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Brazil's World Cup Leftovers

The tournament will probably do no good for Fortaleza's crack smoking kids or blind prostitutes.

Stadium Castelão cost roughly 1,198 billion Danish kroner

During the shooting of his documentary film “The Price of the World Cup”, Danish filmmaker Mikkel Keldorf ended up seeing the worst side of Brazil. After a trip to the Northeastern town of Fortaleza – one of the host cities of the World Cup – he gave up his childhood dream of covering the championship.

A 13-year-old boy is running across the street, holding a glass bottle of beer above his head. He’s angry and I’m apparently in his way. My eyes are shaking and I look frightenedly towards my friend Valdecio – a Brazilian social worker. The mood is tense. We’re at the beach avenue of the Brazilian World Cup host-city Fortaleza. More precisely, we are in between two gangs of crack-addicted teenage street children.


The aggressive boy is running towards me. The realisationg that I’m in the seventh most violent city in the world hits me. I’m certain he’s going to hit me, too. As he’s a meter away from me I realize I’m not his target. Another young kid is now charging him.

“He stole my crack” he screams, pointing his finger at the kid clutching the bottle.

A total of around 20 street children are tumbling around while I’m caught in the middle of the rumble. The boy with the bottle is held back.

As the fight calms down a one meter tall youngster walks over and places himself right in front of me. He looks at my feet. He recognizes the Nike swoosh on the side of my shoe. He gives me the elevator look – but in slow mo. His arms are crossed and his one eye twitches as he squints. As his eyes meet mine, a small arrogant laugh leaves his lips as he turns around. Owned by a 10-year-old. Welcome to street life.

Safe to say, I’m out of my element. If I hadn’t been with my local social worker friend I would’ve lost everything: camera, wallet and shoes – for sure. On the concrete ground, a boy is sitting holding his legs in front of him. His cap is lowered over his eyes. The same eyes that are staring at me. He’s smiling a bit. This kid is the oldest in the crowd – around 15.

“Keep an eye on him. He has killed before” whispers one of the social workers.

I try to keep calm and start talking to some of the boys. Trust is fragile in their world. After a while, one of the kids approaches Valdecio and me. Before he was hanging with the bottle-boy. Now he’s chatting with us, offering us peanuts from his small hand. A nice little bloke who is in no way affected by the action that left me terrified. This happens all day, every day around here.


13 year old street kid Allison

13-year-old Allison spends his days hanging out in front of McDonald’s – the main sponsor of the World Cup. As I try to build up trust, a Porsche 911 is passing by on the avenue just behind us. Another super car is pulling up at one of the gourmet restaurants that are located on the 1st floor of the luxurious hotels spread throughout the boulevard.

This is where the German football tourists will be checking in on June 21st. This is where they are going to get psyched (read: drunk) for the Germany/Ghana game at the newly built stadium Castelão.

The contrast is striking. Fortaleza is ranked as the fifth most unequal city in the world. This is a place where seven percent of the population own a fourth of the city’s riches. And Allison owns nothing. But he’s not the only one at the bottom rung of society.

Fortaleza at night

Turning tricks as a blind shemale

I head out to the sparkling new stadium Castelão. Here I meet Bruna. She is one of the many thousand prostitutes of Fortaleza – a city famous for its beautiful beaches and sex tourism. Bruna's a shemale. A blind shemale prostitute to be exact. A rare kind, even in Fortaleza. Bruna wouldn't have her photo taken.

I’m introduced to her by a group of social workers from the NGO Barraca da Amizade. They help out the local prostitutes with basic needs like condoms, lubricant and for some, female hormone pills. Bruna’s apartment is simple: a sofa, a hammock, a TV with a crap signal and an old picture of Jesus. The walls are green with the paint peeling off. Bruna says she’s happy, but her life story gives another impression.


“I’m afraid every day I go to work. Sometimes I get into a car and they just take me somewhere. I can’t tell where I am. We stay there for hours. They abuse me. Other times, the cars drive up and spray water from the water pits onto me. Some people don’t like my type” says Bruna, referring to the fact that she used to be a guy.

Bruna’s eyes are shuddering a bit during the interview. Maybe she’s nervous or maybe it’s caused by her visual handicap. Her hands are placed between her folded thighs. Like a lady. Her dress is short, tight and green. Her Adams apple is vibrating as we chat. The rough and edgy facial structure helps reveal that Bruna was born a man. Her hair is thick and long – like her body. Not fat, but strong.

As we’re doing the interview, Bruna’s brother walks in. Or sister. Bruna’s sibling is also transgendered. They’re both working on the road leading up to the World Cup stadium. Right alongside 14-year-old girls and older, more experienced ladies with massive silicone breasts. Something that Bruna dreams of.

Crack at the cost of a water bottle 

Back on the beach boulevard, Allison has indulged in an interview. He’s a small latino kid with brown curls, wearing a t-shirt that’s both oversized and worn-out. His pants are ripped in the back. We talk about his background and how he used to live in a small city in the countryside but fled from his family.

“It was bad out there in the countryside” he says without any further explanation.


The most common reasons for the street children in Fortaleza to leave their family are drugs and abuse: verbal, physical or sexual. His days go by begging for money, fighting with rivals on the boulevard and taking drugs – mainly marijuana, cocaine and crack.

According to the NGO Crianças Não é de Rua, 88 % of the street kids are on drugs in this area. The most widely used drug is crack. One dose of crack costs about the same as a half liter of water and the high lasts about five to ten minutes.

But it’s not only the boys that are hanging on the streets. Girls are also sleeping on the sidewalks. They end up being especially vulnerable to the kingpins of the sex industry.  Barraca da Amizade said girls as young as 10 are being exploited in the streets and 39 % of the prostitutes are under the age of 18.

Private airplanes from Europe depart every week to arrive in this mecca for sexual offenders. “The capital of child prostitution” as the Guardian calls Fortaleza. With the right contacts these men can jump in cabs and be presented with a menu card of girls (often underaged). They can also simply ask the hotel receptionist for directions to the nearest prostitution area.

The World Cup will force Bruna off her spot

Back in Bruna’s apartment, the interview is slowly taking off. I’m having a hard time finding the right questions. I’m finding it very hard to put myself into the stilettos of a blind transgendered prostitute. I’m nervous, hesitating and my Portuguese seems unusually rusty. I want to get details, but I’m not sure if I really want them. I start out in the mild end:


“How is your daily life here in Fortaleza?”

“Pretty normal. I go to work, come home, listen to music, cook food and hang out with friends. Normal stuff.”

“But I mean – your job is not so normal?”

“All my friends do the same, so for me it’s nothing special. I started when I was 16 and I’ve been doing it for ten years now. My brother does the same. The only difference is that I’m blind.”

Bruna continues to talk about the dangers of her work. I wonder if she is also going to benefit from the World Cup as many other prostitutes may end up doing considering the large number of rich drunk male tourists. She’s not though.

“The World Cup is going to be horrible for me. My corner (on the road to the stadium ed.) is going to be filled with policemen. The only place I can work is on that exact spot since I know the route to and from there. If I go to some other place, I can’t find my way home” says the blind prostitute adding that her pimp is going to ask for her money anyways.

I leave Bruna’s place just as awkward as I carried out the interview trying to shake her hand goodbye – not a good idea when greeting a blind person. I tap her shoulder instead. She laughs and leans in for a big warm hug and a double cheek kiss. That’s how you greet a woman in Brazil by the way.

Screenshot from The Price of the World Cup

Killing street kids

In an interview with Manoel Torquato, coordinator of Crianças Não é da Rua, I’m told that these kids are in serious danger. In early 2014, eight street children were gunned down while in their sleep in front of a pharmacy in Fortaleza.


According to Manoel, these children had to be killed in order to clean up the city before the World Cup and create fear among the other street children. Two of the children died – a couple of brothers. According to the accounts of the local NGO’s, at least 121 street children died in 2013 in Fortaleza. Many of them allegedly shot by local police.

Meeting with these youngsters on the tourist boulevard was a choking experience, even though I’ve been living and working in various favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Life in Fortaleza is different – far more hardcore than Rio. The state of Ceara where Fortaleza is located holds 33% of Brazil’s street children. They’re very well-represented and at the same time very unwanted.

The Disney World of Brazil

It scares me to think of the fact that where I just met them – in front of McDonald’s – there’s going to be tens of thousands of rich tourists soon. This can only go wrong either for the kids or the tourists. Guess who is the most valuable to the local businesses in Fortaleza.

I was told several times during the shooting of my documentary that “this is for the foreigners to see” – the newly built cable cars in the slums of Rio, the military occupations, the billion dollar stadiums, the fancy bars and hotels. The lot. But if they gun down street children so the foreigners can come and see the new improved Brazil, then I’m not going to come and see what they want to show me. I don’t want the Brazilian Disney World, they have created for me.

Realizing that the more I engaged with these kids, the more they would be put in danger (given that they were killed for the sake of foreigners not to see them), I left the country. I left my job, my apartment and my World Cup tickets. I’d seen enough.

All that is left for me to do now is to tell the story of the people I met.

You can watch Mikkel Keldorf’s documentary “The Price of the World Cup” for free on YouTube.

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