| Helmut Reuter |
Rio de Janeiro (dpa) – The neighbourhood names in Rocinha are both confusing and peculiarly descriptive, from Morro da Roupa Suja (Hill of dirty clothes) to Faz de pressa, or ‘Quickly done’.
One thing that certainly happens quickly around here is getting hopelessly lost, especially if you are trying to deliver anything.
This dense network of hillside slums in southern Rio de Janeiro is essentially a giant maze that no one but the locals seem to be able to find their way through.
Carlos Pedro was born in this shantytown and knows the maze better than anyone.
That’s why he and two partners decided in 2000 to found Grupo Carteiro Amigo (GCA), which translates roughly as the “friendly postman”.
“How are you expected to deliver a letter if you don’t know where you are going?” the 42-year-old self-styled postal entrepreneur asks with iron-clad logic.
“Three or four houses in one alley can have the same number, many have no number at all, and there are roads with the same name but no postcode.”
For a monthly fee of 16 reais (US$6) his team of half a dozen postmen provide a reliable service that Rio’s official postal authority, the Correio, could not set up.
As well as intimate local knowledge, a big part of the solution to the mail deadlock is their own cartography. Their hand-drawn maps offer a degree of accuracy that Google Maps envies, claims Pedro.
Together the client register and map hold numerous extra clues that help get the mail to its destination. Bar, butcher, telephone booth, garage and chicken coop are some of the landmarks to mark the nameless alleys.
Another simple aid is the yellow stickers on door posts or windows that identify the homes of customers.
But ultimately it also boils down to a lot of trusty foot slogging and a friendly face for asking residents for those those final clues towards a letter’s destination.
“It would be easier with a motorbike, of course, but then you can’t get through the really small alleys and up the small stairways,” says Max, who has climbed these hillsides as a “friendly postman” for the past decade.
“You’d always be getting off, switching off and on. No, by foot is better,” says the 32-year-old who wears shorts and a white T-shirt with a GCA logo.
The company has around 12,000 customers in this and other slum areas of the giant city and is well known, partly because it has appeared in many local TV and newspaper reports.
The idea for the Carteiro Amigo originated as a service by locals for locals, a genuine initiative of the comunidade (community) which relies mainly on word of mouth in its expansion.
“For me it is much more reliable,” says customer Ribeiro Hildaci, who is a firm fan of the service. “The bills reach you in time, before the payment deadline.”
New subscribers quickly regard the Carteiros as their postman for life. When one person gets a delivery, it’s not uncommon for a few neighbours to pop out and sign up while he’s there.
“I know almost everyone here,” says Max as he doggedly tracks down the most cryptic addresses in his stack of envelopes.
The letters are initially delivered by the regular Correio post to the GCA service centre at Estrada Da Gávea 558, and then dispatched on their last journey by foot.
It’s a fairly secure client base too in these times of hard competition: the Correio does not like working here anyway, due to the criminal subculture that pervades these streets and many like them in Rio.
Until the introduction of full-strength police units here in 2011/2012, openly armed members of drug trafficking gangs were a common sight on the streets.
They have vanished from view now, but shootings and the booming drug trade are still very much part of the daily picture.
In such an environment, every little bit of normality helps, including getting your mail without it making detours for weeks or disappearing altogether.
“We are part of Rocinha, we create jobs and do something very useful for residents,” says Pedro, summing up the company philosophy with his customary succinctness: “Everyone just wants to get their mail.”