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…