We’re two weeks in to To Ligado’s new year and things are really starting to come together. We had a slightly bumpy start, partly due to Carnival and partly due to big changes in state school timetabling. Traditionally school kids have only gone to school in the morning or the afternoon, but the government are rolling out new full day schedules. This is obviously great news for the kids as they’ll have more taught hours and there won’t be this ‘dead time’ in the morning or afternoon where their parents are working but they’re not in school. What this means for the project is that it has lost some of its older kids as they’ve been put on this full day timetable.
Beth has started a recruitment drive and her and Sister Regina are already thinking about how the role of the project will change as more schools make the switch-over. I spoke to Sister Regina recently about this and she told me that To Ligado was originally set up to address the failings of the public school system. A major problem was this ‘dead time’ where the kids were out on the streets and had nowhere to study. In my experience, a huge part of what the project does is to provide a place where the kids can learn in a safe environment. As schools finally start to step up and take on this role themselves, this opens up a lot of exciting new possibilities for the project. In fact, the activities that are being pushed hardest on the recruitment posters at the moment would also be strong candidates to play a part in the project’s long-term future. Music, English and Hockey are all important in different ways and they’re not something that public schools will be able to offer on a similar level in the foreseeable future.
Tom has some big plans for music and has already recruited three other teachers to come in on different days to help him. With Mariana as well this means the music department at To Ligado is 5 strong! We’re also putting on a roda de samba in a couple of weeks with a twist – Tom will be making some of his famously delicious curry. He’s been running a monthly ‘Curry Clube’ for the past few years which has built up a real following so he’s hoping to pull this crowd along to our event. The kids are going to drop in and out of the samba circle as their first steps towards Tom’s dream of a To Ligado Carnival Bloco.
I didn’t mention Carnival in my first post but I really should as I feel I have much better understanding of the Carioca psychology and…it was just fantastic. I had no idea the extent to which Rio just hands over the keys to the city to the revellers and street parades. I always thought of Carnival as that huge official parade in the Sambadrome but really that’s a tiny fraction of it all. Carnival happens everywhere, all the time. For about 10 days it was hard to turn down a street without bumping into a huge parade of people in fancy dress dancing and singing their way along.
The best bloco (street party) that I went to was actually in Santa Teresa, the neighbourhood where the convent and the project are. It’s sort of draped across one side of a mountain ridge that runs through Rio and out to the sea. It’s all a jumble of winding streets and dilapidated, colourful old colonial buildings with those lovely wrought iron balconies. The roads were all shut off and it was jam packed with people dancing along besides these two huge trucks with a 50 strong band beating out samba. Everyone in the band was wearing these green head scarves; they’re a reference to this legend/old joke that the nuns from the convents around here used to slip out at Carnival time to join in. (I asked the nuns here about this but they just laughed a lot and refused to give a straight answer). My favourite bit about the whole thing was actually these amazing old women who were standing out on the balconies, waving and throwing petals and glitter down into the crowd. It’s at that kind of moment that the whole Brazilian attitude and way of life is at its most seductive.
Of course, it’s also around the ragged edges of Carnival that a lot of the challenges and problems that Brazil faces are thrown into relief; the inequality, the unreliability of basic services, the mind-numbing bureaucracy and the accompanying corruption. But it’s incredible to see the city come together, and shrug these off for a week, every year.