Salvador, Bahia, Brazil: Africa in the Americas

by Wanda Sabir

I don’t know if it is a will of iron, Ogun or foolishness, but I caught something viral, which I refused to keep, on the plane Monday, Dec. 23, when I flew to San Salvador, El Salvador, by mistake – yes, the booking agent booked me for San Salvador when I clearly said Salvador, BAHIA, Brazil (smile). I kept seeing San Salvador and thought, well, perhaps this is another way of referencing Salvador, Bahia.

Brazilian-fashion-designer-Carlos-Dantas-Wanda-in-Salvador-Bahia-airport-122813-by-Wanda-web, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil: Africa in the Americas, Culture Currents I didn’t know I was in the wrong country until I got to customs and the lady told me to pay $10 US for a tourism permit. I am, like, why, when I have a visa? She looked at my passport and looked back at me and said, “You are not in Brazil.”

I’d wondered why I understood the language when I got off the plane, and why there were no Black people or at least people who looked like me (smile). I am still not seeing many Black people yet, now that I am in the right country. Folks are lighter complexioned. It is like I got dropped into New Orleans circa early 19th century on someone’s plantation. I know there have to be dark complexioned Brazilians in Salvador; I just haven’t seen them yet – right?

I saw a pretty Black sister dancing in the Balé Folclórico da Bahia performance I went to Saturday night at Teatro Miguel Santuro. That was fun, seeing this wonderful company at home. It is a smaller ensemble – they probably trade off. The show was just an hour for $40 BRL or $20 US, $25 US if you purchased the DVD of the performance, which I did. I might go again and ask if I can take photos.

OK, back to Monday, Dec. 23, when I was in San Salvador, to Tuesday, when I had to go get my luggage from San Francisco International Airport – Aviantas didn’t send my luggage with me. It was a turnaround trip. Spent all day in the airport with a really kind and patient agent trying to get the other agency that goofed up my ticket on the line so they could reissue a corrected ticket to me. It took seven hours, but eventually they admitted their mistake and promised to arrange another flight.

I didn’t know that if you go to a country without a visa, if you leave the airport, you can get arrested. It’s a good thing the mistake was to San Salvador, where not only do we not need a visa, they use U.S. currency – like Zimbabwe (smile). Small world indeed.

Of course, when the woman at the travel agency that goofed told me in November, when I got the ticket, she could beat the price and travel time that I’d researched, I should have been suspicious – five hours to get to Brazil?! Talk about wishful thinking. When I finally arrived in Salvador, Bahia, on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, at 12:48 a.m., I’d spent four hours in Miami and eight hours in Brasilia and then an additional four hours in Salvador.

AfroBrazilian-model-Luana-de-Noailles, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil: Africa in the Americas, Culture Currents Yep, I was tired but it is totally worth it (smile). I met a really nice and famous man in the airport last night. He started his career as a photographer; now he is a famous fashion designer. He launched the career of the first AfroBrazilian model, Luana de Noailles, whose given name is Raimunda Nonata of Sacramento, also from Salvador. She became a legend in the 1970s and 80s, 15 years before Naomi Campbell.

In Brazil she modeled for Rhodia, a powerful textile industry, where she met Carlos Dantas, my friend at the airport in Salvador. She then went to Italy and France, where her name graced fashion houses Yves Saint Laurent and Christine Dior. She married a French count and retired.

Mr. Dantas has a business in Miami, where he has lived for the past 24 or so years. He and his partner design costumes for the Miami opera and others at ABC Costume Shop. He was fun to talk to. He also makes porceline dolls and is coming up with a clothes line using recycled materials. Lately he has been doing a lot with denim. Cosmopolitan, he was visiting his brother in Salvador and told me that he’s lived in Italy, France and Bangkok, now Miami.

I do not recommend traveling with so many stops, but hey, I was excited. And after a false start, I took the new itinerary without critiquing the details – they didn’t appear until the day before in my email box.

That was no excuse; I had the itinerary account number, but I was tired of holding for the agent at the travel agency, which I am intentionally not naming. The real reason I didn’t check was becasue I was grading portfolios for the four classes I taught in fall semester 2013. I was also trying to feel like writing my final papers. I know – I should have stayed my globetrotting self home and taken care of the bread and butter responsibilities.

But when I turned 50 five years ago, I told myself I would not spend another New Year’s in the United States and, well, I broke my stride last year because my grandson was born in December and I’d planned to take his sister to the inaugaration. It was an economic decision. Bree turned 10 on the flight back from D.C. in January 2013. She’s a great big sister too.

So I was overdue for the homeland. I had to go to Africa this past summer, East Africa where I met Mzee Pete O’Neal and got a chance to see Mama C (Charlotte O’Neal) at home with her king. Quite remarkable paradise they have created; it is truly America in Africa. Loved it there. I miss Upesi, whose guest house I stayed at this summer. She is an ancestor now.

So I get through immigration in Brasilia, where I think they are going to ask for my shot record and the address where I am staying and a lot of other information – and the Brazilian immigration officers are so low key. They even smile, something the SFO guys never do.

Capoeira-studio-pic-of-Vicente-Ferreira-Pastinha-founder-of-Capoeira-Angola-on-wall-Salvador-Bahia-1213-by-Wanda-web, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil: Africa in the Americas, Culture Currents At baggage claim, I am looking for my luggage and then find out almost an hour later it’s on another carrousel. I brought a box with toys and crayons and coloring books and other little toys for the kids. I hope to get to a favela here. I hear there is one in Salvador. After having a packed suitcase for Dec. 23, and having another two days to try it again, you would think I would have it together Dec. 26? Well, maybe if my name wasn’t Wanda Sabir or, as my passport reads, Wanda Ali Batin Sabir.

I am feeling rotten Thursday, the first day of Kwanzaa – Habari gani? What’s the news? Sore throat, slight cough and maybe a fever (smile).

It is so hot here – at least in the 80s, maybe hotter. I am drenched again as soon as I get out of the shower, which, at the first place I stay, has just cold water. The lounge furniture is made from plastic soft drink bottles. Really chic and stylish.

I go to the health food store after I leave the drugstore and buy homeopathic cough medicine and put some in a travel bottle to take along the way. I start taking the Wellness formula and Defense Plus and swallow liquid garlic pills by the handful. I also do granulated vitamin C and carry ginger tea and a thermal cup which I keep filled with hot liquid. I am feeling pretty good now Saturday night; maybe it’s Sunday – we are five hours ahead of California.

I am also carrying oatmeal and trail mix, just in case I can’t eat the breakfast. Today I didn’t get dinner. I missed the vegetarian restaurant where one of my housemates told me they sell vegan beans and rice. I will have to locate beans and rice tomorrow. I am hungry.

So TaSin, my younger daughter, comes to pick me up Thurday evening and guess what? When we arrive at the airport, I realize that I left my carryon at home. TaSin drives back to my apartment to get it for me – bless her (smile). I am worried because the plane door will lock at 9 p.m. and well, for those who have traveled, TSA is not a process one can rush.

Semeando-2013-14-poster-for-Capoeira-Angola-conference-Salvador-Bahia-web, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil: Africa in the Americas, Culture Currents I explain my situation to an agent in first class and she writes on my boarding pass “expedite,” so I go through another line which is not a line – I am the only one in it. Yes, TaSin makes it back. She calculated the journey mathmatically and it took her exactly 80 minutes round trip. She leaves at 7:20 p.m. At 8:40 she rolls up and I get the suitcase and walk back in.

In the special line, I don’t have to take off my shoes. I don’t have to take my laptop out of the suitcase. I could have kept on my jacket if I were wearing one. Why do they make the regular passengers jump through these extra hoops?

I get through security and to the gate with time to spare. I am amazed. Now that I am here in Salvador, I wish I’d left some of my clothes behind. There was heat on the flight. I flew American to Miami and then switched to TAM. Miami airport is another story – it is like a city. I had to walk for almost an hour to the airport wing where TAM was located.

In Brasilia I had another long journey in Portugese. Some places in the world one can manage with English; Brazil is not that place. No one speaks English, not even officials.

They smile and look as if Portuguese will come from lips that speak with one of many forked linguistic tongues. I haven’t been carrying my English-Portuguese dictionary TaSin’s friend Cassie loaned me. I will have to start doing so.

Also I usually get a cell phone when I arrive in a new country. It is not easy to get a cell phone here either and the public phones take a pre-paid credit card. I don’t know how this will work if everything is in Portuguese.

I have been carrying the card with the address for where I am staying and everyone has kindly pointed me in the right direction. I get lost easily and my navigators TaSin and Brianna are not with me (smile).

I say all this to say, I am having fun despite traveling since Thursday evening. I went to bed at 5 a.m. this morning and then moved to another hostel, Laranjeiras Hostel, one of the Hosteling International group – much better facility – there are tours and Francisco speaks English.

We walked my luggage up the street from Hospeda Salvador in the Pelrourinho district. David was nice, but the place is more for the traveler with everything a bit more together than me – it is like living with a family.

We walked my luggage to the next spot. It’s hard rolling luggage on cobble stones (smile).

The cobble stone streets remind me of Tana, the capital of Madagascar. They also remind me of Guanajuato, Mexico, Eurocentric picturesque. It isn’t a French look, though, but the balconies call it to mind. Historic Salvador, Pelourinho, did not remind me of the French Quarter in New Orleans like Haiti’s Milot did when I was there a while back.

Mestre-Jogo-De-Dentro-Capoeira-Mandinga-Salvador-Bahia-spars-with-capoeiristas-1213-by-Wanda-web, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil: Africa in the Americas, Culture Currents But the French weren’t here; their brethren the Portuguese were. Milot in Haiti is 12 miles from the Citadel in Cap-Haïtien, built by Gen. Henri Christophe. Loved the town and the people and the fort at the top of the mountain along a cobbled road – where Africans kicked the French out of Ayiti! Napoleon no less (smile).

I am going on a bus tour Sunday afternoon of Salvador and on a walking tour on Monday morning. I am going to the market in the morning with a new friend – she is Peruvian and arrived today by bus from Rio by way of Los Angeles, California. She said she prayed for a bit of assistance or companionship on her way from Rio and I walk into the lobby. She is going to the historic city of Recife by bus on Monday-Tuesday.

I don’t have the rest of my stay planned out. I just know I really want to get to see the Sisters of the Good Death and to a quilombo, towns settled by escaped and free Africans. I wanted to see Palmares, where Zumbi made his stand. We shall see (smile). I have some options to explore.

Brazil is expensive, but the people making the money are the capitalists. I don’t think the poorer people in the favelas, who are probably making these goods, are raking in the money I am paying.

After the Balé Folclórico da Bahia concert, where they danced the orishas into my heart, I heard music coming from a window above just across the street. It was a capoeirista that brought together folks from across Brazil and the world. A really nice brother from Atlanta, who’d followed Balé Folclórico across the country and the world, told me that there are two distinct capoeira styles, Angola and Bimbra. Angola is closer to the earth or ground.

I asked some older men how to get upstairs to the demonstration and I went up, where I was welcomed. Mestre Jogo De Dentro, Capoeira Mandinga, host, was sparring with capoeiristas. One was a really young child; he must have been 4 if that old. The child was impressive as was the head of the school or house, Mestre Jogo. He sparred with women and men, older than him and younger. The styles and ceremony involved were really impressive.

There was a large photo of Vicente Ferreira Pastinha on the wall in the studio where men and perhaps one woman played the berimbau in the Roda. “Because of his passion for art and his eloquent sayings, Mestre Pastinha, born in 1889, became known as the philosopher of Capoeira. Because of his tireless teaching despite constant struggle with local authorities, he became known as the father of Capoeira Angola” (

Grandson-Robert-Johnson-Jr.-turns-1-121413-by-Wanda-web, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil: Africa in the Americas, Culture Currents I hadn’t known the close relationship between Capoeira Angola and African liberation visible in Quilombo culture. Yes, it is all fitting together nicely (smile).

I am going on a walking tour Monday. I have an interview with the director of Balé Folclórico that evening, but that is tentative on my part. I want to attend a traditional Condomble New Year’s ceremony. Haven’t located one yet.

Ilê Aiyê is performing Monday too at 9 p.m. I am going to go to that. Don’t know quite how I am going to be able to be in multiple places at once (smile). I am also going to see if I can get an audience with Mestre Jogo De Dentro. I’ll keep you posted.

Happy New Year! Remember, especially when things are tough, that life can only get better and it is – ashay.

Forgot to mention that I got an opportunity to finally see the film about Jackie Robinson on one of the many flights between the Bay and Bahia – what a great man. He was a man of great integrity. He and his wife were a great team. It is rare for a film to show how a man draws strength from his woman, yet, Brian Helgeland, the director-writer of “42,” allowed this to happen in the capable hands of actors Nicole Beharie of “American Violet” fame, a really different film, and Chadwick Boseman as Robinson. If you missed it, see it with your family, especially kids.

One last thing: People always ask me why I travel to these places where I don’t know anyone. I always say the same thing, to meet my people. Well, I am Yoruba and Fulani on my mother’s side and really am meeting family here in Salvador, Bahia. So this time, I can say I am going home. I have been reading “Sacred Leaves of Candomble: African Magic, Medicine, and Religion in Brazil” by Robert A. Voeks.

Oh, another film I saw on another plane in route was about magic. “Now You See Me” (2013), a French-American film directed by Louis Leterrier with Woody Harrelson, Common, Morgan Freeman and others was really good, almost as good as “The Matrix” (smile). It is really good social commentary, where the bad guys lose for a change!

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at Visit her website at throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 6-7 a.m. and Fridays at 8-10 a.m., can be heard by phone at (347) 237-4610 and are archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network.