Exceeding expectations.

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So, my first day at the sports project I’d be working at over the next few weeks. It turns out the bus drivers take the same initiative as the car drivers of the city, though being in a much bigger vehicle does make you feel a lot safer! I spent the journey speaking to one of the project coordinators about Rio and Brasil, how it is governed, policed and it’s history. The more I speak to this lady the more I seem to learn about how much is wrong with this country, giving me a much better understanding of all the rioting that we hear about on the news. The seriousness of it all appears to hit you a lot harder when you’re sharing your lunch table with three military policemen accompanied by their AK-47s, but more on this sort of thing later…
I arrived in the favela I would be working in and was surprised with how well established the main streets were with such an extensive array of shops. On my route in and out of the favela I pass a shop that sells chickens, a florist and the local football stadium – home to CR Vasco da Gama, one of the four main teams in Rio. I arrived at the favela’s community centre with the knowledge that I would be playing football with Brazilian children, but did not quite know who I was meeting or what to expect. I was met by a big group of local kids who excitedly introduced themselves to me in English, followed by a high-five and a fist bump. Having been introduced, I was ready to play football with the children of a country who has won the World Cup five times, were they as good as I thought they would be? Before lunch I had been nutmegged three times and I witnessed a nine year old boy score a bicycle kick.
After meeting the 2026 FIFA World Cup winners, an associate of the community centre asked if I could join a few other volunteers in demolishing one of the shacks in the favela. The single roomed structure that was no larger than a greenhouse that I had helped to tear down had been called home by a family of seven. The removal of the asbestos roofing and makeshift foundations had exposed the largest cockroaches and millipedes I had ever seen, whilst the amount of dust and debris enabled me to sympathise with Joe Hart, prior to his sponsorship deal with Head and Shoulders. As a fair haired and white Englishman walking through the narrow corridors of the favela with my arms stacked with asbestos and wood, I did inevitably attract some attention. Taking my shirt off probably didn’t help but hey, it was 28 degrees. The family we were working with were amazing and the kids were so friendly and talkative, even if I didn’t completely know what they were saying to me.
The next day at the project was a lot less strenuous, playing football with the locals, it was great fun and I met some more amazing kids. Every Wednesday morning a stripped out bus turns up in the main square of the favela, filled with fresh fruit and vegetables to sell to the local community – I tried my first guava!
I’m looking forward to my first night out here on Thursday night, and on to Copacabana beach at the weekend!

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