We had reached the castle- the ruin, the relic, the graffiti-covered-crumbling-skeleton-of-a-building-with-geometric-cut-out-windows, where the breeze from the lake was finally able to reach us.
We had reached this place after walking through part of a favela in what used to be the most violent area of the world, but has since changed due to the efforts of community initiatives. We were matched with a local host; a 16 year-old girl whose eyes we were instructed to see from. We passed a dog with a clearly broken leg, who staggered to move as we approached. We climbed steep, half-paved unfinished-government-project-streets, our translator sweating and out of breath from the stream of questions and answers trying to move through her.
“We are poets and composers”-the two men accompanying us, both whom worked for community initiatives in the region. One, a hip-hop music aficionado, aimed to connect young people through dance and music. He spoke of a church that opened up its basements to MC rap battles due to the efforts of a pastor. The other man created a soccer and reading program to further a culture of literacy, and asked us about the experience of moving through school in the United States.
Fast forward in the conversation and we are discussing the lack of fit of imposed public school curricula to the unique passions and needs of the children moving through the school system. Zooming out to “what is the purpose of education” and “is the education system serving this purpose”, the consensus reached is that “it could”. He spoke of a municipal school that was able to accomplish this “could” mostly through the single handed efforts of a change-making principal. I scribbled down information to conduct further research.
So here we stood, in this crumbling-building-skeleton, speaking about education inequality amidst spider webs my near-ceiling-height-lanky-form was eying. There was an atmosphere of mutual interest and sincerity, making eye contact while not understanding and then understanding through translation, then making eye contact and speaking without being understood, and then being understood through translation.
The crumbling building was a place members of the community visit, grounded in myths about its incomplete-ness. One tells of it as a brothel-casino visited by boats and abandoned, another of a child falling to its death during construction and the family subsequently abandoning the site.
This beautiful location is tiny microcosm of the vast expanse that makes up the Brazilian favelas. Red brick, waved tin roofs, enough structure to hint at permanence, dogs and damaged dogs, art, graffiti, graffiti that is art, clothes hanging on lines, pink children’s shirts, shit, mosaics, trash, people, humans, guitar music, laughter, wide-eyed ten year olds asking to practice their English on you, men with drugs in their hands-showing off, holes in walls like bit-off crackers, renovated and impressive tiled-green bathrooms, soccer on concrete, and people and life and people.