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.


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: