Friday, October 26, 2018

Brazil (Part 1): Going inside a Rio favela



On a balcony in the Rocinha favela--the largest one in Rio. As a sprawling backdrop, the favela is beautiful with much artwork and color, but up close there are some societal problems. However, the residents handle it with grace and clever innovation.
I just returned home from a trip to Brazil, specifically Rio de Janiero and Sao Paulo. Rio is probably the most beautiful city I have ever seen. People in Rio say, "Man made Paris, but God made Rio de Janiero." With the Christus Statue standing on the highest peak in the city and frequently draped in clouds, it brings a prominent message of hope below to a city who is struggling (On October 28 there will be the heavily contested presidential elections). The long curves of endless beaches with lush, green mountains like chocolate kisses dropped on the shores around it, are breathtaking for chlorophyll-starved eyes like me who live in the Middle East.




Despite some of the political problems in the aftermath of World Cup 2014 and the 2016 Olympics, Rio grabbed my heart. The Portuguese people seem to have an easy, extra sense of rhythm. Music like Samba and Bossanova (Listen to some Brazilian jazz above) bring an air of smiles and sways to everyone. I don't think I have ever heard so many people singing in the streets, on a boat, in a cafe as I did in Brazil. The eclectic history in this country of peoples from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, North America, and even Asia come together in the music. And of course, soccer is a passion that everyone shares. Pick up soccer games are everywhere. But one thing I sorrowfully noticed: not everyone can seamlessly enter into the areas I experienced in their city. In fact, many do not ever exit the favela or community they live in.

Going inside a favela (The Portuguese word for ghetto or slum. About one in five of the residents in Rio live in a favela), I still heard the beat of beautiful music. It did not stop at the entrance. In fact, the percussion punctuated the buzzing chaos inside the crowded, piled up homes--as you can see in the youtube below. As we wound around the streets and climbed the narrow stairs, I wondered how the elderly and disabled managed. Allys were so narrow that I wasn't sure how furniture and appliances were brought up to the highest levels. But people seem to manage as they go about their lives--going to school, church, the bank, and hundreds of family-owned shops. Life does not stop in the seeming chaos, but there are people who try to make it flourish--even with very little on the table.

Many residents prefer to stay in the favela since it is expensive to travel outside unless they work at the hotels, restaurants, or in construction in Rio. But the music plays on. In fact, I even got to go to a preschool age ballet class at a school. What I saw was resilience, and tenacious courage to still play the music that pounds in their hearts. There were colorful graffiti that enhanced the beauty of the existing buildings. In a place where hope could die, the Rio favelas know how to dance, sing, and do art--even when their world has some major unmet needs.


                                    A youtube tour of the largest favela in Rio called Rocinha where we visited.

If you are in Rio, go on the original favela tour owned and begun by Marcelo Armstrong. He was the first tour guide to get permission to take tours 26 years ago in the favelas. You go inside a school, which the favela tour helps subsidize. It brings another glimpse of life you would otherwise not see. The best part is meeting some residents who keep living their lives with tenacious hope.



Another shot with the wall-like cliffs behind the favela


Sometimes the houses are built five or six stories high on top of each other. The workers who build them are not trained in engineering or architecture, but they know how to build. Most of the favela residents came into cities like Rio in the 1940's from the rural areas for employment. They couldn't live in the cities so they just started to build their own. Many have lived there for generations, and some are even middle class. They choose to reside in a place they call home with neighbors who help and assist them.

Artists in the favela paint to sell to tourists like me. They do well with their creativity. The round paintings in the middle are made from old records.

Artwork on the walls was everywhere

Many walls on homes, in the alleys and businesses, had the handprints of artists.

There are water barrels on top of the roof to give water. They definitely know how to be resourceful.


My personal favorite--each stair giving a Brazilian saying.


Color distinguishes and personalizes a home.

A mailbox for an entire building



Inside a school

A teacher trying to deal with a child she thinks may have autism.



Ballet class. Wow! We had some excited little girls dancing in front of the mirror.

Walking through the allys

A mosaic in front of a church that functions as a church andneighborhood meeting house 

Looking at the angle of a five-story dwelling that was built incrementally, family by family when they had saved enough money

A business street. There is only one or two main thoroughfare streets. The rest are very narrow allys.

Just talking with the neighbors...