Live from Rio... {Brazil}

written 7/10/2006


As of Sunday morning, i was blessed to arrive safely in Rio de Janeiro, brazil. I traveled with Beatriz Vigil (aka B) who attends Depaul and is from Maywood.

The class:
I am participating in a human rights and media workshop here. Today was the first day of classes and we received our schedule for the week. It is packed, but I do have my weekends free. I am so excited by some of the work we will be doing and the folks we will be meeting! We will be screening movies and visiting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Favelas (pronounced: fah-veil-las; think ghettos/barrios) this week and next.

These folks (young and old) have the internet on lock. There are youth media groups in the Favelas that document the everyday struggles of life which of course includes: police brutality, drug trafficking, hip hop culture, general labor, and all the oppressive "isms" we know so well in the U.S. (i.e. sexism, homophobia, heterosexism, racism, agism...).

I'm talking photojournalism, print, website design, and film. Think "City of God." We are going to meet the kids/actors from that movie, who have their own NGO called Nos Do Cinema. They are teaching other kids the skills that they learned from making the movie. There is also an NGO here working on harm-reduction with sex workers. We are going to visit them on Friday and we are bringing them condoms since their funding has been cut.

There are also NGOs here that work on reviving the disarmament campaign which recently failed. The campaign would have made it illegal for anyone in brazil to purchase a gun. We are also going to climb Mount Babilonia, which is where some of the scenes from the movie "Black Orpheus" were filmed about 40 years ago. I am too excited about that because some say it has the best view of the entire city!

It is important to understand that everything people do here is classified as human rights, provided that it is not getting beat down by the police and not participation in the widespread drug trafficking which composes the "other" economy for the folks in the Favelas.

Agency is found in every action. Especially the creation and maintainence of community media organizations. Today, we learned about the five principles of human rights issues: Identification (as a human rights violation or topic which is not a given); Standards that are in place or the lack thereof; Representation which is key for media for and by Favelas; Response from the community and government; and Education.

We are learning about positive peace and negative peace. The difference is negative peace involves actions taken to stop immediate violence and the real threat thereof; positive peace involves actions that are taken to perserve peace in the future-tense with social justice as its foundation.

Yesterday was the championship for the world cup of soccer. Here in Rio, the people were so disappointed their team did not advance to the championship (they were defeated by france). It seemed like in defiance of the cup, many of them played their own games of soccer on the beach. Here everyone plays soccer. There is a park next to my hotel and there is a fenced in court. When i first saw the court and the screaming men, I thought, "what could they be doing? where's the hoop and the ball?" of course, basketball is not the past-time here.

I was listening to a conversation a fellow classmate of mine who speaks portuguese well and a young man from Rio were having. He was saying that most people misunderstand their obsession with the game. For them, it is not just a sport -- it is a part of their cultural identity. He was upset because the members of this year's team were mostly players who play in other countries. So it made their relationship with the team different than in years past. Their allegiance was not as strong.

The bus:
For all those who roll with the public transportation, you might like to know that the bus here costs just a little over an American dollar. Howcrazyisthat? I know it is much more than that in D.C. and Chicago! I'm definitely a little salty about that.

All i can think about when someone says the word gas is my seemingly-gas-guzzling aleros, but also just how expensive that stuff is. And why the heck would I want some in my water. I mean, it's WATER! Anyway, gas refers to the fizz in carbonated/sparkling water. Whoa! that one really threw me for a loop. By the way, the food here for vegetarians sucks. I've been running on nature valley granola, water, and rice and beans. It's all good because i have not gotten sick (insert praise GOD here). But can a sista get some variety? I ordered lobster at the restaurant last night and it was terrible. It had this strange looking curryish seasoning on it. And everybody who is familiar with curry knows that a little truly goes a long long way.

I tried to scrap it off and add black people's universal solution to bad food (hot sauce, in this case tabasco) but it got too tedious and i gave up and just ate my rice. And here tuna fish salad and rice comes with raisins, which is kinda strange, but midly tastey.

Everyone smokes here. Everywhere. All the time (insert thumbs down here).

The beach:
The view from Copacabana Beach makes you feel like the world is brand new when you're not looking at all the hotels that are vying for beachfront real estate! The people are all shades of golden. And no, their bodies are not all perfect. Eveyone does not look like they stepped off Snoop Dogg's "Beautiful" video, which was filmed here. They are friendly and seem to be curious about B and me. B is a mexican and Afro-Cuban, but she looks like a really fair skinned Mexicana. We probably look like an odd pair since i am gettin dark already. I love it.

So far the people at the place we are staying are nice -- and patient. The land is gorgeous here. It looks very similar to Jamaica considering the mountains that are all around us. Rio seems like a sprawling city since one has to be pretty creative to build a city using the mountains to their advantage. The cars are very small, hatchback and mostly German. And i must admit, Afro -Brazilians look just like us! The guy at the front desk right now looks a little like my uncle Jerome! lol.

I am having a great time in brail. Please continue to pray for me and my safe travel. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Please feel free to pass this on to others.

I love you,

Part Two

It has been a good sunday for sure. I woke up this morning with one of my favorite gospel songs on my mind: "great is thy faithfulness" ...morning by morning new mercies i see... all i hath needed thy Hand hath provided... great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me. I was definitely in the mood to be either at Trinity United Church of Christ (note to Trinitarians: please send me the scripture from the 7:30 sermon if you can) or Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard University (that song brings back so many beloved HU memories there). Since I couldn't get on the computer for the TUCC Webcast, I read a few chapters of John's gospel.

Needless to say i was in a good mood this morning.

Of course, B and I had set aside today to rest -- at the beach. We showered and headed straight there. After a week of classes, heavy topics like police brutality, violence and community organization, we so needed a break. In addition to that, since I wrote last some of you know that I got very sick, visited a Favela, and Nos do Cinema the NGO founded by the "City of God" actors. Let´s rewind.

Perceptions of Favelas
On Tuesday, we heard a lecture from a crime scholar from one of the federal universities here. It was very interesting considering theory discussions usually turn me off. However, his data from 1983 and 2001/2002 linked the increased crime rates in the Favelas and also a shift in public perception of residents in the Favelas. The significance of the years is this: from 1966 to 1985, Brasil was governed by a military dictatorship. And in 1988, a new constitution was written under the Democratic government. I say all this to say, in 1983, under the military dictatorship, residents in the Favelas were depicted as both criminals and victims. However, his 2001/2002 data, which was a content-analysis of the major Rio newspaper linking the words violence and Favela, there were no depictions of Favela residents as victims -- only as criminals. This shift results in the lack of positive media coverage for the Favelas, he argued. He also discussed the prison system which was not exempt from changes too. Most liken rio's prisons to swiss cheese or centers for criminal activity. Long gone are the days when prisons were rehabilitation centers because Brazilians thought (like much of the rest of the world) those who performed crimes were mentally unstable.

Wednesday and Thursday:
During these two days, it is most accurate that I could not hold water down effectively. Blame it on the cheese pizza with tomotoes I had the night before. Or maybe just my body adjusting to what folks here call the third world/Latin America/South America/Brasilian/Rio (stomach) rumble. It is very real and very thorough. Needless to say I spent these days missing all of you, sleeping, force-drinking water and later gatorade (which i thank God for), force-eating crackers, and alternating Pepto with Tylenol for my upset stomach and rising fever.

"I want to die making films."
Friday, I was determined to attend class because in the evening we were expected to distribute condoms to these sex workers along with this NGO here called, Macoabim. this and probably only this was the reason I dragged my lifeless body out of bed that morning. I was feeling between 75-85% well, and i knew i could not spend another day in the hotel room, listening to the kids across the street playing futbol. It was so out of the question. So, our first stop was Nos do Cinema (nose doo cin-eh-ma), which is where I met the students who are trained in fillmmaking by the actors from "City of God." We screened three of their films which were between 10-25 minutes long. The students were between their early to late teens and the work was impressive. They tackled issues like teen pregnancy, suicide, and Favela life. But what was even more impressive was the modest equipment these folks were using! I think I saw like two Macs (from the waaay back), and about 4-5 PCs. Are you serious? The only thing that looked up to date was their camcorder which was digital and the DVDs that they showed their work on. Other than that, that studio made the School of C (communications) look like CNN or the Washington Post's newsroom (no diss intended to the School of C. so folks know what I'm talking about).

And we did not make it to the no to pass out our condoms because our shipment never came through. Instead, we're going to go this Thursday. I will keep you posted on this of course.

Saturday was so anticipated for me because it was a chance to visit a Favela while not feeling like i was sick. We rode a van about 100 kilometers (I dunno how many miles that is) to a Favela called Queimados (pronounced kay-mah-dush). This is where I learned a valuable lesson about compassion and humility. Body language ALWAYS speaks louder than words in any tongue. In the Favela, we met this sista whose relatives/kids (allegedly (yea right)) were gunned down next door to her house by the police. She was kind enough to speak with us off the cuff about the litigation concerning this after we had watched a documentary film on this. Her son was so playing in the dirt in front of me. With his little toes all in it. picking up rocks and such, while his mommy fought the good fight. She was speaking through a translator and there was so much to be said by me, but stuff is mad personal. I wanted to reach out, but I could not muster the energy to tell the translator. I wanted it to be a conversation just between sistas. Something we can only share and understand (did i mention I'm the only African American in my group?) So after she said goodbye to the group, before she went back into her home, I just tapped her on the shoulder and held my arms out. We hugged. For a long time. One of those Opiyo-esque hugs that sistas used to get on the yard just for waking up that day. I rubbed her back. She rubbed mine. I took some of her pain and loss to carry with me. It was such a dope moment...

I wore my black on black love shirt today because it's slightly grimy from my workouts in it but more importantly because love translates. No matter what language. If folks don't know any thing in English here, they know: Bush, Coca-Cola, and love (so not in that order though hopefully). I wanted to bring that feeling to the Favela. And only I could do it since the Afro-Brazilians here won't speak up about blackness and the black folks are so in the Favelas.

Other Stuff
In case anyone is wondering, the seasons are reversed since I'm technically on the other half of the globe. So it is winter here. Meaning the sun rises at about 6ish and sets at about 5 or so. The temps peak at about high 70s in the day and 50s in the evening. The beach is rarely abandoned from what I can tell though. And mom, there are those bidets in all the bathrooms -- just like in ours. Lol. I thought you would get a kick out of that.

I can't wait to experience what this week will bring me. I hope there is no more illness in sight and plenty of wonderful lessons. Please continue to keep me in your prayers and I will do the same.

I love you,

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