Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013


Pulling himself up and steadying his arm on the low wall against which he had been sleeping, he looked across and narrowed his eyes in the direction of the car’s passenger seat.

“I had a dream last night,” he said, “that this would happen.”

For some time I had been asking W if he wanted (and was prepared) to see his father on the street and the opportunity finally arose this week. Earlier in the day, I had shown W a recent picture of Enildo so that the shock would not be an impairment to the reunion. The last time father saw son and vice versa was two years ago when I took the brothers from the rescue house to visit Enildo in rehab (before the relapse and his return to crack).

He stared at the image - sunken cheeks, rotten teeth - and closed his eyes.

But he was ready, he said, and Enildo too had been anxious to see W but (as always) was unable to leave the degradation of which he is now sadly accustomed. Nonetheless (and, perhaps, needless to say), they were thrilled to see each other.

I left them alone to catch up, and W told me later that he shared the sad news that his mum and step-dad (together with the six children) had been evicted from their apartment. News which - if I was to be honest - had made me angry when I first heard it, simply out of frustration in knowing that Enildo is in the same place as he was three years’ ago and that he is the father to five of those children.

Nonetheless, my love for this family remains unabated and notwithstanding the pain I feel when I look at pictures from two years ago, my hope is that the reunion with his eldest son will in some small way speak to Enildo about opportunity and loss.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A place called Home

When I begin to miss home I become strangely patriotic - snapping angrily at those who make a joke about the Queen or about our chances in the World Cup next year and I find myself defending things English that I’d ridicule under normal circumstances. 

I love and respect our Queen (“She’s not my Queen!” - Wesley), but there must surely be some kind of chemical imbalance in my brain for emotion to be registered when it comes to football.

And I don't know if all this technology helps. Two interesting articles recently raised the question as to whether technology – mobile phones, Facebook, Skype – lessened nostalgia or increased it. Does it give the illusion of closeness, or does it sadden the caller by reminding them sharply of what they have left behind (which is why parents were discouraged from phoning their children too often at English boarding schools)?
Apparently, certain kinds of modern personality find it better to suppress or eliminate the backward glance. Explicit discussions of homesickness are now rare...because the emotion was typically seen “as an embarrassing impediment to individual progress and prosperity.”

The immediacy that phone calls and the Internet provide means that those away from home can know exactly what they are missing and when it is happening. They give the illusion that one can be in two places at once but also highlight the impossibility of that proposition. 

The persistence of homesickness points to the limitations of the cosmopolitan philosophy that under girds so much of our market and society. The idea that we can and should feel at home any place on the globe is based on a world view that celebrates the solitary, mobile individual and envisions men and women as easily separated from family, from home and from the past. But this vision doesn’t square with our emotions, for our ties to home, although often underestimated, are strong and enduring.
And this longing, it is provoked and prolonged by the recurring leitmotiv of my time here: the faithfulness of my own family. 
Doctors are trained not to react to horrific injuries or conditions. It is called ‘clinical distance.’ But when confronted (day-in, day-out) by busted-up families, self-destructing individuals and children old before their time, and as I visit prisoners (literal and metaphorical) and am exposed to behaviours that are so outside what I have grown up around, I choose not to distance myself from these people's suffering (for fear that sympathy might trump empathy), but instead my own family become a sustaining reference.

I recall a Skype call with my sister a year or so ago, at the height of a particularly difficult episode at the rescue house, when she said to me “Just come home.” And that is the precious truth. And although it reminds me of how painfully inadequate and unequipped I am (what does it actually mean not to be able to go home?), no matter how difficult it may be from time to time, there is an ever-present safety net.

A security in the haven.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Lost in the post

And the award for World’s Blandest Stamp goes to...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Predictions for 2014

A recent article by Reuters and a colourful Brazilian Calendar 2014 that has been floating around the interwebs has struck fear into the hearts of some economists due to speculation that a late Carnival combined with the World Cup and elections will mean that we’ll only be working for three months of next year (and thus sprinkle salt on an already sluggish economy). 

As if we’d do anything of the sort.

Carnival (x3), Infinite Holidays, World Cup Preparation, World Cup, World Cup Celebration/Mourning, Useful Month, Useful Month, Elections, Useful Month, Holidays

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Great São Paulo Bake Off™

A huge THANK YOU to all who recently came together in England for the annual pop-up cake shop!

I am incredibly grateful to those who baked-and-bought in support of the work out here. I wouldn’t be able to do this if it wasn’t for you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013


As we edged past the Samsung delivery van parked by the side of the road in the Rocinha favela, two men struggled with a large delivery to one of the slums residents. There was no door, there was no number.  

They haven’t got any windows,” my friend said to me in passing, “but now they have their 50 inch smart TV.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Under the bridge, across the road

This week I visited a family that lives deep within a labyrinth of human warrens underneath a bridge in the centre of the city. The mother is fighting to keep the family together and I went with George (with whom I visit the youth prisons from time to time) to help them with their documents and to try to find the older son who was just released from prison, but upon arriving home went straight to the street to live and serve his cocaine addiction.

After meeting in the family home, we went (together with her two younger sons) to an occupied park that was home to an eclectic mix of hobos, adolescents and entire families. A toddler played in the filth beside a man and woman slumped on a mattress, sucking on a plastic bottle of something. Countless men and women were passed out in their own detritus. Grim scenes difficult to witness and even more difficult to describe.

As the mum took the scene in, her face become more and more contorted with grief. He’s living here? He can’t live here. He can’t carry on like this. I want him at home - close. There is room. What kind of example is this for his younger brothers? 

But that particular burden of guilt is not to be borne by the boy, I thought. That’s a father’s role, not an older brother’s. He has to take responsibility for his own addiction before he can be responsible for others.

In one sense, I can understand a young man’s frustration on returning from prison (where you’re treated largely as filth) to a home which is itself filthy and cramped and has rules. And the drug addiction is of course ancillary to the primary addiction to the street. But what can - as a boy - seem utterly unbearable at the time (the lack of privacy, the annoying younger brothers), will be sorely missed when it is replaced by the silence of their loss.

Faulty plumbing

I thought it only right to wash my hands before we ate lunch in the small eatery my friend had chosen in the favela. As the tap trickled and then finally dried up, my eyes slowly followed the piping to its source.

Friday, December 13, 2013

See you lying there, like a lilo losing air

A visible police presence is far from rare in Rio, but I was alarmed on a recent visit by the sheer number and belligerence of the community policing in the areas more popular with tourists. There is a fine line between shows of force and outright intimidation of law-abiding citizens. Combined with the clack-clacking of the military helicopters overhead, it was a scene that would not have been out of place in Mogadishu.

Along the beaches of Zona Sul (which include Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon) groups of five or six officers at a time - usually armed - are now a permanent fixture, patrolling the sands every fifty metres or so. The reason - it was explained to me - was the spate of mass robberies (or arrastões as they are known here) that took place recently. 

They are quite a phenomenon to behold: a busload (or two) of kids and young adults will arrive from another part of town, and then work their way down the beach systematically robbing everyone until the police realise what’s going on, upon which they disperse. 

For the favela kids, it’s like taking candy from a baby. I don’t want to make light of criminality or a frightening assault, but surely tourists know by now not to take their iPads (and such like) to the beach. 

A sort of murmuration of muggers.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Strange Fruit #2

I never fail to be amazed at this crazy fruit - such a common sight even in the centre of the city.

Wikipedia says a single fruit can reach up to 36 kg and is the largest tree-borne fruit in the world. It is not wise to leave your car under a jaca (jackfruit in English) tree, unless you want one delivered through the windscreen.

True story: my friend Luiz’s aunt was once held up by a man brandishing a jaca. Hand it over, or I’ll hit you with...this! shouted the thief, fruit held threateningly aloft. Needless to say, she handed everything over.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tutus in Rio

Who knew that fellow King’s alumn and anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu was...Brazilian?

There he is, smiling sweetly down from the big poster hanging on the wall of a social project in the middle of a slum in Rio. I had to do a triple-take.

I guess his face is not entirely out of context. Is he meant to represent social struggle? For me he represents laziness on the part of the designer. Note the painfully PC balance of male and female, caucasian and non-caucasian faces. No time to take photos of real people in your community? Don’t sweat! Just plunder a random selection of Instagram accounts or spend a few seconds on a Google Image search! 

Looking again at the falsity of all those rictus grins, the poster wouldn’t look out of place at my dentist’s surgery. No sadness here.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Beat me to death

Carioca is a first person RPG which simulates a dangerous Brazilian favela where players can choose the course of actions which suits their self-imposed goals. The game tries to generate an emergent narrative by embedding narrative cues in the environment as well as presenting a tactile gameworld. Via their interaction with the game and its characters, the players can change the meaning of life in the favela - for better or worse.

These actions [beat, mug, kill, buy/sell drugs, have legitimate jobs or scavenge among garbage] can be categorized into legal actions (i.e. working in legal places), violent actions (i.e. beatings, killings) or drug related actions (i.e. drug trafficking). The player himself has the possibility to perform any of these actions. These categories are used in order to formulate a visual feedback schema for the game environment. If violent events or drug related acts take place in the game then the environment changes and portrays which category’s actions are performed. If the game world is prosperous (earnings from legal spaces) and the violence/drug-dealing events are at low levels then the environment remains intact and nice looking.

An important element of the game is that NPCs rate their relationships with every other character in the game - including the player. Having good relationships with NPCs can unlock dialogue options and features for the player, while having a bad relationship can result in them not talking to the player at all. Players interact with NPCs through a dialogue system, that has consequences on the player’s and NPC’s stats. For example, the player can talk to a gangster and choose to threaten him, steal money and beat him (repeatedly till death) - all through the dialogue system. The dialogue data is retrieved from a SQLite database depending on the bot type and player stats.

The game simulation is setup in such a way that the gameworld will start spiralling into a violent state. It is left up to the player to choose whether he wants to accelerate that process by taking part in the violence and make money, or try to help the situation and save civilians by donating money to the church. The game however, does not compel the player to do either; he can decide to simply stand around and look at the favela go up in flames (metaphorically speaking).