My name is Pamela Floripa; however, my friends at work call me “Puma” because I have a tendency to move quietly and suddenly sneak up on you with a surprise when you least expect it.
I was born in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A favela may sound like a pretty word in Portuguese for those who do not speak the language; however, it means a “slum” in English. My mother told me when I was very young that my “no good” father disappeared right after I was born.
My mother was a drug addict. She worked as a prostitute to support her habit. Our home was a filthy hut made out of discarded materials collected from the nearby trash dump. The stench of the dump permeated everything where I lived. My only escape was when I was able to go to school.
I was lucky because a kindly priest gave me the money I needed to buy a school uniform; otherwise, I would not have been able to attend the school. At school, I was fascinated with numbers and mathematics. I liked the way that things fit together, were orderly, and that a solution could be determined for math problems that gave a satisfactory result. I think I liked mathematics because it was the opposite of my life. In math, everything was in its proper place. In my real life, everything was chaotic, disorganized, and nothing seem to make any sense.
One day, I came home from school to find my mother had overdosed on drugs. She was lying dead on the floor of our hut with a needle sticking out of her arm. I do not tell my story to gain sympathy or pity for my condition because frankly speaking, this was a very common occurrence where I lived. I would have likely become a prostitute also, except I was only 7 years old and knew nothing about sex. Instead, I asked the priest to help me. He agreed. What happened next was a miracle.
After a short time, I was adopted by a couple from the Netherlands. I did not know even where the Netherlands was, except I thought to myself if it is some other “lands” than the ugly favela, it is probably a better place.
The couple came to visit with me and the priest helped with the adoption papers, Soon, I was off to live in Amsterdam with my newly adopted parents. I was a bit frightened but more excited than scared about the adventure.