Monday, September 5, 2011

Kay Fochtmann- Germany - Living in Rocinha

- Can you tell me your name, where you are from?
My name is Kay Fochtmann and I am from Leipzig, Germany

- Why did you come to Brasil?
I came to Brazil because I am a geography student of the University of Leipzig writing his final thesis about Favela-Tourism. I have been to Brazil 9 years ago and I just fell in love with the country and its people and ever since I wanted to come back and stay a little longer, get to know a Brazil, a Rio, far from the tourist spots.

- When you arrived where did you live?
I lived in Rua Farani, Botafogo, for a month in a small apartment which I shared with another friend from Germany.

- How did you find out about favelas?
Well, I first saw Favelas during my trip to Brazil in 2002. I knew they existed because I read a lot of travel-guides to prepare myself for the trip but when I actually saw them and especially how many there are I was still overwhelmed and somehow fascinated of the structure / architecture and how people can survive. After I returned to Germany I read some books and a lot of articles and of course, also my geography-studies dealt with Favelas.

- Why did you decide to move into a favela (Rocinha)?
My actual plan was to do an internship in a Favela and to hand out questionnaires to the tourists taking a Favela-tour because I was interested in their motivation and the image they have of a Favela before they actually saw one. So I wrote to a lot of Rio’s Favela-Tour-Guides and finally you were so kind to give me the opportunity to be a part of your tours and you even invited me to actually live in Rocinha, a thought that actually never crossed my mind. My plan was to meet the guide at the pick-up-point, hand out the questionnaires, join the tours and leave when the tour is over. I must admit I really had to think about your proposal since I read and heard a lot of bad things about Favelas and since every guide-book I know strongly recommends Rio-visitors not to enter any Favela without a guide, let alone to live there. My decision to move in was based on the emails we exchanged and because I found it only fair to live in the Favela, experience the same conditions – the good and the bad ones – if I want to write about that place and its people! And as stupid as it sounds I won’t deny that I was also driven by a tiny bit of thirst for adventure and regarded that as a once-in-a-lifetime-thing. (Luckily now I can say that I hopefully will come back soon.)

- Before moving here what did you know about favelas?
Thanks to the new media you access a lot of information really easily and find what you are looking for. If it wasn’t for the internet I would have never thought about entering a Favela and doing my project. I knew that it’s a slum, that there are different districts within a Favela, some poorer, some better off. I read about horrible sanitation, infrastructure and the influence of the drug-traffickers. Well, let’s say there is a lot of information you can find about how bad the situation is but rather less about the good stuff, especially the people and the miracle. But then again, if you really look for that kind of news you can find them but you need to dig a lot deeper.

- Since living here, have your impressions of favelas changed much?
Sure. And I am very glad about it as it wouldn’t have changed didn’t I actually live there for three months.

- What do you like about living in the favela?
There were so many things I liked and it’s all about the people. The way they treat each other, the way they help one another. Of course these social interactions are born out of necessity but they do work. People share things: the owner of one apartment has a TV, everybody comes in to watch TV, one of the guests has washing machine, so he can offer the people to wash their clothes, others have a computer and internet access - people share, people help each other. People know each other. I was out of water for several days and I wanted to buy some water down at the little market and one of the workers just offered me to use his shower and I rarely knew him. I was overwhelmed. I liked that there is a big sense of community, that you are respected. And I, too, respect the people living under the conditions they live in and knowing how to survive with dignity and pride. I liked learning about all the things that matter, all the knots that are holding this community together. That is just something you can read about but never really understand unless you didn’t experience it at first hand. Living in Rocinha felt like two things: living in a state within a state and on the other hand living in a small village where everybody knows his neighbor.

- What don’t you like?
As there are many things I liked about the Favela, there are many things I didn’t like. Teen pregnancy is one of them. And the fact that it seems completely normal to guys in their twenties+ to start flirting with 12-year-old girls. And what disturbed me most is the fact that the girls seem to like it. I wanted to blame the men but it’s not that easy. It is hard as there is a lack of role models for guys and girls in the Favelas. It seems like most young girls want to be models and most young guys want to be in the soccer-stars or be a kingpin in drug-trade when they are grown-ups. So, beauty seems to be a much more important issue than education to a lot of girls and for older guys those girls are an easy target as they feed their appetite for recognition. Of course another disturbing thing is the presence of guns, especially in the hand of teenagers. As I never had any problems with those kinds of guys it is still certain that a place filled with guns is a dangerous one. There is a lot more to write but in case someone wants to know something, feel free to contact me via email.

- If you had a magic wand and could change anything, what would you change about the favela?
Besides the things that come into your mind at first like solving the garbage-problem, teach the kids self-respect and so on, I think one important thing would be to make Favelas and their inhabitants more visible to Brazil’s middle- and upper class. Visible in the context of how life is really like for its people and that not everybody chose to live under those conditions and that not everybody is a poor, lazy bum or a drug-lord. I met people who were working 5 (five!!) jobs to make ends meet, who get up at 6 in the morning and work til 3 at night! It is such a contradiction that, especially in Rio, you can see Favelas from every part of town and so little is known about the lives of the people living there, especially strange because every middle- and upper-class family has a housekeeper who is most likely from a Favela. So there are lots of knots where those different classes connect and there is still no further interest in trying to tear down prejudices. They might rather believe the news than believe the words of the woman who takes care of their children every day. How sad is that?

- Has your experience been worthwhile?
Absolutely! I made a lot of dear friends and learned so much about living in a Favela. Knowledge which can only be gained through experience.

- What advice would you give someone who wanted to move/stay here?
Well, in case he/she still has doubts whether to do it or not: DO IT, GO!!!
Otherwise: be open, smile, don’t take yourself too seriously – and you will learn to be happier with less.

- Would you come back to live here again?
No doubt.

- Anything else you would like to comment about regarding life here?
Not really, I think I said everything that came into my mind. I mean, there really is a book to write but for now I will leave it at that. Anyone got further questions: shot!

Thanks a lot for the interview, Zezinho