Marie Tattiana Aqeel
Updated: May 9, 2019
Finally settled enough to talk about it. Woah.
Firstly, I love Bahia. I really do. There's an energy here and a beauty that does not compare to anything I've felt before (keeping in mind I still need to spend some time in the U.S. South). That said, anything great comes with down sides that are just as paramount.
Upon arrival, I caught a bus with the Mestre. As the bus started to pull off there was commotion somewhere in the middle. A man had fallen from the street onto the stairs to the bus. And no one saw him except his friend who was on the bus. They were both very drunk. The man fallen was too drunk to even sit up. Later he laid in the middle of the floor on the bus for over 20 mins. until the driver, who somehow knew where he lived, drug him off of the bus and left him wobbly standing at the entrance to his hood. Before that though, he was fallen and not moving on the stairs to the bus and his friend was yelling in some verry slurrred porrrrtuguese that I'm sure no one else could understand much of either. He was just yelling for his friend because he was afraid and shocked for him - the man already had one smaller arm and that's the arm that had fallen under the bus. So he's yelling and everyone's looking on worriedly but assuming he's going to calm down eventually because his friend's alive. We should go now. No. The police-
Here I have to iterate the sheer mobster style in which these police operate. It's worse than in the US in many cases. Our police forces are full of Klansmen for sure. Obviously we who live in Black and Brown communities endure their force worse than anyone. That is the same here. But Brasil is a country with far fewer checkpoints and (manpower to manage) laws against/managing people. In general, and with the bold exception that poorer people have little to no access to any type of assistance, people here are freer to do what they want. This also goes for the police gangs who regularly use what we've heard called, "excessive force," which is to say, unnecessary violence against a target individual who can be anyone, especially Black, for anything, including being drunk and loud and frightened over the potential harm done to a friend when a bus ran over his body-
Not sure if the cops knew what had happened before they came barging onto the bus pushing, slapping, and then tazing the young man who was upset about his friend. Not sure if it mattered before or after they dragged him off of the bus, threatened to beat him with a 2×4 beam of wood (fuck did THAT come from?) and continued to harass, push, and punch him. There were 4 or 5 cops for this one guy and each of them went out of his way to get a lick in. Gang fare. It's over more than just drugs. It's over bodies, as Ta-Nehisi Coates put it.
The Mestre got off the bus to talk to the man to try to calm him. In my mind I was seeing images of myself pleading to the gang to stop what they're doing. I did not move. I avoided being tazed.
Day 2. I go out with the son of the family who's house I am staying in. We stay out for a long time in the Pelorinho. I hadn't been there in 7 years, since both my parents were alive and I was nearly married. I've lost all 3 since. I've also garnered some phenomenal gain - my neice, Saa, would not have been born were it not for the door that my mother opened, entered, and closed when she passed on. My Brazilian sister Angélica may not have found us two sisters and a bother if it weren't for our shared father's passing 2 years ago. She'd been searching for him for many years. It cannot go unnoticed that she found us after his death. These are instances of the "magic" of our ancestors to lead us to what we seek, if we should but ask.
Family is wealth. -
So, we're out in the Pelorinho where I was remembering the last time i was there and all of the stories I had heard of the Pelorinho, of people dreaming of slaves and blood flowing down the streets, of the Mercado which is still used today and which also preserves a large underground slave-holding cell as if it were the 15, 16, 17, or 1800s (not withholding that enslavement persisted well into the 1900's) with the heat, standing water, and minimal light from the outside. The cell now is clean and open to the public, which would not have been the case with how tightly Africans from the west of the continent were packed and held as they had been on the ships that brought them. I have a visceral understanding of breathing in the ghastly stench of stagnant human excrement, the salt from the ocean mixed with the sweet of the bay all pouring, leaking, flooding into this dark, closed and hot cell, festering with bacteria and causing disease. The terror, the terrorists, the violence.
I should also point out that the first image you see upon exiting that cell is a huge cross, a symbol of an instruction to pacify the institution of slavery.
I cannot unknow this history, and so when I see a woman at 2AM walking stark naked on the main Avenue behind the Mercado in Cidade Baixo, I am thinking of naked bodies packed, separated (from livelihood, familiarity, and dignity), and sold. The woman now though- she has enough dignity to yell curses at the gawking passersby. I can't know why she is naked at two o'clock in the morning on the Avenue briskly walking. Someone, I presume, has stolen her stuff and locked her out of her familiarity. And her body is Black.
I cannot separate what I know from what I see happening. I am critical in this way. It is my mother's gift to me.
Secondly, my time here in the house of the Mestre is so peaceful. The habitat is natural. Native plants and trees fill the "yard" if I must. We are on the top of a hill overlooking a Bahia. I go to the bay which is mostly private in this section. I can take off my clothes and let my skin absorb rays from the sun. The food is fresh. Lots of fruits, fish, a few vegetables. Açai waved at me before I knew who she was in the garden. I have cracked cacao shells, tasted them roasted, fresh from the farm. I have never had this experience before.
This simple plant-based life is how I can see healing.
Thirdly, today I went to a big festa. Loud music, drumming, lots of people, always people selling foods, cold water and beer, sunglasses, snacks. The sun was very hot. I came to see the Bahianas with flowers and holy water cleaning the stairs to the church of Santa Barbara x Yemoja. I was very sad for some reason I did not quite know. As I stood there soaking in the atmosphere- the music, colors, people, dancing, sounds- I just felt like I needed to cry. It didn't come. Then later we came upon the Bahianas in their full white dresses and headwraps, dancing, sprinking holy water and handing out flowers. I received water on my head at my friend's request so that I could smile. I did. And actually things got better after that.
Saw a capoeira game. Saw it get nasty with one of the participants rudely kicking into a Mestre's buttocks. This is a wrong thing to do in the spirit of capoeira. Respect your elders, especially those who have taught you. There is no need for this type of contact in a game. That was a fighting move. We left afterward.
Danced at a reggae party which also played a type of music which I have been trying to learn the name of. It's Rio Funk from Rio de Janeiro and I love it! Instant booty-bouncing music. This is coming home with me.
All of the sadness was gone by the time we left the festa. It is good to dance, to be in the sun, and to have music beat on my heart.