Cidade de Deus

July 18, 2009

We didn’t go to the City of God today, but we did go on a favela tour, to Rocinha, Rio’s largest, and a smaller one, Favela da Canoa.  Our tour wasn’t that great, we would have liked to see more, get in there more, but there’s still so much to mention.  Rio’s favelas, despite being so large, are sort of hidden.  It’s not really surprising that people pretend they’re not here.  They’ve grown organically, without streets or organization.  The entrances are turns off one main road or another, and you’ve fallen into a rabbit hole.  They become mazes of stairways built haphazardly between homes that are next to and on top of one another.  If you put Rocinha into google maps, there isn’t anything there, but there are thousands of people living and breathing in this massive jumble of brick and concrete, hanging laundry, and drugs.


This article from The Telegraph is really incredible at describing Rocinha.  We didn’t see any drugs or guns, it felt pretty safe, but I think we were there early in the morning and didn’t get the full experience.  It’s the density that’s overwhelming, the masses of electrical wires at every pole with lines bringing the residents light, internet, cable TV.  It was explained to us that in the favela, the people who live there have everything that they need, they have a bank, and a Bob’s (Brazilian McDonalds), there are stores selling TVs and clothes, restaurants and bars, it’s all there, it’s just a different system.  There are no police, or a nominal presence, the drug lords take care of everyone, provide protection.  The police are useless. There’s a policeman at the entrance to every favela, but they serve more to catch the wealthier people going in to buy drugs than to stop any of the riff raff on the inside.

We learned how the riff raff starts, too, how these kids get in so young.  The public schools in the favelas (and in most places around Rio, it seems) only lasts for about four hours a day.  This leaves the kids with a lot of free time.  The Telegraph article describes the hierarchy and induction of children well.  As the kids get older and want new shoes, or cell phones, they can get money by doing small jobs for the drug organizations, along with protection, a sense of belonging, guns and this whole way of life.  It seems the solution is to figure out how to get kids in schools and after school programs for the afternoon so they don’t have so much time or inclination to jump in with the drug organizations.  These sorts of programs exist, some are successful, or seem to be making some difference.  I plan to look into this extensively.  These kids who go to the public schools don’t really have any chance of ever going to college.  Also, the American School is this huge, lush campus literally right next to Rocinha.

We were told that 93% of the people who live in the favelas are normal people, with normal jobs, who work in the hotels and restaurants, the juice bars, who run the teeming tourist industry on the golden beaches below.  The favelas’ lawlessness also attracts young professionals– doctors, architects– anyone who wants to do something in Rio without going through the difficult processes of getting permits and permissions.  In that respect, it seems like an incredibly vibrant place, a space for growth and exploration.

I have no illusions, I know that we were there for such a short time, and I haven’t even begun to figure out how these rabbit holes of poverty and growth and humanity work, but my first taste of this entirely different side of Rio is totally fascinating.   (Don’t worry parents, we’re being SUPER careful.)

To bring us back to the Cidade de Deus, it seems that the government is just starting to recognize favelas and the people living in them.  They are beginning to build schools and clinics, and there are new systems for garbage collection.  Before, the government’s way of dealing with these naturally growing communities was to knock them out, raze them, and move all of the people to the suburbs (if you notice in the movie, all the houses look the same, they’re government built), where there are no jobs.  This only exacerbates all the problems that exist in any favela, and it makes them more dangerous, as depicted in the film.

I know that I will write more about this, and hopefully Scott will get better pictures (the one above is the only one he liked from today), but this seemed like a good start.


3 Responses to “Cidade de Deus”

  1. Edite said

    I can´t believe you are going to return to Rocinha.
    What are you looking for there?.( Scott I´ll tell Barb.)
    I´m glad to know you´re taking PHD in Portuguese, what else could we wait from you both?
    Kids, take care and do call.
    Estamos esperando por voces aqui em São Paulo, beijos
    Edite e Paulo.

  2. Zezinho said

    Hey need to be said that Rocinha has lots of good things too but the news ALWAYS focus on negatives, look at your own news, same thing. I live in Rocinha and I LOVE my home..I prefir to thing of the good that comes from places like favelas..Carnival would not exist if it were not for favelas..thats where the samba come from, the morros!

    its too bad that you did not go on a more informal tour with local people and hang out for a day. There is so much to se in Rocinha. I made a tour here with visitors that lasted 13 hours..these europeans were having so much funpartying meeting my friends and family..Very hard to really see when you are in the comunity only 2 hours.

    if you return to Rio, contact me if you want to spend more time in Rocinha..

    very nice blog!


  3. Aline said

    I have to agree and disagree with the comments and even parts of your post.
    I am against the tourism in the slams.

    1 – If you go through an agency it’s very likely (not always but most probably) that the agency is connected to some extent to the drug lords. So, going with them you are also giving money to or supporting the drug trafficking.
    2 – If you go there on your own, you are taking a big risk, as they can recognize a tourist miles away (btw this applies to almost every place in Brazil)
    3 – All the money you spend to go there goes to the travel agency and none go to the poor population living in the slams (not socially sustainable)

    Don’t take me wrong, not all people living in slams are criminals. I personally know people living there, great and honest people. Just be carefull and conscient.

    Also, sorry if I’ve been too tough. I did enjoy your blog! And hope you keep safe.
    In my many times in Rio I actually never had a problem, but did have in very “safe” places overseas (who can understand??)

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