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The Other Rio — Maria: I Do Not Accept Violence

The third of a three-part series of oral histories from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, so close and yet so far away from the Olympic spotlight.

Maria, making do in Rio
Maria, making do in Rio
Sascha Bercovitch

The following is part of a series of first-person narratives from residents of Complexo da Maré, a low-income favela in Rio de Janeiro, as told to Sascha Bercovitch, a Harvard University graduate working on a fellowship on life inside Brazilian low-income neighborhoods. The stories stand in contrast to the glamour and billion-dollar investment in the Olympics taking place just across town.

RIO DE JANEIRO — We were children of the farm. I had 10 brothers and sisters aside from those who died, because they told us that there were 18, because in the North there aren't so many resources.

I was the third youngest daughter. My mother worked helping my grandmother on the farm. My father came to the interior with my mother but he never cared much about us, he always stayed more in the street, with other women, drinking. He liked to hit our mother. My mother would be carrying a baby and would have to run away from him because he wanted to hit her with a machete.

My mother was the one who sustained us. When I was seven years old she died of a stroke. I wouldn't want to go back to my childhood — actually I would. I would want to go back to see my mother again.

When she died each of us went our separate ways. I went to live with my sister in São Luis, the capital, where I did more taking care of the house and her children, but they began to really mistreat me and so I went back to the interior when I was 14.

At the time two of my sisters were going to Rio, but one of them didn't want to go because she was in a relationship, so I ended up coming in her place. I did the same work that she did, working in the home of a family in Copacabana. When I came here I hadn't studied, but I thought it was so nice when I saw people reading, and so on my own I went to school to learn to read. I studied through the fourth grade, because it became too difficult after I got pregnant and had my first daughter. The family I was working for thought it was better that I went to live with their father, and I went to live with him in Jacarepaguá. Afterwards I came here to Nova Holanda.

I basically raised my first daughter on my own. After three years my ex-husband cheated on me and I separated from him. He came back and said, "Forgive me, I'm sorry, I drank, I was weak." I refused to accept his apology. It was for the best. He went away and never cared for her. I hadn't been working at the time, but when I separated my ex-husband didn't want to help me anymore, and so I said, "Okay, I'll go into the city and learn how to do cleaning."

I worked cleaning for six, seven years, and after went to work in a drink depository making food for the workers. Later I went to work in the home of a family. The salary was good but I ended up spending more time there than I spent here. I had to leave late and my younger daughters were left alone here, and so in order to be closer to them I had to leave that job.

After six months I came here to work, making snacks and in general services at the Observatório de Favelas, an NGO in Nova Holanda that offers courses and internships for journalism and photography. The courses are all free, and since Petrobras is one of the sponsors they even offer free snacks and transport.

The young people here in Maré aren't interested in the courses. Very few students come from Maré. Normally the students come from outside, from Niteroi or the zona sul. There are even people who come from outside of Brazil, from France and Germany, and they like the favela more than they like Copacabana — they identify more with it. It's like a family here: Everyone becomes friends and treats you well, with love, and they continue coming back here after they leave.

I make minimum wage, a little over 900 reais ($279) per month, and it's difficult with two children. The rents here are really expensive. I used to live in a house with two rooms, a living room, kitchen and bathroom, but now I live in a smaller apartment. My sister and her husband rent it out and I pay them. She used to live here in Maré, but she left and now lives on the other side in Bonsucesso. My luck is that I receive money from Bolsa Família, because my children study, and I have a pension from their father, which help a little.

I'm an evangelical. I'm not baptized, but it's been seven years that I've been going to Church. Before I was very Catholic. I did everything that Catholics did; I was part of a Church in Ipanema and even participated in the chorus there. I think my sadness had to do with my conversion. When I separated from my second husband I became depressed and my two daughters invited me to go to the church near our house, an Assembly of God congregation. I went and I ended up staying. Afterwards I left for a different Church, and now I'm at another one, a Baptist Church. It's welcoming: You go, you hear the word of God and the Bible and it calms you. In evangelicalism as opposed to Catholicism it's less about imagery and more about speaking directly with God or with the Bible. I like that. It puts good things in our hearts.

I have three daughters now. The older one is from my first husband and the younger two are from the second. Both of my husbands cheated on me and I didn't accept it and told them to leave. The people at my Church told me, "You have to accept it, because since the time of kings and queens there was betrayal." But even if it always existed I'm not obliged to accept it. I don't have to do what my sisters did and what my mom went through.

I'm a different human being. I'm different, I don't know. I'd like to understand why I am this way, but I think it's that I've grown tired of seeing so many people suffer. It's like drinking: I don't like drinking because my father drank and did those things to my mom and I saw her suffering.

I was seven years old but I remember, I remember the bad things that he did to her, and so I don't accept violence. Today when I raise my daughters I'm against hitting, I'm for talking — I'll give them a punishment, take away their cell phone. That's the way it is, everyone has their differences, no one is the same.

In the future, 10 years from now, I hope for better things: peace, a better future for our children, a better government. It'll be difficult. Those who enter in politics already encounter rottenness, and they end up worsening everything, putting the money in their own pockets, causing more poverty, more violence.

Here if there really was a good police force, a good president, I think it would be a really nice country. If there were more people who were honest, the world wouldn't be the way it is today. That's why I teach my daughters to not take from others, to not go into my bag to take money, that if they want money they should ask me directly. If I have it I'll give it to them and if I don't then I can't. If you don't teach them that way then they're going to become what's out there on the street, part of the violence, part of the mess.

I try to say these things to at least change a little in the world of our youth, to see if it gets a little better. No one understands one another anymore, no one can look one another in the face anymore. What we need now is love. What the people need now is love.

Sascha Bercovitch studied Latin American history at Harvard University. He has spent the past year living in Complexo da Maré, the largest group of favelas in Rio de Janeiro, on a Trustman Postgraduate Fellowship.

This is Worldcrunch"s international collection of essays, both original pieces written in English and others translated from the world's best writers in any language. The name for this collection, Rue Amelot, is a nod to the humble address in eastern Paris we call home. Send ideas and suggestions at info@worldcrunch.com.

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