Life in the favela

Category: Travel

I’ve come to reside somewhere on the periphery of a favela in Rio de Janeiro. I found it on AirBnB, where favelas too have presence. And why not. It’s a change of pace for sure. But I prefer a (drastically) varied setting from time to time. Otherwise comfort permanently settles, followed by atrophy. We know that story.

I dedicated part of the recent post to comfort. I guess it’s an opportunity to… what is that expression? Put the money where the mouth is? Silly expression. Cliché. But nothing else readily comes to mind. So be it.

Let’s talk a bit about misconceptions. Some have already scorned the prospect of living in such conditions. There’s a tendency to equate a favela with pessimal conditions and danger; all in the extreme, entirely binary sense. Where do these ideas originate? Why do I not have my head full of them?

I can address the last question with ease. I don’t follow journalists, news publications, or television. I also pay no mind to middle-class banter (sacrificing a degree of sociability), in any country. It tends to be very similar. There’s the real education for you. Travel around, interact with locals (of different economic level preferably), and you’ll notice certain commonalities across all. You’ll notice too much televised obsession; especially in cheap restaurants.

Even films tend to come off as more objective with regard to favelas. I’ve watched a series of Brazilian cinema at one point. None of it painted the concept as anything abysmal. On the contrary, I perceive it rather exotic. It reminds me of a setting or two from my Asia experiences even.

The best indicator of reality is to see with your eyes and engage those of constructive attitude. Layers of misconceptions will gradually peal.

There’s a related stoic principle for you: pay no mind to your emotional interpretation of the physical reality.

The favela living conditions can significantly vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, country to country. A particular Rio favela may exhibit an entirely contrasting vibe from a Medellin (Colombia) favela. The situation varies across the gradient. Perhaps the same favela becomes more disconcerting as you further rise along the slope. Some dwellings of certain parts may even lack electricity or a water pump. There aren’t strict principles.

My establishment represents a fairly solid few-story building with a keypad-entry front gate. It’s not the first time in Brazil that I descend a story or two, only to find the apartment window overlooking a huge slope. But there’s electricity. There’s hot water. (Regretfully the pipes don’t cool enough to satisfy my preferences for cold showers.) The WiFi internet connection measures about 1Mbps; I use 3G cellular data for anything demanding.

There are ventilators. There’s a tiny kitchen with a refrigerator and a gas stove, with just the minimal sets of utensils, pots and tools to prepare (hack) anything I need. (One must adore these minimalist AirBnBs.) There’s a small washing machine in the bathroom. There’s a small separate bedroom. And there’s a kind of a “sofa” in the main space, with even a tiny coffee table.

The basic necessities are met, plus some. Someone further up the slope might even consider me spoiled. I wouldn’t dispute.

Are there authentic discomforts? Authentic… probably not. But let’s explore.

How about the benefits? I’ve already covered the educational benefits of varying your settings. Beyond that, the window provides a fantastic full-width peripheral view onto the sizable rocky mountain slope on one side, the waters on the other, the Sugarloaf (Pão de açúcar) further in the background, and lastly, some of the more shackled portion of the favela, all in one package. Maybe at one point I’ll include the visuals, but I generally prefer descriptions.

The neighbors seem friendly. Nothing in the environment registers as alarming, yet.

What I also love about Brazil, is that being a white guy of European aspect, hardly anyone necessarily or automatically considers me a foreign element or a gringo, irrespective of the regions I’ve so far resided in. I haven’t perceived as much as a strange look around this neighborhood even. On the other hand, experience in Latin-American countries further north (ie Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico) easily cause me to stand out and detect inquisitive looks. Not the case in Brazil. Not with me.

Questions, comments? Connect.