Day one: World Cup in Zona Leste

My World Cup began this morning at 6 o’clock sharp, with the familiar whine of a vuvuzela being blown outside of my front door. This proved not to be a one-off, with the brothers and distant cousins of the much detested South African horn following suit soon after, accompanied by fireworks, whistles, car horns and anything else the local people could think of. Vehicular alarms were even being set off on purpose, just to raise the decibels. This description is unlikely to match the ones being relayed by journalists and fans staying in São Paulo, who talked of a general feeling of apathy among the population and, above all, quiet.

The difference is that I, unlike almost all foreigners in Greater São Paulo, live on the city’s almost exclusively working-class east zone – Zona Leste in Portuguese. Ignored by the media, Zona Leste (or Zona Lost as it is often cruelly referred to) is dismissed by many paulistanos, including São Paulo FC’s president Carlos Miguel Aidar, as being “another world”, not just because of the time it takes to get there, but because of the stark differences between the chic bars and restaurants of Jardins and the simple bakeries and drinking holes of Sapopemba. Well, sorry São Paulo, but today Zona Leste is hosting the World Cup.

A recent poll says rich Brazilians are far more likely to be opposed to the World Cup than the rest of the class spectrum, with many anti-World Cup protests being orchestrated by the middle class. Where I live, there is a lot of disagreement with Brazil’s problems with education, housing and health, but there are also non-stop fireworks. Indeed, Arena Corinthians, the stage for the opening match between Brazil and Croatia, is situated in the neighbourhood of Itaquera, slap bang in the middle of Zona Leste.

Itaquera is not the most attractive part of São Paulo by any means. It is a cramped space with winding, congested streets, rubbish littered on pavements and the odd open sewer or two. They have serious housing issues, and labour in the city is so centralised that the majority of Itaquera’s inhabitants have to commute for up to two hours to arrive at their place of work, the opposite of how the quality of life-commute dynamic works in the UK. Unlike the city centre, here you will find widespread optimism about the coming tournament and plenty of national pride.

The tragedy is that despite their general excitement about the tournament, the people of Itaquera, and Zona Leste as a whole, are being actively kept out of the party. On Tuesday, I visited the Copa do Povo (People’s Cup), a 4,800-strong camp of homeless workers, situated only 3km from Arena Corinthians. Led by the Landless Workers’ Movement (MTST), the Copa do Povo is an invasion of unused land, where the squatters have built a fascinating maze of shelters built out of branches and black bin bags. For its appearance, the camp is incredibly organised. The large population is split into eight groups, each with their own kitchen and bathroom and coordination system. Every shelter is numbered, with the MTST organisers knowing exactly who is living where.

After a month of demonstrations and negotiations with the federal government, the MTST have been granted their wish and the owners of the land (a construction company who had not been paying sufficient tax on it) will now be obliged to build houses there for low-income families.

Speaking to some of the families living there, I got the impression that their biggest gripe about the World Cup was Fifa’s plans to close the roads around the stadium on match days, meaning the local people could not get near the stadium, neither could they go about their everyday business. While others have the day off today, many of the workers in Copa do Povo went to their jobs this morning and had their usual public transport routes changed dramatically, with buses cancelled and the subway unreachable. A two-hour commute turned into a three-hour commute.

Even if these workers do get the half day that most businesses are promising, they will not be able to return to the camp and watch the match. They are unable to get any electricity inside the camp, with no power companies willing to help them. From the top of the Copa do Povo camp, you can see the Arena Corinthians nestled nearby. However, for these workers, it could not be farther away. This afternoon, instead of watching Brazil play Croatia, the MTST have organised their own football tournament, to take place at the Copa do Povo, between teams of landless workers.

The problems in Itaquera did not begin when Brazil was chosen to host the World Cup. Had this tournament been in the UK or the USA, the homeless workers in Copa do Povo would still struggle to find a television to watch the opening game. These are a result of Brazilian society as a whole, the centralisation of labour in big cities and the inequality and class hatred that is seen here every day.

I was on the subway yesterday, going from Zona Leste in the direction of the city centre. I had got on at the same station as three teenage girls, all dark-skinned, all coming from a nearby poor neighbourhood. As we went on our way, the train announcements played in Portuguese and English, a novelty for the World Cup. The girls found the English voice funny (which it most certainly was), and while giggling they tried to recreate the lines in their best received pronunciation. “Nextchie staayshon … ” I found it quite funny and charming, but the woman sitting next to me did not agree. Shaking her head, clutching her Louis Vuitton bag close to her chest, she muttered: “Que povinho mal-educado”.

Portuguese uses the diminutive form, -inho and -inha, for many reasons. Sometimes it is to represent size, often it is to show affection, however, it can also be used to show disdain and disgust, as was this example. Translated literally, what this woman said was “what uneducated little people”. “Little people”, not because of their height, their age and certainly not because the woman found them cute and worthy of affection.

Povinho is a slur I hear used every day in São Paulo and it perfectly represents the class hatred evident in this city and makes me sick to my stomach. It is this “povinho” that is celebrating on the streets before a ball has even been kicked, honking their car horns and waving Brazilian flags despite the fact the middle class constantly tries to ignore them. They cannot be ignored any more, as the World Cup has not arrived in São Paulo, it has arrived in Zona Leste and the rest of the city will just have to deal with it.

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One thought on “Day one: World Cup in Zona Leste”

  1. Just saw this linked on the Celtic Quick News link.
    Well written and provides a surprising insight into a Brazil that is represented quite differently in the media here.

    I just wanted to leave an encouraging remark to keep you posting your stuff.

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