So, here we are in Bela Horizonte, after a very looooong journey – 30 hours+ and all the usual stresses and lack of comfort that implies. Wish they’d get on inventing that teleportation device Star Trek promised us so many years ago. But of course, it’s always worth it – we really love that first time in a new context, wandering around – or perhaps wondering around – in a happy daze, not understanding, and not really trying too hard, just soaking it up and letting it sit, feeding your soul with the promise of surprises ahead. We’re staying with friends over here – me, Sandra,Tessa and Soesen with Gilberto Mauro and Si, Mike Fletcher and Mendhi Singh elsewhere. We first met Gilberto last March when he played during Flatpack 2011 and he and his lovely wife Gladys have been the perfect hosts, going out their way to make sure we have a great time. Last night we saw Mendhi play in the town square with Luiz Gabriel Lopez and his band, Graveola, who will be playing in Brum for September’s Espirito Brum Festival – it’s autumn here, and still it is a very pleasant 30 degrees – so good to be out and about and so comfortable. We ended up in a bar (of course), with our friend D’artagnan and others, watering down the jetlag with copious bottles of the local ale. Eating ‘local delicacies’ which were basically hot pork scratchings and fishcakes! So far, today we’ve been to a massive outdoor market, where we caught some great capoeira demos and some fantastic drumming and samba-ish stuff. Sandra ‘pulled’ a fantastic old guy and they danced for ages – all before midday!
So, Brazil, then. We’re not exactly going ‘up the Amazon’ – in fact, looking at our schedule, we’ll be lucky if we get out of the cities at all, but we’re having our own expedition of a kind and have been observing, questioning and enquiring – and engaging – as we always try to do. One of my first impressions was of the sheer number of people in the cities here. BH is a relatively small city, but still it feels crowded, and people seem to find a way to navigate this. Despite the warnings, I can’t say I’ve felt particularly unsafe yet – though we haven’t been to the very poorest parts of town, yet, we’ve still had encounters with street people and in our firm and friendly way , have managed to get past potential problems with a smile and a shake of the head. All of us have travelled extensively and have enough confidence to not seem nervous or afraid – and this can count for a lot. The way we look helps, our appearance, the ethnic and age mix all serve as a kind of camouflage, which works here as well as it does in the places we work back at home.
There’s clearly a huge wealth gap here, with the rich and poor living cheek by jowl in the city, and a host of other issues – domestic abuse, child abuse, poverty, rape, drugs, violence, and all the other kinds of stuff you expect. I think I saw my first dead street person today, which disturbed me immensely – he was lying still, filthy and emaciated on a side street right in the centre of town. His eyes rolled back, limbs twisted and people just walked past, about their own business – I felt entirely helpless, unable to do anything, and just kept walking myself. I was told by one of my Brazilian buddies that this is not uncommon, but that the street people here are pretty much invisible to the rest of the population – maybe there’s something we can do with that issue – how do we make them visible? So since then, I’ve been observing these ‘lost souls’ – and wondering how, when ostensibly there is wealth around, people can literally ignore this very ‘in your face’ tragedy occurring daily.
Other impressions – well, there’s graff everywhere, some of it really high quality. Loads of gang signs on buildings, often in seeming impossible places – they look kind of runic, like someone’s trying to cast loads of spells on places. It’s almost more interesting when you don’t see any – why’s that, how has that place escaped the ubiquitous tagging? I’m trying to work out if there’s an ethnic heirarchy – Brazil has been multicultural from the get-go, but of course started as a colony of Portugal – so is there any remnant of that remaining? Not quite sure, yet, but I sense there is – but my Spideysense has been known to be wrong, so I’ll let you know as more information flows in.
Here’s some first 24 hours or so pictures –