Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Rocinha: Rio de Janeiro's largest Favela

Have you seen 'The City of God'? Until visiting Rocinha my expectations of life in a Brazilian favela were pretty much played out in that film: Drugs, gangs, chaos and no mercy as life is cheap. The film gives you appropriate expectations of Rio's beaches - being perfect - but I couldn't have been more wrong about life in the Favela.

Tourists are discouraged from visiting a favela without a guide. This is commonly thought to be because of the high probability of being robbed but more likely due to the labyrinth factor. Rocinha, in particular, is so difficult to map that it makes delivering mail an impossible task for the postman. Main streets are understood between locals and named numbers in relation to hillside position. Luckily, we bagged ourselves a tour guide who lived in Rocinha to show us around and once feeling more comfortable about my chances of being robbed (after realising that people here have iPhones), I took some pictures. 

The facade of Rocinha makes its appearance slum-like but people choose to live here to escape paying taxes, a huge incentive. The neighbourhood takes the full hill expanse. 
The bottom tiers have the cheapest houses so the poverty is concentrated here. This street is called Canal Street because the canal full of sewage flows down here from the top. When the canal becomes flooded the area is rife with rats.
The wires hanging from building to building supply electricity to residents' homes. Residents often cut a deal with the local who works for the electricity company and get hooked up for a fraction of the price. The electricity boxes to the left allow occupants to enjoy the advantages of receiving an electricity bill as proof of address. They are likely inactivated and the occupant consistently receives a bill of R$0. Thrifty. 
The walk from the bottom is steep and the houses are always growing. Residents sell the plot on top of their property for development and as a result the whole favela grows taller. It's not surprising Brazilians have nicely shaped bottoms. 
Between houses there is very little space and at night the region comes alive with "Battle of the music from next door" kicking off every couple of doors down. At this point in the tour a couple of teenagers with an actual rifle (complete with hash leaf motif) passed us. I thought my colleague was going to have a heart attack at this point but our guide assured us that it wasn't a genuine rifle.
Making our way up and around the hill, Rocinha caught the sun and its true colours shone.

Did you know that the name Favela comes from the plant 'Favela' among which the neighbourhood was built? Due to the lack of address residents would explain they lived among the favela. 

Beautiful organised graffiti beamed from every building. The sense of community within Rocinha was strong. 
The community is apparently so strong that neighbours help struggling families feed their children and individuals volunteer teach some to read and write. The public schools in the area are terribly staffed and many young people don't learn these basic skills. Others volunteer to teach dance, english, arts & crafts or run sports clubs for free. Our tour guide learned english at a free club teaching skills for tourism within Rocinha. 
Colour floods the streets. 
These houses are likely owned by people who own businesses within the favela. Apparently rent for a house like this would be around R$500-600 a month. This equates to less than £200 a month, tax free. A typical monthly wage in the region would be around R$600. 

Would you believe me if I told you that the yellow building is a three storey family home with a pool on top?

Now take a deep breath and enjoy the view from the top... (scroll right)

Please note: All information about life in Rocinha was obtained from the tour guide and doesn't reflect my own opinion or research.

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