I was 18 years old when I came to Rio. At the time I was working for the municipality – there, in the northeast, the majority of jobs are with the municipality – and my uncle was the manager of a store here, and that store had an opening for a salesperson. He came to visit us in the northeast and he asked me if I wanted to go to Rio to work; what I earned there in one month I would earn in a week in Rio. And that’s the way it happened: I went to live in my uncle’s house, I lived there four years, and I married. I came from Paraíba to try to make a life here, and thanks to God I married, and now I have a son and my husband, and we live a life of dignity.
It was a huge shock to arrive in Rio. Even though you see violence everywhere, in a big city everything is greater. In a small city you don’t see kids in the street the way you do here, it’s completely different. But that’s the option that I was given. There’s no way to live in the northeast – living through hope, living paycheck to paycheck, living without any structure. If you don’t know people there, everything becomes more difficult, because in the northeast politics control everything. A political party loses, the municipality workers are all dismissed. Here it’s different: when you go looking for work, no one asks what party you belong to. Here at least we have better alimentation, a better quality of life.
I’ve always lived here in Parque União. I like it a lot. If I’m going to leave, it has to be for a better place, a better bairro. In terms of comunidades,* I think that this one is one of the best to live in, to coexist with others. I brought most of my siblings here, only one stayed behind. Thanks to God, my brother found a good job, worked hard, and went to live in a better bairro outside Maré. I have two sisters who married and left Maré and now live in other parts of Rio.
About 10 years ago I began to realize, this salary alone at the store isn’t going to do it. I saw a report on TV about small businesses that people start, making things like snacks and candies, and I thought to myself, “that’s a good idea, I’m going to do that too.” I began to read magazines to see how the food was made, and then experimenting to see if it was right. And I brought the food to work for my colleagues, for other people, and they would say, “make this much for me.” And I’ve kept at it for the past 10 years. I’m always making coxinha, cheese balls, snacks, bonbons, lollipops, candy apples, things like that for childrens’ parties. I make really good truffles; and thanks to God I always have orders for truffles. I recently decided to rent out tables, and I’m buying other things as they’re available. That’s what I want for my life, to be the owner of a store for parties.
Parties are very important to people here. You see everything: weddings, fifteenth birthday parties, there’s all of that. People take time to plan out the theme, and all the decorations and food conform to that theme. For a Mickey Mouse theme, for example, they’ll order lollipops with Mickey’s face, cupcakes with a Mickey Mouse design; the party will be decorated with Mickey Mouse dolls, the cake too. They put up the tables, decorating them with lollipops and sweets; they rent a trampoline, a ballpit; the children dance – everything that you’d see at a normal children’s party. The people here care about that a lot, about being able to commemorate their child’s birthday or wedding. For children the most popular themes are normally Minney Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Galinha Pintadinha, clowns, princes, and nowadays Frozen since its songs are popular.
Fifteenth birthday parties are more to do with royalty: you have crowns, and the colors are gold and silver. People rent out spaces with pools, dance floors. It’s a lot of money to do that, from 45,000 to 50,000 reais.** People are always saving money, earning money to give their son or daughter what they didn’t have. Just recently I did a party for a single mother. It was her daughter’s fifteenth birthday, and in one month, without any financial conditions, she put together the party for her. It was a simple party, but it had everything: a stage, decorated tables, the guests, goody bags. There’s always a way to do it; each relative helped in whatever way they could, and it was a really nice party.
I have a schedule where I work every other day at a hospital in Tijuca. There I work with food, serving food to patients, and making them juice or tea. I have to leave home at 4 a.m. to be at work by 6 a.m. so I can begin to get together breakfast for the patients. It’s 12 hours of work, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., so when I arrive back home I’m very tired. On the days I’m not at the hospital I work from home. It’s tiring, but these are things that I like to do, and doing those things brings pleasure. I like everything that I do, but the fact is that there I’m a worker, and here I’m in charge. Here I can make my own schedule. In the future I’d like to leave my job at the hospital. I can’t leave it now because it offers me security: a salary, health care for my son. The money is there every month for me, and while this is still a small business, I don’t have a way to sustain myself on it alone. So I have to work double to be able to make my clientele. The future is to expand my work, to have a larger store to be able to work in with parties, my real calling. My hope is that next year I’ll be able to say, “I’m going to set up my store.”
And I’m going to do it. Everything’s going to work out. Everything that you want in your life, everything that you have a purpose in doing, you’ll find a way to do it. You just have to want to. The trials will come; something might go wrong one day, but you go and try again, because if there’s no perseverance the house falls over. If I make a candy and someone tells me that it wasn’t good, I’ll go to the person and ask: what did you think was bad? what could have been better? And I’ll try again and see what I can do, if I can make it better the next time. You can’t live in your own world where other people’s opinions don’t exist. I love doing exchanges with others: teach me to make one thing, and I’ll teach you to make another. What’s mine is yours too. It’s through experience with other people that you learn.
If you think about the obstacles that come in life, you’ll never get anywhere. You’ll end up not doing anything; you’ll become that person that stays halfway between things. That’s not who I am – no way. I’m someone who’s always moving forward. I came from the northeast and now, thanks to God, I have my home, my family, my life, my work, my structure here for parties. I’m not thinking of looking backward.
* Comunidade is another (generally more politically-correct) term for favela, while bairro refers to any neighborhood (as opposed to a favela). For example, people would refer to Maré as a group of favelas (or comunidades) and Copacabana as a bairro.
** About $11,700 to $13,000 USD at the current exchange rate.