Once again it’s been a while since I’ve shown up here. And if I’m going to be honest with myself, and with ya’ll, it’s for a variety of reasons – so here’s what they are, and what’s up with me right about now…
Category Archives: favela
Of the past 36 hours, 3 of them have been spent in my home. Despedida (good-bye party) at the Nichols on Sunday was a low key time – maybe 15 friends and ministry partners, eating snacks (delicious food by Rebecca, coffeecake by Ben), and talking about the past and future. Rebecca explained to Anna that we were having a party for me, “but it was a sad party…” yeah.
Last night at church, with a message on grace and hope. Appropriate, I thought… And then over to Jeremy’s house for one last guys night which included a rousing game of Canasta and watching most of the movie Labyrinth. (Seriously guys, we’re slacking. Whatever happened to poker nights, Rio Risk, Rambo movies, ultimate memory… My fault though, as I had final veto power over all decisions… And the company was great. I’ll miss those times.)
Digression – Some of you may have seen the movie Labyrinth. Others, like me, may have only seen snippets. For those of you who are unaware, it is… kind of hard to explain, actually. Jeremy described it as “the movie that failed in every category that the Lord of the Rings excelled in.” It is a fantasy adventure film/musical, starring David Bowie (yes, David Bowie) as King of the Goblins, co-starring lots of weird muppets from Jim Henson’s company. Frank Oz (Yoda) was even in it. Acting? Horrible. Plot? Nonsensical. Music? 80’s power ballad. Muppets? Psychedelic. Kind of a hybrid between Sesame Street, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Sound of Music, and Lord of the Rings, if you can picture it…
I wonder where the movie came from… what is the story behind it? Did David Bowie one day decide he wanted to be in a movie?
“Let’s see… I like kids. And goblins. I love goblins. In fact, I want to be King of them. Let’s sing songs too. But MY music. And I want to have a music video in the middle where I dance and throw a baby high in the air (my personal favorite). And don’t forget Animal’s crazy cousins who remove their heads and dance around the fire. I want kids who watch this to have nightmares for months after. Oh, and maybe…”
So he called his friends, (George Lucas and Jim Henson) and I guess the rest is history. I could go on, but maybe we’ll stop now and end this digression… There’s still organizing and cleaning of stuff to do around the house… ok.
The rest of the day – pancake breakfast, a short time of prayer (thanks guys, I really do appreciate it), running home to get stuff ready for streets, one last day of making the sandwiches, talking with the bakery lady about how I’m leaving soon, run to the entrance – wait, are those gunshots? Yes, they are. Will it be my last gunfight? maybe. Bus ride downtown, prayer in the cathedral, walking all over downtown trying to find where the youth are… No dice. I wonder where they are – I’ve been telling them that today is my last day, and we’re going to have a little despedida. I brought cake. See a few older men and women. Meet up with three or four of our friends at the final spot (the XV), and have a good conversation good-byes… But missed seeing many that I had hoped to… I’m going back down on Wed. afternoon on my own to try and search them out – we’ll see how it works… the cake is still in my backpack, waiting for the right time. Then off to buy a couple of gifts/lembranças and eat dinner (my gas canister ran out yesterday morning… so no more cooking at home for me), and home.
Now, clean, rested, and ready to work… so I’ll do that. It’s real, and happening…
My first inkling that something might be wrong was when my bus took an unexpected detour. I glanced out the window to see the main road that goes by “my favela” was blockaded, and no traffic was allowed to go down it.
“What’s the matter?” people started asking.
“Oh, Jacare and Manguinhos are ‘comendo bala’ (eating bullets – not a good thing)” others answered.
What normally would have taken me five minutes to get home ended up taking me almost an hour – including the big detour, getting off the bus and walking a couple of miles (the road was still closed off, and no buses, taxis, or cars were going down it), and waiting with a crowd (my rough estimate of 800-1000 people) for the police to open up the road so we could all go home.
Finally, a few cars started going through (slowly) the police blockade, the shooting had tapered off, and the wisdom of the crowd decided that it was safe to go. Being a member of the crowd, I tagged along. Also, the more people around, the lower the odds of me being hit, right? About halfway down the dark road, we noticed that the power was completely off at the entrance to Jacare – and shots started again. Some people ran back the way we had come from. Others of us edged up against the wall. Conversations broke out between strangers as we waited for “them” to stop shooting.
“Those shots were over in Manguinhos, not Jacare. We’re fine,” said one of the older men. A number of us agreed, and as the shots died down began walking. Once you made it under the metro line, and over the train tracks, the power came back on, and we felt “safe” again. Of course, shortly after I got home, shots started again. I think, for me, the most frustrating thing is not knowing what’s going on…
It’s at times like these that I get super excited about going “home” for Christmas…
But, that wasn’t what I wanted to write about.
Part 2 – A Confession and “Contemporary Christian Music”
Folks, I need to confess to you that sometimes I think bad things. I’m not the most loving of people. The following is an example of that…
Tuesdays I spend in Manguinhos, the favela across the way, at a day-center for at-risk kids. It’s a simple place, but there’s much love. Every day after a Bible lesson and snack, there’s free time to play, and the hands-down favorite is the swing that a dear friend built. (Well, she designed the original swing, and set it up. It broke after a few weeks, but version 2.0 [rope tied to mango tree branch, tied to broken off splinter-free piece of 1×4] is still going strong). The only place to really put it was in the courtyard, hanging from a mango tree. And, the only branch on the mango tree that grew in the right direction is in one of the corners of the concrete walled-off courtyard. But it’s OK, because there’s at least six feet between the swing and the wall (when it’s not actually ‘swinging’). And the kids have gotten used to cushioning themselves with their legs, so they don’t slam into the wall at high speeds.
I should mention that the wall is typical favela construction – it does it’s job, but it’s not the sturdiest of structures, and I’m usually afraid that some poor kid is going to go right through it when they yell out “I want to go HIGHER!!!”. It’s brick and mortar, but not super thick, and I don’t think there’s much rebar supporting it. But so far, the wall still stands…
Everyone loves the swing. But due to it’s precarious nature, there has been an unofficial weight limit imposed. And one of the girls – H – in particular is hefty. She’s only 8, but there were serious discussion amongst the staff if the swing would support her over a long-term period of use. She really wanted to swing though, and felt left out that all the other kids could. So I decided to test the swing and see how sturdy it really was. This involved me getting on it. Since I couldn’t really swing at all without smashing into the wall (and causing pain and damage to myself and the wall), I decided I’d try to spin around. After a couple of tries, I even got some more volunteers… By the end of the day, we had three very nearly throwing up guys, but proof (of a sort) that the swing would hold H.
Last Tuesday was the day. I found an old step-ladder (which I convinced everyone was the “cool way” to get up on swing, instead of me lifting them up, because it hangs about 3 and a half feet up in the air), which we used to get H on the swing. And I (gently) began to push her…
Growing up, my family listened to lots of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music.) Through the benefit of hindsight, I can appreciate how incredibly cheesy, melodramatic, and downright silly many of the songs were (I’m talking to you, Carman) – but at the same time, they hold a special place in my heart. Russ Taff*, David Meece, Carman, Steve Camp, Petra, Wayne Watson, Geoff Moore (and the Distance!)… Of course, mixed in with that were artists like Rich Mullins and Michael Card… For a while, I was convinced that I liked hearing them “ironically,” but I’ve come to the place where I can admit that hearing the over-blown 80’s power-pop of CCM (as I knew it then) brings a smile to my face – it just makes me happy.
Strangely, the songs come to mind at the oddest of times. And thanks to my odd memory, lyrics pop up and make the oddest of connections with daily life… That’s what happened yesterday. As I pushed H, careful to not push her too hard lest she hit the somewhat precarious wall at too high of a speed and injure herself or (my greater fear) the wall, a 4Him classic popped into my head, causing me to break into the giggles. (I’m still not sure as to what the song originally meant. And try as I might, I can’t remember anything else, and have a bit too much self-respect to google it…)
“Stop laughing Ben,” I said to myself (or rather, my “inner critic” said to myself). “Even in your thoughts, it’s not nice to make fun of people. Or laugh at them.” But it wouldn’t stop. (That’s what I get for being a 1.)
“When you send your demolition down from the skies
These walls have got to fall
I’ll be your Joshua swing it back and let me fly
I’ll ride your wrecking ball,
Ohhhh, I’ll ride your wrecking ball.”
And playing over and over in my mind was the image of poor H – riding the wrecking ball of the swingset through the neighbor’s wall, 4Him’s power chords blaring in the background as she sang along…
“…swing it back and let me fly, I’ll ride your wrecking ball…”
*Please watch the Russ Taff video. I remember getting chills hearing this on our cassette player on our long drives from Huaraz to Lima and back. It was one of my favorite songs when I was six or seven… and yes, it’s cheesy, but I still do love it… almost as much as “Wrecking Ball.”
Hey peoples. It’s been a while since I’ve shown up here – nice to see you still around… I’m sure we’ve all been busy – myself? Oh, just a couple weeks travel to Peru for our WMF staff retreat, and a bit of vacation/sight-seeing in Cuzco with the friends. But I’ve been home for a few days, and am getting back in the swing of things. My time away was so rich (for a few pictures, click here), and I am grateful to be part of such a wonderful family.
Tonight while we were out on the streets, the PMs (Policia Militar – military police) stopped by. Surprisingly, there was no harassment or even questioning (not like yesterday afternoon with the youth downtown… but that’s another story). Tonight everyone was well behaved, but it brought to mind a few incidents that happened in the weeks leading up to our departure for Peru.
A few weeks ago I was walking down the road, well outside of the favela, heading towards the nearby Metro stop. I saw ahead of me a few police-men-officers getting back into their car after searching a few young men. It looked like they were about to pull away from the curb, but one looked up at me, then leaned over and murmured something to the driver. The driver put the car in park, and they settled in to wait for me to walk the remaining twenty feet towards their car. (We’ll be right back after this brief word from our sponsor…)
(One of the skills that I have been working on here in Rio is how to properly approach a cop. There is a middle ground of noticing and eye-contact that is appropriate around the favela. If you ignore him, or fail to make any eye-contact at all, you might as well be holding up a huge sign saying “SEARCH ME PLEASE!” On the other hand, if you are too aggressive and stare at every cop who drives by, or is standing by the side of the road with their M-16 cradled in their arms, you are also drawing too much attention to yourself. There is a golden mean, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years. I’ve also gotten pretty good at realizing when a police officer is going to pull you aside (or off the bus, or away from the youth) and start asking questions and searching you, your bag, your nasal cavity, etc.)
And now, back to our story…
So as I was about to pass the cop car, the passenger side officer leaned out the window and ordered me to walk over to the car.
“What are you doing up here?”
Me – ”I live here.”
”Ok. Do you have any drugs or weapons in your backpack?”
Me – ”No sir.”
”All right.” And with that, the driver put the car in gear, and they drove away. Sometimes you get the lazy ones…
A few days later, I was leaving Jacarezinho when I was stopped by the cops again. It was a Monday, and I was headed to the street with 40+ ham and cheese sandwiches in my backpack, activities, a medical bag, and a few other things (thankfully I left my guitar home that day.) The enthusiastic cop proceeded to not only search my backpack, but opened up the plastic bags full of sandwiches and went through about half of them, one by one – opening each and every sandwich to make sure I wasn’t hiding anything inside them. About halfway through, he got tired, and told me I could go…
And then, the best one – About the week before we leave for Peru, I was once again leaving Jacare (catching a pattern here?) when three cops told me to stop. Again the questions began:
Officer A – “What are you doing here?”
Me – “I live here.”
A – “What street do you live on?”
Me – “Rua Santa Luzia 28, etc.”
A – “Let’s see some ID.”
(I pull out my “protocolo”, which is what the Federal Police give you while you’re waiting for them to issue your foreigner’s ID proper. It’s a slip of paper about six inches long, with your name handwritten on it, your picture stapled on, and a stamp or two on the back. It looks like something a third grader would throw together if asked to create some kind of ID. The police are never happy when that’s all I have…)
At this point, policeman A takes it from me to look at it closer, then proceeds to give me a hard time about how it’s expired, while I patiently respond, “No, it’s not, it actually was extended until December. You can see the stamp here on the back…” A is not happy.
At the same time, B asks me “What do you have in your bag?”
(At this point I only had the medical bag, along with a few books I was taking to the street with me, so I told them).
B – “I need to see that.”
So I pull out our first aid bag, and B proceeds to tear through it, opening each and every container of ointment, hydrogen peroxide, etc. “So you do first aid on the gang members, bandits, and ‘street trash’ around here?”
Me – “Well, yes, but I don’t call them that…”
B – “Do you have a license for that?”
Me – “I took a 1st Aid course in the US, certified by the Red Cross.”
B – “Let’s see your certificate.”
Me – “I don’t have it ON me.”
B – “Why not?”
I mumble something about how I’ve never needed it before.
B – “You know, you can’t practice 1st Aid without a license.”
Incredulous, I ask, “You mean I can’t put bandaids and antibiotic cream on a kid’s scraped knee?”
B – “No. You can’t.”
I really didn’t know how to respond, so I looked at Officer B and said, “Well, I didn’t know that… Thank you for telling me.”
At this point, he found a small glass jar that I use to keep advil in. (This part is my bad…) Originally, this little jar held homemade raspberry jam that Jenna’s mom had made and sent to me a while back. So, on the top of this jar of little orange pills is a sticker that says “2006”, while on the side of the jar is another sticker saying “Red Raspberry.” Officer B asked me what it was, and I told him. However, sure that he had discovered the latest underground designer drug, he proceeded to take out a pen and paper to write down what was written there. When I realized what he was doing, I sheepishly told him “That used to hold jelly that a friend’s mom sent me,” but I’m sure he thought I was full of it.
When he finished writing it down, he shoved it back in the bag and told me I could go. Relieved, I walked away, only to realize that I hadn’t gotten my “protocolo” back from Officer A (who was now crouched down in a firing position, aiming around the corner.) So I turned around to walk back up to him and gently ask him “Excuse me, but could I have my ID back?” Before I could say anything, he glanced up and noticed me. An expression of mild disgust and exasperation crossed his face, and he pointed next to him, where I saw my ID sitting on top of the big orange city trash can. I smiled my thanks, grabbed it, and turned around to catch my bus…
Thankfully, no one said anything more about my lack of a 1st Aid certificate…
Ahh, it’s good to be home. In other news, I made a small mistake regarding money. Tonight, after buying a few last items for dinner, I realized that I was completely out of money – Brazilian money, at least – I managed to find plenty of Peruvian and American money. After a while of frantic searching in every corner of the house, I was able to round up just enough for bus fare tomorrow. That way, I avoid having to walk the 40 minutes to the ATM that doesn’t charge you a ridiculous surcharge. And I even have about 45 centavos left over.
I may try to update soon about our time in Peru. As I said, it was a rich time that left me with an overflowing heart. I may have even found my voice again. We’ll see. But for now, it’s dinner time, and then bed.
Sending love your way…
So this evening I was walking home and I caught myself thinking “Man, it’s been a while since I’ve had a gun pointed at me…” Of course, the rest of the way home I was all about keeping my eyes open, sure that even thinking such thoughts was a karmic shout-out asking to have guns pointed at me, or even in my general direction. But, even with such irresponsible thoughts, I made it home with no problems. It is a funk-party night, so you’re supposed to be prepared for anything… and believe me, I was. It was almost a let down that it was such a normal night.
This evening as we were leaving the streets, one of the older women who gathers cardboard to recycle appeared with several sturdy cardboard boxes that hadn’t been broken down and were filled with styrofoam. They slowly transmogrified from giant building blocks to acrobatic helpers to ammunition in an all-out box war. Imagine five young kids (ages 3-14) throwing computer monitor boxes (and anything else made of cardboard they could find) at Rich and myself (and us throwing them back) next to a mountain of trash collected from the restaurants further down the street, still teeming with people having a beer after work on a Friday night, samba groups roaming through the tables streaming out into the road… and really, who doesn’t love a box war?
A friend has clued me in to a website called “Prayers and Creeds” – a site which posts daily prayers from Scripture, desert fathers, contemporary theologians, and other diverse voices… There’s some beautiful, thought-provoking words that can be found there. I also found the following prayer there – it may be one of my new favorites…
(by Muriel McNair)
You are the salt of the earth.
Gather it together in heaps lest it be polluted;
keep it in the jar.
Let society rot in its sin and be redolent in its putrefaction
the saints pristine in their whiteness shall be gathered together as a memorial pillar to me.
You are the light of the world.
Guard it carefully lest the darkness puts it out.
Build a beautiful shrine for the lamp of God
where it may be kept safe for you to admire.
Do not take it out into the storm to look for the lost:
the wind might blow it out.
Let the lost look out for themselves
– if they are lucky they will see the chinks of light through the shutters and try to come in.
You shall be my witnesses,
so witness faithfully, on Sundays, come what may, and at as many meetings as you can
give money, make long prayers, sing hymns, and listen to sound sermons.
Teach my lambs, in particular, to get their priorities right
and keep the fold nice and tidy:
then it will be easy to find you when I come back, already gathered
from the rest
and glorifying God in your holiness.
You are my body.
Treat it gently, keep it warm,
make sure it gets enough to eat and lives respectably.
Keep it out of politics of course and the crush of the common people.
Avoid confrontation with the realities of evil.
One crucifixion was enough.
Ok, not the real one. But tonight a few of us finally got our acts together and went to the cheap Monday night movie theater and watched Christian Bale run around beat people up dressed as a giant creepy bat thing… good times.
Seriously, it was good. Many people on the internets have written many things about it, so I will stop at this and say that I liked it. And I’m glad I saw it in the theater instead of buying the pirated version from my next-door neighbor. (One of the perks (?) of favela living is that options like that are available… Including having Will Smith wake you up…)
A friend dropped me off at the entrance to my favela fairly late – almost midnight – and as I walked up the alley between all the closed fruit and vegetable stands that now are full of men and women and boys and girls sleeping and smoking and sniffing and drinking, I was thinking… As I walked over the traintracks, past the guy on a motorcycle carrying his friend with a stolen car radio, I was thinking. As I passed the bars and jukeboxes and karaoke machines, and the cars parked with people buying and selling and using, I kept thinking. As I passed the church having an outdoor service next to the teenagers on motorcycles with machineguns, and greeted a neighbor who walked by on his way home from a soccer game, I was thinking… and grateful. Grateful that I live in this place – that fear is not present (at least not most of the time – which, if you ask the wonderful Liz, is because I am a perfectionist and a One on the Enneagram personality, and instead of getting afraid, I just get angry…).
And somehow mixing up in the menagerie of images and ideas and smells thoughts of fear and batman, of justice and grace, of security and wisdom, of risk and danger, of life… and I am now going to sit up on the roof and watch the stars for a while before bed… and ponder…