Saturday, October 01, 2005
Elephants and Hiking
It’s been a wild week of unexpected visitors.
Yesterday I was running around like that chicken in the opening scene of City of God. It started out with me falling down the stairs on my way out of the house, which put me about 30 minutes late starting off the day. And in pain. Then it was off to Dona Dora’s house, where a ragtag bunch of Christian carnival people were putting on a marionette show that told the story of the conversion of Saul with a complete gospel presentation and scary circus music. And a light show that ran off its own power source: a motorcycle battery. All contained in a suitcase. The children were thrilled. Rapt. Captivated. My favorite line from the day? The missionaries/circus folk: “So who made Saul go blind?” Raianne: “Jesus!” Julia, age 3: “No, silly, it was the elephant!” See the picture for the explanation. I could see why she was confused. The elephant was by far more interesting than the disembodied voice from heaven for me too!
From there, we ran, almost literally, to Borel. Some of you may remember that was the first favela I ever visited. My poem in the latest issue of The Cry was written after that initial visit. YWAM has a really great established work up there, and since this group’s translator knew some of the people, she snagged us an invitation to go up. Borel isn’t like Manguinhos or the part of Jacarezinho that we live in. It has less people, only about 30,000, but is fully contained on a mountain. With one road. And lots of stairs. The favela across the way is operated by the Third Command, the second largest drug gang/mafia in Rio. But Borel is solidly Red Command, which means it is constantly a war zone. And the entrances are highly guarded. So we, being seven gringos with a large collection of tattoos, piercings, and dreadlocks, weren’t exactly going to blend in with the surroundings! A guy from YWAM came and got us in a combi, one of those little rattling VW buses, and then escorted us up the hill. On foot. And I was wearing heels. Now let me try to explain what climbing Borel is like. First, the stairs are concrete, mostly, except when they are tree roots, or rotting wood, or when the concrete has worn thin and you step gingerly over holes that expose a drop-off of roughly twenty or thirty feet. And sometimes, of course, they’re nothing but mud. Or worse. And they go straight up, without hand-rails. Well, there were a few rails, but they were at knee height for me! And every few feet, you have to greet someone, say hi, nod, try not to let your wheezing be too obvious...So we finally arrived up top and checked out the daycare center, the library and computer center that used to be a Macumba/spiritist center until the YWAMers prayed over it so much that the spirits left and the owners couldn’t get anyone to buy the place...and the drug kingpin finally just gave the keys to the YWAMers...then there was the music school and lastly, the medical center, where a couple of nurses have gotten really good at treating malnutrition and gunshot wounds and pneumonia and things of that sort.
The YWAM guy has a great sense of humor. The circus missionaries were a little freaked out by the time we got up there, even more so when we started talking about the spiritist house, and they asked some questions about whether it’s dangerous to live here. The YWAM dude looked at me and we both burst out laughing. “Man, it’s dangerous to live in the world,” he says, quickly adding, “But here in Borel, we’re really close to heaven...” In so many ways!!! We also had the dubious pleasure of getting not one, not two, but somewhere in the vicinity of eight chances to see the 16 year old drug kingpin of Borel, as he drove by in some tricked-out midnight blue vehicle. I’m sure it had tinted windows the first time, when it was just him driving by. The second and third and fourth times, they were rolled down, as he’d invited some of his henchmen to check out the gringos waiting for a combi back down the hill...being teenagers, they must have wanted to show off. Not just with fast driving and ridiculous donuts in the praça that barely had room for two cars to pass, but also with their machine guns hanging out the windows (like the police do). Just showing off. Not pointed at anyone. But it was a little unnerving. And when it started happening at three-minute intervals, and they were winking and blowing kisses, we finally managed to snag a ride...thank you Jesus! I don’t know how one rejects a teenaged mafia hit man...I hope never to have to find out...