Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Quem tem medo cagar, não come.

Amigos e colegas-

Today, i woke to Laurido, the god-fearing Brazilian man im staying with, sharpening knives in outside the house. It was somewhat of a rude awakening, because he keeps a much stranger schedule than i would like, but it allowed me some time to sit against the wall and just watch light come into the room and hear how songbirds accompany the coming of the morning. Most of the birds here are strange to me, but sometimes ill catch a song or some coloration that is familiar, as Im sure much of our North American songbirds find their way here sometimes, or perhaps they tell their relatives about the mild rainy season Campinas seems to be in.
I dont expect any rain today, only direct sun and gente (people) walking the streets with children in wheelbarrows, to the market, the bank, the bar, the church, or simply loosing some time.
After a quick freezing shower i walked down the street with Joguinho to the local fruit market to find some mangas, because the other market didnt have any today. We fumbled around for a while and found some fruits I had never even seen before. The store owner lent us a big machete knife and we cut open a few to try. He didnt really care about me paying afterwards, he was content to see a gringo trying strange Brazilian fruits for the first time. Skinning strange star shaped things and sucking juices from what appeared to be an apple from the outside, we spent a good hour of the morning just chatting about Bush, politics, Brazil, Bahia, the fruit trade, Iowa and its agriculture, Capoeira, and whatever else the gentlemen standing around skinning coconuts brought up. The experience was one unique to the bairros of Campinas, because in the city, you pay for everything, like any other city, and gente are much less content to spend an hour talking slowly to an American. Slowly im developing a habit of one or two fruits for breakfast, some café, and water, then spending the morning doing whatever other people are doing, and happily.

I was at a bar two nights ago listening to some strang forró music played on a techno-keyboard by two older Brazilian gentlemen. Always extravagantly, they burst into song and immediately everyone in the place was moving their feet, heatedly and in rhythm. I learned a few dance moves, but mostly watched the shirtless males intermix with the slender meninas, smiling and glancing everywhich way for a new partner to celebrate the rhythm with. In some of my simple conversations with friends i have made here, i came across a phrase very coloquial to this part of São Paulo, one that stuck to the walls of my head like sweat for the rest of the long, joyful night.
Quem tem medo cagar, não come. Basically, if you are afraid of shitting, you cant eat.

The fearlessness of the culture can be translated into word famous in Brazilian music, caracão-Heart, though the translation leaves much to be desired. From fruit vendors wearing flashy shirts colored like the Brazilian flag to simple hippy fathers wearing rastafarian hats on top of matty dreadlocks raising a family of two children while exploring his own life, bar tenders and café salesmen, a joy, alegría, a certain fire for things uncertain, undefined and simple, lingers in the space between the everyday interactions here. In the place of tension, restlessness and negativity typical of my life day in and day out in the States, there is a constant developing of self taking place, a fluid motion of progress and magic unmanaged, uncontrolled.

Yesterday, it rained for a good portion of the morning and afternoon. After breakfast, i sat in the kitchen writing, reading some old poetry of Ginsberg and others i had packed for the trip, and closing my eyes to the music of rain bearing down on the thin tin roof. In several spots in the kitchen, buckets were positioned, strategically (the only seemingly intentionally strategic thing i have seen since ive been here) to catch rain as it fell through the subtle cracks above. The dona da casa was bent over the sink soaking lettuce in water and lime juice while carné, beans and rice cooked on the stove. The simplicity of the scene is hard to capture, hard to name. Each afternoon this scene is repeated in thousands of small houses in Matão, rain pattering on tile and beans and rice and meat cooking on a simple gas powered stove. Each day, we eat basically the same thing. Rice with beans, salad and water, juice or fruits sometimes. Yet each day it is so unbelievably delicious, perfect, filling, i cant understand why im not sick of it yet. When you are poor, i was told, rice and beans and salad is what you have to make due with, and it never becomes old because it is all you have. And always, you try to varie it subtly, different spices, flavors or herbs. All the while, the rain fell through the roof as yesterday the same meal was prepared and generally the same way. The lettuce was soaked for ten minutes or so, the chicken sizzled in garlic, and the beans and rice boiled seperately in pressure cookers. The dona da casa sang gently above the hissing of the stove and the beating of the rain a song she later told me was a religious song from her church. After a simple hour passed, we all ate together, to the sound of rain gathering in plastic buckets.

Here you find the difference between making much from little, and squandering inherent beauty, simplicity and joy of a fearless human experience in complication, things unneeded, uncritical acceptance of a culture of negativity, cruelty and manipulation, and worry. Here, in this instance, I began to see the real meaning of caracão, fearlessness, heart. As rain fell through the roof as it had thousands of times before in the history of this family, as rice, beans and meat cooked on the stove as it had thousands of times before as well, a song still found its way into the room from a woman who everyday prepares the same meal, wears the same few knee length summer dresses, and thanks god every morning for a good nights rest. As we pursue sophistication, complexity and business, America has become a place of excess, a place of cruel urgency and false necessity. Because we accept the priorities of our organizing structure into our families and homes so willingly, it creeps its way into our traditions, our beliefs and our relationships, often resulting in a tension, a fear, a hurry that we cant describe. From this, as i am reading in Paulo Friere, when the time is right the human pursuing their humanity fully and honestly sees the opportunity for words, for action, for change in the structure of things away from the dividedness and bitterness of day to day life where all that matters at the end of the day was what you can quantify, count, remember or define.

I fell asleep last night with that simple tune on my lips and in my head, smiling and breating the fresh rainy air easily. I dont know if i have ever been so thankful for so little. Doing much with little is the difference between privelege and humanity, it is the difference between caracão and certainty in a person life.

I hope you all are wonderful, please write me an email.
Paz e amor-

Monday, January 22, 2007

Nossa senhora!

Tudo mundo-

As a grey matting of clouds reveal the afternoon sun, Im in brazil, two weeks into the culture and the language, sitting in a small alabaster wall internet cafe. Trance music blares our the doorway onto the busiest street in Matão, a neighborhood of maybe 10,000 people on the outskirts of Campinas. Campinas itself is a city of nearly 1 million, a city like any other, busy, loud, everyone sweating from moving so much in the sun. Here though is much more like Iowa, a small community of mostly poor Brazilians working industrial jobs and drinking cervejas like water.

Its difficult to know where or how to start on something so grand and magnificent as my life has been these past weeks here. Since i have arrived, i have seen the entire east coast of brazil all the way north to Bahia travelling in a large Agencia BonFim bus with my Capoeirista friends on the way to a annual Capoeira event on the beach near Ilheus, Bahia. As a state Bahia has the only significant mountain range in Brazil. Stretching from the coast and the waters there all the way to the farms of Salvador and the tropical trees that grow near the equator there. To get to the sea our bus traveled nearly 20 hours through small towns centered around the local church adorned with figures of Christ with wings. I dont understand why yet, but in Brazil figures of Christ usually appear with wings. I feel like this holds some real meaning for me somewhere down the road.
The real beauty of the trip was being so close to the sea. Ilheus is a city settled on the sands of the east coast of Brazil with beaches spanning thousands of Kilometers, wrapping around mountains and villages. If you start at Ilheus you can travel nearly thousands of miles south down the east coast of Brazil without your feet ever touching cement. There i spent many nights walking alone under strange stars (the stars are different south of the equator if you didnt know) and listening to the sea crash at my feet.
The highlight of my trip there was my experience at the Fazenda Cultura, Ouro Verde, nestled away from the highway miles into the mountains. It is surrounded by Beriba and thousands of species of tropical flowers and plants. The only noise you hear is the clatter of birds and insects in the foilage and the occassional outburst of laughter from children jumping into the many lakes created by the unequal distribution of rain water in the valley. Here, people train Capoeira and eat fruits for every meal and work the land, repairing the lake ecosystem or growing vegetables, whatever is needed to live well from the earth. I was invited to return in the coming month and live for a while in a tent near the water, to train capoeira and study portuguese. I will return within the next month and be out of touch for probably another month, because it has no electricity. There so much beauty and silence waits for me, it will be an experience i will love my whole life.

Now, i am living with the family of a Capoeira instructor in the area in a house of bricks and mud and sloppy tiles. His mother, father and two brothers are staying there as well, living through the days of heat together. The space is extremely small, but this is my first lesson of how life is lived down here, and how much ive longed for this closeness. The idea of personal space is alien here, the idea of time alone is chuckled at. Much of my academic lifestyle is only thought here, from waking to faling dead tired onto my mat in a room with two other guys there is no room or time for real reading or space alone. Privelege takes on a strange face of ugliness here. Space to yourself and time alone seem to be luxury, even excessive, a middle-class academic commodity i used to value like gold. Now, my heart is shifting, blooming. Community is truly beautiful, a collaboration between peoples against the distance which money and affluence places between the hands and minds of people. Music, food, space, knowledge, passion and time is shared, valued collectively, and in doing so multiplied, like water, life here flows into each individual until it cannot be contained. Here, at the verge of community is where most simply retreat to their rooms, their books or the open road. Not that i am not guilty of this, i have often put intentional space between me and the people i love, but being here, for merely two weeks, the hands and hearts of these people are so obvious i have had to exist with equal tranquility, allowing myself to come close to who would otherwise be complete and serious strangers. This idea is hard to understand. My mind has learned through so many years of striving to carve out a place for myself in this world that i have missed the true beauty unfolding around me. Every single other individual, living breating human is trying and putting their energies to the exact same struggle. Some with more passion and love than others, some more corrupt and dishonest, but all struggling the same. I think that the roots of my social justice experience here will take hold in this idea of community.

I want to give you all every single bit of this beautiful place i can. Flowers bloom on the sidewalks in colors you couldnt imagine. People stare at the sky for hours in the afternoon in the shade, simply sharing space. Time here, if you find the right space, is not money. My productive American mind has broken and deconstructed on the wind. I feel now that my dedication to work and energy for being useful has been somewhat misspent. I see now that before anything else, joy, love, god and community should be persued with trutfullness. This tight, certain package of time we are given by our consumer society is designed only for profit, production, and quantity. I prefer to start my day with fruit and sun, not thoughts of what I must be doing with my life. I will strive to communicate this idea more clearly in the time to come.

Until then, I hope you are all beautiful. Be well, write me an email please.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Meu Caminho


This is the initiating post for what will be the most whilrwind, lifechanging experience of my life. Look here if the question "What has come of Mark Becker" is keeping you up at night, and you will be put at ease.

Mark Becker