This last year brought with it a few changes for me, including getting married and moving into a favela in Rio de Janeiro. I am frequently surprised by things I see and hear and yet it’s also remarkable how quickly I’ve found myself accepting frankly shocking situations as the new normal.
There is never a dull moment living in a favela. One of our neighbours sits outside our house soaking up the early morning sunshine and communicates to her children (across 300m) using the ancient medium of guttural bellowing, much in the same way that a football supporter at the top of the stands seeks to make themselves heard by their team on the pitch. Her tactic is very effective, but then it’s no contest as she has no competition at all at 7.30am.
Another neighbour uses a similar technique every school night to call her ten year old daughter home at 11pm. I knew her daughter’s name before I ever saw her and, for the first couple of months, whenever I saw the child I would mentally yell her name with the requisite crescendo to the final two syllables. You still get a good build though, as her name is five syllables long.
Grown men frequently urinate on our bathroom wall (the outside, thankfully) but it hadn’t really occurred to me that there might be a trickle down effect, as they say. That is, until one evening when my husband and I were chatting with a friend while nearby some children were playing around a table and chairs. With no ceremony whatsoever, the six year old climbed up onto the table, opened his flies and peed everywhere, while his sister and cousin continued playing without batting an eyelid.
Of course, there are usually connections if you know where to look. The first time I heard a group of children outside whistling across the mouth of a metal tube, I (very naively) assumed that they had a recorder and were doing what I used to do as a kid and blowing really hard until it screamed. But my husband explained to me that the children were copying what they see gang members do when they blow across the muzzles of their guns. It was heartbreaking to discover the truth, so when I heard that for myself one evening, everything that it stood for made the noise itself even more haunting.
Just before Christmas, I happened to glance out of the window mid washing up one morning and was surprised to see a fire. It turned out that one of our neighbours was melting down some copper cable to sell. Fortunately, we have glass in that window so the rubber fumes could only get in a bit around the edge.
Our window looks over plenty of happier moments too. We’ve played What’s the time Mr Wolf, tag and other catching games. Our neighbours’ four year old gleefully shouts “Você não me pega, Cara de meleca” (You can’t catch me, Snotface) as he disappears behind the house and his giggly shrieks are guaranteed to put a smile on even the hardest face! The other boys like to play football against the wall, punctuated by a great deal of swearing. And, of course, there is always the chatting and laughing and joking around that makes up daily life here.
This post was originally published on the 2nd of January 2017 and has been transferred from my previous blog (Brazil from the outside in hosted by Blogger) after some technical difficulties with the site.