David and Lili's World Tour

BRAZIL

December 2004 - Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte

Rio De Janeiro is often called the marvelous city, a name well-deserved. Rio's cosmotolitan neighborhoods (such as Ipanema and Leblon) remind me of New York City but with postcard scenery, warm weather, great beaches, and Brazilians. Little seems to have changed since I first came here 16 years ago, for good and bad. I have had nothing but wonderful experiences, but I hear stories of drug gangs, corrupt police, assaults, and kidnappings. I highly recommend a visit; it is a marvelous city; just be careful. Anyway, I'm biased. I love Brazil.

Lili and I planned our romantic reunion from London a few months ago. To celebrate, we indulged in a posh hotel on Copacabana Beach, a rare splurge. Mostly we hung out on the beach.

To stay safe in Rio, avoid the favelas (slums) unless with a local, dress in the local style too (neatly) with no expensive jewelry, and keep that camera hidden, take taxis at night, and relax. The bad guys can smell fear. Lili and I will return to Rio sometime, enshallah, but we're already in Belo Horizonte, Brazil's third-largest city. There's not a lot for the tourist here, but we aren't tourists. This is a city we know very well, so we go out with friends to eat the world's most delicious food, drink beer, and discuss life, the Universe, and everything. It's good to be in Brazil!

January 2005 - Pirapora

Life is good times with Lili's family. We celebrated Christmas in Pirapora and then went to the countryside. I truly enjoy the humility found in the people on remote farms. I see a huge contrast between the happiness found in life's simple pleasures, and the stress found in big-city complexity.

We visited three farms. All of them had horses, cows, bulls, pigs, dogs, chickens, turkeys and fruit trees. Everyone eats four small meals a day. After milking the cows, there is coffee with fresh (boiled) milk. With so many visitors for dinner, the farm ends up with one less animal. I have come to eat very little meat, in general, but when Brazilians throw a bar-b-que, it is hard to say no. One of the farms has a river nearby, perfect for an afternoon swim. The children are easily entertained because they are not addicted to television. What these people lack in education and sophistication, they make up for in hospitality, generosity, storytelling, and a heartfelt spiritual warmth.

Back in Pirapora, a small town that by comparison seems large, life is also simple, but less so. Since we are on vacation, we generally meet up with friends for fried fish and cold beer by the river, or something like that. I feel at home. The town itself has a high crime rate, mostly from unemployed adolescent drug abusers, and so people need high fences around their houses. That's too bad because everyone I have met has been wonderful. The poverty is such that most people get around by bicycle because they cannot afford cars, and the roads are full of potholes. Those who have cars have cheap cars, to deter theft.

We all agree that the number one problem here is political corruption. Brazil has enormous potential but all that natural wealth doesn't do much to help the poor. Brazil's current president, known to all by his nickname Lula, by all accounts is a good man and a competent administrator, but he hasn't been able to accomplish much due to the endemic corruption underneath him. He appears to be trying, and I wish him the best of luck.

January 2005 - Bahia

We drove with Leocadia and Junior to Bahia, known worldwide for its musical culture and beaches. Mostly we hit the beaches, but one can't go to Bahia without enjoying the music too.

We visited some nice beach towns! Barra Grande is still (mostly) undiscovered. The fishing culture has been largely replaced by guest houses, restaurants, bars, tour operators, shops, artisans, etcetera, but it's not too crowded, even in high season. We managed to find a nice pousada (double room with breakfast) for about 20 dollars a day. I highly recommend this place, but don't wait too long. Barra Grande will grow quickly. This seems to be the pattern with cool Bahia beach towns. Take Arraial D'Ajuda for example. We went there next. In 1993 it was like Barra Grande is now, small and uncrowded. There has been constant construction over the last 12 years. But despite the impressive growth, the town is still nice.

Next we drove to Trancoso, one of the new hip towns that Brazilian celebrities visit. It's nice. The beaches are clean. The water is warm. The weather is hot during the day and perfect at night. The tourists are mostly Brazilians, and they are a fun-loving, friendly, and lively lot. The beaches have bars and restaurants right on the sand, playing good music, serving fruit shakes, fish, and of course beer. At sunset, count on a game of pick-up soccer. Every time I come to Brazil I try to make time for a trip to Bahia.

One observation: over the years, Brazilians have gotten fatter. Globalization has brought fast food and video games to the Brazilian middle class, and this becomes obvious at the beach.

January 2005 - World Social Forum, Porto Alegre

Compared to Bahia, the people in Porto Alegre are whiter, the buildings have more European influence, and the public transportation system works better. And being further south, it gets colder. But now things have heated up. There are more than 200,000 people here for the fifth-annual World Social Forum, people from all walks of life, from presidents Lula (Brazil) and Chávez (Venezuela) to poor young hippies. Some people are here to discuss serious business, while others are here for the free parties and shows. There is a campground with 24-hour activity, and there are multi-lingual sessions to discuss the World's problems and propose solutions.

My translation assignment was the press room. I sat in a little booth listening to Portuguese and speaking in English, while reporters listened on hand-held radios. It was an enormous and fulfilling challenge.

As a volunteer, I received free housing with a wonderful family, plus bus and food coupons. I translated for government ministers (including Marina Silva), representatives from indigenous tribes, representatives from the Iraqi resistance (who countered mainstream media deceptions, and explained why the Iraqi people will resist the "imperialist invaders" to the end), and more. There were talks on African hunger. There was a talk on child prostitution and modern-day slavery. The last session was about alternatives to corporate media, such as community radio and new Internet technologies built by people for people (similar in a sense to Linux, which successfully competes with Microsoft Windows).

Other popular topics at the Forum include: human rights, racial equality, the war in Iraq, Palestinian statehood, land-ownership reform in Brazil, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, strengthening the United Nations, preventing multinational corporations from privatizing education and water, and debunking "free trade" myths by analyzing the treaties that govern NAFTA and the WTO. There was unanimous opposition to the proposed Free Trade Association of the Americas (FTAA). These accords are written by corporations for corporations, and then ratified by governments. Promote Fair Trade.

Lula gave a speech and was criticized by some because his reforms were not radical enough, but he is handcuffed by enormous debt, systemic corruption underneath him, and a powerful congress. All agree that his international policies are great. Immediately after his speech, Lula got on a plane to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, where he launched a new global initiative to help combat African hunger. He has the clout to do this because one of his first acts as president was to launch a Zero Hunger program in Brazil. They say that Lula's proposal was well received. They say that perhaps the recent tsunami helped inspire the wealthy elite, meeting in Davos, to assume a bit of responsibility to help. But don't hold your breath; the profit-obsessed USA dominates these meetings.

There was widespread disillusionment with America for re-electing Bush; that is, assuming he didn't steal the election with electronic voting fraud in Ohio. (The machines were created by Bush's friend Mr. Diebold, and had a security hole allowing the databases to be updated after the polls closed, and there is evidence that this is exactly what happened.) Most people here would agree that Bush is the world's #1 terrorist. History teaches that the USA has been involved in anti-democratic, illegal and bloody coups, backing right-wing dictators, and promoting imperialist policies in Latin America for a long time (see Guatemala). This is what pissed off Ernesto Che Guevara, a hero to many here.

Recently the CIA (along with oil and media tycoons of Venezuela) was involved in a coup against president Hugo Chávez. The coup was successful, but popular force was able to undo the result. I went to see El Presidente speak live. It is easy to see why the US media vilifies him: he is a socialist, and he wants to use oil profits to help the poor in his country (meaning that certain corporations in the USA make less money). Media outlets in Venezuela that are linked to oil tycoons also vilify Chávez. But the people vote for him despite the intense media spin. I think that Hugo deserves much of the criticism he receives (few politicians are clean), but it is also important to debunk media deceptions. I think the measure of a politician should be the degree to which (s)he works to eliminate poverty, promoting a vibrant middle class, promoting sustainability, and regulating against capitalism's institutionalized greed, all while being a responsible steward of the economy. By this measure, Hugo is a far cry better than Bush. But the media does its job well; I constantly encounter people who hate Hugo Chávez, people who watch a lot of mainstream TV news. Here at the World Social Forum, however, Hugo is seen as a hero for having the courage to speak out against American imperialism and the excesses of capitalism gone berserk. Hugo makes many good points that the mainstream media does not want you to hear. I have been to Venezuela (pre-2003 with no digital camera), so I can testify that he does spend that oil money to fight poverty and empower democratic, community government (which helps the economy at large). Is he a megalomaniac? Does it matter if the people vote for him? Hmmm... He is not a dictator, a lie that the media repeats often. Beware mainstream media spin! Look for the facts and think for yourself. Think: oil.

Greed has gone global, so governmental counter-measures must also go global, else greed wins. But how do we get there? In my opinion, we need a more democratic media to educate and to create priorities, such as forgiving third-world debt and preventing excessive fishing. But sadly, the trend is moving in the opposite direction, towards increased media consolidation in the hands of the multinational corporations. Thank God for the Internet - it is our best hope for educating the voting public in the powerful democracies, so that we can defeat institutionalized greed, with a goal to eliminate extreme poverty and save the planet for future generations.

The motto of the World Social Forum is: Another world is possible...

Friends, we have work to do.

February 2005 - BIG NEWS and Carnival

The BIG NEWS is that Lili and I got married !!!

Then we went to Carnival.

I haven't been to the gigantic carnivals of Rio, Salvador, or Recife, but I've seen reports on Brazilian TV. Small-town carnivals have all the music and dancing without the crowds. This year we chose Tiradentes, an old-style town in a lovely mountain setting ALIVE with beer-drinking and samba. I've been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans twice, the same religious holiday. But Mardi Gras is not the same party. Brazilian Carnival is more fun! Especially with Lili. Woo Hoo !!! We got married !!!

We have been investigating the possibility of moving to Brazil, discussing the pros and cons compared to the USA. The pros for Brazil boil down into two categories: politics and culture. The Amazon rain forest and the beaches are pretty cool, too.

First, politics...

While the USA's military regime is creating hatred with imperialist wars and unbridled neoliberal capitalism, Brazil is a leader in promoting causes of peace, ending hunger, and FAIR trade. Brazil just hosted the World Social Forum. The USA (or at least W and friends) fights against cooperative international agreements and shows disdain for world opinion; meanwhile Brazil is working to unite poor countries into a political block, especially in trade negotiations. Brazil still has a long way to go in fighting corruption, though, unfortunately.

A few years ago, Brazil snubbed the USA and pharmaceutical companies to manufacture low-cost AIDS drugs. While markets and capitalism are necessary, profits for corporations should not be the only important priority. The world needs low-cost AIDS drugs, for example. But Americans are repeatedly bombarded with arguments in favor of maximizing profits above all else, such as stock market reports and gross national product (GNP) statistics. Americans are not reminded that every time a tree gets cut down in Indonesia pushing the orangutan towards extinction, the GNP goes up, and every time a pharmaceutical company sells an expensive AIDS cocktail to those who can least afford it, the GNP goes up. Only governments can ensure that other priorities are respected. The USA resists these priorities while Brazil promotes them.

The USA has Bush while Brazil has Lula. I have yet to meet a Brazilian who likes Bush. For that matter, I've never met anyone outside of the USA who likes Bush. Why do so many people like him in America? I blame the so-called liberal media. But the influence of the delusional religious right should not be underestimated. Powerful forces combine into a perfect storm of propaganda for a significant percentage of Americans.

Political corruption from corporate cash runs extreme in America when it comes to health care. My buddy went to the hospital for emergency surgery and got stuck with a bill for approximately USD $100,000.00. One Hundred Thousand Dollars. Health care in America is SICK. It's so bad, it's scary. But the rules can be changed with people power. Let's go. Along with education, Universal Health Care is perhaps the best way for a nation to promote a vibrant middle class able to retire with dignity.

It's sad, really. With so much potential, and with so many good people, the American government has become a greed machine. Brazil's government is a greed machine, too. Is this inevitable for every democracy where the people are poorly informed? Maybe. Is democracy over-rated? Maybe. Compare to China. But let's be real. What's good for American democracy is good for planet Earth. Thus my passion for politics.

I like the USA more than it sounds from my political rants. I like the whole world. Everywhere has problems. But since the USA dominates global power, and I'm an American citizen, I think the government of the USA deserves the most criticism. To my fellow Americans, I say, "Please get more involved in fixing our democracy. Thanks." Another world is possible. We have the Internet! Let's go! Support independent media, the more factual, the better, especially if it's entertaining for the common citizen. Also, teach the children the truth.

Next, culture...

Americans are often seen by Brazilians as being arrogant. Brazilians value humility. Is Bush the most arrogant person alive? When Brazilians refer to someone's "education," they usually mean that person's character, manners, and respect for others, the job of the parents and the community, not the schools.

The USA has the world's largest economy, and takes the least vacation. Think: corporate profit. The so-called American Dream is to have a big house, a big car, and a big-screen TV. Americans buy these things on credit and then get trapped with the bills. Promoting the American Dream is to promote individualism, materialism, consumerism, and work work work. Shop 'til you drop.

I lived in my previous house for two years, and despite repeated efforts, I never had a conversation with either of my immediate neighbors. They were always too busy. In Brazil, people value getting to know their neighbors. This goes along with stronger family values. Brazilian children show more respect for their parents. The USA is the world's fattest country. The work ethic demands short lunch breaks, which promotes fast food. Unhealthy food is cheaper (watch: Food, Inc.). Also, since American schools are so underfunded, they have cut physical education and have begun selling Coca Cola. Multinational corporations are taking over America, a land increasingly homogeneous, with look-alike strip malls and super-stores like Wal-Mart (where the profit goes to the world's richest family). Brazil, in contrast, still has a bakery in every neighborhood. I'd rather buy my bread from a real person and have them keep the profit.

Both Brazil and America have high rates of death by guns. Brazil has more crime from its impoverished millions, but this is small compared to America's imperial warfare. The USA has a high risk of another terrorist attack, thanks to its own bad karma. There are reasons why so many people hate America. Brazil, in this regard, is safe.

Bush mentioned the word FREEDOM in his recent inauguration speech more than 40 times, but American laws increasingly restrict personal freedoms. Is America becomming a police state? When I was there recently, I had my backpack searched multiple times. One federal agent even smelled my shampoo bottle! Another went through my entire pack, for no reason, while I was waiting in line at a bus station in Ohio. He pulled my stuff out of my pack and laid it out on the dirty floor. Such things do not happen in Brazil. On the other hand, in some places, Brazilians are more afraid of police than they are of criminals (many Brazilian police are criminals). As an American, it is illegal for me to travel to Cuba. Of all the more-or-less free countries on Earth, only the USA has such a ridiculous travel restriction. Americans still have many freedoms, but I want to puke when I hear Bush talk about it.

Then there's music. I love Brazilian music. Samba, Bossa Nova, Forro, Pagode, Rock, Reggae - It's all good. Brazil has a musical culture. Most Americans (except for Spanish speakers) only listen to music with words in English because that's what corporate radio promotes. I went to see a Brazilian celebrity, Gilberto Gil, in a small bar in Denver, and it wasn't even sold out; Americans don't know who he is.

Then there's soccer, a Brazilian passion. I've always been a fan.

If you look at Brazilian cities as a casual observer, they often look dirty and run down, but that is due to a lack of public money at the municipal level. If you look inside Brazilian houses, they are clean. In comparison, Americans can be pretty messy (too much stuff?). Brazilians also dress better, especially the women.

Few things get me more upset than racism. Racism does exist in Brazil, a lot, but in comparison with the USA it seems non-existent, especially because it's easy to be color blind in a land where most people are mestiços and mulatos. In Brazil the poorest people are generally black and the richest people are usually white (a legacy from slavery, as with the USA), but unlike in North America, many escaped Brazilian slaves escaped to quilombos where they managed to preserve much of their African culture. To understand Brazil, one must understand Africa.

The USA does have some advantages. Boulder, Colorado, for example, is clean, safe, and has an outstanding network of bicycle paths. Many great people, too. But Boulder is a very expensive place to live.

It seems to me that most Americans see Brazil as the land of Carnival, samba, futebol, and the Amazon rain forest, with naked women everywhere, because this is what the media promotes. Note that the bit about naked women is a myth perpetuated by the odd Carnival queen who shows her breasts. The truth is that Brazil's culture is deeply rooted in Christian values (with African religions, too.) The lyrics to popular songs are often explicitly about sex, but the women do keep their clothes on in public (I am counting string bikinis as "clothes").

I would like to emphasize the difficulty in discussing culture without using stereotypes and generalizations. Exceptions abound. It's a statistical thing.

To summarize, I find Brazil to be a more social place than the USA. The people are more open and friendly, respectful, relaxed, tolerant, less racist, less arrogant, more open to the rest of the world, and are not as obsessed with money. The African influence in culture and music is positive. The women are more sensual. The food is wonderful. Mmmmm... But there is a lot of misery here. The minimum wage is only about $100 US per month. So naturally, poor Brazilians want to go to the USA or Europe to make money. We are thinking of moving to Brazil, but the corruption and violent crime are BIG negatives. I would rather not live in the USA; I would rather not pay taxes to support imperialist warfare. So where to live? I have heard nothing but good things about New Zealand, and some of the socialist Scandinavian countries are purportedly great as well. But for now, Brazil has Carnival. And Lili ;-)

February 2005 - Rio de Janeiro, Florianópolis, São Paulo

Henceforth, this web site is no longer David's World Tour. Lili is on board for the duration :-) We had an interview at the American Embassy in Rio to apply for her visa. Even married, this will take six months. To get a Green Card, the bureaucracy can take years. Meanwhile, we will avoid the USA. That's easy... We fly to Africa tomorrow!

We visited Florianópolis because people say it's the nicest city to live in Brazil. The island, Santa Catarina, is clean and modern, with great beaches. But it lacks the African cultural influence we like so much about Brazil further north. Floripa is more influenced by Europe. We have decided not to decide where to live just yet. We have a lot more travelling to do. For now, Florpa remains a candidate, even though it seems like a different country. It is that nice!

We are in São Paulo to visit friends (and the giant airport). The economic capital of South America, São Paulo is not a laid-back place. It is enormous, with traffic, pollution, and a seemingly endless sea of medium-sized buildings. Tchau!

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