Favela´s - the other side of Rio

Trip Start Jun 13, 2006
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Trip End Jun 12, 2007


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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Like when I was living Jo-burg, I decided not to go on the Favela or Slum tour in Rio as I thought it was like going to a zoo and thus very demeaning to the locals. However several others did it and came back with very positive reports but still I wasn't convinced until the morning before I left I decided to give it ago and at least give a few quid to the daycare centre. The company was meant to be the best and you were on foot so the was less of a them and us feeling. Laura from the Antarctic trip also arrived at the hostel with her mate Louis and they were going too.
 
There are over 500 Favela´s in Rio of different sizes and we went to biggest and one of the oldest which was about 10 minutes south of us and was home to 200,000 people. They was the usual multinational group of about 10 in the minibus. The bus stopped and we were told this was it but there were very nice apartment blocks all around us and I thought this was far to nice to be anywhere near a slum.
 
However around the corner were ten lads on motorbikes ready to take us up the hill into the heart of the Favela. Having never been on the back of a bike before I was a bit daunted but soon I was scared to death as we were flat out weaving through travel on the way up the narrow windy road. The driver seemed to know what he was at so I relaxed and enjoyed the ride. The drivers had a bit of craic between themselves because Louis was a six foot six Oxford blue rugby player and none of them wanted to take him up the hill !! 
 
The top it didn't seem as poor as I expected. The guide then explained the rules. We had to stick to him - no problem there - and stay out of the way of the locals. We could take all the photos we wanted except of the gang members with machine guns !!  He said he would spot them before we did and tell us to put the cameras down but there was no need to worry as long as we didn't photograph them. I was going to ask him if he was in the gang but decided to wait until we were back in the hostel !!
 
He then explained how the Favela worked. It is now part of the city and has water and electricity to most houses but limited drainage or sewage. There are four high schools for the 200,000 people so alot of people go to schools in the surrounding area outside the Favela. There is a very basic health centre but most people again go to the city proper. The post office will deliver to people on the main street but back from the that the people have to collect there post from a box left on the main street at the end of their alley.
 
The first thing I noticed was that nobody paid any bit of attention to ten gringos in the middle of a slum. Even if we were with a local, I'm sure we would get more stares in the rougher areas of Dublin.
The guide then explained that the Favela is the safest part of the city because the gangs have complete control and nobody is going to mess around. At the start of the road into the Favela there are always gang members with radios and fireworks. If the cops show up they set off the fireworks and their buddies leggit deep into the Favela ie. away from the road and the cops can never get to them.
 
We went through the little alleys to a gallery where the locals were selling some pretty impressive paintings. Then on through the other areas and we would stop at the different shops and always buy something. It was amazing. Not once did any of the kids ask for money. Most just wanted us to take photos so they could see themselves on the digital displays and the more industrious had set up little handy crafts stands outside their houses selling bracelets etc. Again we all bought something. 
 
The people seemed generally happy and there was a great sense of calm. Even though most people paid no attention to us there wasn't even one person who stared in annoyance - not even the gangsters !! Even they were getting a cut of the price there wasn't going to much left out of ten euros after the bus and the guides costs. Relative to the drugs business which is worth between 3 and 5 million dollars a month in this area, it would be nothing.
 
Apparently, the only things that shatters the piece are the gun battles between the different gangs or cops. Both sides seem very heavily armed and have little concern for any bystanders who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
 
There are certainly a lot of very skillful electricians in the area as most of the electricity meters have been bypassed and they 'rob' the juice straight from the power lines just like they did in Africa. If these guys didn't know what they were doing there would be a line of death bodies under each power line !! 
 
We visited a day care centre which is funded by a Canadian NGO and with contributions from the likes of us and again everyone chipped in. It was in pretty good shape and the kids all seems happy and healthy.
 
Ironically it was only as we were leaving the Favela that the usual threatening air returned and we all felt the need to put the camera's away.
 
There was considerable poverty there but pretty much everyone had a roof, power and piped fresh water. When I consider this to some of the conditions I saw in South Africa and particularly in Mozambique the Favela was in reasonably good shape and moving in the right direction. While we were there a group of high school kid from a private school with fees of 12,000 dollars a year, were there too. The guide was amazed as he had never seen anything like it before - rich Brazilians showing any interest. Maybe there is hope for Brazil's poor with the socialist Lula in power. Hopefully he can hold out against US pressure and implement some of the social programs these people so badly need.
 
I most say fair play to the guide. He organized it very well and I never felt we were imposing or unwelcome. The people were genuinely proud of the vibrancy's of the neighborhood and happy to show it off. 
 
It turned out that the guide was a lawyer and after working in litigation for four years he reckons he can make a few quid but have none of the stress in the Favelas. He dodged the question on whether the gang gets a cut and its hard to see them not getting one but the group spent and donated several multiples of the fee directly into the locals.        
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