Reckless in Rio

I am an architecture student from Arizona State University, and will be working in Rio for architect Jorge Jauregui. Working in Rio is tough, but somebody has to do it.

20 September 2005

19 August 2005


Me and Gargamel (Cristiano)
Originally uploaded by nlewkowi.
Well, the party is over, and I have left the beautiful city of Rio. Being home for nearly a week already, it has been a slight adjustment, good and bad. Of course, getting used to the price differences between Phoenix and Rio was upsetting, but if any of that extra money spent goes towards efficiency in any capacity, I am all for it. In terms of the bad, I miss a meeting people in the hostel, and being able drink beer on the beach (its the little things).

School begins on monday, and my duties as a columnist for the State Press Newspaper (ASU's student newspaper) have already begun. My column should run every tuesday starting this tuesday, and you can read the articles online by going to Please send me some comments, hate mail if you must, compliments if warranted. Thank you all for reading the blog during my time in Rio, and come back to the website, for I hope to update it with entries about school, Arizona, and architecture. Thanks again. Chau.

08 August 2005

The Samba Club

The Samba Club
Originally uploaded by nlewkowi.
Wanted to give you a picture of the samba club that we go to on wednesday night. It was difficult to take pictures at the place, but hopefully you get the idea.

This is my last week in Rio, and my second to last day at work, thus I thought this would be a two part entry. First I will rant about why this office will never go beyond the small enterprise that it currently is, and secondly what I miss about the states.

The office has a room of roughly 12 computers dating back to the first century BC. Of those 12 computers, only 5 are in any sort of working order, however, each one is quite unique, with functions that differ from each computer in the room. For example, there is a computer that runs the latest version of AutoCAD, yet this computer does not allow one to access the internet. In addition, the four remaining computers are unable to use the latest version of AutoCAD, thus there is no way to transfer one AutoCAD document to another computer. The computer that I am currently using as I type this entry has quirks of its own. For starters, after some unknown time period the computer lets of some disturbing noise, something akin to a fire alarm, and there is only way way to get rid of shutting the computer down. So, while in the middle of working, the computer begins making this unbearable noise and you must save all your work and restart the computer. The fourth of fifth time this happens during the day is usually when I lose my mind. The other nice thing about these computers is that they are always in use, so when one is being incredibly annoying there is no alternative as others are surely using the other operating computers, leaving you to become not only an intern but the IT guy as well. One other problem that has been quite annoying is the printer situation. The printers are set-up on different computers here, so when somebody wants to print they generally have to ask to borrow your computer. Instead of having all printers on all computers this office has randomly placed them throughout the office, its actually a wonderful guessing game. I like the people in the office, but the management of the systems in the office is enough to make an efficiency manager drop dead.

With that out of the way, let me tell you what I most miss about the states, and it sort of coincides with the above paragraph. Simply put, everything in the United States works, and their are systems/business in place to keep everything running. If you have a computer problem somebody comes and fixes it. Here, the problems just linger until they become unmanageable. Efficiency is the other aspect of the USA that frustrates me here in Brazil. Buying something at the grocery store can be an all day event. The registers are so slow, and they actually do not see any reason to speed up the process, even with lines with 20+ people staring them in the face. Efficiency does not exist here, if somebody came into Brazil and set up a supermarket where chekcing out didn't take the better part of an afternoon, they have a chance of ruling the entire country. Any takers. Lastly, while Brazilian food can be quite tasty, the Brazilian diet is not very diverse. This has left me on several occasions looking for some sort of ethnic eatery to get away from the Brazilian food for a day...but they do not have a variety of ethnic foods in this country. Finding a chinese food restuarant, could take years of searching. Which seems strange in a city of 7 million inhabitants. In Tempe, I can drive around the corner and find food from Israel and Ethiopia in the same shopping center.

At any rate, I look forward to the efficiency and quality of food once I am back stateside. I have been away so long I have even forgot that wireless internet works...hmmm, wireless internet. Chau.

04 August 2005

Samba Fights

Last night Ania and I went to my wednesday night staple, a little outside samba place right on Guanabara Bay. We were trying to record the music played, but at the end of the night we listened to our efforts, and something had gone wrong, it just did not sound right. We will have to try again next wednesday. During this extremely festive gathering, there was a small altercation between two Brazilians as we were buying some drink tickets, but this was more of a blessing because the people who were thrown out gave me their drink tickets for free, which worked nicely as I was at the end of a very long line for the bar. Later, as everybody was singing and dancing, a serious brawl erupted between two guys standing right next to me. Punching, kicking the whole thing. I pushed Ania behind me so she would not get hurt, and then found myself basically in the middle of these two guys fighitng. Trying to get away, I stepped behind one of them, who was then hit, and stumbled back into me tearing part of my toe nail off, and then took a few elbows to the chesst as me and a group of people were jammed agains a low wall. At any rate, no damage done to me really, and the security guys were quick to intervene and break things up. It was quite exciting, and through it all the samba players did not miss a beat, they seriously continued to play during the whole event. What commitment.

Tonight there is an art exhibition that I am going to, I met some Brazilians and they invited me to this opening, not sure what to expect, but might as well embrace as much of Brazilian culture as I can in these last couple of days. My friend from Duke, Dev Motwani, should be here at the end of the week or so, and it will be good to see him, perhaps if he comes on sunday I can show him some assualt rifles. The sunday favela parties has been a trend in the hostel ever since we first went four weeks ago, they are now offering it as a trip you can pay for, with Adriano (the guys who takes us there) as the host. I helped make the flyer, and we decided istead of having 'live assualt weapon firing' as one of the reasons to come, we decided to instead call it 'favela fireworks'. I found it on par with saying 'friendly fire' and 'free range chicken'. A little more than a week left here and I am excited to come home...make sure Arizona does not run out of Tequila. If you want something from Brazil, and are a good friend of mine, pleases leave a comment and I will see what I can do. Chau.

03 August 2005

Drug Trafficking in Rio

Thought I would give you all a little insight into the well oiled machine that is the drug trade in Rio de Janeiro. I have actually been reading a book about it in order to learn more about the favleas here, and have actually seen the process in person. In Rio, the drug traffickers control many of the favelas. Thus, laws in these areas are enforced not by the police, but by a local drug lord, or Dono. The laws put in place by drug lords are strictly enforced, and are motivated to keep the police out of the favela...strictly business. The are four major drug factions in Rio: Commando Vermehlo (The Red Brigade), Terceiro Commando (Third Brigade), Amigos os Amigos (Friends of Friends), and the newly formed Commando Vermelho Junior. I have listed them in order of their reputaion, with the Commando Vermehlo being the largest. Even those not involved in the drug trade consider these drug factions as`cool', as evident from some of our pool games when Brazilians sign their shots by writing a CV with their cue sticks. It is also popular to have tattoos of American Indians as a sign of support for the Commando Vermehlo (the link being that vermelho means red and the term 'red skins' to refer indians).

It was only in the 1980's that the drug trade became dangerous in Brazil, with the arrival of cocaine and its ability to produce a large profit. Because of this, drug factions were forced to become more organized, and used the favelas as bases for the drug business. The favelas in Rio generally have few entrances or exits, making it difficult for the police to launch an offensive. In addition, the profits made from drugs has allowed the drug traffickers to purchase military grade weapons, something that was not part of the drug trade before the arrival of cocaine. Because of developments in firemarms, guns with rapid fire and large caliber bullets are becoming smaller and more lightweigt, allowing younger and younger children to play larger roles in trafficking.

Being a worker for the drug trade is strictly volunteer, they do not force anybody to join. Young children begin by hanging out with traffickers and running errands. After some time, the child, generally no more than 10-12 years of age will become a lookout and is paid a normal monthly minimum wage salary every week, hence the allure. Being in the drug trade is also seen as cool in the community, as opposed to having a real job. It is also difficult for those living in favelas to have decent jobs simply because there is a problem with discrimination among Brazilians and those that live in the favelas. In fact, their are several documented cases of those working in the drug trade that do not want to, but believe they have no other option. While the federal government has basically declared a war on drugs, much like in the US, they are avoiding the problem all together, which is to take care of the people in the favelas. 95% trust drug traffickers for security more than the police, and due to the poor conditions in the favela, they also believe the government has no inclination to help improve their quality of life. This is not to say that they prefer drug trafficking, many dont, but they see it as the lesser of two evils at present.

Most of the workers in the drug trade are quite young, just those higher up in rank are older. From lookouts, to sellers, soldiers most are between the ages of 10-17. The cops here have gone through intensive desensitizing in order to be able to shoot and kill 10 year olds. If fact, they find that the young the child the more dangerous they are, as they have yet to develop a moral or ethical sensibility (although that seems paradoxical when working for drugs and killing police is your daily routine). At any rate, I have written quite a bit here, and you are probably getting bored. The fact does remain, however, that until the federal government decides to help the people in the favelas and improve the basic infrastructure necessary for these communities, drug trafficking will remain a reality in Rio. For more information, check out a book by Luke Dowdney called Children of the Drug Trade. Have a nice day.

02 August 2005

Dukies, Work Update, and Worry

Ania and Gargamel
Originally uploaded by nlewkowi.
Since being in Rio I have encountered several Dukies (students who attended Duke University for those confused at the moment). The latest Dukie was named Bill, and graduated in 1996. He now lives in Shanghai, and is looking to teach english in South America. I decided to take Bill out to meet up with some people on saturday night. We went to Lapa to meet Ania and were then going to Sao Cristobal, which is basically a large stadium full of stands of food and gifts, and there is live music...a giant flea market at night. Anyway, since Bill had not been to Lapa before we decided to walk him through the place. We stopped by our Caiparinha lady, Mama, and were going to casually enjoy some drinks. Bill, relating stories of his drinking prowess, began to imbibe many caiparinhas, as if the vokda drinking pole and myself could not keep up. Silly Dukie. Long story short, after walking through Lapa and putting down a few more drinks, we took a cab to Sao Cristobal, but for Bill, who was passed out and close to throwing up on himself, his ride ended at our hostel after I paid the taxi to take him home. That bastard owes me money now.

The next night, sunday, of coures we went back to the Baile Funk party in the favela, and Bill came along. The favela party, as you can imagine, is a fairly informal affair. Bill, wore a pink button-up polo, with jeans and leather shoes...not the typical dress of the favela. After hearing all the gunshots we could muster, we went outside the street to have some food, where we ran into some higher ranking drug traffickers, although they were not packing heat. Bill was quick to introduce himself as an American from DC, after which two things happened- 1) I pretended to be Romanian, and refused to speak English, 2) The drug traffickers reminded Bill that the gunshots were a salute to Osama bin Laden. Feeling that this was probably the most opportune moment to take my leave, I motioned Bill to follow and went with some others to find a taxi. For reference to anybody visiting a favela, at least at this point in history, don't wear a pink polo and diesel shoes, and say you are from any other country than America, could save your life.

Moving on, work is picking up a bit, finally with about a week left there is something to do. The architect and I are working the development of public space on housing block in the City of God. There is an existing configuration, but he is unhappy with it and has asked me to work with him to come up with some new possibilities. The office seems very busy working on the City of God right now, and I think we are getting ready for a contest or new proposal.

There was a worry part to this story, but it was my friend Bill telling drug dealers he was an American, sorry to place that out of order.

The picture accompanying this entry is Ania and Gargamel, although I know he has a different name, just can't think of what it is at the moment. Gargamel works at the hostel, early morning to late at night, living proof of a man who will do anything to avoid going home to his wife and kids. Chau.

26 July 2005

Jardim Botanico

Jardim Botanico
Originally uploaded by nlewkowi.
Another exciting weekend in Rio. Actually, friday night was fairly reserved as I was fighting a cold and did not venture out into the city. Instead, my friend Robin and I watched the entire first series of the British comedy show called Spaced. They actually made a movie based on this show called Shaun of the Dead. It was pretty funny, and kept us up until nearly 4am.

Saturday some of my friends from Duke arrived, they are filming a documentary of Brazilian wildlife. We went to the Botanical Gardens (note the picture accomanying this article, giant lily pads) because they needed some pictures of some specific plants that are there, which they were unable to find in the Amazon. After the gardens we went to a restaurant and drank and ate. I went back to the hostel and played poker with Parris and Robin until very late, nearly 2am. Then Robin and I went out to Lapa to meet Ania, and drank Caiparinhas until the sun began peaking over the buildings downtown. It seemed like that was our cue to go back home. When we drink Caiparinhas in Lapa, we tend to go to the same vendor, an old lady who keeps all the beggars away from us with violent verbal threats. It does take her quite some time to put together a Caiparinha, so the trick is that as soon as she gives you one, you automatically order the next one. Its a good system.

After telling people in the hostel about last sunday night at the Baile Funk in the favela, everybody was keen on going, thus roughly 12 of us gringos went back to the gun slinging, drug snorting party that you have to see to believe. This time it was a bit different, not the drugs and the guns, but the fact that people were actually firing their guns into the air throughout the night. Let me tell you, its a little scary walking through a crowd of people and having some guy right next to you fire off an Ak-47 right next to you ear. It was also the first time I had witnessed the extreme youth in drug trafficking, as I saw several 8 year olds or younger with 9mm pistols in the back pockets. All in all it was a good night, but around 5am or so, the shooting into the air was extremely frequent, and we decided it was probably best to take leave of the party then.

Sunday night I went with a group of about 20 Brazilians to a club where the entrance fee was bringing 2 kilos of dry food, obviously a type of charity event. I met Ania there and we enjoyed the music, hip-hop, and tried our Portuguese with the Brazilian crowd. Afterwards, Ania, me, one her Brazilian friends named Diego decided to find some food. We ran into some transient guy who wanted to come with us, and we decided he would be an interesting addition to our late night activities. We found a small bar, restaurant and sat down and had some food and beer. Although, it was plainly obvious that nobody wanted our fourth companion in the bar, as we received several concerned looks from other patrons. The transient friend, Alesandro I believe, engaged in a conversation with a rather large woman for quite some time, but it began to get heated, and there was some yelling and screaming. Watching this encounter more closely, I suddenly realized something, that woman was not a woman at all. Instead it was a large man with large fake breasts. As things between Alesandro and the transvestite turned quite bitter, our friend Diego politely advised us that this was our time to leave as all the patrons in the bar were quite angry, and there was a chance that this giant transvestite could kill us. So, we sorted out the bill, said goodbye to Alesandro and went home.

There is a new guy at work, Carlos, and he is actually staying in the hostel with me right now. He seems quite nice. There is a good deal more work in the office, which makes it a litte easier to come to work. Hope all is well with everybody. Chau