I think this will balance out my previous post, or as my boyfriend refers to it, the "death entry". I believe I've turned a page. I just got back from my first outing (interview) as a reporter.
Yes, a reporter. I'm working on my first assignment as a contributing reporter for the Rio Times, Rio's only English-language newspaper. While this is not a full-time job from which I'll make a living, it's certainly an opportunity to write and to be published-- by someone other than myself, that is. Plus it's a chance to dive deeply into some topics of my interest, giving my plans for Brazil considerable leverage. I met with the publisher/editor yesterday, and after a very pleasant meeting we agreed that my first article will discuss recent pacification efforts by the police in the favela (shantytown) where I volunteered in 2006. This morning I made a few phone calls and by 1:30 p.m. I was heading up the mountain on my way to interview Carlos. Sorry, Mom.
A little background: The NGO/school where I volunteered, Solar Meninos de Luz, serves the Pavão-Pavãozinho and Cantagalo favelas in the mountainous terrain that separates Rio's famous Copacabana and Ipanema neighborhoods. For the last 30 years, these favelas, which are essentially one large, connected community, have been controlled by drug and arms trafficking. In the last two months, the drug lords have been pushed out and are no longer dictating life there.
As part of the government's policy to heighten security in preparation for the 2016 Olympics, the police have already invaded and installed Pacification Police Units (UPP) in five communities including Cantagalo/Pavão-Pavãozinho, with plans to set up units in 100 favelas by the end of the year. In the past the police would invade and then leave, which ultimately did nothing to curb drug trafficking. Now the UPP are setting up permanent bases in the favelas to run the criminals out and keep them out. Whether or not this will work is questionable, given that the police corruption has traditionally played a significant role in trafficking here, but for the moment things are peaceful.
I was blown away by how much things have changed in three years. The metro (subway) system, which until recently only operated in the lower-middle class neighborhoods of the north part of the city unknown to most tourists, has opened two new stations in Copacabana and Ipanema. This has cleaned up and modernized various street corners that in the past I avoided whenever I could. I took the Sa Ferreira exit at the Ipanema station, which dumped me at entrance to the favela closest to Solar-- very convenient. (Favelas that have developed on mountainsides generally have one or two main roads and several staircases along the face of the mountain that lead into the community.) The hike up the endless staircase into the community remains the same, but it seemed a bit sunnier and more colorful and also less intimidating. There was a policeman standing at the entrance keeping watch, and the energy of the people walking in and out seemed lighter and less aggressive. I was received warmly at Solar by people I'd never met but that were thrilled that a former volunteer had returned for a visit. They filled me in on the school's developments over the last few years and offered their positive opinions about how the UPP presence is affecting the community. After a little over an hour I concluded the visit and made my way back to the metro, marveled by how natural it felt to be there again and filled with a sense of satisfaction, renewed energy and purpose.
OK, enough blogging. Time to start working on the article. Look for it as of Wednesday: http://riotimesonline.com!