Sunday, 27 January 2008

Lucinha's, Salvador

Lucinha runs a 'quitanda' called "O Bar de Dona Lucia" in the Ribeira district of Salvador. A quitanda is a shop that has been set up in the front room of a house; it also means a small grocery shop. She sells mangos, salad leaves, spring onions, but mainly sells beer alongside home-flavoured cachaca and ginger/tamarind spirits. Customers can drink at the bar or at four plastic tables out on the pavement/street.

Lucinha doesn't have a licence to sell alcohol. The licences are expensive. Occasionally, the inspectors come by and she says it is not possible to pay for a licence (she makes profit of approx R$10 (or £3) from each crate of beer she sells). She visits the police station, explains her situation and they turn a blind eye. The mangos are almost entirely profit as she buys them either from street vendors who visit her shop or she goes to the market.

She started the shop with a couple of bottles of Cachaca and a carton of cigarettes from her father-in-law. Now, twenty years on, with the support of the business, the house has grown room by room and now stands two stories high. More importantly, it supports her, her husband, her two daughters and her son's ex-wife and three children, all of whom live with her in the house.

Rosalvo, Mar Grande, Ilha da Itaparica

Rosalvo (pronounced HosARvo) is a farmer who grows and then sells fruit and vegetables door-to-door from the back of his donkey named Medalha. He is a "vendedor ambulante", literally a mobile, walking shop. Seven days a week he leaves his smallholding at around 7am with Medalha laden with coconuts, aipims, cashew fruits, roasted cashew nuts, lemons and bananas (the produce varies with the seasons), for a one hour ride to reach his first cliente (customer) in Mar Grande.

We met Rosalvo through our interpreter, Wilma, who is also one of his clientes. Her gardener's mother lives near Rosalvo's mother so Wilma was able to cycle up to the mother's house and leave a note asking for Rosalvo to visit her house to discuss the project with us. 
We arranged to joined him for a four hours one Saturday morning to photograph his clientes, walking his regular route, winding through the dusty roads on the outskirts of the town to the beach front houses and the town centre. During this time he took about R$60 (17 UK pounds). Our day with Rosalvo was extremely hot, and whilst we and Medalha drank a few litres of water, Rosalvo drank none. When we mentioned this later, someone said some Brazilian men are made of leather.

Even later, Luis at Sacatar recounted a childhood memory of a similar enterprise in his aunt's home town, Vitoria da Conquista, Bahia. Using donkeys' ability to be trained to remember a route, the farmer's donkey, straddled with two churns of freshly drawn milk would walk the route on its own, stopping at pre-arranged places where clientes would take what they needed and honour the farmer and pay in person at the end of each month.

Casa Preto Velho, Salvador

The suitably named Casa Preto Velho in Salvador's notorious market Feira de Sao Joaquim, specialises in religious articles for various faiths practiced in and around Bahia, including Catholicism, Umbanda and Candomble. 'Casa' in this case means shop, whilst the meaning of "Preto Velho" is much much spiritual. According to our friend Sabrina, "Pretos Velhos are Umbanda spirits of former slaves who managed to live to a ripe old age (unlike most) and represent wisdom, benevolence, faith and humility. Umbanda is a uniquely Brazilian religion that combines African divinities (orixás), Spiritism, a variety of Afro-Brazilian and European spirits and Amerindian Caboclos". Similarly Candomble is a popular Afro-Brazilian religion, and is worshipped by millions of Brazilians with Bahia being its hot-bed.

Statuettes (like the Preto Velho and Preta Velha pictured above) are part of one of the largest selections of ceremonial regalia in the city, so it's a really important and busy place. The store is packed to the rafters with statuettes of all sizes of all the 'spirits of devotion' as well as clothing, crockery, candles, beading, incense, herbs, statuettes, drums, DVDs and literature. In the build-up to photographing the store's customers, we were speaking with a Candomble family, when something rarely seen and powerful happened. A daughter in the family was temporarily possessed by her spirit of devotion. 

LITORAL Mercado, Ilha da Itaparica

This is Fabio and his father Guido. Guido owns and runs a grocery store called LITORAL Mercado in Itaparica Town. He set up the shop with and for his family. Because of the low income on the island - the average minimum wage being R$400 per month (£120) - the shop has to sell a little bit of everything at decent prices to keep itself going. They will also order items not usually available, especially for non-locals who might be missing something from their home town. One customer doesn't like the bread so Guido gets different bread delivered by motorbike from the other side of the island. The store has been open since Carnaval 2007 and is one of a growing number of independent shops in a town where few existed five years ago. They offer credit for people they know - which is a typical system on the island - but need to manage it carefully so cash flow doesn't put their business at risk. Guido worked for many years as a manager of a supermarket in nearby Bom Despacho, as well as a waiter at the local marina. Fabio said his father dreamed of opening up his own enterprise, so saved money until he was able to do so. With LITORAL he has generated relatively secure jobs for his family (children and siblings), which would have been hard to find elsewhere.