Between The Wars.
Everything on my plate is beige, again. That’s five days now. I’ve come to realise that I am at greater risk of dying of malnutrition, than getting caught in the crossfire of one of the gangs that control the neighbourhoods. Like the vegetables, the guns here are well hidden.
When I meet friends in the wealthier districts they are amazed that I live to see the end of each day; to the Cariocas a favela is a no-go-zone, but in truth I am safer in Rocinha than on the Copacabana. Here I am part of the community, I am teaching their kids. Anywhere else I’m just another Gringa tourist.
Rocinha is the land that Google Maps forgot. With few street names I navigate by memory and landmarks; left at the big trash pile, right at the S-curve, through the chicken run, down Penrose Stairs. A concrete labyrinth held together by string, dog faeces and good will. Environmental Health would have a field day here, that is, if Health and Safety applied to the favelas. The desire or facility to enforce it simply does not exist.
There is an unspoken rule that the gangs stay away from the schools, but the volunteers organise an after-school-disco when gunfire breaks out at the end of the day. We can hear the fireworks above Justin Beiber, but the children do not seem to notice, or perhaps they have become accustomed to the noise. Differences are settled quickly, and we call the parents to tell them it is safe to collect their children. Life in Rio’s largest favela carries on amongst the chaos.
I meet the adult students at a language exchange and discus the day’s events. There is no excitement or fear. It is matter of fact; these things happen, it is part of favela life. I chat with Obi, a 21 year old entrepreneur. His father died when he was two and he organises favela tours for curious tourists to dispel the myths surrounding his home but also, he admits, to make a living. He is rightfully proud when he tells me he is not living the life that the favela had planned for him.
Lou owns the bar next to our apartment; little more than a shoe-box with a few plastic chairs. We visit her most days, and she cooks us traditional dishes on the house. She wants to make sure we come back. A girl from the favela breaks down on the podium as the home nation win their first gold of the Olympic games. There isn’t a dry eye in the house as we watch Rafaela Silva on the portable television. Lou smiles and tells me, “She’s doing this for all of us. Perhaps we'll matter now.”
- END -
The above was written as my entry for the World Nomads Writing Scholarship, and although I did not win, I was delighted to be shortlisted alongside 20 other budding travel writers. Thank you to World Nomad for the opportunity to take part in this process and to Tim Neville for his very kind words and feedback on my entry. I will take everything you have said on board in my future writting.
I lived and worked in Rocinha during the summer of 2016, and was absolutely blown away, by the pride, aspiration and hope of the people that live there.
I was also shocked at the ignorance and prejudice surrounding the favela in the communities of Brazil and further a field.
While I left the favela some months ago, I will carry a piece of Rocinha in my heart forever which is why some of my fellow volunteers and I are setting up The Favela Foundation.
The Favela Foundation is a UK based not for profit. It will provide financial support and work collaboratively with grassroots organisations in the favelas of Rio to encourage progress and positive change in these challenging environments.
It is our firm belief that access to education and social welfare should not be restrictive.
More from The Favela Foundation:
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