As I was not too in love with Salvador in my first few days there, my uncertainty didn’t last long and all in all Salvador is a nice city full of culture and history.
Pelourinho is a district of the city that is full of both of these things, shops, Capoeira, museums, art, etc. We’ve been there a number of times now and I enjoy it each time. All of the buildings are colored pink, blue, yellow, orange… There are Bahiana’s (traditional Bahian women) around the area, often times selling the traditional Acaraja–a fried ball filled with shrimp and other things. Also, there are Capoeira practioners throughout the area. Capoeira is a martial art/dance “game” that finds its roots in Slavery and self-protection.
There are many organizations located in Pelourinho that are dedicated to the education and aid of the Afro-Brazilian community and especially the Afro-Brazilian youth. On one of our visits to Pelourinho some of the group, myself included, was given a tour by a friend of Javier’s named Alex. He walked us around the area and showed us the multiple organizations that are involved in helping the Afro-Brazilian community. Unlike in the US, aid does not come from the government very much in Brazil, thus it is the job of non-governmental organizations and community organizations to help those who cannot help themselves.
We also went to a Folkloric Ballet in Pelourinho that was amazing. The theme was more or less Brazilian history and culture and it incorporated Capoeira, Bahianas, Oreixas–deities of the Candomble religion, etc. The strength and flexibility of the performers was incredible. There was knife play, fire eating/walking, dancing, singing, yelling… It was so cool.
There is a large market called Mercado Modelo located near Pelourinho and it costs R$0.15 to ride down a famous elevator to get there. This market is full of handmade items as well as some mass-produced items that you can find in any artisan market. It is fun to bargain and meet interesting people here as well as buy some great, yet inexpensive, gifts for home. I bought some neat linen items in the indoor part of the market and Deanna bought nuts and peppers, while Rachel bought some paintings. There are a huge variety of items to look at and buy… hence why Deanna, Rachel and I needed to go back to the market more than once : )
The first time that we were in this area there was a protest of the mayor going near the upper “deck” of the elevator. The mayor is apparently selling off the city and its public areas and yet none of the money is then returned to the city. A journalist who wanted to get a tourists point of view interviewed Deanna, Rachel and me. When he asked us what we thought of Salvador’s infrastructure we laughed because we had just been talking about it moments prior. We told him that the infrastructure of the city is horrible, the buildings are falling down and the sidewalks falling apart and nothing is being done about it. He said that that was exactly what the protest was about. http://ne10.uol.com.br/canal/cotidiano/nordeste/noticia/2012/02/01/nascido-nas-redes-sociais-movimento-desocupa-em-salvador-ganha-forca-e-as-ruas-da-cidade-324505.php is where the article can be found.
We also went to a festival dedicated to Imanja–one of the Candomble Oreixas. Candomble is a religion that has African roots but is now clearly rooted in Bahia. It has many Oreixas, all symbolizing something different. Imanja is an Oreixa who is said to be very vain and enjoys looking at herself in her hand held mirror. She is a goddess of the sea and thus is always depicted as half mermaid. On the day of the festival, thousands of people lined the streets wearing white and blue–the colors of Imanja– and lined up to donate shampoo, perfume, flowers, etc. to the water, to Imanja. There was music and food and everyone was very excited. My perception, however, is that this is more of a traditional practice than a religious practice as Candomble is in reality rather feared due to its emphasis on animal sacrifice.
Outside of these two interesting experiences, Salvador is simply a change of pace from Rio. We are doing less museum visits, site visits, etc. and more classroom learning. We enjoy going to the fish market–which is not really a fish market– and eating dinner and getting inexpensive Caipirinhas, we like to walk around and enjoy the weather, etc. It’s very relaxing–especially because of our homestay. Our family is so fun and connected. We are enjoying being a part of it so much. We experienced a Brazilian baby shower and everyone was very welcoming, the food was wonderful, the decorations were cute and it was a very cool experience. In Salvador, for some, life is good. For others, life is hard. The poverty is very integrated into the city here and it’s difficult to understand and so sad. There are memories of beggars–children, animals, adults, burn victims, near-skeletons– that I will never forgot, only then to go “home” to my gated building constructed of marble complete with a clear blue ocean view.