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Some people know exactly where they’re going and some don’t. I have never ridden with a plan and and so I don’t have any real way to know if things are running according to it.
I had thought for a while that I might ride my bike north from Brazil, via Argentina and Paraguay, ending up in Venezula, perhaps by way of Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana. That would have given my America experience a superficial air of completeness. But when my time finally came to leave Brazil, I found that it wasn’t what I really wanted to do.
You’d be right in thinking that you haven’t seen much about cycling here on this blog for while. And I guess we might have to talk about that eventually. But trust me, bicycles and the people who love them are still an important part of my life.
And then finally I put my bike in a box and flew to Sydney.
Staying still allows a different view of the world. You get to watch plants growing, for example. And when a slightly misguided pair of sparrows decides that under a lettuce in the kitchen garden is just the right place for raising a family then you get the chance to watch baby birds hatch and fledge.
I don’t have the words to try to explain any of this.
While the bulk of my Brazilian past resides in Eldorado I do have a reasonably extensive history with São Paulo proper, too. During my three and a half year stint as a volunteer at ACER I made regular forays into the city.
This trip between the periphery and the centre is so expensive and logistically complicated that many people who live in communities such as Eldorado never venture into São Paulo.* The one and half to two hour journey goes something like this: catch a rickety crowded bus from Eldorado to the terminal in Diadema, from there change to the trolley bus which will take you to Jabaquara, São Paulo’s southernmost Metro station. Once on the Metro system you can move faster and with a change or two of Metro lines, or perhaps an additional bus, you can get to pretty much anywhere in the city but it’s going to set you back at least R$6 each way. To put this in perspective, the minimum monthly wage in Brazil is under R$800 reais and many people are earning far far less.
Like most people who do make the trip regularly my motivation was primarily financial – the city is where the money is. Teaching English to the São Paulo’s wealthy business elite in the city’s endless sea of skyscrapers bankrolled my more heartfelt work in Eldorado. The city centre is also where you are going to find all those trappings of middle-class life – you know, bookshops, cinemas, swimming-pools, art galleries, parks, restaurants, that kind of thing – that are so easy to take for granted if you have the good fortune to be born into them.
As with revisiting Eldorado, I find that returning to São Paulo is a little uncanny. It’s as though I had just slipped away for a matter of minutes.
(*The reverse trip from the centre to the periphery is unthinkable. Few people living in central São Paulo would dream of an outing to the outlying communities. Fear is a common denominator but the reasoning is quite different.)
But for all its troubles São Paulo is a one of the world’s great cities, a universe unto itself, with a diversity and vibrancy to rival places like London and New York. São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, not to mention large populations of Italians, Syrians, Lebanese, Koreans and all the post-World War II European migrants. And then there are Brazil’s contemporary and historical African connections – represented by groups of Angolan and Nigerian migrants as well as the huge population of native Afro-Brazilians.
São Paulo is a place where you can easily dine on any cuisine in the world that you wish and indulge in any kind of culture that interests you.
Over the other side of São Paulo in a less salubrious inner city neighbourhood I visit a few more galleries, including one housed in the building formally used by the Department of Social and Political Order of São Paulo State, one of the most brutal political police forces active in Brazil during the military regime. These rooms, where people were detained, tortured and killed, are now home to the Memorial da Resistência de São Paulo where permanent and temporary exhibitions focusing on human rights abuses and encouraging social resistance to them are shown.
Between the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2005 I lived and worked in São Paulo and so coming back to Brazil is a homecoming of sorts for me. I have a real history here – there are people and places that I know and that know me.
São Paulo is one of the world’s biggest cities and it can be hard not to reach out for a string of cliched generalities to describe it. But when you’re talking about a city of over twenty million inhabitants in a country which has one of the biggest inequalities of income distribution in the world it is probably best just to stick to talking about what you know and the part of Brazil I know best is Eldorado.
Eldorado is a community on the southern outskirts of the city, on the very edge of the D of São Paulo’s ABCD peripheries. While the official city of São Paulo ends with the Metro lines and is home to a mere 10 million people or so the crazily dense urban sprawl doesn’t stop there. There is A is for Santo André, B for São Bernardo, C for São Caetano and D for Diadema. Diadema means crown and Eldorado, the fabled golden city of myth, is its hinterland, a double irony that is probably not lost on the community’s inhabitants.
My work in Eldorado between 2001 and 2005 was with children and teenagers and so coming back ten years later I am pretty sure that at least some things will have changed considerably. I am particularly keen to catch up with a group of twelve young people who took part in a photographic project I ran in 2004 called Searching for Eldorado. I manage to contact about half of the participants of this project and meet with three of them but in the course of my search I run into quite a few other familiar faces.
In 2004, Dayana told parts of her story here.
Some things change and some things stay the same. ACER (that would be CARF, Children at Risk Foundation, in English), the NGO where I used to work, has changed premises but the new building is only half a block from the old one.
ACER’s mission is to promote community well-being by attending to the well-being of its children. Its programmes break entrenched inter-generational cycles of violence using a range of creative methods to model and teach new more positive ways of interacting.
It’s been a long pause and I offer no excuses. By way of explanation, I can only say that my life has taken a turn that I don’t particularly wish, for the moment, to hold up to public scrutiny. I’m not being secretive it just doesn’t seem to be of broad or absorbing interest to anyone but me.
UPDATE: In view of a few comments expressing concern in response to the statement above I’m publishing a few reassuring photos. I’m fine. Really.