My honeymoon period is officially over! It’s time to get some work done and that’s exactly what I set off to do today in the heat of Rio’s scorching sun. My brother from another mother Tuni from Serra Leone, took a break from working in his barber shop on Rua Vinte de Abril, to accompany me out on the streets of downtown Rio de Janeiro…
I’m working on an exciting new project. Interviewing Africans living in Rio. No to be mistaken with Afro-Brazilians living here. So yes, we (Africans) are everywhere!
I’ve already been introduced to many native Ghanaians living and working in Rio. Each one stopped to analyse me from head to toe when I announced I was Ghanaian. I had to quickly include that I am from Accra and that I speak Ga (adding that I was actually was born and raised in London would totally complicate things so I kept that part out). The Ghanaians I met were either from Kumasi or BA.I know, I thought the same thing! Where’s BA I asked? And almost delved into
‘oh you’re not really Ghanaian are you? You’re a Naija!’
Of course I was thinking of VA- Victoria Island not BA. But anyway BA is Brong Ahafo region in Ghana, rightly so. After announcing my identity (or rather declaring we don’t speak the same language but I’m still a fellow sister) I’d get the ‘ah, that’s why you don’t look Ghanaian‘ and soon after the nod of acceptance. Which, to my delight, was always followed by an enthusiastic ‘you are welcome!‘, a seat provided, and water offered. Really, you can take the man out of Africa, but you can’t take Africa out of the man. This is genuine hospitality. So now whenever I’m passing through the chaos of Central where many Ghanians (and Africans) work, and in fact live, I have to make a quick stop to say hello.
Today, I was taken along the back streets of Central. With a favela looming above us, and the chaos of the street markets creating a buz, this is a far cry from the scene of Copacabana Rio is famed for. We walked along streets with a facade of historic houses except their history had long faded away… and their beauty peeling away from neglect. Tony told me this neighbourhood has a strong Afro-Brazilian background. And that recently, a building/buildings nearby in ruins, however with much Afro-Brazilian historic value, was broken down. As he spoke I could hear his frustration creeping in.
‘Black people here don’t know how to organise themselves. They could have come together to make a petition to stop the building being broken down. This is our history man. Now it’s gone…’
I couldn’t help but sympathise with Tuni. It was just a few days ago I was in Santa Teresa and I wouldn’t help noticing the posters protesting the loss of the bondi tram scattered around the walls (in an artistic way, not a ‘post no bills’ trashy way). These trams were iconic and people are still protesting to get them back- the evidence is visible and powerful. An old lady even walked into the bar I was at selling merchandise to raise awareness of the campaign. Now that’s passion! So, yes like what Tony was saying, Afro-Brazilians could have protested to keep their building standing. Now it’s an untold story.
We turned up at the venue for my first interviewee. It could have passed for simple restaurant, except there was a woman walking around in her underwear. Yes, that’s bra and knickers! Before I could think anything negative, she approached me and gestured ‘You have a lovely face’ and that she liked my skin (colour of course)! Well how can I think anything of her other than what a lovely thing to say! So I reached out my hand and asked her name. Followed by ‘pleasure to meet you’ in Portuguese. And she offered a near toothless smile of appreciation. She could have been totally naked or fully clothed. I saw her heart and that’s what I based my instincts on.
So the owner of this ‘restaurant’ is a fellow Ghanaian. He was quick to challenged me for not speaking twi when I introduced myself. I told him frankly, I am a Ga and I prefer to understand my father tongue as my family is from Accra (well my mum’s Fanti but she grew up in Accra and speaks Ga like a native so I didn’t mention that part). As he shock his head in disapproval I quickly mentioned that I understand a bit of twi. I noticed a glimpse of hope in his eyes.
‘Well… just enough so I don’t get cheated!’
And on that note he bust into laughter, and I quickly began to conducted the interview while I was in his good books.
Look out my project ‘Africans living in Rio… A street success.’
If you have or would require any information regarding this subject please feel free to contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Kai Lutterodt