For the next three days, we go in and out of Rocinha. A gunman greets us at the entrance one day in English. “Hello my friends. Welcome to Rocinha, the most beautiful place in the world.”
Around 9pm on Friday night, Ferg and Ryan take establishing shots of Rocinha while Gwendolyn and Luke wander over to the field. Luke scratches the back of his neck and asks the group of guys sitting by the fence if they are about to play. One burly guy in a green and blue striped t-shirt seems to be the center of the show. He wears a long gold chain and a bright pink stopwatch around his neck and everyone calls him The Boss. This guy, Anderson, is the leader of Família Valão. Valão, which means both “big sewer” and “common grave” in Portuguese, is the name of the street in Rocinha they all live on. Anderson divides the guys into three teams by tossing out red pennies, blue pennies and jerseys that say Família Valão in a font made to look like dripping blood. We play until midnight. The lights are dim and it is too dark to film.
You hear about Brazilian soccer players from an early age—they are the inventors, the magicians. While Americans learn prescribed moves—the scissors, the stepover, the fake kick—Brazilians make them up, coming up with it as they go along. And while you know all this beforehand, nothing prepares you for seas of eight-year-olds who can do loop-de-loos over your head.
Arnaldo greets us at the airport and drives us to his father’s home Nova Iguaca, a ghetto suburb of Rio. It’s probably not where most tourists end up. The Brazilians look right in your face as they speak—like they are extremely considerate, wanting you to be aware that they are speaking to you, for you…even though you can’t understand anything they are saying. We nod and wait for Luke to translate. Arnaldo drives to the grassroots newspaper that tries to bring news to the million residents of Nova Iguacu. From there, a journalist and a musician take us to the small favela they both grew up in. We walk over an open sewer and into narrow corridors covered in bright graffiti. A mix of kids, teenagers and forty year olds play in the widest street—occasionally pausing for cars, old women carrying bags of groceries, and bicycles with soft horns. Construction cones serve as temporary goals—their real goals got run over by a drunken truck driver the previous week. The favela graffiti artist leans against one of his drawings—a woman with large red lips—sketching in his notebook as he watches the game. He gives Gwendolyn a drawing of a woman in very short soccer shorts. After the game, we duck into a neighborhood bar and drink Guaraná juice as a television plays highlights from the Brazil/Australia women’s game.