Friday, June 21, 2013

Cartoon 43: The Favela

      I had the opportunity to live in a favela for the last month that I was in Rio. When I walked into the concrete labrinth the first time all I could think about were scenes from 'City of God' of everyone dancing and waving around huge guns.  The first night I hardly slept, imagining that at any moment the special unit police would bust down the door to search my house for drugs.  My eyes slammed open and then squeezed tight shut again to pray everytime I heard a 'BOOM' (which happens often in Latin America as they are always celebrating something with fireworks :) ).  

                    Little by little the 'community' began to reveal itself to me.  The favelas are now called 'communities' in an attempt to destigmatize them and the population that lives in them.  Although some of these neighborhoods are still dominated by narcotraffic and violence, many have passed through the process of 'pacification' in which police take control forcefully and instill new systems of power. 
           One day I arrived to the circus workshop I would give to find the youth stirred up.  They told me that that morning the process of pacification had begun in their neighborhood.  They shared different opinions, some anxious about the the police enterring by surprise and searching their homes wrecklessly.  Others expressed happiness and hope for more freedom and peace with the police presence.  Adult community members shared that too often power passes from the hands of trafficers into those of corrupt police.  The violence may lesson but the constant 'jogo de cintura' or agility in perceiving how to be with each person and situation doesn't.  

           The community I lived in was pacified 7 years ago and is just above the lovely Copacabana beach, a huge tourist attraction just to the right of Ipanema.  At one point we didn't have water in the house for two weeks so we had to use the tourist beach showers to keep clean.   It is such a mind trip that these two realities exist so close together.

           Many of the neighborhoods are composed of the descendants of immigrants who came to the city looking for work.  Unable to find affordable housing, they began to climb and build their homes in the mountainous parts of Rio.  The labrinth effect is a result of family after family coming to construct, little by little covering the land until the cement bases and sidewalks connected like puzzle pieces.  There are no roads or room for cars in the communities.   Random jumbles of wires and pipes run through the labrinth bringing electricity and water into the homes.  Many of the walls are painted with colorful murals that helped me not get so lost since at first all the cement box houses and staircases looked exactly the same to me.  

           To reach my house I climbed the skinniest staircase ducking under one neighbor's laundry and stepping over another's trash.  The smell of black beans and rice and friiiiiiiiied chicken so often enterred my nose on the warm wind.   I would open the window to look over the rooftop patio of another neighbor who constantly blasted a mix between Brazilian Funky and 90s R&B from the U.S.  I looked out to watch people flying kites on other rooftops and then let my gaze drift to down to the white buildings of the city and then past all the way to the ocean.  

           It's funny how we only hear about the dramatic violent part of world news and then when things start getting better, we don't hear about it anymore.  I'm so thankful and enriched to have this experience and get to expand my mind's version of the 'favela'.