Posted by Michelle Hurtubise, MA Candidate at NYU’s Center for Experimental Humanities. This post was written in the summer of 2017, based on research funded by the Tinker Grant.
My day started sleepily, having fended off an annoying mosquito all night. I was gathering my strength, ready to encounter an unknown world, putting on first world makeup on to cover the bites when I heard the twerp again. Oh I was ready. Slap, blood, and thank goodness the mirror I hit with all my morning force didn’t shatter. As I wiped up the mess I had the odd thought that I was cleaning up my own blood. Forget about the mosquito, poor me. I just spilled my own blood.
Recently I had seen BOPE (Special Police Operation Battalion) roll their tanks through the Maré Favela in Rio de Janeiro. A school had closed because when a fire had started in a wastebasket, the firemen refused to come put it out. They feared the favela. So they called the police. When BOPE rolled in, the community knew there would be trouble. And then the shooting started. So a school closed for the day because someone was scared to put out a fire in a wastebasket. The tanks rolled by, and fanned the flames higher and higher and then bullets flew.
Maré has a museum for the favelas. They hosted an event one night to gather those in all the far reaches of their community together. There were speakers and conversations about the shared difficulties and injustices. There were games, art, music and food. Young, old and in-betweens stood all night and said this is not a place to fear, this is our home. I ate and filmed and wandered off into the well lit museum. I walked past household objects and photographs, read about issues of water and housing. My friend from Sao Paulo laughed and told me how he used to play with these childhood toys and how great it was to see them again. Then I found myself staring at a wall of clay squares. Before me was a box full of brass bullets. As I moved closer I saw that I was looking at bullet holes. The squares were once walls, pieces of homes that had been struck by bullets. My friend quietly said there is no space large enough to contain all the walls that have been struck. These were only some of the stray bullets. What of those that found a different target?
I by no means understand the complexity of violence in Rio de Janeiro. But that morning, for a moment, I paused. What does it mean to spill blood. What am I capable of? What does it mean to not spill someone else’s blood, but to see your own blood spilt. What if every bullet sent was not one that you originated, but merely one that was returned? What if a person’s body was not only covered in their own injuries but in the wounds they caused against someone else? What if you saw a hand that did you violence and must be stopped?
What if in fear we called for someone else to help put out the fire? What if we called to our neighbor and said let’s stand all night to remake our home? What if we gathered and said we are here to do the work? I don’t know what I would do.