“The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” – Wayne Dyer
I always knew that Favela Paintball would be a controversial issue. Many people reject the idea of bringing paintball guns into a place that had so recently been plagued by armed gangs. Many people believe that we are running around the streets playing paintball without any rules or regulations, imitating the drug wars of previous years. In truth, Off The Track Rio is actually a part of the community. My business partner, Andre Nascimento, grew up in a very dangerous favela in the northern parts of the city and moved to Santa Marta 10 years ago when he married his wife, Angelica. They now live in a one bedroom apartment with their two children. Andre’s passion is paintball and he decided to bring that to his community. Favela Paintball has nothing to do with imitating gang wars or reminding people of the specter of violence that once haunted them. In fact, most of the people who have played at our field have been people from the community, all of whom play at a steep discount. I have never once, in the many conversations I have had with the residents of Santa Marta, heard any whisper of resentment or dissatisfaction with Favela Paintball. The arguments that I have heard against Favela Paintball, that it is disrespectful to residents and that it is culturally insensitive, have actually come from people living outside the favela, many of whom have never visited the favela.
The amount of ignorance (an ignorance that I once held) that I have encountered when discussing the favela has been astounding. The experience of the favela is essential to really knowing what a favela truly is. One must actually go and really feel the favela, its vibrant sounds and pungent smells, in order to understand what these unique places really mean. The reports you hear on the news or the articles you read in papers that describe the favela with words such as shanty town or slum, give the impression that all residents of the favela are miserable and constantly looking to escape. This is simply not true. The ignorance of those who have never visited a favela is understandable due to the fact that knowledge of the favelas is usually disseminated by news agencies, institutions that have an incentive to portray poorer neighborhoods as dangerous and wild. There is a certain type of ignorance, however, that I find inexcusable: willful ignorance.
I was unfortunate enough to experience this ignorance face-to-face yesterday. For the past couple weeks, I have been going to the many hostels here in Rio to invite everyone who works at the hostel to play for free in order to actually experience what we are doing, in hopes that they might pass on their enthusiasm to their guests. Yesterday, I visited a hostel here in Rio. I was explaining to a receptionist, his third day on the job, what we were doing and he was very enthusiastic about the idea. I turned to the receptionist who was training him and asked if he was free this Thursday to come play for free.
He responded with a stern retort in Portuguese: “Honestly, I don’t agree with the idea of playing paintball in a favela. Politically, I don’t find it morally acceptable.”
Always interested in another view-point, I asked, as friendly as possible, “Why don’t you agree with Favela Paintball? I promise you that it is not what you think.”
He angrily replied: “Eu não quero discutir isso mais!” (I do not want to talk about this anymore).
I relented, realizing that my presence was not welcome anymore and went on my way.
After leaving, I could not shake the feeling that somehow I had handled the situation poorly. If only there was some way to show him how what we are doing is not only educational and fun for travelers, but can be positive for the community living there, the people who I assume that he thought he was standing up for by his moral indignation. In reality, there was nothing I could do to change his mind. He had taken the moral high ground and that was it. His mind was an impenetrable steel box. My only hope is that the person he was training will come this thursday for our free game and come back with stories about how awesome Favela Paintball actually is.
Follow us on twitter @offthetrackrio