Friday, February 24, 2012

Post Carnaval Note of Interest

Hey there - just a quick post here, something that occurred to me in the midst of my day. For the first time I think ever, since we've been renting rooms for Carnaval, nobody was robbed or got in a fight or anything bad like that. We had a brief scare when the Disappearing Turks vanished, and wondered if they'd been kidnapped or worse, but as you all know that turned out to be a big fat nothing. We did have some people get squirted - squirt guns were big this year - but nothing worse than that.

Word is that violence in general was down this year, in spite of the strike. Tourism I think was also down, as a result of the strike, which might have had a corollary effect. But I'm pleased nonetheless.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Our Neighborhood is Terrible

I got reviewed on Airbnb by the Mysterious Disappearing Turks, so finally I know why they left:

Our initial communication was good with our host. He arranged our taxi pick up from the airport. However, when we reach the house, the neighbourhood was terrible. We didn't feel safe to stay there. The room was without a window with a restroom near. It is not a room that we can stay or sleep in. Our host opened the door and say they were sleeping. So we left...

Oh well!

We let people show up early as a courtesy, in case they have an early flight like these folks did. Did they expect we would entertain them/play host at that hour? Just for the record, the room does have a window, although not a very exciting one.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Carnaval, 2012

Carnaval is always odd, but this year is off to a particularly weird start.

We've got an apparently jealous boyfriend calling the house, repeatedly, insisting that we wake up his girlfriend so he can talk to her. That's annoying, but nothing particularly special. I heard a battalion of military police barking some pledge yesterday and let me tell you it was music to my ears, but of course it would have been much stranger if they weren't there, barking their pledges.

Before I continue my tale let me tell you that, as someone who likes to run, Carnaval kinda sucks. It's made it all but impossible for me to run in the places I am accustomed, due to all the infrastructure that gets carted in. I don't know if I'll be able to run at all until this whole ordeal is over.

My last run was almost comical, like running an obstacle course. What normally would have been a quite boring half hour of going around and around Campo Grande became a lesson in crowd control and logistics. I had to run around temporary structures for various functions, past steel barricades set up to shunt people away from places they aren't supposed to be. I ran over wooden platforms and had to detour around a quarter of my circuit because it is now occupied with bleachers. Perhaps most humorous was the great bank of porta-potties I had to navigate on each turn, which were being ported onto a truck, so each time I was dodging a different potty wheeling along on a dolly.

And today? I'd like to run today. Just don't see it happening though, because I don't know where I'd go. If I was a morning person I could run down the principal avenues of Salvador traffic-free, as they are all blocked off- kinda like my Bonfim run. But I'm not a morning person, so it's all moot.

So the really weird thing that happened yesterday concerns this Turkish couple who rented our guest room for four nights via Airbnb. To be honest, I wasn't too excited about the reservation, not because the guy claimed to be a 62 year old dentist and wanted help learning to samba, but more because he didn't really seem to get how the site works and wasn't communicating very clearly. Reservations have been way down this year, and I figured his English wasn't that strong, so we accepted the reservation.

They arrived yesterday morning at 7:30 in the morning, I was very much asleep but I went and opened the door for them- I have a feeling they may have been ringing the bell for some time. The guy was friendly enough, but the woman didn't even look at me or say hello when she walked in to the house. I didn't like that at all. They had the tiniest of bags, smaller than a day-pack, for both of them, for the whole trip. Not a day-pack apiece- one bag. That wouldn't fit one change of clothes for both of them.

I showed the guy where the bathroom was and then he told me to go back to bed, and that they would also lay down for a while. I got up and went to the store, everyone else in the house got up and went about their business. Evani spent the whole day keeping Lucas quiet, as they didn't emerge from the room- all day. When I came home at 6:00, they still hadn't gotten up. We could hear the fan running, so we started wondering what the hell was going on. A long trip? Sure. Jetlag and timechange? Okay. Maybe they took some sleeping aid? Possible. Maybe they were both dead in there? Also bantered about.

I had to fix a bed in the room right above theirs, and I hammered with gusto, determined to wake them up as we were concerned at this point. Nothing. Finally, at about 10:00, I knocked on their door, realizing that it wouldn't be locked, as I hadn't even given them a key for it. I opened the door, and there was nobody there.

They're gone, and there's no sign of them. The bed was at least laid down in, but they took their little bag and split, and have not come back. The thing that is so strange is that we don't know how they got out of the house. Nobody let them out, and the door is always locked. No keys are missing. The most likely scenario is that they just unlocked the door and left, shutting (and thus locking) the door behind them, and we didn't notice that the gate was unlocked.

So what happened? Did they hate the place at first site? The woman's reaction would seem to indicate that... Did they get lost and can't find their way back to the house? Are they in jail/in the hospital? Were they smuggling drugs and using our house as a cover? We have no idea, and they left no note, no email, no nothing. I suppose I should try to find them, but I think they just went somewhere else. Plus they made no effort, and the woman was very rude.

The big question is whether they will cancel their payment for the room, which I suppose is possible. Airbnb doesn't release payment until 24 hours after the guest arrives, stating on the site that "This gives you and your guest time to make sure that everything is as expected." Well, if it wasn't what they expected, that's not our fault. Our house is described and reviewed, and the price is competitive for the location during Carnaval. If they do cancel payment, I will make a fuss as Carnaval comes but once a year and that's why we ask for deposits beforehand. Since Airbnb doesn't provide for a deposit, we may not be able to use them in the future for Carnaval, which would be unfortunate. But I'm getting ahead of myself. If we don't get a payment by tomorrow, then I'll be annoyed.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Strike Over

Well, it's over. Apparently it's been over since last night, but I just found out now, which says a lot about my future as a journalist. You'd think I would have been more on top of that one, especially seeing how I live here, and I was kinda obsessed with it yesterday. But I tend to obsess one day and dismiss the next, plus I was quite busy today with other things.

And they just started a simliar strike in Rio...

And Lucas goes back to school on Monday...

And they just crowned a smokin' super-hot drop-dead gorgeous babe as the queen of Carnaval...

And it's Evani's birthday, and we are going out to dinner!

Life returns to normal, for a few days anyways, until the Carnaval cyclone descends on the city.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Strike Breaking

The news I got this morning, before I'd had my first cup of coffee, was that the strike was over. Turns out it's not, but I think it's a matter of hours at this point.

I'd like to do a little disclaimer at this point, that whenever I write a post like this that could possibly be construed as news it makes me a little nervous. I'm not a reporter, and don't aspire to be. I like telling stories, I don't like checking facts and I hope I'm never quoted as an official source. I've tried to emphasize the stupendous volume of rumors that are flying, and some of what I write is based on rumors. The real, professional press is guilty of the same at times, but more on them in the next paragraph.

The real press, the guys who get paid to write news, have come in for some knocks during this whole thing. They've been accused of making the whole thing look worse than it is, of helping to spread the fear. Not just our local press but the international players as well. I got in a brief argument with a woman at the video store when I compared the families to human shields: she said that they were striking 'as families' and that this business of human shields was an invention of the press. Well, I'll be the first to admit that the press likes sensational stories: it helps garner viewers and hence advertising dollars and hence they keep their jobs, but come on. I'm not gonna Gingrich the press. I think what it must have been like here thirty years ago, during the dictatorship, and I'm glad the press has as much free reign as they do.

So getting on with my not-news post, here's the situation. The armed standoff, the occupation of the building, the human shields - that's all over with now. The leader of the strike has been arrested, they let him slink out the back of the building and into custody. The rest of the occupiers left this morning. Apparently they are negotiating again, not a half mile from where I sit. I expect that this will be resolved quickly, as one of the stickiest demands of the strikers, that all of them be let off without criminal penalties, has been rendered moot. Eleven arrest warrants had been issued, and at least one has been carried out, for the ring-leader Marcos Prisko.

This guy Prisko really screwed up. I think the strikers started out with a lot of public support, I certainly think there are lots of good reasons to pay police officers well: it is dangerous work, you want to attract good people to the profession, and try to keep corruption down as much as possible. However, turns out a lot of these rumors (if you can believe the press) were true: they put a wiretap on Prisko's phone and recorded him planning vandalism and other assorted mayhem during the strike to make the situation worse. In other words, what I was wondering about in my previous post was actually happening: the cops were acting like a protection racket. If you don't pay, things are gonna get bad without our protection. Maybe we'll cause some of that badness, but if you don't pay... you get the picture.

So Prisko's done. What I don't get is that he apparently was done before, he was already an ex-cop, and someone told me that he'd been kicked off the force, which makes him a dubious leader of a police union to begin with. There are more recorded conversations still waiting to come to light. Another recording was of an unnamed woman coordinating with some other dude to not end the strike in Salvador until they could get a strike going in Rio, and other states were to follow.

Getting back to the public support, the other thing these guys really screwed up was with their intention to shut down Carnaval. I had thought they wanted to resolve the whole thing before Carnaval, but apparently they started announcing their intention to take Carnaval down both here and in Rio. That's really dumb. Not only does (practically) everyone love Carnaval, but lots of people depend on it to make money. Everyone from the fancy hotels to the people who collect recyclables. Commerce was already hit bad by the strike, my own included, and I read on the CBS News website yesterday that 10% of international tourists had already cancelled their trips. But these guys were out there with a banner reading 'End Carnaval' or something like that... not smart.

So we'll see how this winds up. A sizable raise was approved some time ago. The governor of Bahia has stated that no non-violent strikers (the majority) will be punished. Our do-nothing mayor apparently came back, finally, from his vacation, but he's been MIA during this whole thing. He was already pretty well hated by the people of Salvador so I guess he doesn't have much to lose.

More non-news as it develops...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Yesterday I slept late due to some confusion with my alarm clock and as a result I arrived an hour late at the store. I was informed that two guys had come by looking to buy paint. One of them, Sinal, was murdered yesterday.

I only met Sinal a couple times - he was a pichador (Brazilian for 'tagger') but he did some interesting letters as well, wish I had some pictures. Most of these pichadores don't buy anything from me, but I was informed by mutual friends that he was coming by the store to buy paint yesterday. Last night, when I heard the news, I couldn't help wondering if he'd been able to buy the paint if maybe he would have been somewhere else, painting, or stalled just long enough at the store, so that he wouldn't have been killed.

Nah. I asked several people online last night what happened, and everyone fell silent at this question. Finally someone told me that pixação wasn't the only illegal activity he was involved in, and that's probably what led to his death. If that's the case, I think it would have caught up with him sooner or later.

As my friend said last night: "It's fucked: to be black, live in the periphery, want those Nike sneakers that the TV says you have to have; and not give you a decent education, not even a job - makes a brother do what he did." Got that right.

The couple times I met him Sinal was super friendly, and he left a lot of folks who have nothing but good things to say about him. Twenty five years old. I'm sorry I won't get to know him better.

RIP Sinal.

Monday, February 6, 2012

More Chaos Than Usual

The military police are on strike, and the city is fucked as a result. Aku Tyger wrote a nice synopsis of the situation. It's impossible to know what's really happening, there are tons of rumors and suppositions, but this much is clear: the police are on strike, there are a lot more crimes going down, and the army has been called in to 'restore order.'

I keep thinking about the concept of the 'thin blue line' protecting us from anarchy, although in the case of Bahia, I think it's the thin blue illusion, or rather thin tan illusion, as the MPs wear tan, not blue. Although I'm the first to admit that there are times there's nobody you'd rather see than a police officer, the only crimes I think these guys prevent are the ones that might have been committed right in front of where they happen to be standing. Calling the cops is kind of a joke here, at least for the unconnected. No, that's not fair - they do show up, eventually. Sometimes. So it must be the fear of the police that keeps the crime down to sub-war-zone levels.

It's hard to sort out exactly what has happened and what is just talk, but a woman was definitely gunned down in the Praça da Piedade the other night, which is very close to our house, and generally has at least a couple cops standing around. A friend of ours, who is college educated and not from Bahia, says that it stinks of corrupt cops at work - that they pick out social outcasts to execute knowing that this will sow terror and not cause reprisals. If this is true, then the MPs amount to little more than a protection racket: if you don't pay your protection money, the protectors start to cause problems. But I'm diving into suppositions here.

I have seen some soldiers patrolling the streets, real live olive green clad soldiers with carbines, but not many of them. I've also seen some military police - the same ones that are on strike, also called 'soldiers.' But the people are panicked, and life as usual is largely disrupted. Walking around on Friday, I heard a couple people say 'arrastão,' something I wrote about in another post, where a gang of bad guys do a bunch of car-jackings at once, or rob a whole bunch of stores at once. Coincidentally, the same mall where the other arrastão didn't happen in my other post was also rumored to have been robbed, or attempted to be robbed, last week. Apparently they closed the whole mall down. Lots of businesses have been closed, and the city is under a semi-self-imposed curfew as everyone scurries home to avoid any problems.

So how does all this effect me? Well, I have been cautioned not to go out for my runs, and I've mostly complied. I don't figure I'm in too much danger because if the corrupt cops picked me off they might set off an international incident (yeah right, oh vainglorious, self-important me). The one who has been most effected is Lucas, who had his kung fu class cancelled last week, and was supposed to start school today, but that got postponed as well.

Apparently a bunch of cops have occupied an administrative building here in the city, and they have brought their families in with them. I heard that a thousand troops had been dispatched to bring the occupation to an end, but (now this is rumor here) this has essentially turned into an armed standoff with the cops on one side and the soldiers on the other. And the families, the wives and children? Well, from where I stand I'd call them human shields. Quite willing ones, according to an article I just read online, which claims that some of them are wearing bullet proof vests. Some of them at least - I'm not sure a child can willingly act as a human shield.

The cops have their reasons, I'm sure, for the strike, and they may be very good ones. I'm also sure they did this deliberately at the height of tourist season and just a couple weeks before Carnaval. But I gotta say it makes Salvador look really bad. If I was planning a vacation here for Carnaval, which is insanely expensive, would I do so if what is already known to be a dangerous time in a dangerous town was going to be even more dangerous? I hope I'd change my plans.

But that's not going to happen. They'll end the standoff, and the strike, before Carnaval one way or another. It may not be pretty, and I'm sure we'll never know what really goes down, but they'll end it. And as much as I get frustrated with the incompetent, corrupt, hot-headed fools that make up the authority in this place, I really don't think they'll be stupid enough to hurt any of the human shields. Brazil is on the ascendent after all, bizarre as it seems at times, and we wouldn't want any international incidents to muck it up.