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Where's Jonny? Care to dine with me? You would think that 11 years of daily food tasting for a living might put me off?......au contraire! Chomp away with me across 6 continents. Seduced like a bloodhound to the scent of good food, I anticipate the misty waft of steaming broths, the satisfying crunch of mudbugs and the vibrant aroma of freshly pulverised lemongrass. Buon appetito

Are favelas safe?

BRAZIL | Sunday, 30 September 2007 | Views [2535]

We ascended Rochinas narrow streets with real apprehension.  Rio's largest favela has a notorious history of drugs, shootings and extreme poverty.  The guidebooks advise against going alone.

Luckily we had a guide, Alfredo, who was keen to change the poor perception of favelas by inviting people to visit the inhabitants.  But were we safe?

Apparently so, the drug barons whose authority preceeds that of the law, approved of our visiting and the gangs who were most likely to rob or mug us were away working the touristy areas!

Beginning our walk high above Rio's beaches and in sight of places like the jockey club below, it seemed bitterly ironic that the poorest of people had such spectacular views, yet few of the comforts.

Words like ghetto and slum are often associated with favelas but were these terms justified?

Alfredo thought not as he pointed out all the developments that were happening.  Essentially, there were small businesses bringing positive change to the community and we picked up a real sense of friendliness in the people we met. 

However, there was no getting round the fact that favelas are still run by drug lords and that the peoples of the favela are descriminated against purely on account of their social status.  This is all the more disturbing as 1 in 5 people in Rio live in a favela (in other cities such as Salvador its as high as 70%)

Are all these people criminals?

We heard stories about children with guns and how they used to fly kites to warn drug barons of approaching police patrols (these days they use mobile phones)  Despite this, we met young people in Rochina wanting to portray a different image.  There were some doing paintings depicting favela life, some selling jewellery and one man selling his music on CDs.  Others worked as moto-taxis drivers, a local solution to the lack of Government funding for a proper transport system.

There was some evidence of a discernable infrastructure.  We walked down a "high street," serving the community that contained some shops, a butcher, a clinic and even a cyber cafe.  I don't agree with one Engishmans view that, "It looked really quite nice and not that bad."   The snap shot we had of the community would be misleading if considered independently.  I think some nights on the favela would be very scary indeed.

In 1993 Rochina was given neighbourhood status, but its still has its problems (a proper sewerage system being one) although I believe this is probably one of the better favelas. 

I was pleased that the money we paid went towards funding the local community centre for educating children (which we visited)

The second favela, "Vila Canoas," had a system of backstreets one-person wide running through its core.  We walked between roughly constructed buildings of stone, wood and concrete to the dimly lit interior.  Occasionally, someones front room became an improptu shop or bar selling things to the community.  We did not feel intimidated during the day but again I felt it must be uncomfortable for children growing up in such a jungle of danger.

Amongst long lines of intertwining cables we witnessed how the electricity had been tapped directly from an official power line in the street.  This was one of many creative solutions used.

A friendly middle-aged lady who watched us climbing crumbly concrete steps towards her shouted down at Alfredo.  We later asked him what she had said.

"She was saying how pleased she was that we visit her neighbourhood," said Alfredo, "she wanted people to know that there are good people living here." 

Tags: People

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