As I’ve said before, the Brazilian people are among the nicest folks I’ve ever met, rivaled only by Fijians. Meet them once and you are a friend, invited to their birthday parties or offered a place to stay next time you visit. And they are sincere in their offers!
But as friendly and engaging as they are in person, the tone changes when you look at their homes, especially single-family houses.
In our condo, visitors must be passed through a man-cage before entering, with one gate opening and closing before the second gate opens and closes, locking the visitor inside the man-cage for a moment. This prevents anyone from rushing the first gate and gaining access to the building complex.
When we want to drive onto the property, they visually verify our parking tag and get facial recognition, not opening the gate until they see our faces and see into our cars. Only then are we allowed in.
Why is that important? A few weekends ago, several condo buildings in the center of town were taken hostage by armed men, who gained access through the parking garage (“cloning” their cars to look like cars that have access to the building), and held everyone in every condo unit hostage while they robbed them. Was it an inside job? Perhaps. But there’s no preventing those.
Tom and I have made it a point of getting to know the names of our guards, and to thank them daily for their careful watch. On my to-do list is making them cookies. We have a new cadre of guards since Christmas, which was the last time I made cookies for them. Just a little thank-you for guarding us so carefully.
Living in single-family dwellings, whether standalone homes or row houses, is a more dangerous proposition, as can be attested by the various protection schemes in use.
All around town, we see A Vende (For Sale) or Aluga (For Rent) signs on single-family dwellings, because those people who can afford it are moving to more secure residences, such as condominiums, where other people are responsible for keeping out the thieves.
Homes are protected by fences across the entire length of the house, with gates that are often manned by private guards. The fences serve two purposes: one, to keep out thieves, and two, to keep street people from sleeping on their porches or in their garages.
Fences are topped with razor-wire or broken glass or electric wires.
But even gates and fences aren’t always enough. One friend says she never stops to unlock her garage if there is another car nearby, fearing that once the gate is opened, they will charge and gain access.
This isn’t paranoia. A fellow who works with Tom was robbed last week as he and his wife prepared to leave for work. Their garage gate was open as they packed up for the day’s work, and two men stormed the gate and took them hostage, robbing them at gunpoint in their own home.
As I’ve said before, you can’t relax your vigilance for a second.
As we drive down tree-lined side streets with beautiful homes, we are constantly reminded of the danger those folks face in their own homes. What should be welcoming neighborhoods of rolling lawns and beautiful houses are fortressed blocks, wired and fenced for safety.
Even when you go to the doctor as I did yesterday, you have to pass through security, giving your name and providing ID to the guards at the desk, who then call to verify your appointment before allowing you to access the elevators behind locked turnstiles.
After reading the news yesterday, I understand why this is so very important. Two days ago, a 46-year-old dentist admitted a patient to her office, who then took her hostage with two accomplices, taking her ATM card and withdrawing the R$30 (US$15) she had in her account. Angered at how little they got, they returned to her office and burned her alive. The band being pursued in the case is being investigated in at least three more cases, including one in which they threatened to burn another dentist alive.
In the first trimester of this year, violent crimes number more than they have in any of the trimesters of the past 10 years. In a nation of some of the friendliest people we’ve ever met, there are still those who want what others have. And they’ll take it at gunpoint (in a nation where law-abiding people cannot buy guns).
The rule of the street here is: If they point a gun, give them what they want. Don’t argue. Don’t fight. You WILL lose, as a brother and sister found out when they tried to drive away during a robbery. The brother were shot in the head.
We shake our heads at that truth, marveling that in a nation where crime is rampant and the police are seemingly helpless to stop it, the people are still so nice. How is that possible?