I started reading Cracolandia by Chris Feliciano Arnold with no knowledge of what the title meant nor the implications it held for how the story would unfold. It’s a story about a place in Brazil called Cracolandia (Bahia) and the high poverty and crack use in that area. I questioned if this was a good story to blog about because of its content and the fear someone might say, “Well yes it’s good you blogged about a culture that’s not your own, but why couldn’t it have been a more positive story?” I picked it because I genuinely enjoyed reading the story even with its faults.
Though I don’t speak Portuguese, I enjoyed the Portuguese words that were thrown in the story, making it feel more authentic.The author does not want its reader to forget where the story is taking place. It required me to put forth more effort than I might have normally while reading a short story. I had to look up unknown lexicon and often-times Google Translate didn’t do the trick! The words being used were more colloquial rather than words someone learning formal Portuguese would be able to reocgnize. With this language barrier (unless you know Portuguese) I could not supplant my own setting or vision of the characters for the intended because there was a persistent reminder that I was in Cracolandia. This is a sign of good story telling; especially if it’s done without isolating the readers.
The story is about a teenage boy, Othoniel de Fogo, his sister and her boyfriend. The author uses the word pazhino to describe the three of them. Paz meaning “peace” and hino meaning “anthem” or “hymn”. I couldn’t find a definition of the compound word but contextually it seems to mean a reallyclose group of friends/people. “Those three were a pázhino—together, noon or night.” The story centers around Othoniel, but the narrator is another person in the community who knew Othoniel and his friends. The narrator says that a lot of the young people in the neighborhood don’t do much and are cheira-colas or glue-sniffers but that, “But those three wanted to make their mothers proud.” Othoniel and his friends go to school sometimes but they often have to find ways to makemoney on the street. Othoniel becomes known for being able to juggle coconuts or cocos while Edvaldo (the sister’s boyfriend) would sometimes do a blind kid routine to wrangle up some dollars from the tourists.
The story is sad. It’s about 3 kids who are having to survive in a very broken society. They are surrounded by drugs and poverty and don’t have much choice but to sell themselves, either as entertainment or in a more literal sense in order to survive. Cracolandia is a real place in Brazil and can be read more about the article from NPR below.
The article is a bit old (January 2013) but it’s relevant because the 2016 summer Olympics are being held in Brazil. Not that I care much about the summer Olympics but a country wants to project the best image possible if it’s hosting an event the whole world is going to be watching. This relates to the story because it talks about how specific areas would be cleaned out (have the poor removed bascially) and then allow only certain kinds of entertainment; the entertainment that appealed to the tourists and the people with money. It’s interesting the effects drug use and poverty have on the human mind and how easy it is for upper class people to ignore the problems of the lower-class.
If you’re interested in this topic and would like to look at more, here are some suggestions from the author, Kara Ogilvie.
City of God/Ciudade de Deus: a movie about poverty in Brazil, however, is very violent. Ciudade de Deus is the name of a slum in Rio de Janiero.
The original Cracolandia Story can be found here.
A related NPR article (mentioned above) can be found here.