The priestess has prayed into a handful of cowrie shells and tossed them on a circular woven mat outlined in sacred beads and objects. A white candle burns on the outer rim. She stares at me.
´Do you have any little kids?´
The translator looks perplexed. The priestess works her lips.
´But I have a dog,´ I say, trying to be helpful. I´m not.
The priestess turns to the translator and asks a series of questions, then turns back to me.
´No little kids?´ the translator says. ´No kids around you?´
I shake my head. I don´t speak Portuguese and the priestess doesn´t speak a word of English, and she likes it that way. There is a few moments of confusion, then the translator asks if I have siblings.
´An older brother,´I say. `And a twin brother.´
´OHHHHH!´She rapidly says something to the priestess and they both burst out laughing. Then the priestess looks at me and puts her gnarled finger (sorry, folks, but it is true! I reckon a prereq of being a priestess of African religions is gnarled fingers, I don´t know why; I´m just reporting the facts here) on two sets of cowrie shells where a shell is on top of another. The Twins.
In candomblé, the Twins are a diety called Ibeiji (forgive my misspellings), and they are the children in the crew of dieties that came over on the slave ships with the Africans trafficked to Bahia. It is worth noting, as we´ve been told by our tour guides, that of the hundreds of gods of Africa, the ones who survived the brutal passage across the Atlantic to the savage sugarcane fields of Brazil were the ones with weapons. The Ibeiji, however, are the child spirits, and they have asked me to distribute candy to poor children in September. Considering some of the other offerings that have gone down while we´ve been here, I feel really good about this one.
During the rest of my reading, I was also given very specific instructions for offerings I have to make in the Everglades (can´t wait to spring this one on Cristina) and at my house, and another ritual that involves popcorn on the beach. And I have to rub the popcorn on myself. However, I have seen Bahia, and I have been rearranged by their drums, and if I´ve been instructed to rub popcorn on myself in broad daylight, then by God I´m going to do it, I don´t give a damn who sees me. That´s just the way it is.
So I´m just about at the end of my journey here, and I have nowhere near scratched the surface of what has really gone down. We´ve had quite a series of personality conflicts–we´re a crew of all women, and that much female energy is bound to end up in some hurt feelings–so there has been a fair share of wonky woman moments involving discussions of family issues and personal healing. Which, of course, I´m all about, but sweet Benjamin Franklin; all things in moderation. Anyway, there have been some hilarious moments of awkward group touring thrown into this amazing life experience as well. And with all this vibrating drumming pulsing through us at such an intensity for so much of the day and all these beautiful dark men around, we´re all horny and half crazed and have nowhere to put this kind of intensity. I think we´re all pretty lucky that we haven´t ended up in some kind of gang fight. I am handling it by eating a lot of desserts and listening to Bruce Springsteen. So, upon reflection, I am handling this situation like I handle all the other situations. Nothing´s changed there, at least.
Today we trekked out to a remote paradise, a beach called Sao Joao. It was resplendent–we saw a whale (the first of my life) playing on the horizon. It was enormous. And sea turtles popping their heads to the surface. All was well until a storm blew in and we spent the next three hours in the wind and rain under a handmade thatched shelter on the beach while Brazilian men played guitar, caught our fish with nets in front of us, and their women cooked our lunch in a makeshift kitchen inside the bar. I drank the water straight out of the coconut, and we fed the ubiquitous stray dogs (the stray dogs of paradise are everywhere here, part of the giant family of ragtag happiness that is Bahia) chunks of my carne de sol. I wore my red brazilian bikini, and my Brazilian name is Marleeta V, for Vermelho, which means ´red´in Portuguese. Marleeta V is my inner black woman (thank you, Alicia Alexander, for starting all of this) who is quite a hit here although my outer white woman remains as unnoticeable as ever. One day I will tell you more about this experience in the negative space. I think everyone should have to do it for awhile. Keeps things real.
Two nights ago, I was eating dessert in a local restaurant and the waiter had a pamphlet sticking out of his shirt pocket whose headline read BAHIA: LAND OF HAPPINESS.
I´ve noticed that the straggling collection of individuals who boarded that plane in Miami a few weeks ago has changed now. Yesterday we had our last gruelling and exhilarating dance class in which ALL FIVE of our teachers one right after the other forced us to execute their most energetic choreography, and we gathered together for lunch to celebrate with them. Our group of women, most of us in our late 30s, glowed. Our eyes are brighter, our skin is clearer. When we laugh now, we mean it–we´re not just being polite or nervous. By God, we´re happy. Even when we´re irritating the shit out of each other.
I ate alone tonight to try to reflect on what I think this trip has been about for me, what those missing links were that I wrote to you about before I even started this journey. And I know now. Now, it´s all clear, just as I suspected. It´s true: I´ve found the land of happiness.
A woman who is on this trip passed by my on her way out of the same restaurant. ´Marleeta V,´she said, nodding her head and giving me that sideways kind of grin that means you have a special knowing with someone else that is deep and real.
´I´ve been transformed,´I said.
She nodded. ´I think we all have.´
Marleeta V. and I nod. ´Yep,´we both say. The waiter ignores me. He won´t see me. I care, but I don´t care. I know a lot now. A lot. This knowledge impresses me, has impressed upon me the great realities of life of earth, of life among people in this giant thing we´ve created together, that´s been created through us, and how far we are, as a family, of living in the land of happiness. On the bus today, I finally really understood that one of the greatest blessings I was given was my love of people. Of other cultures, of not giving a shit about people´s circumstances as far as judging them goes. I´m grateful for that, but I didn´t do anything to deserve it.
The question now is now to make it useful.
night night from Brazil beloveds. See you when I get back to Florida.