Rio de Janeiro, BRAZIL - Maid
Interview made by Cyril Bruyelle in March 2017
When I told the owners of the guesthouse where I was staying in Rio de Janeiro that I was looking to interview people from the favelas, they told me that Priscila, their 35-year-old maid, would most probably accept to do it. She indeed lives in a slum in Rio with her son and she does everything she can to get them out of it. As many people of her situation that we have interviewed, we were very amazed by her generosity and realism. Despite her very tough situation, she always put the others first. That was for sure one of our very touching interview, giving us hope but also showing all the work that remains to be done for more equal situations.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
When I was a child? A chef.
With whom would you like to have a coffee?
Right now, with my father, if I could, but he passed away already.
If you could choose something that could be taught in every school in the world, what would it be?
Human rights for everyone, that everyone could have everything that they deserved. Here in Brazil human rights are not for everyone. They are only for powerful people. And I believe human rights should be for everyone, everyone should have the same rights. In my point of view, that only works theoretically, but not in practice.
To you, what’s that main characteristic that all human being have in common?
Human beings get accustomed very quickly to a certain situation. This happens to everyone, either good or bad. If a disaster occurs now or if someone is extremely happy about something, in a while everyone forgets it when something else happens later. Many things shouldn't be forgotten, either good or bad. They all teach us something.
To you, who is the happiest person on earth?
I think it doesn’t exist. For me there are only happy moments, because nobody is completely happy, there is always something missing.
If you were President of the US, what would your first reform be?
First, I'd never want to be president, because for me a president doesn't command or decide anything. The decisions are made by other people, the president only has to sign. He barely knows what he's signing. I think that's what happens here in Brazil. Therefore, I'd never want to be president.
But if I were in that position… I cannot answer properly, because I don't know the American law. But judging for Brazil, I'd change our Constitution, which is the oldest of the world and which is useless. It is only benefiting the powerful groups. That's why this group doesn't change, because, if they arrest the chicken thief, they will have to be arrested as well. So, I'd clearly change this, because for me the rights should be equal for everyone.
What do you need?
To leave the "favela" (slum) where I live. I can't stand living here. For me it's far below the underworld and we have absolutely no rights there. As I said, the rights are not equal. All I ever want in my life is to take my son out of here, leave that place, provide him with a better life condition. Here, there isn't even a way for a life with better conditions. You don't live there, you just survive.
That's why I do everything for my son to get out of there. I think studying is the best thing for that, school is everything, knowledge is everything. If I can't take him out of there, he - through his studies and hopefully with a degree - may be able to leave. That's my biggest dream.
What would you do if we gave you 1 million dollars now?
I wouldn't want that much, because a lot of money attracts misfortunes. Hiding and living in fear all the time… I could never have 1 million dollars and keep living the way I do. I'd never be able to take my true friends with me. I would start living in another reality, with other people, and I wouldn't be myself anymore. If I had that money now, I wouldn't waste it or deny it, but my biggest dream would be to leave the slum with my son.
I'd also help some people and make my life better. As I said, my life at the slum isn't good and I'd change many things. However, I know that there are situations much, much worse.
My biggest dream would be helping others. Nowadays - even though I can't help people with money - I help people by speaking to them, reading stories, seeking donations. Since my son was born, I take him to orphanages, hospitals to donate old toys and clothes. He's now 12 years old and we help other very often. So, I believe that with money I'd do the same thing. I've always enjoyed doing that.
Which innovation, realistic or not, would greatly ease your day-to-day life?
I'd invent a machine that could make all politicians disappear, all of them, in Brazil. Then I'd start everything from scratch. I'd try to choose people who have true hearts, who look after other people. For me there's no perspective without a change. Politicians are the only ones with power here and they don't even care about us. They won't do anything for me.
So I'd invent a machine and take all of them away. It would make my life easier if good people came to take their sits. More intelligent people willing to educate poor people. Today, politicians don't want poor people to become intelligent. Otherwise, they'd be thrown away.
What’s the news that affects you the most in your country these days?
I could tell you two things.
The good thing is modernity, technology in all aspects, even in terms of women getting pregnant... someone without a good financial position, if they get pregnant they can have the child because they want to. 20 years ago, in my mother's young years, this didn't exist. Today, you have many contraceptive methods which you can have free of charge. And that's very good, because it prevents people who can't even earn a living for themselves, from bringing other people to the world. It's a good thing. Then technology around us is also a very positive thing. Anywhere you are, you can read a book virtually. Many things can be done for free; it is knowledge you don’t have to pay for. Again, it did not exist before.
Like I told you many times, what affects me in a negative way is justice, which isn’t the same for everyone.
There's this impunity for powerful people committing crimes, we're all caught in that. We see so much violence and we feel unable to do anything at all. For me that is horrible. And to see such poor people who have absolutely nothing…
Like I told you, yesterday I read about this story. There's a place with a huge groundwater table and people living there with no water, starving. And then there are politicians, who steal lots and lots of money. I think that's very unfair. Injustice here in Brazil makes me feel angry and outraged.
Do you think your life is easier or more complicated than the life of your parents?
Easier, there's no comparison, of course. No doubt about it. You don't even have to go back many years. 15 years ago my mother lived in a wooden house, where there was no bathroom, along with five children. And I couldn't study because I had to work in order to help her. For sure, undoubtedly… I tell my son that if he could see everything my mother and me went through… of course. I live way better now.
Can you draw something beautiful?
My house doesn't have a balcony; in the slum you can't have it either. A house with a balcony and a garden, I love that. I used to live some years of my childhood in Minas with my grandmother, which was the best time I had… And we had a house, a garden with flowers, everything. I think it's beautiful. Birds, lovely days, and houses with balconies... it's lovely.
What are you afraid of?
What I fear… That something happens to my son. He is everything to me. I love him so much, I'm protective, I live and work for him, I do everything for him. I'm afraid that something happens to him. I pray every day that he comes and goes safely so that nothing happens to him. It's the only thing I'm afraid of.
What is your dream?
It's more or less like the other dream I mentioned. I want to study, I want to be able to study cuisine at the university. My son is already in the 7th grade, I talked to him about it yesterday, that we could study together when he'll be older. Being able to leave the community, to live out of there, that’s my dream. Get out of the violence, stop living under that stress 24 hours a day... I’ve lived here for 35 years, but nobody gets used to bad things, at least I don't. I like to get used to what's good, not to bad things. And it's bad to live under so much violence all the time. You never know, now you're OK, the next moment you may not be.
So my dream is getting out of here, studying cuisine at the university, and my son finishing university as well.
Close your eyes, you are in 2100, what do you see?
Here in Brazil I don't see many things changing. I don't see many things… but… honestly, I don't see many things… Here in Brazil there are very few expectations, dreams or hopes.
What is the most beautiful thing that you’ve seen in your life?
If you had to write a book about the current world, what would you be the title?
Please return, dear Lord.
What does religion mean to you?
Hope. Peace. Good things. At least, I grew up hearing about God in such a way. I respect everyone's opinions; everyone has their own. I have mine, I respect everyone's opinions, but I grew up hearing that God means all that: peace, love, unity, joy, hope, and good things. So for me, God means good things.
Which of your country’s cultural specificities are you the proudest of?
I don't know if that's a cultural issue, but I'm proud of that people here are very good, compassionate. I don't know if that's a cultural thing.
In terms of "culture", I think that history is quite distorted. I'm not that proud of cultural histories, I don't know what's being told in other countries and other places. No one ever came to me - a person from another country - to tell me about my country. "Your country this, your culture that..." I never heard anyone talking about it. But what I like about people here is that they are nice in spite of so many problems. Everybody's always smiling, they want to help, you always get help whenever you need. When you talk to someone it's as if you knew that person for many years and you just knew him/her. But I don't know if that's cultural.
I'm proud of the people, the way they are.
If you could do any job regardless of money, what would you do?
I'd like to be a chef.
If you had to explain our planet to an alien what would you say?
This world is awful; take me to your world to see if it's better than this one. What did you come here for? That's what I'd ask. What did you come here for?
And you, which question would you like to ask to the world?
To the whole world I'd ask: why so much evil, so much ingratitude?