VC Yes, something you said that I thought was very important is about the Baianas from the neighborhood, who you said need support, and it’s true because many times they are going through financial difficulties, and they don’t receive the same support nor the same look of affection as other more well-known Baianas from more touristy places do. You have an outlook...a desire to unite all the Baianas in solidarity.
TPJ Yes, if one Baiana is growing it will add value to the craft. If the acarajé by a neighborhood Baiana is good, it makes our food more valuable, the food of the orixá. Because the acarajé is from the orixá. It comes from religious origins. And we have to try to preserve it, we can’t let the question of religiousness disappear. It has to be connected to religion. We have to always be preserving the religion, the African origin.
VC Yes, the Baianas of acarajé are very complex because the Baianas de acarajé are cultural figures, they are religious vehicles, they are micro-entrepreneurs, they are many things, they are mothers many times, right. So the Baiana de acarajé is a super important person for the culture and the history, and the history of resistance in Bahia, Brazil.
TPJ It is, and the tabuleiro, the Baiana de acarajé [who sells] with tabuleiro, she becomes a mother, a friend, a psychologist, a teacher. Why? Apart from just [working at] the food stand, we get to know people, people who feel, who confess, who pour their hearts out. The food stand many times is [like a] psychologists’ office. Because we hear many situations, many things. And we always have advice to give.
VC This is true. This is true.
TPJ There’s something else. Every so often someone comes to the food stand. They ask for an acarajé. We never deny them. The religion of candomblé is the religion that feeds the most in the world. Because in the candomblé religion, everything we have is divided. If there is a celebration, there is always something to offer. And it is the same thing at the food stand. There is always someone who asks for an acarajé and we never stop giving it.
VC This is something I saw when I was there, I saw many Baianas at the food stand. If someone comes to their food stand and says they don’t have any money, many times I saw the Baianas prepare them an acarajezinho, as even while not having money themselves they will share. They will give.
TPJ Exactly. Because sometimes it is our own orixá testing us, right? So we can’t deny them. If someone is hungry, you have to feed them. Right? So, an acarajé that they leave eating with will bring another client. Because someone will go walking around, and on that walk someone else will breathe that smell of acarajé and will want to buy one. We will earn a path to prosperity. And we will get more clients.
VC I think that was a really nice way to think about it. If you give, you will get even more.
VC Just to wrap up, I wanted to ask you one more question now that we are in the delicate moment of the pandemic, which you said you actually caught COVID twice, and your daughter was admitted to the hospital. So, I know also that the situation in Brazil is very difficult—everywhere, right?—and how was the pandemic...how has the pandemic affected you, other Baianas de acarajé or the craft? What is the situation with the pandemic like right now?
TPJ Look, the pandemic affected many Baianas, mainly the Baianas at the beach, the Baianas of the plaza. I sell in the plaza. My spot is the plaza. The plaza was already difficult. Now it is worse. Events, Baianas who work at events are in a difficult situation because all the events have been suspended. And there are so many Baianas, like neighborhood Baianas, Baianas who are more...who are not quite as privileged. They are going through hard times. The Baiana de tabuleiro who sells food as their primary job, behind that Baiana there exists a family. There are children, grandchildren. There are Baianas who with their food stands support their children and grandchildren. So, these Baianas are going through difficult times. There are Baianas who are experiencing really difficult moments. Here there was a city that had Baians who went to the stadium because they couldn’t afford their homes. They were evicted from their houses. Right? So, there are Baianas who are really going through, went through hard times. Rita Ventura, the president, she made many campaigns, she distributed many basic care baskets, we created many partnerships, we made a partnership with Coca Cola to help Baianas get back to work. I always, however much you do, it’s just a drop of water in the ocean. You can’t take into account all of them. Oh, all the Baianas are associates, we know all the Baianas—no. It’s hard. We won’t say that. Baianas were the first businesswomen, Bainas de acarajé. So, it’s hard for us to take all of them into account. But just a few, we can take care of a drop of water in the ocean.
VC Certainly, because there are even Baianas who decided to sell [acarajé] now who the Association doesn’t even know exist. Because there are thousands, three thousand, maybe even four thousand Baianas in Salvador. There are many [Bainas].
TPJ Many more, because there are Baianas from other neighborhoods on other streets who don't have access [to the Association], because we won’t say that the Association will reach all of them or be everywhere, no. It works by one [Baiana] coming [to the Association] and then calling another over. There are even those who accept being part of the Association and there are those who don’t accept and [and say], “Oh, I just sell here at my door inside of my house, ok?...”
VC And something I thought was interesting was that the Baianas, as well as the Baianas with food stands, are social people, right. Because you go to the street, as you said, you’re a teacher, you’re a psychologist, you’re a mother, you’re a friend, people come and say, “Hi, Baianas, how are you doing?” They give hugs, they stay there sitting and eating acarajé. So, I think it must be very hard for the Baiana’s spirit during this pandemic, not being able to go out in the street, feeling the clients’ energies, that affection. I think it must be a difficult thing to stay at home all alone without any power to share these good energies with people in the street.
TPJ Yes, this contributed so much to Baianas becoming depressed, and aside from the pandemic, we lost many Baianas. We lost many colleagues due to COVID, we lost many friends. And we miss that warmth, that embrace. We like to hug, Baianas like to smile. What is the postcard of the Baiana de acarajé and the welcoming Baiana? It’s our smile. These days, we smile with our eyes. We smile with our eyes, because the masks don’t allow us to otherwise. It is difficult. So, many Baianas are depressed from being at home, not being able to be out there, and experiencing difficulties. So, it is very, very, very depressing.