The Hermit of Grumari

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The following is a story from 2014 about a hermit. If anyone has ever imagined what life would be like for someone living off the land, on the coast of Rio, here’s the answer. Crazy to think that I’ve been to this beach but didn’t know anyone lived there.

João Mello is the happy owner of a property with a privileged view. Whenever it gets dark, the 54-year-old man is able, from his backyard, to see the lights of the lampposts on Barra da Tijuca beach. João lives in a house he built built on a hillside on Praia do Perigoso, in Grumari. So close to the lights of Barra, he has lived there for 30 years without electricity. Altogether, in the city of Rio, 773 houses have no electricity, according to the 2010 Census.

Life in the dark was, at the same time, an option and a necessity for João, known by visitors to the beach by the nickname Silêncio. Born in São João de Meriti, he spent his youth in the Baixada Fluminense. But he grew tired of the hallucinated life of the big city and found his refuge in the middle of the West Zone, a region of the city with the most houses without electricity, 473 in all.

“Whenever someone comes here and invites me to go to their house, the first thing I ask is whether there’s a backyard. I cannot stay very long inside closed walls. Here, I am repairing what nature spoils,” Silence says.

Praia do Perigoso can only be accessed via the Ilha de Guaratiba by boat or by a one-hour hiking trail. Silence got to know the place after going for a walk and ended up staying. Throughout the 30 years without electricity, he adapted in a singular way to the disconnected life. A carpenter by training, he built his own lamps with PET bottles, to protect the flame from the wind. His food is based on smoked meats preserved in salt and non-perishable foods.

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Curiously, Silêncio has two cell phones that he charges inside a bar on the Ilha de Guaratiba. He switches between the two devices: while one charges, he takes the other.

“My family doesn’t see me anymore, I have to talk to them somehow. I tried to live the same way you all do, but I couldn’t. When I look at the lights (in Barra), I see that it’s the distance that keeps me sane,” says Silêncio, in the midst of the darkness, with an ear glued to the battery-powered radio, which transmits, at a very low volume, “Hora do Brasil”.

Every month, 5,600 new electrical connections

Every month, Light, the utlity company that serves the city of Rio and 30 other cities in the state, makes an average of 5,600 new electric connections. At the request of newspaper Extra, the company calculated how many new connections it has installed in the last two years: in total there are 108,216 new connections, the great majority due to natural expansion of the neighborhoods.

In the state, Light and Ampla together are responsible for bringing electricity to 98% of the cities. Light serves 34% of the cities, while Ampla provides the service in 63%. In Friburgo, Energisa is the company responsible for electricity.

Light has reached, between 2005 and 2007, 100% of its goals for the federal government’s Luz para Todos program. The goal of the program is to set targets to bring electricity to all parts of the country. The company claims that it meets any new demand “within the established deadlines.”

Ampla states that “it has already connected 18,538 customers to the electricity system through the Luz para Todos program since 2004”. According to the company, “in this period, R$143 million has already been invested by the company in the construction and interconnection of the electricity grid in rural communities in the country.”

In the city of Rio, a situation that distorts the number of people with access to the electricity grid is the number of clandestine connections there are – known as gatos de luz. According to Light, in their concession area, gatos are equivalent to “the supply of electricity for the entire state of Espírito Santo for a year.” The company further states that “if all clandestine connections were eliminated, the customers’ bills would go down by 17%.” – Source (PT)

I feel like Silêncio should meet Domingos Fereira, the caveman from Minas

 

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