Salvador in July

I like Salvador more each time I visit. It looked very green this time. It has not become greener, but the dry season is beginning show in Brasília, which makes Salvador green by comparison. I stayed at the Pestana Lodge. This is better than the Pestana Hotel, which is connected to it by a bridge. The lodge also has the advantage of being a little cheaper than the hotel, so we save the G a little money. The picture alongside is taken from my room’s balcony. What is not to like?

Both the hotel and the lodge are right on the ocean, built into the hills on a rocky headland.  You can walk to shops and restaurants from there, although I don’t think many people do because of the supposed crime threat.  I walked around at night w/o feeling particularly threatened.  I think that the neighborhood is improving. 

One of the board members of the BNC has been active in Salvador for more than fifty years. He explained that crime was worse, so bad that people just didn’t go out at night. There are still parts of the city where you should not go, but things are better. He also told me about the growth of the city. The picture above is the SENAC building. When it was built in the 1980s, it was the tallest building, the only tall building in the area.  The picture below is taken from the window of the SENAC building. You can see all the tall buildings now filling the landscape. All of them are new. This part of Salvador is a completely new city.  

The challenge is similar to any densely built city – traffic. No big city has found the perfect solution. Salvador needs a subway system, among other things. There have long been plans to build one, but the current projection is that there will be only six kilometers, a distance that most people could just walk. I am not sure if the traffic is facilitated or hindered by the interesting local driving habits. On the one hand, you could say that our taxi drivers make use of the whole road, including short distances between parked cars, bus pullouts and places between moving vehicles where you wouldn’t think another car could fit. On the other hand, it seems a bit chaotic.

The New Bahia

Bahia is a big and diverse state and there is a lot more than the well-known images of carnival, capoeira or the images from Jorge Amato novels.  A place like Bahia, which was less developed than many other places, has the advantage in that it can jump ahead, taking advantage of advances w/o having to go through all the mistakes that other suffered along the way. It is the advantage that the sun-belt had over the rust-belt and the U.S. analogy works on several levels. 

We bought a Ford Fiesta for Mariza. I noticed it was made in Brazil; now I know it was made in Bahia.  The plant opened in 2001 and started to make cars for the U.S. market a couple years ago.  It is a new plant and one of the most productive in the world.  It doesn’t have the so-called legacy costs of older-plants. The equipment is new and up-to-date and so are the workers, who are trained and accustomed to the up-to-date equipment.  BTW – I didn’t know that all the Mercedes-Benz “M Class” vehicles are made in Alabama. So the American car (Ford) comes from Brazil and the German car (Mercedes) comes from America. Who can keep track?

There are lots of new things in the old state of Bahia. Money is pouring in because of good business opportunities in general but also because of the pre-salt petroleum discoveries off the coast.  Some of this oil will come ashore in Bahia and the petroleum industry will require billions of dollars of support activities.   Bahia also is set to become a leader in the biofuels industry.  Sugar cane is one of the most efficient crops for producing ethanol and sugar cane in a prime crop in Bahia. They are also experimenting with other crops to be used to make oils and biodiesel.

Western Bahia has become some of the most productive farmland in the world, thanks to better ways to manage soils and new crop varieties.  The remaining problem is infrastructure.  Roads are bad and railroads almost non-existent, but the Brazilians are building a railroad across Bahia, from Tocantins to the sea to carry the grains of the inland farms to the ports of the world.   

I knew that corn and soy could be successfully grown, but I was surprised to learn that they are growing grapes for wine in Bahia. The season never really ends and with the help of irrigation they get two and a half harvests a year from their vineyards.  I thought that wine grapes could not be successfully grown too far into the tropics.  I recall that there was some doubt that a successful wine industry could be established even in Rio Grande do Sul.  But it worked there and now it is moving even farther toward the equator. I also heard that EMBRAPA is developing pears that grow well in the valley of the Sao Francisco, in Bahia. Pears are/were also a cool climate crop. The wonder of modern agriculture is how we keep on developing new varieties of crops that grow in places where nobody thought they could.  Actually, it is the wonder of human imagination.  Somebody always figures out ways to overcome those who tell us things cannot be done. 

One of the complications of development for a place like Bahia is that a lot of the work is done by newcomers and many of the benefits are gained by them. The farmers in the western part of the state, for example, are often immigrants from states like Rio Grande do Sul & Paraná. They brought their know-how with them and developed it to a higher level in the new land of Bahia. Sometimes transplanted ideas and methods work better. 

My first trip to Bahia only gave me a start. Salvador is only a small part of the state.  I have not been to western Bahia, but I plan to go and see those productive farms in places where a few decades ago everybody said could grow nothing but poverty.

My pictures show Salvador from the ocean view, a new area of town (notice the new buildings under construction) and the last picture shows students at the Federal University of Bahia. 

Live fast; die young; leave a nice looking husk

I didn’t know much about coconuts and much of what I did know was evidently wrong.  I thought that inside the coconut was a whitish liquid – coconut milk. No, inside the coconut is mostly water. The Brazilians call it aqua de coco. It tastes a lot like ordinary water except it is thicker & is supposed to be good for you. I was offered coconut water lots of places in Salvador and one of the hosts told me the story of coconuts. Many people also like the white coconut meat. I happen not to, but I suppose if you are hungry enough it would be good. I also thought that the coconut was a big seed. It isn’t. There is a single seed inside the nut.  When conditions are right the seed sends roots and stems out those weak spots in the shell, the things that look kind of like a face on the nut. With all these attributes, you can see what a useful thing this would be on the proverbial desert island. 

The coconuts come in a green husk that floats. That is how coconuts get distributed throughout the world.   The thing falls or is washed into the sea.  The sea-journey and the salt water don’t hurt the coconut. If it washes up on a hospitable beach in a reasonable amount of time, a new coconut palm can be born. That is why coconut palms ring the tropical seas and are a symbol of tropic beaches. 

Coconuts do not live very long, at least for trees. But they grow fast. This is another adaptation to life on the beach.  Roots cannot sink too deep into the shifting sands and over the course of a few decades it is almost certain that a storm will come along that is strong enough to disrupt even a well rooted tree growing not very far above the tide line. So the coconut’s strategy is to live fast, die young and leave a nice looking husk.

My pictures are from along the sea in Salvador. The top two show coconut palms.  In the second picture you can see an agua de coco stand where you can get fresh coconut water.  Notice the big dunes of white sand behind the stand. I don’t know the details of how it gets deposited there, but some places along the coast these big dunes block the ocean. Some are covered by vegetation, like the ones in the picture, others are just sand.

Afro-Brazilians in Old Salvador

Old Salvador is an interesting place because of the interesting architecture and charming streets, but much more because of the interesting life on the streets, the people, in other words. Old Salvador comes with a soundtrack.  There is the constant sound of drums and singing, as well as the usual human activity sounds you would expect on streets where the pedestrian still trumps the car.  You get a feeling of community.

We were in this part of town to visit an African Brazilian organization called Olodum. Olodum is known mostly for its music, with strong percussion. In fact, Olodum members were responsible for some of the drumming and singing I heard. Some of these people were featured in a Paul Simon Album and Michael Jackson came to Salvador & Rio to record a music video “They Don’t Care About Us”. I understand that he did not to the moon walk. I suppose even for the King of Pop it would have been hard to do a smooth moon walk on the rough cobbled streets.

We are interested in Olodum more for its community outreach than for its music. We are hoping to broker a partnership between the BNC ACBEU and Olodum to teach English in the local Afro-Brazilian community.  The community is interested in this because of the general utility of English, but also because of the specific demands of the World Cup, which will feature games in Salvador in 2014. With English, community members could more easily find good jobs related to foreign visitors.  We see this as a good opportunity to help a group that has often been excluded and to make new friends, in the networking way I have written about on so many occasions. 

We went to the other side of town to Senzala do Barro Preto with a similar aim. This is another Afro-Brazilian organization. They told me that they were inspired by the civil rights movement and you could see that in the pictures of leaders like Martin Luther King and Barack Obama. Leaders at the Centro are more interested in a partnership than in English teaching per se and it makes sense. They don’t want to just have a one-time infusion, but rather want to develop community members who can sustain the effort. It makes sense to “train the trainers”. It complicates logistics a bit, but we can probably figure it out. Things just work better when the community gets what it wants and is committed to working for the results.

My pictures show various scenes from Old Salvador. They are fairly self explanatory. I took the Coca-Cola truck, since I don’t want to go anywhere where they don’t have Coca-Cola. I don’t think there really are many places like that in the world these days. The bottom pictures show a street in the other part of town and the other part of town. It is less charming but it is the place where lots more people live.

Below is a the neighborhood.

Old Salvador, 500 years on.

The old part of Salvador reminds me of Lisbon, which come as no surprise given the direction of colonization.  The Portuguese landed here at the height of their empire. The Pope divided the world between the Portuguese and the Spanish in 1794, the Treaty of Tordesillas. It was interesting that they thought that the Pope had the right to broker such a treaty and give millions of people and undiscovered lands to two Iberian nations, but they took it seriously. The dividing line gave most of the Americas to Spain. Brazil was yet undiscovered, but the tip of what is now Brazil – now Salvador – juts out into the Portuguese zone. This technicality is one reason why Brazil speaks Portuguese today. 

The Portuguese empire has always fascinated me. It seems like an oxymoron. Yet little Portugal used to be a big deal, as you can still see from the spread of their language and cultural traits from East Timor to the Azores.  Portugal didn’t have the population or national heft to maintain an empire, but that didn’t stop them from doing it for more than 500 years.

They hugged the coasts in most places. Brazil was an exception to some extent. The Portuguese still hugged the coast, but their descendants & others pushed way into South America, which is why Brazil is so big today.

Salvador is an example of the old coastal empire. It was a rich place, as you can tell from the existing architecture, especially the opulent baroque church of São Francisco. We went to visit it just before one of our appointments and it was worth the trip. A little old guy called Paulo met us on the way in and gave us the fast tour.  I forgot most of what he said, but it was worth having him at the time. He didn’t ask for any money, but we gave him some anyway and he didn’t even make a pretense of turning it down.

Most of what I remember is that the tiles are from Portugal and a great example of that sort of art.  You can see in the pictures that Paulo was telling the truth. That gold encrusted vision you see in the picture is wood.  He said it was pau-Brasil, for which the country was named. Pau-Brasil was the country’s first big export item, before the sugar cane plantations got started.

Salvador was Brazil’s first capital. It has a kind of charming decadence today and I think it probably s had a charming decadence from the day it was founded. There was not really anything like a new big building until relatively recently in history.  Monumental buildings took generations to build and people used and occupied them as they were in the process of being competed.  I know this is a small point, but I think it is important to explain some attitude differences in the past. We expect to start and finish things in a way they did not.

The economy came to depend on sugar cane, which the Portuguese introduced. Sugar was an extremely profitable crop, but growing it was labor intensive and the labor was hard and dangerous. The Portuguese grew it with slave labor imported from Africa. Portuguese colonization was different from the English colonization in North America. The English came in large numbers and often as families and most intended to stay in America.  Fewer Portuguese came to Brazil and they often came as single men often with the intent of making money and going home.   This had predictable demographic and economic consequences that you can still see today. Bahia is demographically very much like Africa and the people of Bahia have retained many cultural aspects of their African heritage. Please see the next post to find out more about that.

My pictures are all from the São Francisco Church in Salvador

Seventy Years in Salvador

Our BNC in Salvador, ACBEU, celebrated its seventieth anniversary. It was founded when much of the world was already at war and only months before the United States would be dragged too.  The context is not coincidental.  The founders understood the need for the two greatest nations of the Western Hemisphere to come together in the face of all of this rising sea of trouble.  They wanted to make their contribution. 

I say “our” BNC.  The accuracy of the usage depends on what you mean by the word “our.”  It is certainly “our” in the sense of U.S.-Brazil and it is our in the sense of the U.S. government representing the U.S. nation. We helped.  But it is mostly theirs.  It belongs to the people of Salvador, who over generations have built ACBEU to the institution it has become.  The thing that impressed me most about ACBEU, what has impressed me about all the BNCs I have visited, is the depth of community involvement.  There are people who have been involved with this BNC for two generations.  The son of one of the founders spoke at the anniversary celebration and around the room were leading members of the Salvador community.

I talked to a guy about my age who runs a charity that helps a thousand poor kids with education, medical care and general direction. He proudly told me that he had been a student at ACBEU many years before and that it has helped shape his life.  This is an example of a long term impact. The Chairman of ACBEU Board estimated that they have around 420,000 alumni, many like the man I mentioned above doing important work in Salvador.

ACBEU has around 6000 students this year.  It is the usual BNC mix, with mostly young people but also adults and professional students.   ACBEU supports an EducationUSA advising center; they have strong partnerships with local businesses and governments and the reach out to the community, giving poor kids scholarships and holding some classes in the poor neighborhoods.  These are all great things that most BNCs do.  An unusual aspect of ACBEU was its American student contingent. 

ACBEU hosts around three-hundred Americans each year who come to learn or perfect their Portuguese.  We talk a lot about two-way exchange, but it more often is Brazilians going to the U.S. Brazil is a great country and getting more important all the time.  We need to develop a bigger group of Americans who understand this country, its language and customs.  These students mostly come through linkages with American universities.  American students want to come to Bahia and the cultural experience is great. 

We also met one of our ELFs – English Language Fellows.  This particular ELF, Jennifer, is housed at ACBEU.  Among the things she does train high school English teachers, obviously another high-leverage activity since they will in turn train thousands of kids.  We are trying to expand this program in Brazil to help satisfy the seemingly inexhaustible demand for English language.  We currently have only two in the country: one in Recife and the one in Salvador that we met.  But next year we should get four more funded by ECA and another one funded by the public affairs.   In addition, the Secretary of Education in the state of Pernambuco wants five more ELFs and he says that he will pay for with his own funds.  ELFs have always been hosted by local partners, but I don’t think this type of full cost-share has ever happened before and it is certainly the first time in Brazil that we have had that kind of partnership.  Our English Language Officer in São Paulo is figuring out the details.  You always know when somebody really wants want something when they put their time and/or money up.  

ELFs are is a great way to reach young Brazilians, a high leverage activity, since we are helping them get what they want and we get a self-selecting group of highly motivated people, who are likely to be influential in the future. 

I have marveled at how easy it is to work in Brazil. It is because of these programs implemented over many years that we can so easily do our business in this country.  The polling data give us their ephemeral numbers of how many like us and how many don’t. Currently we are well-liked in Brazil, according to the polls.  I read polls and I pay attention to them, but I understand their limits.  People have opinions that they report and they have things that they do; these are often not closely related. I know that through good times and bad times, we have friends. 

The top picture shows  Associação Comercial Bahia. Below that is me at the commemoration trying to look good. The next two pictures show murals at ACBEU. They have an art gallery space. New artists can show their work there.  There is no money charged, but the artists have to leave a work of art at ACBEU.