The last two weeks in my homestay Tom’ s mother, Colange and 5 year old nephew, Samwell, came to stay with us in Sao Bento. In the evenings we sat in front of the TV watching the novelas with café and Samwell would hit his head into the walls and run around the coffee table threatening to break one of Dyna’s tiny pink and blue porcelain ornaments with bells. Then Colange would raise her havainna sandal and flap it back and forth at him in the air, yelling “SAMWELL sit there on the sofa, sit there right and start itching to sleep! ” He knew that he could get hit with the back of the flip flop so he obeyed, started itching and within a few minutes would fall asleep.
Colange likes to collect dolls and claims that she has a room full of them in her home in Salvador. When I asked why she told me she never got to play when she was a child. When she was nine her parents forced her into a marriage with an older man, when she was fourteen she had her first child, and after eight children and the death of her husband she discovered she was a lesbian. She told me she believes there is a reciprocity and equality between women that a man and a woman simply cannot share. “I lived that life already, and I didn’t like it.”
On Sunday we all went to Isabel’s house to do laundry. Samwell sat on the ground with his legs outstretched in front of him, pinning pegadores to the tips of his fingers and clicking them together like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons. We filled up the sinks with soapy water and I took my usual spot, tentatively rubbing the soap into a t-shirt. I felt eyes boring hot into my back. They were both watching me. Expected. Dyna would soon give me a healthy bout of criticism for how I wasn’t doing it right. However instead of wasting time on me today she simply pushed me out of the way insisting that we had a bocada of ropas to wash and I was going too slow. I watched Colange. Bending low over the sink, she bit her lower lip, and with all the power she could convey dunked a pair of blue jeans in the sudsy water, and then scrubbed, her whole body moving back and forth with the brush, beads of sweat forming on her forehead, committed and ruthless. “Ce tem que escovar com raiva laura,” you have to brush with hate, she said, cackling.
There’s a pagode song that goes like this: “bote com raiva bote com raiva…”of course it has sexual connotations but literally means “do it, put it with hate, with hate/anger,” I became used to seeing women do things com raiva. I watched Dyna sweep the floor, wash the dishes, looking angry; rigorously, wholeheartedly, confidently, as if completing this one task correctly could prove everything. Something that seemed menial and insignificant to me sometimes looked like it meant the whole world to her. It appeared important to prove that I didn’t know how to do it and she did. Dyna has one of the grittiest, most assertive voices I have ever heard and she can spit the longest, she has an endurance for dancing in the worst of times, yet I watched the constant struggle she had winning respect from her husband and escaping subjugation in her marriage. I saw her slave over the sarapatel on the stove and bring him suco de cacao in his computer room and carry bucket after bucket of water on her head up the stairs every Saturday without his help.
As I squatted over the tin bowl of cold clean water on the ground, trying to keep up with their rapid-fire washing, my knuckles turning red and raw from rinsing out the soap, I began to admire the strange raiva in Dyna and Colange: confidence and assertion even when you don’t get the respect, until you find it somewhere; dancing long and low even when you’re deeply unhappy; laughing a booming cackling, loud laugh when there was nothing funny about what happened.