Friday, June 14, 2013

Rise of the Guardians - São Paulo

As most people know, São Paulo can be dangerous. The difference between the "haves" and the "have-nots" is large and crime can happen anywhere and anytime. Certainly this is no different from most big cities--though recently the spate of crime has turned more serious, scary and closer to home (a friend had a sequestro relampego or lightning kidnapping attempt on her a couple of days ago). So how do we São Paulo residents deal with it?

First of all, you train yourself to not react. If someone wants your stuff, you hand it over. Criminals hate surprises. Okay, I hate surprises too but I'm not armed with a gun. Second of all, you plan and you protect. My house has a fifteen foot brick wall around it, with rolls of barbed wire just before the top, and an electric fence armed and waiting for anyone intrepid enough to brave the barbs. We have four video cameras over the entrances. We have a central alarm with panic remotes. We have things I won't tell you about because this is, after all, a public blog. Maybe we have Navy frogmen, maybe it's carnivorous large scale plants. Better for you not to know.  The two elderly Labradors do not play a huge role.

In addition, we have something called a "ronda". It is a company that has a base in our neighborhood, and we call as we are arriving home, or when we are leaving the house. They send a car with a guard in a bulletproof vest to follow our car to the door. They watch until we safely enter or exit the house. The idea is that this discourages any casual robberies or entries--we just are that much harder to get. That in fact sums up my whole home security policy: look tougher to break into than the next house, but don't look like you have something really valuable inside. We haven't washed our outside wall in two years. Slummin' it.

The photo above is from one of the street guard houses in another neighborhood nearby. Many streets do not have "ronda" service, but instead the service of a street guard who spends his time in or around these small telephone booths. Telephone not included. This particular booth comes complete with filtered water--that is a ceramic water filter. These guards are paid by the residents of the street they cover and residents will usually also give small presents at various times of year, or donate warm clothes in winter, and often one house or another will provide warm meals to the guard.

The guards provide some of the services of the "ronda" though they are not connected by radio to a central station. If someone wanted to get into your house, it would be fairly easy to overwhelm this guard --especially the one on our street. Francisco must be nearing 70 years old. I guess the hope there is that people would feel bad taking out that senior.

This is the reality of life in this big city. Be prepared.

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