Keep in mind, this was written in November (2011), a few days post-pacification.
I have a confession to make. While my recent article entitled “Between Two Favelas” was an accurate portrayal of exactly what the title suggests, it is far from living in a favela. For the last week, I’ve been doing just that, living in one of Rio’s 1,020 favelas (albeit, a pacified one). In a two-part series, I’d like to share what it’s like living here on a daily basis, starting with my first day.
I arrived here and got off the city bus with my bags in tow. To one side of the street, I saw armored tanks and men in black (BOPE) with very large guns and to the other side, residents going about their day, taking motorcycle taxis up the hill and buses out of the neighborhood and off to work.
As my luck would have it, my contact was waiting for me in another place and my cell phone literally just ran out of credits. There I was, in one of Latin America’s “most notorious” favelas, by myself and kind of wondering what exactly I was getting myself into. It was then that I asked myself, “What would Chuck Norris do?” So I started walking through the favela without much of a clue as to where I was going. I went through a long “tunnel” of stalls, full of people selling everything and anything, and when I saw the light of day again several minutes later, my contact was at the other end looking for the lost guy with all the bags.
We walked up the hill and in a few minutes I found myself almost out of breath, lugging my bags and trying to not be run over by the few cars, the hundreds of motorcycles and the endless stream of people going every which way. None of the residents on the street stopped to welcome me and they weren’t awaiting my arrival. No flowers, no parade. It was business as usual and if I couldn’t beat them at their own game, I was going to join them.
For the last little stretch of road, we took a van taxi to his place and I carried all my bags up the several flights of stairs, one step at a time, to where he lives. In favelas, you have two choices, go up or go down and if you aren’t the hiking type, you’ll probably only last a day.
After getting settled, we went to the local market and he introduced me to the employees. Despite the media that told me favela residents are bad people, these guys were all smiles, happy to meet me and keen on practicing their English. We stood and chatted for 30 minutes about this and that and towards the end, one of the guys was already inviting me to party with his friends at 2AM when the market closes. That was over 4 hours from then and when the time was approaching, I couldn’t muster up the energy to leave my bed, especially after a long day and a big move. I dozed off quickly, not even caring to complain about the funk music coming from down on the street.