My dear Lola,
The first image that comes to our head when imagining Rio de Janeiro is none other than the marvellous Brazilian beaches, muscular and tanned bodies flaunting on the long coastal promenades, and the Sun (and therefore, high temperatures) accompanying visitors all year long in all its seasons.
But soon we forget about the poverty high rates and the existing inequality in the city. Nowadays, Rio’s favelas are home to more than 20% of Cariocas (demonym received by Rio’s inhabitants), of which over 200,000 live in which is considered the largest favela in the city and in Latin America; the Rocinha favela.
My first visit to a favela has been with “Be a local“, a company with over 10 years of experience organizing tours around the city. The tour begins at the top of this mini-city, as we might consider it, of more than 8km2 of extension.
It took me a little while to get used to the strong smell and its claustrophobic walking paths along its narrow, winding and dark streets that welcome tourist everyday on their tours. Rocinha is organized as any favela, without any order or possible structure. Often due to the steady increase of its population, and sometimes because of the unfortunate presence of rains and small earthquakes which due to lack of construction materials, they end, constantly, causing the collapse of most of the properties.
Leaving the weather and the seismic consequences aside, its inhabitants have learned through the years to assign numbers to its streets, although each home still receives an alternative and independent number without any order to avoid police raids, so they can’t easily find the house following any numerical order.
Nowadays, Rocinha is virtually considered another city within Rio. Small health centers, kindergartens organized by volunteers and little markets filled with all kinds of products can be found in the favela creating jobs for many its residents. The rest, well … some are focused on tourism products crafts for later sales in the city to the “gringos” (as the foreigners are often called), other ones work in Rio while dealing with minimum wages on which has to be deducted the daily public transport commute of 7.4 R$ (2€ return ticket) in a city where the basic salary does not exceed 659 R$ per month (164 €)
Reselling cans, copper collection and sorting of recyclable waste, apart from innumerable percentage of population engaged in the prostitution and drug traffic black market are also part of the daily life of the favela inhabitants.
The tour guided us for 3h around the favela, allowing us to get to know some artists in one of Rocinha’s art galleries, to taste some of the homemade products cooked by its inhabitants and being able to become “gringos” for a few minutes by doing some souvenir shopping, which money goes to social causes.
The favela tour became one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, and perhaps one of the hardest ones to observe. Often it is not easy to feel fortunate with what we have. We are immersed in a consumerist and capitalist society, and sometimes, just sometimes, we have a chance to escape from it, to visit beyond what we believe is the only thing that exists, to learn to appreciate everything around us and to see how able we are to get adapt to extreme situations. Thousands of families live in any of the 1,100 favelas in the city and struggle every day to get out of it with a smile.
PS: Due to the lack of favela’s culture’s knowledge and organization, it is always advisable to visit them accompanied of any of the tour companies in town. Still, I would like to underline the kindness with which all its people welcomed us, the smile received by each of them across the narrow streets which are daily mixed with tourists and locals, and the confidence which we could discover its most hidden spots in, without feeling attacked or observed at any time.
Thank you for this wonderful exhibition of reality Rocinha