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Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Volunteering in NE Brazil - Page 3

Written by Jon Bones
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This year I made my fourth pilgrimage to the Nordeste, Brasil’s northeastern coast. Although my travels in Brazil have taken me into both the rough interior state of Goiás and the urban sprawl of southeastern cities Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the state of Ceará on the northeastern coast has been my first and faithful love. It is the Brazil that I know best and that has had the greatest impact on me; it is the land of red dirt, brown skin, and white smiles. I am drawn not just to the foreign terrain, or the luau of exotic fruits, or the sweet sway of the samba. I am called to the children. I need to go back and see how Wellison is doing. Has Dalmo been taking care of his sister? I wonder what Tayane thinks about the pictures that I sent her.


boiando – drifting


I was astounded when I first saw the capoeristas on Iguape beach. They had dark, leathery skin and bleached blond hair from the ocean and were taking a break from surfing. A small group of them were doing cartwheels and started to move back and forth in a foundational swinging step called the ginga. In a string of acrobatic attacks, the players of the “game,” as they call it kick over each other’s heads, carefully avoiding physical contact. When done in a larger group, a circle, or roda, is formed, and the berimbau string is droned along to a tropical rhythm. Players tumble in from all sides of the circle and join the sparring in the middle when one of the partners grows tired and rolls out. As I videotaped, the Iguape capoeristas spun on their head, did cartwheels with no hands, and executed series of twists and flips. The leader of the pack, a buffed-out man with bright red shorts and sun-scarred skin, started a chain of back handsprings and headed into the ocean, still managing to carry out each turn as the water got deeper and then finished with a backflip that was four feet in the air.

Even the most obese children in Brasil can do flips and handstands because capoeira and soccer are their form of P.E. Children do not have fast food or cars and do not stay indoors all the time and so they learn how to use their bodies and train them to do amazing athletics. Capoeira was invented in the state of Bahía by former slaves who trained themselves physically for escape or confrontation. Their masters thought that they were doing an African dance when in reality they were training to fight. Turning adversity into art is a Brazilian forte.

A half mile north of Iguape is Jangadeiro (zhan-ga-day-roo) beach. I just love buzzing the word out of my mouth. The name Jangadeiro means “sailor” and is ultimately derived from jangada, a name too sultry for a simple sailboat. They float around 300 feet off shore, lying anchored to the sand beneath. The constant battering of wind causes their wrapped-up sails to crook over like fishing poles with big catches on their hooks. There usually seem to be 10 abandoned jangadas to every occupied one. Shirtless sailors rise early in the morning to catch fish, lobster, and sting ray to sell to the restaurant cabanas that line the tourist beaches.

I spent a weekend there with Brazilian friends and drifted in and out of comprehension. I was able to contribute to common conversation, but if I was not engaged and listening I would get lost in the sounds. The Portuguese term for this sensation is boiando or “floating.” One conversation that I remember vividly was with my friend Reuel. We were discussing stereotypes and prejudice and I asked him what he thought about Americans before he met one for the first time. “Americans don’t like to lose,” he told me after some prodding.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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