Living in a favela – Brazil pros and cons

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The telegram channels of Rio de Janeiro publish daily reports of shootings in the favelas, the famous Brazilian slums where two million people live. How to build a house in such a place? How can you develop a sense of unity and good neighborliness amidst the chaos of street fighting and looting? And what are the cons of living in a favela?

Every day in the telegram channel Onde tem tiroteio-RJ (“Where are they shooting? – Rio de Janeiro”), ten to fifteen messages in the telegraph style are routinely published: “Shots are heard in Cdaje de Dios, attention in the region ”. Living in a city where many people have firearms and can point them at you at any time quickly develops new instincts. The safest places are in the shopping center and near the police. Is there a small tunnel between you and the store? Better to pay a dollar and take the bus. Is it getting dark and you want to take a walk? You take friends, some cash and keys – nothing else. Usually, I met with friends for a beer in a Copacabana bar, in the middle of the district. “Hey guys, what time is it, do you have your phone with you?” – “No, what are we, idiots?”.

Don’t take your phone, don’t wear jewelry, dress in the most shabby clothes in the evening, pull on a hood, don’t look like a tourist, don’t look so white, after all. Know exactly which area you are in, and do not cross invisible boundaries. Do not walk alone at night, do not walk drunk, look around on Sundays: everything is closed and no one guarantees your safety during the day.

How can you find home and a sense of security here? Is it possible to transform a criminal past filled with war and violence.

Rio de Janeiro favelas

At the end of the 19th century, an agrarian crisis erupted in Brazil, which coincided with the abolition of slavery and the industrialization of the country. Migrants from the interior of the country moved to Rio de Janeiro. By 1890, the city’s population had doubled to half a million. In 1893, the mayor of the city of Candida Ribeiro ordered the destruction of one of the many spontaneous settlements in the center, known as the Pig’s Head. Two thousand homeless people got official permission from the government to build their huts on the slopes of Mount Providencia, right above the former “Pig’s Head”

Rio’s favelas are home to about two million people – a third of the city’s population. The largest favela, Rocinha, is located behind the elite district of Gavea and covers 143 hectares.

Favelas are economically and infrastructurally isolated: they have their own establishments, their own transport, their own chain of stores. Motorcycle taxis are always on duty at the entrances to the favela: an ordinary driver will not go upstairs.

Some of Rio’s favelas, such as Vigigal, where I was caught in the gunfight, are considered “pacified”: brutal police sweeps, which killed dozens of people, led to a decrease in the level of crime. But gradually, things are coming back: “Some communities that are considered successful pacification are again taken over by gangs, and they shoot every week. There may be clashes with the police or just conflicts between groups. “

Cons of living in a favela

  1. The distance between my house and my neighbor’s house was about a meter. When I opened the window, I saw a neighbor and I could almost give him five! I think this is all part of the charm and madness of living in a swarm of houses piled up without any explicit permission. In addition, the walls of the houses are very thin, there is nothing like soundproofing. Therefore, you hear all the conversations of your neighbors – and they hear what is happening in your house “.
  2. Plywood door. When I moved to the favela, I discovered that all apartments have the most ordinary thin wooden doors with one simple lock, which, if desired, can be knocked out with one confident kick. Firstly, given the Brazilian mentality and sociability, most of them still prefer “contact” robberies: they came up – asked – took – left. In addition, most of the inhabitants of the favelas have nothing to take, so it doesn’t make much sense for them to invent super-reliable doors. After some time, I resigned myself to my plywood door, although I confess that when I left for a long time for the first time, I asked a friend to sometimes check how things were in my apartment (it’s not so easy to get rid of old habits). But in the following years I got so used to this state of affairs that, even leaving for several months, I remained completely calm.

3. Invasion of cockroaches and visits of other insects. From time to time, insects appeared in the apartment. A huge park began right outside my house (which, in fact, gave the name to the favela), and it, in turn, was part of the huge forest area “Floresta da Tijuca”. This forest is considered the largest green area in the world, located on the territory of a large city.

Actually, one of the first things I bought for a new apartment is cockroach spray. Those who are familiar with tropical countries know that huge, palm-sized cockroaches are in each of them and they can visit at any time. And you can get rid of them either by swatting them, or by sprinkling them with a special spray. To do the first one, my hand never rose, they are too big with mustaches, so I always had the spray ready. Cockroaches did not visit so often, about once every six months, which is a rarity for Rio. One of my friends, who lived on the first floor of an ordinary house in Ipanema (an elite district of Rio), said that they used to go to her almost every day. Note that these are not cockroaches that live underground and which can be exterminated by persecution, this species lives somewhere on the street, knows how to fly and visits people either by mistake or in search of food.

4. Noise in the favela. Right under my balcony in the favela there is a small square where it is customary to arrange small gatherings like our kebabs with very loud music and dancing.

favela rio

People in the favelas spend most of their time outside, chatting, barbecuing, drinking beer, and having weekend parties. Yes, there are big problems with water and electricity in the favelas, there is a lot of garbage on the streets, but this is also the territory of mutual assistance: people are so close to you and they understand your difficulties so much that at any moment they are ready to help.

And on holidays or weekends, the square under my balcony was a constant meeting place. And this amount of noise almost every weekend was for me the biggest disadvantage of living in a favela.

Locals, residents and natives of these places are accustomed to cope with difficulties that are often life-threatening. “People don’t call these places favelas. They call them comunidade, “community”. – These are areas that were created out of nothing, simply by the hands of many people who found themselves in a difficult economic situation. So they began to coexist, helping each other, sharing things, roasting meat together, working in neighboring houses. It’s amazing to see how everyone here knows everyone and how they are willing to share everything they have. “

“Favela is my community. This is where I belong. – I know so many people here. I cannot walk the streets or lanes without someone calling me by name. It is a pleasant feeling when you have a place where you feel taken care of, loved, needed. Outside the favela, everything is completely different, because everything is for yourself. Favela has always helped me in my life and I’m really thankful for their support to gringo!

But everyone is used to the internal rules of the favela: “Yes, guys sell their drugs, and of course people buy. Most of the buyers are not from the favela. They are middle class and rich people who just come to buy stuff. Drugs are not just a favela problem. This is a global problem. But gangs don’t control my life. The rules are simple: if you do not steal, do not kill and do not rape, nothing will happen to you “

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