minha casa é sua casa
or my house is your house
Before I headed out to Brazil, I was given the option by the Brazilian Embassy in Islamabad to connect with people that might interest me on my trip. I jumped at the opportunity, and googled “brazil citizen journalism.” I found the name of a Brazilian professional journalist who was committed to citizen journalism. This was my introduction to Ana Carmen Foschini, who made my trip all the more exciting, and whom I called the ‘Godmother of Brazil’s citizen journalism scene.’ (Much to her horror, for she thought I was calling her the grandmother of Brazil’s Internet scene, and trust me, she’s nowhere near it!)
Ana Carmen along with Roberto Romano Taddei, also a professional journalist, has written four books on the subject; the set is called ‘Conquiste a Rede’ or ‘Conquer the Web.’ She told me that she and Taddei were thinking about not just blogs but vlogs before a platform like YouTube came around. After an email exchange with Ana Carmen in which I explained to her what I was looking to do, she mentioned the Casa da Cultura Digital. I was intrigued by the concept of the space and the people, and knew I had to go. So muito obrigadas to her for making it possible. (Showing off a bit of my vocabulary of five and a half words of Portuguese there… )
Casa da Cultura Digital or House of Digital Culture is in their own words ‘a project that begins with the counterculture of 60-70 years, and has culminated in the cyberculture of the 21st century here at Barra Funda, São Paulo,’ which is where they are based. There are 40 people who make the CCD, but the number is fluid as it is always increasing. As Pedro Markun said to me, “If you know of any bloggers or hackers who want to come to Brazil, and are looking for a place to crash, there’s room here for them.”
The CCD is situated in a beautiful antique villa called Parque Savóia or Park Savoy in central São Paulo. The neighborhood is reminiscent of Gulshan-e-Iqbal of Karachi or the Melody Market area of Islamabad, and the drive there was through some of the heaviest traffic we saw in the city.
In the three/four cities of Brazil that I visited, I noticed that the traffic could be harrowing in certain areas on weekdays even though, there is an excellent road network. Some lanes and alleys may have been narrow, but I did not notice one pothole during our many and very long drives. It makes me think that as in the urban centers of Pakistan, there are too many cars on the road. It could not be so due to the public transport system, which is extraordinary with a subway that I did not have the chance to experience. (This was not for lack of trying, but I was told by our São Paulo guide, Carlos, that it ran through the middle to lower middle class areas, and not where we were. Apparently, the Brazilian elite did not want the metro functioning in the more affluent neighborhoods.) However, the buses are plentiful, and often, have a lane of their own in which I, at least, saw them moving bumper to bumper with passengers sitting in ease.
To return to the Casa, in the midst of narrow streets where kids play outdoors, and an empty plot houses a makeshift hut, there is this Italian-style complex. It was, in fact, constructed by an Italian who immigrated to Brazil in the 1920s, and now, rents out the various apartments as office space.
The fountain complete with cherubs in the center of the courtyard and mural of the Italian countryside speak volumes on the nostalgia of the landlord. A couple of black cats are kept communally by those who live and work in the compound. As I set up my camera, one of them sidled up to me, expecting a treat, and soon ran off when a fresh bowl of milk appeared outside a doorway. Suffice it to say that this was not a place where one would expect to find some of the prominent bloggers and hackers of Brazil.
But then that is Brazil. Things are not always as they seem, and frequently, exceed your expectations. It was what I experienced when I met the lively, dynamic bunch that afternoon. Driven by different causes (but always driven), they have all managed to find each other to work collectively and individually at the CCD. To find out more about the work they are doing at CCD, keep a look out on Gawaahi.com.
I did interviews with them for a new segment we are starting on the site called ‘Global Gawaahi.’ Under this tab, we would host our international interviews/submissions. To be honest, the idea of the section only came to be because of the Brazil visit and the on-camera chats with the bloggers. As I said to Ana Carmen in my email to her,
I’m seeing this as an excellent opportunity for Gawaahi.com to host international material. We would like to expand our base, but to fellow countries of the South as there is enough accessibility and dialogue with the North. Maybe with Brazilian bloggers featured on Gawaahi.com, there could be the initiation of a conversation between the people of the two countries.”
After and before the interviews, we sat and chatted. Laid out on the cheerful yellow tablecloth were snacks like Pao de Quiejo, Brazilian cheese bread, which are gooey bite-size cheese dough balls that melt in your mouth. They had put together some of the strongest, richest coffee I had — I tell you my hands were trembling after one shot of espresso. Or maybe, it was the conversation.
It is exhilarating to be around young people who feel and talk passionately about their environment, society, people and country, who believe that change is possible, and that they are the vessels of change. It is true that they have much to be hopeful for, given the Brazil of today has emerged from a dark time of inward and outward struggle.* I guess you don’t get to be one of the world’s fastest growing economies without that. Also, Brazil is preparing for two major events — in 2014, the country is hosting the FIFA World Cup, and it has been chosen for the 2016 Olympics. There are concerns that infrastructure projects may be lagging, but Brazilians want to go beyond themselves. Due to this, renovations are taking place at full throttle.
As Ana Carmen says:
I believe that Brazil is experiencing a special moment right now. Free from a dictatorship and an economic crisis that lasted for generations, we now have prosperity and a chance to solve some critical problems, such as education. It is still a long way to go, we have a lot to do, but the difference between the scene I met when I graduated in the 80s, and now is gigantic.”
She is right, of course, and it is not all perfect. Diego Casaes talked to me about the problem of the disproportionate distribution of wealth, how there are some who live in the outskirts of the metropolis of São Paulo in conditions that resemble the country’s rural areas. Raphael Tsavkko Garcia spoke about the problems with religion (Roman Catholicism is the main religion, and the Church is both orthodox and influential, but that has not stopped Rousseff’s government from progressive policies such as legalizing gay union) and homophobia. He also highlighted the extreme poverty and ensuing gang warfare of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, his hometown. Bianca Santana had stories to tell of inefficient and lacking neonatal care that results in death and permanent disease. Thiago Carrapatoso spoke about the environment, and how there are huge holes in the system to protect it. Daniela Silva and Pedro Markun told me about the corruption that exists in their government and the urgent need for transparency. (As their interviews go up on Gawaahi.com, you will be able to find more links for them there, so please check in on the site for that.)
But see, here’s the thing. They are all doing something about it, and the fact that they all spoke in English (in a place where only the privileged speak anything but Portuguese) tells me something about their economic backgrounds. Yet, they are not apathetic; they are engaged. (In my conversations in Rio, which I shall write about in later posts, I found that many of the revolutionaries of the past generations were from the privileged classes.) Despite being from the educated middle and upper middle class, I did not find them to be blasé or indeed, paralyzed as can be the case. They were not contemptuous of political activity, action and agitation. The years of military dictatorship had not depoliticized them, and left them without a culture of political thought. On the contrary, the CCD crew are committed, open, vocal, looking to challenge norms, and are successful (not by the conventional measure of success but yes, by that measure too) in their own right.*
There is something to be said about that, and important lessons to be learnt there.
*In parentheses, my own italics and opinion not of HRW.
*The Brazilian armed forces are the largest in South America at over 300, 000 personnel. In an astute move, they were placed under presidential authority in the 1980s, and not without reason. For Brazil has had issues of military dictatorship, civil-military imbalance and power tussles — much like Pakistan. As stated by Human Rights Watch, ‘the Brazilian military regime from 1964 to 1985 was responsible for systematic human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances *(again reminding one of Pakistan, specifically, Balochistan), torture, arbitrary detention, and the curtailment of free expression.’ But in Brazil, there was a left-wing movement by the previous generation, and it has given the country leaders like Lula (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a unionist who came from a poor background, and only learned to read at age 10) and the current President Dilma Rousseff (as mentioned in my earlier post, Rousseff was an urban guerilla).
*Did I mention they are also incredibly warm, friendly and generous?
Some changes were made in this piece on May 28, 2011 at 12:30pm.
Filed under: New Media, Travel | 5 Comments
Tags: Ana Carmen Foschini, Bloggers, Brazil, Brazil bloggers, Casa da Cultura Digital, Conquer the web, hackers, House of Digital Culture, Pakistan-Brazil exchange, Sao Paulo