Thursday, September 30, 2010

It is possible

Today was just me and the housekeeper. She comes only two days per month.

It was my responsibility to cook lunch for the two of us. Luiz and his mother went shopping in Rio.

Is that possible!? Can a gringo cook lunch for the housekeeper? This situation never presents itself without some controversy. (We long ago stopped the housekeeper from cooking – we can do this just fine and we would rather she keep doing the messy cleaning we hate to do.)

Now – keep in mind that “Nemnem,” our twice a month housekeeper, has expressed delight in my cooking in the past. I think she actually likes my fish or pasta or grilled lunches. But the overarching Brazilian forces can’t imagine this as satisfying. So usually I step back.

No beans? No rice? What? So what is for lunch!?

Today we enjoyed a ground meat and vegetable spaghetti sauce over whole wheat rigatonis with steamed broccoli and carrots. Just perfect. We both enjoyed it. But that will not impact the idea that the gringo cannot cook for Brazilians… mark my words.

However – we are happy. Nemnem and I share a secret bond.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Don't discard - repair

There is a very distinct element of everyday life that separates living in Brazil from living in the United States. Back in San Francisco, if something broke or got damaged in some way, we would simply buy a new one. No big deal.

Here there are two dynamics that interrupt this impulse. First, shit costs, relatively, A LOT more here. A cheap toaster oven at Best Buy costs three to four times more here IF you can even find one with comparable functionality. Usually stuff is as basic as it comes – and is still very expensive.

Second, getting things repaired is very commonplace here – and assumed. Why buy a new mixer when some guy can fix yours for a fraction of the cost?

Today we acted on local impulse and had two cooking pans fixed by the local guy who sits by the tree near the park at his little pan-fixing stand.

One little pan needed the handle re-connected. It had broken through the metal moorings. The other was our small pressure cooker which suffered an extreme situation while cooking beans some time ago. The water ran dry and the pan EXPANDED before we took it off the stove. (Lucky us it did not explode.) Now it had a rounded bottom and lid, no longer making the seal necessary to be functional.

Mr. pan-fixer guy repaired our little pan for R$5 – rather than our buying a new one for R$20. He also brought our small pressure cooker (bought for R$45) back to life for R$10.

I love the entrepreneurs who position themselves on the side of the road. In this case we came out winners.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The "It Gets Better" project

My heart breaks telling stories like this one. But tell I must. How many of these reports must we read before we take action? This is from back in the good ol’ US of A. (There is a positive response in the end.)

I post this to encourage my friends (Brazilian or otherwise) to TALK with your family and friends and FORWARD a link to your young LGBT family members so this does not happen to other young people.


15-year-old Billy Lucas' suicide appears to have been inspired by anti-gay bullying at school.

"The 15-year-old never told anyone he was gay but students at Greensburg High School thought he was and so they picked on him.

'People would call him 'fag' and stuff like that, just make fun of him because he's different basically,' said student Dillen Swango.

Students said it was common knowledge that children bullied Billy and from what they said, it was getting worse. Last Thursday, Billy's mother found him dead inside their barn. He had hung himself.

Students said on that same day, some students told Billy to kill himself. 'They said stuff like 'you're like a piece of crap' and 'you don't deserve to live.' Different things like that. Talked about how he was gay or whatever,' said Swango."

"Friends of Lucas say that he had been tormented for years. 'Some people at school called him names,' Hughes said, saying most of those names questioned Lucas' sexual orientation, and that Lucas, for the most part, did little to defend himself. 'He would try to but people would just try to break him down with words and stuff and just pick on him,' Hughes said."

The creator of this project said:

"Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother's property. He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates—classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body.... I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.

"But gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

"Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don't have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids."

OK – so to respond there is an amazing YouTube effort started by Dan Savage, the long-time sex advice columnist in Seattle, WA.

“It Gets Better”

Savage has encouraged everyone with an interest in intervening in the ongoing travesty that is bullying of LGBT kids in schools to post a brief video on YouTube reminding these kids that It Gets Better.

Take a look --- and pass this posts on to others in your network!

Link your young LGBT family and friends to the It Gets Better Project for words of hope and reassurance. It may save their life.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Homeless World Cup champions: Brazil

One last post on the Cup to tell you how it all turned out.  The Brazilian men's team came out champions -- and so did the Brazilian women's team!

Here is a repost of the article (and photos) that can be found on the official Homeless World Cup website.

Rio 2010 Homeless World Cup Champions: BRAZIL

Brazil demolished Chile 6-0 to record an historic double victory on home soil, following the women's team's defeat of Mexico earlier today.

Following an emotionally charged Women's final, hundreds of spectators made their way over to Pitch One for the most eagerly anticipated Final in the history of the Homeless World Cup.

Undoubtedly the two best teams of the men's tournament, Brazil versus Chile had fast become the final the people wanted to see.

The emotional playing of the anthems was followed by rapturous applause in a carnival atmosphere, as the Rio 2010 Homeless World Cup got under way.

As the first specks of rain fell to the pitch at the Copacabana Beach the Brazillians set about their task.

Following a nervy opening period, it was Brazil who took the lead.

Chile midfielder Jonathan Viveros lost possesion cheaply allowing Maximiliano to square the ball to a team mate to open the scoring.

As Brazil began to boss the game, they extended their lead when goalkeeper Renildo drove the ball into the centre forward's feet, who smartly laid off for Maximiliano to plunder a second goal.

The game lacked the frenetic energy of their encounter on the opening day and Chile appeared shell-shocked as the hosts further extended their lead before half-time, a placed finish by right-sided forward Jhon Lennon.


Chile kept the Brazillians waiting before the second half began as coach Juan Erazo and Nicolas Paraud gave final words of inspiration to the players, before referee "Shoes" Mohono asserted their need to rejoin the field of play for the second half to commence.

Chile rallied and attempted to up their tempo but failed to seriously trouble the Brazillian goalkeeper, Renildo. With their best play coming through Jose Moralez, the Chileans pressed but a regimented Brazil allowed few opportunities and when they did the Chileans found the Brazillian stopper in fine form, one reflex save in particular drawing praise from the home crowd and moans of frustration from the Chilean players.

Brazil out the game beyond Chile with two quick goals. The first a well placed shot to make it four, before Chilean keeper Andy Berrios scythed down an oncoming Brazilian player to concede a penalty.

It was left to Maximiliano to convert, taking a touch before sending the goalkeeper the wrong way, giving Brazil a 5-0 lead.

Brazil settled the game when Paulinho skipped past his marker on the right hand side and rifled a rising shot beyond the Chilean keeper.

Seconds later the final whistle was blown as ecstatic Brazillian pandemonium ensued on the pitch and in the stands.

Dejected Chileans players dropped to the floor, as the Brazillian coaching team and victorious women's side joined their celebrations.


Report by Simon Mobey and Callum Macdonald; Photos by Wil Corker

Kicking butt

This one is for Rachel...

Diesel recently launched a new ad campaign promoting their sneakers and the theme focuses on how much their shoes are "great for kicking asses."   Check out this ad.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Volunteering in Brazil

After spending a few days volunteering at the Homeless World Cup in Rio I was reminded about one of the cultural distinctions between the USA and Brazil (other countries as well, I’m sure, but this is from my experience).

In the United States volunteering is very commonplace. Maybe it’s because the government doesn’t do jack to take care of its citizens so community members have to jump in to fill the gap. (Can we talk?!) When it comes to making cash donations or volunteering time, the States has it going on. And as anyone who has ever been active in the US nonprofit world (read: fundraising) knows, the poorer you are the more generous you are, relative to personal income – significantly so.

Here in Brazil, while there is definitely some volunteering going on, it is not a cultural phenom. When I was chatting up the Homeless World Cup with my friends and colleagues, and pushing their need for people to help out, everyone I spoke with lit up and asked how much they were paying? When I clarified that it was a volunteer gig they burst out laughing. No way.

Brazilians volunteer, for sure, but it seems to be more intra-familial. You take care of your parents in your home without fail. “Old folks’ homes” are nearly unheard of. Your crazy uncle (genuinely mentally ill) lives with somebody in your family –almost never in an institution. Disadvantaged, down on their luck or just plain determinedly lazy sons and daughters live with their parents indefinitely (i.e. not homeless).

This should be seen as a kind of morally equivalent volunteerism, I think. In spite of the widespread poverty here, it has been my experience that beyond the most urban areas there are very few homeless people in the way I knew them in the States. And scant few mentally ill people walking the streets. Congratulations to Brazilians’ commitment to family.

There were definitely Brazilian volunteers at the Homeless World Cup. Don’t get me wrong. It’s tough to comment on these things without seeming to generalize. But I’ve gotta tell you – volunteering beyond your church or for really high profile events here in Brazil is a pretty rare thing.

Frankly – when you have so little it is difficult to prioritize giving your time and effort away, except when the issue is REALLY close to your concerns. That time and energy is needed to keep your head above water. In this regard, volunteering for projects that benefit your local community directly can attract participants.

Making financial donations – that’s another story for another post.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Brazilian Blogs and others I follow

I’ve been listed as a favorite blog by another blogger (thanks Rachel) and the request is that I now list ten blogs which I find particularly entertaining, useful, beautiful, politically satisfying, etc. This post will be a quick tour through my online blog community world.

Dare I admit that I spend about the first 2 hours of my day flipping through a battery of blogs I keep and eye on. Some for the gossip, some to stay current with the buzz on LGBT political wires, several to keep up with my expat blogger friends mostly in Brazil, a couple local blogs to stay current with Rio and Niterói goings on and one back in the Bay Area while we wait for Brooke and Raph to have their baby (she’s at the hospital as I type!)

Here’s where I might visit on any given morning:

1) Keeping up with the expats, their joys, discoveries, gripes and growing children I visit: Adventures of A Gringa In Brazil, Blood Pearls, Corin in Exile, Danielle in Brazil, Expat American Living in Brazil, Eyes on Brazil, Flowers and More, Living on the Road Less Traveled, Musings on the Move, O Mangue, Our Crazy Happy Life, Paper Plains, Post Cards from Brazil, Rachel’s Rantings in Rio, The Salty Cod, The Tao of Me – among others

2) For Brazilian cultural insights, current pop culture/fashion, musical celebrations and cooking/cocktail discoveries I visit: Brazil Phenomenon, Cachaçagora, Caipirinha Appreciation Society (music), Deep Brazil, Life in Rocinha, Flavors of Brazil, Made in Brazil, Murder is Everywhere (Monday posts by L. Gage), Nossa! Brazilian Music and Culture, rio etc., and The Good Blood – among others.

3) For my daily dose of LGBT news and progressive politics back in the states I visit: Crooks and Liars, Pam’s House Blend, Planet Money, The Conscience of a Liberal, The Huffington Post, The Rachel Maddow Blog, Towleroad, and Truthdig – among others.

4) Living locally requires keeping my ear to the rail. For this I check here: Blog de Niterói, The Rio Times (not a blog, but I go there), plus various newspaper websites and each month I check out Rio’s official guide. If you know of cool blogs (can be in Portuguese as well) please let me know.

5) Then for my daily dose of Portuguese language instruction I check out: English this Way (for a reverse lesson), Portuguese Blog, Sonia Portuguese Word of the Week, StreetSmartBrazil Blog – among others.

Yikes – that’s a few more than ten blogs… but if anyone asks in the future I can just point them back to this post.

As you know the internet is a big place – by all means please remind of the blogs I forgot and comment on blogs you enjoy or websites that I might find interesting to visit. Most mornings I do not have to race off to work, so if I need to spend 3 hours online… so be it.

Homeless World Cup in Rio - the Palestinians

This article, written by Matthew Stanger, was posted on the Homeless World Cup website.  Check there for many, many more stories of pride, success and global fellowship.  Photos are by Mauricio Bustamante.

Palestine debut at the Rio 2010 Homeless World Cup

Of the many success stories at the Rio 2010 Homeless World Cup, none are more important than the journey of Palestine.

The debutants have rapidly become one of the most popular teams, playing with a verve and energy that have excited the crowd. Their unity and fighting spirit is admired by fellow competitors, and the players have immersed themselves in the vast array of different cultures.

Palestine may not win this year’s tournament, but one of the biggest victories of Rio 2010 is to have them taking part.

The idea of home for the Palestine players is different to many of the other nations appearing at the Homeless World Cup. It is not about having a roof over their head at night, or somewhere to wash and eat; it is about returning to a place they have called home all their lives. A home where they want to raise families and live out of poverty.

All of the Palestinian players have come from refugee camps based in Lebanon. The conflict in the region has seen their communities displaced and forced to build a new life on foreign soil.

The Palestine General Manager, Sameh Zaidani, is recognised around the Rio 2010 venue by his beaming smile and pleasant demeanour, but he cuts a stern figure when asked about the living conditions of the team. Mr Zaidani explained:

“It is a very bad situation, their lives are extremely difficult. Their families are very poor and they have to live in tents in large refugee camps. In the summer it is like being in a microwave, at winter they are in a freezer. People should not have to live like this.”

Football is seen as a form of escape. There is a Palestine league where teams from the different refugee camps compete against each other. One thing that has been noted about the Palestine team in Rio is that the players are excellent footballers. Physically they are strong, quick and agile, and they also exhibit guile and craft in their play. Mr Zaidani described the opportunity to play in an international competition:

“The players are enjoying the matches, they can express themselves and show what they can do. They are flying the flag of their country and showing the world that Palestine footballers can be professionals too.”

“But they are happy if they win or lose,” he adds.

There is no one who can argue with that. The players are friendly and lively, and have displayed no signs of nerves at their first Homeless World Cup. They can often be seen in the stands, chatting to members of the crowd, and have made many new friends at the hostel where teams are based.

“I can see the players enjoying themselves when they meet all these people from different cultures around the world,” Mr Zaidani continues,

“At night, they sit with the South African team and sing songs. One in the African language, and then another in Arabic. When I see this, I know this experience does something great for them.”

This sentiment is shared by the team’s young striker, Adham Hammad.

“It’s been great to meet new people and enjoy this experience with others. I hope more Palestine teams can come here in the future, and not just for the football,” Adham said.

Adham lives in Borj El-Brajneh, one of the largest Palestinian refugee camps. As a young man who enjoys playing football, he hopes to be like his hero Fernando Torres. But as an adult living in a complex and challenging environment, his priorities are different:

“It’s not dangerous living in the refugee camp, but there is a lot of poverty. I don’t want to be in this situation, I wish to get back to my country, Palestine. But at the moment I cannot go home.”

A key aim of the Homeless World Cup is to establish sustainable partnerships with the nations involved and despite the ongoing insecurity facing Palestine and its people, they hope to bring another team not just next year, but for the foreseeable future. Mr Zaidani declared:

“Today, these players may be homeless. In ten years’ time they may still be homeless. Their sons may be homeless. But when I see them playing here, enjoying themselves and meeting new cultures, I know there can be good in their lives.”

[Luiz with his new scarf. This photo is by me.]
One of the brilliant and unique sights in Rio is the number of fans whose shoulders are adorned with Palestine scarves. There are also caps displaying the face of Yasser Arafat – gifts that the team have brought to share with others, and which have been warmly received.

This year Palestine came to the Homeless World Cup wanting the world to know that they exist – they leave knowing they will not be forgotten.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Eggs without refrigeration

I don't think I have ever seen eggs in a refrigerated section of any grocery store here in Brazil.  They are often stacked amongst the (unrefrigerated) produce or maybe on the counter near the meat.

It has been a mystery to me why the eggs are not refrigerated, but I've taken it on faith that it is not necessary - after all, every market is doing the same thing.

The best deal on eggs is usually at the open air markets or from egg vendors downtown tucked in the corner of an independent produce market.  In these cases the eggs are carefully wrapped in paper, no carton.  Works fine - and guess what?  Less consumption, less waste, lower price.

Today I finally tried to track down what keeps eggs from spoiling outside refrigeration.  It seems the brillant mother hen applies a fine film around the egg.  In the last portion of the chicken’s oviduct, a thin protein coating called “bloom” is applied to the shell to keep harmful bacteria or dust from entering the egg shell pores.

Back in the states this bloom is washed off (it makes the eggs appear dirty and may in fact contain some excrement) which then necessitates refrigeration to prevent spoilage.

The eggs we get from the open air markets and the egg vendors definitely have this bloom on the shells, but the eggs in the cartons in large grocery stores appear washed.

So I guess it is still a mystery why some are not refrigerated.  At any rate, when they get to our apartment they are promptly placed in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Homeless World Cup in Rio update

This interview was originally posted on the Homeless World Cup website.  I'm reposting it here because it ROCKS!  Visit the website for more news and information about the event and to see the schedule of matches posted each day.

Team Canada embraces Homeless World Cup spirit

We caught up with Peter Chow of Team Canada to see how he and his team mates are enjoying the 2010 Homeless World Cup.

For most teams a heavy defeat in their opening tournament fixture would have a demoralising effect.

But for Team Canada, who lost their opening game against an experienced Ireland team 14-0, this has acted only to galvanise their moral and team spirit.

Canadian striker Peter Chow would only draw positives from the game and was grateful for what he feels was an important experience for the team.

'It was certainly a baptism of fire!' he said.

'We were a little intimidated and very nervous before kick-off. But the Ireland team were great, they offered us advise and support. They were very noble in victory and that leaves us in good stead for the next game'.

'The way we see it is that we came here with an empty glass, regardless of results and scorelines, this tournament has given us the chance to fill it'.

Chow, who has overcome substance abuse and mental health problems caused by alienation and disassociation issues, spoke of the importance of being welcomed into a group and the togetherness and support between the Canada teams.

'It's an amazing bond. A brotherhood. We are together in this, today we have celebrated a birthday in the team' he said.

'Perhaps in the past some of us have looked for love in the wrong places, but this feels like a surrogate family, we have gathered an amazing momentum here'.

As the team prepared to face Romania in their second game of the tournament Chow explained how easy it is to look past results.

'When you step onto the pitch and the crowd are chanting that is all you need. They are there for you. To see your skill and your play, they are embracing who you are'.

The striker failed to score in the opening game but was selfless in setting up a consolation goal for a team mate, but this doesn't worry him'.

'I've already scored the greatest goal of my life. Playing at the Homeless World Cup.'

[Shout out to Sarah!]

OK Go is at it again

This is fun.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Spending the day at the Homeless World Cup

Luiz and I spent the day volunteering at the Homeless World Cup competition/celebration in Copacabana. Talk about spirit! The mostly young people involved in the competition were inspiring and bursting with enthusiasm and excitement.

Imagine having next to nothing in your home country (Haiti, South Africa, United States, Slovenia, England, Argentina, Ghana, Costa Rica – and on and on – there are about 60 countries represented) and now being in Rio de Janeiro putting on brand new soccer shoes donated by Nike, getting pumped to show your stuff. There are men’s teams and women’s teams. All the teams were smiling.

Luiz and I worked security at the entrance to the “Players Only” hospitality area. We struck up a few friendships and got to see all of the athletes. Luiz showed so much enthusiasm for the Palestinian team that one of the players gave him a beautiful shall made of kafia scarf cloth. Score!

These photos are from the Parade of Nations and the games. The Homeless World Cup continues through the week and we plan to return as often as possible to volunteer. If you have the itch, c’mon down. The games area is on the far east end of Copacabana Beach at the border with Leme. More volunteers would be helpful (and with a volunteer credential you get free reign of the place – with plenty of time to watch some matches.)

The official web site is being kept up to date. Check there for the schedule of who is playing whom and other information.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The strawberry pie that wasn't

It’s been a cold and rainy weekend. The kind of days you spend indoors, maybe cooking. Luiz believes if I am going to cook I should plan on cooking a dessert as well.

It’s strawberry season. Here’s a quick and easy (and fool-proof – or so I thought) recipe for a fresh “light” strawberry custard pie. The ingredients are readily available at any grocery store.


2 packages of banana and cinnamon cookies (or any Nilla Wafer substitute of your choice) – you will not use all the cookies. It will probably take a little more than one package to get the 1 ¾ cups of finely ground cookie meal that you need.
2 Tbl. sugar (or Splenda)
¼ cup walnuts (almonds or Brazil nuts work fine)
4 – 6 Tbl. melted butter


2 pkgs. Vanilla Pudding mix (“Light” if you like)
1 liter of whole milk


1 – 2 pints of ripe fresh strawberries


Pre-heat your oven to about 400 degrees F.

You want to crumble the cookies and walnuts and then work them in a food processor until finely ground. If you don’t have a food processor, just place them in a bag and roll over them with a rolling pin to crumble them into a fine meal. Or – just whack ‘em with a wooden spoon until you get the desired texture. Remove any large bits. Add sugar and mix well.

Melt the butter and work it into the cookie meal with a fork until evenly distributed. The meal should now be moist. Do not hesitate to add more butter if the meal is too dry, but do not overdo the butter and get a darkened, wet, oily mush.

Press the meal evenly into a 9 or 10 inch pie plate. Bake the crust in the pre-heated oven for about 9 – 10 minutes. Be careful not to burn the edges. Let cool.

Prepare the pudding mix as directed. Luiz likes to add a couple packets of Splenda to make it a bit sweeter (if you are not diabetic you could add sugar). Your call. When the pudding is done, put it in the fridge to cool down a bit before you transfer it into your prepared crust.

When everything is cooled down, remove any skin that may have formed on top of the cooled pudding and pour the pudding into the crust and place the pie into the fridge to chill. It will take several hours.

In the mean time, clean the strawberries and slice them once through the middle lengthwise making cute triangles of half strawberries. Chill. (Some people – read: Luiz – will want to sprinkle some sugar or Splenda over the strawberries to push their sweetness/flavor. Go for it.)

When the pie is chilled, arrange the strawberries in a circular pattern beginning at the center and working outward, overlapping the previous circle as you go.

Keep chilled until ready to serve. Enjoy!

But wait – I have a confession to make. The pudding does not set up well enough to be sliced into firm pie pieces with structural integrity. It is a mushy mess. It tastes GREAT, the flavor combination is perfect, but it does not pass as pie.

Here is my proposed solution: Use individual dessert cups/bowls. Put the crust mixture into the bottom of the cup/bowl. Top with the pudding. Then top with the strawberries. Eat with a spoon like a parfait.

If any reader has a suggestion for how to firm up the package pudding mix (like with eggs or with gelatin) please do share the key. I would prefer to serve this as a pie.

It was my intention to submit this to Danielle’s Cooking in Brazil blog but since it was such a flop I’m just running it here. Stay tuned Danielle, I have a Brazil-friendly recipe for Toll House chocolate chip cookies I will share soon.

Homeless World Cup Opening Ceremonies - Volunteers Needed

Have you been to an Olympic Games opening ceremony?  I've never been to the "official" games but I've attened two of the Gay Games ceremonies and it brought tears of pride and hope to my eyes.  Very powerful stuff.

Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m. at Forte Leme will be the Parade of Nations followed by the Homeless World Cup Opening Ceremonies.  Then the games begin!  The format is a quick 14 minute game [8 players on the field], so stopping to watch for a while is pretty easy.

Better yet - VOLUNTEER to help make it the best event possible.  Word is they still could use some help.  Contact: Catriona Kay 8034-2279 or email her at   Serious calls and emails only, her plate is really full right now.  For more information about the event visit their website: Homeless World Cup. Or just show up with a good additude and I'm sure you will be put to work.  Volunteers are needed all week.

The current President and Co-founder of the Homeless World Cup is keeping a personal blog of his experiences at the games.  Check it out here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Helping out in the Rocinha favela

I recently went to visit Zezinho in the Rocinha community in Rio.  Zezinho runs a so-called Favela Tour operation through which he introduces visitors to his neighborhood, as well as maintains a website and blog about his activities (check ‘em out).  After a little on-line discussion I asked for some face time to discuss an idea I have brewing.  Zezinho was gracious enough to invite me to his home and to show me around his neighborhood.  The weather was rainy, but the energy exuded from Zezinho’s pride in his community literally seemed to lift the clouds.

Rocinha is the largest poor community (favela) in Rio with more than 300,000 residents and 6,000 businesses.  Families live in small houses built one atop the other and so close together access is limited to narrow pathways and staircases.  There is just one road that loops up into, across and then back down out of the neighborhood.  It is a busy street lined with shops, restaurants, beauty salons and all manner of home construction stores.  Recently free wireless internet service has been installed throughout the community.

Rocinha is, for all intents and purposes, a Rio city government-free zone.  It was the residents who developed the sewer system the services the neighborhood.  The electricity that runs to about 80% of the houses is brought in by a private company.  The neighborhood association plays the role of government.  They have organized a cooperative van transportation service (there are now a couple busses that loop through the neighborhood as well).  The association collects a nominal “tax” from neighborhood businesses (really nominal: R$5 – R$30 per month) that is pooled to pay for collective needs and emergency situations for residents.  Rio police do not patrol the neighborhood.

While Rocinha is known to outsiders as a place where drug trafficking is prominent and is generally understood to be a dangerous place, Zezinho reports a strikingly different experience.  Rocinha has been his home for most of his 39 years.  While showing me around his neighborhood children called out to him with a thumbs up sign and numerous neighbors stopped to talk.  His experience is one of pride in a self sufficient, if poor, community that takes care of itself.  The drug trade is present, as are the men and boys with guns that come with the territory, but they were no where to be seen while I made my visit.  Zezinho describes the impact of the drug lords to be as much a (ironic) positive influence toward community peace and harmony as an occasional danger.

Strictly enforced, the rules put down by the drug trafficants of Rocinha are: no theft, no rape, no violence, and no drawing unwanted attention to our community.  Break those rules and you face the drug lords.  Rio’s police are nowhere to be found.

Anyway – I met with Zezinho because I want to create an opportunity for people to make a real contribution to the daily needs of the residents of Rocinha.  I went to investigate what social programs are active in the community and with whom we can partner to leverage their impact.  Zezinho and I had some pretty awesome conversations about the possibilities.  After my next visit with Zezinho and with the director of one community arts program in particular I will post about how we can all get involved through the easy option of making a financial contribution to help sustain some vibrant, organic community activities that are keeping the kids of Rocinha out of trouble (and reminding them that people care).

Stay tuned.

[Once again I offer a very heartfelt thanks to Zezinho for his hospitality, contageous hope and enthusiasm.  Check out his business and blog.  Together I expect we can make an impact.]

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Things Brazil has taught me

Here are a few things I’ve learned while living in Brazil and which I think my friends back in the States might be interested to see.

- Lunch hours at work last an hour and people leave the office to lunch with their friends.

- Cars, all cars, cars made by Ford and GM included, run on gas, alcohol or natural gas. SUVs can run on alcohol.

- When the DVD player or coffee maker breaks, chances are they can be repaired. No need to grow the land fills and buy anew.

- Simple but true: 2 liter soda bottles can be made with about half the plastic and still function just fine.

- Workers can take a month vacation (paid) and the company does not grind to a halt.

- Knowing your neighbors improves your sense of belonging in your neighborhood, and improves your security in unforeseen times.

- Chances are you can live on less. Less stress, less cash, less runaround, less stuff, less worry…

- When a village raises a child that child is well adjusted, responsible and safe.

- Gas prices that actually reflect the true cost of the fuel really do cause people to consider carefully before getting in the car, i.e. lower consumption.

- Government subsidized pharmaceuticals for chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes, AIDS) lower health care costs in the long run.

Moving to Brazil has been a learning experience, for sure. But it has not been all about what we left behind (good peanut butter, hot water on tap, actual customer service, etc.). Much of the difference has been enlightening.

Fellow expats – what have you learned?