Friday, July 10, 2009

Michaela, Senhor do Bonfim, and research update

By far the most exciting news of the last week is that my cousin Michaela has arrived in Salvador! She’s spending a month here volunteering with orphans before returning to Indiana to start her 3rd year in optometry school! She’s living in a place ~15 min walk from my apartment! It was such a strange coincidence that we had both separately made plans to be in Salvador this summer and it’s been great to have her here!

Last weekend I ventured to the Igreja do Nosso Senhor do Bonfim, an 18th century Catholic church. Catholic churches are a dime a dozen in Salvador (apparently there are ~365 churches in Bahia…one for every day of the year), but Senhor do Bonfim has become one of the most famous and unique churches in Salvador due to its ties to Candomblé, an African-Brazilian religion. Candomblé was the religion practiced by the African slaves in Bahia and since it was forbidden to practice any religion but Catholicism, the slaves got creative and worshiped their gods, the Orixás, under the guise of their respective Catholic saints. Today the Orixás and their corresponding Saints have become quite blended. Senhor do Bonfim refers to both Jesus and Oxalá (the most important Orixá).
Igreja do Nosso Senhor do Bonhim
Inside of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim

The most famous tradition from Senhor do Bonfim are the fitas or fitinhas. They are bright colored ribbons that say “Lembrança do Nosso Senhor do Bonfim da Bahia,” which translates to “Remember our Lord of Good End of Bahia.” The ribbons are all over Bahia, very commonly hanging from rearview mirrors for good luck and also tied all over the gates and doors to the church.

Fitas are worn on people’s wrists and known as miracle ribbons. The wearer gets to make (and supposedly have granted) three wishes! The wishing protocol is pretty simple:

1. you must be given a fita as a present
2. You cannot tie the fita to your own wrist, someone else has to do that for you
3. They must tie 3 knots. Make a wish when each knot is tied.

The tricky part is that in order for the wishes to come true, the fita must be worn until it falls off on its own (which apparently can take over a year!). Supposedly each Orixa/saint has a color but I have no idea which color corresponds to which orixa/saint. I got two fitas when I visited Senhor do Bonfim, although I couldn’t think of many wishes so I made the same three wishes for each bracelet. I also bought a whole bunch of fitas to bring back to the States in case anyone would like to make some wishes!
Fitas tied to the door and gate of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim
My fitas! Note the other colorful fitas in the background...ready for gifting when I get back

The Igreja do Senhor de Bonfim has a room of miracles that is both creepy and fascinating. The room is covered in pictures, notes, and personal items from people who are requesting a miracle of Senhor do Bonfim and from people whose miracles have been granted. There are a decent number of diplomas from people who had wished to graduate school, lots of pictures of babies and also graphic pictures of wounds, scans of tumors, etc. The weirdest part of the room were the wax body parts hanging from the ceiling. I guess if you have an ailment in a particular body part (the most common being feet, hands and heads) you could bring in a wax replica and hang it from the ceiling. I’ve posted some pictures of the room for your perusal.

Today is the absolute last day we can submit documents for the NIH grant! YAY! I’ve spent the last few weeks working on administrative aspects to the grant: writing up a budget, writing everyone’s biographical sketches, letters of support, anything that from Brazilian collaborators that needed to be written in English, etc. While rather boring, I can now say I have experience writing grants… I also used a TB database to determine the incidence of TB in Salvador from 2001-2008, compared those rates to the incidence of TB in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and the whole country of Brazil. I’ve also been gathering data to try and create an epidemiologic profile of TB in Salvador since 2001. While this was originally for the grant, I’ll be presenting my findings in the end of the month and hopefully write this up into a paper. I found a published paper with a similar methodology to mine that looked at TB in Salvador in the 1990’s, so I’m hoping I can manage to put something publishable together! The trick will be writing it up in Portuguese…hopefully I’ll be able to convince someone here to help translate.

I’m hoping to finally go to the TB hospital and start research with Almerio soon. Fingers crossed for next week! Hope everyone's summers are going well! Beijos!

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