Wednesday, December 2, 2009


as i contemplate my future, i'm reminded of things past. i stumbled across this today- an entry i wrote over a year ago during my time in brazil, and i am just as humbled by that experience now as i was then. i didn't edit this, so there are some "stream-of-consciousness" gaps that i hope you'll forgive.

week 9:

cinelandia protest, or demonstration. the excitement over free condoms is incredible, but what people don't know is even more incredible. here, in a culture driven by so much sexuality and expression, there's a serious problem with teen pregnancy and lack of sexual education. this problem is mostly in the favelas, as in most countries- the poor are left out of the equation, but the government seems to feel no inclination to address it. what is their role again?

grupo so capoeira batizado. 9 year-olds with more guts (not to mention technique) than most of the adults in my classes. and without knowing my last name or what i'm doing in brazil, professor cocoroca welcomed me to the family and committed to finding me a job.

centro de convivencia infantil. my first experience with vila kennedy (a favela, or 'communidade' outside the city of rio) was on a visit with my friend saulo. he grew up there, and we went to stay at his sister, fabiana's house. inside, the bathroom is right next to the kitchen and has a sheet hanging from a cord for a door. to flush the toilet, i fill a bucket from the spout in the wall. the shower has no curtain, and the same, raw concrete floor as the rest of the house. the babies get a bath in the bucket out front, where the extra cinder blocks serve as patio furniture. 10am, smoke a joint, drink some coffee with lots of sugar, eat a piece of bread with margarine and turn up the funk music. we watch the babies and their big brother slowly learn to dirty dance while mom, dad and tio watch, laughing and clapping and singing along. "can the kids understand these words?" i week later, vila kennedy is in the news. the comando vermelho from vila alianca broke into vila kennedy (their rival favela) as part of an ongoing power struggle for drug traffic control. gunfire and explosions all night. some injuries due to stray bullets. buses can't leave to take people to work. schools are closed. the next time i go back to vila kennedy is with another volunteer, ines. she learned about an organization there that provides space for kids before and after school hours to keep them off the streets and out of trouble, or to care for very young children whose parents (or mom, or grandparents) have to work. i arrived at 11am and spent an hour taking photos of/with the kids. they don't know my name, but call me 'tia' (aunt) and hug me tirelessly. i meet a one and a half year old boy who has been left with his grandfather. mom is in prison, dad went missing, and his grandfather all but begged ines to take him away. what he said was, "can you take him right now? i can't take care of him anymore." this little one follows tia cleide (the woman who runs things) around, crying, pointing to the door and calling out "mama." when he finally let me get close, i gave him a little back rub and held his hand. from then on, any time i was sitting, he was between my legs. before i even said good-bye, just as i started gathering up my things to leave, he started screaming. he doesn't trust anyone, and he knows that he's alone. how does that happen to an infant? and what was incredible to watch was the way ALL the other children help take care of him. there are children here with no parents and nowhere to play but a dirt lot. there's no money to buy food so every day they get spaghetti, black beans and sausage. lots of candies. hugs. kisses.

what's the most important "nutritional supplement?" i think love (excuse the hippy-dippy sentiments), but vegetables also do growing bodies good. not to mention balancing out the effects of starches and refined sugars on the energy levels of kids.....i think of this often when i see the rotted front teeth of two four year-olds at CCI. playing, laughing, smiling, and eating fistfuls of candy. they guard the candies fiercely, and drop all the wrappers on the ground. i'm not surprised considering the amount of people i see doing the same thing daily throughout the city. i couldn't stand seeing this wonderful place littered with trash, so i initiated a 'game' of trash collecting, and suddenly everybody wanted to get the garbage off the ground! how great, i think! until they start grabbing flowers and leaves to put in the bags....and as soon as the game was over, the mess reappeared within minutes as though some little filth fairy were taking the trash out of my bag when i wasn't looking.

i came here with the intention of doing yoga with the kids. they were really enthusiastic about it! so i taught them yoga, in a tiny room with a smooth concrete floor and beautiful blue walls. i taught them sun salutations and talked about the names of some of the postures. the mostly wanted to look at my tattoos...then we closed our eyes and breathed deeply...imagined the sounds of traffic were the sounds of the ocean...breathe in and smell the salt water.....i opened my eyes to scan the room and two boys in the back, paulo and gabriel, were so focused and engaged i almost forgot i was teaching! as we walked back to CCI i asked them how they felt after doing yoga, after spending some time on the beach (wink-wink)... gabriel opened his arms wide, took a deep breath in and smiled at the sky. "a natureza ajuda," he said. "nature helps." i can't help but see the weeds littered with garbage and smell the diesel fumes as we walk back to our building. just for a moment, we got to be together on a clean beach with fresh air.

antonio is perfect beyond belief. to look at him, orgasmic, to hear his resume, divine: violinist, soccer star, chess champion, drummer, lady killer. when i ask if he has a woman, saulo says, "quem quiser." "whoever he wants." but i don't see anyone. the one possibility lingers silently at a distance. an ex? a potential? one of those that slips through the cracks and gets a taste? he's high and has lost and beautiful eyes, and as i stare at him i realize we're all lonely. he can have anyone, but he doesn't want anyone. he wants someone. or maybe he wants to be wanted by someone who doesn't want him. i wonder as i watch him how many times he's cheated on a girl or broken someone's heart. i wonder how many times he's cried himself to sleep. i wonder why it feels like i'm suddenly without a home.

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