“Quem um dia foi marinheiro audaz
Que feito ondas não voltam mais
Marinheiros no mar da Bahia,
O mundo é aqui
Maré mansa e morna
De Plataforma ou de Peri Peri
Velhos marinheiros do mar da Bahia
O mundo é o mar
Mare de lembranças
Lembranças de tantas voltas
que o mundo dá”
(Memórias do mar, Jorge Portugal e Vevé Calasans)
“Who here can tell me what a memory is?”
When I asked this question during our workshop on memory last week, I got no answers. Everyone looked at me, confused and uninterested. So I repeated, “memory… what is it?”. Again, no answers. I paused and wondered how to redirect my intentions, as I hadn’t prepared myself for a situation in which no one had answer for this question. I couldn’t for the life of me understand how the students didn’t have an understanding of what “memory” meant. I thought of all the times that I looked through an old photo album, or asked my parents to tell me the story of how they had met, or the times I listened to a song I used to love or told a story from my past. These all seemed like such common happenings—better said, universal happenings. The shock was not that they weren’t able to define the word; it was that the happening was so distant that it didn’t need to be named.
I tried to reach an answer through a different route.
“Has anyone here ever played a memory game?
Bam. Suddenly every voice in the room took on its full potential, yelling out different experiences, variations, and moments had with memory games. We worked through memory games in order to reach an understanding of what it means to remember, and whether or not it’s important. They decided that it was; but not in order have a relationship with the past, rather, to “know things”. As I asked about history class and reading old books, looking at old pictures and watching movies about events that had taken place in the past, the students were able to process an understanding of “knowing”, but demonstrated great confusion when it came to the concept of preserving and revisiting their own memories, or the memories of their neighborhood.
Within the last month of workshops, it has become very clear that the students relate more easily to information when it is visual or put into some kind of an activity. This led to a slide show of historic images of Salvador, and a few of Subúrbio (although very few as it is nearly impossible to find historic images of the periphery). As I went through the images, many students yelled out when they recognized a site or when the change was blatant enough to arouse a sense of confusion and awe. I then showed a few images that I had collected from the Acervo da Laje—4 x 6’s of parades and traditional parties that had taken places in the neighborhood. We discussed the images, sorting through the different elements of the photo, why this photo was taken, and what kind of sentiment it aroused in the students.
At the end of the slide show, I included an image of one of my favorite memories, one that I’ve already shared once before in this blog. It is an image of my brother and me playing on a pier at the marina where our boat used to be docked. I’m pushing him in a cart (that we usually used to lug the absurd amount of groceries that my dad always exaggeratedly insisted on going far-beyond-overboard with), that’s full of water. The image is simple. You can tell that both of us had been playing in the water beforehand; we had been washing the boat and clearly found a better alternative, evident in both of our expressions. I remember when it was because I have a hair wrap that designates the summers we used to sail to Nantucket when we lived in Connecticut. I am probably 7 and Diogo, 11.
I shared this image and they all asked questions. “Quando foi? É você professora?! Quem é ai no carrinho?” (“When was this? Is this you teacher?! Who is that in the cart”). Before I answered, I asked them how the image made them feel.
Throughout my many visits to Bahia, I have observed a relationship with time that feels unique. I have said before that I feel that Bahia brings everything to the surface; things are blatant and loud, and serve as barriers, layers of protection for the mystery and the depth that lives beneath. That which is loud, masks what is soft and subtle and tends to take precedence. With this comes the immediacy of experience. Moments are robust and lived fully in the present; the relationship with pleasure is indulgent but not dishonest, as it simply embraces what we all feel in a more obvious way. This is the romantic Bahia.
But then there is the immediacy that lives in the periphery. The lack of ability to look back, or to plan far ahead, because the greater concern is being sure that there will be enough to eat today. The concern is not to think about investing in an education that requires extended years of study because that means less paid work now; it means less money coming in to help at home.
As the neighborhood shifts with new pressures, concerns and opportunities, the rush and the struggle to keep up, makes documenting and looking back unavailable. The distractions in the present are plentiful and enticing. They are loud and engaging and drown out the stillness and the silence that used to dominate this space. What used to be mangroves, banana plantations and the sounds of the casting of fisherman’s nets now lives in the memories of those who were around to see it. A memory not at all distant, but greatly silenced by the booming subwoofers providing the latest pagode, of the cars zooming past on the pavement, of the TVs broadcasting passionate and captivating novelas, and all that lives in between.
So the students might ask: What does it matter if the train used to run right next to my front door? Or if this bay that I play in used to be covered by wooden homes supported on stilts? What does it matter today?
If I understand why pushing my brother in a cart made me so happy, or why the quantity of groceries remains pertinent in my explanation of the memory, I can better understand my relationship with the present. I know where that moment stands in time and recognize that an image was able to capture all of it. I know what parts of it I want to preserve, and discover how I want it to play a role in my future. I better understand my roots, and where this has the potential to take me.
The fishermen of Bahia hold many of the secrets of the ocean in their nets. In their calloused hands and in the wrinkles formed in their temples from squinting in the scalding sun.
He waits in waist deep water facing the platform for the train in Plataforma, as he has done for decades, observing what comes and goes. He stands in a canoe in Peri Peri, raising his paddle to the sun and slamming it down on the surface of the water to better place his catch, knowing that despite all the flux on the shore, what lives beneath the surface moves just as it always has.