Our guide is Edson. I guess he is around 27 years old and he lives in the Favela Rocinha. He is full of life and it even smiles at him. From the start he makes jokes and tries to make fun of us. He enjoys life to the fullest and he is always in for a joke. I think this made sure that his life changed radically four years ago. Perhaps a joke made sure he came in contact we the owners of Brazil Expedition.
We booked our Favela Walking Tour with Brazil Expedition. And it’s owners gave Edson an education to become a tour guide and English lessons. But above all they gave him a new future. Edson will guide us through the favela. He can do this because he grew up in Rocinha. People from outside the favela could never do this. The inhabitants need to know and trust you.
Rocinha lies in the south of Rio de Janeiro and it means as much as ‘little farm’. In the fifties there were just a few farm here surrounded by jungle that we now know as Tijuca National Park. It is one of the oldest favela’s of the country and dates back tot the seventies.
Rocinha is one of almost 785 favela’s in Rio. Nobody knows what the precise number is. The government removes several every year and on the other hand new one’s appear just as quick. In Brazil there are more then 6000 favela’s in and around the big cities. According to the government there are 70.000 inhabitants in Rocinha. Edson tells us that this number is easily 200.000 people. The government deliberately keeps this number down so the problem looks less big.
Because of this number you can call it a city within a city. It has it’s own economy with it’s own banks, shopping centers, sport centers, 2 clinics with care (just basis care), restaurants and a few public schools. Edson: ‘Because of the schools more and more kids now go to school several times a week for a morning or an afternoon. It is not much but at least it is something. The kids only get Portuguese and Mathematics lessons. Educations is the start of a better future’.
Rocinha is surrounded by rich suburbs. This makes the contrast between rich and poor real big. But is also provides possibilities. The people are closer to jobs and the government also invests more in this favela. Good examples of this investments are a better infrastructure and an own bus company.
When the people heard that the Football World Cup went to Rio de Janeiro in 2014 the people got high hopes that live was going to be better in the favela’s. The people became very disappointed when they realized that almost all the money went to the stadiums and the infrastructure around it. The inhabitants of Rocinha started a strike. The old president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Barrack Obama were political friends and with American money they build better houses in Rocinha. This meant existing houses needed to go and instead there are now concrete flats. People call these flats Obama city and the road leading to is called Obama road. I sense mixed feeling on this subject.
There are a few problems in the favela. To name a few. There is a bad infrastructure. There is only one main road and from it thousands of small paths lead into the favela all the way up the mountain. There is also an open sewer which we saw with our own eyes. It pored the days before our visit so the smell was doable. But imagine coming to this sewer in summer time! The people also really like pets. They really like cats and dogs but this also means the reads are paved with dog shit. And of course there are a few health issues. You might not realize but sunlight has a hard time penetrating down into the favela. This means it is cold and moist. Especially old people suffer because of this.
Electricity is everywhere in the favela. You will stumble across all the wires you see hanging around. Edson does not know how it works but it works somehow. During summer this does causes a couple of issues. People safe money to buy an airco to cope with the heat in summertime. The airco’s cause a lot of black-outs. Further, the wires are really dangerous when it is raining. They rub against the walls and this way people get electrified. It happened to Edson just a half a year ago. Luckily he is fine.
An average family in the favela is 16 people strong. They live on an area of just one room and one toilet. If a family saved enough money a floor is build on top of the parents house for the kids. One of the reasons the families are so big is Carnival, according to Edson. There is a yearly baby-boom 9 mounts after Carnival. Edson: ‘Because we Brazilians are very passioned?!’. And then I am putting it nicely. By the way, family is the most important thing in the world in the favela. You can notice this when Edson is talking about it.
Life in a favela is controlled by the mafia. The set the rules. For example, nobody (meaning also us) gets robed inside the favela. This assures there is low criminality inside the favela when is don’t count the mafia. Suddenly Edson tells us to stop making pictures. We walk into an area with another look and feel. The house are bright and colorful and there a reasonable road in between. A man stands on the corner with a big tube and Edson talks to him a couple of moments. 50 meters further he tell us we can make pictures again. Edson: ‘We just walked through an area where the big shots are. The man with the tube was the person on guard and with the tube he can warn his mafia friends. It’s like a Mafia WhatsApp’.
Since a few year the government started a project called the Pacifier Police. Their objective is to get a better hold on the drug traffic. This mainly resulted in more conflicts and more deaths in Rocinha. In the end the people get hurt. Edson: ‘I was at a party a couple of weeks ago on the edge of town. The police probably heard the mafia was there because they busted the party guns blazing. This resulted in one death and several wounded. My friend got shot in the hand that day’. Nobody of the police or the mafia died that day. And before children were not hustled into the mafia. But this happens more and more often. About the Mafia Edson said: ‘They are a necessary evil and hard to get rid off. It would be better when the government invests more in educating the children in the favela. But that is just my opinion’.
In the beginning I called a favela a problem. I do wish to nuance that. The people are very proud of where they come from and who they are. You see that in the way Edson talks about his favela. It is great to see. He is inspiring, passionate and dedicated to the people who live there. And as we walk through the favela he gets greeted by almost everybody. He makes smalltalk or shakes a hand. Never a bad word about the people. Edson: ‘Even when people start to earn more money they still remain living in the favela. Even I still live here and I don’t think I will ever go’.
We never felt unsafe on our tour. We even felt the love of certain people. It opened our eyes on the other side of Rio de Janeiro. A side that ofter is made black by the media. A side of which we thing everybody should see. Afterwards you may judge about it.
Regarding our tour: We booked a Favela Walking Tour with Brazil Expedition. The costs were R$ 90,- per person (June 2016) and for this money you get a tour through and transportation to and from the favela. A part of the money goes to educational projects in the favela.