Mutirao Varzea

And to continue this theme of lasts, the last mutirão de graffiti that we attended was in Varzea. Varzea is an interesting neighborhood near the federal university here in Recife (UFPE). Pixote and his group Novo Geração were in charge of organizing and welcoming everyone to their neighborhood. We had been there before a long time ago to hang out with Pixote and his family and paint graffiti. As evidence, our old piece was still up (horror of horrors). Yes, it was bad, and I am not saying that I have gotten much better, but looking at the really old stuff shows evidence of slight improvement (or maybe just better color choice). I think it might have been one of the first times I used spray paint, before that point, I was only using brushes.

It has been amazing to have participated in the Mutirão for the past 2 1/2 years and seen all of the different phases of the Rede and the different communities that participate in the Rede de Resistência Solidaria. In the entire time we have been here, they have only repeated one neighborhood, and that community is so big it was in a completely different part.

The mutirão had a lot going on and many more people involved from outside of the graffiti scene. One group set up a pirate radio, Radio Livre, at the main area, other people brought fruit seeds and soil to plant trees with the kids in the area, and another group attempted to organize the kids to paint a wall (I have written previously about my attempt to do that in the past!). It was interesting to have all of these different activities going on, because it took the mutirão past the idea of just showing up in the community to paint to a real community action day. I will admit that in the beginning, I was very skeptical about what the Rede was really doing and about the purpose of the mutirão—it seemed like it was just an opportunity to go out and paint with your friends in a somewhat organized fashion. I was constantly questioning whether going to paint people's houses in the communities really leads towards community self-sufficiency, but over time, I have come to understand more about how the Rede works and the effect it has on the communities and on the participants. By bringing a group of people from different communities in Recife, people get to know each other and their city. It challenges the idea that you stay in your own community and don’t interact with people from other areas. The more we met other people and see where they live, that more we realize that we are all in the same situation and working for the same goals. By organizing an event like this, it strengthens the relationships the various groups have in their community and makes the group more visible. People come out of their houses and ask what is going on and that creates a great opportunity to talk to people.

I really treasure all of the time I have spent going to different communities in Recife and talking to all of the people about their lives. I have been to more placed in Recife than most people who live here and have been to the "dangerous" neighborhoods and have seen first hand the reality versus the media image. I have seen various groups that are part of the Rede really grow and become more self-sufficient and organized. They are now producing materials, creating music, organizing workshops and are educators in their own communities. Nova Geração is a great example of a group that is organized and involved in their community. The Mutirão also shows people that there are alternatives and possibilities outside of the expected and the routine. My friend always says that Sundays in the communities are either about church or brega and beer. There aren't a lot of alternatives. The fact that the mutirão is always on Sundays breaks that routine--just like having an event in the street during the 8 o'clock soap opera. It makes people do something a little different. People come out of their houses, mix in the streets, and talk to people that they normally wouldn't take a second look at. Most of the time there are very positive results and many people who aren’t interested in the two Sunday options come out in the street to talk. Of course, there is always a few drunk old guys wandering around full of cana and stories.

It is always interesting to see what will happen when you show up and last Sunday really highlighted this culture clash between brega and beer, and something different. The DJ booth and microphone area were set up on one side of the soccer field directly in front of a little stand that normally serves as the local bar on Sunday. Everyone was back there drinking and listening to brega on a car stereo throughout the day, but there came a point when a midwife group from the community was talking on the microphone and the brega kept getting louder and louder. One woman in particular pulled up her shirt, beer in hand, and started bumping and grinding in a way that was almost a challenge. It really felt like as a group they were saying, "This is OUR place, and this is what WE do on Sunday." I can see how it would almost feel like an invasion and a challenge to the people doing what they normally do. All of the sudden this giant group of people show up in your community and start playing their music and talking about what they want. Of course, the community is welcome to participate and that is a main part of the mutirão, but it is asking people to participate in a very different way. The situation was handled graciously, but I definitely felt the resentment (probably provoked by beer) by the people wanting their typical Sunday beer and brega.

Aside: One of the things I most admire about Brazil is how people deal with confrontation. People are gracious in ways that I am always surprised by. I can't count how many times that I have been in a situation that would definitely have led to a fight, raised voices, cries to talk to the manager in the United States that have been resolved here with a smile and a thumbs up. Twice in the past week I have watched difficult situations resolved with humor, tact and consideration for both points of view--something I consider very rare in the place (and people) of my land.

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