Sunday, 28 February 2010


I met Sydney on my first night here in Salvador.

The night was electric. Magnificent.

I´d taken my first five steps into town with some brandnew friends when, as if from nowhere, appeared a funky band of female drummers marching through the streets, wiggling and banging out fantastic rhythms. My new friends and I, grinning ear to ear with the delight of finding this place and each other and the music and the fantastic chayasa bar we´d just come from, after whatever miseries we´d all just left behind, started Boogying On Down. 

"Eh you dance good" said Sydney, appearing out of nowhere, dancing artfully beside me. "You come my Samba classes," he said, "I teach you good." He grinned and boogied away down the street, revealing his  Dance school name and email address on the back of his t-shirt.

I can spot a potential great facilitator a mile off and he was one. He had the perfect fun fed energy.

Well, sir, I thought quitely to myself, You´ve just talked to the right person.

The night rampaged on in an explosion of magnificence generally involving wonderful people, wonderful music, wonderful dancing.

I bumped into Sydney again later and we ran around town, high as kites from each other´s energy, Samba dancing here there and everywhere, him teaching me this and that, everyone staring at these two larger than life balls of energy rampaging around town. 


I´ve been trying to go to his classes and it turns out they don´t exist. I asked him for the email address on his shirt the next day, and it turns out it´s not his. He speaks better English by a long way than other potential facilitators I´ve met here, but he can´t read or write, I´ve realised. Many people here can´t. 

He was messing me around with info about classes so I made what I realied is a professional mistake and came straight out with what I wanted and why. "I´m here to make connections with amazing people," I said. "Maybe you could come over for a month and teach dance in England. Maybe. But Sydney, I need to see you teach a class. When are you teaching a class?"

That night I saw him lead the dancing in a big procession through town. They do this great thing here where three or four dancers stand in a line at the front doing some simple repetetive moves that the crowd copies and it is GREAT fun. He was fab. "Come see my dance school!" he said afterwards, and I followed him to a tiny favella room, his home, where he sleeps on a thin matress on the floor. "Sydney, this isn´t a dance school," I said. "Yes! Yes! I teach samba here...." 

Jesus, I think. This guy´s probably on crack. I´ve got a good instinct for people and I can tell he´s good. I´ve no need to fear. But by this point I´ve 98% rejected Sydney as a person to work with because he´s not always honest and it would clearly be just too difficult to work with him. But that aside, we´ve become friends and I want to help him a little bit.

His friend Macambira has a little drum school I´m going to in a minute. Macambira has an A6 piece of paper with his weekly class schedule printed on it, B&W, nothing special, but it does the job. 

"Why don´t you have one of these?" I asked Sydney just now. "I don´t have the money", he said. It´t not really that, though, I think; it´s because he´s illiterate and he hasn´t figured out how to get around that barrier yet. "I could make one for you," I said. "But I need the information about when and where you teach. Can you find a consistent place and time, and let me know, and I´ll make you a flyer if you want."

He looks down, and then tells me that his classes don´t work because he doesn´t have a stereo and people like to dance to music. He can´t afford a stereo. He can´t afford cards and can´t pay rent on an indoor dance space. His face turns darker and his honesty gets deeper and he tells me he hasn´t eaten for three days. He rants about the economic situation behind the happy faces for tourists and how fucking hard life is here.

It´s clearly, famously true.

He reveals a totally fatalistic attitude about the lack of opportunity and support here. I´m struggling to figure out the chicken and egg relationship between his attitude and his situation.

And the entrepreneur in me starts roaring.

People, everywhere, somehow create projects out of nothing. I´ve seen it all over Brazil and India. I´ve done it once and I´m preparing to do it again. It´s fucking hard but if you are worthy of people´s trust, if you are doing something good, you´ll find what you need and you´ll make it happen.

I tell him as much. "You´re letting yourself down with your own attitude," I say. "This city is full of spaces and stereos. If you´re good to people they will lend them to you. If you tell the truth people will trust you. If you believe you can make things work you can make them work. But you don´t believe you can make them work and so they don´t work. Even here, right now, you´ve got an offer of free flyers, and you don´t believe it´s possible, so it´s not going to happen."

It develops into a passionate argument in a garbled mince of English and Portuguese about possibility, attitude and context. 

Until I walked away.

I´m leaving the day after tomorrow. 

And at some point in the mean time, I´m going to try to find out what it the Salvadorean equivalent of Grameen bank, The Hub, Unltd, the things that make it possible for people with nothing but talent to create something from their talent, like the organisations who have made my career possible, and if they don´t exist here, I´m going to wonder aloud why the hell they don´t.

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