Monthly Archives: December 2009

All the Souls on Earth Shall Sing

It is Christmas! I saw the sun set from an old fort last night after swimming and a long walk on the bayside beach. Now we are at a palm-lined beach on the ocean, dreaming of authentic snow because it would so fit the season. Our snow is made of cotton.

This version of “I Saw Three Ships” is happy and beautiful and very much worth listening to. Many ships sail into our bay every day. I see them at a distance from the balcony and then up close, as my bus passes by the port of Salvador.

Each ship is calm and majestic coming in past the islands and then festive, sitting at the docks with fluttering flags.

Axé.

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The Soul Stirrers

I have spent today, my birthday, in one of the cities named after that holy savior. This is where you get the axé.

Axé.

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Oriana, Olodumare

Oriana Fallaci was the first person I heard say you cannot negotiate with terrorists, and as we know, the question there is who is a terrorist.

But it is a fact you cannot negotiate with abusers. If you remember this, you can safely extricate yourself from an abusive situation — if you have somewhere else to go, of course.

You can require things of abusers. You can even work with them. But you cannot expect good faith negotiation or collaborative communication of any kind.

It is important to remember that when your attempts to make your position known to an abuser are met with hostility or ridicule, it is not poor communication on your part.

It is also important to remember that if you have abusive people around you it is not necessarily due to some failing on your part — you could be living in an abusive culture.

Finally, it is important to remember that abusers have allies. They may be very nice to your friends, feed the poor, be good at their jobs, and volunteer all over town. They may constantly do favors for other people.

This is part of their cover, their game. So when someone tells you, “but ze did do a nice thing for someone,” it does not mean that ze is not abusing you.

My birthday has now morphed into Christmas Eve, as it tends to do each year. But where I was born the evening is younger. That gives me the time to confer, once again, this knowledge upon myself.

I tend to lament the fact that these kinds of relationships, with Reeducation being the main one, have limited my life to some degree.

Yet from the point of view of Olodumare whom we celebrate tomorrow and every Friday, becoming free at last is the great project and adventure of my life.

Axé.

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In Freedom Now

The authors of this text in its original form spoke in enlightened words. The original is lost, but the scribes wrote it down in its first tongue. Already in Christendom, they used Latin letters.

This is Christmas Eve, the true birthday of she who now performs the ancient text. I woke up happy and rested, and it is a beautiful day. For my birthday, the electricity in the house will, theoretically, be fixed at two o’clock. If it is not, that will be fine too, and I will still go swimming.

Best of all I have written this letter, which I will deliver in due time and in an appropriate form to its actual destinataire. As it is primarily for me, I post it here. It is an excellent birthday present. I like it very much and I am keeping what it confers upon me forever.

Dear S,

I am so glad you are willing to give the car key back to M.  Had our roles been reversed — had I borrowed your car, promising to pick you up in it, and then had second thoughts; had it been you calling me from a foreign country saying you were not happy with the change in plans I had made  — I would have said I was sorry.  Then I would have reaffirmed my original promise to pick you up and take you home.

I really had trusted you to honor the plan we had made. I was surprised when you e-mailed to revise it, and I am sorry I was not completely clear about my displeasure. I was in the middle of the hurry-up-and-wait of dealing with plumbing and electrical problems here, and the idea of changing plans at this late date was upsetting. I understood your idea, and I wanted to take some time to formulate a real response. I should not have sent off the vague answer I did.

I was taken aback when, by telephone, you kept insisting on dropping my car off in New Orleans. That would have kept me  dependent upon you, and I would have had to search after midnight for a car I had not parked myself. It seemed I was now being offered every option except those that would be satisfactory to me — either pick me up as agreed, or leave my car at my house. I am very grateful that you were, in the end, willing not to take the car back to New Orleans.

Weeks ago in person, I had explained painstaking detail why I thought it best to go straight home from the airport, why I did not think it wise to depend upon anyone else for transportation, and why, therefore, I planned to park my car there and leave it. You had another idea, and you promised you would come and pick me up when I arrived.

This was an attractive offer, almost too good to be true. I made it very clear that I knew nighttime driving would be hard on you, and that I did not want to put you through it or to be indebted in any way, or dependent upon anyone for a ride. I impressed upon you that if you really wanted to make this arrangement, you must understand and accept that I needed to go straight home.

It was very painful to have the change of plans raised — and to have it include a shared room in a motel, of all things — when I was already 7000 kilometers away and my car was in your power. There was no need for me to spend any part of this trip renegotiating how I would get back from the airport, or spending time and energy making new plans when I had in fact thought about it in detail and made a plan months ago.

Over the past twelve years I have several times accepted situations with you that were very uncomfortable for me to say the least. This time, things got far too far out of hand. I am going to clear the energy of my house by removing the things you have stored in my garage and shed. You are welcome to take anything that is yours when you leave the car key with M. Otherwise I can deliver the things when I get home. If there’s anything you don’t want I can put it out as trash / as a freebie.

I am not saying I do not appreciate you or that I am no longer your friend. I am saying that I am no longer willing to accept direction from you in ways I sometimes have in the past. When I am new in an area I tend to be tolerant of things I might not be at home, because it is I who am the guest in the culture.

Based on that I established a pattern of acquiescence with you that has never made me happy. I have struggled with you over that in ways that have caused you unfair distress and confusion as well. From now on I am going to stand my ground according to my own lights. It will be better for me in every way, and for you too, insofar as you won’t have to deal with the reactions I have when I feel I’ve been pushed into a corner.

My best to you and the family this bright new year.

Z

Axé.

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The Neighborhood Today: Dialogues

The waves lap eternally. This and the bookshelf cause me to feel so at home that I thought my cat was about to jump up on my lap just now.

I have been trying to understand for a week why the ducks who live on my street breathe so heavily. I mean, you can hear them a block away. They sound like pigs snorting. I have just realized that this is how they quack.

I am told that an official university car was stolen today and driven down here, and there was a big police chase. I missed it.

Earlier on, though, there was a great tumult outside and I am sure I heard a shot. I was out toward the front in a flash, to stand behind the stone wall and peering cautiously through the bars.

Everyone was running to the left and shouting stop, thief! So it was a thief, and they were hoping to run him down. I asked a passer by: was a shot fired? I was sure I heard a shot, and I do know what they sound like, pop.

He answered: no, no shot was fired; the police are not here.

The corollary is that only the police shoot here, perhaps. Or perhaps people only shoot when there are police?

*

But a shot was fired, and there were police. The thief had sacked someone’s house, who had come out shouting. There was a policeman who fired a shot in the air to get the thief to stop, but he dropped his loot, jumped into the water, and started swimming. People were running to the left on the theory that he would have to go on shore at the point, so as to run up the next hill; they wanted to catch him then.

I have this from the little girl Micaela, the future business girl as she says. We do not know what finally happened with this thief.

Axé.

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Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: The Ants

Madre nuestra, esta mañana
me he corrido con las hiedras,
al ver la azul caravana
de las piedras,
de las piedras,
de las piedras…

–C.V.

In the tropics, the ants arrive quickly, furiously, and voraciously to each new event. That is why the last scion of the Buendía tribe is always already being eaten by the ants.

Axé.

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What I Did Today (So Far)

I have hidden the post about my article because when I googled for more material for it, I got that post. Thank you for your comments, everyone, they were extremely helpful! I am replacing the post with a story of my day so far in that Brazilian land, where I am living in a working class neighborhood with an absolutely spectacular view of the bay.

I woke up at ten — late, I know, but I had stayed up until two. Cocks were still weakly crowing. I did some yoga exercises and made coffee, and then came back upstairs and did some work. I tinkered with my piece, ordered books for it, rearranged notes, read articles, thought, and wrote two sentences. Sent a progress report to the editor. Put off other professionally related e-mail.

Now I was ready for my program: go to the beach, come home, then take a bus downtown, get money, come back, buy groceries, and be home by dark to wait for the electrician, but I realized it was already four. There was no hope of completing my program so I decided I would wait until tomorrow to go downtown. Instead of the beach and the voyage I would and take a stroll up to the famous neighborhood church, where I have been too busy to go this week. Then I would buy the groceries I could with the money I have.

This walk takes about fifteen minutes and there are nice views of the bay and the upper city along the way. The church is prettier than I remembered, and the square seems positively metropolitan because of all the souvenir shops. Outside the church door I tried to buy a fairly large ebony figa and a Iansan necklace from an nice old man without legs. I ended up with quite a few additional articles because he overcharged me and I didn’t object, figuring I could afford it and he needed the money. My lagniappe was thus larger than my purchase.

Then I strolled back down the hill and went to a food market next door to the one I have been going to and slightly better. I had already spent half my grocery money so I cut out the items that are bad for you, but that I like. These include German-Brazilian beer, meat, dried meat, and cheese from Minas Gerais. I did buy a kilo of black beans, a liter of tomato pulp, and a bottle of hot sauce.

Coming out of the store I realized I was hungry and had hardly eaten all day. I bought a shrimp laden acarajé from a baiana on the corner, whom everyone else called “my beautiful Negress” but I called “Ma’am.” It was an excellent acarajé, larger, fluffier, and less greasy than any I’ve bought on the street anywhere else. To eat it I sat on a little plastic stool next to the stall. These baianas sell acarajé as a religious activity, you know. They have to make the foods of the gods readily available at reasonable prices. The price of this acarajé was $2.

At home I put the groceries away. Out of curiosity I tasted the new brands of coconut yogurt and passion fruit juice.  Now I am waiting for the electrician and should be getting back to work. I feel I should cook something, and I know I should call my friend to test my Brazilian cell phone. I wish I had some of that German-Brazilian beer or — now I know — a caipirinha!  I will have to buy some distilled fresh sugar cane juice (nothing to do with rum, which is derived from molasses) and make some of those. What I would like to do is take another walk along the quai and then watch a Brazilian soap opera, but I am waiting for the electrician, and only after he comes will the television work.

This was a quiet day but I noticed it was an exotic day.

Axé.

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