Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Makes a Community!

foto: Gary with the favela Rocinha in the background

I am reposting this from a friends Blog becase I really like the way he describes the place I live, that is Rocinha. Gary Carrier, from Washington State in the USA has been living here in Rocinha almost 1 year now and here are his thoughts on what makes a community! Thank you for putting in words something that I could not!


Every once in a while, one of our senses catches familiarity with something that has been long abandoned or forgotten in the pages of our memory. In the same way a certain experience (or span of experiences) can be entombed in a song, we subconsciously embed our experiences in the sights, sounds, and smells of the respective environment in which they are being formed. I experienced this response yesterday and it took me back to my first weeks here in Rocinha. "Caralho..." I said to myself, marveling at the fact that I have been living here for seven months now, "I can't believe how much I've learned, grown, and become engrained into the network of this community". There are few things that I like more than sharing a sense of community, and after seven months here, a speechless stroll down the street has become welcomely replaced by conversation breaks with friends. A community connection is vital for society as a whole, and equally as important for us individually. It creates a sense of connectedness, self-worth, and kinship between its inhabitants. My walk down the hill and to the beach I swear, increases by fifteen minutes every month. But I love it. I love it more than having a car that could jet me there in minutes. It's this walk that reminds me everyday how important community is, and how important it is that we continue to stay connected with one another. I'm not just speaking of 'staying in touch', but of something grander. Locally owned businesses, community involvement, knowing your neighbors, locally grown food, support and participation in city politics, etc. These attributes are what truly create the fabric to which we refer to as community. It is through this connection that we are powerful, that we have voice, that we can be truly represented.. When did we stop borrowing sugar or a cup of milk from our neighbors? More importantly, why?

I come to the bottom of the hill, the end of Rocinha (or the beginning rather) and its adjacency to one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city, São Conrado, never ceases to bewilder me. My pace is slow and unhurried, something I've adopted from Latin America. I venture closer to the beach and the giant, luxurious condos equipped with private parks, gated entries with security guards, and even a 'community' golf course, implore my attention. Their residents give a polite wave to the security guard from their tightly sealed vehicles, and enter yet another gate, giving them access to the building before making their way to the elevator and to the 'safety' of their condos. Protection. It's what you paid for right? Protection from this crime ridden, drug infested favela that has uninvitedly situated itself next to your paradise? Protection. From what, from the same danger-zone that this pale, light eyed gringo just leisurely strolled through? Fear has caused these people to live in isolation, to replace community with electric gates and security guards that won't protect you in the way that a community will. Is Rocinha a scary place for outsiders who know nothing of it other than what the media tells them? Yes. Is isolating yourself and diminishing your political voice to a hymn going to make it any less scary? No.

If we never sacrifice our vulnerability, how do we ever expect to grow? I am the person I am today because I have subjected myself to risk, to failure, to dangerous environments, to the 'unknown', and I've conquered them all. I've come closer to realizing what I cherish, what's important to me, what I want out of my life, where I'm going and why. I took a different path, and it's made all the difference. Society's idea for me; to slave away the rest of my life so I can buy a poorly made, vinyl-sided house in a featureless subdivision, fighting it out with everyone else to prove how much I have and how good of a consumer I am has long been out of my consideration. Living in this favela leaves me wondering...why are we so afraid of ourselves? Why do we work so hard to further ourselves from each other? Why is it I rarely see anyone outside in the wealthiest neighborhoods, but slum communities like Rocinha are bustling with life, day and night? I think it is time for people to open their doors again, to go to your neighbors and meet them, and create communities again, because as long as we are separated, we are powerless. The world really isn't that scary.


To read more of Gary's Blog, please go here: