Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Her Name is Rio

After Natal, where I healed myself with great food, body surfing in the waves, ample sunshine (too ample, despite constant slathering of sunscreen, I still came away pink as a peony), and increased confidence with my work and purpose for being there, I ended my trip in Rio De Janeiro. Rio is a helluva city, people. I loved it the way I love New York - it's got all these great little neighborhoods. My hotel was a no-frills but sweetly-staffed joint a block from the beach. There were little markets, pharmacies, and bodegas all down the block from my hotel. I felt completely safe walking around alone during the day. Probably because of the upcoming World Cup and Olympics, there is a super visible police presence in the city. I saw dozens of police every day, in every neighborhood just about. The best part, however, was getting to see my former students every single day I was there. They took me all over the place and stayed in contact me with at all times.

My most favorite thing I did was take the cable cars up Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain).   My bad luck followed me, however, and as soon as we ascended toward the first stop, my camera battery just up and died.  The problem, unfortunately, was with  my battery charger so my camera was nonfunctioning the entire last few days I was in Brazil.  Luckily my students took photos and sent them to me.  So unless my colleague Bryan sends me his photos from Sugarloaf, I'll have none of that perfect day where we sat on top of the world, drinking a cold beer, and watched the sun set.  If you ever go to Rio - you MUST time your trip up to Sugarloaf to catch the sunset.  It is magical.  Truly. 

Walking along the famous mosaic boardwalk of the Copacabana the night I arrived in Rio

Dinner with my beloved former students R-L Ramon, Lucineide, Mario, and Marcelo. 

A t-shirt gift from Gianne, the beauty in the middle plus Mario on the end.  Mario is a also a very special person.  He is indigenous and from the Amazon region.  His mother is a leader in their community and often comes into the cities of Sao Paulo and Rio as a representative of their people.  

My last morning in Rio three of my former students met Bryan and me and we all went up to see the famous Christ statue - the one that immediately identifies the city. It is up an insane mountain. We took a taxi and it kept climbing higher and higher, taking dizzying switchbacks. Then we bought tickets and climbed into vans where they took us up even higher, even hairier hairpin turns to the top of Corcovado where we joined hundreds of tourists from around the world to take the ubiquitous photos.
The view from the top of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), perhaps the most photographed view of Rio

With Mario and Gianne.  Do I even have eyes?  What the hell, Alannah.  Just noticed how creepy I look here.

This time with adorable Lucineide in the photo.  When she came to Arkansas, everyone in our program had a crush on her.  She's the sweetest thing ever. 

A more panoramic view from the top.

Oh, just one more.

Well there you have it.  My students referred to this, jokingly, as "Big Jesus" and it cracked me up so much I can't stop using that term for one of the Seven Wonders of the (modern) World.  I can say I've seen it now.  In all truthfulness, I much preferred the experience and views from Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain)

So. Many. Tourists.  Could make even the calmest person agoraphobic.

We had to get away from all the crowds, so our taxi driver took us to the Mirante Dona Marta, which, he assured us, had the best views of  Big Jesus and the city.  He was right.  In stereotypical Brazilian fashion, there was a camera crew filming a guy, with the entire city below him, talking about how Ronaldo has gotten so fat.  Only in Brazil do you travel up a jungle mountain to stare at an amazing vista....and talk about soccer. 

I wish I wouldn't obsess over the lining of my dress and how it's flipped out at my neck.  Why can't I look at the gorgeous view and my sweet friend Gianne?  Why didn't I feel how it was turned up and flip it back down?  This will haunt me forever. 

This photo is ALMOST the rare photo of myself that I actually like if it weren't for the damn lining of my dress showing!! Oh, and my sunburnt legs.  What a classic newbie beach mistake.  Otherwise I look like I'm enjoying Rio, because I was!  This was my last day in the city and I didn't want it to end. 

Eureka Springs girl, standing in front of the REAL Jesus statue, not the Gumby I grew up with. (see how I'm still grasping on to my bag?  I don't think I let go of it any time I was in public)

Barely through the trees, driving down the Corcovado Mountain, you can see glimpses of the physics-defying engineering wonder that is the Cosme Velho (? - at least I think that's the one) favela.  

This is maybe where I should pause for a second and talk about favelas.  The closest translation in English is "slum" but a favela in Brazil is more than a slum.  The word usually conjures the precariously built rickety houses built one atop the other in the mountains around Rio, but there are favelas in just about every big city in Brazil and are built on flat areas as often as mountains.  They are thriving subcultures.  I could go on and on about the political issues regarding favelas, especially how, in anticipation of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, the police are occupying the favelas as part of their Pacification Project.  One of my former students is from the Complexo de Mare favela and he invited us to a birthday party and barbecue that night.  You'd think that after my assault experience that the last thing I'd want to do is go to an area where the police won't even step foot.  I had to have a serious talk with myself.  I refused to be controlled by fear.  I had those few scaredy-cat nights I wrote about last time where I thought the tree shadows were burglars (logical me) but I made the conscious decision to enjoy the last few days of my trip and not just stay holed up safely in my hotel room.

Marcelo, who came to Arkansas last summer, is a big, sweet, gentle giant of a guy.  He's the first person from his favela to obtain a graduate degree.  He will begin his PhD in the fall, studying Education.  His research is about young people from the favelas and their attitudes toward and access to higher education.  He's kind of amazing and I respect him a great deal.  I felt very safe with him because he is so highly regarded in the favela.  My colleague Bryan and our new friend from University of Hartford, Sam, Marcelo, and I sat outside a tiny bodega/mart/bar thing drinking beer.  Bryan was trying to discreetly video the neighborhood and Marcelo was like "Uh uh...not a good idea."  So he put his phone away and we just watched the constant pulsing life passing by us.  A man slowly rode by on a motorcycle with a semi-automatic gun visibly poking out of his waistband.  He was a bad guy and he wanted us all to know it.  With my luck, I was glad to not have made eye contact with him.  Marcelo's friends, who spoke no English, got out this big round stainless steel drum-type thing with holes poked at the bottom that had been fashioned into a barbecue grill.  They made the best grilled steaks, chicken wings, and sausages I've ever eaten.  I don't know how they prepared it but it was deliciously perfect.  We walked over to the neighborhood soccer field to watch an intense game.  Several apartments on each block started a music war with each other - pulling out speakers and directing them into the street, blaring samba, Brazilian hip hop, and "foonk" as Marcelo pronounced funk music.  I felt honored to have been invited into this world.

There are these favela tours you can take as a tourist.  The locals seem alternately confused and enraged by this.  That makes sense to me.  Sort of like how they started doing Slumdog Millionaire tours in Mumbai after the movie came out.  There IS something very disturbing and patronizing about open jeeps full of gawking, white tourists who are dumped in these favelas to nervously stumble around the colorful, noisy, sensory-overloaded streets teeming with abject poverty, taking photos and convincing themselves that they're helping the neighborhood because they buy locally-made handicrafts.

So I felt grateful to be in Mare that night as a guest, eating delicious barbecue, watching a local soccer match, playing with the children by miming and making faces, and soaking up the nonstop thriving energy of the place.   

A few hours before my flight home, I had a last lunch with Mario.  My hotel is directly across the street from this restaurant. 

This was my purpose for going to Brazil.  You can't see in this photo, but outside the window there to my right is Copacabana beach.  But I was inside working because that's how it is.  I left for the airport to fly home about 2 hrs after this photo was taken. 

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