Nação Zumbi

Well, I have finally done it. I have checked off everything on my list. There were certain things that I wanted to do before leaving Brazil, and as of last night they are all done. It is a strange feeling not to have anything left that I have to do. Of course there are many places that I still want to visit (like the Pantanal), but there is no list to go by.
The List

Fernando de Noronha. Check

Lençóis Maranheses. Check

O Rappa Show. Check

Nação Zumbi Show. CHECK

And this was not just any show. It was at the Nascedouro de Peixinhos. It used to be an old slaughterhouse and has recently been renovated into a gorgeous cultural space. I participated in a dance workshop there a month ago and Sam painted graffiti there as part of a workshop for SPA--a street arts festival. It is in a neighborhood right next to a favela that is considered pretty dangerous, but apparently there is a lot of money coming into the neighborhood from foreign donors to work on the canals and rivers. (There are some photos of this neighborhood in our flicker page from a mutirão de graffiti that Sam participated in.)
It order to keep the place from turning into complete chaos they gave out free tickets the day before the show, something we found out when we arrived at the show. So there we are standing outside watching the opening DJ on a screen out on the street in front of the building and then Nação comes on stage. The whole time I am fuming about watching them on TV and trying to find some way to get in, someone with extra tickets, etc. Just as they start their first song a girl with an envelope runs by and a ticket falls out. She turned and ran back to get the ticket and then as she spun around to leave 6 more tickets flew out of the envelope. It took me about one beat to start moving and grab a ticket off the ground. My group of friends all got one and then we stood there for awhile waiting for her to come back. She didn't. AND WE GOT IN!
It was amazing--like seeing them in a small club or a private party. It wasn't crowded, we were really close to the front without touching other sweaty people, and the sound was amazing. I didn't think it would ever be possible to see a show like this with so few people, especially in Recife, and I am sure that there will never be another chance to see them like this again. Chico Science and Nação Zumbi were one of the first Brazilian bands I got into when I was here in 1999 (right after Chico died), along with Marcelo D2, Rappa, Lenine, etc, so it has been amazing to finally see them in concert. I almost saw Lenine last week, but we got there a little late, but Carnival is coming and the chance to see amazing music will be around for the next two months!
Tonight they are playing another free show at Marco Zero for about 20,000 people. I won't be going...
So, we made a decision. We are staying.


Absent blogger

It is hard to come back. It is hard to write something after you haven't written in ages. What is there to say? I feel as though I should be bringing back profound insights from my hiatus as a blogger, but I did not. I think blogging is not for me. I often want to write about something and then second guess myself into not doing it--no one is interested, too personal, boring, poorly written, the excuses are bountiful, and of course there is sitting at the computer long enough to blog but not to do all of the other things I should be doing.

We are in another phase of "Should I stay or should I go." Annoying isn't it? It is almost a joke every time we start the discussion because we know that there is no answer and no conclusion to come to. After returning to the US for a few weeks I came back with a definite answer--LEAVE, but it was at this moment that Sam had been thinking STAY, so we convinced each other right back into the middle. I have not felt so directionless in a long time and this is not only in regards to staying or leaving but everything that goes with it--building a life somewhere and making the choices that will close doors that I am not sure I want closed. On top of this, I spent the last week in bed with a nasty stomach infection, with plenty of time to get depressed and measure out all of my shortcomings and what I have not accomplished with my time here.

And as proof of my bad blogging I want to delete everything I just wrote for being too whiny, pathetic, and uninteresting, but I am going to keep it.


Mutirão Dois Irmãos

This was the BEST Mutirão EVER! I am not the only one to say this. There are a couple of factors that have lead to this conclusion.

First of all, we were in the most amazing community. I have always liked the area, even though I have not spent very much time there. We have done two hikes in the forest near there right next to the zoo that is part of the only piece of Atlantic forest left in Recife and every time I go to the university I ride past it in the bus. I have been staring wistfully at this neighborhood from afar, and I finally got a chance to check it out up close.

We rode bikes (about a 45 minutes -1 hr ride) to get there which was an experience. I wasn't sure how the ride would be because I normally travel it by bus, but it was a really calm Sunday morning. We got there and found everyone hanging out in a central area by the soccer field (imagine that!). Most of the houses in the community are tucked into the Atlantic forest up on hills and the entire area is amazingly green and peaceful. The group from the Rede in that community recently took over an old police station so the big mission was to paint it and make it welcoming for the community. We went over there, but most of the space was already taken, so Sam and I ended up painting on the soccer field. We painted the proverb, "a bird in the hand is worth two flying." That is the Portuguese version--in the air versus stuck in a bush. Ha! There is actually some interesting political commentary that could come from that.

After painting, we went to Poeta's house and then he took us for a hike to Blanca Diaz' house in the Atlantic forest. We had been there before on the zoo hikes, but it is always spectacular. The legend is that the house belonged to Blanca Diaz (I think that is the right name). Her family was one of the original Jewish settlers in Recife escaping the inquisition (FYI: Recife has the first Jewish Synagogue in the Americas, the Jews from Recife were responsible for settling New York). When the Dutch controlled Recife, the Jews were free to practice their religion, but when the Portuguese took over they were forced to leave (hence the migration to NY). She was one of the few people tried in Brazil for witchcraft during the inquisition. As the story goes, she was burned for being a witch (I think that she was sent to Europe for that) because she was using medicinal herbs and treating the local people. I am sorry that the story is fuzzy, but no one who has told it really has had good details.

We spent the rest of the day playing in the forest and hanging out with the community near the soccer field. I think we were the last to leave! That is probably a first.

If I were to buy a house in Recife, it would be in Dois Irmãos.


Mutirão Arruda

I got what I deserved. I have been saying over and over that we need to organize the kids at the Mutirão so that they have something to paint and it becomes a more positive experience for the community. I was not aware that I would be the one "in charge." I was given about 6 rollers, some white latex paint, and a couple mostly empty bottles of pigment.
If you have brushes, cans, or rollers they will come.
It actually turned out great, but I did have a couple of moments of desperation. Sharing is not so easy when you only have one paintbrush and some paint. Who wants to share a brush? Plus, in the communities, everyone is fighting so hard to get anything they aren't going to give it up easily. Sometimes Sam brings stickers to the Mutirão and within seconds, they are gone. The kids don't care what it is; they just see someone giving something away and then they WANT IT. This is not specific to the communities, this is human nature, but the level of urgency seems different. I should also add that I do not have a lot of experience dealing with kids. I mostly work with the adolescent state of mind these days.

The kids did a great job and came up with a theme "Paz e Amor Na Comunidade" Peace and love in the community. Almost immediately after they came up with the theme, two kids covered another one in paint and almost got into blows over the roller. Enough said.
This is part of the reason I wanted to organize a way for the kids to paint. They get so wound up during the mutirão. All the new people, activity in the street (that isn't pagode), and painting on the walls. Here lies the difficulty. Spray paint is really expensive, and every time the kids get a hold of the materials we never see them again. There is not enough opportunity for everyone to paint so the kids get really frustrated.
We painted a little after the kids finished, but I was ready to head home after that. Sam painted an amazing Lampião (Northeastern folk hero) and we painted a graffiti garden. The garden was simple but fun. We were painting inside someone's wall and there was a birthday party going on, so I had some cake, met some nice people, and painted graffiti on their house. I have a strong feeling that this will not be happening when we go back to NM.


Critical Media Literacy in Brazil

As an English teacher teaching abroad I have had to come to terms with my role as an agent for cultural imperialism The role of English in globalization, commerce, technology transfer, and the economy have made it the world’s second language—often with consequences for other culture’s first. If you are a native English speaker working abroad you have thought about your role in this system, or you are not paying attention.

I have found critical media literacy to be a way to work in this system and justify my work. Everyday here in Brazil I am astounded by the influence of English on people’s everyday lives. In the Brazil Reader (Levine & Crocitti, eds.), Roger Allen takes us on a journey through a typical American shopping mall where all of the ads are in German, the store names are in German, the movies are in German, you can only hear German pop songs on the radio, and all middle class students take German classes after school. Place this scene in Brazil and change the language to English. My students voraciously consume American TV series—they all watch Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, and what they can’t get on TV they download and watch on the Internet. They listen to the same American pop songs and can tell you everything about most American star’s lives. I challenge you to name one Brazilian actor.

The romance with all that is foreign has deep roots in Brazil. Nationalistic dictators essentially closed the country to foreign competition to support the national economy—creating the cult of “everything that is foreign is better.” There is still extremely heavy taxation of imported goods. Foreign = expensive = better. It is in this climate that American media thrives.

As an English teacher, it is great to have so much “real material” available to use in the classroom. When I ask them why they are studying English at the beginning of the year, they all repeat one after another, “For my future. So that I can get a job.” They might be thinking, “’cause my mom makes me,” but they know the right key phrases to tell the teacher. I am not sure where they are being programmed, but it has worked.

Tied in with this idea is the idea of learning English so that they can leave Brazil. There is a general feeling of hopelessness about the state of Brazil. More than once I have heard it called a small scale civil war. That is not an exaggeration. There are on average 38,000 people killed by firearms a year in Brazil—the highest rate in the world (or a close second depending on the year). On average these are poor people killing each other at an alarming rate, with desperation murders of the rich on occasion.

It is in this environment that I am attempting to teach a critical perspective of the role media plays in our society. Brazilian media violence makes the US look like Canada. You have to numb yourself just to leave your house after watching the news. I decided not to get a TV (to the detriment of my Portuguese) partially because I don’t know if I could leave my house after an evening of news. I have the strength to go about my daily life mostly out of blissful ignorance--An acknowledgement of my susceptibility to media messages.

My students are media-savvy. They understand the power of media to make them buy and desire things—they all have an Ipod or want one, but that does not change their ability to be influenced, and they admit that. They are critical of the role the US plays in the world, but they consume its cultural products without blinking an eye.

I teach them to play with media—to adbust, to see how media is made, to make their own movies, and while I do this work with the techno-savvy middle class, I am giving workshops about how communication works, communication as a human right, and empowering people to become communicators in the community. Being a passive media receptor is the norm when you have no access to media—except the talking box that is on all day long in every house. There are more televisions than refrigerators in Brazilian houses. Moving from receptor to creator is a giant leap, and when you get the opportunity to make media, what kind of media do you make? Do you replicate what you have seen? Do you look at something with a new eye? People that work in the free radio and community radio movement have noticed that as soon as people get on the radio their voices change and they immediately put on an accent from Southern Brazil—the accent they hear everyday on the radio and television. They only time you hear an accent from Northeastern Brazil in the media is coming out of the (normally southern) actor playing the maid.

This was supposed to be the introduction to an article on teaching critical media literacy in the EFL classroom. Somewhere in there I have to add Freire, a lot of references, and what all of this means in the classroom. For now I think that I will put it on my blog and keep thinking.


Mutirão Agua Fria

This mutirão was not as amazing as the last one, but we had a chance to paint, hang out with some cool kids, and spend the day in a different community.

Sam painted the hands and some of the “stuff” coming out of the pointed finger. He also generally helped and fixed a lot of my part as well. See the completed image below.

I painted what has become my standard “pods and eyes” coming from the fist. The black is all spray paint! I finally put down the brush and emptied a can of black. Yeah! Now I just want more...

I have been drawing a lot of bird-like figures lately, but I haven’t tried to paint them on a wall yet. Sam made some new caps that should spray a finer line; we just have to figure out how to use them! I think I am going to start practicing using white on our wall. It will be easier to paint over when we leave.

This is the finished piece. A couple of people did the "futebol" goal and goalie in the middle.

My new idea is to try painting proverbs on the walls that work in English and Portuguese. I am thinking about starting with “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
We’ll see how that goes. I have been thinking about how to paint, “what the eyes don’t see the heart doesn’t feel.” Any ideas? I like the idea of giving people something to think about. Of course, that will depend on the execution.
I think we will miss the next mutirão so we will have to go paint on our own. There are tons of places to paint; it is just a matter of getting a crew together and doing it.

Check out some of the amazing Brazilian graffiti on Flickr. Almost all of it is Sao Paulo/Rio, but you can check out our page to see what is happening in Recife/Northeast Brazil. I think there are only 16 photos of Recife in the Flickr pool...no comment about that.
Graffiti Brasil Pool on Flickr
Our photo page (minus a lot of images of people)

I have been thinking a lot about showing images on the Internet. We took most of the pictures of people off our page and made them available to friends and family only. If you want an invitation let us know. Media has changed so quickly and there are many questions about who has the right to take and show pictures of other people. Before, you took a picture and showed your friends, stuck it in a photo album, etc. Now you take a picture and put it on the Internet for anyone to see and do whatever they want with. I have been thinking about how I use pictures from the Internet (class work, projects, etc.) and giving other people access to my image and images of people who did not make the decision to put their picture on the Internet (especially kids). Anyway, something I have been thinking about.

"If the parents leave, who will take care of the house?"


America's Next Top Model & Violence Against Women

Listed below is a link to some of the photos on the crime scene show and the judges inane comments. It is unbelievable to read "she doesn't look dead enough," or "she is supposed to be beheaded and she looks like she is taking a nap." I guess we have to decide where we draw the line. I don't have all of the statistics to spout off, but I do know that here in Pernambuco in the first 24 days of 2006 30 women were killed. I think that in 2007 the statistics are similar.

30 women in 24 days.

This has really been on my mind lately because it is a big part of the media reform movement here. The media's use of women to buy/sell/exploit has been on the radar for awhile now, and yet little has changed. It isn't a beer ad unless a semi-naked women is holding the bottle. Women are products. It seems that the media industry commits so many crimes against women that Top Model's "crime scene" photos unveil the real agenda.

They will depict women in any way that is profitable to them.

It also seems like just one more crime the beauty industry commits against women. This is not a place where women are celebrated. They are scrutinized, demeaned, told they are too old, not thin enough, not pretty enough, etc. just to sell more products. Top Model sells at least one new product an episode through its format. I am sure that this is just another publicity stunt for the show in which media people and feminists get upset, and the majority of the desensitized public sits back thinking, "what's the big deal?"

I guess that is the question. What is the big deal?
The big deal is that it makes violence against women appear beautiful and acceptable
The big deal is that if a picture is worth 1,000 words, what did we just learn?
The big deal is that it is another media depiction of violence that makes the real thing "normal"
The big deal is that violence against women is real, and this is fashion mocking the reality of so many
The big deal is that right now thousands of women die everyday around the world from preventable violence while shows like Top Model tell the models that they don't look "dead enough"
The big deal is that how many women have died in Iraq? Where are their pictures? Where is "blown up by cluster bombs" crime scene photo? Or is that not pretty enough?

Write to the CW network (CW is a CBS company) and tell them what you think: feedback@CWTV.com

NOW's page on Violence against women
Crime Scene photos with judges commentary


Another blog snatch...

Blog Snatching

Reading other blogs you always run across some cool stuff. I did this awhile ago and now I don't remember where I got it...

Pretty pathetic huh? I obviously have some traveling to do. Hopefully we will get over to Africa soon to visit friends and then something has to be done about Asia...that one tiny red country doesn't seem like enough.

I grabbed this off of someone else's blog (http://parisparfait.typepad.com/)
I think it is hilarious...


I have been wanting to write, but I also feel that I have very little to say. I guess no one reads this blog (except you Ali) so it is really like writing for myself. I guess I am also a little afraid of sounding as whiny as I feel. I am stuck. I want to do so many things, and yet everyday the routine continues. The routine is okay, but something about being here really makes me want to do MORE. It feels like everyday opportunities are slipping by, and I don't have that much to show for my time here.

I think part of it is teaching. I feel like teaching sucks your soul. First of all, you are always working. I am either teaching, planning to teach, or correcting what I have taught, repeat. Second, it is emotional and makes you feel vulnerable. It is amazing what a group of whispering teenagers can do to my self-esteem. A bad class throws me for a couple of days. I am getting better at letting go, but the feeling of having taught a bad class sucks. I seem to have a lot of those. Third, you are constantly giving much more of your energy than you receive in return. At this point I have been doing this for awhile, and yet I do not feel like I am getting any better.

What to do? I have been contemplating auditing a class at the university, signing up for a gym ($$$), taking some kind of art class, doing art on my own, trying to get my research started, etc. I have yet to do any of it. My community media literacy project is dragging along, but we haven't really done much. Hopefully we will finally finish our first workshop CD so that we can move on to the next one.

Alright, enough whining for now. Tomorrow is the next mutirao and I am going to attempt to use mostly spray paint. Could be a disaster. Last night we went to Olinda and danced to forro and coco at Xim Xim da Baiana--very fun. We are also going to Petrolina for 3 days over Easter. I am really excited to see another town in the interior of the state. So, some things are looking up!


Saramandaia Mutirão

The last Mutirão de Graffiti was the best we have been to so far. It was in Saramandaia, a favela in Arruda/Campo Grande. It is the favela where the guys who robbed our friend live. We went over to their house and drank coffee for a couple of hours waiting for everyone to get organized and then walked over the bridge to Saramandaia. It is always an interesting moment when you enter the favela. It is obvious that we are not from there and people STARE. It didn't help that the foreigner to Brazilian ratio was 5:4 that day. We wandered through the maze of houses and mud asking for directions along the way until we reached one of the highest points in the favela. They already had the turntables and microphones set up and were engaging the community in a dialogue about why they were there and the issues specific to that community. We were standing on the side in a narrow path when out of the corner of my eye a machine gun barrel appeared over my shoulder. I pulled the 2 other foreigners visiting out of the way as the police made their presence known.

There were two of them that crept slowly into the plaza guns drawn and fingers on the trigger. My heart started pounding as I tried to position myself behind the wall while keeping an eye on the situation. They crept around and put some guys up against the wall, searched them, and then crept off in a different direction. It was amazing how slowly they were moving--like a top secret spy mission in the middle of a group of people freestyling and playing music. It probably didn't help that the guys freestyling started talking about the situation while making siren noises. Apparently they came back later in the day and lined everybody up against the wall and searched them. This led to a dialogue about police presence in the communities and how any gathering of people has a negative connotation. Everybody was unfazed by the show of force and the day continued on.

We all broke up to find walls to paint on. The walls in most of the communities are not smooth. You are lucky if you get rough concrete that sucks up paint, rotten wooden boards, and if you are really lucky a smooth metal surface. I never am quick (or aggressive) enough to get a good wall. I ended up painting on someone's house/store with a friend from Ilha de Deus.

I would love to say that I painted this by myself, but it was really a combination of me, a friend, and Sam. I end up painting with brushes and some spray paint--I really have to learn to use spray better.

Sam has gotten really good. He painted the guy below and the crab. Everyone loves the stuff he paints. He painted the crab so quickly--I turned around and there it was.

This was such a good mutirão because there was so much going on. The DJ played music all afternoon, there was a dance presentation from a group in the community (photo), rosas urbanas and nacao break did a break dancing presentation, there was a roda de capoeira, and at the end of the night canal capibaribe (community tv station) played videos on the wall of the dance school. There was a very strong community presence and dialogue--exactly what the mutirão should be. Too bad it only happens once a month!


Voltei Recife

Voltei, Recife
Foi a saudade
Que me trouxe pelo braço
Quero ver novamente "Vassoura"
Na rua abafando
Tomar umas e outras
E cair no passo
Cadê "Toureiros"?
Cadê "Bola de Ouro"?
As "pás", os "lenhadores"
O "Bloco Batutas de São José"?
Quero sentir
A embriaguês do frevo
Que entra na cabeça
Depois toma o corpo
E acaba no pé

After an amazing month in New Mexico I was trepidacious about my return to Brazil. My first couple of days here did nothing to ease that feeling and left me ready to book a return ticket for the next week. Our house/dog sitter had to deal with a couple of incidents that she told me about after my 30 hour journey. Sleep deprived I didn't take it so well. Luckily I got some sleep and some perspective before I booked that flight. It didn't help to pull up to my house and find the big wall at the entrance of our street cut down. It felt like my little oasis had been exposed and destroyed. The one place that is my sanctuary in the craziness.

After talking to the neighbors I am okay with it now. They are turning the house at the end of the street into a commercial space that will hopefully not bring too much traffic and more security.

I actually feel better about being here than I did last year. Maybe it is because the pressure of "Fulbright" is off and I can just do what I want to do (and am required to do by work). The city doesn't feel so intimidating, I feel positive about my projects, and I actually run into people I know on the streets! Nothing like seeing someone you know to validate your feelings of belonging. I am becoming very fond of Recife--there is so much going on here and so much to learn, I just have to get out of my house. Last year when I showed up right before carnival, it felt overwhelming and confusing (not to mention the whole ordeal with the airport and the dogs...). This year was wonderful. We went out with the "bloco" of my adopted family here "eu acho e pouco" in Olinda, danced to samba rock and hip hop all night, went to the "Tambores Silenciosos" at the Polo Afro, and of course danced frevo. All with the carnival cold. I got it last year too. I think we might have to stay another year so I can go to carnival just once without being sick. It definitely led to "Carnival lite" for me. Instead of going all day and all night, we limited it to "most of every night." We took a disposable camera (I learned from last year...) so hopefully we will get some pictures. Carnival is not an easily photographed event. I think I just have to accept that.

Ahhh Recife, de novo