On Motherhood & Sanity

Saturday, September 25, 2010

On aid and Tourism

So I’ve been in Brazil for a few days now, and everyone back at home keeps asking about the caipirinhas and the beaches, in the meantime I’ve seen little but the inside of an office. The aircon is on so high I’m actually wearing a jumper most of the time.

Low and behold, the gods smile upon me and I’m scheduled to leave Brasilia (a place created by the gods to punish those who ambition power. A capital of power shaped to resemble a fallen angel, set in the dessert, erected through large blocks of cement, with no trees to take refuge under).

I’m schedule to be in Rio de Janeiro for the Friday, which of course means that any free time I might get over the weekend will happen in a rockin’ city by the sea, with legendary beaches, filled with famously cultivated bodies, and caipirinhas.

In short, I’m happy.

I’m meant to work all of Friday and fly off mid-day Sunday (security UN rules don’t allow to cross the road to the airport after nightfall, betcha that’s not on the LonelyPlanet© Guides), that still leaves me a full Saturday and Sunday morning, and the fact that as a result of complete chance my hotel is ON Ipanema beach, and five minutes away from Copacabana.

What more could I ask for? you say…. And the Gods answer.

Word got out and before I knew it I had a protocol lunch scheduled for Saturday with some government reps, and then a fairly important meeting with the head of the domestic workers syndicate for the region comes through, but she can only meet me Saturday afternoon, so I say yes.

Still, I’ve got the morning, I’ve got the mid-day and some afternoon.

The Gods giggle.

Saturday morning: after a stroll by the beach watching the surfers try to charm the waves, I get dressed up and head off to my meeting. To my surprise we are having lunch in one of the oldest restaurants in Rio, Cafeteria Colombo, a beautiful room filled with smoky mirrors, and one of the secretaries I’m meeting is a famous actress and bossa nova singer, so we end up having the typical feilloada in the most spectacular scenario, while talking about inequality in Brazilian society, regularly interrupted by shy passer by’s who want to take their picture with this beautiful celebrity.

Half way through she decides to invite us to her next event, a demonstration of indigenous groups who are trying to reclaim an old beautiful mansion that used to house the museum of indigenous culture.

I hesitate, it’s my time off, but in the end I go along.

The event takes place on the grounds of the palace which is now but a shell of its former glory. Only traces of it’s old beauty remain. I’m white and look foreign, so I immediately become an important guest in a demonstration that has attracted only a handful of participants. We are shown around by the regional representative for indigenous people, in his jeans, light yellow shirt and full colored feather head dress.

There are people representing different tribes and selling some arts and crafts, so I take this opportunity to buy souvenirs for the kids. We are then taken to the opening ceremony, and somehow end up being a part of it. After a rather long speech, a peace pipe is passed around. An ex smoker myself I hesitate again, but figure what the heck. It’s filled with a bitter and unpleasant mixture they have put together during the speech, (although I’m pretty sure some of the other pipes going around have marihuana on them, which made for some happy Indians).

We leave hurriedly to meet our domestic workers federation women. A small house off a large highway, we sit and chat while sipping dark bitter coffee, (in honor of their line of work the house actually has two kitchens they tell me). They tell us how furthering their schooling translates into their ability to love themselves, and respect themselves more. What it feels like to be finally a part of something, to attend meetings where their voice is heard. They’ve gone from being too shy to answer the phone to representing their colleagues and advocating for their rights, and I think about how lucky I am and how much I take for granted.

Over dinner by the sea side, still working, my colleague apologizes that she will not be able to show me around on Sunday as she has to attend a march for religious tolerance, so of course I join her. Sunday morning, Copacabana, usually invaded by half naked bodies jogging or playing volleyball, is now filled with people of different creeds; there are Catholics, Muslims, Candomblé, Jews, and other things that I have not heard off before. It’s a bit of a party, and in good Brazilian fashion kick off is delayed by a couple of hours.

A couple of hours left, I am sitting by the seaside, drinking coconut water straight from the fruit while a Rasta man plays lazy tunes on a saxophone. The sky is cloudy and moody. The water is full of boy-men who are trying to domesticate the waves. The breeze carries the tunes away ever so slightly. And so pass the last hours of my version of tourism in Rio, before I move on to the favelas of Recife.


linda said...

ha I had feijoada with my friend Adriana at that same restaurant when I was in Rio, already nostalgic....

Vinita said...

Looks like you had a great time...love the images especially the restaurant one!

la puerta azul said...

Due to a not very nice experience, I thought I wouldn't like to hear of Brazil again in my life, but this post -and the fact that my sister-in-law is heading Rio to work for an undisclosed amount of time- bring this fabulous country, with all its contrasts (social, economic, cultural), again to my mind. Hope it stays happily forever