Thursday, September 25, 2014

Favelada Take 3 and a New House for Me!

So, How do you find someone to move something big in the Favela?Keep in mind Uhual doesn’t do stair master moves

Try getting a fridge up there! ha!
Not my house though

Checking "corners" is a good start. Corners tend to attract a certain kind of enterprise which entails long hours of sitting and watching... among other things. Due to the nature of the job, said employees tend to be well informed of the comings and goings of people who may or may not be willing to provide certain services such as moving a fridge. In addition to this service, I personally find employees of said enterprise to be a highly effective form of "GPS", as I often stop and ask for directions. The first time I went to my new place at night I actually got lost in the windy, narrow streets. I ran into them hanging outside of a closed bar and they sent someone to take me home.

This is another ally that winds through huge rocks. Its an enclosed narrow passage with only one entrance and one exit.

But, are corners safe?
On guns in the Favela: Part 2
In my last blog I touched breifly on the subject of guns in the favela. And I mentioned that most visible guns are owned and operated by the police (emphasis on the visible). A lot of people that I talk to here romatiacize about the time before pacificication, the time before the UPP was established in the community. Times when drug dealers where omnipresent and guns and tables full of drugs were not an uncommon sight. Well, pacificiation put an end to the golden age of favela law in 2009. Yes, Favela law is a real thing which I have recently seen, no heard, being enforced (because I sure as hell was not about to look out the window), but that is another censored topic that may possibly come out in another blog. 

When cops stop you they always ask, "are you a drug user?"
I've been stopped and searched 3 times since living here. Several times they have tried to freak me out by calling out my name when I walk by. Once I turned around and asked how they knew my name and he replied, "It doesn't matter, just know that I know". So naturally I didn't feel bad getting in their face at 6:30 am and telling them I'm sending them off the US. because NO I'm not a drug user and if you going to take all my crap (gloves, handwraps, kimono, mma gloves, clothes, towel, soap, food, book, etc) and spread it all over the ground at least hold my protein while I put it all back!

The golden age may be over but there are still reminents. One of the only times I've seen (heavily) armed drug dealers was coming up the above stairs at night. I got halfway up when the passage became bottle necked by people queuing to buy drugs. I hesitated for a second at the bottom of the stairs but was was waved up cheerfully by a guy with a hand gun. I walked past several crackheads and several kids I know, hopped over a pile of money, several bags of various drugs, and had to stop  to let a guy pass by as he was playing with something along the lines of a Tech 9 or Uzie. They also have gernades. Tactically, I'm not sure how effective a gernande is, but yeah they have a lot of gernandes. 

Like I said before, don't do this at home. Drug dealers can be paranoid (as they often suffer from getting shot by police). One time they were questioning another gringo  as he was going into his house accross from mine. After he went inside the guy turned to me and was like, "No, there is something not right about him, he isn't a real gringo, you, your a real gringo, but him....". So, yes, drug dealers DO have guns. But to answer the question, are corners safe. I never worry about getting hurt from the dealers. I would, however, worry about being around the drug dealers and consequently getting shot by the police. 

Back to getting my fridge moved.
So, when you need to find someone or something, going out to corners or walking around the Estrada is the best way to get lucky. I found a nice spot close to the Rua with a lot of sun and an amazing view of the ocean to the right and Pavao to the left (the pictures where in the last blog). I didn't just pick the spot for the view, I also picked it because people are prone to hang out there. 

So, I post up. 

And it only took about two minutes till I hear a voice behind me (keep in mind ain't nobody speaking English in the Favela, this is not a convo in English),

"Hey! You box right, you know so and so? I'm her cousin!!!"... Score!

Yeah see this is me boxing. With Bad-Ass coach Claudio Coelho
and UFC strawweight Claudinha Gadelha

Yeaaah, I box. I know her.

Lets pause for a cultural note: Brazilians have this saying, "o brasileiro nunca desiste" that they never give up. And damn it's so true. They are also a very straight forward people when it comes to their romantic intentions. Where as an American will try to ask you to dinner and swoon you a little, a Brazilan will just be like, "I'm trying to come over. You going to let me in". Why is this relevant?!?! because its the only way that I can explain how within two minutes of me meeting this dude, he's insisting on paying my rent, talking about let’s see how things flow...

Brasileiros will be Brasileiros. So, screw it, I decided to be just as straight forward. Why pay my rent when you can just move a small fridge. So, my new friend and I continue to wait because, obviously, he isn't going to move the fridge by himself (his nickname either means mouse or little rat… and it’s not one of those ironic nicknames, kid was little so help was definitely necessary). Five minutes later along came Matty, at first he was reluctant to join the cause but we were soon able to buy his help with US$5.00. Damn did he save the day. He took the door off the fridge (so it would fit through the narrow passages, hauled the thing ONTO HIS BACK, and walked it up the stairs with Little Rat following behind doing minimum work.

It wasn't til hours later after I had finished moving, turned in my key (without getting shot), and ran to teach a little English when I got home and realized that I was missing a piece from my fridge.

Clothes rack and political poster.
It's election session and these guys faces
are littered all over the favela

So, how do you find someone in the favela?
Like I said you go to the corner, thats always a good idea, but Matty, had made a comment that he was once my neighbor when I lived in Pavao, so instead of going directly to the "corner", I went to the second best  place to find information: the bar.

Why the bar?
 Because there are some people that seem drink professionally and THEY also tend to be well informed about the comings and goings of people (albeit harder to understand). When I was living in Pavao I lived above a bar, so if he was my neighbor, someone at the bar should know where he lives. The stairs to my old steps also tend to attrach a certain kind of enterprise but I didn't recognize the employee so I deferred to asking a drunk. He confirmed that yes I was indeed close, so I moved closer to a little cut that I know houses a couple of apartments and sure enough a door opened, a face appeared, and I was soon pointed in the direction of Matty's house.

The rua. At the bottom is one of the friendly professional drunks of Galo. He spends his days drinking and picking through trash for goods that he can sell and his nights singing at bars. 

I found Matty. And I'm not going to lie, I was pretty proud of myself for having located the establishment using impeccable favelada hunting skills. Unfortunately, Matty gave the piece to Little Rat. So back to square one, spot 1, and step 1 to finding something in the favela. I went back to the "corner" and repeated the process until I found Little Rat’s house. Unfortunately, he wasn’t home and in the end I had to wait around 2 more days until he finally showed up one night at 10PM and put the door back on my fridge.

In the end, it took me 4 stressful days to move, I had to spend a large amount of time waiting and wandering around the streets looking for people. I walked up and down about a million stairs and ate a lot of crappy food, but my new place is off the hook!

View from my roof. You can See Ipanema, Leblon, Lagoa, and the big Crist statue!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Evacking Gaza: No time for MMA training

Part 2: Evacuating the Gaza Strip

Hanging out at BJJ Hacks film shoot at Mestre Terere's house
In Cantagalo. A lot happens in one year in Brazil.

Warning: Do not try this at home.
So today it’s been a year since I’ve been living in Brazil. 365 days ago today I arrived at Connection Rio at 7-8AM. My first sight of the “Jiu Jitsu lifestyle” was the pasty white legs and tighty whities of Belgium native Brist who opened the door for me before stumbling back to bed to sleep off a long night of drinking (He is actually back now). Due to a scheduling error, there was no house manager to greet me so I tiptoed through the house, eventually stumbling across one of the common rooms that was stuffed full with damp kimonos, bunk beds, and more pasty, white gringo legs. Boy did I regret not having enough money to stay in a private room the 3 months that I stayed at Connection Rio! After 3 months I made my escape, leaving the quiet suburban neighborhood at the base of Pedra de Gavea and moved to the tumultuous Favela of Cantagalo to live with the Fernando Terere’s secretary. This is where the story gets good. 

playing cards

 I stayed there for a little while, but since I STILL didn’t have my own room, I eventually jumped ship and landed in what I now know is called the Gaza Strip or Quebra or that place, you know, when you get off the elevator and go left.

I lived there for 3 months but soon found the need to leave because… well because it was a shit hole. It was my shit hole though, so I did love it in its own way. For the first time in 8 months, I could sleep in, walk around in my underwear, and not have to worry about boys peeing on the toilet seat all the time (where we get off telling guys to put the toilet seat down is beyond me... men are impossible, if you don't want to be sitting in pee all the time it is more effective to put the toilet seat UP after finishing). 

I finally had my freedom, but I also had to deal with a suspect landlord, a wall that was always damp and most likely moldy, and a limited amount of space. SOOO limited that when I wasn’t in bed I had to throw it up against a part of the wall that wasn’t damp! Life in the favela is definitely a big change from the million dollar homes that surround the Connection Rio hostel. 

I ended up dealing with that mess for 3 months. It would have been 3 months and 2 days but my landlord outright refused to let me stay the extra days I needed before being able to move into my new place.

My New Place:
Finding a new place took two days of walking up and down numerous stairs with my previously mentioned cria and searching out people like “nido” who has a room for 300 and lives in the bakery that closed down in the GDF or “Aunty from the church” who has 3 room for cheap, wait who is it for? You? Ok! Yeah 3 rooms. She is in the salon go ask for her down that street around 9 (this is why you need a cria. In America you look up an address in the favela you ask around looking for people to point you to other people who know where there is someone). 

Hanging out and having lunch at Terere's house while 
filming BJJ Hacks. You can see Jackson Souza's house from here. 
The blue tubs supply water to houses and also act as a 
drying rack for clothes. Roof tops are also popular places
for kite flyers

So, I find a new place but nothing can ever just be easy so long story short let’s just cut to Tuesday. I was supposed to move out of my house Monday (I’m also supposed to be in MMA sparring) and I’m sitting dejectedly on my front steps with an empty house save a fridge and the blankets that I slept with last night. I’m somewhat stressed out because A.) if you hadn't noticed I mentioned it was Tuesday and I was supposed to move out Monday  and B.) there are two things that I know about my landlord for sure… neither of them meeting the censorship of this blog but most likely falling under the jurisdiciton of ATF. So yeah I woke up Tuesday determined get myself and my fridge out of there ASAP.  

My fridge is my prized possession. It is also the biggest and should be the most expensive thing I own. It’s not actually... these are.

It cost me about 80 dollars to buy these two pieces of crap!
They are the only real pieces of furniture I own...

How is that possible? Two reasons. 
A. Everything in Rio is expensive and plastic things for some reason are double expensive.

B. I acquired my fridge via the Jeito Favelado (the favela way). What’s the favela way you may ask? Well, one morning, at an ungodly early hour, someone came screaming my name outside of my window. I get up open the window and it’s my friend's boyfriend asking me if I want to buy a fridge for R50 USA $23. So, we walk up one level to this nice apartment where I am greeted by some shady guy that looks like he could be a pimp or something. IRONICALLY he used to live in Maryland and is not moving to Sao Paulo since he couldn’t afford his rent. Viola. Fridge for me, along with a huge tub a mayonnaise, and some sketchy mustard in a water bottle. I saved myself at the least R300 that I would have had to dish out to buy and transport a used fridge from somewhere else.

End note. Back to me being dejected on my front steps with no Cria.

Along the Estrada, that is not an abandoned house, people live there
Thats not a pile of trash, kids play there. 
These politicians, I'm not sure who they are, they never come here
but cheers for spending your campaign money to throw more trash 
into the communities! They should be ashamed!

CutOnce again we are out of time. It's been a long day and I have wrestling in the morning. The third and last part will be out next week, freeing me up to get to my next topic of interest: Bomba... and not the gernades the dealers throw... I'm talking about the juice the athletes down! 

If your dying to read more about the favela check out Tales From Deep Half as my homeboy has also released a 3 part story on living here in the favela! I accidently sent him down into the Gaza Strip forgetting that he was a "straight up white boy" ... like I said you shouldn't try this at home... 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

On moving in the Favela

Part 1: Cantagalo, the lay of the land

It's officially been confirmed. You CANNOT drop a pin on your house if you live in the favela, sorry iphone user.

The view from Cantagalo overlooking Pavao/Pavaozinho
(You can see my old house from here)

For the last 9 months I have been living in the Favela here in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It has definitely been an interesting experience that I tend to avoid touching upon as to not scare the s*&t out of my parents. However, recently I have relocated to my third place in the favela, and after a stressful week of minimal training I figured I'd share a little about what its like to live here in the community.  I currently reside in Cantagalo, 3 blocks from the beach of Ipanema and home to athletes like Fernando Terere (alliance) and Jackson Sousa (checkmat).

Most people think that the term "favela" stands for a "ghetto" or a "shantytown", but it doesn't, in actuality "favela", is Brazilian for an absurd amount of stairs and/or hillage. Brazilian favelas line the mountain sides that rise above the affluent neighborhoods of Rio. The narrow streets and passages constitute an urban labyrinth that winds up the mountains of Rio. The higher you get the more confusing and potentially dangerous it can be. Close to the top of the favela, the houses and formal structures thin out and there is nothing but forest. If you want to look at the favela from a tactical perspective, its guerilla warefare at its finest. 

Kid running towards two women fighting in "quebra"

For those of you that aren't in the know, people build houses where ever they can find space to build. Climbing down into ditches, along ledges, or across roofs is not necessarily uncommon when trying to reach more remote places. I've lived in the favela for almost a year, but I don't tend to venture too far away from the main roads. Wandering around the favela is like wandering around in the woods at night... You may think you're going in one directions, but in actuality, you're completely lost. If you speak Portuguese, then it's easy to ask for directions, if you don't speak Portuguese however, like in the case of my gringo friend Moz, getting lost can be somewhat scary. While I  can easily find someone to point me in the right direction, he finds kids that point finger guns at him.

(Note: It should be taken into consideration that if no one knows me and I keep my mouth shut then I pass for Brazilian, Moz on the other hand is straight up white boy from England that does not managed to blend in in the least bit). 

On guns in the favela:
Are there guns in the favela? Of course.
Most of the visible guns, however, are owned and operated by the police. Emphasis on the visible part. Police walk around the favela with a ridiculous amount of guns and I'm not talking about your standard issue Berretta like in the States. No,no cops here roll with M4, M15s, and the occasional M16 as well as a handgun (Once saw a gun about that was about my size). And they point them EVERYWHERE which is somewhat disturbing. One time I saw a cop car coming up the street (the real one) with the trunk open. Hmmm, that's weird I thought to myself. The car passed by and it turned out there was a guy hanging out the trunk with a huge gun, go figure.

Getting into the favela:
There are four entrances into the communities of Cantagalo, Pavao, and Pavaozinho.  So when your moving, all of your stuff has to come in or out through one of these babies. There are many factors to consider when choosing the right entrance such as vehicle accessiblity, stairs, and hills. The main entrance that I use is an elevator in Ipanema that is at the metro. This entrance goes up to a place called "quebra" at the base of the favela at which point you have to go up about 100 more steps to get to the "estrada" or the main road. This elevator only runs till 12AM (11 PM on Sundays and holidays). Arriving past 12AM means a nice brisk walk up 28 flights of dark, dirty stairs.

The estrada... and good place to stand if you need something

So once you get off the elevator, the next step would be getting to the Estrada, or the "street". Its not really a street though...You can get through it on a motorcycle (if you good) but not in a car. Either way, it's the main "road" that cuts through to the favela and connects Cantagalo to Pavao/Pavaozinho. If you follow the estrada from the elevator it will take you to the "rua" or the street. This IS an actual street.

If you go down, the street forks and you can get to entrances 2 and 3 that lead to either Copacobana or Ipanema. These are the only entrances that are car accessible. It is, however, damn near impossible to get a taxi to take you all the way up the street due to the fact that its narrow and Brazilians drive crazy.

View from my window. Rooftops and Front doors

If you go up the hill, you'll find the UPP, or the local police station that was put in place when the favela was pacified. Beyond the UPP is a social project called Crianca Esperanza which is a building that houses a numerous amount of facilities including two jiu jiutsu academies and a boxing gym and several cheap places to eat. Crianca Esperanca runs several kinds of government programs that offer a grade school and technical classes for adults as well. The last entrance to the community is located inside. The second elevator will also take you down to Ipanema, but you have to be some kind of blessed to ever be able to take  his elevator because it barely ever works.

On moving in the favela:
Ok now that we've gone through geography 101 you might understand how moving under such circumstances can be a pain in the ass. Needless to say, Uhual is out of the question.

The elevator and walk way located at the metro station. 
View from the stairs. 

The first step to moving is finding a place to live. This can be difficult for two reasons. First, places in the favela are not only hard to find, they go quickly and you need to speak damn good Portuguese to find one. Second, finding a good (decently priced) place to live requires a cria, or someone raised in the community, preferably one in good physical condition. The quality of the place you find to live depends highly on the quality of your Cria. Employment of a Cria is essential if you want to avoid a painful syndrome known as getting Gringo'd. Symptoms of getting Gringo'd may include, but are not limited to: small and inadequate living conditions, expensive and uncomfortable transportation, and/or reoccurring financial losses.

And cut!
                                              To be continued....
                                                                                          I have a BJJ tournament to go to

Check out part II to find out about more about my cria and how I got all of my stuff up 100s of flights of stairs!!