January 2013

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!

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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