Monday, March 05, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Superstition

The summer I was 17, I traveled with the members of my capoeira group to the birthplace of Grupo Raça, a speck on the map on the upper end of the Recôncavo Bahiano called Muritiba. We traveled for nearly 3 days by bus to reach Muritiba, hanging our legs out the windows and watching the scenery change from the red dirt of Paraná in the South to the scrubby caatinga of Bahia. We ate and showered at truck stops along the way, and tried to make the uncomfortable hours pass more quickly by playing berimbau and singing capoeira songs. We were all excited, on our way not only to meet Mestre Medicina, the founder of Grupo Raça, but also to participate in a mass batizado, literally a baptism, the big ceremony in which capoeira players show off their skills in hopes of moving up to the next belt level.

We spent nearly 3 weeks in Bahia, each person from our group in Paraná taken in by a host family from Muritiba. My friend Michelle and I were lucky - we got to stay with one of the contra-mestres, a huge black man called Coelho. Like his nickname implied, Coelho had been rabbit-like in creating his family. No less than 8 children lived in his humble brick home, painted bright yellow on the outside. Another 3 sons were already grown and had moved to Salvador, the big city, to pursue a better life.

Michelle and I were taken in by Coelho as if we were simply 2 long-lost daughters. We slept together on a thin mattress on the floor of the girls' room, giggling each evening with Maíra, Paula, Liliane, Jéssica, Elaine and Roberta packed into bunk beds above us. All of Coelho's daugthers and his 2 sons, Matheus and José, played capoiera as well. As a result, Michelle and I always had plenty to talk about with the kids.

Just like their other children, Coelho and his wife gave Michelle and I chores and curfew during our homestay. Each morning we'd help hand wash dishes and hang clothes before piling into the back of Coelho's pickup truck to go across the dusty town to capoeira practice. At night we'd meet the boys from our capoeira group, along with all the teenaged locals, and hang out at the local gas station and drink beers. Just before 2am, Coelho would turn up in his truck, honk at the end of the street, and we'd go racing down the road to get a ride home before the front gate was locked for the night.

One morning, after a particularly hard day of treino and a long night of drinking and flirting at the Esso station, I woke up to one recurring thought: Coffee. I need coffee. I stumbled down to the kitchen where Coelho's wife was making cheese sandwiches for breakfast.

"Tia, tem café?" I asked, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and trying my best to look alert.

She took one look at my pathetic appearance and started laughing. "Vem cá, bichinha. Come here, honey. You need something strong or you're going to get yourself kicked in the face during practice."

She poured me a huge, steaming cup of sweet coffee. I sat at the table and took big gulps, watching Coelho's wife wrap the sandwiches in waxed paper. Once the last drop of coffee had disappeared from the plastic mug, I excused myself and headed outside to the garden-hose-turned-shower to finish waking up. "Obrigada, Tia. Vou tomar banho."

The woman turned to me as if I'd just announced I was planning on sprouting wings and a feathered tail and flying all the way to treino. "You're going to WHAT?"

"Take a shower, Tia."

"Now? You can't!"

"But there's nobody using the shower right now and I want to take advantage before all the girls get in line."

"Você é doida!"

For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why Coelho's wife was calling me crazy for wanting to take a shower. I decided to ask. "Mas por que não posso tomar banho?"

"Porque faz mal." It's bad for you.

Now it was my turn to look at Tia as if she had lost her mind. Brasilians are obsessed with cleanliness and make a habit of showering at least 3 or 4 times a day in the summer. Tia just shook her head and looked at me, clucking softly with her tounge as if to say, "You poor, lost foreign girl. You really have no idea, do you?"

Now I was intrigued. "Why would a shower be bad for me?"

"Because you just drank hot coffee!" Coelho's wife widened her eyes and threw up her hands, emphasizing what was apparently common knowledge. "You can't have a cold shower now. It will make you sick."

"How will it make me sick?"

Tia took a deep breath and began speaking very slowly, as if explaining something to her youngest daughter. "You know when you pour warm soda over a glass of ice, and the ice cubes crack because the temperature is so different? Well that's what will happen to your brain if you take a shower right now. Your body is hot from the coffee. The water from the hose is cold. If you combine the two, your head will suffer and you will feel terrible pain." She grasped the sides of her head and pantomimed someone screaming, just to drive home the point.

On the inside, I felt like laughing at this silly superstition. But it was apparent that for Coelho and his family, this was an issue to be taken seriously. As a foreigner and a guest in their humble home, I decided to show some respect.

"Tá bom. Okay. I'll have a shower later, after practice."

Coelho's wife nodded approvingly. "Isso, bichina. Good, honey. I can't have you risk your health like that. What would your parents think?"

Yes, I wondered. What on earth would my parents think if they knew I'd nearly been allowed to have a cold shower after a hot cup of coffee. Obviously this close call was what they should be worrying about, not the fact that their 17-year-old daughter was taking a bus trip across Brasil with a group of teenage friends, spending nights drinking at the gas station with local boys, and every morning hopping into the back of a pickup truck, sans seatbelt or helmet, on her way to do some serious capoeira. What would they think indeed...


jenica said...

hahaha! so funny. i love your use of porteguese through out.

Safiya said...

I've missed your Sunday Scribblings. Brilliant as always

Kimberley McGill said...

A wonderful story and very well written. I have never been to Brazil, but I did fall in love with the Portuguese language when I visited Portugal. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to understand it or speak it! While in Portugal I tried to use my Portuguese English dictionary to communicate with a taxi driver - whatever I said must have been terrible because he gestured to order me out of his taxi - I put my dictionary away for the rest of the trip!

gautami tripathy said...

Loved travelling along with you. I can relate with hot coffee, no showers afterwards.

Most follow that here too.

meredith said...

That's so funny and you told the story well :)

Jemima said...

I enjoyed this. Swept me away :-)

Who knows, she might have been right about the cold shower. I shall be careful in future.

Amber said...

LOL! How cute! Ha ha