For these past two weeks I took advantage that my boss and her assistant were on holidays to pursue a project that I hope will be helpful for my experience and for all those who are making it happen. I have recorded several hours of interviews with locals who I have been meeting through this my work and agreed on giving me their views on the changes that their community is, or is not, experiencing. They talked about their perspective on democracy, social exclusion, participation, racism, access to public services and government action among other issues. My goal is to turn all these into a short documentary about their community and past or recent changes, hoping that it gives an overview on development and social integration processes using this community as the example. In this entry, I will not yet go into analysing the topics that were brought up in the interview since I do not intend for this to be a spoiler, nor a preview. Instead, I have decided to write about something that I have come across frequently lately, in different contexts.
This is the idea of “rights and duties.” This indivisible pair that becomes indispensable to build an ordered society has turned into the tale of “the egg or the chicken” in the contexts of the communities. What comes first? The recent intervention of the government has brought at once these two concepts that used to be partially or whole inexistent for many people that lived in the communities. Before they had no rights, for example access to services or certain documentation, but at the same time they had no duties such as for instance paying taxes. The main question is, what to bring (or implement in this case) first.
Some locals, understandably, are reluctant to fulfil their imposed duties because they feel their rights have been for years and still are denied to them as well. Why would they pay taxes for light and water if they get no light and no water? Then it is argued that how are water and light going to be brought to them if they are not paying taxes for those services. Put as it is, it seems easier than the real scenario. The solution to this last one would be bring water, bring light, then charge taxes. Done. However the panorama is far more complicated, because people could not live without services that are so basic such as light and water are, and thus found their own ways to obtain them. These illegal methods of sustenance now are being replaced by the legal ways of obtaining resources, but people are not content with giving up their old habits. “Is just that locals are used to their way of living with no rules. Imagine that today I come and change the whole way in which you operate, I ask for you to give me explanations, to pay taxes, to obey rules that you’ve never heard about before... That is not a possible thing to do so drastically, because they are just not used to it, they don’t see a purpose on these societal order.” A local friend said when asked about the recent state intervention.
Examples of problematic rules are everywhere. The problem many times is that the purpose of the rule is to prevent a hypothetical situation. For instance, many of the living spaces, houses or buildings in the communities are unregulated and their owners are not legal tenants. They lack the papers to demonstrate that those spaces are theirs. In this pacification process there has been much effort devoting into providing legal documents to locals to legally own their houses. However, once they come to legally own the space there are a series of obligations and taxes linked to that status of legal owner. It becomes a problem to agree with a person who has lived in a house all their lives without responding to anyone about it that now they have to do so, just in case someone wants to withdraw that house from them, some day, somewhere. The legal status becomes more of a burden than a benefit.
Another great example I is the rule that mandates wearing helmets when driving and riding a “moto-taxi”, the most popular mean of transportation in the communities. There are dozens of moto-taxis operating in Vidigal, the community I work in. The moto-taxi drivers recently regularized their situation and became a cooperative, which has brought many benefits for them, but also “annoying obligations.” They have to wear a specific vest as a uniform, pay taxes and they are meant to guarantee a safe and professional service to the locals with the possibility of being fired if they failed to do so. A specific change in their work methods has been that in the times where the drug traffic was in charge, neither the drivers nor anyone transported by them was allowed to wear a helmet. That was because they wanted everyone in or going around the community to be visible and easily identified at all times. When the community became “pacified” and the state took control, those rules were obviously no longer acceptable. The opposite happened: it became mandatory for everyone to wear a helmet at all times when on the motorbike. However, the motorbike drivers were not properly educated to fully understand and respect the rule. For them, the helmet is more about appearance than security. I often had to take moto-taxis to get to certain places in the community, and almost every time they hand me a random helmet and as I am trying to adjust it and close the security belt under my chin, they say: “Don’t bother, it doesn’t matter if you can’t close it, just put it on in any way.” Many times the helmets did not close. It was as useful as wearing a hat.
The main problem therefore becomes not the lack of rules, but the lack of education on those rules. It is not as easy as just providing rights and then expecting duties, but people must engage in a process of education on how to exercise their rights and how to deliver their duties. And the process I believe must be simultaneous, but adjusting the temporality according to specific places and specific rights and duties. Sometimes the egg comes first, sometimes the chicken does. It is a matter of circumstances. What I see as a fact is that none of this is going to happen as fast as many believe it will, since I perceive every day a little more than social integration goes beyond providing opportunities and opening doors. Social integration is also about those who are being integrated understanding the new society in which they must operate, which many times displays a different culture of life, not meant to overthrow the culture intrinsic to those entering, but meant to merge with it.