Brooke Porter is studying in Salvador, Brazil and will be backpacking in South America over the next eight months.
I have come to love Salvador. It feels like a jungle here: cracks in walls give way to plants seeking light and I wake to the sound of birds and monkeys climbing the telephone wires. The city is in constant repair-trying to fight back its natural state. It seems the quest to conquer this land never ends. I often fantasize about what Salvador looked like before human presence. I find myself thinking about colonization, the colonization of land, people and culture. Here orishas blend with the Catholic Church and music is a mix of West African beats and samba. Salvador is home to one of the largest African Diaspora communities in the world. Traces of this history can be found in the food and common spiritual practices such as candomblé. This unique culture was a determining factor in my decision to live in Northeastern Brazil.
It is a particularly interesting year to be living here. The country is divided over rage and celebration as the World Cup approaches. Hundreds of people have been displaced from slums, referred to as favelas in Portuguese, but if you ask anyone that lives in the favelas here they will tell you they prefer to call them “barrios populares.” Activists draw attention to the large sums the Brazilian government has spent on the World Cup while education crumbles and public resources are limited. Yet, this is only one of many struggles here in Brazil.
In the amazon the Kayapo, Brazil’s largest indigenous nation, fight to maintain their land and culture. In 1988 they helped to get indigenous rights written into the Brazilian constitution. But unfortunately the struggle continues. Recently the Brazilian government built a dam that displaced 20,000 people in Kayapo territory. The Kayapo and international solidarity groups had been fighting its construction for years. Originally the Kayapo accepted government compensation after the dams construction but have recently come to a consensus, amongst the community, to maintain autonomy by denying state funding. The Kayapo word for money is peso caprin, translated to mean “sad leaves.”
One thing I found to be really interesting was the Kayapo reason for piercing children’s ears. Chip Brown wrote in the January 2014 issue of National Geographic that for the Kayapo, ear piecing expands “a child’s capacity to understand language and other social dimensions of existence.” Their word for stupid is ama kre ket (translation: no ear hole).
There is a lot to be learned from in this country. I have been actively seeking out activists and educators to expand my knowledge about social movements here in Brazil. I look forward to learning about various forms of resistance, organizing, and education in Salvador in hopes of bringing this knowledge back to Oakland.