Rio. Week 1

It’s been a very intense week full of good and bad emotions.

I arrived on Saturday night and I went out with my Brazilian friend Werther just to get something for dinner. I got to meet my roommates, lovely people –I feel incredibly lucky for this.

And on Sunday we went to Copacabana market and beach. I had a fantastic day with some of the volunteers and we had dinner at a place nearby.

The hotel is located in Santa Teresa neighbourhood, which is not too bad, and our hotel is on top of the hill so we don’t get noise or many people around. It’s quiet and nice.

On Monday we –the new volunteers and I – had an introduction to Felipe, the organiser who explained what our projects would consist of. Then Felipe showed us around and we did a small tour around the area. He showed us where to get food and exchange money.

On Tuesday I got up at 6 to start my project. I am working in a favela called Batam teaching English to people from 9 to 64 years old. It’s normally a small group of no more than 15 people. There is a lesson in the morning and another one at night. And although they are keen on learning English, they sometimes don’t make it to come more than 2 times a week so the lessons’ pace is slow and it gets a bit repetitive.

On Wednesday there was only one student… Two teachers for one student. Apparently every Monday and Wednesday is like that. I felt incredibly frustrated. It is impossible to teach because the other teacher does not want to divide the lesson so it was like a fight for teaching. I gave up.

Nobody has ever complaint or tried to do anything about it. I was the first one, and that got me into trouble. “This is your second day here and you’re complaining already. If you don’t like the way we do things here then leave!”. Having heard this from just a volunteer like me made me really mad, so I left. I came to Rio to help, to feel useful, not to see how someone is teaching while I look at the ceiling. She was shouting at me as if I were an obstacle. I didn’t reply and just left the place on my own.

On Thursday that woman and I took the bus together with another two volunteers. The buses here do not have any suspension or shock absorber so it’s like a rollercoaster at 7.30 in the morning, right after the breakfast. Anyway, she went to sit really far from us. After an hour and a half the bus was absolutely crowded. One of the volunteers told me we where getting close to my favela, and the lady next to her confirmed it. She then told me to get off the bus on the next stop, so I went to the doors and waited. The bus stopped for a second but the doors didn’t open. Then after a while stopped again and I got off. But I was the only one. I looked to my right and left. I was completely lost, and there was no sign of that German woman that I worked with. I was in the middle of a massive road surrounded by favelas. Even though it was really hot I felt shivering cold, I was absolutely terrified and scared to death. I had no phone to call anyone, I didn’t know what to do or where to go and I had no escape of the situation or control of it at all.

I looked at the people around me. There was a lady waiting for another bus. She looked genuinely nice and I went to ask her in my best Portuguese trying not to look like a “gringa” too much although my platinum blonde hair was not helping. She explained me that I had missed the stop, that in order to get to Batam I had to walk back. I could not believe it, I was really confused. Did the German miss the bus stop as well? Of course she did, the doors didn’t open at any other point. Oh well. She said “you have to walk around 15 min in that direction and you will be there. Pass three bridges and right after the third one…” In my mind I was just thinking “thank God I’m Spanish and I can communicate and understand Portuguese”.

When she finished the explanations a tear dropped from my eye and she smiled at me. She asked if I was scared. I nodded my head and she told me that her son studied in Batam and that it was not dangerous, that I should not be scared. I thanked her and much more motivated I started my way to the favela. I walked through lots of houses and little shops; I was walking really fast and trying not to look at anyone in the eyes but trying to watch out and be cautious at the same time. It was all men all the time. In some areas three or four working on something, in some others just one at their door. I saw another man sitting on a horse carriage. I was amazed, I must admit. It was just like being in another century.

I passed the third bridge and had to ask someone so I simply asked for the favela by saying its name. A really nice man offered to take me to the right place. He stopped working on an old bike and took his bicycle so he could come back to his work faster. He positioned the bicyclein between us and started making conversation. I said I was a teacher and he replied with the name of that German woman. I said yes very enthusiastically and happy that he knew about us. When we got there I thanked him a lot and I saw him riding back.

To my surprise, the German woman was there already having a coffee and laughing with some workers of the favela. She saw me and stopped smiling. She came to me and said, “I tried to stop the bus. You didn’t get off at the right one!” At this point I was massively confused and asked her what happened. She then explained that it’s not that the doors didn’t open, but only one of the doors would open at that bus stop. The other ones near where I was sitting wouldn’t. She didn’t let me know. She pretty much let me get lost in a strange favela neighbourhood. She was too angry and had too much pride to be kind enough to let me know. Great. I was lucky that nothing happened to me, and she was childish for letting her emotions go first instead of being sensible enough to let me know. It was not reasonable at all; she had no empathy and had been cruel to me.

I though about those words, “I tried to stop the bus”. Liar. I would have heard it, she didn’t shout at me “it’s this one” or to the driver “open the other doors”. I was not able to see her because of the crowd but she didn’t try to let me know in any way.

I acted really laid back about it and I continued with my work as normal. I taught them the verb to be and some adjectives and the students were really focused on learning and paid a lot of attention. I felt accomplished for being alive and being able to be a great teacher after what happened. It felt great.

The German woman apologised after the lesson and I accepted her apologies. I did not want to cause any drama so I just didn’t talk about it with anyone.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday: My weekend had just started. I had great plans of going to Paraty or Ilha Grande with other volunteers but unfortunately our lack of organisation and the bad weather left us with no plans. I went with Werther, my Brazilian friend to see the Sugar Loaf, went on the cableway and took pictures of the panoramic view of the city before and after sunset. Rio is a beautiful city.

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Monica S.

Journalist, activist, thinker. MA in international Journalism. Life is better with a dog.

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