Friday, May 13, 2011

Christian Dugdale's Rocinha Experience

Christian on my Roof top in Rocinha

Christian had contacted me sometime ago about wanting to live in Rocinha. He had been working in other favelas as a volunteer so living here would not be a shock to him. I am so happy that he has written so much about his experience here in Rocinha. I know he misses Rocinha very much and tells me often how he wants to return here to stay. Rocinha does that to people. Rocinha is like a mother that cares for its young. And I dont know why but foreigners come with no prejudice and get the most out of learning about the culture and life here in the favela. Enjoy!!

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

Christian Dugdale. I'm from Britain.

- Why did you come to Brasil?

It was my dream to visit Rio de Janeiro. Then I visited, and decided I had to go back for longer. I spent 15 years daydreaming about Rio before I went.

- When you arrived where did you live?

I initally stayed with a friend's parent in Botafogo.

- How did you find out about favelas?

I first saw a favela on television when I was about 11, on a British TV programme called Network 7. It was amazing to see a vertical city on the side of a mountain. I remember that I was immediately fascinated by what I saw.

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

I actually ran short of money after deciding to extend my stay from 3 to 6 months in Rio. I moved because I couldn't afford Copacabana anymore. I was happy to be doing it though, I had spent time in other favelas and enjoyed it.

- Before moving here what did you know about favelas?

I'd done all the research I possibly could because I was so interested in favelas and Rio in general. So I did have a pretty good idea of what it was like, but it would be arrogant to say that I knew what living there was like. That wouldn't be entirely true.

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

I guess so. I mean, I came into the experience with an open mind hoping to enjoy it, so it wasn't like I arrived a skeptic and went home a convert. I was amazed by how much I enjoyed day to day favela culture and just being there though. I knew I would find it interesting, but I was genuinely gutted when I had to leave. Rocinha became my favourite place in the city. I hadn't expected that.

- What do you like about living in the favela?

I love the fact that the favela is about human interaction, that you really get involved in a world that is different to your own. It's a place where you see the bare bones of humanity, for all of its faults and all of its positives. Just watching people, talking to people and being in a place that was so vibrant. I often used to think to myself "I'm alive, I'm alive " over and over again as I walked around. I don't know if that sounds either stupid or pretentious but it's true.

There may be a distinction between Rocinha and other favelas here, because Rocinha does seem to be a fast moving place than some of the others I visited. Some of them are sleepier and quietier than you'd think. Also, just like that little boy who saw TV all those years ago, I couldn't get over the aesthetic of the place. The impossible Escher drawing stairways, the vertically stacked houses, the views of Rio, the winding roads, the sight of the lights of ten thousand houses lit up at night like a beautiful constellation of stars. My breath was taken away so frequently I could hardly breath some days. I loved the way people danced and congregated in stairways at nights. The baile funk parties and the whole culture that surrounded the music, the way that once you were accepted that people really took you under their wing. The look on children's faces when you told them that you came from another country and the way they wanted to ask you a million questions about it. I mean there's a million more things, but that's what comes to mind to start with.

- What don’t you like?

I understand that people don't like the police in the favela. If I was them I wouldn't either. However, the absence of an honest and effective police service does not mean that having de-facto armed dictatorship running your community is a good thing. It isn't. I think its a tragedy that so many kids in Rio in an environment where guns are normal. Unfortunately, I'm not smart enough to come up with the solution to this issue. I can only criticise. That's not perfect I know.

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

As I've just said, I wish the favela could be a place free of guns. I wish it could be a place where everyone in Rio, especially cariocas, would want to visit. Finally, I wish something could be done quickly to improve sanitation for residents there.

- Has your experience been worthwhile?

Quite simply, living in Rocinha is the best thing I've ever done in my whole life. I want to live in Rio, and if I get my way I will in the future. I would love to live in Rocinha again. It's absolutely freaking brilliant despite its problems. BRILLIANT.

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

Do your research, find a contact in the favela to help you visit and take a look first. Then definitely do it.

- Would you come back to live here again?

Yes x 1000. See above.

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

Rocinha is an extraordinary place. It's not just a slum.It's an amazing city grafted onto the the side of a mountain, with its own culture, music, rhythm, sounds and atmosphere. When you stand on a roof terrace of someone's house in Rocinha at night, you realise that that the rest of the world is missing out on something they think they don't want to see. Look out over the unbelievable sight of the hundreds of houses as they tumble down Rocinha's tropical slopes towards the Atlantic Ocean and tell me you don't feel anything. YOU CAN'T.