(O ritmo de posts é um por ano, nada mal. Obrigado Daniela pela foto, espero que não haja problema nesta utilização abusiva do teu copyright)
You sit on the back of the bike. The motoboy pulls you in a flash. You wake up and you're already at the top of the favela. After a crazy ride through trucks, vehicles, other motorbikes, holes on the ground and people moving around in their normal daily life you thank God and the driver and will probably want to kiss the floor for the safety it now provides. The motorcycle ride which starts at the lowest point of the favela takes only a few minutes to get you to the top. The motoboys service is also a normal mean of transportation for the habitants of the favela. The different colours in the jackets of the drivers show their diverse functions.
The scenery at the top is horribly pretty. The mix of colours of the buildings – red, green, pink, yellow and, of course, the orange of the brick walls is astonishing. The São Conrado neighbourhood just after, near the sea and the beach, offers yet another awful contrast, although both neighbourdhods co-exist peacefully.
A guide in the narrow and garbage filled streets (if street is an appropriate name to small and growling narrower paths) is certainly useful. Coming down by foot is the goal and the best opportunity to know the lives of the persons living in this two-hundred thousand community, which began by chance.
During the decade of 20 of the last century, immigrants coming from the north-east of Brazil, mostly of rural origin, could not get a house in the best neighbourhoods of Rio de Janeiro, where they actually worked. Therefore they started to build houses made of wood at the Rocinha. This migration grew without any order or direction and now most of them live without proper sanitary system and deplorable health conditions. Electricity is provided by a private company but stolen by some, especially those living at the top where company workers can't so easily access and verify the wiring. Going down the paths and involuntarily peeking through each house it is not hard to notes the many HD screens, high-tech PCs and video game consoles which “inhabit” its interior – once again contrast is one of the key-words here.
As one barely even starts his tour it's not easy to escape a feeling of invasion of the “their” space. A tourist is not welcomed here, although tourism is one of the engines which moves the social projects being developed, such as a kindergarten which provides kids with another way, a way through which they can educate themselves and escape the traps of destiny, or an art studio where young artist show their amazing paintings, most of them with one theme in common – their life and experience at the Rocinha.
Of course, these are just two small examples of the positive things being done in the community and what a tourist involuntarily sees and what he can't see maybe much much scarier. Shootings are not rare and occur, at least, every other semester between the police and the local gang which controls the favela or between rival gangs. The moment where your guide informs you about the shootings you can't help to wonder, as your heart stops : “What if a shooting started now?”.
The community must be very respectful to the leaders of these gangs but it is also very organized. Mail post, churches, several shops, diners, bakeries and bars exist and are available to the locals and to the outsiders. One of those famous outsiders was the singer Lenny Kravitz who visited the Rocinha some years ago and refused havaing any reporters following him.
A noble attitude which should remind everyone who comes to the Rocinha that what happens there is not a show, it is not something to feel sorry for or be afraid of. What happens there is real life, those are real people who had the misfortune of being born in one of the largest favelas of Latin America. They are not monsters, they are not thieves or drug dealers. Most of them are normal people who just want a normal life.
Looking, this time up, to the morros (large rocks on the top of the hills which “fortify” the Rocinha) and the colourful buildings embodying a joy which is not really there, is not without a sense of helplessness that one leaves, albeit all the projects and efforts of the NGOs involved in solving this problem. A sense that there is so much to be done and that what is done is almost hopeless. Nevertheless, there is an old Portuguese saying which is always important to remember when everything seems to fall apart - Hope is always the last thing to die.
No one can just be there as a tourist, not even as a professional or a humanitarian. I was there as a Person. I was there only a few hours but felt like I had been there my whole life. I imagined growing in those dark alleys, I imagined being afraid, I imagined being led to a world where drugs, violence and guns would mean routine and where toughness would be essential to survive. I imagined growing without a future, growing without education or basic essential health. That's the power of imagination – living another life in your thoughts. Imagine growing without that power? Imagined that? That's life at the Rocinha.