São Paulo’s got some dodgy areas you better not go into. That’s what people tell you.
I ended up spending 5 hours in one of these and this is how it happened. . .
I moved out of my flat because my rent has been increasing 10% each year. This is kind of normal in Brazil and I don’t like it. Considering my flat, which is not cheap, but is located in a nice “condominio” with a gym, various security guards, who make sure I can safely chill out at the pool and sweat without fear in my sauna, 10% more suck though. Irony intended.
I decided to move out.
I couldn’t really sell my furniture for reasonable prices, so I decided to give it away for free.
My „empegada“ who came every two weeks to clean my flat seemed to need some furniture and as I liked her a lot, I decided to give it to her.
She came by with her husband and they carried everything into a car and drove away with it. We were hugging each other- she cried and I cried too because she was crying and I knew that I wouldn’t see her again any time soon. And I hate goodbyes.
Weird shit, but some honest stuff.
Well, turns out I put my passport and my wallet with my credit cards into a backpack I cheerfully had told her to keep before.
She wrote me a message informing me she had my stuff and I decided to drive to her place to get it back.
So far so good …
She gave me an address and I looked it up on google maps. Didn’t look like the best neighbourhood, but I felt adventurous and ordered an Uber. „Uber“ is forbidden in Germany, so I’ll quickly explain what it is:
You can order a car and some person will drive you there for not a lot of money. (In Brazil you pay around 10€ for 45 minutes).
As cabs are quite fancy, I figured it would be weird to arrive at her place in one of these and ordered my Uber. I quickly sent a message to my friend and colleague that I was on my way to get my stuff now. He knew where I was heading and had asked me to send him a message when I leave and when I am back.
„Congratulations! You’ve been matched with an Uber select without any further costs.“
A big white fancy car drove along the street to pick me up. The windows were bright and not darkened. I did not like that.
Enjoying my extra leg room and free candy I stopped questioning it soon and we headed to my cleaning lady‘s place.
My driver had an expensively smelling perfume on. He himself had not showered for ages and I could smell it. Reminded me of Brazilian politics.
„É muito ruim.“ my driver told me while we were driving though a really dodgy neighborhood.
I could see his point.
We were entering a favela.
He didn’t want to drive further up the favela and advised me to stop the ride.
I begged him to drive further because I needed my passport and stuff and he kind of agreed. Though i was feeling uncomfortable I was not scared. I was awake and excited.
We passed houses that were built with raw bricks and people were hanging out at the streets. Eyes were following my face. They might not have seen a gringo here yet.
Angry eyes. Curious eyes. Friendly eyes.
All of it.
I was being watched and I didn’t like it.
Neither did my driver.
I wanted him to drive on, so I didn’t utter any concern.
His hands were shaking.
I mean I could just turn around and drive back with him, I thought.
I remembered being in Java, Indonesia on a scooter at 4am with a stranger whose was was covered in some cloth. He had brought me up a volcano I had to climb up at night on my own (terrified, but determined) without a torch and without a phone.
I had walked up there and it was good.
I’ve done worse. I would be fine.
We arrived at her place and her whole family waited in front of the door with my stuff in their hands.
„Do you want to come in?“ they asked me in Portuguese.
I looked at the area. We were on top of a mountain. There were barely any roads and it was the poorest area I‘ve seen in São Paulo so far. I asked myself if that was the favela they had held my boss hostage a year ago.
I looked at their faces. They smiled and I felt so much love.
I decided to go in and told my driver that he can leave.
He did not.
And asked me to come back with him.
I did not.
I had brought a bottle of wine (which is MUIIITO caro in Brazil. The cheapest I used to drink was 12 dollars and I actually had never seen a cheaper one) and took it inside.
I could overlook the favela as I entered the room. They lived in two rooms. I saw my table, my old carpets, my sofa, Steven my mannequin, my wardrobe and all of the furniture I had given away. Apart from the stuff I had given her, there was not much else.
I felt home.
Her daughter came in dressed in a pullover that used to be mine.
She loved it.
Everything was so familiar.
My battery was running low and I switched my phone to airplane mode so I could leave before it got dark.
I asked if anyone had a charger, but they told me “No-one ever has iPhone chargers”. Of course. Normally it’s the other way round.
We started to drink wine, smoked and talked for hours and hours! I had the best time ever.
Everyone was so honest and loving!
They bought me cigarettes and even cut some mangoes and brought be bananas because I am allergic to milk.
They wanted to make me feel home.
And I did.
They even had a little tortoise that was walking around and we fed salad to it.
We talked about life in general, I explained how snow feels like on your hands when you have to get off the ice on your car on ten o’clock in the morning and I told them that snow can be pretty damn annoying.
They asked me what “ALOHA” meant, that was written on my old sign now hanging on this wall.
A huge sign I had once brought back from there.
“It is use as a greeting as well as a goodbye.
It means: Feel welcome, Take care. I Love you. Everything”.
I also told them about different places I’ve visited and different customs they have never hear of before. I was not sure if all of them were familiar with the world map.
Her daughter was so smart she could interpret everything I was showing with my hands and feet, once I forgot how to say it in Portuguese and interpreted it perfectly.
We talked about politics and life and education and mangoes and how to roll a filter well and damn … time passed so quickly.
All of a sudden someone was walking past the window behind me.
There were not really any roads so people just seemed to pass by any „property“.
They looked at each other and slowly pulled down the curtains.
I felt weird. They were hiding me. They were protecting me. I felt it.
I looked at my watch and saw I had 30 minutes until it got dark.
I did not want to leave. I was so happy there, but I knew I had to.
I told them I was scared in the dark (which is true) and after some more wine and smokes I switched on my phone again to get an Uber.
What the fuck.
A call from a colleague as soon as my phone was on.
„Are your alright??“
„Yes I a. But I only have 15% battery And need to get an Uber.“
I hung up.
This was weird.
I started to feel uncomfortable.
The whole family went outside with me to get an Uber. We were standing in the favela under one umbrella and her husband was watching the road- carefully checking who walked past.
The sun set and it was time to leave.
I grabbed my passport and wallet and hugged everyone goodbye as I entered the car. This one had dark windows and my driver was tattooed all over his body. he smiled and I liked him. We asked me what I was doing here and we ended up talking for the next 30 minutes.
I arrived at the place of my colleague, where I could stay for free: another Condominio with high fences and black windows, through which you communicated with the security guards.
A click and the door opened. Easy as that I was in.
All those places look like hotels here in Brazil. Huge entry halls, potted plants, large mirrors.
In the elevator I clicked on the upper most floor and read my messages.
People were asking me where I am, why I didn’t respond, what had happened.
Even my boss had texted me.
My phone rang:
„Denise!! We were so worried…“
I realised I had been gone for 5 hours. I had been in a favela (a lovely one) for more than 5 hours. And it was alright. I had a great evening!
Police had been informed.
The German consulate had been informed.
A Whatsapp group had been set up.
They were discussing how to get me out of there and what steps to take next.
All to make sure I was save.
This was so sweet and so weird.
The German consulate. Daaamn.
All the panic that had been spread while I was laughingly sitting on a damp couch with a cup of wine in my hands.
With some really lovely people in a dodgy area.
And though I am aware of the dangers as a kind of wealthy foreigner, I liked how excited it made me.
I knew it would be fine as long as I left before it got dark. And I knew this family would protect me, because my stomach did not hurt when I was around them. Intuition with a bit of a risk.
When I sat on the terrace of my new temporary home on the 20th floor i thought back to the favela. Had I put myself into danger? I was not sure.
I needed to get ready to headset to a birthday party in Vila Madalena – a 45-minute cab ride away from here. My colleague said he “needed a drink now”, and so did I after reading all of my messages.
I entered with my white palm tree shirt, passed some rather unfriendly security guards at the entrance and was soon sipping on some overpriced rum with coconut water, which felt inappropriate then. I continued to drink.
There was a backyard with tiny lights covering the trees. I was happy to spend time with my friends in that fancy bar. I was happy to spend time with Sula and her family. Both places so different. Both filled with love.
What a world we are born into.
How beautiful and how strange.