Sam and I are taking Forró dance lessons. Okay, stop laughing.

Forró consists of an accordion, a triangle and a drum. Okay, start laughing. It can get more complicated--full band, scantily clad dancers throwing each other around the stage, people descending onto the stage and flying around on wires, and pyrotechnics. The complicated
forró is "Forró Estilizado" or stylized forró. The basic 3-man band is called "pe-de-serra." I prefer pe-de-serra because the estilizado forró seems really sexist. I am basing most of this information of the exhaustive DVD collection of forró our friend Carlos has. I have watched hours and hours of all of the "greats" and been to a few shows. I can't decide if the dislike comes from the mostly naked women shakin it while the male vocalist fondles her ass or that the woman vocalist normally only chimes in for some moaning to accompany the male vocalist. There may be more to it, and I am sure that there is, but I have yet to see it. I prefer the old men in the Lampião hats with their accordions. Estilizado incorporates at lot of the lambada moves (yes, it was not just a movie). Lambada went out of fashion and forró became the thing--and still is.

Our teacher makes us "warm-up" to the same two Dido songs every class. What Dido has to do with forró I have yet to figure out, I also question how "warmed-up" we get pointing and flexing our feet for two Dido songs. There is a little side-to-side hip movement and occasionally a giant hip circle. Voila! Ready to dance forró. Our class is a strange mix of people. It is strangely comforting to watch Brazilians taking classes for what seems so natural for them. Everywhere we go it just seems like everyone knows how to dance. It is extremely thrilling when we are actually better than someone. This tends to only happen because we have been taking classes for a month and it is their first night. I take what I can get.

Normally the teacher shows us a new move and then there is a whirlwind of two minute dances and changing partners. I can't figure out how you are suppose to learn how to dance if you only do one move for two minutes and switch partners. W did this for a couple weeks and then finally asked if I could please dance with my husband. When we started dancing together things improved considerably. We are the only couple in the class so I don't feel too guilty about always having a dance partner while the other girls take what they can get. There was one class when the boys outnumbered the girls and had to wait their turn....I wonder if there is a dance class anywhere in the world where this happens.

The name forró comes from WW II (or so the story goes...) when the America soldiers were stationed in the Northeast they held dances that were "for all" and somehow with some accent issues it turned into forró (pronounced fo-ho). It looks like sexy Mexican ranchera dancing. The goal is to press as close to your partner as possible so that you move as one person in either a side-to-side or back-and front motion. We learned a new move tonight called the twist. Not a fan of this one. In couples dance position you twist (think 60's) and if things get really exciting you can click your heels together (think Kid 'n Play). The whole thing when done well it is quite impressive, needless to say that we are not doing it well. Sam is having to learn to lead for the first time in his life, and I am having to learn to follow for the first time in my life. A little give and take.

We have not ventured beyond the dance studio to see if we can make it in the real world. I think another month or so in the comfort of Dido might not be a bad idea.



There are two things that I have resigned myself to here in the Venice of Brasil: Dengue and being mugged.

Dengue is a mosquito born disease common in tropical areas that causes a high fever and makes your bones hurt as if they are being pulled out of your body. There are varying degrees of torture and if you take aspirin (or is it Tylenol?), you can die. Or so the stories go...they also say that this type of mosquito only bites during the day. I seriously doubt this one, but I take comfort in the idea because I am mostly attacked after dark. We sleep with a fan pointed at us in a mildly successful attempt to keep them away. We also purchased an air conditioner (that we have never used...electricity is expensive, but summer is coming). The purchase of the air conditioner was mostly because the parents were coming to visit. They have since changed their minds and now we have a giant hunk of expense looming over our bed. It also seems to attract mosquitoes. I now have a daily ritual called "shaking of the closets." Dark places are a friend to the mosquito so we try to make their little lives as uncomfortable as possible. I shake all of my clothes and other miscellaneous things in the closet at least once a day. On a good day, I get to dislocate about 20 of them--right into my bedroom. Sigh....

Mugging or "asaltado" is also a part of daily life here. It is also everyone's favorite topic. The middle class loves to make itself even more frightened (is that possible??) by telling the horror stories of someone getting asaltado over and over. Granted, everyone and their mother has a story that usually involves people with guns (or pretending to have guns) stealing their cars, their bags, their bikes, etc. I normally go about my daily life with little fear and a lot of precaution, but after a "storytelling" session, I have a hard time leaving my house for a couple of days. This used to happen more when I first got here, but now I just brush it off.

The other day I mentioned riding my bike in one of my classes and my students immediately started telling me, "Don't do that! It is too dangerous. They will mug you and steal everything. Don't leave your house! Stay home and eat chocolate." It makes me feel bad for them. Their lives are so insulated from reality. They go to school, their apartment, and the shopping mall. These are the only "safe" places for them and their parents.

I showed them a video about violence that some of the communities made and most of them had no idea that these communities existed. They had no idea what life there is like. They only knew the names from hearing them on the news in connection with violence. It is a weird thing to come to terms with--violence. Of course, it happens in the US, but somehow it is different. I have had my car stolen and broken into many times, and the police perpetrated the only personal act of violence against me. Here it seems more common ("normal" as my friend Claudia puts it) and more random. When I got here at the end of January, over two hundred people had been killed and not one person was charged with the crime. There are absolutely no consequences for crime.

The middle class are retreating to high-rise apartment buildings that feel more "secure." There are at least 8 thirty-story high rises being built in our neighborhood alone. We live in a construction zone and are starting to watch the buildings grow and the breeze diminish. When the next one gets a little higher, it will block the sun. Everyone is afraid to live in houses. When I tell people that I live in a house, they get a horrified look on their face...until I tell them that we have two pit bulls. I have to say that having the dogs makes me feel better, but I always feel safe in my house. Maybe it is the location, maybe it is the bars, maybe it is the pit-chi bulls; it feels like home. I think that is because of the hammock on the porch.

I have resigned myself to these things, but "graças a deus" I have not had to deal with them yet.


Venice of Brazil

I guess I should explain the name of this blog. Recife is marketed as "The Venice of Brazil" due to the many rivers and canals in the city. Most people in Recife mock this as the "venéreo de Brasil" (venereal). According to a friend of ours who works in the field of water treatment, only about 20% of the city (total pop: 3 million people) is on the sewer system. And the rest? You guessed it. They even have a riverboat catamaran tour that they promote as a tourist attraction. I have thought about it, but then I smell the river from about a block away.

Nevertheless, at the right time, in the right light, and from a safe distance, it can be quite beautiful. In Recife Antiguo, there is a place with a nice lookout over the river with the colonial buildings in the background, and if you squint your eyes a little, it could be Venice--kind of. The buildings in Recife Antiguo are amazing, and they are just waiting for you to discover them for the first time. Some have been restored, the majority haven't. Their neglect makes them and Recife what they are. It is a trip back in time without fancying it up for the tourists.

Sunday is my favorite day in Recife. I think last week I said that it was the only day I like Recife--about 52 days of the year. There is no traffic and it is possible to ride your bike anywhere without fearing for your life. Bus fare is half price and the city just feels calm. You can breathe and feel the city breathing. Last Sunday reminded me of a warm September day in New Mexico. There is a feeling in the air--a feeling I can only relate to being in New Mexico during my favorite time of year with chile roasting, warm days, cool nights, barbeques, driving around with the windows open, and a slight cool breeze under the warmth of the sun. We rode our bikes down in Recife Antiguo to Marco Zero. From there you can see the reef and the port. The reef has a lot of interesting sculptures by Brennand and a path that you can ride your bike on that eventually leads to Pina beach. The guys in the rowboats will take you and your bike over there for R$1.50. We went to the artesian fair in plaza arsenal and ate a coxinha (chicken wrapped in dough shaped like a teardrop that is deep-fried--delicious!), and finished off the day by riding around and taking photos of graffiti and a quick stop at the bookstore. That is one of the things that makes life wonderful in this crazy town.

Tomorrow is another Sunday (yeah!) and we are going to paint graffiti at the mutirão de graffiti. It is held on the last Sunday of every month at a different neighborhood in and around Recife. The mutirão is one of the events that the Rede de Resistencia Solidaria organizes. Different members of the Rede host the mutirão in their neighborhoods. It is part of the community liberation movement. It is a chance to connect all of these communities together and dialogue about different issues. They are working on making their own clothes, running their own stores, starting community gardens, and creating self-sufficient communities that don't have to depend on the city and the formal economy to get by. The Rede works on a horizontal structure--it is not an NGO or an organization; it is a collective of people who want to see things change in society. I think that we are going to a neighborhood in Olinda...but I am not sure.


Sam helped me make this. Do you think that he is bitter? I guess it explains how we ended up in Recife...

This is my third time in Brazil. I was here in 1999 as an exchange student in Forteleza, Ceara (north of here) for 2 months and again in 2000 on a surf adventure down south for a few months.
Unlike my previous adventures, this is my first time in Brazil as a "worker" versus a traveler. I am working at the US-Brazilian bi-national center in Recife, also known as ABA (to get away from the US association). As a worker, I have been able to experience another side of Brazil. It is interesting, but I have found that most of the pleasure of being in Brazil comes from being a traveler. All of the beautiful small beach towns, laid back beach culture, time to sit and bate-papo with people you meet... It is different living in a big city known for violence, poverty, and extremely smelly canals. Right now, we are debating the age-old question, "To stay or to go?" Like all of the age-old questions, there are no easy answers. The advantages and disadvantages to this experience, time, and place stack up and shift on a daily basis. The purpose of the blog is to "registrar" our experience here, observations about Brasil, and observations about us. I have been taking a course on Educação Popular at a local NGO, Auçuba, here in Recife and one of the most important elements is to write and reflect on your experiences as part of the education process. Teaching is a constant process of practice-reflection-practice. Documenting experience. It seems that many blogs come from this process. People outside of their environment and the need to somehow write it all down as part of the experience. It becomes possible to observe aspects of culture that become so obvious when compared to an "other."

Observation #1: Brazilian's do not touch food with their hands (for the most part). If you eat a sandwich, you should wrap a napkin around it. Pizza is a knife and fork affair. French fries? Toothpicks. Are Americans gross disgusting people who care nothing about the possible germ transfer between hand and food? I prefer to think of it as preventative germ transfer.

Observation #2: There are a lot of albinos in the Northeast of Brazil (I am hesitant to transfer this to the entire country--but we have been to various states in the NE). I think that I see an albino at least once a week. It is always quite startling because I have not seen very many albinos in my life before this experience. I have no idea why (genetics?) but I would like to.

Observation #3: I am surrounded by pregnant women. I think it kick-started the biological clock. Pregnant ladies and adorable children. Sam actually counts and not a day has gone by without seeing at least one pregnant woman. Maybe his biological clock it ticking too.