Friday, June 5, 2009

The Pros and Cons of Favela Tours

Foto (R): Some of my guests visiting me in Rocinha

Ok I have some diferent feelings about this. Favela tours have been around for about 15 years. I guess with all the media attentions around the drugs, violence etc, attract people from the outside who want to know about these places. But somebody tell me please why or what do you expect to see in a favela?

I understand the curiosity, but the comunity is not some zoo to be exploited by wealthy outsiders. Again, I see it at outsiders again exploiting the people who live in favelas. Just like the samba and carnival is now exploited by the rich for the benefit to fill the pockets of the promoters. Of corse there is the "jogo de bicho" and curruption inside alot of samba school but I wont go there at this time. Its a very complicated issue that deserves its own separate post.

The favela of Rocinha has the destinction of being located between two very rich areas of Sao Conrado and Gavea. Rocinha is also one of the largest favelas in Brazil and is densely populated in such a small area with awesome views of the city. From where I live in Rua 1, I can see the Cristo, Lagoa, Sugar Loaf (off in the distance, but I can still see it), the jockey club and the beaches of Ipanema and a small part of Leblon. Who would not want to come up to Rua 1 or Laboriaux to get some great foto shots!

Foto (R): Here is me selling my T-shirts at the art stalls in Rua 1 (foto taken by Mark Peacock)

First lets take a look at who makes these "Favela Tours". I have met four owners of these companies and I used to work for one of them. ALL of them live OUTSIDE of the favela. There are from what I see everyday, several tour companies, these are "Private Tours", "Be a Local", "Exotic Tours", "Jeep Tours", "Forest Tours" and the most well known "Favela Tour". Now in the beginning the tour companies had to get permission to run these tours in the community. They got permission by the powers that be, becase the tours angle was to bring "commerce" or money into the community. So, the company charges the tourist, and when the tourist comes they put money into the community by eating, drinking, buying souvenirs, art etc..

Why are these companies doing the tours? Well becase they can make money, and they make company charges $65reais each person. They often have 10-15 people come on the tour. Well you can add up the money. And this company does 2 tours a this is a lot of money in one day..Now some tours do contribute some money into some non profits in the comunity but how much they give is not really known.

One tour company I found out was using some artists by telling them that only their tour company could bring tourists by the art studio, which I thought was not right. Why can not the art studio be open to all the tourists? But then I later found out that the tour company owner controlled who came to the art studio and when art was sold he took a about explitation. I took several of my guests to the same studio becase the guys are friends of mine and when the tourists bought art, the guys were suprised that I did not want a cut of their sales..I told them that their art is theirs and that I bring people by there to support them. I do not want any of their money!!! I can make my own and I make enough with the tourist paying me a fee. I am not greedy. Tour companies like this piss me off! 

There are diferent aproaches to the tours, some are more walking through the comunity and others come in jeeps with open end so the tourists do not need to leave the confort of their seat. I see these tour groups everyday.

I am for and against these tours and I will explain: 

The pro's are, yes some money gets put into the comunity by visitors, people get to see how currupt and uncaring the goverment of Brazil is, they get some education about favelas and Rocinha, but most important to me is that outsiders get the chance to see that the favela is not a constant war zone and that the majority of residents are hardworking people who just earn less money for their work.

I am against, not the tours themselves, but how they are run. People get a very sanitized view of the favela, there is very little interaction between residents and tourists (partly due to the fact that most foreigns do not speak portuguese), people do not get to spend enough time to see more of the comunity. Most tours stay very close to the Estrada da Gavea, the main street. They may walk through one or two becos but thats it.

I have the biggest problem with the tour guides. First,  90% of them DO NOT live here in the favela (how could they really know what goes on here by bringing people through on a 3 hour tour?). I do not know of any Favela tour companies that have night tours! So how would these guides know what goes on here??

Most of the guides are like parrots who just say the "party line" (a script). And I have heard guides not from Rocinha tell outright lies about the place! I sell T-shirts up at Rua 1 where all the artists sell their works and I over heard one woman guide tell the tourists that the favela does not have large metal garbage bins to put garbage in becase the drug dealers would dump dead bodies there! I over heard this and translated for my fellow artists and everybody was very upset at this. Everybody know that if the drug gang is going to kill somebody, they will take the person deep into the hills, do their thing and little or nothing will be left of the person. This is comon knowledge in the favela! The last thing the traficantes want is police attention in the favela, its bad for buisness..there so much more I could say about this but I think you understand what I am talking about here

My biggest con is that most of the guides are NOT from Rocinha. I think the tour guides should be from the favela becase they know so much more than some outside guide. The ROCINHA guides bring one thing that is best, AUTHENTICITY! Who better to give you a tour than somebody born, raised who eats, sleep and conduct ther life in the favela..The guides that are hired by the outside tour companies pay the Rocinha guides CRAP!! I know becase my friends have told me how much they get paid and I know becase I worked for one tour company, but only for  a short time. I gave a tour for 8 people who paid $60reais each ($480reais) and at the end of the tour, the owner handed me $30reais!! Something is just not right about that.

In terms of any kind of tour wherever in the world, what makes a great tour is the GUIDE! Not all tour guides are treated equal! The value of the tour greatly depends on the person giving the tour.

Now you are probably asking well then why dont you do your own tours? Well, I DO! I think most people who know me know how much I love Rocinha. For me what makes Rocinha is its people, not the poverty, poor houses, open sewage or any other negative thing. What makes Rocinha for me, is the people I know, love and care about. 

There is nothing special or romantic about living in a favela. Life is VERY dificult and a struggle for most people. I see on faces everyday the challenges that people live here. I have been there, I know. I am like everybody else who has gone days without water in the house or eletricity being shut off or seeing a rat run through my doorway. There is nothing fun about these things. The social divide and prejudices against favela residents, I have experienced. Its no fun having some currupt cop staked outside the favela stopping you asking is you have drugs, pulling open your pants and shoving a flashlight down to your privates to see, or being physically pushed around when they frisk you. Or when your 10 years old seeing your best friends brother get shot 15 feet from you. Or when you are refused a job becase you live in a favela. Or having a security guard ask you to leave the fashion mall in Sao Conrado becase he thinks by living in Rocinha that "I do not belong there", or that I am there to steal something.

So, I still make tours, but my tours are totally diferent becase they are not the "Tour" like the companies. When my guests come to Rocinha, I treat them like my friend coming for a visit. My focus is to show them the good things and people that exist here. Everybody already know about the drugs and the negative but outsiders need to see and interact with the people. If you come to visit me, you get the tour but you also come to my house, visit my neighbors, we drink, we eat and I introduce you to the people making positive actions in the comunity. 

For me, yes, I earn my money but I see something more important here as most of my guests often ask about volunteer oportunities or wanting to come back and make some sort of contribution to the comunity. I also feel that I get a cultural exchange as well becase I get to meet people from all over the world without having to leave my home. When you leave Rocinha, you will have a better understanding about us who reside in the hills. You will be able to pass on your expereince to others that favelas are much much more than what is reported in the news!

I am working on a big project now with some comunity members about expanding my tours but I do not want to say too much about it now. In september, I will be releasing my website and I guarentee that ALL my guides will be residents of ROCINHA! And they will be paid much more money than what these other tours pay. I will treat my guides with the respect they deserve!

If you have interest to learn more about the diferent types of tours I do, please contact me. You are welcome to come for a visit and learn more about my comunity but also have a great time.

my email: rocinhajj(at) yahoo(dot)com(dot)br


****I do not endorse or allow any kind of ilegal behavior on my tours!