Friday, April 22, 2011

Foreigners living in Rocinha

Foto: Gary at the top of Rocinha in a area called Roupa Suja.

Spotlight: Gary from Seattle, Washington, USA

I have always thought that one of the best documentries would be someone who could film about foreigners lives here in the favela. The average Brazilian is so fearful of anything when you mention the word favela. But foreigners come with a open mind and want to learn.

The media here in Brasil, especially Rio, has destroyed the image of favela. Making the place out to be a horrible place where theives, vagabonds, drug dealers and anything else bad you can think of lives. If this is real then why would a foreigner chose to live in this type of place? Maybe because they know that the news media exagerates and only bad news sells.

So, I will be posting interviews with many foreigners who have or currently live here. All the answers they give are their own and I will not censure anything.


Can you tell me your name, where you are from?

My name is Gary Carrier and I am from Seattle, WA USA

- Why did you come to Brasil?

I came to Brazil as an extended journey across Latin America (a land that has fascinated me since childhood) after college to work, volunteer and better my language skills. While researching volunteer opportunities in favelas I came across an organization that operates in Rocinha and was in need of volunteers.

- When you arrived where did you live?

I lived in a 'volunteer house' dedicated to this particular organization's volunteers. The house belongs to the Marinho family and they rent an apartment located on the first level of their home to volunteers. The apartment has two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom.

- How did you find out about favelas?

Slum communities exist all over the globe, but Brazil's (especially Rio de Janeiro's) seem to be the most noted on an international level. Perhaps this stems from Rio's already famous international image, and the hundreds of favelas cannot be ignored and are inevitably incorporated in this image. I think the film 'City of God' gave Rio's favelas a lot of international attention, and it wasn't positive. However, it provokes interest, which leads to research, which leads to the truth.

- Why did you decide to move into a favela (Rocinha)?

I decided to move into Rocinha for a few reasons. First, being to volunteer my time and help to teach foreign languages to people who have little or no access to the overpriced language schools of the city. This classist language accessibility only further pushes low income peoples deeper into poverty and away from opportunities for economic/social prosperity. Secondly, the 'dangers' of such places are what detour but ironically interest people in them. After having been warmly welcomed and embraced for my work in slum communities of Mexico, El Salvador, and Colombia, I wanted to prove that the stigma of Rio's favelas is perpetuated by restrictively negative reportage by news agencies. Nationally and internationally, these reports shape public opinion of Rio's favelas. I wanted to see for myself what this place was like and to prove to others that it really isn't a dangerous place.

- Before moving here what did you know about favelas?

I knew nothing. What I was told is that they're dangerous, full of gangsters with guns, dirty, and infested with drugs.

- Since living here, have you impressions of favelas changed much?

Yes of course. However, I didn't come here with prejudices of Rocinha. I was aware of what I was told and warned of, but I didn't have prior judgements because my impressions didn't really spawn until I had settled in to this environment. I am young, but I have learned that most of what you hear on the news is B.S. If I lived my life according to the news I would not have had some of the best experiences of my life.

- What do you like about living in the favela?

I like feeling part of a community. I have always valued that. Rocinha feels like a small town, where people know each other, but at the same time you are in a city of roughly 10 million people. You have the connection of a 'small town' while simultaneously having access to the luxuries of a city. It's really a great combination. Having the beach in walking distance isn't a bad thing either!

- What don’t you like?

The list of what I do like heavily outweighs that of what I don't. But, like any community, it has its problem. Traffic; there were no civil engineers present to anticipate the growth of Rocinha, thus its narrow roads and curves don't aid the heavy traffic hours. Buses often get stuck, which backs everyone up and can sometime take hours of maneuvering.

I don't like the drugs. Especially when people consume them in public. I think it is especially damaging to the community and to children who pass by as witnesses. I wish the gang would put an end to the public consumption of the drugs they sell.

I suppose many expect me to answer this question with regards to the gang or the trafficking. However, the traffickers have never bothered me and in my time here, appear to be comparatively respectful to the community and its residents. I don't agree with the practice but I am aware it could be much worse. The only issue I have is the disrespect some show towards their women. I have seen them abused on a few occasions and it's disheartening.

- If you had a magic wand and could change anything, what would you change about the favela?

I would improve the infrastructure of the favela. The buildings are poorly constructed, the roads are inadequate for the amount of traffic and open sewers are something that no community should have to witness. In many of the alleyways, stairs are uneven, and I can only imagine how difficult they are to ascend for elderly or disabled residents. If the community's physical appearance was reflective of it's inhabitants, Rocinha would be beyond beautiful.

- Has your experience been worthwhile?


- What advice would you give someone who wanted to move/stay here?

Go for it! Not only are you constantly learning in this environment, but people are learning from you. As communities that have been neglected for so long by their government and the rest of society, favela residents, consciously or subconsciously recognize the importance of outsiders exploring their communities. After spending a short time here, people begin recognizing that this is a place of beauty, of community, of immigrants from various regions of the country bring their own customs, music, food, etc. and community of good people.

- Would you come back to live here again?

I'm having a hard time leaving. I'm sure that answers the question.

- Anything else you would like to comment about regarding life here?

What I have discussed here is regarding to Rocinha. My opinions, reflections, and advices are given respective to this community. Rocinha is a very safe favela, but there are favelas here in Rio that even Rocinha residents warn about. Just always be aware, and most importantly, keep an open mind. Doing this I have found what truly makes me happy.