March 20, 2008

This is our regular column called Ask a Brazilian”, the idea being that you can quite literally ask a question of a Brazilian – for those issues you aren’t sure about but perhaps dare not ask someone else. It is meant as a bit of fun and answers should not be construed as expert opinion or the definitive reply on the matter. For that reason we ask you to please send comments and experiences in order to add to our replies.

Prezada Sra. Bauer:

My name is Russ and I am about to travel to Salvador to visit my inlaws. (My wife and daughter are Bainas.)

I am very worried about crime and health issues about Salvador. According to the US State Department’s webpage, Brazil’s crime rate is about 4 times that of EUA.

The last time I went to Brazil, my sisters-in-law became so afraid that they wouldn’t walk in the streets with me. It’s not what I did or didn’t do, or what I said or didn’t say. Instead, it’s who I am: A gringo in the middle of Latin America.

The day after I arrived last time, a girl in the complex where my mother-in-law lives went around telling everyone: “There’s a gringo in the neighborhood!” As a result, some of Salvador’s most notorious thieves started to case my mother-in-law’s house. It’s what caused my relatives to not want to be around me in the street.

I am also worried about health. I came down with an unspecified illness last time. It temporarily disfigured my face (“furunculos” – did I spell that right?) It lasted for about a month. Also, my wife caught dengue in 2002. I was so worried about her that I didn’t sleep for a whole week!

Do you have any advice to avoid both horrible tropical diseases and thugs for my upcoming trip? And how do I keep these worries from spoiling an otherwise enjoyable vacation?

Please kindly help to advise.

Sincerely Yours,

Sr. Russ Richards

Sr. Russ,

I’m so sorry you’ve been through such bad experience in Bahia. I know very little about Salvador but the beaches nearby are my favorite places in the world.

It’s weird you felt like “a gringo in the middle of Latin America”. there are thousands of gringos in Bahia, Russ, and it doesn’t make sense that you were seen as ‘the opportunity” for notorious thieves. Was that neighborhood you were known as dangerous?

If only I could tell you where to stay and go (and maybe some reader could help us?) but let me say there are safe places and people you can trust in Salvador and all over Brazil, no matter how poor the area you are in, not everyone that lives in a poor area is a thieve, but of course, Russ, the poorest the area is, the more in dangerous you will be.

Things that might help you:

– Try not to wear expensive ‘anything’, clothes, watches, jewelry.

– If you are blond with big blue eyes wear a hat and sunglasses (you will need both anyway).

– Try to ask cabs from a hotel, if you take buses, take them during the day.

– Don’t carry too much money around, just enough for the cab and souvenirs. You can use a credict card for anything else.

– Stop reading those crime rates, they are real but work like ‘collateral effects’, once you read it, they become real to you too.

– Protect yourself but don’t go crazy, if a thief comes leave him the souvenirs, he will leave you alone.

As for your health, take the “febre amarela” vaccine before you come now. Unfortunately there isn’t a dengue one. The ‘furnculo’ is a skin disease that has nothing to do with Brazil but is somewhat related with what you eat, so make sure you’re eating healthy, clean food. Also take care with the ice and never drink tap water.

And Russ, when you get to Bahia, sorria!

I found this website, it’s Portuguese only but I imagine your wife can help you: http://www.feriasbrasil.com.br/ba/salvador And my friend is telling you to go to this bar: Kantu du Ka @ Av.Sete de Setembro, Porto da Barra.

Boa sorte!

Vanessa T. Bauer

Are there any burning questions you have about Brazil, or other issues that you’re curious about, such as Brazilian culture? If so, send your questions to gringoes@www.gringoes.com with “Ask a Brazilian” in the subject. We will forward to our Brazilian experts, and publish the best questions (and replies) on the site.

Previous questions in this article series:

Ask a Brazilian: Gestures and Toys
Ask a Brazilian: Hispanics or Latinos, and Duvets
Ask a Brazilian: Overbearing Sogros
Ask a Brazilian: Hotels and Bank Transfers
Ask a Brazilian: Swimming, Showers and New Year’s
Ask a Brazilian: Making Friends
Ask a Brazilian: Female Etiquette
Ask a Brazilian: Washing Machines
Ask a Brazilian: Picking Teeth
Ask a Brazilian: Lozenge or Candy?
Ask a Brazilian: Liberal or Jealous?
Ask a Brazilian: Truck Wheels
Ask a Brazilian: Tolerance
Ask a Brazilian: Screens
Ask a Brazilian: Brazilian Wax
Ask a Brazilian: Flashing Lights
Ask a Brazilian: Lemon and Limes
Ask a Brazilian: Shocking Showers

Can’t make this up