Mutirao Varzea

And to continue this theme of lasts, the last mutirão de graffiti that we attended was in Varzea. Varzea is an interesting neighborhood near the federal university here in Recife (UFPE). Pixote and his group Novo Geração were in charge of organizing and welcoming everyone to their neighborhood. We had been there before a long time ago to hang out with Pixote and his family and paint graffiti. As evidence, our old piece was still up (horror of horrors). Yes, it was bad, and I am not saying that I have gotten much better, but looking at the really old stuff shows evidence of slight improvement (or maybe just better color choice). I think it might have been one of the first times I used spray paint, before that point, I was only using brushes.

It has been amazing to have participated in the Mutirão for the past 2 1/2 years and seen all of the different phases of the Rede and the different communities that participate in the Rede de Resistência Solidaria. In the entire time we have been here, they have only repeated one neighborhood, and that community is so big it was in a completely different part.

The mutirão had a lot going on and many more people involved from outside of the graffiti scene. One group set up a pirate radio, Radio Livre, at the main area, other people brought fruit seeds and soil to plant trees with the kids in the area, and another group attempted to organize the kids to paint a wall (I have written previously about my attempt to do that in the past!). It was interesting to have all of these different activities going on, because it took the mutirão past the idea of just showing up in the community to paint to a real community action day. I will admit that in the beginning, I was very skeptical about what the Rede was really doing and about the purpose of the mutirão—it seemed like it was just an opportunity to go out and paint with your friends in a somewhat organized fashion. I was constantly questioning whether going to paint people's houses in the communities really leads towards community self-sufficiency, but over time, I have come to understand more about how the Rede works and the effect it has on the communities and on the participants. By bringing a group of people from different communities in Recife, people get to know each other and their city. It challenges the idea that you stay in your own community and don’t interact with people from other areas. The more we met other people and see where they live, that more we realize that we are all in the same situation and working for the same goals. By organizing an event like this, it strengthens the relationships the various groups have in their community and makes the group more visible. People come out of their houses and ask what is going on and that creates a great opportunity to talk to people.

I really treasure all of the time I have spent going to different communities in Recife and talking to all of the people about their lives. I have been to more placed in Recife than most people who live here and have been to the "dangerous" neighborhoods and have seen first hand the reality versus the media image. I have seen various groups that are part of the Rede really grow and become more self-sufficient and organized. They are now producing materials, creating music, organizing workshops and are educators in their own communities. Nova Geração is a great example of a group that is organized and involved in their community. The Mutirão also shows people that there are alternatives and possibilities outside of the expected and the routine. My friend always says that Sundays in the communities are either about church or brega and beer. There aren't a lot of alternatives. The fact that the mutirão is always on Sundays breaks that routine--just like having an event in the street during the 8 o'clock soap opera. It makes people do something a little different. People come out of their houses, mix in the streets, and talk to people that they normally wouldn't take a second look at. Most of the time there are very positive results and many people who aren’t interested in the two Sunday options come out in the street to talk. Of course, there is always a few drunk old guys wandering around full of cana and stories.

It is always interesting to see what will happen when you show up and last Sunday really highlighted this culture clash between brega and beer, and something different. The DJ booth and microphone area were set up on one side of the soccer field directly in front of a little stand that normally serves as the local bar on Sunday. Everyone was back there drinking and listening to brega on a car stereo throughout the day, but there came a point when a midwife group from the community was talking on the microphone and the brega kept getting louder and louder. One woman in particular pulled up her shirt, beer in hand, and started bumping and grinding in a way that was almost a challenge. It really felt like as a group they were saying, "This is OUR place, and this is what WE do on Sunday." I can see how it would almost feel like an invasion and a challenge to the people doing what they normally do. All of the sudden this giant group of people show up in your community and start playing their music and talking about what they want. Of course, the community is welcome to participate and that is a main part of the mutirão, but it is asking people to participate in a very different way. The situation was handled graciously, but I definitely felt the resentment (probably provoked by beer) by the people wanting their typical Sunday beer and brega.

Aside: One of the things I most admire about Brazil is how people deal with confrontation. People are gracious in ways that I am always surprised by. I can't count how many times that I have been in a situation that would definitely have led to a fight, raised voices, cries to talk to the manager in the United States that have been resolved here with a smile and a thumbs up. Twice in the past week I have watched difficult situations resolved with humor, tact and consideration for both points of view--something I consider very rare in the place (and people) of my land.


Another last

Yesterday was my last day of work. It was strange and left me feeling a little empty. Most people had already gone on vacation, the library was closed, and everything felt deserted. I think I saw about 7 people when on a normal day it would be more like hundreds.

I am so glad that a few of the teachers organized a party for me last week. It would have been devastating to end yesterday without that last chance to see everyone. The party itself was very sad because all of the sudden it really felt final. Up until that point I had been in complete denial about my eminent departure and then as I walked in the room everyone sang a little song about leaving (that I had never heard before, but there was mention of saudades) and I immediately started crying.

There was a lot of typical food from Sao Joao (corn based), and other typical sweets from this area (bolo de rolo, bolo de mandioca, beiju, etc.) It never ceases to amaze me that you can make so many different things out of cassava/manioc root. It is really limitless. You can have an entire full course meal here made out of nothing but manioc, but that is another post.

It felt good to turn in my final work project and turn to the new project of taking apart the rest of my life here.



The rainy season in Recife is something a desert girl cannot get used to. It takes your breath away, fills the streets, and signals retreat. There are times when I can't hear the person I am talking to on the phone because of the rain. We have to shut all of the windows and doors and still can't hear the music from the stereo. The rainy season has made some appearances this year but hasn't shown us all of its force--it saves that for July.

About two weeks ago as I was getting out of class, Sam showed up at work and handed my a pair of flip flops and an umbrella. "You are gonna need these to get home," he said. True enough, it was mid-shin deep in many places. It is hard not to think of the raw sewage as you are wading through the streets. There is also something I call "the rat pee disease" (because I can't remember the real name) that comes from wading through sewage water. A great thought as you are trying to get home. I guess it is nothing that a shower and a mantra can't take care of , "I am not walking through sewage, I am not walking through sewage." Ahhh, Venice, of Brazil that is!

Luckily there have been few days like this so far, but then again, it is only July 1st.


The Slow Surgery of Leaving

The last day of teaching is the beginning of many "lasts" that will happen in the next month. My friend said it perfectly today, "You spend all of this time constructing a life, and then you have to take it apart." That is how I feel right now; I am slowly beginning to dismantle pieces of my life. Student removal was the first big piece that was taken apart yesterday. It is so strange to have people that have become so intertwined with your life (for better or for worse) just look at you and walk out the door. I always feel a little empty and unfulfilled. I feel like I need to get something back from them that they have been taking from me all semester.

Maybe the whole process is like a slow surgical procedure, and the monkey on my back has just been removed. After the grades are in the system, the projects finished, and the last day of work completed, the rocks bearing down on my shoulders will be removed. After two weeks of frantic scrambling to sell everything, deal with unbelievable bureaucracy, and saying goodbye to everyone I know here, the pits will be taken from my stomach. And finally, when I get on the plane, little pieces of my heart will be shredded and left with the people I care about and a dirty smelly city that I came to love.


Bird Graffiti

I haven't written much about the mutirões lately or painting graffiti, but I have been painting a lot lately. I have spray paint all over the outer edges of my finger nails to prove it. It has been fun and I have been a lot less anxious, but I always end up worrying about what to paint. I haven't been drawing lately, so I have been painting birds. Strange birds. Colorful birds. Girly colored birds

And the thing is, I don't really like birds.



We have been renting (or chipping in) on a beach house in Enseada dos Corais since January and it is about to come to an end. We had a great New Years there with lots of friends that involved an 8 hour game of Risk, whiskey, other card games, churrasco, and of course, beach. It was a great way to spend another birthday and my friend made me a cake. It had been a long time since someone made me a birthday cake.

It takes anywhere from an hour and a half to two and a half hours to get there depending on how quickly you catch the three buses. Sometimes it is like a perfectly timed dance where you get off one bus as the other pulls up, and sometimes you are left standing in a bus station smelling of piss for what is always too long. Recently they have added a direct bus on the weekends that runs once an hour from the center of Recife--great when the dance works! We have been going there on and off since January, but unfortunately we have trouble getting out of town due to a) dogs b) work c) dogs. We have a few lovely house sitters, but it is difficult to ask the same people every weekend to go out of their way to take care of some old dogs, even if money is involved.
Going to the beach is a very seasonal thing here even though it is a tropical climate and year round beach going is certainly possible. After Semana Santa, it is "going to the interior" time, namely Gravata, until about November when beach time starts up again. I think it gives you a sense of seasons which otherwise is totally lacking in this climate.

Completely out of season, we went to the beach yesterday. It was amazing to see no one except fishermen and surfers. The ocean is a little more wild and the waves get better, so "winter" is the time when surfers get all of the fun. "Winter" is also the rainy season, another solid reason why the beach is not the most popular activity. You are always running a risk of getting rained on. Yesterday was a mix of sun, rain and clouds, but there was a special feeling in the open expanse of the beach--privacy and real life. The life of the place without tourists. We love the area from Calhetas to Itapoama because it is a real place. Everyone here talks about Porto das Galinhas as the best beach around, but I don't like it. It is touristy and the place to be, all the more reason for not going.

The middle and upper class, or as they call them here, the A and B classes, buy and sell and move up and down the coast with the latest fashion. Many places have been the "it" place in the past and have fallen out of favor. Porto das Galinhas is the it place, but I think its time has come. (The name comes from its past as a secret slave port after slavery was made illegal. The slaves were called "chickens" by the slavers to disguise the real nature of their ship's cargo).

Calhetas was my favorite beach for a long time--a small little cove with a few beach barracas and deep, clear, calm water, but it has been replaced with Xareu. Xareu is a mixture of virgin beach and a few beach barracas where you can get cold beer, wonderful caldinho, fried fish and macaxeira. My favorite meal. There is something about eating fish and macaxeira on the beach while sipping beer or coconut water that the completes perfection.
These are the things that I will miss.


Meat Party

I can't believe that I have lived in Brazil this long without going to a rodizio churrasco. I have been to a rodizio of pizza and pasta (another sickening experience), but the traditional barbecue experience had eluded me until today. My work changed its bonus policy and instead of giving us money, we get points towards things like meals, books, and electronics. So, this meat party was the result of my hard work last year and ability to keep students enrolled in the course.

A rodizio is basically an amazing salad bar and roving waiters constantly showing up to shave sizzling meat off skewers onto your plate. It is a knock down drag out all you can eat extravaganza and I still feel a little sick. I definitely did not indulge to my fullest, but even 6 hours later I feel a fullness slightly boarding on nausea. My husband made a nice showing, but nothing like the days of his youth (and ability to finish a Hurricane's disaster burrito).

I should confess that I was a vegetarian for about 12 years, and then added fish and chicken to the menu, and only after moving to Brazil, I started eating red meat. So, two and half years of red meat eating (on a very very occasional basis) after almost 20 years without does not prepare the stomach for this kind of experience. After Sam said, "suckling baby pig" my stomach sort of flopped over and the meat party took a new turn. It tastes good, but it is also a little gross at the same time. I have also had some misgivings about sausage lately as well. It has done me wrong more than once. I think it might be time to rethink this whole carnivore attitude. I might be ready to return to my vegetarian ways, but then again, what is life without bacon? Ahh bacon, the one meat that always brings me back.

Note: I threw up later that night. No more meat for me, at least for a couple of days