From our yellow house – boasting a trio of marmosets, mango trees and sweeping views; it’s a three minutes trot down the slick paths of Roupa Suja (meaning Dirty Washing) to the day care centre. We never quite break the three minute record as 07:50am sees humanity on the move. Kathy and I break out into ‘Ois’, ‘Olas’ ‘Bom Gias’ and an array of other colourful and probably incorrectly remembered phrases as we skirt the edges of our path, backs pressed to crumbling walls, to allow workmen to pass. Mothers with troops of kids (some theirs and some tag-alongs) stream up and down and dogs barrage past – a few happy at the new day and new folk to greet, and some intent on a point beyond us.
Music sweeps out of houses and down the warren of streets from early in the morning to the close of night. Neighbours compete for volume and we have grown used to the sounds of Favela Funk intermingled with Adele and sometimes a little Flo Rida. Kathy (or Faffy – as my mother calls her) has on occasion sung along to the lyrics of Adele and passing kids smile and shout ‘gringa’. It’s getting easier to hear.
Five or so minutes later and we’re ascending the front steps of the day care centre and into a kitchen smelling of freshly baked pão (bread), bubbling fejioã (black beans) and boiling coffee beans. The coffee is the strangest brew I’ve tasted and I’ve only managed to sip half a plastic cup. By day two, Kathy and I figured we’d do better to sort breakfast at our yellow pad. We now have a routine of papaya, banana, apple, yoghurt and soya mango juice (yes – a strange carton we thought we’d give a go) before starting our descent to the centre.
Weekdays by 08:00am and most babies, toddlers and up-to-five-year-olds have been deposited. Kathy spends her day mingling with the one to two year olds in classrooms well equipped with age-old toys, books, mini furniture and tiny nap mattresses. She’s an exhausted heap by the time I see her for our lunch at 11:30 – always beans and rice with occasionally some Frango (chicken) or veg on the side. Her hours are spent dancing, jumping, feeding, colouring and attempting to maintain peace and order along with two other local crèche ladies.
Me – I’m up the top with the babies. Five to 18 month olds. Mornings kick off on the floor with up to nine bubs crawling and tottering to loud Brazilian baby music tapes. We clap, gurgle and bounce for hours with my role mainly being the master of proper toy distribution so that no rowdy fights ensue. There’s a lot of nose wiping to be done and the two other women I work with (Tynara and Mynova) sort all nappy cleaning and bathing of the little ones. Windows are flung wide, we get a terrific breeze through what would otherwise be a furnace box, and mozzies are near to none. A massive relief, as we often hear the locals talking about Dengue. Dengue, it turns out is the same word in Portuguese.
Very few of the adults dropping and picking up the babies are older than 25. Tynara herself is 19 and already has two children. The first when she was 14…
I’ve since learnt from Alessandra – our go-to lady should we ever have a serious issue, that the majority of mothers in Rocinha are not married and simply have children with multiple partners. Their children’s names are tattooed to the underneath of their forearms. There are a multitude of what I think are young girls walking the streets of Rocinha with tattooed arms…
Sitting on a tree stump in the sun is my favourite spot for lunch. And it’s a long lunch while all bodies under the age of five sleep for three hours. The centre is quiet, the ladies chat and laugh amongst themselves quietly and Kathy and I are content to sit and watch on in post rice/bean haze.
Afternoons from 14:00pm are optional. We can carry on with entertaining and generally being involved or we have the choice to say ‘ciao’ and ‘até mais’ (see you…) until the following morning.
So, some afternoons Kathy and I stay on until 16:00pm when young moms and dads or grandparents come to collect their children; and on other days we head into the bedlam of Rocinha and explore juice bars (ah there we go, as I type Adele’s Someone Like You is pumping out), pastry stalls, the few internet joints that there are and shop for our soya mango juice, bananas, apples and yoghurt…