So today was just one of those days… (even as I sit down to write about it, I find myself gaining perspective, as I think on other places in the world that are much worse… where the darkness is heavier… where hope is farther away… and then I realize, I’m not in a competition – just trying to document and observe what is happening in the here and now of Rio and Jacarezinho… I don’t have any solutions – I’m just here to tell you what I see, and what I’m thinking… you draw your own conclusions…)
I woke up this morning early to make a quick trip to the Federal Police to register as a foreigner here in Brazil. It’s a simple procedure of filling out a few forms, paying a few fees, showing up in person, getting fingerprinted, and then they give you a small piece of paper that will serve as a provisional ID for the “2-9 months” required to “process” your actual ID. Of course, when your temporary ID expires after six months, you show up in person and they stamp it and give you another three months. And then three more. Oh, and what do you know, now your visa is expired, so we don’t actually have to give you an ID after all…
This is the third time I’ve done this. You’d think someone would keep my fingerprints on file or something, or that at least I would have a better idea of what I’m doing. But no. They don’t, and neither do I.
Today was trip number 2. I went yesterday, only to find out that all the homework I’d done in advance was not quite enough – there was one form I’d forgotten to print off the internet, one new fee that I had to pay, and “Sorry, we won’t be able to get to you in time today. Come back again tomorrow…”
As I was putting my breakfast dishes in the sink, preparing to grab my backpack and walk out the door, all hell broke loose in my street. I recognized handguns, rifles, AR-15s, AK-47s, several hand grenades, and the caveirão (literally “big skull,” an armored car used for riot control and “pacifying” the favelas – my last servant team referred to it as “the ice cream truck of death…” I was going to post a video of the caveirão, but all the ones I found on YouTube were just too graphic… go figure…)
A squad of BOPE (Special Ops police – kind of like SWAT) hid out in the doorways across the street from my place. It was quiet for long periods of time, broken only by them yelling at people who were out buying groceries, going to work, taking kids to school, etc., to “Lift up your shirt. Turn Around! Down on the ground… Ok, you can go…” I do sympathize with the police problem of trying to catch heavily armed bad guys in an urban setting among a large civilian population. But terrorizing those who live in the favelas is not the answer.
Something that sickened me as I thought about it was my first reaction to the altercation was “I’m stuck in the house. Won’t you stop shooting at each other, so I can go get what I need to get done done.” After about three hours, the police either caught who they were after, or got tired and left. Life was back to normal. Stores opened up again. Kids played in the street. I went off to the Federal Police to deal with more Brazilian beauracracy…
I waited there for three hours today, and didn’t even get to talk to anybody. Yippee. Then I had to leave to make it to our streets party – heading to downtown Rio to meet up with some of the youth who make the streets their home… It was a fairly low key event – a light meal (we made a Brazilian meal of Greek rice, grilled chicken, maionese (potato salad type dish), panetonne, guarana, and farofa, yet even so it required a lot of work…), small bags of presents, reading the Christmas story, and trying to sing Christmas songs (somehow that didn’t go over quite as well…).
A highlight was the few minutes we all stood in a circle holding hands while Alex, a friend, read the Christmas story. We all took a few minutes, went around and said a few things we were thankful for… and the peace that suffused those few minutes was amazing. The quiet attentiveness on the part of the youth – even the traffic noise seemed to fade away. And everyone sat down and waited patiently while we served them. It barely even rained!
And we only had one seriously angry guy raving at us about how we shouldn’t be helping “these little thieving street rats – they’re nothing but trash!” I gave him the evil eye across a car as he walked by, which stopped him. “Are you helping these things?” he shouted. “Yup.” “Are you a gringo?” “Yes, I am…” Which set off another stream of profanity (there’s a time and place for it – say, confronting injustice, the police shooting a friend of yours “accidentally”, or dealing with the Federal Police and their infernal visa torture machine – but not in that situation…) culminating in death threats against these young people and me if I didn’t think things through and do what was good for me… hmm.
Merry Christmas to you too buddy. Merry Christmas to you too…
I had almost made it home (was walking into the main favela entrance, actually) when a squad car of police who was searching random passers-by decided that they had found something, so they started shooting down the crowded market street. After five or so minutes of tense crouching in a small beco (alleyway) with a few random strangers, we saw Rio’s finest walking out with a few small packages of marijuana. Good job guys.
It’s ironic – last night I was thinking about how much of this year has been relatively free of harassment from the police (they haven’t stopped and searched me once all year!) and other scarier incidents… Then today, this.
Live and learn, I guess.
Tomorrow’s another day. And guess what? I get to go to the Federal Police again!
… … right … …
Lord, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other…
~ Reinhold Niebuhr