Beijinhos do Brasil

August 19, 2010

B and I were sipping our drinks and speculating on the opening act, debating whether the gangly character with dark shades slinking across the stage was the man himself or not. He piped along on a gleaming silver flute, and not a second after deciding it was not him, a blazer-sleeved arm picked up the microphone and familiar sultry tones filled the room, greeted by wild screams.


We quickly realized our error and sheepishly attempted to mask our embarrassment over the fact that we had come to a show and had failed to recognize the main act.

Regardless, this has been a solid year for concerts. Seu Jorge was another artist I thought I would have to wait for a trip abroad to see perform live. Though I may as well have been traveling. It felt like the entire country of Brazil was packed into the medium-big Belly Up (a sweet venue that offers quite the array of seating/standing choices). I scarcely heard a word of English the entire evening and everyone was dancing so suggestively. In short, it was heaven.

Although the initial mistake may indicate the contrary, Seu Jorge and I are old pals who go way back. It was the summer of young like (because it wasn’t quite love yet). B had just returned from Malawi and I was literally days away from transplanting my life in another country halfway around the world. Go figure.

During our desperate (but only secretly) endeavor to cram in the next year’s worth of time together in three days, B played me the Brazilian version of Damien Rice’s Blower’s Daughter. I was immediately captivated by Seu Jorge’s voice accented by the mellifluous vocal stylings of Ana Carolina.

I may or may not have had the song on repeat the entire 19-hour transatlantic flight to Sevilla.

Seu Jorge also got me through my first bout of Spanish homesickness (and every ensuing bout, for that matter). He serenaded me while I roasted on the shore of Playa de la Caleta. He livened up my journaling sessions at the outdoor cafe in Plaza Mina. And he established himself as the foremost soundtrack to my wonderfully spent month in Southern Spain. To this day, when certain songs come on, I can still picture my tiny Cadiz room, the blue-trimmed bed frame, the solitary shower with no walls, and even the exact, crisp temperature of the AC.

And the horrifying moment when I discovered that Ana Carolina was in fact a woman and not the really hot Brazilian male I expected (the voice was just so deliciously smooth and masculine!). But I digress.

Seeing Seu Jorge in San Diego was in effect seeing a part of my life come full circle. Nearly three and a half years have passed, and hearing his funkmaster tunes and seven song-long encore (I know, it was awesome) in real person was a huge reminder just how rich life was and how it has only gotten better with time.


I felt the blisters in my hands bite with each swing of the hoe. I tossed seeds worth their weight in gold into the carefully plowed rows. I waited with baited breath for the rains to come and moisten the brown earth. I tracked his journey from sowing to harvest, and devoured line after line alongside him as he poured over the physics texts. I starved with him during famine and cried when he was forced to drop out of school. I lived every last adventure and misadventure, rejoicing in his final triumph but aching deep down, knowing that ultimately I knew nothing of all the struggle he had overcome.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind tells the story of William Kamkwamba, the son of a poor farmer in Malawi, who clings to his dreams at all costs and surmounts inordinate strife to achieve the seemingly impossible. William tends to the family farm, endures painful starvation, and despite forgoing formal education for the greater part of his life because his family cannot afford to pay the annual fees, seeks out knowledge. Persistence results in an ingeniously fashioned windmill made of materials scavenged from a scrapyard. William’s “electric wind” is the first of its kind not only in his village but in the entire country as well, revolutionizing the production of energy in his tiny corner of the developing world.

Clear, straightforward language illustrates the absolute destitution of poverty and the miracle of unlikely success arising from unforgiving circumstance. While the book frequently falls into the feel-good genre of inspirational literature, the inspiration nonetheless comes at a high emotional price. The vast chasm between developing and developed repeatedly broke my heart. But what I found most remarkable was that in a generation of abundant Blackberrys and MacBooks, this story comes from a region still rife with a primitivity the developed world assumes existed centuries ago.

What this book reveals is the disparity of wealth, opportunities, and even basic necessities that was prescient in a past actually not far removed and which likely continues today. Homes made of mud walls and termite-ridden thatched roofs comprise current dwellings for middle-class Malawians. 2002 was the year famine struck, drowning whole communities in starvation and death.  In 2007, the protagonist William took his first plane flight and was introduced to the internet. The internet!

By most standards, I am considered a late bloomer. I never had an AIM screename until college, my ‘archaic’ Nokia brick cell phone that I still proudly use is practically a relic, and I didn’t have a texting plan (limited, of course) until one year ago. And yet there are targeted populations all over the world where social networking means walking a few miles to a neighbor’s house, and are unaware of the conveniences of Google and email. What do I know about starvation, political instability, and the physical costs of hard, manual labor?

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind was a simultaneously hopeful and painful read; a paradox worth perusing.

Mercato Musings

August 9, 2010

If not blueberry muffins fresh out of the oven and made from scratch accompanied by steaming hot Honduran coffee, the next best way to start a Saturday morning is by dancing over to Il Mercato in Little Italy. A part of town already ripe with color, culture, and liveliness, the weekly farmer’s market adds further vibrancy to the Italian quarters of San Diego’s downtown.

Rain or shine, vendors line up on Date Street hawking wares ranging from exotic edibles to organic produce to beer bottle cut glass. Some notable finds from recent trips have been the frothy horchata lattes from Joes On the Nose’s orange truck, the savory Popeye crepe from the little French stand (where high demand can stretch the wait to thirty minutes!), lustrous yellow-orange chrysantemums by the beautiful bouquet, and a sampling table of bread chunks and numerous spice-ridden spreads. Next on my list of Things To Try are the frozen treats from the tiny popsicle cart touting flavors like chili-mango and chocolate-passionfruit.

Depending on who you go with (because B never fails to score prime parking wherever he goes), finding parking can be a bit of a scramble. On one outing, S and I were having extreme difficulties and eventually resigned ourselves to paying for a spot in pricey lot. As we lined up to pour our wallets into the machine in exchange for a few hours of fun, a kind soul handed us his parking pass stating he was leaving for the day. The pass had cost him twelve dollars and was good for another eight hours. Not only are the vegetables fresh and the snacks tasty, good cheer aplenty also abounds at the Mercato.

And if an open-air market stroll isn’t enough to satiate your appetite, an espresso sipped slowly at a sidewalk table at Papalecco’s right down the street will usher in all sorts of pleasant thoughts about irreplaceable sunny weekend mornings spent in San Diego. Cheers.

Hate the Way You Lie

August 6, 2010

Eminem’s Love the Way You Lie video perplexes and enrages me. I feel it too ironic and impossibly foolish that Rihanna would participate in promoting the legitimization of physical abuse in a relationship (something of which she was purportedly a victim herself). But at the same time, I did not come away with the reassurance that the video  was communicating anything other than that. Am I missing something here?

Interlacing steamy scenes of scantily clad Megan Fox sexing it up with shots of her getting violently thrown around doesn’t exactly scream healthy relationship. And Rihanna seductively licking her lips while singing about it does not whisper it either. I don’t care if you are Megan Fox or Rihanna or Mike Tyson, sexualizing domestic violence is not hot. Erg.

I’d like to think that my day job as a social worker at an emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault demands my anger over the video. Going into work everyday is harrowing, and I am not even a victim. I am reduced to tears about every other night, and nine months into this venture, I feel haggard and my soul sucked dry.

Forty hours a week, I listen to individuals recount savage beatings and barrages of verbal abuse. I see lives ruined and sanity shattered. Most children, so vulnerable and prone to continuing the cycle of violence, remain in the system forever.

It is a population that is virtually invisible to the average life. Unlike what the more prominent community apparently thinks, there is nothing romantic, sexy, or remotely worth lauding about relationship violence. Do not get caught in that lie.