And my mom just freaked out. But seriously everything is fine. Everyone is fine. We even still have all our stuff.
Last night three of my friends and I were celebrating Carnival like normal. We started in the beautiful historic district of Pelourinho where our hostel is located. Pelourinho has the more traditional and family oriented Carnival. It’s a neighborhood of pastel colored colonial buildings, plazas and old churches. Every 15 minutes a parade of drummers and dancers rolled up the cobblestone street in front of our hostel. We started by watching several parades and then following one of the best up the street. We danced up the hill with the music and stopped briefly in the plaza to buy some caipirinhas. We continued towards a massive square where several streets and tens of thousands of people converged. In that part of Salvador the small parades of drummers and dancers were replaced by double-decker buses with bands on top that slowly drove up the street with hundreds of revellers around them. When we tired of one band we would stop and wait for the next bus that was only a block behind to catch up.
We had danced up the same street the previous night and after a few minutes it was obvious that we were the only tourists for many blocks but the street was well-lit, the atmosphere was friendly and there were military police in full riot gear every hundred yard so we felt pretty safe.
Last night we weren’t very far from the main intersection when a group of men in front of us turn towards us and created a wall. A split second before they started lunging for us I realized something was wrong. They grabbed at the two girls first which really freaked me out because sexual harassment in Brazil often borders on assault. Then several others grabbed at the front pockets of my shorts. At that point I was actually relieved that it was just a loosely organized attempt to steal our cameras or money and not an all out assault on the girls. Of course I had nothing in my pockets and even if I had their clumsy attempts would have failed.
I turned to my left and faced one of the guys who had just been snatching at my pockets. He took off running. I didn’t think, I just sprinted after him. He was wearing a bright red Under Armour style shirt that made him easy to follow. He weaved through the crowd and for a second I almost lost him but suddenly he was within arm’s reach and I grabbed the neck of his shirt and pulled him back and felt the fabric tear as he snapped towards me. I spun him around and without thinking put both my hands around his neck. I was summoning all my adrenaline fuelled strength for an Undertaker style choke slam onto the asphalt street when I looked into his confused face. He was the same height as me but I realized that he was about 15. I hesitated and felt how small his neck was in my hands. My rage subsided. I didn’t know what to do so I shouted something like “Don’t fuck with us!” and then shoved him away. I turned and stomped through the crowd back to where I thought my friends were.
I had lost track of where everything started. I was pretty sure I was in the right place but my friends were no longer there. I felt alone and vulnerable. Every person around me was under heavy suspicion. I wasn’t sure how many thieves there had been in the first place and I wondered if they were still around or if they had gone to get reinforcements. I stalked back and forth in the street looking for my friends and glaring at every Brazilian male under the age of 50. I thought about just walking the three blocks back to main area that was full of police and families but I didn’t want to leave my friends. A minute later I saw my buddies with some Brazilian military police looking for the would be thieves. I walked up to them and used my Spanish and some terrible Portuguese to tell the cops what had happened. Of course the would be thieves had melted into the crowd. We thanked the cops for their help and decided to head back to Pelourinho for the rest of the night.
On the walk back we excitedly talked about the indecent. What disturbed me most about it was that we had no idea anything was up until they moved around us and started grabbing at us. I always pay attention to what is going on around me but when you are in a crowd and you don’t speak the language you are never able to have high situational awareness. I hate to think what would have happened if it had been ten determined adults instead of seven or eight teenagers. Chasing the would be thief was stupid. I should have stayed with my friends. But when I caught him I did make the right decision by not tossing him to the ground because I had no idea how many of his friends or cousins were around me and I could have found myself severely out numbered. Also putting a teenager, even a criminal teenager in the hospital is not something I want on my conscience. And most importantly for my own safety, not creating a disturbance was wise, because the second the military police, think South America’s version of tan storm troopers, see a commotion they rush in with batons swinging. Earlier in the night I saw one especially massive policeman with a baton that was comically oversized. It was dark brown and looked like a novelty cave man club. He essentially was carrying a log that had the bark removed. This guy made Hacksaw Jim Duggan look like a pussy. Once the police have cuffed or knocked everyone out then they might try to figure out what started the incident.
Upon arriving back at our hostel to drop off our cameras we discovered one of the most amazing drum parades yet. We were quickly overwhelmed by the exuberant music and danced up the street with the musicians. The insignificant incident earlier in the night was forgotten and once again we were fully engulfed by the joys of Carnival.