Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I paid attention

The streets, last night, were cold and wet. And so, while we did get our weekly exercise in walking in a huge circle around the Lapa area of town, we eventually gave up (to my great delight) attempting to find friends on the streets and went to visit friends who have, to some degree, left the streets.

They’re taking up residence in an old apartment building just a few minutes away from the Lapa arches. It used to be a nice place, in its day, two apartments to a floor with an elevator in between. The elevator is no more, as is the wiring, water and sewage and pretty much anything else that could have been salvaged (or savaged) and sold. This gives the building your typical haunted house appearance: peeling paint, trash and construction rubble littering the floors, the strong smell of human waste and cats, bare wires running helter-skelter along the walls and ceilings. Some of the floors are more lit than others. But our friends live on the 7th floor, which means quite a lot of stairwell hiking. And explaining to do. At the door, a five or six year old kid seemed to be playing doorman:

-Who are you going to see? Huh? Huh? Liete, Liza, Luana?

And when we came back down, over an hour and a half later, he was still there.

-You get to see your friend Looloo? Good.

It’s sketchy, for sure. But the overall construction of the place seems to be pretty sturdy. There are no cracks, for example, in the concrete, the stairs are solid and even though the floors are a maze of literally subdivided apartments, it is one of the nicest squatter settlements I’ve seen. Each apartment has been divided up into four or five smaller ones, which probably hold families of six or more people. Especially when you account for the street kids who were invited to spend the night.

We showed up as Francisca was sweeping the floor and Gisele was preparing dinner. Another friend was bringing up water in a 10 gallon bucket, then putting it cup by cup into a drinking water container. (Please remember, there is no elevator nor water. She lugged this from somewhere on the street up seven flights of stairs!) The beans were on the “stove,” an old can filled with alcohol that sat atop two upturned bricks. It was going briskly and, quite frankly, was probably just about as safe as having a propane tank in your house like most of the rest of us. We played with the babies. One, with the face of a fat man in his 50’s, the other, a skinny little thing with a mop of curly hair and a diaper so full that it dripped all over my jeans. But was thankfully unstinky. I thought about changing him, but there was no water.

We watched Brazilian Idols on their scratchy television set, sat on the hand-me-down couch and talked about the “good old days” when we used to visit them on the streets…
Rodolfo is frustrated because he’d work, really he would, if he could just find something that he liked to do. We laughed. Existential problems, my friend. Work sucks. You just have to do it, regardless of whether you like it or not! I think he might have a hard time finding something he’s going to like doing, what with the unfinished elementary education and prison time behind him. But that isn’t an excuse.

Francisca wants us to bring out the coloring pages, to sing some. She preens as the house fills with friends and we sing church songs, as requested. Jac, our newest staff member, tells the Bible story, a modern rewording of Psalm 121. Even though there’s quite a bit of discussion going on under her story, the days “earnings” being divided up (R$26), when the time comes for prayer, everyone asks for something that ties into the psalm that was just read.

We slipped down the dark stairs to the street, laughing at the men behind us as they talk about us in loud voices.

Friend number one tries to get our attention in quasi-English:

-You friend my shithead be good?

Friend number two:

-Hey you idot, they’re not gringos, they’re Brazilians!

I think we should do this more often.

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