Monday, May 3, 2010

Commonly Asked Questions

Many of you who read my blog and others often write me e-mails asking questions about life here in the favela. I am going to put some questions here and answer then so all of you can read. I will do my best to answer honestly and in as much details I know.

Some of the questions are direct and I need to think a long time about how to answer becase I need to put my mind in the outsiders way of thinking.

Why do people visit the favelas?

I can only talk about my favela as I have only lived in Rocinha. I think people see movies like City of God or Tropa Elite and have curiosity to see if favelas have this kind of troubles. But in reality we all know that if Rocinha was dangerous, why would there be tours here? I need to make clear that there are times when the favela is dangerous especially when the police come in. Not every favela is the same. I think Complexo do Alemao, Complexo do Mare and Morro dos Macacos are far more potential for danger as the police tend to make more actions those places. We had a police operation just last month and before that there was one in august. They are not invading our favela every month.

To get to basics, I think many people come becase we have much art and culture here to see. Some of the best football players are from favelas. Samba, Funk, and Pagode are music that is originated in favelas. We have great Capoeira and other activities here that I think people have interest to see. For me the favela is about the warm friendly people who live here. I think people also want to see how the favela and the people who live there survive without government involvement in the comunity. We have had to do for ourselves. The favela is about comunity. Its about “we”, not “me”.

Many of the people who have come to visit me come to learn about the living conditions, architecture, anthropology and other studies. They have a sincere interest in wanting to know about the comunity so they can in some way help. I enjoy these people becase they have an interest to get to know the favela on a deeper level. They do not want to tour, take fotos and then brag to their friends that they were “in a favela.” We also have some great views of the city being that we are locate high up on the hills.

It is sad if people come on tours to hopefully see the guys with guns and the drug trade. I do not promote this kind of negative tourism. It is a reality of life here that we have this negative thing but I think people need to see beyond this and enjoy the favela for the 98% of the good things that exist here. I hope more people come to see the true spirit of the people here. I live here becase of the people not the poor built housing.

Is living there really dangerous? The news makes out favelas to be like “war zones” and dangerous for anybody to go there?

I think this really depends on the favela that somebody lives in. Rocinha is huge and takes up 64,000 square meters. The density of this place is unbelievable and this place never sleeps. With a population of about 300.000 people we are going to have bad people who live here. Rocinha is the largest favela and is famous and infamous becase of its size and the amount of drug money that comes through this place. (aprox 10 million a month)

I do not think it is dangerous to live here. The traficantes act as police within the favela and keep a watch on negative social behaviours. I have never been robbed or had anyone stole anything from me. I can leave my door open and not worry about people coming in with bad intentions. There is no rape or killing here. If you are caught doing any of these things the traficantes are like the judge and jury and if proven you did these things, there are severe punishments.

I am not praising the traficantes, it is about economics for them. Its about MONEY. If the favela inside is safe, people from the outside will feel safe to come in and buy their product. If the favela inside was dangerous, sales would drop or not exist. The majority of the people who buy drugs are from the outside.

The favela becomes a dangerous place when the police come in to make a operation. Its obvious to all of us who live here that the traficantes pay the police to stay outside of the comunity. When the police make a operation here they know who and what they are looking for. The police think the residents support the traficantes and treat everybody as if they are in the gang. It is hard not to support someone who has brought some infrastructure to the favela. The government failed to bring basic services, and where the government failed, the traficantes stepped in to bring these much need things to the favela. Things like transportation, gas, and helping those most in need, the traficantes acted like a government.
It is difficult thing to talk about becase many innocent people have been killed or suffered here at the hands of the “authorities” talking about the Brazilian government. Think about this for a minute.
Let me ask you this, who would you trust?
The guy who lives in your neighborhood, helps provide in some ways for the comunity, provides protection for the favela, and he doesn’t mess with anybody, but he happen to be a traficante? Or
The guy who is NOT from the favela who treats every resident like a criminal and sometimes abuses them?
Tough decision yes? I tend to give more trust to the guy who is from my favela who leaves me to live my life and doesn’t bother with anyone.

I think most people know that in most countries in South America, the police are currupt and not to be trusted. How can people respect authority when the authorities break all the rules. The police are supposed to be the “good guys”. But in the favela the traficantes show more respect to the residents than the police. So the people we are supposed to respect (police) are actually worse than the people who are the “bad guys” (traficantes). There is something really wrong with this. But it is our reality in the favela.

The most dangerous time in Rocinha was in 2004 when the ADA
(Amigos dos Amigos) drug gang took over control of Rocinha from the CV (Comando Vermelho). We had 5 days of war like conditions here and we had no eletricty and could not leave our houses.

The media destroyed the image of the favela a long time ago. It is sad that when favelas are in the news it is mostly about drugs, trafficking or some other negative thing. I think Americans would agree that bad news sells. As I have seen the news there and it is the same thing, automatically if you are poor, you must be a criminal.

How does the level of poverty there compare to some of the countries that you have been to?

I have not traveled as much as people think. I am not a expert on poverty. I have been in North America. I read a lot and watch documentaries as I enjoy learning about other places. I also have met many people from all over the world and ask them about poverty in their countries. From what I seen and know, poverty varies depending on the development of the country and the type of government. From what I have seen in the USA, there is poverty but it is not like what we have here. There are no favelas in the US. There are ghettos where there are public housing complexes but these places have running water, sewers system and eletricity and on top of it the government helps them with something called welfare and food stamps. If you are poor in the US there are also programs you can apply for and the government will help you. We have nothing like that here. Seeing the programs they have nobody should be starving or homeless in the US. This does not mean that there is not suffering, prejudice, marginalization and other social programs there.

Favelas are poor comunities but our comunties are much better living conditions than the slums in India or those in Africa. I have never been to Africa or India but talking with people who are from there, I think I live in a good place. It is far from perfect and has its challenges, but I have a roof over my head, enough food in my stomach and job that I love. I am VERY thankful for the things I have. I am no expert on poverty.

When the police do come in the neighborhood, what do you do?

This depends on where I am. If I am inside the community, I go to my house or a friends house if I am far from my house. If I am outside the community, I wait until they leave then, I return to the favela. In march we had an invasion on the 11th and I was in my house at the time. I could see everything from my window. Three bulletproof helicopters were circling in Cachopa and Dioneia, a area I used to live. I could hear shooting and grenades. The police usually invade early in the morning when there is few people in the streets. But this invasion was at 1 in the afternoon when the streets were full of people and kids were going to school. Not very smart of the police and surprising that no innocents were killed. In the end, the police failed to catch the top guy and they killed 7 traficantes in their 90 minutes war. After 3pm it was like the favela went back to normal life. People did not sit around thinking of what happened. They went back to living life and working. The same with me, after 3:30, I went out and did whatever I did that day. Life goes on.

If you wanted, could you move out of the favela?

Economically I do not have enough money to leave. If I did have enough money, I do not think I would want to leave. Rocinha is my home. I am loved, cared for, wanted and needed here. Why would I want to leave. Despite the challenges of living here, I feel that if I left, I would be abandoning the comunity that has give so much to me. I think people here in Rocinha like it that I came back and this time have decided to stop traveling and stay here. Everytime, I lived outside of Rocinha, I had a poster on my wall of Rocinha and I would every morning and night look at the poster and think about all my friends and family there. I do not have a purpose to leave here.

What kinds of things do you do there where you live?

I will answer first about what I do. When I am not working, I clean the house, wash clothes and make sure I have enough water. When it rains, I collect buckets of water and put them in sealed containers. This water is used only if I do not have water or the “bomba” (well) is empty. I have gone without water before and it is not good to not have a shower or use the bathroom.

I am learning how to use some new music software called Traktor, which is a dj program. I like to read the newspaper, especially like reading about what is going on in the world. Of corse I try to get on the internet once a day to check in with friends on facebook and check e-mails. If I have nothing to do I sleep or walk around the favela and visit with friends. I have many friends who are connected to activities I do and used to do in the past. Judo and Jiu-Jitsu are two things I practiced when I was younger. I started judo in 1984 and stopped in 1993. I changed to jiu jitsu in 1996 as I wanted a change in my activities. I have ALWAYS been associaited with art in some way. Grafitti is looked down on by many people becase of some peoples use of public property. Respect to all the graf people out there. I had no interest to bomb and possibly get caught and go to prison. If somebody wanted a piece, I put it on paper or on a t-shirt. If somebody paid me to paint a wall, I would.

I work with a art school here in the favela which keeps me busy. I like teaching kids and I see some great talent in this place. Tio Lino who is the director of the art school has been volunteering his time teaching the kids here for over 20 years. He is a retired life guard who was born and raised in Rocinha. He is good people and one of the people here who I trust the most.

As for other people, there is much to do. Sports like football, judo, jiu jitsu, boxing, running, swimming, karate, tae kwondo, and we even have a group who plays tennis. But we do not have tennis courts, the kids need to train outside Rocinha for this.

There is a group of women who teach others in the community how to make clothes. They live in one of the poorest areas of the favela but they are being sought by designers in foreign countries becase their work is so good.

There is all types of music here that people can enjoy. From Thursday to Sunday we have all types of parties in the favela. Walking through the streets here, you can hear anything from samba to American rock & roll. I like to take tourists to funk parties here in Rocinha.

My personal goal is to someday open a DJ school here and teach the kids how to play all kinds of music. One, they get to enjoy music but also learn a skill where they can eventually earn money.

Don’t you think favela tours present the community in a bad way, like a zoo tour or some kind of poverty porn?

This really depends on the tour guide and the company. I have written about this before. I will say this 100%, the favela does not like the Jeep tours as there is little or no interaction with the community. We are not animals in a zoo. Sitting in a jeep driving through a community is not the way to learn about the place.

We have about 7 major tour companies that come through here. Some companies are better than others. Some give a portion of what they earn through the tours to non NGO’s and others give nothing. People who have interest of knowing can find out without my putting it in print here.

The main things I have a problem with the tour companies is not one of them lives in the favela and VERY FEW if any have tour guides who are from here. There is Exotic Tours run by Rejean Reis. She has two guides who I know very well. Luiza and Nildo. I have worked with Nildo before. The sad thing is she charges $85 reais for a 2.5 hour tour of the favela. She pays her guides very poorly. I saw Nildo with a group of 7 people last week. That’s 7x85R=595Reais. This is what Exotic Tours makes. And they make 2 tours a day. I asked Nildo what he got paid, he told me $20reais. I think this is exploitation. The outsider taking advantage of the favela. Even if she could pay him 20% of $595R, that would be about $120R. that’s a more respectable amount than $20reais? But she knows that the average worker in the favela earns between 25-40 reais a day. So she think that he is only working 2.5 hours making the tour and this is good enough. I have no respect for this kind of person who takes advantage of our comunity. And what I write about Exotic Tours is direct information from a employee.

This is one of the main reasons I started my small company. The main things are to keep the money in the favela and to keep our economy going. And giving people jobs and paying them a decent wage. I pay my guides better than any company. I have done the research and know what the companies pay people. All I know is my guides are treated with respect and are happy when they work with me.

I do know of one company that likes to glorify the drugs and violence things. They sell more to the younger back packer crowd. I have no respect for this company as some of their guides I heard them exagerrate things to be so dangerous without thinking that if it was so dangerous, you would not be giving tours here. They also extort money from a local art studio by not allowing other tour groups to this studio. If a piece of art sells, they get a comission. Are they not getting enough money from their tours? This is double “fucking” the people in the favela. The tour company restricts the studio from having other tourists come to the studio therefore this is potential money lost. To see a video about this and one of the artists complaining about how this tour company treats them, go here:
And type in “favela tours”. The video you need to watch is listed under the title “Slumming It”. Watch it and see for yourself. Please watch the whole video as the artists speaking about this is close to end of the video.

There is another tour company that I will never understand why they make tours here. The owner is a guy about 35 who comes from a very rich background. In Brazil he could be doing anything as he has the family money and connections. After all, his real last name is Neimeyer (although he does not openly use this name. I wonder why?), yes the famous architecht (Oscar Neimeyer) who has designed many of Brazil’s famous buildings. He is related. Now the question I ask is, why is a guy from a rich background making money showing the favelas?

We have a few independent people WHO LIVE HERE who make tours. I support them more than anybody. Who better to learn about a place from, then somebody who LIVES THERE. People who live here have a interest in wanting to show the reality of life here without talking about the negatives all the time. How about the history or how the people chose this place to settle? I will always first and foremost support the residents here who are making tours. These are the people who should be earning this money. For many of the outsiders it is about greed and making money off the favela.

Unfortunately poverty of different levels exists everywhere. Nobody wants to be poor or suffer. Poverty is not a choice, its due to many things. Where you are born, the economics of your parents, education, who you know to get what you want? Nobody chooses this life, its just the circumstance some of us are born into.

I prefer to show people the good that exists in favelas, the reality of the average person who lives here.

I thought the words “favela” and “favelado” were negative connotations to the places and people who live there. What are your thoughts on this?

This depends on who is using these words. I think older people becase they have suffered more, prefer the word “comunidade” or community to the word favela. Many times you will hear people use the word “morro” or “hill”. In Rio most of the favelas are in the morros or hills. I prefer the word “favela” over the words “slum” or “shantytown”. I think “favela” sounds nicer. As the real meaning of the word “favela” is that is a plant that grew on the hills where the first people settled in Rio de Janeiro.

As for the word “favelado” Its suppose to mean “slum dweller” or a person who lives in the “favela”. Some people have added meaning to this word to add that yes it is a person who lives in a favela, but the person is also dirty, uneducated, a thief and any other bad characteristic a person could be. For me, the word “favelado” there is only ONE meaning and that is a resident of a favela. I am a favelado and have no shame of this.

You mentioned that you spent some time in the US. What are the things you miss most about living in the United States?

This will sound bad, but I miss the food. Especially the junk food like KFC, Arby’s, Wendy’s. I also miss good Chinese food. Since I have been back I have not eaten Chinese but desire to. I miss some friends. In the US most of the time, things work there. Money talks and competition tends to help improve customer service. I think the customer service tends to be better in the US becase the people work for tips becase their regular wage is small.

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