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Discovering the underbelly of Brazilian Favela Neighbourhoods

BRAZIL | Thursday, 27 January 2011 | Views [352] | Scholarship Entry


Stepping off the bus in Rio de Janeiro, the heat of the early evening hit me as I met Fernando. His generous  offer to have me stay made my fingers tingle with nerves once he uttered the words “I live in Rocinha.”

We played cat and mouse with the chaos of the traffic to board the bus and 15 minutes later I nearly crush an old lady as the bus screeches to a halt - 2m past our bus stop!  

As we wander into Rocinha, I feel the excitement of life pulse through all that’s around me. It’s an energy that leaves a smile on my face. Fernando knows everyone, and as I follow him up the winding cobblestone streets fringed with carts and stalls - scents of Churrasco and charcoal corn wafting around me - he banters with children, friends, and elders. Amongst the evident squalor and uneven brick homes, it is an enchanting moment filled with the exquisite and touching spirit of hope, joy and happiness that can only belong to those in Rocinha.

After dropping my bag on his cardboard-lined living room floor, we run though the streets like children chasing an escapee football. Each person we pass offers us beer, Cachaca and glowing tubes of flavoured spirits. Fernando grabs my hand as we turn the corner into a cobblestone plaza the size of a football field. In true Rocinha stlye, the area is lit up with mismatched lights, from coloured swirling disco balls, to lamps attached to the bordering lattice. At one end there is a stage with a local artist performing samba songs to a throng of thong-clad, glow-stick wearing locals. I can’t help grinning as I watch everyone from toddlers to grandparents dance through the night.

 I meet Fernando’s amigos who instantly take it in turns teaching me the gruelling steps of Brazilian Samba (even now I’m still not sure whether the next day my body was sore from dancing or laughing as I stumbled through the steps that are the gateway to Brazilian culture). I was accompanied by Caipirinhas – Brazil’s national cocktail – of which the coolness of the crushed ice in combination with the freshness of the tangy lime afforded me the vivacity to continue through the night.

At around 5am my new friends and I wandered up the winding lanes. As we passed a crew that had taken to patrolling the streets masquerading as law enforcement, I burst out laughing as their machine guns were decked out in ‘bling.’

At the top, and out of breath, we sat on a broken wall and watched as dawn broke. Lights began to turn off, and the shadows of the mountains lay to the west. The blue-grey of the sky moved away from the sea and a tranquil calm rested over the neighborhood. Laughter of a happy young couple drifted away with the clouds and as the sun rose we basked in the memories of such an incredible night.

Tags: #2011writing, travel writing scholarship 2011

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