The Praça XV underpass is just a dingy grey median where the Linha Vermelha runs above and the buses leaving the Praça XV station head down to the Zona Sul or north, through the city center and out to the surrounding bairros. The fenced area provides a narrow but fairly expansive area for pedestrians rolling a quick joint to walk in relative privacy until their telltale purchase has been consumed, a place where fat, dirty little babies with huge grins take their first wobbly steps and play tag with their sisters, four tiny bare feet nimbly avoiding the urine pools...a place where businessmen in cheap suits and women in tottering heels walk quickly past, casting nervous glances at the human huddle by the railings. It’s here that families set up home with their plastic bags, cardboard sleeping mats and thick, smelly movers’ blankets. On Mondays, we disturb the commuters. With our singing and teasing and complete disregard for the sacred silence of public space. With banana peels thrown thoughtlessly over a shoulder and onto someone’s windshield, a process I am trying without success to quell! With our Frisbee games that frequently involve a missed disc that slides into the congested traffic, giving someone enough time to jump the fence, drop five feet to the road below, and grab our toy before some taxi runs it over. We disturb the commuters with our presence, mostly. I frequently wonder what the bus conversations are like after they pass us. There are times when I swear that whole buses will come together to discuss what exactly was happening as they passed us. After all, it’s not every day that people see a bunch of white foreigners playing tag with “street people.” It attracts attention. Like today, when we walked across the square and some guy we didn’t know called out, “Hey you!” We ignored him but he was persistent, this guy seated on the sidewalk with a cast on his leg up to the thigh but four other tough-ish looking guys seated beside him. “Hey you, with the glasses. Come here.” He was speaking to Rich, the only one in our group who really didn’t understand Portuguese...but when we came close, he started asking questions. Were we those people who always came down to play cards with the kids who hung out over there? He stayed on the street and he’d been watching us. Is this something we do on our free time? “When you stop and talk, it causes people to see that we’re not animals...maybe someday, they’ll stop and talk to us too...thank you. That’s really cool.”
Talking to A.L. and Di was great tonight. I played with all Di’s girls, who climbed all over me and pulled my hair and almost, almost bit me. We talked about hair removal and boys, favorite holiday foods and the rude people who stared. Di pointed out all the people who were using drugs as they passed...she was right every time! Di’s almost 9 months pregnant and she asked me if I’d come visit her in the hospital when she has her baby. I asked her if she’d been going to pre-natal care. “Huh? I’ve never gone to pre-natal.” Well. I hope this birth goes off without a hitch as well then...
She also wanted to know “what was the crazy idea behind why you guys moved to the favela?” So we talked for a while about WMF and God and poverty and how working on the streets changed when we were able to see and experience what poverty was like, to live in the environments that they’d left. I like talking to Di when she’s in a good mood, when she’s not high. A.L. too. They’re really fascinating women, full of questions and wisdom and experiences I want to draw out, women who laugh in the midst of horrid situations, who wish me God’s best as I leave and know that I’m going home to a real bed and warm clothes and maybe even a shower even as they eat their donated dinner out of a plastic bag.
That’s sacrificial love.