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´Highlighting Brazil’s Complex African Identity And Race Issues´… My response

Retrato do Professor Ernesto Carneiro Ribeiro.

This is a comment I left on The African or Black Question TAOBQ blog; ´Highlighting Brazil’s Complex African Identity And Race Issues`

Thank you for referencing my post ´a lighter shade of black…`

I´d like to give my opinion on a point made
´But what’s up with the Brazilian love for the word “Afro”, which in places like Britain is often associated with the Afro comb! And as all humanity descended from Africa, they ought to consider using African heritage instead

Firstly, I don´t see the problem in using ´Afro´ as a prefix link to Africa. And it´s not only used in Brazil- Latin America in General; ´Afro-Latino’.

Does one have to call themselves specifically African-Brazilian, African-Latino etc to prove their acceptance of their African heritage? (“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” W.Shakespeare) Having options isn´t such a bad thing because you can´t please everyone. Someone might prefer Afrodescendente, another Afro-Brazilian. The point is to get Africans to identify with their African ancestry to ´empower´ themselves. Debating which phrase we use to do so is fighting the same battle as far as I´m concerned.

I am Afro-Brazilian, Patricia in her home town Novo Iguacu, Rio

I am Afro-Brazilian, Patricia in her home town Novo Iguacu, Rio

I´m working on a photo-documentary called ´I am Afro-Brazilian`. Despite meeting many people proud to be ´black´ in Rio, I have only met one person actually calling herself ´Afro-Brazilian` in 1 month of being here! Lets not knock the efforts of African Brazilians/Latinos using ´Afro` as a prefix to their ancestry.

And regarding ´places like Britain (Afro) is often associated with the Afro comb!´
Is that a bad thing for an African descendant to associate their African ancestry to the `Afro Comb´? The Afro, which in its self is a political symbol of ´African Pride´… What would be the wrong in that if that was the case?

And lastly, speaking of Britain. In some ways we (Africans in Britain) have further to go than the `Afro`-Brazilian/Latino community. Because where as there is the option for Africans in S.America to pre-fix a direct link to Africa in which ever way one chooses to, in Britain what do we have? BLACK!

Just a few months ago I was proudly wearing the label `Black British´ (I still haven´t completely shed it off, however I now prefer to just use African). Thank you TAOBQ for opening my mind to the African or Black question! We have a long way before `African British` will flow with ease from the majority of African descendants in the UK but at least the debate is out there and getting people THINKING and QUESTIONING!

One last point! I understand why people dislike labels- why should they?! However, calling ones-self African descendant (in which every way one chooses to) shouldn´t purely be for the sake of identity purposes. As you wrote; ´And as all humanity descended from Africa…` (which I think is a bit of a `cop-out` in many contexts!) I think the correct acknowledgement should be ` we all have some mixed ancestry along the line (which in many cases links back to Africa)`.

How can we define ourselves with just one ancestral link? I for example: I am a dark-skinned British-Born Ghanaian… With a German surname! But it isn´t my surname that defines me. I choose being African to define who I am to EMPOWER myself.

Thank you for the opportunity for me to voice my opinions! Keep the debate alive! The fight is for a good cause!

Kai
travelmakerkai.wordpress.com

Please feel free to join the debate!

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a mobile pic from TAOBQ debate, London

Act your age… Not your wave size!

Here’s to Marco and Bobby!

Living for the moment… 29th december 2012… Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro

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“Ay calor!”… Things are heating up in Rio!

If I leave Rio having learnt just one new word, it would have to be “calor“- “heat“. And to say it the correct Carioca way would simply be (with lots of sensuality);

Ay Calooor!”

Don’t forget to repeat it at least 5 times to yourself and anyone else around you- just in case they too have to be reminded just how hot it is!

And things are certainly heating up in Rio de Janeiro!

My flat mate Nubia, a Portuguese teacher, is keeping me informed of this as, for some reason, I seem to be immune to the heat. I subconsciously think it’s because I don’t feel I have a right to complain. If I were in London I’d be freezing, so I’m taking ‘the scorching heat’ with a pinch of salt.

Proof that dark skin burns! Lesson learnt! Sal island, CV

Proof that dark skin burns! Lesson learnt! Sal island, CV

However with temperatures reaching as high as 47°C in the last few days- the hottest since 1915 according to Climatempo Institute (riotimesonline.com), it would be a crime to head out into the sun without sun protection… And even black skin needs sun block! Boy did I learn the hard way in Cabo Verde! Skin as dark as mine can burn so protect yourself!

Climbing a volcano... with no sun protection at high altitude! Big mistake!

Climbing a volcano in Cabo Verde… with no sun protection at high altitude! Big mistake!

My main reason for ‘shying away’ from using conventional sun block (besides the fact that it isn’t readily advertised for black skin) is due to the pasty white residue it leaves on my skin. When I use it on my face; I look and feel like a clown!

However there are other options available. I choose moisturisers with SPF. Many cosmetic brands produce particularly face moisturisers with sun protection factor. But don’t neglect other parts of the body exposed to the sun- the shoulders are prone to sun burn!

Also drink lots of water… and shake things up with freshly squeezed citrus juices to refresh the body.

I would also recommend drinking tea, but then that’s the British in me! I’m living proof that tea keeps me cool. But try on your own accord.

All in all, simply use the ‘heat’ as an excuse to chill out at the beach… Like a true Carioca!

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Influences of Bahia in Minas Gerias

“My father is from Bahia.”

Vivi tells me as we reach the entrance of her home in the suburbs of Belo Horizonte.

“There’s always pepper in our house!”

She concludes.

And as we make our was down to her house from the gate, I notice fruit trees growing wildly, and a cocoa tree.

“Yes, it’s cocoa. You make chocolate from it.”

Vivi confirms.

“My father planted the seed from Bahia many years ago.”

And the seed of Bahia has indeed been planted in this household which has strong influences of Vivi’s father’s birthplace.

I asked Auzuir a few questions during one of his less busy moments;

“In 1978, I was 25, I came to Belo Horizonte. Life in Bahia was a lot different. I grew up in the countryside; Guaratinga, south of Bahia. I was a farmer. I planted various crops; beans, cassava, banana, potato and others. We sold them to make a living. It was the way to survive. Countryside lifestyle.”

“When I came to Minas Gerias I worked in a factory. There was a set timetable- for break, for lunch etc. In Bahia I was more flexible. Things were harder than they are now.”

“I still have influences of Bahia here. I have friends and family from Bahia living here. I add flavours from Bahia- pepper and spices, in food. I make cocoada to sell (a sweet made from grated coconut). I have a cocoa tree in the garden which I planted in 1996. It still produces fruit.”

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You are ‘who you meet!’… And what you eat!

The menu...

The menu…

I’m honestly so humbled to meet so many good people during my travels who have some positive influence on me.

Brazil has been no exception. After a meeting up with a group at Parque Large, organised by Rio Walkers, we headed to Lapa by bus. I got talking to Alberto. It wasn’t long before I got straight to the point as asked what he did for a living.

“I’m a travel journalist.”

He came out with. And on the rocky bus, nothing else seemed to matter. I’d met ‘my kind of people!’

We inaugurated our friendship at Casa de Cachaças. With a wide variety of cachaças to choose from, my favourite (however least liked by the rest of the group) was the ginger. Prices range between 3 reais and 9 reais for a shot.

It was here in fact that Alberto totally corrupted my mind! What should have been an innocent invitation to eat bacalhau (cod fish), would turn into a sexual innuendo which in its self would officially have me inaugurated into ‘mistakes Gringos make to try and fit into Brazilian society.’ Examples I’ve been told are;

‘kissing on the lips’

thinking it’s the informal way to greet Brazilians, and mistaking

‘pau duro (horney)’

for

‘pão duro (stingy)’!

Oh dear, never would I think to be associated with such, well… Stupidity!

Anyway, back to bacalhau. The invitation went on for a few days with Alberto constantly asking me when we’d have some. My response was always “tomorrow”. Then finally one sunday, the day Alberto my travel journalist mentor tested my blagging technic to get into Circo Voador comp as a journalist since I missed the free admission time before 9pm. And I refused to pay the 15 reais on the basis of principal- customer service.

So he and Richard (a friend) did what they could to ‘get journalist from the UK‘ into the gig. I got in!…. As Maria Sulvars!

We were with a dynamic group to see the headliner Gaby Amarontos; dubbed Brazilian Beyonce. So naturally the men were gay (and beautiful), and the women free-spirited and wild (i’m pretty sure the girl behind me was intentionally letting her hand swing loosely to touch my back as she danced). At one point we all sat together and I exclaimed my hunger.

“I want some bacanau”

“What tonight?”

One of the guys asked in surprise; almost considering the same.

“Yes, tonight! Now even!”

I had just blurted out to 3 gay guys that I wanted to have some sort of orgy with them!!

“Ah you mean ‘bacalhau!!”

“That’s what I said- ‘bacanau’!”

And then they explained to me the subtle difference. I turned to Alberto and we all burst out into laughter! But as we said our goodbye’s and one of the guys said;

“so do you want to do something else… sometime?”

I really couldn’t tell if it was an innocent question or he was considering my bacanau request earlier. It was late, I was tired. I kissed them goodnight and made my way home- alone!

The next day bright and early I met up with Alberto. He had on him some goodies.

“I know this will be the only time we’ll get to eat bacalhau together because you keep saying ‘tomorrow'”

and as we made our way on a mini tour around some hidden sights of Rio, we ate  bacalhau together…

Watch Alberto’s video reportage of Rio de Janeiro

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Christmas with Vivi… In Minas Gerais

I stuffed another pao de queijo into my mouth.

This was the moment I had been waiting for after the 7 hour bus ride from Rio to Belo Horizonte yesterday.

I was full but I couldn’t resist yet another one. This is definitely my last I think to myself as I notice the number of cheese breads had dramatically decreased.

“Have some more!”

Vivi tells me as I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand.

“No, really, I’m satisfied!”

I respond. She tells me,

“in my house it would be a shame for us if anyone eats and isn’t satisfied.”

This sort of hospitality is very familiar.

No, I’m not back home in Ghana with aunties feeding me until I burst. I’m in Minas Gerais, in the humble home of Vivi and her family who live in the suburbs of Belo Horizonte.

Vivi and I met in London over two years ago. We attended the same Gym, doing boxfit and LBT classes every week. We got talking and became friends. When she left to return to Brazil we kept in touch via email. I told Vivi my plans to be in Brazil during this period. She wrote;

“Christmas is a time for family here in Brazil…”

and in the next email;

“you’re welcome to spend it with us if you like.”

And most grateful I am for that invitation!

Aparecida receives her gifts from Vivi and family

Aparecida receives her gifts from Vivi and family

Today is the 24th December. The Christmas party will be held at Aparecida’s house tonight, Vivi’s neighbour. We’ve already been by to give her gifts (and I got a sense of what’s to be expected as her stove was full of pans cooking- food and lots of it!)

That evening reminded me a lot of my  favourite festival in Ghana- homowo (celebrated by Gas meaning ‘hooting of hunger’). During this period your home is open and anyone (invited or not) can come in and enjoy kpeple and palm soup.

We started our night at Vivi’s aunt’s house. There the BBQ was already hot as meat and chicken was readily being served. I helped myself to some rice, farina and tomato salsa. There was something about the farina that reminded me of kpeple (made from corn) and I  asked if it was made from corn as it looked almost alike. It wasn’t. But that wasn’t enough to stop me from helping myself to seconds as I made comparisons to Ghanaian food. Vivi’s aunt proudly announced she is a “Bahiana” as she handed me the pepper sauce.

The next stop was Aparecida’s house, where I’m sorry to admit, I helped myself to more food! Christmas was ushered in at midnight and we hugged and wished each other a Merry Christmas…

Christmas breakfast inc Christmas chocolate cake made by Viviane, Jair and Aparecida's daughter

Christmas breakfast inc Christmas chocolate cake made by Viviane, Jair and Aparecida’s daughter

Jair's birthday also on Christmas Day! Double celebration! With a neighbour's baby, and his grandson feeding the chickens.

Jair’s birthday also on Christmas Day! Double celebration! With a neighbour’s baby, and his grandson feeding the chickens.

It doesn’t end there! We were back again on Christmas morning at 9am for a Christmas Breakfast and to celebrate Jair’s birthday. I went to him and said;

“en Inglese- ‘Happy Birthday!”

He received my wish with a hug.

The food was laid out, and once again, it wasn’t just my eyes that got a feast- my stomach did too! I got a sense of community spirit- everyone was like one big family!

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Christmas breakfast

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Family and friends!

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Vivi’s nieces, sister-in-law and sister-in-law’s mother gives a big smile!

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more smiles!

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Viviane and her husband, and Vivi’s mum hugs a neighbour

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me and my little friend Anna-Julia, the two ‘vivianes’!

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

Even here in Brazil! I’m amused when I see christmas tress, decorations and even a Santa’s grotto in a shopping centre! For some reason I’ve registered Christmas (the novelty of it) as being a western thing. I continue to look in amazement as the season draws closer.
Christmas in Brazil is celebrated with family on the 24th december. Tomorrow I get a bus to Minas Gerais to spend the holiday with my friend Vivi who I met in London.

My sister and I exchange gifts

My sister and I exchange gifts, west-end christmas lights

Else where; in London. As much as I complain about the winter and streets filled with people shopping, I do like the atmosphere of ‘Christmas cheer’ as I walk down west-end viewing the lights and extravagant window displays. Of course it isn’t long before a tourist stops in my path and I abandon the mission of christmas shopping for the comfort of on-line shopping. ‘Sod Christmas cheer’ I curse to myself.

Before I left for Brazil I exchanged gifts with my sister Mel. When it comes to giving gifts she truly is ‘simply the best!’ I’m more of a ‘choose what you want and I’ll buy it.’ Or in most cases ‘pick a destination’ which has seen us travel together to Italy, Czech Republic, Holland and most recently in November, Morocco.

Christmas is a time to spend with family, and although I’m away from mine, I’m most grateful that I have a family that understands my need to travel and experience new cultures.

When I told my mum I wouldn’t be spending Christmas with her she simple said;

“ah ok. Don’t worry you go and enjoy yourself. The girls (my sisters) will be here with me.”

Merry Christmas everyone!

Christmas novelty in Brazil!

Christmas novelty in Brazil!

Central Street Success pt6

The streets of Central in Rio de Janeiro is the setting for a new project I’ve been working on while in Rio. To the left of Central station lies a bustling Afro-Brazilian community, amongst them live and work African immigrants. Many of whom have lived in Brazil for over 10 years and consider Brazil home. They’ve built a sweet success for themselves by working hard. But what’s to show for it? The streets are paved with historic buildings crumbling from years, decades and perhaps a century of neglect. Many are abandoned and have become home to squatters. Drugs and prostitution is rife… What goes on inside is not the business of an outsider.

Central Street Success is a photographic documentation of 5 native Africans who work on the streets of Central. Here’s a small taster of the lives of Africans living in Rio.

Sampson Nketia, shoemaker (Ghana)

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Why did you choose to come to Brazil?

I came to Brazil to see the place. I just arrived 2 weeks now. Before I was in Russia for 2 years. It was difficult because people in Russia have lack of respect for black (people). They are racist! I was working as a commercial buyer. Sometimes they won’t make business with you because you are black.

How has your experience been in Brazil?

“It’s every hot (laughs). It’s like Africa here. I arrived from Russia which gets -18 degrees sometimes, to Rio here in this heat! Brazilians are nice people though. So kind. But! They are dirty (laughs). They can just piss anywhere on the street (laughs).”

What does success mean to you?

“Unless I win the lotto or something (laughs). Money isn’t everything but it is a necessary means to get by. You can not ask a poor person ‘what does success mean to him’. Anyway it is my secret (touches his heart), you know what I mean?”

Is Brazil home?

“Well, i just arrived here so ask me in 3 months time! But here is free. There is peace. If you don’t have peace you can’t get on anywhere… My dream home is Australia! I was there for 2 months. I want to return there to live for good.”

I saw this and thought… wow

I recently booked my ticket to Salvador, Bahia! I’m so excited to get on with my Tabom Afro-Brazilian research and be in town for carnival!

As I stood at the Avianca airport ticket desk waiting for my São Paulo- Salvador- Rio, tickets to be printed my eyes caught the front cover of their latest magazine. To see an Afro-Brazilian woman on the cover of a magazine is unusual (at least it’s not so common from where I stand), so you can imagine my interest to want to know who this beautiful woman is!

Gloria Maria. A journalist!

Please check out this debate ´Black (negro) or African descendant (afrodescendente)? What’s in a term? Three well-known Brazilians weigh in on which term they prefer to define themselves` (http://www.blackwomenofbrazil.com/2012/11/black-negro-or-african-descendant.html#comment-form)

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Please tell me, are there any other Black/Afro-Brazilian women highlighted in the media in Brazil?

Central Street Success pt5

The streets of Central in Rio de Janeiro is the setting for a new project I’ve been working on while in Rio. To the left of Central station lies a bustling Afro-Brazilian community, amongst them live and work African immigrants. Many of whom have lived in Brazil for over 10 years and consider Brazil home. They’ve built a sweet success for themselves by working hard. But what’s to show for it? The streets are paved with historic buildings crumbling from years, decades and perhaps a century of neglect. Many are abandoned and have become home to squatters. Drugs and prostitution is rife… What goes on inside is not the business of an outsider.

Central Street Success is a photographic documentation of 5 native Africans who work on the streets of Central. Here’s a small taster of the lives of Africans living in Rio.

Kwadwo Amankona, shoe maker (Ghana)

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Why did you choose to live in Brazil?

“I have lived in Brazil for four years now. Actually it wasn’t Brazil I wanted to come to but I ended up here. I was in Cabo Verde before but life there was too bad. There was no work.”

How did you start your business?

“How did I start?… When I came here there was another Ghanaian working here. I didn’t know anything about this profession. When I was in Ghana I didn’t do this job, I worked at Total filling station. I learnt everything when I got here. When the owner moved, he left the shop for me. I’ve been here for 4 years now.”

How long did it take you to learn Portuguese?

“Hmm, I would say 4 years because it isn’t everything that I know. It was hard to learn. When people would insult me I just remember the words and say it back to them. Then they say ‘no don’t use that word or someone will fight you’, then I know it’s not a good word. So I learnt the bad words fast!”

What does success mean to you?

“Success is import for me to take care of my family back home. I think I am more successful than when I was there (Africa).”

Is Brazil home?

“(laughs)… Is Brazil home? No. it’s not easy here. Not easy. If i get a chance I’ll move. I’ll move back to Ghana.”

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