I must confess: I’ve never lived in a place where the power cuts out on a fairly regular basis for no apparent reason at all. A big snowstorm…power lines down…lights go out…that makes sense to my northeastern sensibilities. However, there seems to be emerging a pattern of “random” power outages every week or two that are completely unrelated to the weather. This past Thursday, on an absolutely beautiful and clear Amazonian night, the power cut out around 9:30…why? I couldn’t tell you. It just happened. All I can tell you is that it’s hot here. Fans stop working. Have you ever tried sleeping in 85 + degree…99% humidity weather without a fan? Not a good time. You might wonder…can’t you just leave the windows open? Well no. Mosquitoes will eat you alive and when it rains you’re room will get nice and damp. If you’re lucky the power cuts out at during the day and you can sit around reading a book (or an e-book). If it’s past 9 P.M…well you’re “bleep” outta luck and you’re in for a nice, sweaty night of sleep baking in your rede. On the positive side I’ve found that the outages don’t really bother me as much as they used to…like so many strange happenings here you just have to accept the nuisances that come your way, shrug your shoulders, and either take a nap or go to bed.
…literally just as I was writing this post the power went completely out in the Paraíso shopping center…gotta love it. Pitch black in here. Two power outages in little more than three days. How apropos…
Police Violence in Brazil:
Sometimes the weightiest conversations occur when you least expect them. Such was the case two Sundays ago when Donovan, Dan, and myself sat down for a pleasant breakfast and cafezinho in Alter do Chão before our big hike up Mount Alter (I just made that name up…but again…it’s my blog). I’ve been waiting to discuss this conversation for two unrelated reasons: first, because I needed to research the veracity of the police officer’s statements before I relayed them to you and second…I was fairly sure you all would stop reading my previous couple of posts if I rambled on too long (any blog post more than 2000 words and I even get bored reading my own stuff!).
In any event, as I sat there pleasantly sipping sweet coffee on a quiet Sunday in Alter do Chão, I all of sudden heard a voice from behind me say in English “Where are you guys from?” I quickly turned my head and there stood a guy (who appeared to be about my age) dressed in a military police uniform with a gun on his hip and a smile on his face. He quickly started up a conversation with us (he was rather excited to practice English) and we began talking about why the three of us were in Brazil and how on Earth we found ourselves in Santarém (the usual fair of questions). After a bit of banter we shifted the conversation towards the officer and his life in the military police. He told us that he was born in Santarém but had served in the military police in Belém, Belo Horizonte, Rio and São Paulo. It was at this point that Dan asked him “So how are you liking your job working in Santarém and Alter do Chão?…they seem pretty different from those other places.” To this, with little or no thought or all, he responded, “It’s way better working here…it’s a much calmer job. For every one person I have to kill here I had to kill 10 people in Rio or São Paulo…there’s a lot more to do in those places.” I’ll let that sink in for a moment…
Needless to say, I think the three of us were completely caught off guard. At first I tried to convince myself that the officer was just trying to impress us by coming off as a tough guy or something. However, after sitting there in dumbfounded silence for a minute or two (me…silent…shocking right?), I realized that what disturbed me so greatly was how passively he talked about this aspect of his job. In retrospect, it became clear that he really wasn’t trying to impress us at all. He seemed genuinely sincere about the fact that life is better in Santarém because he doesn’t have to kill as many people (which of course still means that killing people is part of his job). Nonetheless, I couldn’t (and still can’t) help but feel profoundly troubled by how nonchalantly he talked taking other people’s lives. No matter how much I’ve tried to put myself in his shoes, I simply cannot imagine having to do that as part of my job. I’d never be able to sleep at night. While he did say that police life was better in Santarém, he still struck me (and all of us it turned out when talked about it afterwards) as extremely desensitized to the violence of police work in Brazil. He also talked about the numbers of police killings in the big cities and summed up his thoughts on the matter by saying “work in the big cities is a lot less relaxed.” Even though the young officer was exceedingly friendly (we kept talking with him for a good 30 minutes), I’d be lying if I said I didn’t walk away from that conversation feeling deeply confused and concerned about what I had just heard.
Anyways, I’ve since researched police killings in Brazil and here are some of the (published) facts:
- According to Human Rights Watch police in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo were responsible for more than 11,000 extrajudicial killings between 2003 and 2009 (using government statistics)…many of the killings were “execution style.”
- Apparently police in the state of Rio killed one person for every 23 people they arrested in 2008 and police in the state of Sao Pãulo killed one person for every 348 people they arrested in that same year. In comparison…police in the U.S killed one person for every 37,000 people they arrested in 2008.
- The Brazilian government and the police forces contend that most of these killings take place in the heat of battle with gangs and drug cartels in the favelas. However, many NGOs and international human rights organizations argue that the execution nature of many of the killings strongly contradicts the “self-protection” storyline.
…Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attain statistics about police killings in our part of Brazil (although I’m going to keep searching). Nonetheless, some of these facts would seem to support the officer’s story about police work in Brazil’s big cities. Very scary and troubling stuff indeed. Police violence is definitely something I’m going to look into further and I’ll make sure to report back to you once I’m more informed on the matter.
- The Alenquer trip had to be postponed due to a combination of logistical problems and extreme Amazon boat fatigue (Fishguy Dan had spent five out of the past seven days cramped on a boat…totally understandable)…the weekend was spent hanging out during the day (shocking I know) and learning how to properly dance Forro at night. Check pluses all around.
- My first “Andy in Charge” (GASP) English conversation classes start this week. As of now I have 25 people signed up. I am both nervous…and excited…nervcited you might say.
- Less than three months until the big trip…but who’s counting?
- Not gonna lie…my Boston Sports forced withdrawal went into high gear this week. With playoffs and major games happening…not getting to be in my element kind of sucks. Instead of everybody cheering with me (home) or hating me for my sports allegiances (Chicago)…nobody here cares…and it’s absolutely no fun.
- Best Brazilian Desert: Brigadeiros…and it’s not even close in my opinion. Condensed milk, chocolate, butter, and sprinkles all rolled up into a ball of deliciousness. I am 100% committed to learning how to make them properly before I return stateside. Loyal readers…you should be excited…this acquired skill just might benefit your stomach when I get back.
- We finally got our landlord to move the massive piles of dirt sitting right outside our house that they promised to clear six weeks ago when we moved in. The guy they hired decided that throwing all of the dirt over the wall into the abandoned house’s yard was an appropriate solution to the problem. Literally…he just tossed it over the wall. Absurdly absurd. Talk about just passing the issue on to somebody else…even in the most culturally relativistic world that still ain’t right. Here he is…mid-toss…this may be one of the greatest photos I have snapped since I’ve been down here…
- I managed to get attacked by Brazilian fire ants…AND stung by a very unfriendly wasp this past Saturday…lots of big, red, ITCHY welts everywhere. Ohhhhh the simple pleasures of Amazonian life.
Tune in next week to hear more about an increasingly hostile bunch of ants…in my pants…in my shoes…in my computer…in my hammock…in my backpack…and in just about every other place possible…and other exciting developments from the life and times of Andy in the Amazon.
P.S GO BRUINS!
P.S.S Donovan and I sat and watched our resident ant colony move a cookie crumb for a solid 20 minutes yesterday. I am both amused and horrified to report this. #SIMPLE DAYS AND SIMPLER PLEASURES