Word on the Street

There’s always some barulho in Salvador.  Vendors hawking their wares, friends yelling to their neighbor in the street, and people banging on the side of the bus to get it to open its back door.  Not to mention the beeping.

Here in Salvador, there is a unique culture of car horns.  At first I was taken aback by the licentious beeping.  I come from a culture in which honking is considered rude and only to be done in emergency situations–that is to say, “Watch out!”  No one likes the angry driver who is constantly blowing his horn.

Employing this same belligerent connotation to the unconstrained beeping that I heard on my way from the airport, I found it hard to believe those who told me that Baianos are among the happiest people you’ll find.  “If you’re so happy and full of sunshine,” I thought, “then why are you constantly blowing your horn??”

But after driving with my host mom, one of the nicest women on the planet, and losing track of how many times she honked her horn, I realized that I had misjudged the beeping barulho. 

In fact, the culture of the car horn is far more amiable than I had initially imagined.  What is generally viewed as “bad manners” in the United States is the tool that treats transit with far greater politeness here in Salvador.

Like a bicycle bell, Baianos use their beep to warn others of their oncoming presence, as well as to ask permission to enter traffic, to grant it, and to say “thank you”.  The cars thus converse with one another as follows:

*beep*: “Hey, can I back out into traffic in front of you?” 

*beep*: “Sure, go ahead!” 

*beep*: “Thank you!” 

and sometimes…

*beep*: “You’re welcome!” 

Each exchange of light, little tones–always the same intensity and frequency–communicates concisely, quickly, and clearly different information depending on the situation.

The creation of these conversations stems from the sharp turns, blind corners, and very nature of driving itself, in which lanes are invisible and red lights are optional.  Thus, for the motorcycle brushing up along the blind side of the bus, it becomes necessary to say, “Hey!  I’m here!”  Or for the bus bending around a sharp curve to say “Look out!  Here I come!” 

While this medley of Morse-coded messages may sound like the angry chorus of frustrated transit, the beeps are part of another language–a discourse driven by bus, car, and motorcycle alike, spoken out of the reality created by the shape of Salvadorean streets.

Sweet Vengeance

There are few foods that I could eat everyday for the rest of my life, and I have discovered that rice and beans is not one of them.

As the day to go embora is quickly approaching, I can almost taste the cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and froyo that are always present in my parents’ fridge.  I don’t know why I listed all dairy products.  Perhaps because I still haven’t adjusted to the milk here.  It has this really strong distinct flavor that tends to go away a little if I mix it with enough water or with a banana and chocolate powder when blending up a vitamina.  I think my resistance to the taste might be related to the moment during the summer when I discovered where my host mom stores the excess boxes of milk—in the closet.

Not to mention the ants.  I swear the FBI should recruit these tiny creatures which can seek out the source of any and every piece of organic and possibly edible matter.  If I drop just one crumb on the floor or spill one drop of juice, in just seconds the colorful matter is completely eclipsed by a swarm of tiny ants, a black blob whose tail–the trail of still more ants anxiously arriving–extends across the tiles, dipping in the grouted valleys and winding along the wall, finally disappearing in a crack beneath the cupboard.  One of my morning rituals involves massacring a mountain of these insistent insects, my indignation rising when I find their little brown antennas wiggling through the bristles on my toothbrush.

The other day, I fastened a bag of caramels with a clip, wrapped it in a plastic bag, and stuck it in my carry-on bag, zipped shut, and put the entire suitcase inside my armoire on the top shelf and closed the doors.  But lo and behold, these little sniffing stinkers still somehow snuck inside.  When I opened the doors and undid all the locks and bolts, I found hundreds of little ants swarming inside my clipped-shut bag of caramels, many of which had already slipped within the individually wrapped candies themselves, their faces smushed between the plastic and pure sweet pleasure.  That was supposed to be mine.

Recently when working on a project with my friend Rochelle, she pointed to a blotch on her laptop screen, “Do you know what that is?”  “No, what?”  As I leaned in for a closer look, the broken brown body of an ant came into view, its squashed self fossilized forever—stuck behind her computer screen.

Apparently, one day while working on her computer, Rochelle saw this ant crawling across her screen.  When she tried to flick it away, it stayed, instead of skedaddling, smushed behind her screen.  It was then that she realized, that the ant had in fact snuck inside her laptop, and was wandering its way around on the other side.

Que bom,” I said, “Now you’ll always have a little smudge of Salvador on your screen.”