I think it’s important to give a short introduction to Cabelo Seco and the city of Marabá. The Amazon is commonly misconstrued by outsiders as a region composed solely of dense rainforest, wild animals, and people with painted faces and little clothing. When I mentioned to people I would be working in northern Brazil, in the Amazon region, their eyes would widen. “Wow, are you afraid of snakes or jaguars?” or “Will you have access to running water?” were common responses. I don’t blame people for having this conception of the Amazon- it is popularly portrayed this way. There are, in fact, various regions of the Amazon that have dense, wet forests, an incredible variety of wildlife, and indigenous people living without electricity or running water. Their presence is increasingly threatened by deforestation. I had the fortune to visit many of these areas last year during my study abroad program (okay, I only saw the footprints of a jaguar). But for the next three months I am living in a city. Paved roads, noisy motorbikes and not so much jungle. Actually, I take that back. Cabelo Seco is a jungle, in a different sense.
Cabelo Seco is located in a section of Marabá called Marabá Pioneira. The community sits on a piece of land that juts out into the confluence of two rivers, the Itaciunas River and the Tocantins River. For this reason it attained the name Cabelo Seco, meaning dry hair. The side of Cabelo Seco touching the Tocantins River has a long boardwalk that runs the length of Marabá Pioneira. It’s beautiful to walk along, but representative of the type of economic developments pushed down the throats of residents living in Cabelo Seco. The picture of the boardwalk below isn’t representative of the part that runs into the community of Cabelo Seco, where it looks more like a half built sidewalk than a boardwalk. None of these people were consulted by the municipal government when they lost their backyards to this new construction. Over the past year more construction has taken place on the Cabelo Seco end and it looks more like a boardwalk than crumbling sidewalk, but I doubt there has been any more consultation.
When I first came to Brazil last year, I noticed it is custom for people to sit outside of their doorways in chairs, chatting with friends and neighbors, commenting on whatever action is going on in the street. This utilization of common space creates such a pleasant, sociable atmosphere in Cabelo Seco. Barefoot children walk around kicking soccer balls and mothers balance babies on their hips while music pulsates from inside their houses. Mangy cats and dogs of all shape and size sniff at garbage on the ground. There is also so much color! Houses are painted yellow, light pink, orange or teal. Above the street, there are strings of small green and yellow flags hanging between houses from World Cup celebrations. I love how much character this neighborhood has. It’s hard to explain, but I think that’s why I feel comfortable among many strangers, speaking in a foreign language, in the second most violent city for young people in Brazil.
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