Monday, April 19, 2010

Living in the Favela.

The foto is visitors to my home in Rocinha. We are sitting on my rooftop enjoying the view.

Many visitors ask me how it is to live here in a favela. So, I decide to write about this. There is much misinformation in the media about what life is like here. And most of the media portrays life here as being one of misery and awful conditions.

I was born here and I really do not know much different. I have lived in other places but do not feel like I belong in these places. The favela is community for me. It is where I belong. I know so many people here. I can not walk the streets or becos without somebody knowing me or calling my name. It feels good to have a place where I feel cared for, loved and needed. Outside the favela is very different because everybody is for themselves. In my life, the favela has always helped me and I try help it too. Living here, this is how it is.

People think that the drug traffic controls everything but this is not true. The guys sell their drugs and of course people buy. The majority of the people who buy are not from the favela. They are the middle class and rich who come in to buy their stuff. Drugs is not a problem only in the favela. Drugs is a world problem.

The gang does not control my life. The rules are simple, if you do not steal, kill or rape, nothing will ever happen to you. Living here, I have never had a problem becase I never think about wanting to break the rules. Unless you have bad intentions the life is good here. What makes Rocinha a special place for me is the people. My life is simple. I work, enjoy my life, have my friends and family. What more do I need.

I live in a small shack here in Rocinha. Things are not perfect but my life is ok. Sometimes we do not have water and times the electricity does not work, but I have my health and have a job. My house is small but the space is big enough for me and a guest. I also have a nice roof view of the community. Now I am living here alone but sometimes I have volunteers who help out here in the favela and they stay with me. Every morning I wake up and say a big hello to the favela and when I go to sleep I tell the community, good night. This keeps me connected to the favela and reminds me to always be humble and appreciate the things I have, not the things I do not.

My favela has about 300.000 people living here in 800 square meters of area. Rocinha is very crowded place and noisy. The place never sleeps. There is constant activity here. Since 1997 people have rights to their houses so many people are now making improvements on their houses. With the government project and personal home improvements, construction is going on almost everywhere here. One of my neighbors in one week built and second floor on to his house. I was amazed that he did this with only one other person helping him. This is the way in the favela.

Rocinha is really a city inside the city of Rio de Janeiro. We have about 55.000 houses here. Favelas are starting to be integrated with the rest of the city. Just five years ago, you would never see favela communities on city maps. It was as if we did not exists. Strange considering that about 1 in every 3 people in Rio de Janeiro lives in a favela now. Close to 2 million people live in favelas.

We have two bus routes that go through the favela on our one main street that starts at the bottom in Sao Conrado and goes up the hill to the other side which is Gavea. One bus route (#546) goes to Leblon, the other (#592) goes to Leme which is close to Copacabana. There is also kombi vans that go to Leme (#593) and Botofogo (#592) as well and the mototaxis that serve the favela for 2 reais. Transport here runs all night and it is very easy to get anywhere in the South Zone of Rio.

Many days when I am not working, I just take walks through the community just to remind me how lucky I am to live here and have my family and friends. Today I decided to walk on Rua 1 or first street which is a beco (alleyway) that cuts across the top of the favela and runs down the right side of the hill. And ends at the bottom in Raiz which is a area in Rocinha. I met so many friends today and becase I was not working, it was nice to have the time to stop and talk to many people.

It really hurts me when people think that I live in a bad place. Or they think favela life is all misery. This is not true. Of corse you will always have people who do not have such a good life. As I said before, life is never perfect but if you were to ask the people here if they had the choice to leave, would they? Probably 90% prefer to stay here. This life here is all I really know. How could I move? Where would I move to? How would I live? How would I make friends? How would the people on the outside treat me? So many fears I would have to leave here.

Becase of our situation living in favelas, we experience much prejudice here in Rio. Many people who live in the formal city think favelados (people who live in favelas) are all criminals and uneducated. I am a favelado only becase I live in a favela, and I am not a criminal and I have some education. This is one reason that I do not like to leave the favela. I feel safe here. I never have troubles here becase everybody knows the rules. To the outsider the favela looks like a place of caos and confusion but there is more organization than people think.

We have a community government which is like a liason to the outside world. It is called a residents association which represents the right for all who live in the favela. If there is a serious problem that we in the favela can not solve, then we can ask the residents association to ask for help to the city of Rio. Our RA was formed in 1961 so it has been established here in Rocinha for a long time.

My life is pretty simple, I am a guide here who brings visitors in to see my community. I help educate them about the realities of life of living in the favela. I dispel myths that the media has brainwashed into the minds of both the brazilian people and the foreign media. I show them that the favela is so much more than crime and drugs like the news says. We have so many good things going on here too. The outside world needs to know what life is like inside a favela from WE who LIVE there!

I can say proudly that I like my life here and I have no plans to leave. Even if I was to win the lottery I would not leave here. I love my life here. Sou favelado com muito orgulho.

The favela is me and I am the favela!!