I left Rio just over a week ago now but I have a few tales left to tell…
After training at Terere’s academy for six months, I was asked if I wanted to move in with a family in the Cantagalo favela, my reply was like ‘Hells yeah’. It was the family of one of my teenage training partners, Gabriel. I would be living with his Mum, Ana Paula and his Grandma, Selme, in addition to their horny ass dog, Gohan. When I thought of favela housing, images of ramshackled huts sprang to mind. In Cantagalo there were a lot of these very gaffs. As you walk through the favela, people literally cobble together a place to live with an array of materials in any available space, planning permission doesn’t exist there. My gaff wasn’t like that though it was dope spot. We had the four of us living in the two bedroom apartment, the ladies shared the bedroom whilst I had the other room. I felt a little guilty as this set-up had Gabriel evicted to the living room. This meant there wasn’t a great deal of personal space for everyone, however at the risk of making a stereotypical and uninformed generalisation of my Brazilian peoples, personal space doesn’t appear to be that important anyway. Everyone is up in each other’s business at all times. We didn’t stop at four either as within a couple of weeks of living there we had a new addition. Ana gave birth to a cool little guy by the name of Vinicius, who as far as I am aware is the most chilled baby ever.
At the time of moving in, I had been in Rio for six months but my Portuguese vocab revolved around ‘boa’ ‘obrigado’ and ‘calalho’. As my new fam didn’t speak a word of English, I had to get on it pretty quickly. Being presented with such awkward situations as attempting to explain that I had blocked the toilet, definitely sped up the learning process. The loo must have had the smallest U-bend in the world which would often lead to me taking the walk of shame to go and collect the plunger. In the end I didn’t quite achieve the fluency I was hoping for, thankfully Selme was able to fill in the blanks for me, making my life easier. She is an amazing individual who works unbelievably hard to ensure that her family are provided for. She became my Brazilian Mum who went above and beyond to make sure my experience was an awesome one, from constantly feeding my insatiable desire for ‘cachorro quente’ (badass Brazilian hot dogs) to washing my stinky ass Gis. She even escorted me to the hospital when I thought I was about to die, translated for me and waited the four hours it took to see a doctor. We also happen to share the same birthday, I felt very privileged when her birthday party became a joint one for the both of us, I was able to meet the extended family and put on about 5kgs of cake weight. Whilst I may have hit the full on scary age of 31, it felt rather splendid to be looked after again.
It wasn’t long before I felt like I had a new little brother in Gabriel. The fact we were both Dragonball-Z heads totally sped up this transition to brotherhood. After training each day we would eat ridiculous amounts of acai as we also shared the need to eat until feeling physically sick. We would peep movies together, from 80s slash flicks to Marvel based super hero awesomeness. Dude reminded me a lot of myself when I was his age, playing games, watching anime and reading comics. The major difference being, the only person I was ever handing out the beat-downs to was Bowser, whilst my little bro was beating me down in the academy daily.
Gabriel is one of Terere’s sponsored teen athletes, in the academy he is also affectionately known as ‘Godzilla’ due him being a fortified beast. A couple of months ago whilst competing he beat his opponent 23-2 in the final to become ‘campeao’. This was his final tournament at yellow belt as Mestre Terere promoted him straight after. He then went on to collect gold in his first tournament at orange too. Fifteen year old orange belt or not dude is an animal and super difficult to roll with. It was always fun to see when visitors came to the academy and rolled with my little bro. Dudes take a look at him and see a young teen who obviously poses no threat, that is until he bullies past their guard and chokes the life from their eyes. You could almost see their egos take a metaphorical slap in the nuts. As a documented in an earlier blog the ‘filho da puta’ was the first person to ever send me to snooze town, a fact he would remind me each time we stepped on the mats. Although I wasn’t the only one he sent to la la land, without naming and shaming, a seasoned black belt fell victim to the Godzilla death choke and was also left snoring on the mats.
Whilst he is an exciting prospect in the kimono his heart is set on fighting MMA as he trains Muay Thai and Boxing alongside his Jiu-Jitsu. There are a lot of pressures and outside influences on teens like Gabriel growing up in the favela, this is why it is super important for social projects like Terere’s to provide stability, structure and give them something to aspire to. The school system doesn’t seem in any way ideal, a major flaw is in the fact that they never seem to be open. Mind bogglingly during the World Cup, schools were closed for an entire month, this is alongside regular holidays which seem to happen a couple of times a month too. The kids must think this is too sweet but it is hardly conducive to an effective education.
I feel super lucky to have had six months living with my adopted family, they showed me unending amounts of kindness and hospitality. Due to them I have been able to have an insiders view into life in one of Rio’s favelas which is something that I won’t forget in a minute.
Here is my little bro demonstrating an arm-bar sequence which is painfully effective.
Make sure you check the new BJJ Hacks video with Terere which is an awesome insight into the man himself.