My first week volunteering finished without any major setbacks on Thursday afternoon. Waking up everyday at 7am wouldn’t normally sound particularly appealing to me, but I absolutely love working with the kids every day. The bus journeys are even fun, and that’s something I didn’t think I’d be able to say, but being the most violently and aggressively driven vehicles ever, the Cariocan bus drivers certainly keep the passengers on the edge of their seats. Lunch is amazing, an all you can eat restaurant in the favela for about the equivalent of £4 offers the most amazing variety of local foods in a buffet, everything tastes so good! Apart from attempting to equal the football skills of kids less than half my age, possibly the most fun I have is in trying to overcome the language barrier when speaking to the children. Through using a combination of overly dramatic hand gestures, jumping around, shouting, and repeating the same thing until I was given a thumbs up certainly tests your patience but there’s nothing better than having a normal conversation with them, they’re always so happy! Sharing my week with kids is such a privilege, I couldn’t think of being in a better place at the moment.
Our ‘working’ week finishes on Thursday, and on Friday most of our house ended up going to Ipanema beach on the south coast of the city. First impressions? Spending time on the beach is obviously high on the Carioca’s agenda and is clearly cemented in their way of life. Amongst the thousands of people enjoying the sun and the sea, there are many who make their living on the beaches of Rio. Every hundred yards or so there are stalls selling drinks and barbecued food and let you set up a tab to cover whatever you buy throughout the day. There are vendors walking amongst the towels and umbrellas selling anything from grilled halloumi to bikinis with sales pitches to rival the one pound fish man. The women wear the most ridiculous excuses for bikinis, but who am I to complain? I’m pretty sure you’d find more fabric in a shoelace than in their swimwear but unfortunately it’s almost the same for men, a day at the beach requires nothing more than speedos and a pair of Havaianas. The water was the perfect temperature and the waves were so much fun, I’ve never been to such an amazing beach with such a great atmosphere! There are beach volleyball courts marked out all along the beach, but of course football replaces volleyball and I could spend hours watching the most intuitive shapes these people make to get the ball back over the net.
Friday night was my first night out here, what better way is there to experience the people and culture of a new city? We headed down to Lapa, a district 5 minutes walk from where we are staying. The place had been completely transformed since I walked through earlier in the day, and hundreds of stalls lined the streets selling all kinds of street food and drinks. The walls echoed the sound of samba bands playing in the streets, each with their own cluster of keen and impressive samba dancers surrounding them. I was as if everyone’s movements in the area were defined by the drum beats, a truly amazing experience! After having a drink or two in Lapa, we ended up in a club not far from where we were. On entry we were frisked and handed a card which the cost of our drinks would be added to and we were expected to pay for our entire night as we left the club later on. Everything went according to plan until everyone was leaving the club and it became clear that not everyone had understood the payment system. I only had to pay 69 Reals but aone of us had managed to lose his card and another had left the house with 40 Reals and owed over 250. Things seemed to get heated pretty quickly and everyone was shouting in different languages but after about an hour or so everyone was allowed to leave, getting home just in time for breakfast at 7am…
I was woken on Saturday by a phonecall from my project coordinator with news that I would be able to go on a trip with the kids from my favela in the afternoon to watch a Ligo do Brasil football match at the Maracanã stadium! I felt like I used to feel as a little kid on Christmas Eve. It was Children’s Day in Rio, and when we arrived in my favela the roads were closed to traffic and children were running around, bouncing on trampolines and the sound of fun and laughter echoed through the tiny alleyways of the Community. We were to take about 40 boys and girls to the football, so making sure everyone was there and loading them onto the bus was time consuming and stressful, but I think I was just as excited as all the 10 year olds. The street party continued on the bus, and into the football stadium as games and other activities were organised for the kids by the staff at the stadium. Good god they can dance!
The stadium itself was even more spectacular than I had expected, and though less than half full during the game the atmosphere was fantastic. I can only imagine what it would be like at the World Cup next year with a capacity of 100,000! Witnessing Fluminense draw 1-1 at home to Grêmio was made even better by sitting with the kids, who even at such a young age were clearly so passionate about their national sport and became increasingly animated as the noise of the stadium around them grew over the course of the match.
The journey back home from the stadium was pretty surreal, we took the metro closer to the centre of town and then decided to get a mototaxi back to the house. Clinging on to the back of a motorbike was always going to be exciting, but with no helmet (sorry mum) and racing riders, it was an experience I won’t forget!