Rio De Janeiro: She started sniffing glue at age six to ease the hunger of life in a Brazilian slum. She got her first revolver when she was 11. Now 54, Raquel de Oliveira, once the first lady of the drug trade in the Rio de Janeiro favelas, has taken up the pen. After a decade in treatment for alcoholism and drug addiction, she has just published her first novel, "Number One".
"Literature is the only thing that has kept me standing," says Oliveira, an energetic talker with long dark hair, in an interview with AFP. "Writing gives me pleasure. It takes the place of cocaine. It helps me flee from the pain." In the 1980s Oliveira was the lover of one Naldo, the drug lord of Brazil's biggest favela, La Rocinha, in Rio de Janeiro. After he was killed in a shootout with police, she became a drug trafficker herself, but was ruined by her own alcohol and cocaine habit.
She made it into rehab, discovered poetry, completed high-school studies and university, where she majored in education. She was speaking in the Babilonia favela, during FLUPP, a literary festival for the favelas. "This book is the story of my life", she says.
Prostitutes and priests
She grew up in a shack with a dirt floor that she shared with a father she describes simply as a pedophile. "When I was little, our soda drink was wine mixed with water and sugar. All the children drank it," she recalled. She was not yet six when her father locked her in the shack and abandoned her. She escaped onto the rooftops of the slum, where other children lived and spent their days flying kites and sniffing glue.
When she was nine her grandmother intervened. "She was addicted to roulette and I was a way to raise money. "The grandmother sold her to a gambling boss, the so-called "godfather" of various young girls. "He was very friendly and protective. He bought the girls because he thought he was helping the families," Oliveira said. "When I got to his house, about three of the girls were pregnant by him."
She escaped being forced into prostitution by a priest of Umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian cult. "This girl will not be a whore," the holy man told the Godfather. "You must adopt her." Oliveira says the gangster listened to the holy man and treated her like a daughter. When she was 11 he gave her a revolver to defend herself against bandits.
Queen of the slums
Her life changed at 25 when she started her three-year relationship with Naldo. The charismatic king of Rocinha was the first drug dealer to give interviews to newspapers. He brought rifles into the favelas, sparking an arms race with the police. "He was the love of my life. I liked how he loved me and all the things he gave me: security, affection, compulsive sex," she said.
"It was great to discover all that. I had been married before and it had been shitty. "For several years she carried on Naldo's trafficking work by herself in Rocinha, where she still lives. She drank and took cocaine more than ever. "Cocaine was my passion," she says. "It replaced all the sex and love that I'd lost with my dead husband."
In 2005, a friend helped get her back on the rails. Now she plans to get a master's degree in education and publish another novel and two books of poetry. She says she has no regrets. "I managed to face up to everything that happened with dignity," she said. "My life could have been much worse."
Download the all new Deccan Chronicle app for Android and iOS to stay up-to-date with latest headlines and news stories in politics, entertainment, sports, technology, business and much more from India and around the world.