Laura Madden's Blog

Stories of change

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Sister Cities

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It’s bittersweet for me to post photos of Salvador. This city in northeastern Brazil reminds me so much of New Orleans, that battered city in the Southern US where I volunteered after Katrina hit. Both cities share more than a warm climate and rich culture of music. What Americans call southern hospitality Brazilians call axê. These sister cities also both have a vibrant cultural scene with a blend of Christian and African religious rituals.

Salvador’s woes aren’t environmental – that is to say, it’s not under as immediate a threat as NOLA. No, Salvador’s danger is people: specifically, gentrification. The colonial city is bursting at the seams as some of Brazil’s biggest corporations set up shop, pushing out its poor and lower class inhabitants as the cost of living soars. There is even a shantytown that the locals have named City of Plastic. Tarps and plastic bags make up the tent-houses that protect its residents from the rains.

Soteropolitanos like to joke that their city has enough churches to celebrate the feast of a saint on every blessed day of the year. The following photos are a glimpse of what it means to feast, a preferred pastime of these sister cities. Why, just a few nights ago, The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac joked that as an oil slick approximately three times the size of Rhode Island floats toward the gulf coast, New Orleanians are busying themselves doing what they do at holidays and funerals, in the face of joy or disaster: partying.

A young woman is bathed in popcorn on the feast of São Lázaro. Popcorn is the food that appeases Omulú, the catholic saint’s corresponding orixá in the afro-brazilian religion of condomblé.

A mãe santa, or condomblé priestess, participates in catholic mass by filling the church with flower petals.

The sun comes up on Rio Vermelho as street vendors and devotees of Yemnajá gather to celebrate the feast of this goddess of the ocean.

In exchange for answers to their prayers, devotees offer flowers to Yemnajá, placing their flowers in a group offering that is taken out to sea in a large fishing boat at the end of the day.

Others prefer to put their offering in personally at the water’s edge.

Sometimes Yemnajá will reject an offering, leaving certain prayers unanswered.

Oh that we only saw flowers wash up on earth’s beaches! To volunteer with the gulf coast cleanup effort, or to donate, follow the link below. Thanks for reading.

Written by Laura Madden

May 10, 2010 at 12:33 am