Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lonely Planet travel forum and favela prejudices

My guests to Rocinha, Carl Oley, Conor Sullivan, and Jade

In febuary I had the chance to host a woman from Malaysia. I have never met anybody from Malaysia so I thought this would be a good oportunity for me to get to know somebody from a different place. She contacted me through my website in September of 2009 about setting up coming to stay with me here in Rocinha. She wanted a home stay not a hostel or hotel. I always will welcome people who want to stay here and learn more about we who live here.

She came during carnival and her purpose was to enjoy Rio and see how I live in the favela. With her work schedule she did not have much time to stay here. She has traveled a lot in her life and told me that she always prefers to stay in the non turist areas. Rio during carnival can be very expensive for people on a budget. Her plans after Rio was to go trekking in Argentina for two weeks and then move on to other places.

The reason I write about is becase of the negativity on the Lonely Planet forum about her choice to stay in a favela with me. It seems that some people there have problems with her wanting to stay in a favela? I have no idea about these people and why all the negativity. Travel forums are suppose to be about an exchange of imformation and cultural enhancement. It seems some on the Lonely Planet forum look at her as staying in the favela as being a bad thing.

Now I understand that the “favela tourism” thing has people thinking many things but how about asking somebody who lives here about the issue? It seems the people who have big problems with it do NOT even live in favelas. I have written before about “favela tourism” and most people know how I feel about this. In short, to me, as long as the favela benefits in some way, and is not exploited, then I welcome tourism here.

My opinion about my guest coming here, I see it as her wanting to expand her travel experiences. We walked all through the comunity, ate out at different places in the favela she met many of my friends. She also went out on her own to see the comunity. This woman has traveled a lot and seemed to enjoy the friendly people here.

I usually do not post on travel forums as I do not have much time but I think I needed to make clear some things. She was not staying here as part of some tour. She wanted reasonably priced accommodations and wanted to experience favela culture. She had told me that the reason she has the ability to travel is becase she finds cheap accommodations and then is able to save money for her flights to all the places she wants to go. She is a experienced traveler.

While she was here, we sometimes did things together and sometimes she wanted to do things on her own. I wanted to support what ever she want to do. When she first came, I showed her where to catch buses to get around, how to get to the beach, where the cheapest and best places to eat in the favela. Becase she came during carnival and only for 4 days we did not have much time to do some of the things we wanted. A lot of the cultural programs in the favela was closed due to the blocos in the streets and varios parties in the comunity. I wanted to take her to a capoeira or samba performance but for 6 days here in Rocinha, no cultural programs were open, only street parties. We only left the favela once together to eat at a por kilo place, which I never did this before in my life. It was a great opportunity for me to experience life outside the favela. I would not do something like that alone. I need say, I do not leave the favela much becase I work here and I do not need to leave here.

Now becase I posted on the forum, there is this guy bubba who thinks that I wrote the original post as a way to promote my business. I am not stupid. I know very well the rules of these forums and if you try promote, they will remove your ability to make post in the forum. I am sure they can see that my post is from Rio de Janeiro and my visitor is across the world in Malaysia. A simple IP address check could show this.

It seems in places like the internet like Lonely Planet, everywhere you go there are people out to be negative about things. Why some these people are negative about favelas? Better to ignore and exclude hoping a problem will go away is NOT the answer. What becase we have curruption and drugs here? What becase poor people live here? I think everwhere in South America has this problem. The government of Brasil is the most currupt. Do I agree with curruption? Of corse not, but I just live here. These are social problems left to politicians and sociologists and others with education that I do not have. I am just a simple favelado trying making my way in this world. Hopefully in my work, people can see the work I am trying to do.

I think those who know me, understand how much I am trying contribute in my comunity. I live here in the favela. Everybody knows me. They like the work I do with the tours becase I show the good that exists here. Do you know that just as you are curios about the favela, people in the favelas are curios about you! I do not talk about drugs becase people already know about this. I work with art project here to try to keep the kids here out of trouble. I can not save everyone but if one kid can use his art to make money or even help raise the self esteem to do better in school, then this is good. I feel it is necessary to give back to the comunity of Rocinha that has given me so much. Everybody knows about the negative things in favelas, but how about the positive?

I am the one who lives here, not these people who write on these forums. Why they have a problem with this? I have no shame of where I live. It is what it is? I would not want to live anywhere else. Here in the favela we do not have these type of people who criticize everything people do. People are too busy trying to live there lives. It seems the people who have the most complain the most. In the United States is a perfect example. There they have everything as far as things to buy. The eletricty and water and services always work, they have everything, and they still complain!!! Yet here in the favela rarely do I hear people complain. We do the best with what we have. And the ones who seem to making the most problems on the forums are the Americans. And then they wonder why nobody likes Americans. Hey, American why do you hate me and my favela? What did I ever do to you?

So back to those negative people, if you have problems with people coming to favelas, This is YOUR PROBLEM, get some help becase people will continue to come here wether you like it or not. It is not my concern why people come here. Better though if they do offer to help in some way or want to understand how we live. But all you negative posters on Lonely Planet. they say in the US, GET A LIFE! And get off the internet and get out and travel.

For those who have interest to read this ridiculous stuff, here is the link to the forum posts on Lonely Planet. Feel free to reply but please make clear of who you are so they do not think I am posting under a other name.


The Flooding: Problems In The Favela

As most people in the world know, about two weeks ago Rio de Janeiro had some of the worst flooding since the 1940’s. I read recently that about 245 people have died and about 160 are still missing. They are still searching for people. The majority if not all of those who died were from favela comunities. Very sad that we who live in these areas have this kind of thing happen. People live in favelas becase they do not have any other option. When you are poor or make little money, where can you live?

In Rocinha, we have a area called Laboriaux, named after the French family who first settled there in the 1920’s. Laboriaux is located up at the highest point of the favela. There are great views there where you can see almost all of Rio. During the flooding, this area suffered some damage. Six houses were lost to damage and two people (a elderly person and a child) ended up dying becase a house collapsed. Very sad.

Approximately 4.000 people live in Laboriaux and they have their own community government or residents association. The government of Rio wants to remove all the people who live in Laboriaux. People are really upset about this and there are meetings going on daily about what will happen to the people who live there. I think that removing the people is not right unless it can be proven 100% that their house is at risk to fall down the hill.

I have many friends who live in Laboriaux, Armando, Binho, Belo, Rick. I could go on. I know both Rick and Armando have been told that they have to move. And my friend Mike Batista also known as “Mike do Skate”. What will happen to him? He is one of my best friends. He is about 40 and sells beer in the favela at the baile funk parties. Interesting about him is he has no use of his legs and gets around Rocinha by skateboard. I saw him the other day and asked him about his house. He told me no problems. I hope so. I do not see where in Rocinha they could put the 4.000 from Laboriaux and I know many of those people have lived here 30-40 years.

So, I live in ponto 7 or 7 as it is called. It is about half way up the hill in Rocinha. I like my place but after the flooding and rains, I see my house has some problems. The wall in my bedroom and half of the living room has water damage from the rain. There is water in the wall. I do not know how it got there or where it is coming from. I spoke to one of my neighbors and she knew about it. I guess the people who lived here before told the neighbors. For me to find where the water is coming from, I would have to break the wall down. At this time, I do not have the money for this.

Since living here in this place for four months, I have been sick a lot with a cough. I had flu about 1 month ago and still have a cough. And still have some problems swallowing. I wonder if the mofo in the wall is making me sick.

A health worker happened to come by here today and registered me for the new clinic/hospital opening here in the favela. She took all my information, formal name, age, birthdate, address, CPF number etc. I told her about my condition and then she started talking about TB or Tuberculose. I do not know anything about TB and told her so. She handed me a small information book on TB. I asked her if the water and “mofo” in the wall could cause TB and she said possibly, so now I have some concern. I just do not want to be sick anymore.

I need to talk to the rental agency about this damage and potential sickness problems. With all this, I might have to move. I will talk and see if there are other places in the favela that are better for me. So the flooding has affected me in a different way yet I still may have to move. There are not many places to live here and it is very crowded. I love rocinha and if I could not find another place here, I would probably have to move to Vidigal.

Vidigal is another favela on the other side of Rocinha. I like Vidigal but it has several diferences. Vidigal is located on a steep hill and public transportation up and down the hill is not as good as Rocinha. There are not as many moto taxis and the community is not as active. Stores close early and there are few parties there. The only advantage to living there is if you can find a place high up the hill, you can have a great view of the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon.

I will try to find a resolve of this problem soon.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Difficult Decisions

I walk through the community everyday and meet many people. I love living here becase one almost never gets lonely. All I need do is open my door, walk out and I meet people. With 300.000 people here I certainly do not know everybody. But many people know me becase I have been on tv a few times talking about my music and some of the projets I am making here in the favela.

About 3 months ago I met this guy at the mototaxi stand in the Via Apia. He started to ask me about my tattoos. He is a guy about 21 years old. I will call him Mario. My friend Grey from Australia told me about Mario a few weeks before. Mario works as a lookout for the gang here in the favela. At first I did not know this. But after talking with Grey and seeing his radio on his hip, I figured this had to be the same guy. Most of the guys who work in the gang are serios and do not talk much with the residents. Mario is different. I have seen him in his spot next to the restarant on the lookout for any possible threat to their business. He always greets me with a friendly “hello”. And he asks how I am doing.

One day while at the taxi stand Mario commented on one of the t-shirts I made. The shirt has a gun diagonally placed on the front with the words “Rocinha, Respeita O Poder”. He really liked this shirt and wanted to know how he could get one. He wants me to make him a shirt. This is not the first time but its different becase he works with the ruling gang here in the favela. Everybody wants a t-shirt from me, but I am not rich. I can not do this for everybody.

How do I feel about this situation? Its complicated becase when you live in the favela, these guys live here too. I do not fear them becase I have never done anything to have fear of them. I do not use drugs so what do I need fear. I am a worker like most the residents here. Many of the guys in the gang like me and say hello. But this guy I am talking about, goes out of his way now to stop me and want to talk. I guess he is curios about my work.

Interesting how life evolves in the favela. I saw Mario about 3 weeks ago without the radio on his hip. I asked him if was working and he told me that he left the gang. In the favelas, you can leave the gang if you find a normal job. You just have to never talk about your activities while you were in the gang. The gang here is not like others where you can never get out. There are always people wanting to join the gang becase it is about economics. When you are poor and favelado and feel you have no other options, you find work where you can. I make no judgement as I am far from perfect and I once was one of them becase I too, sold drugs.

So, Mario told me that he found work as a cobrador or a person who collects money working with the vans that transport people in and out of the favela. I was happy for him and he seemed happy too. It’s not often guys leave the gang as earning money being from the favela is not easy, or you get paid very poorly if you work outside the favela.

About 10 days ago during that 4 days where we had a lot of flooding here in Rio, I was walking through the Valao. The Valao is one of the poorer areas of Rocinha at the bottom of the hill. It’s called the Valao becase there is a open sewer system that runs down the middle of the street. The word vala means ditch and valao means big ditch.

As I was walking through the Valao, I heard a voice call out to me and it was Mario. He was hanging out with another guy chatting and he called me over. He asked me about the design he wanted for the t-shirt. I was surprised becase he told me he left the gang to work with the vans. He told me to turn around and look across the alleyway. I did and saw a .762 automatic machine gun propped up on the sidewalk. He smiled, and I asked if he was back with the gang and he said yes. I just replied “ok”. What am I supposed to say? This is his life and he knows what the gang life is about. Sad thing is I like the guy becase he is friendly and treats everybody with respect. I wish him the best and just hope eventually that he can find a better line of work.

Recently after a police invasion about 1 month ago, the guys have been setting up kind of a checkpoint in the favela. If I am walking down the hill from my house, the checkpoint is right by the Casa da Paz, right before reaching the Curva do “S”. The gang has several guys there with machine guns and other weapons. Today, one guy was carrying a rocket launcher. And there seemed to be more guys there today. Usually there are about 6 or 8 of them but today I saw at least 15 of them. Maybe they are preparing or expecting another invasion. The checkpoints are to see who is coming and going in the favela. Every car and van is looked over. If you plan to drive through Rocinha it is best to have all your windows open. They mostly stop taxis and vans that do not look familiar. But they do not stop the car for long. They just kind of look in the car briefly and let the car go. This checkpoint is set up after dark. There is another checkpoint at the top of the hill as well in the area called 99. So both entrances are watched by the gang.

So, today while walking down the main street here in Rocinha, I stop into my favorite market to say hello to this girl who I know. On my way out I meet a few other friends and continue on. As a said before, you cannot get lonely in this place. As I am walking by the checkpoint I hear Mario call my name. everybody here has apelidos, or nicknames. For people who do not know my name but try to get my attention, they call me “Rocinha” . I see Mario sitting in the middle of the street with his 14kg .762 machine gun. I go into the middle of the street where he is sitting. He reaches out his hand. I shake it. He asks me about the design I am making for him. I told him that I made him two that he can chose from. At the time I had nothing planned, so I jumped on a bike and went to my house to grab the designs for him. I returned gave them to him and he was happy. A couple other guys decided to come over and check them out and asked about if they could have designs. I just told them that to talk to Mario and I am sure they all can share. Before leaving, I told Mario to be careful with that thing (the thing being the heavy machine gun he had on his lap). He laughed and joked, “Ok daddy, I will”.

I really do not want to make this a habit as then everybody expects something from you all the time. There is only one me..But this is how the politics in the favela works.

News about Favela Adventures

The foto on the top left is Dan Robertson on top of my roof in Rocinha. he came on a tour and a baile funk party here in Rocinha. Please, checkout his blog at

The foto on the top right is two guests on top of my friends roof in Rua 1 at the top of the hill.

Living in Rocinha, I have great opportunities to meet many people from all over the world. I have the best work in that I get to help people understand the place that I live. The media destroyed the image of the favelas a long time ago. Interesting that Brazilians have fears of favelas but foreigners come here with the open mind and no fears. We welcome foreigners becase after visiting here they can tell people about the realities of life here. Living here in a favela is not as bad as the news says. It is not easy either but not impossible. I would rather have my friends than money.

I meet people who come to see my community. I guess everybody has their own reasons for coming here. Some are curios about the way the community functions outside of government control. Some of corse want to understand the role of the drug lords. We are a community of survivors who have managed to do for ourselves becase we have no choice. I call our favela one of organized caos, becase to the outsider the favela looks like a bunch of houses smashed together without direction.

One of my favorite guests were a couple from Angola who wanted to film everyday life in Rocinha. Everything from walking in a barbershop to riding on the back of a motobike up the hill. I gave them more access than a regular visit becase their interest was to go back to the slums in Angola and show our everyday life here. They made a film to educate their comunities. This was only the second group visit where I spoke Portugues the whole time. This is rare becase Brazilians who are not from favelas, do not make visits to favelas. So speaking Portugues is not common. The first was a couple from Minas Gerais who I later found out were the owners of “Havianas”, the sandals most commonly worn in Brazil. I guess they were doing business research as everybody in favelas wear havianas. We have a population of about 300.000 people and everybody has at least one pair of havianas, so that’s a lot of sandals. In Rocinha there are more stores who have these sandals for sale.

Although many favelas get a bad reputation becase of the news, there is so much more here than the drug trade. I think we can all agree that drugs are everywhere and problems exist with this. In the poor areas of the North America and Europe, there is this same problem of desperate people who have little opportunity taking what they can to survive. I am not making apology for this. But this is just the way it is.

We have the formal and informal sectors of work. The person who works in a restarant or in a hotel works in the formal section and you need get your work card signed by the person who employs you. The guy who sells you water on the beach or rents you a beach chair, works in the informal sector. All of the people working in the informal sector live in favelas. They do this type of work becase they probly do not have the education to work in the formal sector. If you do not have education, working in the informal sector is better than selling drugs. At least it is honest work. I work in the informal sector becase I can not find a job in the formal sector. I prefer to work in my community, I like being here. I feel uncomfortable and do not like leaving the favela My favela needs help and if I can I try to help.

I have two new tour guides that I have hired to work with me in showing our comunity to the world. Vinicius "Maka" Basilio and Rodrigo "Miyague" Zambianchi, both live in the favela. Maka lives in Rua 1 which is where I was raised as a kid. And Miyague lives in Rua 2. I tend to hang out more with Miyague as he lives very close and is not working very much. Maka works another job with his month making fod deliveries outside the favela. I hope as business goes I can give more people jobs as this is what the purpose of what we do here. People living here need to be making the tours.

Recently, many visitors have come here to the favela to write about their experiences. Below are some of the articles written about our work here. Please take the time to see what people are writing about us.

If you have questions about the article or the work we do, please write to me. I will do my best to answer all your questions.

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!!