Tag Archives: Rocinha Favela

Rio de Janeiro’s favelas (II)

After finally agreeing to do a tour, we booked one with our hostel and the next day were picked up by a van and dropped outside the Rocinha favela, the largest one in town and, as they say, one of the most dangerous. Our guide was a fantastic guy who used to be in the military but was now spending his life “the real way, with the real people… I love the people who live here and if I can help out even just by spreading the word that these places are not nearly as bad as they are made to seem, this is what I will do”.


Instructions before getting inside the favela

“Now, you must remember you are gringos and you are with me, which means this is the safest place in Rio you could find yourselves in for the next few hours. Whatever you see and hear, just remember this one thing: nobody in this place will as much as touch a hair on your head. They are very familiar with gringos coming and they very much enjoy having you here. They want you to see the reality of the place they live in. They are proud of it and want to share it with you.”

“One of the most important things to remember is you are free to take pictures everywhere except for some specific places I will be pointing out on the way. Many of the guys here are hiding from the police and can’t afford to have pictures of themselves appearing on your Facebook profile, ok? That being said, not to worry. Even if by mistake you take a photo of some of the drugs or drug dealers, they are very nice about asking you to delete them. They might have a gun in their hand when they walk towards you, but they will smile and ask you to delete that photo, then they will walk away”.

“Hopefully none of you will get lost here, so please stay close to me at all times. It has happened before that people from the tour have disappeared and I found them later having beer with the locals. Please have patience until the end of the tours, after that you’re free to do whatever you wish. In case you do get lost, don’t worry at all. Just ask anyone and everyone will help you… even the guy holding an AK47 will point you politely in the right direction.”


Taking the “local taxi” up the hill

Then he told us we’d get to the top of the hill with the local taxi and then walk back down from there. So we walked towards the “local taxies place” and were met by at least 15 young men on awesome looking motorcycles. It looked like a great bikes commercial. The guide said “See you up there!”, and while I was still trying to make sense of the situation, this young man walked towards us, looked at me, pointed his finger at me and said “You! With me!” I looked around and everyone seemed to be as surprised as I was (I didn’t catch the guide’s look, he must have been the only relaxed one among us) and I obeyed. Not that I had a choice, I thought. It reminded me of the desert in India, where that was the exactly the way the desert men chose us to ride their camels.

I got on the bike behind the handsome and commanding Brazilian and tried ignoring the little shade of doubt about this whole situation, doubt coming of course from the previous image I had of the favelas. “Surely this must be safe” I kept telling myself. The guy instructed me to lock my arms around his waist and then stepped on the pedal. I’d been on quite a few insane bike rides in my life, but none went faster than this one up a hill and with traffic around it too. At least 4 times I thought that was the end, I saw death in the face, and then I found myself gasping for air after realising we had just avoided another vehicle by millimeters.

My guy was talking to me, asking me my name, where I was from, if I was married… I kept trying to focus on the conversation rather than the death ride I had unknowingly signed up for, but it was not an easy thing to do at all. I could tell my driver loved adrenaline and I kept telling myself that he was so skillful, surely it would be impossible for him to get into an accident. I did hint a couple of times that we could go slower if he wanted to, there was no problem with that, but he just laughed it off as if “why on earth would we do that??”. So I then resolved to letting him do his job, while I did the next thing that seemed appropriate at the time: pray I’d get off that two-wheeler alive!

I had been the first one picked up from the group so there was no one in front of us, and that added to my uncertainty of where we were actually going. I dared not look behind as I’d get dizzy from the speed even looking left and right, so I just patiently waited to reach the destination. Not that there was much choice about that either.

“Here we are” he said after a few minutes, “we have reached our destination”. When I got off the bike my legs were shaking like autumn leaves, but I was oh so grateful I still had my body in one piece. Just as I regained my breath I saw another bike arriving, and Boca got off that one looking pretty much as shaken as I was. The rest of them followed and soon our group was complete again. I said good-bye to my guy and he made sure to give me one last of his charming smiles before he stepped on that “scary-for-me, full-of-adrenaline-for-him” pedal again.


The time spent in the favela

We spent the next few hours walking around the favela, interacting with some of the locals, having local cakes, visiting an art gallery with beautiful albeit a bit expensive paintings and then a nursery built by an international NGO. On the way we also attended a mini concert by 3 teenagers who were using instruments from recycled materials. I felt such a strong connection with them, and that was when the idea of volunteering there first cornered in my mind.

Another guy we crossed path with was a dude carrying his marijuana plant in a little pot. He transported it with so much care and seemed so proud of it… he even let us take a photo of it. It was a bit surreal but yet much milder than the sights we were told we could have come across (machine guns, white powders etc etc).


“Brazilians are happy people, that’s just how we are”

As we were walking down the street I was surprised at how many of the people we met were smiling, laughing, listening to music, singing out loud and going about their day pretty relaxed, appearing to not really bother whether we were there or not. We then climbed up a building at the top of the hill and spent a while admiring the view from there, both of the beach far away and of the houses and people going about their lives just below us. I couldn’t help but notice how nothing in their behavior was changed: even though they could not see us, they were acting the exact same way they were when we were passing by them and they knew we were watching: smiling, laughing, listening to music, singing out loud and relaxedly going about their day.

I asked our guide about it and his answer was: “You must understand something. Brazilians are happy people, that’s our nature, that’s how we are. Out there in the city, with lots of money, and over here in the favelas, with whatever you can see.”  He pointed out they don’t focus on what they don’t have, but on how they can make the best with what they do have. And they do it, every day at a time. “The people here in the favela will look at you and say oh, poor girl… look at you, you’re so white… there’s no sun where you come from, huh? And they’ll feel sad for you.” The people there care more about a sunny day than about a diamond ring or a fancy car … they take each day at a time and welcome it with a smile, looking forward to what it will bring. And they are happy. Which is not something that can be said about most people in the “developed world”.

I then had a few pictures in my mind that made me think. If you had to choose between having the most expensive champagne on the huge terrace of your condominium, overlooking the ocean, watching the gorgeous sunset, alone, versus a can of the cheapest beer in front of a small TV, watching a game with a bunch of close friends who you know would do anything for you… what would you choose?

It reminded me of how during some of my worst periods, financially speaking, I’d pass by fancy restaurants and dream of the time I’d be able to afford a dinner there … and then, when I later had the opportunity to be taken there by people who had more money they could spend, but whose company I did not enjoy, the idea of going there with them filled me up with disgust at the idea of “betrayal” against myself, my values, my soul. I’ve never appreciated the $3 dinners with my close friends more than after having that realisation.

Happiness then, as I see it, is not directly proportional with the amount of stuff you have, but simply with the attitude you have.

By the time we finished the tour, all three of us had had thoughts on wanting to find an opportunity to volunteer in the favela. When we shared the thoughts with each other we weren’t surprised at the similarities. We knew it was something that came from our heart.

Unfortunately, as you know by now from previous posts, our desire to help out did not materialize this time, and even though we have already left Rio, we are open to what the future has to offer. Meeting people from the favela later and also going there on a different occasion (to celebrate samba together with the people who love it most) has reinforced our belief that these are such great people who need all the support in the world, while at the same time have so much to offer to the same world.

I don’t know the story you’ve read or been told about the favelas… but going out there to see them with your own eyes is a favor you want to do to yourself. And to them. It’s a total perspective change… and it’s a beautiful one!



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Rio de Janeiro’s favelas (I)

We’ve all heard of the Rio Carnival and most of us probably even have it on our Bucket List – one of the most exotic places in the world, in the middle of one of the most exotic carnivals in the world. Who wouldn’t want that?

Few of us know though how the Carnival has originated and who we have to thank for its continuation. When the word “favela” comes up, we generally have images of dangerous places, dirty and poor, with uneducated and violent inhabitants, with junkies and criminals. We have no idea that image represents merely a handful of people, a minuscule percentage of the overall favela population. We have no idea the majority of people are like you and me, honest and hardworking, looking only at how to make each day a better one for themselves and those around. This we don’t know. We also never associate the people in the favela with the glamour of the Rio Carnival… even though these are the people creating that spectacular show. The people in the slums are the people creating this international craze. What an idea, huh?


The history of the favelas

The favelas originated about a hundred and fifty years ago, when the slaves who had just been liberated were sent out there in the world to… nothing. They needed to settle down somewhere and they did wherever they found the space. The favelas knew their second wave of growth in 1897, when 20,000 war veterans were brought from Bahia to Rio but not given any proper place to live. The third growth happened during the housing crisis in 1940, and the fourth, the appearance of the “modern” favelas, 30 years later when people from the country side started their migration to the city. The favelas were built generally on the hills, in the forests, and the word “favela” itself comes from the name of the native trees of these places.

The situation is pretty ironic, as now the best views of the city are from these hills, and in other metropolis these would be the most expensive and sought after spots. The people of the favelas see spectacular sunsets and sunrises and have beautiful views of the beaches and the city. In some places there are huge condominiums springing up overnight close to the beach, hence blocking the view from up the hill. The people in the favelas are not happy about it. After all, they were there first! 🙂

In any event, at first nobody was too concerned about the appearance of the favelas, as they were not thought to last very long. Soon enough though it became clear they were not going anywhere. They started to grow more in number and size, and they soon took a life of their own. The acute need for money made it so easy for drugs to penetrate and drug cartels soon became the controlling forces in the favelas. “No rules” turned into “our rules”, and “our” was the drug lords.

We read and heard many facts and figures about the drug lords and their terrible ways of ruling the favelas. The money some of them make can go up to 6 digits a month, and the atrocities they commit to punish and set examples are akin to scenes from some of the most violent Korean movies. Unfortunately the situation does not look like it might change soon. Many of these lords are wanted by the authorities and there are big prices on their heads… but as we have been told, “they are hiding in plain daylight. People know where they are, yet no one dares to talk. What are they gonna do? Denounce them and then take the money and fly straight to NASA to get on the first racket out to the Moon? Cause there’s no way they will be able to continue living on this Planet again, there is no rabbit or snake hole they could hide in and not be found.”


The favelas today

Rio de Janeiro presently has over 500 favelas, with the largest of them, Rocinha, hosting no less than a quarter million people. If in 1950 only 7% of Rio’s population lived in favelas, the percentage now has gone up to 20. The people living in the favelas usually work in the city, doing housework or other low paid jobs for the city people. Some of them work in the favelas themselves, in shops, schools or other small enterprises offering products or services.

To this day new houses are being built in the favelas illegally. The land belongs to the administration but anyone who wants a chance at the big city can built a house in an empty spot in the favela. And when the family grows they just build another floor above for the son and daughter in law. Or, if they’re some of the lucky ones who have a yard, they build another small house in the yard. This has led to the places being so crowded and crammed that the streets are only wide enough for pedestrians and motorcycles, and this makes it a real problem when an ambulance has to get through. There is generally one wide street big enough for cars, and that works perfectly for the drug lords as the favelas are much easier to control that way.

Water and electricity are still used illegally in most favelas, with people hooking their own cables and pipes to the city networks. Some of them are choosing to put on a meter if they need an address for the bank or their job. But even if they put the counter in, they keep using the electricity illegally.


The public opinion

The situation is not pretty and many out there are still trying hard to fix the “favelas problem”. Ideas have been flowing heaps, from displacing the people to educating them to supplying them with all they need to cover their basic needs to showing them another way of life to legalizing drugs or somehow making the drugs and the dealers all go away. Unfortunately all of these solutions are far from simple, or even realistic for that matter. Some people we have talked to have said straight “There is NO solution to the favelas problem. We’re in way to deep. That’s just it!”

Most Brazilians are frustrated with the favelas and their inhabitants and never go there, for any reason. Firstly because they feel they have no reason to, and secondly because they are afraid. They are not at all welcomed as the favelas inhabitants know what the city people think of them, hence see no reason why they’d pay them visits. “Let them stay out there, in their neat and wealthy little lives”, they think. These guys don’t even refer to the people in the favelas as Rio citizens and would love it if they could wake up one morning and all the favelas would be miraculously gone! Others have a completely different attitude, they not only acknowledge the existence of the favelas but get involved as much as they can in helping out. When they hear what we as foreigners know about the favelas, they recognize “It’s our media that has created this image of the favelas, especially internationally. It’s so clear… and it’s such a shame because that’s so not the reality, there’s so much more to it than that…”.


How can you visit

When we first got to Rio we knew we wanted to see a favela, but didn’t know how we’d be able to do that. The one thing everyone tells you is not to do the stupidity of going there alone, especially if you’ve never been in one before. Other options are going with someone who lives there or booking a tour.

A tour??? I thought this was a joke when I first heard of it and the idea of going there like on a field trip to the zoo sickened me. We were not going to do that, we decided. We were also not going to go there alone, so the option we were considering was finding someone who lived there who was willing to accompany us. We tried this option but it indeed proved to be a not so easy thing to accomplish in a few days.

As we initially were only going to stay for a week, we soon realised that if we wanted to see the favelas we’d have to do something about it fast. Meanwhile we had met quite a few people who had done the tours and told us how educational they had found it, how it wasn’t a “watch and go” kind of thing but it allowed for interaction with the locals and it felt natural, like any other tour of a city or neighborhood. Then they said the people in the favelas are the ones asking for these tours because they want people out there, especially foreigners, to see the reality as opposed to settle for the image the media provides. That was when we finally gave in and agreed to a tour. It was not a cheap endeavor either (65 Reais), but we did what had to be done.



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Az egyik leg szívmegdobbantóbb túrista látványosság, avagy Riói valóság – Favela látogatás

Persze nem csak tengerparti hesszeléssel telt az első 2 hét. Amellett, hogy magunkba szívtuk a riói levegő frissítő illatát, csodáltuk a tengerpartokat, s a város különböző pontján magasodó hegyeket, ellátogattunk az egyik Favelába is a sok közül. Ugye Rió nem csak a fent említett túrista élvezetességek miatt híres vagy fontos, hanem a Favelák miatt is. A Favelák az itteni szegény negyedek. Rengetek Favela található Rióban és egész Brazíliában is. Ezen negyedek egymás hegyére hátára épített házakból állnak, különböző színekre festve. Az érdekeség, hogy a fevellák szinte kivétel nélkül a hegyoldalra épültek, ezzel gyönyörű látványt nyujtva a tengerpartokra. Viccelődött is az idegenvezetőnk, hogy a szegények nem is akarnak innel elköltözni, mert sehol máshol nincs ilyen látvány 🙂 A gazdagok a tengerparton laknak nagy emeletes házakban, a szegények meg a hegyoldalon tökéletes kilátással… az élet ironiája haha



Az első Favelákba (amit akkor még Afrikai negyednek hívtak) a rabszolgák laktak, Rió külkerületében. Az 1888as rabszolga felszabadítás után aztán nagyszámba költöztek ide a munkát nem találó, föld és pénz nélküli afrikaiak. Az első Favela nevű szegény negyed 1897ben jött létre hivatalosan, mikor is 20.000 leszerelt katonát költöztettek Rióba Bahia-ból. A katonák ismerték a Fevala nevű bőr iritáló fát ami Bahiában honos, így lakhelyüket elnevezték Favelának.

Az Favelák hirtelen megnövekedése 1940ben kezdődött, mikor többszázezer imigráns lett idehozva. Az 1970es hirtelen házépítési láz újabb embereket „kényszerített” a favellába költözésre, hiszen a házépítés befejezése után nem volt hol lakniuk. A favelűkban az emberek illegálisan laknak, azaz a föld terület a körmányé, s az itt lakók csak elkezdtek itt házatépíteni análkül, hogy mind a mai napig fizetnének a földért.

Jelenleg Sao Pauloban 600 és Rióban 500 körüli favela található, ezzel a 2 legtöbb favelát tartalmazó várossá vállva Brazíliában. 1950ben a riói lakosság 7%-a élt Favelában, 2000 körül ez a szám 19%ra nőtt, viszont 2010es adatok szerint ez csökkent 16%ra, ezzel csupán 26%-ra esve egész Brazili lakosságára nézve. (További infóhoz katt ide.) Ebből is ltszik, hogy  a favela kérdés nagy Brazíliában, de a kormány elég tanácstalan, hogy mit tegyen, hiszen ki költöztetni nem lehet az itt lakó eembereket, hiszen nincs hova menniük, s pénzük sincs, hogy lakást bérljenek valahol.



A favelákat külföldiként nem tanácsolt egyedül látogatni, mert amellett, hogy ez a szegény negyed, ez a drog központ is Rióban. Persze idegen vezetőnk azt mondta, hogy itt sosem bántják a fehér embert, hiszen ők hozzák a pénzt és ez náluk egy iratlan szabály, de azért jobb az elővigyázatosság.

Szóval szervezett túrára viszont lehet menni 60 Reiasért. Reggel felvesznek minubusszal a szálásodon, ami elvisz a Favela bejáratáig. Onnan már nem nagyon lehet kocsival tovább menni, egyrészt mert a favella legtöbb utcája olyan szűk, hogy csak gyalog járható (ezzel sok problémát okozva például a mentősöknek, akik segíteni próbálnak a beteg itt lakóknak), másrészt pedig mert nem nagyon látják szivesen a különböző nem ide tartózó autókat.

Szóvala bejáratnál a helyi motoros taxikat lehet igénybe venni, hogy feljuss a hegy tetejére. A szokás itt az, hogy fizetsz a taxiért és a taxis (fiúk) választanak, hogy kit akarnak felvinni J másodiknak keltem el, kis idegességgel a gyomromban, hogy vajon ugyan oda visznek e mindannyiunkat 🙂 de szerencsére nem volt ok semmi aggodalomra 🙂

A hegy tetejéről lefelé sétállva néztünk be helyi festő stúdiókba, ahol olcsónak nem mondható áron lehetett gyönyörű helyi festményeket venni (az egyik festmény nagyon tetszett nekem, de sajnos nem volt rá keret), ellátogattunk helyi ABCbe, pékségbe, ahol a helyi étel és ital különlegességeket lehetet kipróbálni. Egy kis helyi Casasha-t is volt szerencsénk szürcsölni, ami egy jóféle kis pálinkára emlékeztetett. Majd benéztünk egy ovodába, s egy két helyivel ismerkedve még dob koncertben is volt részünk, ahogy haladtunk le a hegyoldalon.



Fényképeket lehetett a legtöbb helyen készíteni, bár az idegenvezető felhívta a figyelmünket, hogy ha látunk embereket géppisztollyan mászkálni, azt azért ne fotozzuk le, mert sok itt élő ember körözött és ha mi fölrakjuka  képeket a facebookra és hasonló oldalakra, akokkor lebukhatnak. Bár mondta, hogy ha esetleg olyan fényképezünk amit nem szabad, akkor sincs nagy gond, mert csak szépen odajön a pisztolyos fiatalember és megkér, hogy töröld ki a képeket, s már mehetsz is tovább 🙂 szerencsére mi semmi ilyen alakkal nem futottunk össze és összességében nagyon biztonságosan éreztük magunkat. Ez persze nemcsak az emberek mosolyának volt köszönhető a kisutcákban, hanem az idegenvezetőnk hozzáértésének és jó hirnevének a helyen (minden második ember köszönt neki az utcán :-))

Azt is lemagyarázta, hogy az itt lakók akarják, hogy a külföldiek meglátogassák a favelákat, hogy az emberek megtudják, hogy hogyan élnek itt, s hogy ahogy lehet támogatást kapjanak. Emiatt szerinte a favelában nagyobb biztonságban van a fehér ember, mint Rió utcáin, mert itt sosem bántanának minket. Azt is mondta, ha esetleg elkeverednénk, csak kérdezzünk meg akárkit bátran, hogy hogyan tudunk kikeverdeni a favelából, s ők készségesen segíteni fognak nekünk.

 Folyt köv.