Keep in mind, this was written in November (2011), a few days post-pacification.
By tomorrow, I’ll have been here one week. It’s hard to stop thinking about all the people I know who have told me countless times how dangerous favela life is. At best, these same people have come to a favela once, maybe twice, in their entire lives and just at night to go to a baile funk party. It’s incredible the things they tell me.
– “Smile a lot so they don’t think you are a snitch/spy.”
– “Don’t talk a lot about yourself with the locals.”
– “If women approach you, don’t engage them, they probably belong to a trafficker.”
I want to tell them all, “Look, I’m the one that shouldn’t know your culture and your language, yet I’m here living in one of the apparently scary neighborhoods where people speak your language and share your same general culture.” I’ve gone so far as to invite them all for a personal tour, but alas, they decline or go silent.
Little do they realize that despite Brazil being a country of smiling people, residents of the favela are a tad happier than most. Life is a buzz here and people are thankful for what they do have, rather than unhappy for the things they don’t yet have. It’s refreshing, to say the least. Being here makes me want to be out on the street instead of on my computer.
Over the last several days, I’ve taken every new route I can find through the favela. I’ve gotten lost for a few minutes but most alleyways here lead somewhere and they all either go up or down, eventually pouring out onto a main street. Sometimes I just follow the noise and when it’s distant I know I’m deep in the maze. Other times, I just follow the people as they dart through their own “backyard”.
Where else can you go where people you have just met offer you help to find a place to live or food when you are hungry? It goes further than that. The people I’ve met are either interested or active in giving back to their community. One guy in particular happens to make what would be considered good money here and, among other things, he routinely donates bags of beans and rice to the families of the kids at the local daycare centers.
Like I said, I’ve only been here one week, so the case could be made that I still have a lot to learn. Regardless, what I’ve found here is rare and I hope the pacification process that is taking over many favelas will not ruin their unique cultures, though I’ve been told my a few people that things have gone stale since the police moved in. That’s interesting because I would never use any word like “stale” to describe life here.