Brazilian Everyday-Life Stories (2012-2013)

Part of my research is to do fieldwork in Rio. That means I visit places, talk to people and try to understand why media activists and community journalists in Rio do what they do.

In 2012 and 2013, I decided to update my Facebook status every now and then with short stories (like textual snapshots) showing a bit of the everyday life of the Brazil (I mean Rio) I saw in the process.

This (long) post is a collection of those everyday-life stories. They represent my first writings after I realized I was a local outsider. As I realized many things I had considered normal were highly complex, I started writing about them. Now, I post them publicly.

09/05/2012: Maria (not her real name) is in her 40s. In my teens, she used to work at ours as a housekeeper/sitter some days a week while mom and dad worked. Today she stopped by to see me, but she was in a hurry. She said her baby was waiting outside. I was surprised when she said she had adopted a child. She is very poor. She explained that she “got a baby to raise from the hospital when the mother abandoned it there.” I had more questions, but she had to run. She was looking for a house for her older son (20s) to rent. He has just divorced and needs somewhere to live. So, she is looking in my neighborhood because it is calmer and closer to the center than where he lives now. She is worried that the crime rate is getting higher there (strange people, drug dealing and murders). Since he needs to leave to work too early (before 4 am), she is helping him to get out of the neighborhood. So she left. So I posted.

10/05/2012: As I was coming back from the supermarket, I saw about 5 kids (between 2 and 5) playing across the street from my parents’ house. As I passed by, I noticed an adult woman standing at the gate of a house. The house where she was is known for the late night partying and drinking between middle-aged adults and quite often adolescent girls. The two-year-old boy was crying. The woman (40s) called one of the older kids and shouted: “If you shut this kid up I will give you two bucks.” The older kid tried to hold the 2-year-old in her arms. They almost fell. The 2-year-old cried more. The woman turned her back and continued talking with the owner of the house. Twenty meters away, I locked the gate, came upstairs and posted.

11/05/2012: Yesterday, I was on a bus on the way to the city of Rio at around 7 am when four men entered. The older (50s) was quiet. He looked like the leader. The others (30s and 20s) were cheerful and talkative. Their looks and accents told me they (or their predecessors) were from the Northeast. They were each carrying huge piles of towels and rugs. I thought this kind of business had been extinct in bigger cities. Every day, all day long, they carry their products on their backs advertising sales by shouting or knocking from door to door. I remember as a kid that these walking vendors kept a notebook with names of their clients. Every month, they would return to collect the payments. This is how many migrants from the North made a living in the South of Brazil. The four men still keep the tradition. Two stops before mine, two of them left. So, I took the picture and this note. Now, one day later, I posted it.

12/05/2012: last night I was hanging out with my friends in front of my parents’ house when the ex-girlfriend of an uncle passed by. She (40s) was slightly drunk and happy. She came over and hugged me cheerfully. “Pedro (pseudonym) is out, did you see?! He is different now. Remember you asked? So, look! There he is!”, she said pointing at her older (between 25 and 29) of 3 or 4 children. He had grown up in the neighborhood with us, but as time passed, he started doing illegal stuff. I can’t remember the reason, but he has been in and off jail for at least 6 years. A year ago, his mother was worried. She didn’t know whether he would change after being freed. In a party here at home once while we talked, she said she feared for his death. Now she seems happy and hopeful. He does look calm and healthy. This morning, I remembered her happy eyes and smile. So, I posted.

14/05/2012: a friend (mid-20s) stopped by last night. It was great to see him, especially after my sister told me his dilemma. He is a police officer. Weeks ago, he had to move away from the house he grew up in. His old neighborhood is now increasingly dominated by outside and unknown drug dealers. There was drug trade before, but it was not a problem because he knew everyone (some were his childhood friends). Now, he had to leave not to risk himself and his family. The dilemma relates with his younger brother (late teens): the boy is “deeply involved in drug trade”, as my sis said. And the police friend may be transferred from the city to work in our home town. What will he do if he is in a raid and has to arrest or shoot his brother? What does he think will happen to his mother if the outside criminals find out he is a policeman? How to deal with his career without endangering his family? We hugged and joked when he came here. When he left, I went to bed and thought. Now, still worried, I woke up to post.

15/05/2012: when the bus from my home town to Rio stopped, a man (20s-early 30s) entered by the exit door with the consent of the driver. That either meant that he had something to sell (of which he would give some to the driver as “taxation”) or that he would ask for money. Poor-looking youngsters, elderly or disabled people often sell candy, snacks, drinks or simply claim for the solidarity and donation of passengers. This guy claimed to be deaf. He gave each passenger a flyer which said: “I am deaf For the love of God Help me God bless you Thank you Free will 0,25c 0,50c R$1,00 or more. Thank you”. It also had a guide to the sign alphabet. Then he came back down the aisle to collect the flyers. Four (out of eleven or twelve) gave him coins. He didn’t look sad. Just exhausted. The two older men sitting in front of me looked serious and rather indifferent when they returned the flyer with no coins. I don’t blame them. There have been cases of people faking disabilities to make money. There is also fatigue: with so many justified people asking for money everywhere, how can you help everyone? How to choose who to help? How to identify the truthful claims? Would I have given a big 1-real coin if I had been back to Brazil longer than 5 days? While I reflected, he left on a stop in the middle of the road. He would probably hop on another bus. So, on the back of the flyer I got from him, I wrote this note. Now, 3 days later, I posted it.

17/05/2012: yesterday, I went to a favela to interview the director of an educational NGO. I took a moto-taxi to get inside faster. On my way, the moto-taxi had to pull over. A pick-up truck was coming fast down the hill with a mid-20s guy holding a huge rifle. A smaller sedan filled with armed youngsters backed it up. Guys on motorcycles rushed with their pistols as well. In the NGO, the secretary said the guy I was to meet might not come because things in his area were “weird” because of a police raid. He came anyway 10 minutes later. After an hour talk about the NGO, I asked: “how is it to work surrounded by …?” “Dealers?!”, he cut me. “It sucks”, he concluded and explained. They scare parents, they don’t allow big outside activities (e.g. parties), they keep standing by the gate staring at the young girls (the dealers are often young too) and “you never know when something (as in shooting) can happen.” He mentioned more while we talked in the NGO’s quiet and fresh yard. He seemed tired, but he said would still carry on carefully. After I walked out of the favela with my head humbly down not to risk staring at anyone, I took the bus and wrote a longer version of this note. Now, a day later, I posted it.

19/05/2012: last night, I was talking to the father of my godson. The boy turns 14 next week. His father was complaining that my hometown has almost no opportunities for him to spend his free time. Basically, children and adolescents here who can’t afford extras (e.g. language courses, sports lessons, computing lessons) spend their off-school time idle. The father tried to put him to a football school organized by a local teacher. But the boy was not interested. “If he doesn’t want to do it, we can’t force him. But how can he like something else if there is nothing else to opt for?”, we wondered. I still wonder now, a morning later. So, I posted.

21/05/2012: Pedro (not the real name) is a childhood friend. Yesterday, while having a beer, he told us why he moved from his previous neighborhood (the one with growing drug trade and violence) to the house in front of my parents’. Once, he was walking home with his wife and his mother-in-law. He was carrying his son (then 6, now 12) on his shoulder. Suddenly, a group of armed people wearing clown masks told them to stop. The women ran. He couldn’t. So, he put his son down. The boy ran, but the men caught my friend. “We want Salvino (not the real name)! Where is he?”. He knew (small town, we all knew) the young delinquent, but not his whereabouts. They hit the back of his head with the rifle. “If we don’t find him, we will take you! How do you want to die?”. Being a bit drunk then, my friend said he replied that it didn’t matter, but they would be killing an innocent “trabalhador” (worker). Suddenly, his son came back and hugged his legs. “Don’t kill my father, please, don’t kill my father”. His story sparkled my memory. I had been through a similar situation when I was the boy’s age. Criminals held my father at gunpoint saying that they had to kill him so he wouldn’t tell the police who had stolen my grandpa’s car. They didn’t kill my father. Neither did they kill my friend. But the next day, Pedro’s family packed their things and moved to the house in front of ours. While we sipped our beer, I wondered if Pedro’s story was true. Then, another friend, a police friend who was in the group, whispered to me when Pedro was not around: “these guys he talked about, the ones with the masks… they were certainly policemen.” One day after listening to the story, I posted it.

24/05/2012: right after I arrived in my home town, I walked around the neighborhood and stopped by a local business to talk with a friend. His parents own it. He works with them. As we talked about our lives, he asked: “do you know the news? We had another baby.” I was happy and congratulated him and his wife. But then his facial expression changed into somewhat worried and embarrassed: “but there is a problem. She has down syndrome”, he spoke with a very low voice. My immediate question was whether he was worried about the local infrastructure. I know there is a school for kids with down syndrome in my hometown. They do a remarkable work educating the kids, their parents and the society about the topic. My friend then told me that that would not be a problem. Regular schools also take kids with down syndrome. In addition, their family is not poor, so they can afford whatever is needed for the child’s well-being. What concerned him was prejudice. First, his own. “We all hope for a perfect child”, he said. Now, five or six months later, he has read and learned a lot to the point of not thinking of it as a problem anymore. He loves his daughter. He stated it a couple of times. Still, he is worried about how people around them will react. Despite innumerable campaigns for decades on television about down syndrome, despite a number of policy changes in the country, people still bear some prejudice against it. We talked about his and his wife’s educating role for their own families, shook hands and I left. Now, after a couple of weeks thinking about it, I posted.

26/05/2012: when I saw Antonio (not the real name), I was surprised. He was riding his bike down the street zigzagging, smiling and singing some gospel songs. “He looks so happy”, I said. “He is ‘crente’ now”, the friend with whom I was having a beer on the sidewalk told me. In his case, being a ‘crente’ (as in ‘believer’) means being part of one of the many pentecostal churches that have multiplied in Brazil for the past 30 years. The opinions about them are controversial. These churches and their followers are often seen with suspicion and prejudice. Many preachers have been accused (and proven of) becoming millionaires by exploring people’s faithful donations. For this reason, pentecostal ‘crentes’ are often seen as stupid, naive people. On the other hand, pentecostal churches are known for doing a very effective job recovering criminals and drug addicts, for example. Antonio has always been described as a “great worker, not a drug dealer, who happens to like to use (a lot of) stuff [as in weed, coke, etc.]”. I have always been critical of these churches. But seeing Antonio (and many others) so happy with his life-changing experience with God made me and my friend think. Should the fact that the “preachers” often use their “churches” for personal profit be used to question or deny the happiness and life changes of Antonio and other “crentes”? Should the fact that Antonio and other “crentes” became better citizens and family people after finding faith be used as an argument to accept the for-profit attitude of those church leaders? My friend and I wondered. But soon we talked about football and I forgot about the conversation. Now, a couple of weeks later, I remembered and posted it.

27/05/2012: Most of the people in my home town belong to classes C,D and E (yes, we use this class division here). But mobile technology is really widespread, even among the poorest – in all age groups. It would not be a problem to affirm that everyone can access mobile phones no matter how poor they are. Some models are cheap. But even the most expensive can be bought through plans that give you high interest rates, but very low parts to pay every month.

Plan subscriptions can be very cheap because of mobile service sector competition. When I arrived, one company was selling SIM cards for 1 real (0,40 euros). They do these sales all the time. My prepaid SIM card was 10 reais (4 euros). Every time I load credits, I get the double for free everyday. So, I can almost call as well as SMS for free.

Then we have the (a) digital literates and (b) digital illiterates.

A close friend (late 20s) is a digital literate. That basically means she can use mobile Internet. Most smartphones come with unlimitted Internet (I don’t know how fast they are). My friend – like most digital literates I see around me – uses her mobile to check and update Facebook. Actually, I believe this is one reason why Facebook has grown so popular here: Facebook access is a pastime during long commuting trips, for example, despite the constant danger of theft in public transport.

An older couple (late 50s) I know and their 13-year-old niece are digital illiterates. The man can barely use his simple mobile for talking. He can answer the phone, but calling can be a tricky experience. The woman is better, but she still has a hard time SMS:ing. The niece will become a digital literate as soon as she has access to a smartphone. For now, she uses her phone to set up “secret” dates with boys and “spend all night long on the phone” (as her aunt says when she sleeps over and has a hard time waking up for school). The niece also listens to mp3 or FM radio stations on the phone. Just like everyone else seems to do.

The mobile radio listening has been so popular to the point of Rio State government coming up with the campaign (after spontaneous campaigns on social networks): “be polite, use headphones.” That is meant to reduce the noise disturbance on buses and public spaces. It doesn’t work, though. Since I arrived, at least in one of my daily bus rides there is at least one person listening to music out loud in the bus. Teens and young adults often listen to trendy songs, older people often listen to gospel songs.

This is more of a thesis than a note. But it has been in my head since I arrived and I hadn’t figured out how to tell it more shortly. Now, as I am fluish in a fogged sunday morning, I decided to post it.

29/05/2012: it is really cute, but also concerning, to see the kids across the street playing cheerfully on the sidewalk. They are really poor and the adults responsible for them look drunk/high on those rare occasions they show up. But the (about 5) kids look really happy playing marbles, riding an old bike (like now) or climbing the carambola (starfruit) tree for fresh fruits. But when do they go to school? I’ve never seen them on uniforms.

They are actually living now with a woman who looks like their mom in a house of an old man who has previously had problems with the police for hosting weird parties with older men and very young (sometimes pregnant) women. I don’t know for sure what goes on behind the tall brick wall. But from the outside, I see unsupervised kids (the older looks 12, the younger 2,3) spending the whole day playing on the street.

A friend and I sadly agreed the other day that history will repeat itself with them. The girls will probably grow to become teen moms. The boys will probably grow into low-wage labour force, juvenile delinquents or even grown-up criminals. All of them will probably have issues with substance abuse.

I feel powerless now. I wish I could do more. Could I? Not sure. How do you interfere in someone else’s life when I know I can’t really commit to it afterwards since I have to return to Finland? How to do something for the huge amount of kids and teenagers having the same life style and restricted prospects? A strange feeling suffocates me. So, I decided to post it for some air.

30/05/2012: last night, while having a beer with a friend in a bar in Rio which puts their tables on a pedestrian alley, a girl (between 10 and 12) came up selling chewing gums.

“Hi, Sir. Would you like to buy one?”, she asked. “How much is it?”, I asked. “2 Reais”, she replied. I apologized. I just had 1,50. “Could you give me the coins anyway? I want to buy a piece of pudding”, she replied. I gave her the coins.

My friend had a 50c dollar coin and gave her. “How much is it?”, she asked. “50c, but you can’t use it here”, he explained. “Well, I can take it to the bank”, she smartly replied, thanked and left.

After that, she passed by us at least three more times selling gums to other people. Other kids were selling other stuff as well. My friend and I talked about it. I told him before I used to feel pity. Now I get angry. Not at the kids, but at their parents (if they have them). Some adults actually manage their kids to sell stuff on the street when they could be out doing it themselves.

So, as we never know the situation, I tend to buy what they are selling so they sell faster and go home faster. But there is the dilemma: do I buy and support child labor? Do I not buy and risk having them getting beaten by an adult if they go back without any profit (as sometimes vendor kids scarily describe)?

Aware that this complex, sad and disturbing situation will happen many more times while in Rio, I woke up this morning with it still bothering me. So, I posted.

23/06/2012: here in my hometown, we always complain that people are lazy when it comes to social change. Then, I was very surprised last week at the People’s Summit 2012 – Rio+20 when I met the story of Alexandre Anderson de Souza.

He was at the event talking about his work as a leader of Homens do Mar (Men of the Sea), an activist group formed by local fishermen of my hometown. I got to know his story through one of the policemen – a childhood friend – who has been doing his 24-hour protection for over a year. His story is rarely shown on Brazilian media.

The group fights against Petrobras, the Brazilian oil giant. The oil spill of 2000 and the construction of their huge refinery have slowly killed the business of fishermen of the Guanabara Bay. As a consequence of their fight, two members of Homens do Mar have been murdered. Alexandre is under constant threat.

“If sth [death] happens to him, we will die as a group,” one activist said. I had studied elementary school with him. Now he also acts along with Alexandre for the future of their work and the environment.

Now, a couple of days later and well rested, I posted his story. Want to know more?

2013 (three very long stories)

10/05/2013: I arrived here last night. As usual, some of my friends came to welcome me at my parents’. We hugged, laughed and talked about lots of things.

At some point, we started talking with concern about the wave of violence that has been going on in my semi-rural hometown in the periphery of the metropolitan area of Rio. Apparently there have been some shootings and more visible displays of drug trade than before.

For my friends, this is a consequence of the pacification process in Rio: the drug dealers are expelled from favelas and run to cities in the periphery. Like my hometown. But they also admit there are lots of local people involved. Mostly young (under 20).

One of my friends then described that some weeks ago, she had to go tell drug dealers off. We silenced wondering if she was out of her mind. “Did you know them before?”, I asked. She nodded. “They grew up next to my mom’s house. Now they are running the place. They are all my son’s age.”

Her son is about to turn 15. The problem, she says, is that they had taken the roof of her mother as a lookout spot. Officially, my hometown has no favelas. But the place where my friend’s mom lives resembles one for being on a hill, lacking urban infrastructure and having houses built on it in an unplanned, dweller-designed way.

“My mom couldn’t sleep with the noise they made and the beeps of their communicators”, she explained us. Then she went on to describe how she calmly and politely explained the boys about the distress they were causing. They apologized.

Since then, so far, they haven’t been on her mother’s roof again. But they are there, around, selling drugs, showing their guns – “quite big ones”, my friend added – and making sure the neighborhood is aware of who is in charge. We remained silenced. She said she had talked to them before when they broke the gate of her mom’s yard. After her complaint, the young dealers made sure to pay for the damage caused to her mom’s property.

After she finished, we started talking about different forms of public neglect to the situation from the city administration and specially the police. One friend believes the police does nothing because they are already being bribed by the drug-dealing kids. This is a common assumption considering that everyone -including many policemen – knows who does what where and what time with which purpose. It is a small town after all.

Dwellers often do not say anything, and even play by the rules of the dealers. They are afraid of what may happen if they call the police or denounce the crimes. But the police? We have no idea why it seems to all of us they have not reacted more regularly. Maybe they have and we don’t know. But the general feeling is that the actions of young criminals are increasing rather loosely.

Soon, it was midnight and we decided to call it the night when the yawning became more general and uncontrollable. I was very tired yesterday to tell you what I had heard. But today, I posted it.

11/05/2013: Yesterday I decided to go to a district of my hometown to get my public transport card validated. It is about 30 km away from where I live. So, the only way to get there was to get the bus.

I started wondering whether I would like to live here again in the morning, when I told my mom of my plans and she told me: “the buses are leaving from the other side of the city today.” She had been for an early morning walk and described how chaotic the city was already at that time.

For some mysterious reason, the city administration closed the two main streets in the center of my hometown: the bus terminal street and the church street. They are connected and, to cross the small center, you need to go through them. The streets were closed for renovation. “On a fucking Friday morning!?”, I overheard one bus driver shouting. This seems to be one of the busiest days. They had not been informed about the changes. Neither have the private bus operators in which they work.

So, throughout the day, they were having a hard time figuring out where they would leave from and how their routes would be. As you could probably guess, the people who use the public transport were not informed either. As most of the people in my hometown work in different cities, many of them arrived late at work. Some may not have arrived at all.

Following my mom’s instruction, I walked to the other side of the city. The buses were lined up in a street without signs or any other kind of orientation. I saw no city guards – the ones in charge of traffic control – around either. So, basically people were gathering on the sidewalk and coming back and forth for information about buses and schedules. No one knew anything.

And the hot weather and the dust made the experience even worse.”Piabetá! Piabetá!”, I heard a bus driver shouting. He was calling for people going to the place where I was going to. I paid my fee and got to my seat.

I could have been relieved since I don’t have to go through this everyday. After July, I am back to the perfectly-working system in Finland. But it is impossible to simply not care. There is no sense of respect for the public from city administrators. As a Brazilian singer once sang, the povo (general, lower-income people) are treated like cattle. Pushed here and there and stuck to the lack of options. Decisions are made without consultation or transparency at all. Warnings are not given in advance.

Basically the povo here depends on the gossips and whispers to know what is going on. Even worse, the sense of “nothing will ever change” seems to get the majority of the people (often tired of long work journeys and cursed by a very limited basic education) to remain hopelessly numb in political terms. Tired of all this, as their faces in the bus clearly showed.

But what can one do? This is often what people ask whenever situations like the one yesterday happen.As I got to my destination, I got my card validated and met some old work friends.

As I told them how the day had been, these middle, upper-middle class people smiled in anger and irony (we often do this when we talk about something public that pisses us off). They all started giving me the same advice: “You need a license! Get a carrinho (basic car) and drive around. You can’t lean on the public transport system”, they argued before describing how easy it is to buy a car today and pay it in installments for “as long as one needs”.

It is something that crosses your mind, even when you have decided not to have a car. Here you are forced into having one. Or a motorcycle. But what if you can’t afford one? The question kept in my mind on my bus ride back. In the evening, the situation was a bit less problematic in my hometown. But the uncertainty of what happens tomorrow, or in the next week days… this remains.

It annoys a lot not to be able to make plans or set schedules because it could be that buses – the most important form of public transportation in my hometown – may simply not be running. When I got home, I was really pissed. I think the text shows a bit of it. But I just decided to write this now, the morning after when it is fresher and I have more energy before trying to use the public transport again to go to the city of Rio for the first time this year. But now I will try the train which is often considered even worse and more irregular than the chaotic buses. Before leaving, I decided to tell you the story and tease you for the next one.

11/05/2013 (posted a week after it happened): it was an early Saturday morning when I left home to go “down to the city”, as we talk about Rio in my hometown. Saturday morning is often a calm day. So, there would most likely not be the traffic that pissed me off the day before. But still I decided to take the train.

It is funny when I told people I was going to take the train to Rio. They reacted like “why are you going to do that?”, “Leo, you have always been a bit weird”, “wow!”… For them – and deep inside for myself as well – I wasn’t going to take a collective means of transportation to the city. I was going for a Saturday morning adventure!

There is a reason to that. For a long time, trains have been completely neglected in Rio. The State of Rio has two kinds of train systems: the electric and the diesel. Respectively the “new” and the “old”. Since the first Brazilian railroad was built (in Magé, my hometown!) in 1855, the administration of the system was the Federal government’s responsibility. Until 1998 when the system was privatized. During the state-controlled years, the electric trains were at least taken care of a bit. The diesel ones were forgotten. My hometown is in the diesel system. These trains stopped running in the 1990s leaving us stuck with the buses to leave for work and studies. After 1998, only now the train is running regularly again.

So what we in general think about the trains in my hometown is based on the fame and stereotypes built throughout the decades: they are ugly, dirty, uncomfortable, slow and unreliable. They are also for very poor people who can’t afford buses and thus dangerous. People do drug trade there. People steal there. People fall and die. So, we don’t go there.

Before, we didn’t take trains because there weren’t any. Now we have them but don’t take them because… we don’t! But when I heard they were running again and considering how stressed I always get in the traffic, I decided to give them a try after perhaps 20-something years. The last time I had gone to a train ride was to go to a football match with my dad and uncles. I was 11, 12.

Thus I went to the station on Saturday morning. To avoid the chance of the train passing earlier and leaving me behind, I arrived almost half an hour earlier than the scheduled departure. The station was clean even though the walls were all tagged with symbols of drug trade organizations. There was no one charging for the entrance, so I walked in and waited enjoying the sun, the birds and the fresh morning breeze. There were other people as well. Mainly middle-aged women. Some looked like women who worked as maids in the city. Others were accompanied by their teenage kids like I used to be with my mom when we went to some doctor appointment.

When it was the scheduled time, the diesel train came slowly through the trees making the sound to announce that it was getting to the local track. When I entered the train, I felt like I was going back to the past. I remembered the smells, the hard seats, the tired faces of people sitting across from me. The wagon was not full, so I could ride like kids do. Like I did the last time: kneeling on the seat to be able to put my head outside the window to feel the breeze, see the farm/forest landscape and to wave at the kids who waited by their yards to see the train go by. I guess the other passengers thought I was a bit weird. I wonder if they saw me smiling as the wind hit my face.

So we went. The train was not as slow as I thought. Uncomfortable yes, but not terribly. Not at all dangerous. Perhaps I would have felt a bit more insecure had I been a middle class, white person sitting there among darker-skinned, sleepless-looking people. But my dark skin allowed me to blend in easily even though I was dressed a bit more fancy. A green all-star pair of shoes, light cargo trousers and a t-shirt can be a bit too modern to some people in my hometown.

The diesel train trip was calm. People were just sitting there staring at the wall. Kids like me playing with putting the head out and back in when we passed by trees. Some other people chatting. The view is green and awesome! It felt so much more relaxing than the bus. Maybe it wouldn’t be the same on a weekday, but still. This went on for one hour until we reached the final station to change for the electric train.

The change into the electric train is like a change of worlds. You shift from the pre-modern semi-rural kind of life into a modern urban mood just by crossing the ticket vending booth.

First, there are many more people. The profile also changes: the older ladies are now accompanied by strong men who probably work on construction or something heavy. There also teenagers going to the beach or somewhere in the city for fun. Probably the same people who go to school on weekdays. There are also families going for different kinds of leisure: a ride on the new cable car in the favela, a trip to the Penha church on the hill, a day on the zoo and around, maybe the beach. So, the electric train is much bigger, more full and more diverse than the diesel one. Still, most people are poor or lower-income working class people as far as I can tell.

Second, the scenery outside changed. This time, I couldn’t have my head out because the windows are smaller, it is more dangerous because of the electricity and it would be a bit embarrassing. Countryside people do that. Not people from the city. 🙂

But even from inside looking through the old and dirty windows, I could see that the trees and fields were not as often as the massive agglomerations of poorly-built houses along the way. The train from my hometown to the city goes from North to South. And Rio’s Northern part is the area where there are the highest concentrations of favelas (our kinds of slums). The electric train I took goes through them.

Third, there is the whole microcosm inside the train. Vendors walk in and out all the time. They carry massive bags selling everything you can imagine: snacks, beer, beverages, batteries, phone chargers, toothbrushes, popsicles…everything. And they are known for their creativity, sense of humor and bargaining tricks. At some point, I was just there listening to their self-made jingles, their shouting and the jokes they made. “Life is tough, you gotta have sense of humor”, one of them said. As I was in my adventure, everything amazed me. But I would probably be very tired of all the noise had I been taking the train everyday early in the morning. As that was not the case, I just enjoyed.

And with this enjoyment feeling, I started taking notes. Now, one week later, I posted them.