This blog post has been a long time coming but recently there have been some incidents that need to be discussed. Let me explain. This is not the first time this has happened which is why I am writing now about this. People who decide to visit or stay here need to know this information.
This post is not to be taken in anger as much as to educate those future visitors or volunteers who have questions or who are thinking about Rocinha as a possible destination point. It is frustrating that I even have to make this post.
There is an 18 year old girl from a 1st world country staying in Rocinha. She contacted me about volunteering here months ago. I have gone out of my way to show her around. I have brought her to 2 projects where she can volunteer and have introduced her to the directors of these projects and have translated for her. I have not asked her for anything and she hasn't paid me anything (not that I expected anything of her). I'm starting to have second thoughts about continuing to do this. I don't want to responsible for these young people. When people contact me about volunteering they are usually 25 years old or older and have some knowledge about favelas. When I receive the emails, I don't ask their age. I assume they are adults who know about Rocinha.
But recently there were complaints about her taking fotos in areas where she shouldn't be doing this. She was told once by the "guys" but apparently stopped as so she says (I'm only getting relayed info from the hostel owner where she is staying). But, now in the area where she is staying, there's a little tension with the "guys" (drug dealers). She now will be watched by them. This has caused a problem now for the hostel where she is staying as the "guys" went to the hostel to speak to the owner and his mother about this girl. The last thing the hostel needs is this problem. Because she is 18, not knowing any Portuguese and little knowledge of favelas, its been difficult trying to get her to understand about the possible dangers here. I don't know, maybe she doesn't believe me, but I had to send her an article how a few years back a German tourist was shot here for taking fotos in an area that he shouldn't have been. Read about that incident here.
When travelling to a foreign country where you can't communicate or have very little knowledge of the community:
1.) Don't assume the place is like home, because most likely, it's not.
2.) Ask somebody about the culture, rules, anything you shouldn't do. Educate yourself.
3.) Respect those people in the community who are adults. If you are 18 in Brazil, you are still seen as a minor, not an adult. Respect our culture.
The thing she needs to understand that if something happens to her (or any tourist that decides to stay here), I am not responsible nor is the hostel responsible for her as she is here and acts on her own free will.
For the most part, people who come here and experience the life, enjoy their time spent here. Whether you are a tourist, volunteer or just someone looking for a cheap place to stay, there are things that need to be known to make your stay more pleasant.
RULES FOR STAYING IN A FAVELA
First, before coming here, please read up on the history of favelas and of Rocinha. Not all favelas are created equal. They are all different and have their own unique "vibe". That being said, they can also be dangerous for the ill informed. Try to get information about the complexities of life here. This place is not cut and dry. The police will not be there to "save" you if you screw up. Get it out of your mind that Brazil (or the favela) is like back home because it isn't!
This is NOT your home. You do not live here. You are a GUEST in this community. Your behavior reflects not only on you but the country you come from. There are rules that must be adhered to. Just because you are visiting or volunteering here does NOT give you free reign to do whatever YOU want. Think the same if I was to stay in your community. Would I do whatever I want? Of course NOT!
In regards to behavior, a few years back a guy from Europe came to Rocinha to a funk party. I was not with him, but another guide was. The European dude got drunk (a big No-No here) and started harassing this girl. A few moments later a guy put a gun to this guys' head and kicked him out of the party. So, how does this relate? Its a foreigner (who speaks no Portuguese) coming here acting in a way that THEY think is ok. This being said, most people that visit here understand they can't act like they do at home. But I mention this because there are foreign young people out there that just don't "get it."
To avoid problems or mis-communications is best if you at least come here with some Portuguese fluency. To not know any Portuguese means you then have to rely on others to help you which makes you dependant. So, the people in the favela that you rely on for help, you must show respect for them and be thankful that they are going out of THEIR way to help YOU. I help a lot of people and as an elder of 53 years old I expect guests, to respect me in what I tell them, especially when I am old enough to be their parent. In Brazilian culture, youth do not argue or talk back to adults. After all, I was born here and this is my home! And I am not trying to be an asshole. I am trying to give you advice for your own safety. Remember you are not from here!
The favela is a very busy area of about 300,000 people. There's lots going on here. The majority of those who live here are honest hard working people who just earn less money. But there is an underside to living here that sometimes is not always as obvious.
The police are in the community but there are still drug traffickers (the "guys") living here carrying out their business.
They have two main rules:
1.) Don't mess in any way with their business.
2.) Don't take pictures of them.
Just as any human being, they are no different. If somebody tells me not to take their photo, I don't, out of RESPECT for that person regardless of who they are .
There are areas in the favela where you shouldn't take fotos. We who live here know of these places. We make sure our guests know, that there will be trouble if you break this rule. The "guys" could take your camera, they could beat you up or they could kill you. This is very serious. So, If you decide to come to stay here, please ask your host where you can take fotos.
The "guys" have two fears, and rightfully so, that the person taking fotos is a undercover cop or undercover journalist. I am sure if you were a drug dealer that you wouldn't want your foto taken either. Many of these "guys" are hanging out in the tight alleyways and with all the foot traffic, you are most likely (if you are a foreigner), not going to know who these "guys" are. The problem is many people hang out in the alleyways, so the "guys" mix in with regular members of the community.
THIS IS THE BIG PROBLEM
As tour guides and hosts who have hostels, hotels etc., following this specific rule (about not taking fotos in certain areas) is very important. If for some reason, the "guys" think that we are not telling our guests about this rule and problems continue, they could threaten us. Unlike in foreign countries, going to the police is NOT an option. (That's a whole other blog post).
They could shut down the hostel or tours here because they see them (the tourists) as a threat. This is something that foreigners don't think about. You, as a foreigner can leave and go back to where you came from. But we could lose the way we earn our income due to somebody's selfishness. This means myself (and other guides) and my friend who owns the hostel, would have no way to provide for our families. And how about the businesses you threaten to destroy all because you feel entitled to take a few fotos because you think its your right? Some businesses here also rely on tourists as they spend a lot of money in the favela. So, Yes, this is a serious issue!
If you are going to stay in a favela, these are the things need to be thought about. Again it all comes back to Respect!
If you are a volunteering here, you are not special and don't have special rights.
If you go away tomorrow, life will go on here as usual. It's nice that you want to help but still, you are a visitor to this community and you need to show respect to the community.
Just as I, if I were to go to your community, I would certainly do the same.
As long as people understand this, there will be no problems.
Please, all I ask you before visiting or staying in Rocinha is to do your research!