba with big grins on their faces, big retro Polaroid sunglasses and a big fuck-off camera.

Anyway, the police now have other things to occupy their time. A few hours after our ride to the police station, while we were all hanging out in the reggae bar drinking “caipitoshis” (Fausto’s grinning friend Toshi’s concoction, with lime and ginger) Amarillo managed to escape from where Fausto had left him in the front garden of a friend’s cousin and was last observed trotting off towards the beach. No-one has seen hide nor hair of him since. “Where’s your burro?” we ask Fausto, when he comes to join us at the beach. “ah, I don’t know” he says sadly. “I think he’s got a girlfriend and has gone to live in the forest. I’ve got to go to file a police report”. And then, generally, he settles back for another beer.

Such is life in Bahia.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008


Carnaval eats people. Everyone and everything is consumed in its path.

Carnaval itself is a week of more or less round the clock partying which is practically impossible to avoid. But in reality, Carnaval madness consumes at least a month of the year. Trying to get things done, you lose track of the amount of times you are told things are somehow more complicated (or expensive, or just plain impossible) “because it’s Carnaval”. Beforehand, there’s a fervour of preparation, rehearsals and building, then you have your week of hedonism, then following that, many people choose to take another 5 days holiday to recover. There’s something I really admire about a culture which claims the right, and then makes such an effort, to throw such a huge great motherfucker of a party for no discernable reason.

Where we were staying in Salvador, in Barra, was directly in the line of one of the (three) major Carnaval routes through the city. For this reason, and because, since our Robbery Number 1 we’d been rather jumpy and tense, we reneged on the game of let’s-see-how-many-backpackers-we-can-squash-into-this-ridiculously-overpriced-apartment and went to stay for a few days with the family of my Capoeira mestre, Negao, forty minutes down the beach in Itapua, where we attempted to relax and get our bottle back.

One evening in Itapua we were invited for a couple of beers by Val, who ran one of the (mercifully few) barracas on the quiet beach. A genuinely lovely guy, he and his friends were getting ready to take the bus into town to do the Carnaval thing, and invited us to go with them. A tempting offer, particularly as we’d been in their company at least a couple of hours and there was no sign of the ‘where’s your namorado’ conversation transpiring. (We’ve had a lot of practice at the where’s-your-namorado conversation, and must say that our Portuguese is possibly at its most fluent following this now tiresomely-rehearsed script, which always runs the same way. We’ve even worked out how to short circuit it now, in an attempt to bring the predictable exchange to a swifter conclusion, and give wannabe namorados the lines they’re going to feed you next – “But your boyfriend’s not here so it doesn’t matter” etc etc). Anyway, we liked the idea of being escorted by three gentlemanly local Bahian men, but felt we needed at least 24 hours to mentally steel ourselves for being pipoca, so arranged to meet them the next day, instead.

There are three ways to do Carnaval. You can either buy yourself a very expensive entry into a camarote, which are huge tiered viewing balconies-cum-bars that are constructed all along the routes, and which end up packed with the people who want to do Carnaval in gated-community fashion. The second way is to buy the t-shirt for a bloco, (some of which go for hundreds of reales for the most popular acts – Fat Boy Slim was playing in Salvador this year). This means that you get to go inside the cordon which stretches out in front and behind the lorry on which the trio is playing – kind of entry into a slowly-moving club, the borders of which (a rope) is upheld by a crew of segurancas. Or, you can do the third way and ‘fazer pipoca’ (be popcorn), which basically means joining the street party, resigning yourself to zero degrees of safety or personal space and ricocheting around at the mercy of whatever greater forces propel you and everyone else.

Being pipoca, anything that’s not sewed to your body or stashed in an internal cavity is quickly stripped, like leaves in a wind tunnel, as we’d previously witnessed. Besides the phenomenally common pickpocketing we’d heard a lot of other horror stories, from guys grabbing the back of girl’s hair and forcefully kissing them, to people being trampled to death underfoot as the crowds surge to escape fights breaking out, to people being accidentally shot to death in front of you. When we floated the idea with Negao’s mum, she threw her hands up in the air and burst out laughing as if it were the most stupid idea she’d ever heard “Pipoca! Naaaaaooooo!”

All in all, Carnaval began to assume the shape of the worst possible party one could ever expect us to go to. “Being squashed and robbed and having boys forcibly snog you before you get trampled to death or shot – it sounds horrible” said A, several times. “Do we have to go?” We played endless games of would-you-rather as our impending sense of dread began to assume ridiculous proportions. “I can’t think of many things I’d less rather do” said A. Carnaval, or locked in a box in Afghanistan? “Oh, definitely locked in a box. As long as I knew when I was going to be let out. I’d feel safer.”

Being normally fairly hardy people, we were quite frankly amazed at our sudden lily-liveredness and decided that being in Brazil for the greatest street party in the world and not turning up was just not cricket, and that we had to steel ourselves to take on the monster.

However, our first attempt at the summit failed miserably. We set our all prepared – money in shoes, hair tied back, full body armour on, etc, to meet Val as agreed, and traipsed off on his tail to pick up his other two friends. But on arrival at their house, we were greeted, if that term can be applied, by possibly the most hostile woman either of us has ever had the misfortune to meet. The girlfriend of the younger of the brothers, she was all dressed up to come too, but was clearly mightily unimpressed by the expansion of their party to include two (very friendly) gringos. We sat in the garden with her whilst the others got ready, trying to make nice conversation whilst she sat sulking, arms crossed, and glowered at us with (not even thinly disguised) hatred. Her frankly indescribable refusal to engage in even a pretence of geniality stunned even the un-unlikable A into tongue-tied submission, and we were forced by the power of her fury to spend several minutes (which felt like hours) staring at our knees in uncomfortable silence.

We weren’t entirely able, given our still-rather-crap command of Portuguese, to understand from her vicious whispers to the others where her animosity came from, but were pretty pleased to leave her house when Val announced that we’d go on ahead and they’d catch up with us. Furtive discussion ensued. Perhaps she thinks we’re a fucking liability? we wondered, and will result in no end of trouble. Perhaps it’s better if we don’t go. Yes, we’d definitely better not go.

We persuaded poor Val that we’d rather not head off on the bus to meet the monster that particular evening (our team of personal bodyguards now reduced to a pitiful 1:2 ratio) and instead ended up hanging out in the centre of Itapua, where a street party and concert was taking place. Even there, the chivalrous Val quickly appeared to realise that acting as male protector to us two was no easy feat, sticking out as we did like two pale beacons in the entirely Bahian crowd.

But it was a fun evening, and we ended up eventually meeting up with his friends – minus the seething girlfriend, and had a few more beers with them over which the story became clear. “I’ve split up with her!” announced the younger brother. Just now? We asked, incredulous. “Yes. Tonight was the last straw. She’s completely crazy. Insanely jealous, she’s always doing this, she won’t even let me out of the house without an interrogation and a screaming match.” How long have you been together, we asked. “Oh, about a year” he said, not-too-upsetly. “I never wanted to live together, she asked if she could stay at mine while her house was being painted, moved in and never left. I’ve had enough of it.”

Glad to have an explanation to the situation, (although we did wonder whether he’d go home and she’d have finished sulking and they’d make up again) and having had a very pleasant evening which included a satisfying late-night portion of cheese on a stick, we went home, our Portuguese vocabulary having expanded to include the word for jealousy, “ciumente” which is a very useful one.

Our second attempt at Carnaval was rather more successful. We set off early(ish, for us) the next afternoon for Pelourinho, the incredibly scenic (and heavily policed) old colonial centre of the city, with the aim of doing a couple of things (mainly organising our escape) before heading off to Barra in the evening. After an amusing but long bus journey all around the houses, where the bus gradually filled up with people dressed in all manner of regalia, (including several Filhos de Gandhi, dressed head to toe in white robes, swamped with ropes of blue and white beads and with towel headdresses) we were deposited in the centre. Not before, it must be noted, it was proved to us that we are not the only ones in Salvador to flinch at loud bangs – the whole bus jumped out of their skins and ducked at a sudden explosion which turned out to be the engine of a nearby overheated bus.

In Pelourinho, the party was well and truly underway – not the anarchic mass of hedonism we’d been dreading, but a much more pleasant kind, loads of families with kids out, bands promenading round the streets, hoards of Filhos de Gandhi (one of the biggest blocos, we discovered, with over 5000 participants) sitting on chairs having their hats sewn on by old ladies. As night fell, we stayed on, watching as blocos began to start on their way to the Campo Grande circuit from Praca de Se, deafening axe music pumping out. Before we knew it, we’d been befriended by two tall capoeristas (both, weirdly, called Rogerio) in the white robes of another bloco, who, after a while, jammed their hats on our heads, strung us with their beads and, us thus somewhat disguised, smuggled us into their bloco as it left the square.

And from there, we delightedly realised that, following our usual practice of abandoning our own rubbish plans in favour of someone else’s better one, we had ended up being able to do Carnaval properly. Off we went, for six hours, drinking shared beers and dancing, in the thick of a bunch of jubilant capoeiristas, watching the mentalness of pipoca-dom unfolding on the other side of our rope. The rope in itself is a right spectacle – at the front of the bloco, you’ve got several men throwing themselves against the front of it with all their might to hold the circle taught, and a hundred or so metres further up the road, behind the lorry at the back, you’ve got several more with their backs against it, being dragged along, straining with all their might to pull it back.. We’d never really understood how the rope is so effective at providing safety – it’s only a bloody rope! we’d previously reasoned – but now we got it. It’s a psychological border, more than anything – wriggle under it without the costume and you’ve gate-crashed a party (of, in this case, several hundred 6ft martial artists) and are swiftly ejected. And within this cordon, everyone else gets on with having fun. This suddenly becoming clear, we got on with it – and for the first time in days forgot about everything, stopped worrying about anything, and got into the spirit of it all.

It really is incredible – the human spectacle as we came over a hill at one point, and saw the city at the mercy of this magnificent phenomenon will always stay with me. Stretched before us was a massive junction, where two enormous strands of blocos were crossing each other, thousands and thousands and thousands of partiers in every direction and more hanging out of every window of the grand buildings which seemed to be floating on the chaotic sea of humanity below. Just awesome. In the wee hours, when our legs could barely hold us up any more, the Rogerios hailed us a taxi, sorted the fare, and bundled us in to zoom home, still with our hats on. Like most things, after a week of worrying about it, in the end, it was actually brilliant. We fell into bed (after vigourously scrubbing our disgusting feet) knowing we had only a few hours before we had to get ourselves and our worldly goods to the airport to in order to try to procure a flight to leave – our job for the day, which, somewhere in the partying, we’d somehow forgotten to do.

At the end of the day - or rather, at the beginning of the next - even this worked out for the best, as it meant we were able to do the thing I´ve always wanted to do, and arrive at an airport without a ticket (crazy on-the-hoof behaviour!) and end up skywards in a tiny plane shortly after.

Monday, 11 February 2008

The Fear

Now here’s the thing. Growing up in London, I’ve always been the sort of girl who’s never let fear dictate where I go or how late I get home. Thinking about it now, I’ve never been afraid in my home city. Where I grew up, in one of the less salubrious areas of South East London, getting home from the bus stop or the train station required a walk through one of the three council estates that bordered our road, up dark alleys and past burnt out cars, and I never thought twice about it (although it must be said some of my friends didn’t like it late at night). In London I’ve always done what I wanted without a second thought, and then schlepped home alone on the nightbus from whatever part of the city I’ve ended up in. And, I must admit, I’ve always harboured a bit of contempt for those girls who make a song and dance about being raped-and-mugged-and-murdered and insist on taking taxis or being accompanied everywhere, whose movements are impeded by unsubstantiated dark fantasies of faceless ruthless men lurking in the shadows waiting to jump out and get them.

Here in Brazil, as I’ve previously written, one has to readjust one’s level of security. The crime rate here is exponentially higher than the UK, and the type of crime that occurs is often much more violent than the type we’re used to – in the big cities, it’s having your car stolen at gunpoint (happens once every twelve minutes in Rio) rather than having your ipod snatched outside a tube station. But it’s sometimes hard to tell how much is over-wrought hysteria and how much is good sense. Like the Australians who will gleefully tell you about all the different ways Nature can kill you (snakes, spiders, jellyfish, bushfires, sunburn, riptides, sharks, ripped to bits by dingos, kicked to death by an ostrich etc) it often seems that Brazilians and other travellers here take a macabre pleasure in relating the myriad of ways that you can be done over here. Whilst it’s obviously always worth heeding good advice, I’ve found myself more horrified here by the potential for self-imprisonment that results from trying to protect oneself from the possibility of becoming a victim – which in Sao Paulo, means living behind a wall that grows ever-higher, inside a circle of private security, and taking helicopters everywhere so that one’s feet never need to touch the dangerous streets.

I read an interesting thread in the online Guardian the other week about crime statistics and people feeling unsafe. In the UK, officially crime has fallen, but people report feeling more unsafe than they did in the good old days. A lively online debate had ensued following the column, with many contributors expressing a real fear of the faceless hoards waiting outside to kick them to death.

What struck me was that, despite Britain being infinitely safer than here, the fear, and the faceless enemy it relates to is exactly the same. An obvious statement, but fear is not rational, and bears absolutely no relation to actual risk of something bad happening.

Post-robbery-number-one, we are, to our dismay, feeling the fear. We’ve talked about it endlessly, and are agreed that the likelihood of the same thing happening again are very remote, that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time etc etc etc. But all this mental pacification, unfortunately, has absolutely no effect on how your body decides to react. Fear – or the reaction to feeling under threat – is a decidedly physical sensation. From one day to the next, normal life is different. You realise that whether you want it or not, your attention is focused in a different place. Anything unexpected results in a surge of adrenalin – your muscles buzz, your stomach lurches, your pulse hammers. In the days past robbery number one the triggers for this included anyone running, shouting, loud noises, or even people looking at us too intently, which, when you’re a gringo girl in a city approaching Carnival, happens about a million times a day. Before you do anything, you assess and minimise the security risk. Without any choice in the matter, you start to live in an inescapable cage of your own making. With only each other for support, it was difficult to get over this incessant unpleasant distraction. Taking the approach of getting straight back on the horse that’s thrown you, we took the approach of acknowledging the fear, steeling ourselves and carrying on with doing the things that we’d been doing before. But it did cost us, and wear us out, and, sadly, it changed our perspective, and inevitably, the enjoyment we were getting from our days. And, most definitely, rather than any of the material things that we’ve lost, it is this that I feel angry and sad about. I mourn the loss of being carefree, and being the type of girl who never worries unduly about being safe. It´s a funny thing, feeling unsafe. Just like you never appreciate feeling well until you get ill, you don´t realise what safe feels like until you start feeling under threat.

This is turning into rather a depressing post, but not to write about it, as I haven’t so far, has been a censorship which has disabled me from writing about anything at all, affecting, as it has, our experience so totally.

And so to wrap up; the depressing details of robbery number two: In a bid to escape the city, we flew (indulgently) in a tiny little Cessna to Boipeba, a remote island a little down the coast. Arrived at our spectacular pousada, situated between two huge expanses of utterly unspoilt beach, lounged for a bit in the hammock on the veranda overlooking expanses of gorgeous land-and-sea-scape, and went off to explore the town. A tiny population, open doors everywhere, everyone knows everyone, inordinately safe, as everyone told us, within a couple of hours we’d made friends with a couple of local Rastafarians who, after giving us a cookery lesson, had shared with us the utterly delicious moqueca they were making. We met the local Capoeira mestre and got ourselves invited to a really incredible roda, which then turned into a party at the local Pagoda, up on a hill above the village. We came back to the village worn out by the incessant Portuguese of the two friendly Capoeristas who’d been accompanying us, insisted that they didn’t need to walk us home, (because, as they agreed, it’s safe here – there is no crime) and set off back to our pousada. And five minutes later, we were jumped, on the beach, by two young men who snatched my bag and A’s camera, and ran away.

Mightily shaken up, but mercifully unhurt, the next day at the police station we were reunited with all our belongings minus the valuable ones (I was very very pleased to see my notebook again), but we had to ask ourselves the question of whether we were stupid. In the eyes of the five or so police who gathered to investigate our case (they have great uniforms here but absolutely nothing to do) and the locals we’ve talked to, no, we weren’t, because this has never, ever, ever, ever, ever happened here before. The last crime the police had to deal with – nothing as serious - was before Christmas. I think our robbery number two has possibly shocked and affected the local community, who have all been mightily upset about it, more than it has us. We’ve been repeatedly assured that it’s impossible that it could be anyone from here, as such a crime wouldn’t go unnoticed or be tolerated. Unfortunately, for the first time, as Boipeba becomes a more popular destination for rich tourists, people are coming in from nearby Valenca to target them, and then disappearing on the boat out again. Whether this is self-pacification we’ll never know. But we feel incredibly saddened, as well as mightily unlucky, to be setting the precedent for a new era in Boipeba.

We’ve ended up staying here longer than planned, because this is honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. We’ve made friends, we spent a day horse-riding round the island, we have our delicious breakfast on a terrace in a garden filled with tropical birds, the sea is calm, the weather delicious. Giving ourselves a break, we have been mostly working on trying to extend our suntan to the frighteningly white parts of our body exposed by our new, smaller Brazilian bikinis (mine is a frankly hilarious tropical affair which we have christened Welcome To Miami, which I guess only has relevance in you’re familiar with Will Smith music videos from the early 90s but which results in us breaking into song a lot). The last day of Carnaval here, no exaggeration at all, involved a donkey pulling a cart with a loud stereo on it being led around the main square, a gaggle of about 30 dancing people (including the obligatory transvestite or two) creating a rather shambolic bloco in front and behind. The most complex dilemma our days currently pose us is “shall we go to the internet café now or later”, which is usually resolved according to how much more sun we can take. There’s no bank here, and so we are eaking out our remaining cash as long as we can, unwilling to undertake the mission of leaving (we can’t quite justify another expensive airtaxi, which means it’s a boat and a bus and another bus and a ferry and a taxi to get back to Salvador.)

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Bollocks again

Having just suffered our second robbery in the space of a fortnight (ironically, in the idyllic and empty island paradise that we´d come from to escape the mentalness of Carnaval in Salvador), the girl who does the pictures is now without a camera, and the girl who does the words has a severe case of writer´s block. Please bear with us in this temporary interruption in transmission.

Devoid of my own words, I keep remembering some graffiti I saw in a hostel in Guatemala City some years ago. It was one of those neighbourhoods, renowned for its crime rate, where you had to be locked into your hostel. J and I were staying in the room that Che Guevara had once stayed in, and a huge mural of him dominated one wall. The others were covered in graffiti.

On the back of the door near the floor, in painfully etched letters, some poor desperate and dejected soul, who I can imagine sitting on the floor weeping in the aftermath of being relieved of his worldly possessions, had written

´I don´t have anything left to give or to steal, so please, just leave me the fuck alone`

Underneath, someone else had added ´Can I borrow your crayon?´