Thursday morning we set out for our retreat. Seven Americans, one Swiss, one Brazilian. We were stopped twice in five minutes by the cops before even managing to get off the main road running by my favela. The surfboards did it, I think. There's an ingrained idea that surfers=druggies. Especially white ones. Oh well. I'm getting used to having guns pointed at me, and people refusing to believe that I live on the street I say I do. But repeating yourself five or six times to men with machine guns aimed at you becomes a little absurd. I have to bite my tongue not to say anything smart.
We arrive almost without incident, only to have the key to our car break in two when someone tried to open a bottle of water with it. Yes, you read that correctly. Tried to OPEN A BOTTLE of WATER with the CAR KEY. We are intelligent folk! Of course, Trindade, the tiny beach/mountain town we're staying in, has no locksmith. They're having a harrd time getting a drugstore to stay in town past the tourist season. So thankfully, it rained the next day and we bused into Parati, the next town over, to have lunch and fix the key.
Our retreat was to be a bit of community building between our two groups (the three Americans and the Swiss versus the four Americans and Brazilian) and also a time of solitude with God. We managed to combine the two rather well. The Swiss Connection kicked the Brazilian Fleshies' butts at ultimate frisbee, despite being several years older and having one pregnant player. I am still feeling the results of that game in my muscles. The quiet times with God were great, with sand underfoot and hardly anyone nearby, surrounded by rocks and green mountains and the bluest blue skies. It was truly gorgeous.
In our free time, we chatted, spent time at the beach and hiked around the mountains, ate lots and lots of good food, and enjoyed our landlady, who was quite the character! She hung several of her sparkly, trash-as-treasure paintings in every room, as well as on the ceilings, and was always ready to share her religious beliefs with the unsuspecting guests. Throw in the white bunny and numerous cats that ran around your feet or climbed up on the table at breakfast, plus the tree growing in the corner of our room (I could rest my feet on it from my bed) and you have quite a colorful weekend!
On the way home, our car wouldn't make it up the mountain, so we had to get out to "lighten the load." I thought we'd hike up the hill and the car would be waiting for us. But the hill didn't stop...and we had to hike nearly one kilometer straight uphill before we found a flat spot where the car could rest...leaving us nasty and sweaty and exhausted for the four hour ride back to Rio. :) Ah, adventure.
Even leaving early, we managed to get home well after dark. I took Dandy to the bus stop in J--. After she got in the bus, I walked down to the light to cross the street...and a cop car pulled up and the police started jumping out. I made it about four good running steps before the shots started. The man in front of me was running so fast he tripped over his own feet and fell flat down on the ground...there were about twenty of us waiting around in a cement enclosed parking lot that was the best cover on that side of the street. I had some funny thoughts, mostly in the line of "hey, my knees DO work after all!" and "dang it! I've had enough with running and hiking for one day!" Everyone was talking to each other, because normal social barriers break down when you're running away from big ugly men with guns. But our conversations were oddly normal. The man next to be was commenting that “Friday was worse...just like Iraq. Bang bang bang...at 8:30 at night. It sounded like it would never end." And the ladies with babies in their arms were antsy: "We can’t go home when it’s like this...what are we going to do?" They were trying to convince their husbands to take the long way home, around the favela and in the back entrance. Another man was guiding everyone towards the scary looking dog chained to the back wall, because the thick concrete "will be the last to take shots. Let’s stand by it...”
In truth, I think the cops just shot into the air, because there was no return fire. And I went home the back way, down an alley that links right up to the entrance I prefer to use. Just as I passed a seriously dark corner, I hear engines behind me and see three motorcycles zoom up into that corner, followed by the cop car. They cops were awkwardly riding the crotch rockets in their boots and bullet-proof vests. That corner isn't anywhere near the police station, but it is frequently used for what appear to be shady deals, so my guess is that the cops were using this opportunity to grab a little cash off the guys they "nabbed" for driving around to celebrate their soccer team's win.
I'm getting sick of this.
My little sister has a great post up on her blog right now (it's Ellen, she's in the links on the right) about gang members and prejudice and our response. I think about those two guys on the motorcycle, how they threw their hands up and shouted, "Don't shoot, don't shoot!" How they were probably fleeced for whatever they had on their persons, if not their bikes as well, because they were black and lived in a poor area of town. It's not like they can go to the police and complain.
A guy I met briefly in Trindade this weekend was ranting to me about how he hates the "glamorization" of the favelas, how he hears people talk about their "pride in the favela" and finds it disgusting. Because the favela, to him, is all marginalization and oppression and poverty. And he's right, kind of. But he's wrong too. Wrong because pride doesn’t have to be pride in poverty and lack of education. It can be pride that in spite of all that, the favela has something to offer. That the favela doesn’t lay down and say, hey please stomp all over me! That the favela fights back.
We have water again. I don't know why, but I'm guessing that it has a lot to do with some stubborn women from the favela who wouldn't give up. There are big billboards up all around the city stating that the police will try to avoid raids during school hours. Because people from the favela wouldn't give up. They wouldn't accept that bullet-riddled schools and wounded children were acceptable casualties in this fake war against drugs and local terrorism. I see people from the favela working in the fanciest office buildings in Rio (remember the 89 Manhatten tower from that crazy Burger King commercial where they push a car off a bridge? I know a girl who works there!). I see people from the favela working hard to change their realities from that of marginalized and outcast and into privileged and honored citizens. And if it's not for one kind of kingdom, it's for another, better one. And I am proud to be a fellow citizen with them.