February 2013

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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“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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…?

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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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