1 Day, When I Grow Up!

Berlin-Salvador-Berlin, The Travlin' Man!

I was sittin' and stinkin' 'bout my father's trip to Brazil. When he came home, Papa was browner, tired and sum' things he spoke about an' enjoyed, an' others, well, he seem to have sum' trubles sayin'... I don't know why, my father is usually a prety talkativ' man? So, I asked him to write about his travls for me, so I could know what he saw, heard, felt and lerned!?

Arrived Tegel airport, at the time I was supposed to! 3 hours before an international flight! I was on my way to Salvador, Bahia, Brazil to attend the IV. Mercado Cultural Festival as a result of an invitation by the Department of Culture, Los Angeles, California and the African Marketplace, courtesy of Mr. James Burks. I was tired and perhaps excited, but not exactly looking forward to 12 hours on an airplane to Brazil! I knew I should attend, because this was a gracious opportunity extended to me by an insistent patron and I was to be a panelist, discussing festival production-direction and film-video distribution.

The ride was lengthy, with a dissatisfied baby in front of me, but with fitful, intermittent sleep, periodic exercise sessions, meals and a few other than class A films, time passed. I enjoyed the graph on the video screen, informing one and all of our journey's direction, altitude and miles elapsed. As the pilot announced our approach to Salvador, Bahia, a video was playing, extolling virtues of the country we were soon to visit. I was struck by the non-existence of sun kissed people throughout the video until the end, when a street parade was featured. Suddenly the invisible-invincible people emerged, singing, dancing and smiling their way into the visitors' purses, if not hearts. "We are here, a little bit, but we're no problem - so join the fun and peaceful, grateful - us!"

The people awaiting Festival participants were gracious in welcoming myself, others and soon, we were off to our hotel. Arrived Berlin airport 8 a.m., arrival Salvador, Bahia hotel, 4 a.m. Berlin time. Weary, but warm! I slept late, awakened, vocalized, exercised and then off to find my contact person and host, who turned up at the swimming pool, chatting with charming guests from the U.S.A. Later in the day, I attended a film screening, all in Portuguese - little of which I understood, but the film was well made, although I sat through, human tragedy after human tragedy...! I also witnessed an animal slaughtered in a Brazilian slaughterhouse during the film, rough stuff!

I then had the good fortune to meet Fátima Fróes, Director of the Pan African Film Festival and the journalist and film critic José Carlos Avellar. In addition to being wined and dined, I was escorted on a walking tour of the old city of Pelourinho in Salvador. Bahia has a majority Black population, although I regret to say: the opportunities for access to economic development for all Brazilians, leaves a great deal to be desired when it comes to the Black population. I was informed of an impending visit to an area of the Pelourinho, where historically, African captives were auctioned and rebellious slaves were publicly whipped when one or many of their number, had offended the unforgiving and unyielding master. I felt an almost overwhelming sense of grief and indignation at the audacity of people who perpetuated mercilessly and brutally such heinous, despicable crimes, while all the while, my hosts informed me, the behavior of the slave owners in their mishandling of the slaves, was sanctioned by the Catholic Church.
Not to worry, it's only the body being tortured, the souls of the slaves will enjoy all the pleasures of the after life!
Now, ain't that some stuff!
An old friend of mine in N.Y.C., used to say, "God don't like ugly!"
I wondered if the recent revelations regarding the church, are God´s retribution.
"Payback is a bitch!" my friend also used to say!
The silence of the church in this and other matters of social conscience is deafening.

The streets, narrow and cobble-stoned, were filled with people of all sizes, shapes and shades of Black colors- dancing, drinking, seducing, enjoying the 30 degree centigrade weather accompanied by rhythms representing the cultural influences of Salvador, Bahia. Festive lights were attached to trees and buildings, as Christmas was on the way to the world - again! With goodies for some and the others, well...?!
I remember thinking, "I am privileged to witness and absorb the sights and sounds, good, bad and indifferent, of so many people like myself. They are nourishing me for the work I am undertaking and I have the responsibility to succeed! For myself and them!
The conferences, performances were well attended, enjoyable and informative. We all learned and shared. The wining and dining was sumptuous, equally well attended and perhaps even enjoyed a bit more than the conferences! The streets held another reality! The following evening, we returned to the Pelourinho and again visited the same open area of the night before, a wide open square, cobble-stoned streets, descending from the apex, downhill, past the Catholic Church on the right. The site from where the "silent witness" took place, over a period of many years.

The square was filled with people selling, begging, looking, buying!
A fellow who called himself, Elvis, attached himself to me and persuaded-hounded me into purchasing a ribbon he tied to my right wrist in three knots - each knot representing a wish! Not that I'm superstitious, but on the other hand, why take a chance!? It might work! I paid the man and dutifully uttered my silent wishes! Elvis said he was a capoeira student and proceeded to demonstrate several James Brown splits to street level and up...
Not Bad!!!
The children, brown and thin, massaged their stomachs and urged travellers to give them money in whatever fragments of language they thought the tourist might understand and be sympathetic towards.
I had money, I gave!
"There but for the grace of God, go I!"
I kept hearing this phrase over and over in my head, as the night wore on, with stark contrast of privilege and poverty, side by side! Armed guards, police and dashing tourists - co-existence took, takes place, uneasily!
I remember fighting back tears, as my armor of invulnerability, graciously failed me! As the world of this surrounding reality, gradually crept inside!
My conference companion was considerate and spoke quietly to me during these sensitizing moments.

The days flew and I remember an older Black man in our very comfortable hotel, who originally greeted us at the entrance of the hotel, upon our arrival from the airport, with a fierce countenance. This big strong Black man was protecting the property and his job, at the dwelling of the owner.
I thought of Malcolm X, the house ni...., the field ni.... and the irony of protecting those, who perhaps have contributed to the dismal state of so many people and lands.
I saw this man every evening, as he came to work to probably frighten people looking like me, away from the hotel and to protect "the other" paying guests! The people I observed during the majority of the video, on the last portion of my flight to Brazil.
On the last day of my enlightenment in Brazil and as an act of solidarity and communication, I placed aside the ubiquitous travelling bag, my constant travelling companion with our coveted public relations materials inside, walked over, extended my hand and bowed to this Black man. The smile he offered in return, shone brightly and his fierce facade disappeared. We communicated and connected, without a spoken word.

The streets have trees with lights and the hotel possesses a Christmas tree and all the trimmings. Brazil is a country where 48% of the wealth is controlled by 10% of the people and the bottom 10% on the economic ladder, receive only 0.07% of the gross national product or economic pie!
This is a recipe for a continuing downward spiral of socio-economic relationships within and without the country and one day, perhaps the spectres of Argentina, Russia, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Columbia and other such potential disasters will loom, with the accompanying social malaise, disruption or revolution, accumulated and perhaps deserved, as a result of hundreds of years of callous indifference, exploitation and opportunism.
Speaking with Brazilians who had visited Cuba, there was admiration for this developing country, whose economic and social resources are reputedly far more evenly distributed than Brazils.
With the election of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the appointment of Gilberto Gil as Minister of Culture, I pray "Zero Hunger" to quote Minister Gil, and "Brazil Without Racism", as stated by president Lula da Silva in his presidential campaign, will afford greater access to Brazil´s rich potential for all her citizens.

Christmas time in 32 degree centigrade weather!
I think I could adjust to this!
I learned, felt, shared and cried!
The travel and people were informative in many ways and hence, rewarding!

Thanks Papa for lettin' us know what you did in Brazil.
I didn't know you in this way, but I'm glad you told us everything.
It makes us all closer,

Prof. Donald Muldrow Griffith
Fountainhead® Tanz Theatre

Copyright, February, 2003