Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Favelas of Curitiba: Surviving the Trap House

The look on people's faces when they see where I live is priceless...

I had spent my first couple of months of my Curitiban exile in a nice 3 bedroom house that mestre Parana rented for the team in an upper class suburban neighborhood. But we're all broke fighters and no one is trying to pay rent, so he cut his expenses, and bought a house for us in the favela.  

And it went a little something like this. 

Parana hates waiting so once training ended I ran into the bathroom, changed out of my sweaty clothes and then rushed down to the car threw in my bag full of sweaty clothes and closed the door behind me. 

I had just gotten back from Rio and apparently I was moving... 

We rolled by the house where I had been staying. It was a pink two story house separated by the main road by cement wall and a large metal door that opened into a carport. It was located on a quiet street just around the corner from where Mestre Parana lived with Jessica Andrade (from the UFC). 

Once again I found myself sprinting into the house, throwing as much shit into my suitcases as I could and then running back out into the car (leaving behind my ipod and my tablet).

After a quick stop to a used furniture store where we acquired a mattress for R60 I was dropped off in what was to be our new house in the “favelas” of Sao Jose, Curitiba.

Me, my mattress, and Mestre Parana!

After fumbling around in the small hole, I was able to fit key into lock and swing up the big medal garage doors. An empty garage, gave way into an empty living room laid with white tile. A basic bathroom and empty kitchen completed the bottom floor. There were no counters in the kitchen. No sink or anything like that that you would expect to find, just a faucet that gave way to emptiness. When I squeezed my way into the bathroom sink and into the shower I discovered there wasn’t even a shower head. Just a hole it the wall the spit water on command. I guess I’m lucky there was water at all.

Said counter wasn't there when I first moved in.
The kitchen was just an empty room!

A precarious wooden staircase in the kitchen led up to an even more precarious second story. The small space was divided into 3 rooms by thin pieces of wood and white plastic exterior siding. There are cracks in the walls, cracks in the ceiling, and I lost several small items to cracks in the floorboard. At night the walls come alive and it sounds like there is something scratching relentlessly on the other side. I assume its termites or something because cockroaches and other bugs could use one of the previously mentioned cracks in the wall. The first week I was there I threw my mattress on top of a broken bed frame. Since then we broke the frame more and moved it to a different room, but its still dealing with a dirty mattress on a broken bed. 

Outside of the window is a sea of wooden walls and tin roofs bordered by dirt paths and mountains of debris spread as far as the eye could see. There’s a lot of messed up shit in the favela’s of Rio too but at least its framed by the natural beauty of the beaches and mountains.

The smell of burning trash is a suffocating reminder that I’m no longer in Rio. This is a different kind of poverty. Desperation saturates the air. There are entirely too many barefooted, gaunt chested kids running around and playing with sticks. Everything looks the same. Empty fields and lots of trash, I believe they call it "recycling" though. Everything looks like its under construction. Skinny teenagers that suffer from all the familiar symptoms of the drug trade whisper as I walk by. The bold ones call out. Rasta. Dread! There has been wind of my arrival already. Gossip travels fast. A fighter. With dreads. Living in the alley.

I was offered weed before I could find soap (seeing as I still hadn't taken a shower after training). A guy wearing dirty jeans and worn out shirt called to me as I was walking by. He crouched down at the entrance of the drive way, a half smoked cigarette clenched by callused fingers and dirty nails.  He had a raggedy hat pulled down over his face that he lifted up so that he could see me better as I approached. Next to him were to two young girls dressed as prostitutes in training. They were rocking matching piercings and lipstick that is entirely too red. They stood there smoking cigarettes and nodding along with everything that Dude was saying to me. They looked like they came straight out of a Sundance film.

 Everyone is wondering what the hell I’m doing here (by myself). A girl. In the favela. Alone. Is it safe?

They say its safe, but then always end the sentence talking about drug dealers and shootouts...

Generally, I tell people I’m Colombian. If you tell people your American, they ask you about money. If you tell people your Colombian, they ask about Pablo Escobar.

Note: People in the favela of Rio call me Colombian because of my accent, 
So I just went with it. I made up a nice backstory too.. Something about a town in the south
Ria Chuela or something. I could easily say I'm Dominican seeing as I actually 
lived there, but then, where's the fun in that?

I'm not scared. Maybe I should be. But whatever. I'm here because I was told to be here... 
I'm here because I want to fight. 

It may be ghetto as hell (it really is), but I have my own bed (or you know, mattress) and my own room (for now), and I don't pay rent (just internet)...

In the end I stayed there for a week alone with a suitcase, a mattress, and a couple thousand dollars in electronics. After a week the boys moved in and brought me more blankets and the rest of my stuff that was randomly thrown into bags.

Iphone photoshop is on POINT! Looks
beautiful but I'm pretty sure its infested
with Dengue or Yellow Fever or something!

Those blue things hold water that is pumped
from the street. Very common in South America.

Live From Nowhere

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Plights of Socialized Health Care and Other 3rd World Delights

In the 3 months that I have been in and out of hospitals, it never once occurred to me to ask about my vision. It took me a couple of weeks sulking on the fringes of training to actually internalize the fact that I had been living quite some time with only one eye .Will it ever return to normal, will I lose peripheral vision, and how long before the gas dissolves and I can see clearly again. These all would have been fantastic questions to pose to the doctor, but in the end, they never even crossed my mind.

I only ever have one question: when can I train again. The doctors have come to know me now, so at the end of every meeting they put their clip board down, look me in the eyes, and stress to me the need to stay still. Hours of waiting in lines, eye drops, and staring into bright lights have molded me into a veteran of Brazilian socialized health care system. There are doctors with selfies of me on their phone floating around in several hospitals (because seriously? why would she let someone one kick her in the face?) 

Catching multiple buses to unknown locations, at 5 A.M, in an unnaturally cold and remote town is a distressing contrast to cruising on a long board down the beaches of Ipanema. Adjusting to the desolate landscape was hard enough when I was a fully functioning fighter, but now, as an invalid, separated front he rest of my teammates, it was down right unbearable.

The food in Curitiba is good  though so I was able to find some respite to wallowing in self-pity in cheap culinary delights. Now I'm getting poked with spears and called fat but hey, its hard to maintain a six pack when your experiencing personal tradegy. 

Having an injury that necessitates an extended hiatus from training is like having a piece of your identity ripped from your soul. Not like ripping a band aid either. It’s more like the slow torturous ripping that ensues when mobsters pull out that roll of surgical knives and neatly lay it in front of a tied up victim. Or for the low budget, less meticulous crowd, like the bathroom scene from the Scare face movie. It’s gruesome and torturous.
Not once did I worry about the medical care. I was in fact, undergoing some serious medical treatment in a 3rd world country, using free health care. I was too worried about my "immediate problems". About getting kicked out, about losing my fighter status, and not having money. There is a shared bond between people that suffer together during training so not being able to train left me dejected. Fighting is like speaking a universal language and I was slowly losing the ability to connect with my surroundings. 

I didn't have time to be scared. I was too worried about trying to be useful or dealing with a myriad of problems that presented themselves on a daily basis like trying to figure out how to get to the multiple hospitals and doctors that were juggling around my case.  It took me 3 months to learn Portuguese when I arrived in Rio, and after a week of refusing to venture past my room or the gym in Curitiba, it took me 1 week to learn the complicated bus system that took you from the remote suburbs into the city. I learned both the same way. Pure necessity.

As with must things in life I never know where I’m going. I just head in the general direction and ask. Then I ask again, and again. Switching from bus to bus, until I finally head up in the designated line. Going to the doctor is free. All of the ensuing exams were free too. 

I lost my phone so I'm short on pictures. One of the places 
in Sao Jose where I like

On doctors days, I leave home around 5:30 A.M. and get back for a late lunch. I’ve learned tricks. If you ask questions you can save yourself up to an hour. Apparently it takes them an hour or two to write down a date on a piece of paper, this can be avoided by asking the doctor a question or two which leaves time for one of the many… what I assume to be medical students, to scribble something down on a paper (you then take this paper to schedule another appointment which should land you in the 4th line of the whole process).

Note on medical students 1: There is always an extra jackass or two that needs to shine a bright light in your eye as he shadows the doctor. You get what you pay for, and this is for free. 

Note one medical students 2: I have seen a ridiculous amount of sexy doctors here in Brazil. It wasn’t till my 5th or 6th trip to the hospital that it occurred to me that they are good looking because they are my age, somewhat unsettling.

The doctors know me by name. They think I’m quite funny. A tiny little girl, with a weird accident, who came to a 3rd world country to fight…like with fists.

My first stop on my odyssey was to a local emergency room in Sao Jose… aka Nowhere. My eye had been bugging me for a couple weeks, but I resisted going to the doctor a. because its hard to get to and b. because I waited until after a scheduled boxing fight I had. The doctor asked me what was wrong and after listening intently to my response his only reply was, “yeah but why do you talk like that?”. He then ambled off down the hallway making phone calls on his cellphone (to another doctor I believe) and joking with his coworkers because not only do I talk like a gringa, but I have a very similar name to a roided up Brazilian model. Silacoid… silacoided… these should possibly be considered for terms to describe Brazilian women with too much silicon AND steroids in their body… but yeah that’s Nicole Bahls a silacoided t.h.o.t if you will. 

Its to cold to be slutty in Curitiba
Anti THOT weather

Anyway… after he had his shits and giggles, he gave me a piece of paper and told me to head to another hospital in the city (within two hours). Like I said, as with most things in life I have no idea where I’m going, I just head in the general direction, in this case: the exit. Exits are a good place to start when embarking on any journey, as they are generally equipped with reception and/or security. They kindly directed me out the door to the left until it dead-ended, then instructed me to bust another left and search for a bus stop.

2 1/2 hours, 4 buses, and a million “desculpa me pode informar onde fica”s later I was ascending a hill (in an area that lacked any of the tell tale signs of a “city”) to the university hospital. I was late and deeply regretting the fact that I was wearing polo boots (socialized health care tips: wear sneakers and always bring a sweatshirt or jacket. If you don’t like standing bring a foldable chair).

I left my house at 7 A.M. with boxing gloves and hand wraps expecting to score some eye drops and get into training by 3 P.M. I returned home well after 6 with orders to immediately stop training and return to a different hospital in a weeks time.
When I returned the 1st doctor passed me off to a second, together they prodded me with bright lights, while scribbling notes.

When they finished they turned to me wearing stone faced serious expression. There was 3 or 4 of them headed by someone that may have been a few years older than me. A motley crew of students trying to assimilate the decorum of their profession was about to render me my fate. 

The words every fighter fears, “You can’t fight”.
So, cliché.

Explanations ensued. They were very adamant.
Severe damage to my retina. Blindness, grave, serious, and something, that when lost in translation sounded like silicon eye were repeated over and over again!

Heart and blood tests, more hospitals, buses, and more early morning check ups. A pain in the ass, but on the bright side it was all for free (take that obama care).

Had I been in the U.S. I would have refused to pay the $20 co-pay, I hate the doctor, so I wouldn’t have gone. I would have fought (mma) and I would probably be a couple grand in debt (by couple I mean more like 10s of thousands) and potential blinded by a fully detached retina. Taking that into consideration, I really can’t complain about climbing out of my house in the freezing, rain at 5:30 in the morning to get down with a little free health care (I had to climb several times because torrential rain took out the power thust the ability to open the gate).

Girls from the social project where PRVT teaches Muay Thai.
I've been teaching a women's Muay Thai class to pass the time 
since I can't train. 

It’s been two months, almost three. My eye is getting better and my vision is clearing. My next appointment is next week. Hopefully, I’ll be cleared to go back to training (especially since I’ve been going back to training).

Being in Rio has been therapeutic. Being back on the mats to drill has been a blessing. It seems like every black belt that I have made a connection with over the last two years decided to show up at the social project my first days back. I’ve been able to get a good 5 (free) private lessons so far from the OGs of my Jiu Jitsu career, the original group of people that pulled me off my back (cause I spent a lot of time just chilling and side control). They encouraged and helped me as I stumbled through my first classes and competitions and have helped me piece together a recovery work out regiment.

This stand up dude jamming in the background has been my go to guy for 
anything Curitibana.  He dragged his ass out of bed at 5 A.M. the two days I needed someone 
to go to the hospital with me and has been partaking in my random
endeavours ever since I met him in a part one day!

So much love and respect goes to the following people…

Mestre Parana from PRVT who took me in, gave me a place to stay, Muay thai Classes to teach, and is constantly huslting to make things happen for me in MMA. Terere, Birrinho, and Nogueira from FT/Cantagalo. Vlademir from Ribeiro BJJ. Achilles, Rodrigo, and Nabala from Checkmat. Perninha from Gordos and of course Dennis Asche from Connection Rio BJJ Hostel who was my safety net for moving here to Brazil. Connection Rio BJJ Hostels has, although often inadvertently, been a major supporters for Terere Kids Project. And of course, I can’t end without giving a special thanks and shout out to Rob O’Heran from MiKiDo Martial Arts in VA. A lot of people deal with me, but few actually understand. Especially since they don’t live the life, but Rob has been a great long distance coach, editor and therapist. Thanks for helping me stay centered on my pigmies!

Curitiba High Life

I met this dude while getting my hair done. He was
chilling at the Dread shop trying to acquire the funds 
to go compete in a competition that was in a different 
city later that day. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Sex on the Beach 2: FAVELA STYLE

He kept telling me to loosen up. Telling me that I was too closed and that I needed to relax. Well, I wasn’t sure exactly how I was supposed to relax considering he was sitting there 2 (very small) feet away from me.  Or at least he WAS because he soon found an excuse to edge his way next to me on the mats (yeah that’s right I have mats at my house and ingeniously hid my bed behind my desk so that visitors don’t take liberties on my bed like this fool was taking on my mats!).

I’m not exactly sure why the hell I even let him in my house. I can’t deny the things he was saying were making complete sense. I really did need to loosen up. My physical therapist, and masseuse tell me the same thing all the time; I'm too tense. Considering I am always trying to avoid some kind of unwanted physical contact, whether it be getting my guard passed in training, or a friendly hug that is lasting entirely too long, it just comes as second nature to treat all physical contact as a potentially hostile threat (probably indicative of some psychological damage I'm inflicting on myself but oh well I love what I do). 

Connection Rio 
my home away from home
All physical contact should be handled 
with hostility, especially at Connection Rio,
cause seriously he should just slap me!

I thought of my friends, A and J, who would be flooded with words or know exactly what to say. Better yet, they would know exactly who he was because they grew up together there in Galo.

So maybe that why I let him in, maybe it was a subconscious effort to try and be more social and integrate myself into the community. To not feel so isolated all of the time.

I often wonder what it would be like to shed my gringo skin and see the favela through the Cria perspective. Maybe then I would be more relaxed with him instead of internally slapping myself across the head for letting a drug dealer in my house. Maybe then he would just be a dumb kid from down the street and then maybe words would flow easier and I would have something to say to him.

Tudo 2 (all 2) is something I used to say all the time. Then my friend 
from Nova Uniao swore to me it was a gang phrase from my neighborhood. 
 Well if they can put it on a wall than it can stay in my vocab! 

But unfortunately that is not the case. I didn’t know him (despite seeing him everyday). So, I’m sitting about a foot away from this guy with one knee up and hands positioned to deflect any attempt to either pass or worse ENTER my guard. Just to be thorough, I made sure to keep my knee “live” or turned out and kept my hand close to my ankle to avoid it getting snatched up and me being laid out on my back (since I’m so small, people take advantage of any minor flaw in my posture to muscle me onto my back and pass my guard). Despite the attention to detail that I put into my posture, my girl Claudinha always tells me the best defense is offense, so any attempts to kiss me where going to be met swiftly and violently with an elbow.

Yes, that’s actually what I was thinking about while this guy was talking to me.
No, I’m not exaggerating not even in the slightest.

Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t actually scared of him. He was a drug dealer, true, but he had gone home and dropped off his bag of drugs before coming over and from what I could tell there was no gun under his thin, white Nike T-shirt. So, no, I wasn’t scared of him, we just had a severe conflict of interests that were eventually going to clash (titan style). In a short period of time, I was going to want to go to bed because I had wrestling in the morning and he... well he wanted to get a little wrestling done then and there. So there I sat tense AF!

I’m not sure what the hell I’m supposed to say to this guy and it wasn’t just the language barrier, we just didn’t have much in common. Tomorrow I was going to get up and go train wrestling, Jiu Jitsu, and Muay Thai. He, on the other hand, was going to sit for 12 hours and watch for police. He likes to go out and dance… and I want to be a world champion.

View from Terere's room in Galo of  neighoring favelas 
pavao/pavaozinho and Copacabana beach

Maybe I’m just as bad as he was. Maybe I was just playing with him. I knew why he was there, but I was curious to see how he was going to go about his business. I didn’t want to generalize and stick all Brazilians in a box so I gave him a chance to escape from his little box where I had neatly compartmentalized him and brushed him off as with most male suiters that come my way. 

He didn’t do much to restore my faith, instead he proceeded along the normal script, “Loosen up, lighten up, let things flow.” I’m tired of hearing that shit. Actions speak louder than words and so far I have yet to meet someone who I can let my guard down around. The fact that they never actually "let things flow doesn’t help either"! Instead they persist with one advance after another until I’m ready to grab my mouth guard and hand wraps.  

I will admit, however, that while I don't agree with the Brazilian propensity to wantonly sleep around, they are straight forward and direct. They don't beat around the bush or make promises they never intend to fulfill. They tell you straight up what they want and they don't bother to sugarcoat it with trips to movies or any other sort of romantic endeavor.

So naturally, when some non Brazilian offered to walk to the entrance of the favela (which is feared by most gringos), I was caught off guard. I've become so jaded by the animalistic sex instincts that run rampant along the beaches of Rio that if someone where to go so far as open a car door for me I might literally drop dead of a heart attack... and/or suspicion!

My bro
Terere and his badassery before class!

So here I am today. Almost a year later (with not much success since) receiving relationship advice from my bro and BJJ legend Fernando Terere:

“Oh so nothing happened? But did you grab the snake? He’ll change his game up once you go there”

Oh duh. Why didn’t I think about that? Instead of sulking around the fringes of the dreaded “friend zone” I should have just grabbed his Johnson and immediately dispelled any unnecessary doubts!

To be continued: 
Sex on the Beach 3: 'Murica

Fun from the Favela

a little look into the cut of the Cantagalo Favela. This is a house that was built by a friend of mine and parent of one of the kids at the social project. They used to live in a cement house with the rest of their family (a good 6-7 people including kids in a small room) and build this house down here to be able to have some privacy. This is more than one house.