Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

It's over. Carnaval 2009 is officially finished, although there is still some residual excitement going on in Barra. Not for me though, I'm done. I had a good time this year- I didn't get robbed, or beaten, or sick and as far as I know none of our guests or friends did either. Well, a couple of them got sick. We'll see how they made out on their last night out when they get their sorry hung-over asses out of bed. Also I only saw half a fight.

Yesterday I went out with Lucas again, he was dressed as a 'Filho de Ghandy.' This a very popular group that get dressed in white and blue with turbans and sandals and celebrate peace. They also spray a perfume called alfazema on everyone and try to kiss as many passing women as possible. It's quite impressive to see thousands of them go by. We made Lucas a little turban out of a hand towel and improvised a Ghandy outfit for him for his last day of school, and yesterday he wore it again to go out on the street. It was very cute. Shortly after we set out, we encountered one of Lucas' classmates on the street. He was dressed as an indian. He was with his father, who I had never met, who was also decked out in the full Ghandy regalia. I didn't know him, but I know his mother from the school. We didn't have much to say to each other after the initial pleasantries, and it didn't look like the kids were paying much attention to each other either, so we all just stood around waiting for something to happen. There were no trios passing yet, so most folks on the street were doing the same thing. I tried to coax Lucas away, but he didn't want to leave his friend.

After a while, the kid's father, who started calling me 'Sã,' told us he was going to bring his kid upstairs so he could meet up with his bloco. He invited us up as well, told us that his sister and mother were up there.

Then we had this little exchange:

"Mais lá tem negros"

"O que?"

"Negro. Black. Tem problema?"

"Voçe conhece a mãe de Lucas?"

For all you English speakers, what he did was warn me that there were blacks upstairs, and asked if I had a problem with this. I asked him if he knew Lucas' mother, and told him that she was also black.

I have never had anything like this happen to me in my life, not here, not in the United States. Let me set the stage visually a bit, because this guy was by no means white himself. Add to that that if you look at Lucas with more than a passing glance, he is clearly not of pure European heritage either. Race famously exists on more of a continuum here than in places like the United States, so it's very possible that this guy considers himself to be white, or at least whiter than the blacks to whom he was referring. But what was offensive about the exchange was the assumption that I, as a white guy, would take issue with (i.e. be racist enough to object to) spending Carnaval in the company of some black folks. Why would he say that? I suspect it was not simply because I was white, I think it was because I was a white American (we'd just been discussing my nationality). Considering that Salvador is at least 80 percent black, this seems like a pretty ridiculous assumption to make. Why would I choose to live here if I didn't like black people? Is this guy just ignorant about Americans (hey- we just elected a Black president, you might have heard that on the news) or has he had past experiences with racist Americans?

Anyhow, after I told him that Evani was Bem Negona (quite dark) herself he had a laugh and I hope realized his mistake. He certainly didn't apologize for it. I, for my part, did not storm off in a rage of righteous indignation, but took him up on his offer and went up to the apartment.

The apartment was ideal for watching Carnaval. It was on the first floor, with a window directly overlooking the main parade route, and all the passing Trios. People pay big bucks to rent apartments like this. Salvador is the only city I know of that has rental agreements with special clauses for one week out of the year. An apartment might cost 600 reis a month, but you might be asked to vacate the place for the week of Carnaval, or else pay 2000 reis or more for that week alone. In this case, the aforementioned bozo was the owner, and he takes the apartment for his family to use during Carnaval.

It was great to hang out there. We had a fantastic view of some of the most famous artists here in Salvador, including Ivete Sangalo and Chiclete Com Banana. We also had the luxury of not having to stand on the street with the many thousands of people out on this last day of Carnaval, generally the most chaotic and dangerous day. The kid's mother showed up a little later, and she treated us extremely well, giving me beers and 'finger food,' giving Lucas yogurt and juice. After a couple hours I felt like we'd worn out our welcome, and tried to get Lucas to leave, which led to several fits of tears and protests. Finally I was able to convince him it was time to go home. It was after nine- we'd been there for at least four hours.

When we got home I got my second surprise of the day- Ruan informed me that Beto had been there. It took a second for this to register- Beto is Ruan's father. His is not a name that comes up much in conversation at our house. I've only met the guy once, at a wedding. He lives here in Salvador, but doesn't call on Ruan's birthday or Christmas, or participate in any way in Ruan's life. Needless to say I don't think much of him.

I'm not sure why, or why now, but a couple of months ago we got word that Beto wanted to get to know Ruan. So does Ruan's half-sister, who he's never met. Beto got another woman pregnant at the same time as Evani, although she didn't know that at the time. She has grown up with him, while Ruan has not. My guess is that she is the one agitating to get to know her brother.

Ruan, for his part, has been completely disinterested in knowing them, or at least that's what he says. He flatly refused Beto's offer to go to the beach a month or so ago and didn't want to meet his sister. This is despite our encouragement that he at least meet them and get to know them a little. I can understand why he doesn't, but it could turn out to be a nice thing for him. So I was not only surprised to hear that the guy had shown up at our door, but even more so that Ruan had accepted his offer to spend some time with him this weekend. The dude offered him money, he has every of the maybe five times he's seen Ruan in the last six years, and Ruan refused. He did accept five reis from Beto's wife.

I told Ruan, in my mildly slurred state, that whatever he wants to do is cool with me. That he should make up his own mind if he wants to hang out with his dad, and if he doesn't want to that's fine. I didn't make any nasty comments about the guy. We'll see how it goes.

Me, Lucas, and Nelson before heading out (this is not the guy I mentioned above!)


Miyaunna said...

Wow...very interesting about the "are you okay with blacks" comment. I don't know what I would have done in that situation, but I can relate to your surprise.

I'm really glad that your stepson is at least partially open to meeting his sister. They might have more in common than he realizes.

markuza said...

Thanks Miyaunna- I hope Ruan does become friends with his sister- personally I can't imagine what it would be like to have a sibling I didn't know. As for the stupid comment, I'm trying to write it off as a random incident. I don't think calling him on it, other than in the way that I did, would have had much effect.