Monday, April 19, 2010

Difficult Decisions

I walk through the community everyday and meet many people. I love living here becase one almost never gets lonely. All I need do is open my door, walk out and I meet people. With 300.000 people here I certainly do not know everybody. But many people know me becase I have been on tv a few times talking about my music and some of the projets I am making here in the favela.

About 3 months ago I met this guy at the mototaxi stand in the Via Apia. He started to ask me about my tattoos. He is a guy about 21 years old. I will call him Mario. My friend Grey from Australia told me about Mario a few weeks before. Mario works as a lookout for the gang here in the favela. At first I did not know this. But after talking with Grey and seeing his radio on his hip, I figured this had to be the same guy. Most of the guys who work in the gang are serios and do not talk much with the residents. Mario is different. I have seen him in his spot next to the restarant on the lookout for any possible threat to their business. He always greets me with a friendly “hello”. And he asks how I am doing.

One day while at the taxi stand Mario commented on one of the t-shirts I made. The shirt has a gun diagonally placed on the front with the words “Rocinha, Respeita O Poder”. He really liked this shirt and wanted to know how he could get one. He wants me to make him a shirt. This is not the first time but its different becase he works with the ruling gang here in the favela. Everybody wants a t-shirt from me, but I am not rich. I can not do this for everybody.

How do I feel about this situation? Its complicated becase when you live in the favela, these guys live here too. I do not fear them becase I have never done anything to have fear of them. I do not use drugs so what do I need fear. I am a worker like most the residents here. Many of the guys in the gang like me and say hello. But this guy I am talking about, goes out of his way now to stop me and want to talk. I guess he is curios about my work.

Interesting how life evolves in the favela. I saw Mario about 3 weeks ago without the radio on his hip. I asked him if was working and he told me that he left the gang. In the favelas, you can leave the gang if you find a normal job. You just have to never talk about your activities while you were in the gang. The gang here is not like others where you can never get out. There are always people wanting to join the gang becase it is about economics. When you are poor and favelado and feel you have no other options, you find work where you can. I make no judgement as I am far from perfect and I once was one of them becase I too, sold drugs.

So, Mario told me that he found work as a cobrador or a person who collects money working with the vans that transport people in and out of the favela. I was happy for him and he seemed happy too. It’s not often guys leave the gang as earning money being from the favela is not easy, or you get paid very poorly if you work outside the favela.

About 10 days ago during that 4 days where we had a lot of flooding here in Rio, I was walking through the Valao. The Valao is one of the poorer areas of Rocinha at the bottom of the hill. It’s called the Valao becase there is a open sewer system that runs down the middle of the street. The word vala means ditch and valao means big ditch.

As I was walking through the Valao, I heard a voice call out to me and it was Mario. He was hanging out with another guy chatting and he called me over. He asked me about the design he wanted for the t-shirt. I was surprised becase he told me he left the gang to work with the vans. He told me to turn around and look across the alleyway. I did and saw a .762 automatic machine gun propped up on the sidewalk. He smiled, and I asked if he was back with the gang and he said yes. I just replied “ok”. What am I supposed to say? This is his life and he knows what the gang life is about. Sad thing is I like the guy becase he is friendly and treats everybody with respect. I wish him the best and just hope eventually that he can find a better line of work.

Recently after a police invasion about 1 month ago, the guys have been setting up kind of a checkpoint in the favela. If I am walking down the hill from my house, the checkpoint is right by the Casa da Paz, right before reaching the Curva do “S”. The gang has several guys there with machine guns and other weapons. Today, one guy was carrying a rocket launcher. And there seemed to be more guys there today. Usually there are about 6 or 8 of them but today I saw at least 15 of them. Maybe they are preparing or expecting another invasion. The checkpoints are to see who is coming and going in the favela. Every car and van is looked over. If you plan to drive through Rocinha it is best to have all your windows open. They mostly stop taxis and vans that do not look familiar. But they do not stop the car for long. They just kind of look in the car briefly and let the car go. This checkpoint is set up after dark. There is another checkpoint at the top of the hill as well in the area called 99. So both entrances are watched by the gang.

So, today while walking down the main street here in Rocinha, I stop into my favorite market to say hello to this girl who I know. On my way out I meet a few other friends and continue on. As a said before, you cannot get lonely in this place. As I am walking by the checkpoint I hear Mario call my name. everybody here has apelidos, or nicknames. For people who do not know my name but try to get my attention, they call me “Rocinha” . I see Mario sitting in the middle of the street with his 14kg .762 machine gun. I go into the middle of the street where he is sitting. He reaches out his hand. I shake it. He asks me about the design I am making for him. I told him that I made him two that he can chose from. At the time I had nothing planned, so I jumped on a bike and went to my house to grab the designs for him. I returned gave them to him and he was happy. A couple other guys decided to come over and check them out and asked about if they could have designs. I just told them that to talk to Mario and I am sure they all can share. Before leaving, I told Mario to be careful with that thing (the thing being the heavy machine gun he had on his lap). He laughed and joked, “Ok daddy, I will”.

I really do not want to make this a habit as then everybody expects something from you all the time. There is only one me..But this is how the politics in the favela works.