The chocolate-eyed girl

As a wrap-up to my “Brazil diaries,” I’d like to share one last experience that I had while in Brazil in 2005 that left the most enduring mark upon me. I didn’t record it in my journal, but a year later I wrote a piece about it, to preserve forever the life-changing impact this experience had upon me. On my very last day in Brazil, I had the privilege of hanging out with a bunch of meninos de rua, or street children, in Recife. Street children are a huge problem in Brazil’s biggest cities. They’re usually orphans and/or come from broken homes in Brazil’s favelas (slums), and they end up living on the streets because they have nowhere else to go. Many look down on them as merely a nuisance, but thankfully there are a few government-funded projects in cities like Recife that at least make an effort to reach out to them and help them. My experience involved one such project in Recife, of which I was graciously allowed to participate in for one day. That day is forever etched in my memory.


Google images

Google images

I can still see her bewitching brown eyes, like orbs of chocolate, staring up at me out of a pixie-like face. They captured me, embraced me, the first time my own eyes fell on her hungry, slight figure. There she stood, a dark-skinned waif, with a mess of springy, brown curls sprouting from her head, clad in red shorts and a dirty white tee-shirt much too big for her, and possessing a smile whose width and radiance outshone every other grin in the room. Which was a remarkable feat, for she had some stiff competition.

Google images

Google images

As soon as I entered that dusty, colorful room above Rua Bom Jesus, one sultry afternoon last year, I was thrust into a throng of beautiful, brown-skinned ragamuffins, all wearing the same white tee-shirts and red shorts, and all vying for my attention at once–touching me, wrapping their arms around me, and peppering me with questions in Portuguese. It was an overwhelming, dizzying experience. I had only read about the heart-wrenching stories of Brazil’s homeless street kids–kids whose lives were devoid of love, poverty-stricken, and exponentially removed from my own life of wealth and ease. This was my first real face-to-face encounter with the meninos de rua and abandonados. Within only a few minutes of stepping into that room, my heart had been attacked, laid seige to, and had most willingly surrendered to the enchanting spell these lovely creatures had wound about me. There was no point in resisting…not when sparkling, dark eyes looked up into yours, or smooth, brown little arms slid around your neck, or eager, love-starved countenances begged you to notice them. But it was that one tiny waif, with the larger-than-life smile, who wove and spun the deepest and most endearing magic within my soul.

Google images

Google images

Her name was Nataliane. The very uniqueness and exotic beauty of her name arrested my attention immediately. Its pronunciation–“Nah-TAHL-ee-ah-nee”–rolled off the tongue in a delightfully addictive fashion. She was one of the first to enclose me in her slim arms, and apparently that initial hug was enough for her to decide I was a kindred spirit. For the rest of that afternoon, she rarely left my side. I had the privilege of joining her, and her fellow street friends, on an outing to a nearby amusement park. This exciting treat was made possible by workers and volunteers for the government-funded project that also fed the children, clothed them, bathed them, and gave them that dusty, colorful flat to go to during the day. On this particular day, I was a “guest volunteer.” And this “guest volunteer” had little Nataliane’s hand in hers, or little Nataliane’s arm around her waist as we boarded the bus…as we got off the bus…as we stood in line in the sweltering sun outside the park…and as we rushed in great excitement from one ride to another within the park.  She became my shadow, my sidekick, my new amiga. She was also a vivacious package of insatiable curiosity, her mind a-whirl with questions of every sort–all of which tumbled from her pretty, wide mouth in such rapid Portuguese that I often struggled to comprehend her. And every question that she uttered was preceded by “Tia,” her affectionate appellation for me–a word that literally means “aunt.”

“Tia…how old are you? Tia, tia…where do you live? Tia…do you have children? Tia…do you like Brazil? Tia, tia…what is America like? Tia, tia..” On and on her childish voice would trip. But I never tired of it. I never tired of her. Her sweet presence was soothing, her joyful, effervescent personality was like a burst of literal sunshine. And every time she clasped me in her arms and gazed up at me with those love-hungry eyes, something inside me churned, slid, and completely caved in. I could not help but fall under her spell.

61050019As the sun sank in the western sky, hastening in shadows and cool breezes, it signaled the close of our day at the park. I boarded the bus once again, surrounded by thirty-some sopping, shivering, and bedraggled children, whose last joy-filled event of the day had been the water ride. My heart was laden with ambivalent feelings: immense happiness from an unforgettable day, but also sorrow from the knowledge that the next morning I would be on a plane headed for the US, and that I would never see any of these amazing meninos again. Throughout the day Nataliane had gazed up at me with her mesmerizing eyes and asked me if she would see me amanha–or, “tomorrow.” And every time I had tried to explain to her, no, I would not, for I was going home, far away from Brazil. She didn’t understand. Foot-sore and sun-burnt, I sank down gratefully into my seat on the bus, and Nataliane climbed into my lap. She was soaking wet. But I didn’t care. I wrapped my arms around her thin, shivering body, clutching her close, as she laid her tired head on my shoulder. At last too weary to speak, she was content to rest silently in my arms. I stroked her soft, brown little curls, my heart breaking to pieces inside. I wanted to hang on to this precious moment–this beautiful, magical child–and never let them go. But it was all slipping…slipping away so fast. She…this dirty, wet, disheveled, and radiant little creature…was slipping away from me. And she didn’t even realize it. But I knew, for her sake, it was better that way.

By the time our bus reached the flat on Rua Bom Jesus, only a handful of children–Nataliane included–remained. The rest had been dropped off at their usual “spots” around the city. The kids were given an evening snack, and then it was time for goodbyes. I squeezed Nataliane as hard as I dared, my eyes glistening with tears.

“Tchau, minha amiga…tchau,” I said to her. She gave me several beijos (kisses), and I returned them. Her eyes latched onto mine, as that luminous smile adorned her face, spreading from cheek to cheek. There were no tears in her eyes–just innocence, unconcern, and a deep well of warmth. After all, she was sure, so sure, she would see me amanha.

“Tchau, Tia,” she said cheerfully. “Ate logo.”

“Ate logo,” I replied quietly.

Google images

Google images

I walked with her and her remaining companions out onto the cobblestone road, whose surface gleamed beneath the golden haze of the streetlights. I watched as she and her friends skipped on ahead, into the shadows, their musical speech, punctuated by laughter, echoing off the stone and concrete. As the dimness beyond the lights began to shroud their slender silhouettes, I realized they were slipping into shadows and darkness far more frightening than the literal ones that encompassed them. The ache in my chest suddenly felt like a tight knot. How could I leave her? My little Nataliane would have no pillow beneath her curly head that night, no loving parents to kiss and hold her, no one to tell her she deserved a better life. I wanted to sweep her light frame into my arms, to whisk her away from all the danger and heartache. But I knew I couldn’t. My only comfort lay in the fact that, for one memorable afternoon, I had done a small part to improve her impoverished life, to bestow love into her love-less universe. And she, with her buoyant spirit and freely-given affection, had touched my life immeasurably.

As the gloom gathered about her little figure diminishing in the distance, Nataliane turned around, and her sparkling, chocolate eyes caught mine one last time. She waved at me enthusiastically, her smile shining like a beacon in the blackness around her. I waved back, trying to ignore the tight squeezing in my chest.

“Tchau, sweetheart,” I whispered. “And may God be with you…”

The darkness then swallowed up her waifish form. But the image that will remain with me forever simply contains that gorgeous smile, and those eyes…those big, brown eyes that grabbed my heart, and still won’t let it go…

Google images

Google images

The Brazil diaries, part 6

6105001710/3/05  Why do I have to leave? I’m going to be heartbroken when I get on that plane. Bawling.

The last few days have just made it even clearer to me how precious every moment is, how much I’ll be leaving behind Friday night. S., L., and I had a fun time learning more maracatu drumming from P. If I had the money, I’d seriously take real lessons, for it’s so much fun. After our complimentary lessons, P., we girls, and another “amigo,” a sweet guy named C., went to a cute little restaurant for some drinks, and we had the best time together. Much laughter. I love P. He’s this short, muscular black guy, who’s bursting with energy and good humor. He loves to have a good time, and is very, very affectionate with all the ladies. You can’t be around him and not have a smile on your face.

I also had a wonderful time last night. Our lovely older guy friend V. was at the drumming on Alto da Se again. He’s a sweetheart. He greeted L., S., and I with warmth and delight. C. was also there. Once again, I just got so swept up in the atmosphere of Sunday night’s street party. Being with all those Brazilians, listening to the amazing drumming, holding hands with them while dancing in a circle, seeing joy on everyone’s faces–it just made me feel so alive. Incredibly, wonderfully alive. And that’s one of the things I will miss so much when I go home. Back to staleness, back to cold, blank stares, back to lives being lived half-heartedly. No dancing, no music, no kisses on the cheek. Just another reason why I know I will cry when I leave here.


10/18/05  I never had a chance to finish chronicling my last days in Brazil. Things got so busy.

I am now home, in the US. But I know I must record the happenings of my last week in Brazil, before they disappear from my memory. Monday was my next-to-last day at the school with the kids. I was joined by a new volunteer, a young Englishwoman named H., who was to take my place. At the bell for their 30-minute break at 3:30, I was told by Prof. S., the English teacher, that some of the kids had prepared a surprise for me. He led me (and H.) down to the first floor, and to the door of another classroom. When he opened it, I was greeted by several of my favorite students shouting and running to hug me. Music was blaring from a boombox in the corner, there were balloons taped to the blackboard, drinks and cake and treats were set out on a table, and on the blackboard was drawn a heart with the words “Para A.” inside it, and beside it, the signatures of the students. I nearly cried. It was so touching. I hugged the kids over and over, while thanking them over and over. I was so appreciative of their beautiful, heartfelt gesture.

50770004Before I left that day, I got many, many hugs from students. Some thought it was my last day, so I had to explain to them I would be back one more day, and  I would say goodbye then. My last day there was not a normal school day. They instead had an assembly-type gathering of the students in the downstairs courtyard. The students were to present their projects about health, sanitation, and the environment. Much to my surprise, Prof. S. got me and H. to join him and the other teachers up on the podium in front of the students. What’s more, in the middle of their presentations, the microphone was thrust into my hands, and I was asked to say some words to the students, since I was leaving. I, of course, was totally unprepared for this, but strangely enough, once I stood there in front of all those students, many of whom I’d come to care deeply about, it wasn’t difficult to think of anything to say. My heart spoke for me, and it spoke entirely in Portuguese. I told them how important they were to me, that I cared about them, would never forget them, and thanked them for the time I got to share with them. At my words, they cheered and clapped loudly.

tabajaraI was so overwhelmed. After came the hardest part–leaving. I was surrounded by children–some of them I had never even seen before–who kept hugging me and wanting their picture taken with me. Finally I was able to walk out the front gate with Prof. S. and H., but only with a heavy, heavy heart and many glances and waves back. Would I ever see those beautiful children again? I wondered. I told them I would try to come back and visit, and I said it truly meaning it. I got the school’s mailing address from Prof. S., so I fully intend to at least keep in touch. [I did keep in touch via e-mail with the teacher Prof. S. for a while, and two years later, in 2007, I went back to the school on another visit to Olinda, Brazil, but the school was closed due to Carnival.]

After leaving the school, Prof. S. walked with H. and I to A.’s house [A. was another teacher], who happened to live nearby. A. had a little farewell “party” for me, with Prof. S. and some of the other teachers. It was so touching. Both A. and Prof. S. gave me gifts–A. gave me a CD of Brazilian music, and Prof. S. gave me a journal. Then they walked with me and H. to the bus stop, and when the bus came a few minutes later, it was with much sadness that I hugged and kissed each of them goodbye. A. actually sniffed me–my first real Brazilian “sniff.” [This is an interesting custom among some Brazilians.] And he told me the sweetest thing afterwards–he told me I smelled good, and that smelling good meant that I was a “good person.” Bad people, he said, smelled bad.

And that was my very last day in Tabajara. With a heavy heart I left all my wonderful friends–teachers and students–behind.

L. just sent me an e-mail today that made me cry. She said she hung out with our Brazilian “gang” of friends Sunday night and that they all missed me very much. She said V., in particular, had some very nice things to say about me. I was so touched. And she also mentioned that W., believe it or not, would not shut up about me.

The Brazil diaries, part 5

9/26/05  Last night I made a new friend. On our way back from R.’s father’s place in the country, R. and C. dropped L. and I off at Alto da Se, where we joined the other volunteers to watch the maracatu drumming again. The drumming was fantastic as usual, and this time I noticed a drummer that I didn’t remember seeing the last time. He stood near the front of the group, and like most of the male drummers, was bare-chested. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him, for he was simply beautiful. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed him either–L. and the other girls all commented on how cute he was.

78690023 (2)Well, as the drumming continued, I couldn’t help but let my eyes often wander in his direction. It was so hard not to look at him. It was then I began to notice that it seemed he was staring back at me. But I wasn’t absolutely certain. In the meantime, the other girls and I had been befriended by some other Brazilian men in the crowd watching. One of them, an older man named V., was very sweet and spoke good English. During one of the breaks between drumming, I saw him standing aside talking to the cute drummer, and I noticed them look my way. Then V. stepped back over to me, and much to my astonishment said, “A., I have a message for you.” [Insert message from the young man directed toward me, which, in retrospect I realize was kind of cheesy, but which, at the time, flattered me.] I was so taken aback, I hardly knew what to say…Once I regained my composure a bit, I laughed, and while I felt extremely flattered that this gorgeous young man would direct such a question to me, I also thought to myself, Oh no, he’s probably one of those guys. [I had been warned about many Brazilian men, and their propensity to take advantage of foreign girls.]

So after that I tried not to make as much eye contact with him. But once the drumming ended, despite my misgivings, I knew I wanted to at least meet the guy. And so, with help from V., I got to meet my handsome admirer. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that this young man, who had so boldly posed such a forward question to me, was suddenly shy in my presence. He was adorable. Hiding his face behind his hands or his shirt every time V. or I paid him a compliment.78690022 (2)

His name was W. and he lived in Olinda. He, V., another guy, and I stood there chatting for a bit, and finally, after some conferring with L. and S., who themselves had made some new male friends in the meanwhile, we decided to find a place to sit and get a drink and talk.

W. had his own car nearby, so he agreed to meet us at a place he and the other guys were apparently familiar with. So, in a short time, there we were, three foreign girls, and a bunch of Brazilian guys, sitting at a table outside, late at night, in a little booth near Praca do Carmo. [A plaza at the foot of the hill Alto da Se.] I talked with V. some, and another sweet guy named Vi., but, of course, my main focus was W., who sat beside me. He spoke English fairly well. A guy came up to us while we sat there with a bunch of pretty earrings, and W. insisted on buying me a pair. I couldn’t refuse him, and allowed him to purchase a pretty pair that I picked out.

Later he extended his kindness to all three of us girls by offering to drive us back to where we were staying, since he was going in the same direction…And so, he drove V. to a bus stop, S. to the hotel, and L. and I to our place. Before I got out of the car, he gave me the traditional Brazilian goodbye–a kiss on each cheek. But I left with his assurance I would see him very soon. He and another drummer that befriended us invited us to join them at Alto da Se again tonight, for their drumming practice.


9/29/05  I’ve seen him twice now, since Sunday night. Monday night S., L. and I went up to Alto da Se for drumming lessons from P., one of W.’s friends in the drumming group. W. eventually joined us, just to watch. After our “lessons,” which were quite fun, our group (which also included two other guys) headed down to Praca do Carmo, where we found a place to sit and chat and have drinks.W. leaned over to me, gently brushed aside my hair, and touched my ear and the earrings I wore, which were the ones he bought me, and he told me they were very pretty, like the person who wore them.

I got to see him again last night, at a place near Praca do Carmo, where he and his maracatu friends practice every Wednesday evening. I had the loveliest time. It was only me who went this time. But that was totally fine. I got to meet more of W.’s maracatu friends, who were all so, so nice, and being able to sit there while they played, and soak up the wonderful sounds and rhythm, and their infectious joy, just filled me with incredible happiness and contentment. It was an indelible exerience, one that to me, captured so much of what I love about Brazil and its culture.

The Brazil diaries, part 4

9/24/05  Wow–what a day. And it’s not even over yet. Today has been one of those days that I wish I could prolong, so that it would not slip into memory too soon. I’ve just been savoring every bit of it as much as I can. 53750024

C. and R. have practically adopted L. and I. Early this morning we piled into their car with them and headed to Porto de Galinhas, a beach about an hour’s drive south of Recife. When we arrived, all L. and I could do was stare in awe. It was gorgeous. The water was a deep turquoise, the sand white, and there weren’t many people there to mar the pristine beauty of the place. The section of beach we parked at was the area where the surfers congregated. This was intentional, as R., and a buddy of his that came along, wanted to surf. While he, his friend, L., and C. enjoyed surfing, I set out on my own to explore more of the beach. About a mile away from the surfer’s area was the main Porto de Galinhas beach. Aside from the crowds of people I encountered there, I thought it was even more stunning. It was the sort of beach I’d only seen in pictures before. The water was very calm and crystal clear. And just a little farther out from the shore it became an incredible deep, deep turquoise. There were reefs and rocks everywhere too, just adding to the natural beauty of the place.

78690003While sunning myself near this part of the beach, I had the privilege of seeing something else immensely beautiful. I heard the sound of thundering hoofs, and there, galloping down the beach at full speed, was a pretty, little chestnut horse, a man astride bareback. The man sitting on that horse’s back made bareback galloping look effortless. My eyes followed him as he galloped down the beach, and they opened even wider when I saw him take the little horse right into the surf. I suddenly had scenes from The Black Stallion movie running through my mind. I whipped out my camera, and I took as many photos as I could.

9/25/05  I didn’t finish yesterday, so I’ll continue my account today.78690008

My other memorable time yesterday at the beach was the relaxing swim I took in the ocean. I have never experienced anything quite like it. Later in the afternoon, as the sun was beginning to lower in the sky, I wandered down the beach again and found the perfect spot. The water was crystal clear for many, many feet, and there were no breaking waves. So I waded in…and then I didn’t want to leave. Even as the water came up nearly to my shoulders, I could still see the sandy bottom. There were very few people around me, so there I was, relaxing in a warm, calm, crystal-clear ocean, beneath a blue sky and a westering sun, the only noise around me being the gentle lapping of the waves. It was exquisite.

After leaving the beach–very, very reluctantly!–I headed with the others to the home of R.’s father. I will never forget the drive there. It will stick in my head for a long time. And yet, as I try to write about it, I struggle to find the words to describe it, and just how it made me feel. It was, first of all, one of those experiences one looks back on later with much wistfulness. The sun was setting, casting a golden glow on a beautiful Brazilian countryside, and I was in a car with some friendly Brazilians, listening to Spanish music. I felt like pinching myself–I felt privileged to be immersed in such a lovely experience. This trip to Brazil cost me a fair amount of money, but I know every penny was worth it. For life is not about possessions and things–it’s about experiences–it’s about people. And two of the main reasons I love traveling are the unforgettable experiences it gives me and the people it brings my way. 78690019

And Brazilians, it seems, seem to recognize the importance of people and relationships and experiences far more than most of us spoiled Americans, who are, unfortunately, focused more on our possessions and getting ahead in our careers. How much we miss out on! R. and C., and their extended family, have been amazing examples to me. Family, and the times they share with them, are a big deal to them, and are far more important than how big their house is, how pretty it is on the outside, what kind of car they drive, etc.

78690017So far I’ve had a lovely, lovely time with R.’s relatives, who’ve all congregated at his father’s house. His father lives in the country, in a big house–at least by Brazilian standards–with a yard and a swimming pool. As I write this, I am sitting by the pool, and various brothers, sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews, etc., are gathered round, conversing, drinking, eating. Last night, L. and I got to eat dinner with them as well, and this morning we had a delicious, huge breakfast with the whole family.  It was such a neat experience. Being with R. and his family makes me miss my own family quite a bit. There is definitely something to be said for having a large family. In a large family there is so much more love to go around, more support, and more friendship. One of the most beautiful things in life is spending time with family, not because one has to, but because one wants to. The older I get the more I realize how blessed I am to be part of a big family like R.’s. I can just see my own family, 10 years from now, having get-togethers like R.’s family.

The Brazil diaries, part 3

A Frog’s Tale

treefrog9/15/05  So last night was fun. Shortly before I went to bed I discovered a cute little tree frog had joined me in my room. Quite the cute, harmless little thing, so I paid him no mind. Until he started hopping everywhere. Unlike your average, slow, fat American toads and frogs, this little guy knew how to leap. When he leapt, he really leapt. All over the place. He scared the bejeebers outta me the first time he hopped on my bed. The lights were out, I had my headphones on, and was just getting comfortable when–thump, right in the middle of the bed. I literally jumped out of bed, as my headphones and CD player went crashing to the floor. I flipped the light switch on, but by this time he had jumped to the floor. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing it was just the frog that had produced the thump in my bed. He wouldn’t let me get anywhere near him, though, and quickly darted underneath my bed. I decided to try to go to sleep again, turned off the lights, and crawled back into bed. But now I was paranoid. I didn’t cherish the idea of having a frog hopping all over me while I’m trying to sleep–harmless, but a nuisance. I kept turning on my flashlight, scanning the room, trying to find him. And then there he was again, sitting now on the floor on the other side of  the bed. Suddenly I knew I was not going to sleep peacefully until something was done about the frog.

So I got up and turned the light on again. The frog hopped around some more, evading me, and eventually ended up on the wall, up near the ceiling. I went in search of some “tools” with which to capture the frog. I came back armed with the lid to a pot and a toy sword belonging to M. It was now after one in the morning, and my commotion awakened C., who came to see what was wrong. With the sword I had gotten the frog off the wall, but now he had disappeared in, or  underneath, the other bed in the room. C. helped me look for him, but even after flipping the mattress, moving furniture, and looking in every nook we could think of, the frog eluded us. Crafty little thing! Or had we squashed him accidentally? In any case, we couldn’t find him, C. went back to bed, and I tried to go back to sleep. But as I lay there in the dark, I couldn’t sleep. I knew–just knew–that frog was lurking somewhere, and was waiting for another opportune moment to jump on my bed. And…he did. This time the thump was right near my head. I had had enough! I jumped up again, but not out of fear. I turned on the lights, and there he was, that sneaky little animal, sitting on the floor again, beside my bed.

So I took action again. I finally cornered him, in between the wall and the big armoire and managed to clamp the pot lid over him. But then I realized I had done a dumb thing in not having something to slide underneath the lid. Was I to chase this little booger all night? I thought. I lifted the lid and discovered him sitting inside it. Much to my surprise, he didn’t jump out. I was able to carry him to the window as he sat calmly in the lid. As if he knew exactly what I was doing, he waited until I placed the lid in view of the great outdoors, and then he leapt out so fast I simply looked down and he wasn’t there anymore. I was much relieved to finally be able to go to bed and sleep in peace. There were no more thumps on my bed that night.


9/16/05  I have been here four weeks now. Wow. Four more to go. Hard to believe.

Even though I do look forward to going home, I know I will probably cry when I leave here. The thought of saying goodbye to all those adorable children at the school makes me so, so sad. I’ve really come to love them. I wish I could pluck a few of them and take them home with me! 74310009My most enthusiastic little “amigo” greets me every day with a huge grin and wave. He’s probably eleven years old, and I can’t help but feel a little attached to him because he reminds me so much of [one of my brothers] when he was younger. Slightly plump, the same mass of dark hair on his head, big talker–his resemblance is uncanny. He’s in my favorite class, the one full of mostly younger kids…There is one little boy in that class that is so cute. His name’s L., and he’s also quite the smart little kid. When I first arrived he asked me more questions out of genuine curiosity than any other child.

Yesterday he walked with me to the bus stop after school was over, and I had the loveliest conversation with him. He speaks almost no English, so our conversation was in Portuguese, but we still managed just fine. Once again, he had so many questions for me. Quite the talker, actually!

I didn’t mention it before, but there was an adorable little street boy who attached himself to our group when we were in Natal. All of us girls fell all over him. We knew he was just trying to get food and money from us (and he did), but he was just too adorable to turn away…Some day, maybe, I’ll be able to adopt, or care for, needy children. There are so many not only in Brazil, but around the world.


As an addendum to my last post, I thought I would throw in a quick explanation and a few videos of the type of drumming and dance I experienced in Olinda, which will be featured more in upcoming entries. The drumming and dance are both known as “maracatu,” and they are native to the state of Pernambuco, of which Recife is the capital. The African slaves that came to northeastern Brazil introduced maracatu, along with many other elements of their rich culture, which is part of the reason why Olinda and Recife in particular have such a unique flavor to them.

Maracatu is not only regularly performed in Olinda and Recife, but is one of the primary features during Carnival in both cities. I was able to return briefly to Olinda and Recife in 2007, during Carnival, and I witnessed a grand parade of maracatu in the streets of Recife Antigo. It was breathtaking. During my 2005 stay, I also became friends with some maracatu drummers (one of these was the young man I became romantically entangled with), and they taught me some of the drumming, which I loved, however poorly I attempted it.

Anyway, here are a few videos that give the uninitiated a little taste of what I experienced in Brazil. Enjoy!

Maracatu in Olinda:

Maracatu in Recife Antigo:

The Brazil diaries, part 2

9/6/05  I’ve been here now for over two weeks. Wow. In some ways it feels like it’s been longer, and in some ways it feels shorter. I’ve definitely “settled in” now…The last two weekends have been interesting. Two weekends ago I went to a city further north called Natal with most of the other volunteers. 55880020It was a 4-hour bus ride, and we stayed in this cool little hotel right on the beach. While it was fun for a weekend getaway, I wouldn’t go there on a regular basis. It was simply your typical touristy beach resort. Very crowded, with lots of partying going on at night, which isn’t really my thing. Unfortunately, the part that will stick with me the most is how sick–er, I mean, “tipsy”–I made myself. I drank three of these fruity alcoholic drinks called “caparinhas” on Saturday night, and the next morning I woke up extremely nauseated. Feeling thirsty, I drank some water, and the next thing I know I’m making a mad dash for the bathroom. I didn’t make it. For the first time since I was a little girl, I threw up. Fortunately, it was only water, and fortunately it was on a patio in an open courtyard. So I didn’t make a horrible mess or ruin anything.

61050004This past weekend I spent quality time with myself. The other volunteers went on another getaway to another beach, and invited me, but I chose not to go strictly for financial reasons…So, instead, Saturday I went into Recife on my own to explore its “old town,” or historic district. It was actually quite pretty. I wandered around for a bit, took photos, and then fell asleep on a bench in a pretty little park with a fountain.

That evening C. invited me to go with her and R. to a movie. I had a lot of fun with them. After the movie, they took me back to the historic district in Recife (“Antigo Recife”) for a drink and a bite to eat. We sat outside near a plaza bordered on each side with beautiful and colorful old buildings. It was lovely. We had a great time just chatting and enjoying the lovely atmosphere of the place.53750009

The next day, Sunday, I went by myself to the beach Boa Viagem in Recife. I only stayed a couple hours, enough to soak up a little sun, for there were just too many people. Very popular spot, apparently, on the weekends.

Sunday night I headed over to the hotel to see what the other volunteers were up to. I caught up with them in the nick of time. We piled into three cabs and headed up to the historic part of Olinda, the part on the big hill, known as “Alto da Se.” Every Sunday evening apparently, this is where the party’s at. It was jam-packed with people. There was wonderful drumming, dancing, and capoeira in the streets. Being there was an exhilerating feeling. It was the essence of Brazilian culture, alive and in full swing. Brazilians know how to have a good time. As I stood there in the throng, listening to the drumbeats, and watching these girls dance like crazy in front of me, I couldn’t help but begin to sway and dance in my own way with the infectious rhythm. Several of the British gals joined in as well. It was amazing fun.

78690024We stayed a good while, then a few of us decided to find a place nearby to get some drinks and a bite to eat. After having no luck anywhere else, we finally ended up at the same little restaurant W., A., S., and I went to a few weeks ago. The one with the lovely veranda overlooking Recife in the distance. This time we sat underneath a starry sky and in the distance could see a purple horizon and a maze of sparkling, twinkling city lights. It was gorgeous…

The Brazil diaries, part 1

55880019Sometimes a pleasant jaunt down memory lane is all it takes to jolt oneself out of the “blues.”

Recently I came across a journal I kept during a two-month visit to Olinda, Brazil in 2005, in which I volunteered as an assistant English teacher in a public school. I have had very few truly joyful and soul-satisfying experiences in my life, but the time I spent in Brazil nearly eight years ago (I can hardly believe it’s been that long!) was definitely one of those experiences. Re-reading my journal brought back many happy memories, as well as some “what was I thinking” and “boy, I was stupid and naive then” moments, particularly in regards to a brief relationship I had with a Brazilian young man while there. (I will not be sharing the details of that drama, as it’s far too personal, and did not end well.) However, I feel as if it would be a shame not to share at least some of what I experienced during this time in Brazil, if only to impart to those who have never visited this amazing country some of the richness and beauty of its people, culture, and landscape. Brazil, more than any country I’ve been to, feels like home to me, and I hope one day I can literally call it home. I am, and always will be, in my heart, a “brasileira.”

Without further ado, the first installment of my “Brazil diaries”:

8/19/05 Here I am at last, in Olinda, in the home of R. and C. and their three-year-old son, M. They are definitely not poor by Brazilian standards–probably middle-class–but they are still without many of the amenities that I, as a spoiled American, am used to, and they live in what looks like a rougher section of Olinda. The apartment is small but clean, and they have cable TV and internet, but there is no AC, the toilets don’t flush toilet paper, they wash clothes by hand, and the shower involves two shower heads–one that spouts only scalding, hot water and the other, only cold water. I took a shower today and used the cold water–it actually felt good, since it’s so warm and humid in the apartment.

The window in my room has a bottom portion that has no glass or screening of any kind, so fresh air and breezes blow in my room constantly. I get to hear all the noise outside as well. During the day there are children playing in the courtyard below, sometimes people blast music next door, and the traffic outside is nearly constant. It’s definitely a very different sort of environment here, but I’m adjusting!


558800068/21/05 Since I’d still seen so little of Olinda, I was able to procure the company of A., S., and W., three of the Brits, on a trek into the historic district, or “old town” center, of the city. It was quite a walk, especially into the historic part, which sat atop a huge hill, but I welcomed the exercise, and it was well worth it in the end. The “old” part of Olinda is beautiful. Gorgeous, colorful, Spanish-colonial-style buildings line the streets, and they all overlook a magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean and nearby Recife. All along the main road there are shops and outdoor vendors selling massive quantities of handmade crafts and jewelry.

We wore ourselves out on our trek, so W. suggested a nearby restaurant/bar to go to for some drinks. It hit the spot. It was a gorgeous place–we sat at a table on the veranda in the rear, which was situated atop a steep hill and gave us a breathtaking view, through flowers and palm fronds, of the beach in the distance and the skyscrapers of Recife. It felt kind of surreal, and we had a lovely time.55880011

By the time we departed, dusk was beginning to settle in, and the “brasileiros” began to emerge in throngs. The main square was filled with the mostly dark-skinned, fun-loving people, and we immediately heard drums beating. We saw a crowd gathered round one part of the square, so we hurried to take a look. Pairs of men were taking turns doing the “capoeira” dance, most bare-foot, and some bare-chested. Though I’d seen capoeira before, it has always fascinated me, and it was extra special to see it actually done, on the spot, in a Brazilian street. It just added to the whole “flavor” of the day.

I can’t wait to explore more in the days to come, and to immerse myself even more in this beautiful and fascinating culture.


8/22/05 Today was my first day “teaching” English. I was a bit nervous and a bit intimidated, but once I entered the classroom, full of those beautiful, dark-skinned, dark-haired children, noisy and wild as they could be, yet grinning at me, I felt strangely at ease. I felt a weird sort of confidence.

The English teacher, a middle-aged Brazilian man (a Profesor S.), was very nice, and mainly just had me do the pronunciation with the kids. I was so glad I was simply an assistant, for the teacher had to spend half the classroom time keeping the kids in order. I actually helped him with three classes–the end of the first, all of the middle one, and the beginning of the last one. It was the middle class that was the rowdiest, as most of them were fairly young, but I actually enjoyed them the most. They had so many questions for me and about me, wanted my signature on their notebooks, and when I left the classroom, they surrounded me and showered me with friendly goodbyes. In short, they stole my heart!

74310007My time here so far has been very thought-provoking. Though I wake up every morning to a warm, muggy room, though I am without many of the luxuries I am used to, and though I look around me at filth, decay and poverty that are unheard of in the US, I wouldn’t trade this time here for anything. I rode on my first bus this evening to get back to C. and R.’s, and as I sat there, wind blowing from the open window on my face, just watching the scenery go by, I kept thinking, This fits me, this brings me contentment. A deep sense of joy flooded me.