Dance Lest We All Fall Down
Breaking Cycles of Poverty in Brazil and Beyond
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Washington Press
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Part One: Learning to Dance
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I had just boarded a Varig Brazilian Airlines flight from Brussels to Salvador. The year was 1991. I knew I had left European space and entered Brazilian almost as soon as I entered the plane. I walked to my assigned seat and found a nun sitting there. “Excuse me,” I said. ...
2. The First Return
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I had a strange year in Australia. I spent my days busily researching a topic for which I had already received a grant. But I kept thinking of Salvador. In the evenings, I read about the city and reflected on my impressions...
3. Agnaldo and Candombl
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Agnaldo danced across the room, snapping his fingers as he came. About five feet eleven, Agnaldo was fairly tall for Salvador, with tufts of black-gray hair that stuck out in short, spiky dreadlocks. He had lost a few teeth along the way, and his smile, always generous, was...
4. Letting Salvador Inside
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At capoeira practice one day, Rita asked me if I would like to come visit her at her home for Sunday lunch. “You take the bus to the very end of the line. Don’t get off until it stops for good and everyone else leaves. I’ll meet you there at one.” ...
5. Learning to Dance
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I tried to stay connected with my close friends overseas through periodic telephone calls. It worked poorly. My life in Bahia was so different. The mundane details of my friends’ daily lives became meaningless to me as more time passed. Their concerns often sounded...
6. A Dangerous Embrace
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When I wrote my year-end report on my research and requested a renewal of my grant, I assumed Ferando would continue as my research assistant. I had come to rely heavily on his textual knowledge. We had spent months collecting capoeira chants, researching, and...
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Languages are said to reflect the cultures that create them: Polynesian is said to have more words for love, English an extensive vocabulary in technology. Brazilian Portuguese has words that made me rethink my perceptions of my encounter with life. One was...
8. Sex and Friendship
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“They let Gato out of jail, finally,” I said to Luzia. I was sitting at our table in the single room that served as living room, dining room, and kitchen. I was trying to type notes into my new laptop with minor success. Luzia sat across from me, combing out her long hair after...
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A month or so later, I was walking along a quiet road in central Salvador, looking for a certain shop. Two large men fell in step behind me. They began muttering insults. “Whore! Daughter of a big bitch. How about I fuck you, whore?” ...
10. Burnt Knives
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Local research assistants have always formed the backbone of anthropological research. I was very lucky to have worked with first Fernando, and then Rita. My anthropologist friend Don also had a brilliant research assistant, Keila. Keila was a transvestite prostitute, ...
11. A Stanger
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Luzia moved south for an acting gig, and we gave up the apartment. While I was trying to figure out what to do next, Rita kindly invited me to stay with her. I was sleeping in her living room. One day, I returned to the apartment after visiting a friend, lay down on the mat...
Part Two: Treading Water
12. Encountering Seattle
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I was offered a temporary teaching position north of Seattle, for which I was grateful, but I knew I couldn’t handle small-town America just yet. I wanted to be near the bigger city, but the city disoriented me. It was so encumbered with…stuff. I found it hard to shop in the...
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I arrived in Brazil two months later. A taxi driver friend of Cecilia’s picked me up from the airport, and we immediately began chatting. My God, it felt good to speak Portuguese, to relax into conversation with no preamble or formality. We passed under a stand of high bamboo...
14. Life Change
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I picked up the phone shortly after my arrival back to Seattle to hear the voice of an old friend. “I have some hard news about Jill, Margaret. She has ovarian cancer. But she caught it early. The doctors at first told her there was nothing wrong, that she only had a stomachache, but...
15. Letting the Outer Skin Be Social
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I was in my office after teaching an evening class at my new job at a university in Portland, three hours south of Seattle. I had just started. My plan was to commute, spending four days a week in Portland, and the rest in Seattle working on Bahia Street. I set down my pen and...
16. Of Race and Remembrance
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I was asked to give a talk in Seattle sponsored by the World Affairs Council as well as to write a paper for a conference in San Francisco. This time I decided to talk about Bahia Street. This meant I had to justify the organization, not in terms of what the people in the favelas...
17. More Sides of Bahia
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I was staying at a small Italian-owned hotel in Salvador because Rita said she didn’t want me to stay with her right then. She said it was fine to come and visit, but that her neighborhood was just too violent at the moment, that she would feel concerned about me coming home...
18. A View Into the Abyss
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Eduardo lowered his head and stared at his hands. He looked exhausted. We were sitting in the living room of the Seattle house I had recently bought. The housing market in the area was booming, so I had been able to sell the ramshackle cottage I had bought on...
19. Power and Presence
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On my previous trip to Salvador, I had gone to an exhibition put on by a local aid group. It featured lovely photos taken by street children and young people who worked on the streets. The aid group had given the children cameras and then presented the...
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The interrogator was Phyllis, an African-American friend who was doing her master’s degree at the University of Washington in ethnomusicology. Her thesis was on Brazilian popular music, and she had spent three months in Salvador while I had lived there. I had helped her find...
21. Tall Poppy
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.I was silent. Public transportation from North Bend to Seattle was terrible. And I had been getting numerous calls lately from Brazilian women, none of whom could speak English, who had good computer skills, and who, at first glance, just wanted to do something for company...
22. A Shadowed Color of Shade
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On top of all this, Eduardo had decided to leave the board. He said he was leaving because his music business was taking so much of his time. He was becoming successful, and he and his wife were managing his music as a business. He was starting to teach in the local schools. And he had...
Part Three: Laughter Lessons
23. Leaves of Understanding
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Rita and I were sitting at the comida a quilo where we often went for lunch. We had invited Karey to join us. There was a slang term common in Bahia at that time, amizade colorida, meaning a friendly relationship with spur of the moment
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On the morning of September 11, 2001, the phone awakened me at seven in the morning. It was my sister on Vashon Island. Her first sentences garbled flat against my drowsy ear. She began to cry and blurted out unintelligible sentences. ...
25. Barriers of Glass
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I went to visit Jorge’s family during my next visit to Salvador. “A toast!” Lula said. He had recently had surgery for prostate cancer. “Now, only a sip!” Zezé waggled her finger at him. He was not supposed to drink alcohol, but to Lula, that translated into “not much...
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A profitable commerce had started in the States of companies setting up programs for students or other young people to travel overseas for three months, have an overseas experience, and help, supposedly, local nonprofits by participating in short-term projects. Many charge...
27. Sharing a Lifeboat
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It seemed I had barely hung up the phone and here I was in Salvador. Rita had made an offer on a building two days after my call. We decided, for a bevy of reasons relating to legalities and registration, to have Bahia Street in the United States legally own the building, which Bahia Street...
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At the time we bought the building, the Bahia Street Board in the States consisted of five people: Joyce, by then my longest serving board member; Almuht, a sharp-minded realtor and leading member of the Brazilian community; Henry, a Rotarian and lawyer who had, pro bono, ...
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I was packing up the office for the night when James called. His timing could not have been worse, for him. I ripped into him with all I had thought about that day, leaving him little room on either side to speak. ...
30. Resting on the Wings of a Butterfly
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I sat on the couch in the office looking at Depression K406. Depression K406 didn’t say much and had a leering grin. I called him, “No Exit.” Beside him sat his fat companion. I didn’t know his companion’s name. He just blocked out the sunlight. ...
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Rita came to spend Christmas with me in 2009 after winning the Ivy Inter-American Humanitarian Award in Washington, D.C.—her second humanitarian prize. She now has lots of friends in Seattle, and we all worried she would be too cold in our frigid northern winter. But...
Publication Year: 2010