Author Archives: linn108

Blonde Revolution

Isn’t it peculiar how you never really appreciate a place and its people until it’s time to say farewell? It’s been a tearful morning as I left Bragança for the last time, and who knows if I can come back? Aurimar’s father came to breakfast with a gloomy air I never had seen on him before, and he explained to me that he was very sad that I was leaving. IMG_5194His wife was equally upset but managed to put a smile on her face for the family photo I had asked for. Even the bird fell silent. The only one that seemed herself was Chrissie, energetically wagging her tail and nipping my fingers.IMG_5198

Aurimar helped carry Diego’s cello to the bus that would take me to Tracuateua, and the silence said it all. Me, the ice queen, who discreetly wiped my tears away, and he, the latino, who unsuccessfully tried not to cry, his lips shivering and eyes that welled up. Getting off the bus he exclaimed, “God loves you – I love you!” I swallowed the lump in my throat and tried to think happy thoughts. AMA Institute has been closed for over a week now, as Aurimar hasn’t been able to pay for it’s only music teacher. We have been going through a lot during the past three months, Aurimar and me – there’s been a lot of confusion and frustration, as well as plenty of absurd moments and laughter, and I freely admit I will miss him and his sometimes surreal household.

Diego had told me that my presence here would be important, but I never understood why. He kept saying I was going to bring a Blonde Revolution to the Amazon. Thinking back, what have I achieved?

Well, first of all – Chrissie. After reading one of my posts Aurimar promptly went out and bought a bright pink leash for her, and the following day we went for our first walk. She had no clue what to do at first, bless her, and nervously looked up to me for some kind of guidance. “You know, pee in the grass and sniff around for handsome males…?”, I suggested.

Then there’s the time-keeping. The Pastor and I had a “moment” after I had been left waiting for him to pick me up, for half an hour, despite the fact that I had called him three times and he only lives one minute away. He was so taken by my indignation that henceforth he always made sure to arrive early. Success.

Aurimar proudly announced that from now on he will eat more vegetarian food, thanks to me. He even went so far as to urge me to raise his son, but I graciously declined, considering I was sitting next to his wife.

We haven’t had enough time to build up the youth orchestras yet, but I hope I have grown a seed of classical music, through the Christmas Tour I did with Diego and Professora Lenita; and through my teaching. I have brought the violin method I used in London, which is infinitely more attractive and fun than the one they had been using until now. I started teaching in smaller groups of two or three students, and some individually, instead of the whole class teaching that was the norm before, even though the level of playing varied a lot. Yesterday, at my last group class, I was given a small angel, playing the violin, as a farewell gift from one of my students. They, too, seemed sad that I was leaving. My top student asked me to bring a violin concerto for him next time I come. I just hope I can return to fulfill my mission.

Categories: February 2013 | Leave a comment


Karina, Aurimar’s wife, is expecting. Not that her employers know – last time she was pregnant she got fired. She told me new mothers only stay home for three months, and then have to return to work. Considering a baby needs to breast-feed far longer than that, I find it surprising. All of a sudden I have a newfound appreciation for Sweden.

It gives a weird impression of being on a film-set, this tendency of only painting the front of houses. Sure, the first thing you notice can be pretty impressive, but as soon as you turn a corner, there it is – the ugly grey concrete. Churches in particular have specialized in this kind of aesthetics. I assume it’s a financial matter, as is the habit of painting the name of your shop/restaurant/hairdresser in a swirling font over the entrance, instead of a proper sign.

We found ourselves in a chapel between meetings, and Aurimar instantly got a choral inspiration, spontaneously composing a song containing only three words: “Linn is here!” In fact, the mood persisted and for the rest of the day he would only reply to you with an elaborate aria. Talking of singing, his bird (the poor thing) sometimes looses his voice, ending his phrases in falsetto, as if being fed up with life.

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So I turned 32 in the bed of a woman I only met the night before. (No, it’s not what you think.) Her name is Nena and she belongs to the ribeirinhos (“river people”) that lives on the Combu Island, half an hour boat journey from Belém. Her house was full as her other daughter was visiting with her family, hence we all had to share beds. ImageShe lives just by the river, and makes a living by selling chocolate at the organic market in Belém. The cocoa tree grows all around her house, and she prepares everything by hand, before folding the ready product in cocoa leaves and securing it with straws. Her husband died more than a year ago from snakebite, and now she lives with her youngest daughter that is studying to become a nurse. Yesterday I had a chance to help her prepare açai, so loved and revered in this country. It’s called a berry even though it grows high up in a tree. It is very hard and only the skin is used to make the açai juice. Later she filled baskets with packets of cocoa that she would use as traps for shrimps, securing them with ropes along the river.Image

Apparently there’s a lot of leprosy in the area, and there has been attempts to organise information events, but few turn up. You realise how important it is with education. As my friend Rielke observed: in Europe we learn a lot about the importance of preserving the rain forest, we’re pretty good at recycling and environmental thinking, but when you arrive here there’s trash everywhere, and people simply burn up their garbage as there´s no collection of it. Engines and waste pollute the river, and even here, in the middle of the jungle people are haunted by the sound pollution, this time loud speakers on boats instead of cars.

ImageThere’s no public transport to Belém, you simply have to wait for a boat to pass by and ask for a lift. The harbour is a very unsafe area, Nena´s daughter have been robbed seven times already. With some cautionary advice still ringing in my ears I disembarked, all the values I could fit inside my bra. There is a lot of crimes and violence here; only recently armed men robbed the Pastor´s nephew of his new motorcycle in broad daylight. Most houses have electric fences, and it’s unwise to go out after dark, especially if you’re blonde. There are also the small things, like the lights decorating the church in Augusto Corrêa, where the bulbs have been stolen. A church, for God’s (sorry…) sake!

At the same time, the Brazilians really have a zest for life; during my stay here there has been innumerable parties and celebrations.

ImagePeople are so warm and welcoming and it’s clear that there aren’t a lot of foreigners coming here – Diego once noted, “It seems like they want to adopt you”. Maybe that would get me a VISA? I discussed my situation with the Padre and Deacon in Tracuateua and both of them agreed the best would be to fake a marriage. That or get pregnant (which apparently let´s you stay longer). Hmmm… Coming from the Catholic Church, I don’t really know what to think.

Categories: February 2013 | Leave a comment

The Help

It was something that struck me as soon as I came to Brazil. In every single home I’ve been to there has been a maid that cooks and cleans. Some of them live with the families they work for, and others have families of their own. The Pastor´s maid, Cecilia, seems to be made of strong stuff. Not only does she work six days a week for the family, on Sundays she gets up at 5am to cook soup and make tapioca (a delicious pancake-like dough that you can fill with all sorts of things), to sell on the beach. Who am I to complain about my workload?

It is so common to have someone working in your home that I am met with disbelief when I tell people that it’s not that common in Sweden or England. “In Sweden only very rich people can afford to have staff working for them. Besides, in my socialistic country it’s considered a little bit strange if you cannot manage your household by yourself.”

Yesterday I saw a bit of a documentary about the lives of Swedish politicians, that was censored (!) in Portugal, but has become viral among Brazilians on the internet. The film shows the (rather small) apartments the politicians are provided with, in which they live in during the week, while working in Stockholm. It follows one politician to the communal kitchen (complete with a “Clean up after yourself!”–sign) and the launderette, where the reporter devoutly announces that THEY CLEAN THEIR OWN CLOTHES! I’ve explained to the people I’ve met here, that no, Swedish politicians are not corrupt (as far as I know anyway), they don’t live in palaces, and they don’t earn millions. As I mentioned in a previous post, there’s been a lot of political intrigue in and around Bragança lately. The former mayor of Augusto Corrêa, ran off with 68 million Reais (about 20 million euros). There seems to be a lot of nepotism going on, and Aurimar claimed that many local politicians cannot even read or write. “Clown politicians!” he huffed, “They´re all open for bribes.”

In some ways Brazil is like Europe fifty or even hundred years ago. Not only the maids, but also the habit of addressing each other with titles. Here it’s very common to call each other Senhor/a, Professor/a (to a teacher), Doutor/a (doctor) etc. I have not been exempt from the rule – my students call me Senhora and Professora, which is rather nice, even though I cannot really get used to it.

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Opinions of A Grumpy Old Spinster

They blame it on the military regime 40 years ago, but I still don’t understand why Brazilian children only go to school for four hours a day. With that much spare time, it’s asking for trouble, if you ask me (which, of course, no one is). Unsurprisingly, I have yet to find a kid that wants to spend more time in the classroom. Since there’s not the same hysteria here around extra-curricular activities, as in Europe, the Brazilian children and teenagers are pretty much left to their own devices. Which might explain the alarming teenage pregnancy rates.

A lot of Brazilian girls and women dress for success (in bed, that is). A favourite item among them all is the teeny tiny jeans shorts that leave nothing to the imagination. The other day I spotted a girl, not more than 11 years, wobbling around, Bambi-like, in her high heels, bare legs up to the crotch and a tight top. I felt just as much the grumpy old spinster (in comfortable flat walking shoes) that I am. I think it’s time for some shopping.

Categories: February 2013 | Leave a comment

Bad Karma

It must be my karma, why else would I be locked out, not once, not twice, but THREE times in as many days? I must have done something terribly bad to a key in a previous life.(Maybe I was a locksmith?) After three gruesome hours last night the Padre finally arrived back home to let me in to the Paroquia. By then I had already taken a tour to the square where all the Tracuateuans were hanging out. Violin on back and a cabin bag rolling after me, I looked like I was searching for my flight. I found out that there were no more buses back to Bragança (plan A down the toilet) and was kindly directed to a lonely and dark backstreet where I would find a taxi outside a Padaria (bakery). Suspecting I had been conned into a trap I half-heartedly followed the directions, and told a group of random men at the end that I needed a taxi. They told me there wouldn’t be one until a few hours time, unclear why. (Plan B flushed down as well – sploosh!) However, they continued, I would be very welcome on a mototaxi (yes, you guessed it – a motorcycle). I stared at them in disbelief. Hadn’t they noticed my violin case AND my ready-to-fly-bag? “No probs, just put the bag in front of you!” Er… Considering it’s 20 km to Bragança and that I would have to pay 20 Reais (about £7) I decided it probably would be wiser to just stay put. So I returned to the square and orderd a Guarana, a very tasty milkshake with banana, walnuts and guarana fruit. Guarana is high in caffeine and is sometimes referred to as the Brazilian aphrodisiac.

So. Today I returned to Bragança just to find a locked door and no one at home at Aurimar’s. I could not believe it. And he didn’t answer his phone. Great. It turned out he had gone to the beach and couldn’t get a taxi back. Thankfully I was rescued by two friends who took me to watch a bit of the Carnival that started this weekend. A lot of men in bra’s and wigs, as well as foam spraying and flour throwing (no, I don’t know why). I was given 6 condoms for free (I must have looked like I desperately needed to get laid) that was generously distributed on the street.

Carnival is apparently the time to fool around – I was told that it’s very common for married couples to have an agreement of mutual infidelity during these four days of the year. An acquaintance of mine told me how one girl had had sex with ten different men that were hanging out in a corridor during the Rio Carnival, and (unsurprisingly) got pregnant. The father turned out to be the son of my acquaintance. This is in no way an unusual story either. As Diego pointed out – this is a very religious country, but that seems to also bring out the opposite – the “forbidden” and lustful. A country that loves its parties, for sure!

Categories: February 2013 | 1 Comment

Elf & Safety

I think the padlocks say a lot about the difference between Europe and South America. Having lived for a number of years in London where Health and Safety has reached a point of absurdum, I should know. I lived and worked for two years in a boarding school in north London, where the kids weren’t allowed to cook, because of the “dangers” it brought, or even to have decorative lights in their rooms, because of the fire hazard. No wonder they left without essential knowledge about life.

And so Brazil. Where tiny babies happily are travelling with two or three adults on a motorbike, all without helmet of course, at a worrying speed (and to compare that to European parents that refuse to put their child in a car unless there’s a child seat for them); where there very often are no proper pavements (or where there are, they are occupied by various shops and fast food trolleys), forcing the pedestrians out on the street.

I once discussed the padlocks on everyman’s door with a friend in Bragança. She said that it is necessary to lock oneself in properly, as there’s a high risk of break-ins (which of course is true in many places in Europe), and when I asked what would happen in the event of a fire she just looked at me blankly. What if you cannot find the key? (Which is very often the case in Aurimar’s house.)  It had never occurred to her that it might be a danger for oneself not to be able to get out. I’m also thinking about the club fire the other week in south Brazil, where more than 300 people died as all the doors were closed to avoid people getting in without paying. Also, all the windows have steel bars in front of them, for the very same reasons. So if you’re caught in a fire you’re pretty much toast (no pun intended…).

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Why (oh WHY!?) did I forget that stupid key? I’m currently locked out of the parish house in Tracuateua where I’m staying for a few days, teaching. Either I’m burnt out, has a dawning dementia or am just plain stupid (I’m voting for that last one) – I left the house this morning without even considering that someone might not be here to receive me later. And since my phone doesn’t have reception here I could be stuck here all night for all I know. Oh dear God. The mosquitos has already starting to feast on my poor bare legs, so if you don’t here from me again you know why. And I need the toilet. Merda.

Categories: February 2013 | Leave a comment



“No, her name is not Barbie, it’s Linn.” my colleague patiently explained to the (somewhat disappointed) girls that I was about to teach. It’s not the first time I’ve been mistaken for a plastic doll, and I’ve got used to all the comments about my hair- and eyecolour. This week I taught for a few days at Fundaçao Amazônica de Música, a free music school in the center of Belém, and founded by the pianist Gloria Caputo. The students are very good, and could easily compete with similar schools in Europe. What differs the children here from the ones I’m used to, is the often complete lack of shyness, an openness and curiosity that is extremely endearing. “Tia!” (“Auntie!”) they shriek when they see me, before attacking me with a group hug that threatens my upright position.

I’m writing this in a taxi that is taking me from Belém to Tracuateua, and apart from two elderly women I have an 8-year-old Lukas beside me, swept in one of my cardigans, his head resting on my shoulder. He’s making the three-hour journey by himself and I’ve just showed him all the animal pictures I have on my computer to entertain him. Not much has changed since I was a kid, he’s playing the same Super Mario that I did at his age. He just asked me if I’ve dyed my hair blonde.

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Diego’s Dream

It all started with a dream. Diego had just started playing the cello at the age of 12, and one night got a strong message while sleeping – “you are more than just a musician, you shall help many people through your art.” Fourteen years later AmaZonArt was born.

377284_142652702503237_1091593548_nIf you’ve never met Diego, you might feel overwhelmed by his mere presence. His charisma leaves you defenceless and rare is the person that does not fall for his charm within ten minutes, or less. He has a scarily accurate sixth sense and I often get the feeling that he’s obsessed – ideas of new projects, new collaborations, never stop popping up. This applies to music as well; several times he has barged into my room while I have been playing the violin; agitatedly pointing out that I’m wasting my time with the way I am practising. (He’s right, of course, but old habits die hard.)

Unfortunately this overflow of creativity and inspiration threatens to drown itself out, as there never seems to be enough time to realise them all. Somehow that’s where my work comes in. Not only do I teach the violin (and English, to whoever happens to be interested), but (apparently) I’m also the temporary director of AMA Institute, I’m working on the website, publicising concerts, performing them, fundraising, planning future projects, participating in documentaries, co-ordinating other volunteers, meeting with politicians, writing a blog…  And when everything just was about to settle I am told by the Federal Police that I cannot renew my VISA as I had planned, as the law just changed for Schengen citizens. My flight back to grey old Europe departs in less than two weeks. Any Brazilians out there looking for a Scandinavian wife?

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Professora Lenita

What a woman! Professora Helena Maia (or Lenita, as she affectionately is called), was Diego’s first music teacher and still is his duo partner. In her late seventies, but with the mind of a teenager, her hair a fiery red and with eyes that sparkle with passion, she is oozing with vitality. Embracing everyone she meets with her infinite warmth, she has the rare capability of really seeing you.IMG_5310

Lenita has kindly provided me with a home for the last week, and I’ve decided I never want to leave. Telling her how much I like staying here she brought me to tears when she responded that she hoped I could see her as a mother, that she is fond of me and that she understands the difficulties of coming to a foreign country.

Born into a well-renowned musical family, and married to the former Minister of Culture, she has been a legendary concert pianist and teacher all her life, and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of her stopping yet – next week she is going to start teaching for AmaZonArt in Tracuateua, a staggering 3,5 hours drive from Belém, where she lives with her husband (who is suffering from Alzheimer and needs care 24/7) and her youngest daughter, who has a slight learning disability.

Is it possible to adopt a grandmother?

Categories: February 2013 | Leave a comment

The Garbage Children

8219b8_e546b0ea412147b23292205ee3339ef2.jpg_srz_427_307_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzWhen I first came to Bragança I didn’t think it looked particularly poor, but on my second visit Aurimar showed me some pictures of a project he did at a waste dump not far from the city center. Around it resides around 100 families that lives off the garbage.  They find their food there and look for things they can sell. He took some students from the AMA Institute to introduce the children to music, and a few of them became regular pupils.

He showed me a picture of a very pretty girl, about 8 years, that he told me were playing the 8219b8_6667893eb5678e3b7392c703a1f0b82e.jpg_srz_406_268_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzviolin for a year or so, at AMA, until the family moved. She now works as a child prostitute in a neighbouring city. Another picture showed a girl at the same age with tangled hair and a puffed belly that showed signs of starvation. She is now dead.

Categories: February 2013 | Leave a comment

A Christmas to remember

This Christmas was the most unusual I’ve ever experienced, for sure. Every year around this time there is a ten-day religious dance festival in Bragança, in honour of São Benedito, the only black saint in the Catholic Church, and the protector of slaves, from whom most Bragantians descend. It culminates on Boxing Day (São Benedito day), with a huge procession through the city, carrying a statue of the saint, holding Baby Jesus, bringing it to the São Benedito church. The women are beautifully dressed in elaborately ornamented hats and red skirts on Christmas Day (symbolizing the blood of the slaves), and blue skirts on Boxing Day. The men are all very handsome in white. Around midnight on Boxing Day they perform a complicated ritual in order to enter the church, where they will attend a mass.images

I did try to join the dance, that’s accompanied by the rabeca, a few days before, but were gently advised that bare shoulders were not appropriate. Ack! It looked so fun! And what was so charming was the mixing of young and old. More often than not, a young boy of 10 or 12 years would gracefully lead a more mature woman on the dance floor.

destaque-165211-marujadaOn Christmas Day, I wrongly assumed there would be some kind of family celebration in the Aurimar household. Instead he went to twelve different houses to visit his friends, according to tradition. In the evening I joined a carnival parade, celebrating the state bird of Pará, the Guará. A beautiful princess skipping around in impressively high heels, and a hunter with a big rifle, led the procession. Someone explained why they were there, but I have forgotten now. It was accompanied by a big truck with a model of the red bird and a lot of loud music that swiftly was turned off every time we passed a church or hospital.

Categories: February 2013 | Leave a comment

And now over to the weather…

Aurimar found it very difficult to comprehend how -10°C actually feels like (I was telling him about the current weather in Sweden), and with the lack of other reference point promptly put his head into the freezer, in order to get a sense of that temperature.

He refused to believe me when I said that a few years ago we had -27°C, and that I didn’t go out for four days, as there really was no point in doing so, as it was very difficult to breathe (or move your face for that matter) for all the icicles in your nose.

Another friend of mine told me about the time she went to Europe and it was a chilling (plus!) 17°C degrees, and how difficult it was to get out of bed. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that that’s what we call summer in Sweden.

Ps. I have just found out that Belém (the state capital of Pará where I work, and where Diego lives) is the wettest city on earth. That explains why it feels somewhat excessive with a facial moisturizer.

Categories: February 2013 | Leave a comment

It’s a gay world

According to G Magazine, Augusto Corrêa has the largest percentage of gays in the world. Not bad for a rather small municipality in northen Brazil. (Correction, its big enough for the previous mayor to run off with $35 million. But that’s a different story altogether)

After some rather unscientific observations I can confirm that there seems to be an unusually large number of men with impressively painted finger nails (manicure in this country is definitely a piece of art, very often each nail has it’s own distinctive pattern) and a hip wiggling gait in this area. Brazilian gays are very much so, and the other day I met a fine example; with long curly hair, budding breasts and a hand wrist swing (with a matching attitude) to die for. He and his boyfriend attended a meeting for people that are interested in playing a string instrument, and I am very eager to see if he is going to be my student! But how to break the news that you need to cut the precious finger nails if you want to play the violin…?

Categories: February 2013 | 1 Comment

Two religions

The Catholic Church has a firm grip on this country, for sure. Everywhere you go there’s signs of deep devotion, from bakeries named “Fé em Deus” (Trust in God) to trucks with “Obrigado Senhor” (Thank you, Lord) instead of the naked girls one usually finds on those kind of vehicles.

But there’s another religion as well. Why this obsession with the TV? Every where you go, there it is, always turned on at maximum volume, blasting out one horrible show after another– in every man’s living room (even if no one is there to watch it), at every single street fast food van, most restaurants, in the hospital waiting room (yes, really)…. I even found one in a politician’s office, next to a bible on display, a cartoon accompanying our meeting. I’m starting to suspect that Brazilians are terribly afraid of the silence. If there isn’t the TV, it’s the sound system in every man’s car trunk or the fireworks early on Sunday mornings, when all you wish for is some peace and quiet. I wonder what they are trying to block out…?

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An Institute Called Love

I don’t know many teenagers in Europe that would crawl out of bed at 3am to get in time for their music lesson in a neighbouring city. In Bragança, however, there’s a surplus of kids whose life revolves around AMA Institute, where I teach the violin, and since a few weeks time, am directing as well. Aurimar asked Diego and me to help him bring some European organizational and financial skills to the institute to keep it afloat. AMA was founded by his father, Aurimar Monteiro de Araújo in 2005, as a means to preserve the tradition of rabeca, an instrument very similar to the violin, and which only exists in northeast Brazil. It came from Portugal and is a descendent of the rebec, a medieval stringed instrument. There are only three rabeca masters still alive in the Bragança area, and Aurimar Sr is one of them. AMA is more than just a music school; it’s like a youth social centre, where the kids hang out in the evenings, even if they don’t have lessons. Most of the students come from very poor homes, and that’s why the school doesn’t charge a fee. Instead it relies on donations from local businesses and private donations.DownloadedFile

The institute provides an alternative activity to some of the social problems that exists in the area, such as drugs, crime and violence. Some of the pupils are former child-prostitutes. The school doesn’t have separate classrooms, and quite often there are parallel classes going on, creating a very noisy environment. Neither does it have toilets or running water, due to a lack of funds, even though it has won many awards for its work. It has one full-time teacher that’s teaching wind and brass instruments, music theory as well as conducting a band.

Aurimar Sr is a very special and generous person. He has one biological son, but adopted 31 others in his lifetime, in order to help them out of poverty. Now, however, he sits in a wheelchair, due to a muscular disease. Once in a while I find him in the shop, run by Aurimar Jr’s wife (in her spare time, when she doesn’t work as a social secretary) below the apartment. How he gets down there is still a mystery, as there is only a long and winding staircase up to the flat.

Every time I have finished a meal he asks “Já? Só?” – “Already? Not more?” and he is very concerned about my wellbeing in general. The world needs more people like him!

Categories: January 2013 | Leave a comment

Proposal to a Political Padre

Walking in high heels to five different meetings in five different locations in one day is a bit much even for a Viking (since my Portuguese is rather limited my role was reduced to smiling and eyelash-fluttering). Aurimar, Diego, and I met with various local politicians in Augusto Corrêa and Bragança asking them to support the AMA Institute, and to employ me as a violin teacher, which would enable me to apply for a work VISA. We told ourselves that with my blonde hair, Diego’s charm, and Aurimar’s sharp tongue we were an irresistible trio. If it doesn’t work Aurimar has promised to marry me to keep me in the country. I pointed out that polygamy is only allowed in certain Muslim countries.

All the people we met are freshly elected, and the new dynamic duo of Bragança – the Mayor and his right hand man – are both men of the church, and I found it surprising that the Padre (the new Mayor) and his Pastor secretary belong to the “communist” Worker’s Party. I have a feeling they were elected more because of their religious status rather than their political views.

In a social centre in Augusto Correa, where I might start teaching, we found a room full of expired food that the previous Mayor apparently had spent the last bit of money on, just before leaving office in December, as a farewell gift to his successor. Not only that, but we were told that they had taken all the computers and printers as well.

Bragança has also had its share of political scandal the last couple of weeks, with accusations thrown by the new regime towards the old, leading to heated demonstrations outside the old Mayor’s house, as he allegedly did not pay out the Christmas bonus to his employees. There were rumours that he had escaped to Lisbon with the money, but we happened to see him just the other day at a restaurant in Belém. A friend of mine claimed that it’s actually the new Mayor/Padre that is supposed to make the payments, but that he pretends it’s not his job, in order to ally himself with the Bragantians against a mutual enemy.

Who said politics is boring?

Categories: January 2013 | 1 Comment

Fanatic Feminist? Me?

I’m well aware that I was born in a country that is at the forefront of women’s rights and equality in general. So I suppose I shouldn’t expect to find the same kind of climate everywhere else. But I cannot help but to be appalled and shocked at some of the things I’ve seen here. For example – a few weeks ago I went with a few friends to Augusto Corrêa, a small neighbouring village to Bragança, where a religious festival (Círio de Nazaré) was taking place. It was very nice, like travelling back 50 years, with ancient carousels and caramelized apples. One of the main attractions IMG_5070was a plastic house with the entrance through the mouth of a gorilla. To the left of it was an enormous painting of two women in sexually provoking postures, wearing nothing more than teeny tiny bikinis and pouting lips. One could almost hear them moan with pleasure. Inside the house one encounters one of these alluring creatures, but after a minute or two they are transformed into (you guessed it) a female gorilla. I couldn’t help but becoming an indignant old spinster – what kind of message does this give to young girls and boys? That a woman is merely an object, there to please the male eye; but at the same time a she-devil, not to be trusted?

Not to mention the TV… My Lord! I happened to watch a bit of a popular show the other day, and the host had a typical radio face, without even a hint of a smile and shouting into the microphone; constantly interrupting his doll-like female guests (who’s only role seemed to be looking pretty) with a paternal pat on the head. There was a group of dancers as well – about 15 grinning girls wearing dresses fit for striptease clubs performing a girly choreography that would have been out-dated even 20 years ago. It was very difficult to keep looking without throwing things at the screen. At the same time the Brazilian women I’ve met are pretty strong-minded, so I’m probably overreacting as usual. Or maybe it’s time for some bra-burning?

Categories: January 2013 | Leave a comment

Taxi Driver

I’ve found myself in one surreal situation after another since arriving in Brazil, and one of them happened on the day of the Christmas Parade, organized by the AMA Institue for children in and around Bragança. A youth wind band accompanied the procession along with a group of percussionists from AMA and, naturally, Santa Claus, in a car with 700 donated toys. I went along, even though I was playing a concert an hour or so later. Once the procession reached the square where the gifts were being handed out to a long line of expectant kids, I hurried back to get changed and grab a taxi. I had barely sat myself in the car before the driver suddenly stopped and stepped out, as he ”just needed to get some medicine from the pharmacy, it would only take a few minutes”. I panicked and with my palms together in a prayer, pleaded: ”Por favor, senhor!” explaining that I had a concert in only five (5!) minutes. He looked at the strange blonde girl and (Halleluja!) eventually decided to give in. Of course, this being South America, the concert began an hour late, as the wedding that was taking place before us was dragging on and on and on…

Furthermore, to take a cab in this country always turns out to be far more sociable than in Europe – more like a bar on four wheels, than a means of transportation. If you happen to be by yourself in one, it won’t take long before the chauffeur has filled up the spaces with people going in the same direction. Something to consider in this era of global warming?

Ps. It is definitely the first time I’ve been to a country where the taxi drivers actually charges LESS than what the taximeter says…! Incredible.

Categories: January 2013 | Leave a comment

Fawlty Towers

It seemed like such a simple task, and yet, trying to hang a simple curtain turned into a farce. Granny chipped in and suggested we use sellotape (!) and some steel wire that we unsuccessfully tried to secure between the windowpanes. After one pathetic attempt after another we decided to simply hang the goddamn thing over the air conditioner (even that turned into a circus act, as neither me or Diego are particularly tall), leaving a big gap of light at the bottom, and at the same time preventing the cool air to circulate freely in the room. The sellotape came in handy after all, allowing us to glue a bed sheet over the remaining gap. Great solution, indeed. I have a feeling it’s a permanent one as well…  In fact, everything here feels rather temporary.  If a toilet breaks down, for example, there’s never a sense of wanting to fix it – you simply avoid using it. The water supply is somewhat unreliable as well; sometimes you have it, but quite often not. I spent most of the Christmas without the ability to flush my toilet or take a shower. And yet, no one really complains. They’re sturdy, these Brazilians!

Categories: January 2013 | Leave a comment

Planet Aurimar

He must be from another planet, that’s for sure. Planet Aurimar, where forever-smiling Aurimarians are trying to save the world, with the energy levels of 7-year olds and the humility of The Dalai Lama. “I am your slave” is not an uncommon expression used by my host, as he quite literally backs out of my room, bowing deeply.  Recently the following conversation has started to take place between us several times a day:

“I love you!”

“Er…. Obrigada…” (me, embarrassed)

“Don’t mention it.” He adds, heroically.

If everyone were like him, this earth might actually have a chance to survive.

Categories: January 2013 | Leave a comment

Sleepless in Bragança

Ah, what wouldn’t I give for an hour’s silence! An hour without the slamming of doors, without the Christmas fireworks and most of all without the sound cars. The first night in Bragança I could only sleep one hour  much thanks to these vehicles with gigantic speakers on the roof, driving on the streets advertising God-knows-what to such a deafening volume that  even if you happen to be indoors it’s difficult to hear even your own thoughts when they pass by, let alone having a conversation. Aurimar made a petition to ban these cars, but it only lead to death threats from shop owners. Diego suggested I would start teaching meditation, but how would that be possible? I don’t believe there’s even one single spot that is quiet in this city. How can you live with such noise every day, all year round? I felt like I was going insane after one day. It’s rather depressing that this is the everyday reality for so many people all over the world.

At least it feels like I’m doing something about it through my work here. One of AmaZonArt’s objectives is to spread a culture of classical music as an antidote to the sound pollution that is so prevalent here. Not only the sound cars, but also extremely loud music being played outdoors, on sqaures and city centers, as well as privately owned vehicles that are often used as mini night clubs by the beach, with speakers in the trunk and the volume on a maximum level to compete with the surrounding cars and their sound systems. The music that is favoured is often relating to sex and drugs.

Last week we made a tour in Bragança and the surrounding villages in order to raise funds to start up youth orchestras. We played in churches as well as outdoors, and as soon as a sound car came near it completely drowned out the music we were playing, with it’s disco beat and the voice of someone shouting at the top of their lungs. It was annoying of course, but I think it proved a point, and hopefully made people think about what kind of environment they want to live in.

Categories: December 2012 | Leave a comment

I’ve found Jesus. He was behind the sofa the whole time.

Right. Let’s just say that it was frighteningly close that I could have woken up this morning with a conversion-hangover.

Last night me and Diego had been asked to play a very popular hymn at the pastor’s church. Not only had I never heard it before, but I only got 20 minutes to learn it from a youtube video before it was time to perform, as we had been spending the day at the beach at the other side of the island, together with Baby (yes, really), a friend of Diego and a proud owner of a motorcycle with in-built soundsystem, that somehow managed to carry all of us. 70 km/hr feels very fast on such a thing, especially without a helmet. Baby makes no secret the fact that he is “passionada” about the sueca, and the first thing he asked me was if I’m singel. (What’s this obsession about my marital status!?) As a 39-year old divorcee with 3 kids, he must be quite a catch, não é?

Ah, I’m digressing! So, back to the church. It was an interesting experience if somewhat loud. The pastor seemed to be rather inspired, preaching with an ear-piercing fundamentalist rethoric that put the whole congregation on fire, making them exclaim Halleluja! and waving hands in the air. Me and Diego being the only non-evangelists there got a tad nervous when he started spouting about other faiths and their founders, and how Jesus was the only one that resurrected, hence he was the only authentic teacher and so on. There was a point when he asked if there was anyone who would like to come forth and accept Jesus while glancing at us two. Somehow we managed to stay true to our respective faiths without offending our host.

There was a wind orchestra playing, two choirs and smaller ensembles accompanying the hymns. The music was beautiful, but for some inexplicable reason everything had to be perfomed with amplified sound and pre-recorded backing tracks played at a deafening volume, so that the poor chorists were forced to scream in order to be heard even a little bit. Isn’t it a little bit difficult to hear God’s voice in such a noise?

Categories: December 2012 | Leave a comment

Ducks in the city

Last week I was about to start practising the violin in one of the rooms of Aurimar’s flat when I realized it was alreadyIMG_5186 occupied – by a couple of ducks. Not exactly what I had been expecting – where on earth did they come from? Turned out they live in the backyard and sometimes venture inside for a nice meal of styrofoam (swed. frigolit). Quite surprising considering that Aurimar’s home is in the very central of Bragança, on one of the busy shopping streets.

And then of course, there’s Chrissie. What would I do if it weren’t for the dogs!? In Belém there’s Jimi (Hendrix), a toy poodle with very poor eyesight, which makes playing fetch rather amusing; and in Bragança there’s the most adorable yorkshire terrier you can imagine. Chrissie was the first one to greet me when I arrived IMG_5116here, and we instantly became best friends. She is thirsting for love, and as soon as she sees me she quite literally throws herself on the back like a hairy bat so I can scratch her belly. She gets very upset if I stop and urges me to continue by nipping my fingers. None of the dogs seems to be walked regularly however, and I have offered to take them out to breathe some fresh air.

Oh, and I almost forgot the bird. There’s a tiny cage just outside the entrance of Aurimar’s flat, and it hosts an Amazonian bird (don’t ask me which one). It sings beautifully, the only problem is that it’s repertoire is somewhat limited. It sings the same three notes over and over and over again, in the exact same manner, all day long, only stopping now and then for a loo break. You can hear it out on the street, which I suppose is a good thing if you forget where you live. However, I am tempted to release it to it’s freedom one of these nights, for the sake of itself and everyone else.


Categories: December 2012 | 2 Comments

Minha casa, sua casa

It’s very generous of him, of course, but I feel like I have to draw the line somewhere. Aurimar is preparing a whole new bedroom for me, and he’s very keen that I shall like it. So he’s made a lot of effort installing a super-powered air conditioner, buying furniture, replacing the door that is difficult to close etc. I’ve tried to explain that none of this is necessary and that I can sleep on a mattress but he ignores me. However, when he wanted me to choose the colour of the room I refused to specify my favourite one, saying it’s his home, not mine, and that I will only be here for a few months. So he settled for mint green.

As I’ve been sharing a room with the girls so far, I’ve developed a more flexible attitude to privacy than I’m used to – I can never be sure when someone is going to barge in without knocking and I’m trying to dress as quickly as possible in the mornings.

The pastor’s wife was wondering one day why I always wait to be asked to sit down at the dining table before doing so. When I explained that where I come from it’s regarded as bad manners otherwise, she could not stop laughing. Another thing I learnt growing up was that you shouldn’t talk with food in your mouth. This, however, seems to have been lost on some people, and I have quickly learnt who not to sit in front of at meal times.

Categories: December 2012 | Leave a comment

“Timetable? Is that some kind of furniture?”

One of the things I have been asked to bring to Brasil is some of the discipline of time-keeping that we Scandinavians have a reputation of being masters at. Eager to start an organisational revolution at the AMA Institute, I asked its director and my host, Aurimar, if they had a list of students so that we could allocate weekly individual lesson times. I had great difficulty trying to explain what a schedule is, and when I mentioned timetable he thought I needed some kind of desk. All is well now, though – this week the pupils received their first ever individual violin lesssons, and I could sense a slight nervosity in some of them for being the centre of attention for a whole half hour. However, they are very keen and fast learners, even though my Portuguese is very poor. Our communication consists mostly of body language and a few badly pronounced sentences, and they patiently correct my grammar. More often than not my students believe I understand more than I do, and start chattering away without realizing I lost it at the second word. Thankfully music is something that can be taught and learnt without much vocabulary at all!

Categories: December 2012 | Leave a comment

Serious Boy and Puppy Eyes

How can such an ugly act result in something so beautiful? I’m talking about Serious Boy, an adorable 12-year-old and a student of mine. The first time I asked him to play for me in class he came up ever so close and started playing his scale with the seriousness of a funeral director. He spends quite a lot of time at Aurimar’s house where I live, as he is friends with Aurimar’s son. The other day I found out that Serious Boy’s mother got pregnant with him after a rape. She is not well, she has water in part of the brain, and need regular hospital treatment. However, as they are very poor she can’t afford the medicine, so Aurimar helps her buy it. Serious boy is quickly becoming a favourite of mine – he is very gentle, kind and generous, and yesterday I discovered a more playful side of him when I was doing a technical class with all my students.

Another boy is Puppy Eyes, also 12 I think, and with an insatiable appetite for learning the violin. He speaks a little bit of English that he’s very eager to try out on me. Yesterday he asked me with almost perfect pronounciation if “Senhorita has a boyfriend?”, to the great amusement of his friends. If I were 20 years younger I would definitely have a crush on him, that’s for sure. His mother used to work in a bar from 4pm every day until 2am in the morning. As his father died a few years ago, Puppy Eyes was thus left by himself. Until Aurimar intervened, that is. He asked one of his friends to employ Puppy Eyes’s mother at his restaurant, and now she has a day job, thankfully.

Categories: December 2012 | Leave a comment

“Ah… Suéçia, that’s next to Italy, right?”

I cannot possibly be offended that no one has the slightest clue where I come from when, after all, I had no idea where Suriname was before I got stuck overnight in it’s capital, Paramaribo, two weeks ago. Even when trying to clarify Sweden’s location by mentioning Scandinavia I am met by blank looks. Furthermore, when deciding to go to the Amazon I was very naively expecting a few villages scattered about in the jungle, and not the densely-populated cities I have seen so far. It’s ironic that I left London because I couldn’t stand all the cars, just to arrive in South America where there’s even more of them. And the way they drive – meu Deus! – I feel inclined to recite a few Ave Marias before each journey. Not to mention how incredibly Swedish it feels to insist on wearing a seatbelt. Diego even ordered me to take it off before picking up a bunch of teenage girls as he claimed they would laugh at me.

I do stick out quite a bit – even in big Belém people stare at my blonde hair and white skin. Even my weight causes fascination: “But how thin you are! Here, eat this – it will help making you fatter!” The fact that I’m a vegetarian, don’t drink coffee and am trying to avoid sugar as much as possible don’t really help me blending in with the natives. However, my host families accommodate my strange habits without complaining, even though they cannot understand how I manage to drink unsweetened orange juice…

Categories: December 2012 | Leave a comment

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