They know how to celebrate…

20131014-080935.jpg

20131014-080836.jpg

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 Β£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 MaracanΓ£ 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 GrΓͺmio 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!

20131014-080332.jpg

20131014-080816.jpg

Standard

Exceeding expectations.

20131009-222542.jpg

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!

20131009-222434.jpg

Standard

Welcome to Rio!

20131007-225642.jpg

Flight was fine, didn’t sleep but can’t really complain. I was quite looking forward to walking through the arrivals area of the airport trying to find the person holding a piece of paper with my name on it, I imagined pretending to be someone of importance being collected by a suited gentleman driving a limousine. In reality, I was met by a man who I could only possibly begin to describe by comparing his appearance to the somewhat bulbous manager character out of Borat. Nevertheless, the man and his daughter were to provide me with my first Brazilian experiences. Though driving through the city in the dark, I learnt a few things very quickly, The people of Rio don’t wear seat belts, drive very quickly and prefer the sound of their car horn to their car stereo.
After arriving at what would be my home for the next month or so, I was quickly given a guided tour whilst meeting the other volunteers.
‘Orientation’ was booked in for the following morning, and the program organisers met us after breakfast and took us through the rules, regulations, dos and don’ts, tips and tricks, and shared their experiences living in Rio.
The stuff like the near inevitability of being pick pocketed or mugged, the language difficulties I’d encounter and the attitude of the local police were all things I had a good idea about before I came, but there were a few things which I found quite amusing. The street kids are deceptively cute, operate in packs and take advantage of tourists’ vulnerability in all the main areas like Copacabana. The plentiful and popular existence of ‘Love Houses’ made me laugh, for those who meet that special someone on a night out.
We were then taken on a bit of a tour around Central Rio, my identity as a Gringo (foreigner) was firmly cemented by his point, I felt like a circus animal but wearing houses and a hat.
Me and a few others left for Brazilian Portuguese lessons at our coordinator Vivian’s place. The two hours was the hardest i’d concentrated in a long time, but I enjoyed it a lot and despite being the beginner of the class it’ll definitely help improve my experience here. However, there were times where I revisited those horrible feelings of embarrassment, panic, fear and stupidity that we all experienced in school when the teacher picked on you for something you just didn’t have the answer to. Things can only get better!
Loving my time here so far, and today is my first shift on the project, so excited!

Standard

And away I go!

20131006-115126.jpg

So, here I am, sat in terminal 5 waiting to be called for my flight.
I can’t help but confuse the two most prominent emotions I’m experiencing at the moment – nervousness and excitement. I’m excited beyond belief about experiencing the city, experiencing the many different people I will encounter and meet, and excited about living in a city with such a fantastically iconic culture. I’m nervous about pretty much the same things, with the additional dose of fear and anxiety, but that can only be expected after watching ‘City of God’ a few nights ago…
Anyway, enjoying my experience so far – Heathrow provides the perfect scene for people watching.
I’ve cheekily tried twice, unsuccessfully, to upgrade my ticket for the flight, but probably because I’m pretty much wearing a track suit and should have been relegated to the luggage compartment.
I look forward to posting more pictures and writing about what I see and get up to!
Oh…. And those who follow Cara Delevigne on Instagram would have noticed that she too is enjoying Rio de Janeiro at the moment, expect to hear her announcing her engagement to me in the next few weeks. ❀ Cara Crabb.

Standard