During the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre (in the years 2001 to 2003 and 2005) the weather was hot. But the heat in Rio Grande do Sul is nothing compared to the climate of Belém in the month of January, where the mugginess of the humid air embraces you upon arrival. The frequent rainfalls are refreshing, but sometimes even the pouring rain is unable to cool down the atmosphere. The theatre installed in the Federal Agricultural University of the Amazônia (UFRA), one of the places where the WSF is being held is the refuge for those who melted of the heat outside. The at least ten split level high-power air conditioners, are the joy of a gang, sleeping on the floor, uninterested in what’s shown on the screen. In the press centre, housed in the sport hall, the scene is repeated, a number of journalists asleep under the blessing of an air conditioner by the sound of hectically attacked keyboards by colleagues.
One of the rooms of the debates, which I attended, was jam-packed. People, standing along the wall and sitting on the floor, throwing jealous looks at those, who had fled the heat, slumbering in comfortable chairs. With few clothes on, radical groups at the entrance to the youth camp – the place where hundreds of camping tents were standing – preached that the event itself is the problem: “The Social Forum is part of a movement that would fragment the people!” The heat also causes other unusual scenes. A friend was robbed by two persons. The theft of the product: a bottle of mineral water. “Ohh, brother, give me the bottle and buy yourself another one.” Who said that water is the most precious good we have, was not mistaken.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the first time that I travel in the Amazon region – on the contrary, the region is the backyard of my origin – no exaggeration. The problem is the long distances between activities, spread across the UFRA and the Federal University of Pará, which is not easy. I am far from healthy, sleep with a slight headache caused by the heat and the thermal shock of entering and leaving buildings with air conditioning. Since ordinary cars and taxis are not admitted on the campuses, walking under the burning sun or calling a cyclist turned ‘bicycle taxi’ is the only way. Three reais (about 1 euro) for a ride. For those moving from one campus to another, not far apart, the boats are an alternative to travel via the river. By noon, it requires more than an hour to board. Standing in line under the burning sun. When I return home, I have to explain to my girlfriend how I got so sunburnt, while I was at work.
Maybe an auto bus is missing. Or a better distribution of the events. You hear frequent complaints about the (des)organization of the event, the sudden change of activities, the lack of direction signs, halls without the necessary equipment and so on. In addition, of course, the lamenting about the registration fee of BRL 30.00 (10 euros) that would have limited the participation of the poorest inhabitants of the city. The striking presence of military police and national security forces, which does not correspond with what the forum is and represents. Taxi drivers were involved in the wave of paranoia about security, alarming everybody as a broken record: “We are now in a dangerous neighbourhood … We drive through a dangerous neighbourhood … Do not forget, this is a dangerous neighbourhood … Oooolha, a dangerous neighbourhood … Fortunately we are now leaving this dangerous neighbourhood.” It looks like a city-tour! Nonsense. Dangerous are some large multinationals, which are located in this state, dismissing people to decrease the risk of falling profits.
Of course, all this does not overshadow the brilliance of an event, where you stumble on diversity, knowledge and culture. Where the reception and the hopes of people and communities from many corners of the world give you warm feelings and charges your energy. Consequently, this forum is indeed hotter than that of Porto Alegre, because it seems bigger. And despite the heat, it is worth it to stay on to the end.
source: Blog de Sakamoto