Friday, May 22, 2009

What is Home?

What is home? Many people tell me that I am lucky becase I have the oportunity to stay in the US where I can make more money and have a "better" life. There is truth to this, I can make so much more money in the US but what is the trade off? I think having lots of money is great but only if you can help or empower others. 

Recently, in the past four years I have revaluated what I think is important in my life. We all question what is the meaning in our lives. Some talk about family, some talk about friends and others talk about religion when they can not explain the or their "meaning of life". Some people's meaning in life is to be a "______" (fill in with whatever profession). Their job is their identity. My job is not my identity but one small thing that is only "part" of me. My identity is the many things I do, my feelings, values and how I treat others.

As we get older (no, I do not think I am old, but I am not 20 anymore), we all go through changes, obviosly, this is the cycle of maturity. When I first came to the USA, I was amazed at all the material stuff people could buy and everything worked like the eletricity and water and services were great. America seems to have everything but the feeling of places (for me the city) is much diferent than in a favela. I know what you are saying, how can you compare one to the other? Well you can but only if you have lived in both places. I have lived both in the favela and in a city in the USA. I am sure suburbia or rural life is diferent. I am only talking about my experiences.

My "home" in the USA is simple but there is something diferent about the enviroment, not just social class or buildings, but how people are. People and cultural norms are diferent. I can only speak about where I live in the US and living in Rocinha. 

Here in the US after working, I go home to a empty house, neighbors that hide, people that do not want to engage in conversation? Why? The US and the people that live there think they are free, but I do not see fredom, I see fear! Everybody is afraid of everyone. Just look on the bus, nobody talks to each other unless they are friends. Everybody else hides their lives in their book or ipod. Just trying to ask directions in this city and people dont want to help. There are some, but they are in the minority who will stop and listen. Most people think that you want something from them, like money. Everybodys "too busy". This is a lonely place when you have to make "appointment" to see your friends.

So, I have more money but I am lacking human contact. I am not talking about sex here as most americans would think. I am talking just basic communications with others of the human race. 
There are seven days of the week and I am lucky if one day a week I get to just hang out with friends. So, I spend most of my time with music, exercise or writing. And saving money for my dream to build the community center in Rocinha.

In general, I like people becase I learn so much from being around others. I do not want to always be around people who have my same interests. I want to know a little about many subjects. 

I think US culture likes it where everybody does their own thing.  The culture wants it this way becase if you are too busy supporting that "American Dream", what ever the F*** that is, then you do not have time to create communities and bond as humans.  As you are working your butt off to pay that mortgage, car or keep the kids in private school, you are too stressed to think about the injustices the goverment is doing. Do you know the goverment likes it when you have huge credit care debt? Another way to keep your mind off the real thing of whats going on. This is not just in the US, this is everywhere. 

Read "Behold a Pale Horse" by William Cooper, and the section on "Silent Weapons for Silent Wars" and then you will really get what I am saying here.  

A culture of drugs and large corporations competing for your money. So artificial, yet so clear for me becase I was not born here. If you are born in this you do not see it as it is something you are just used to. So strange for me to watch tv here and see tv commercials pushing drugs for varios "ailments" that they try to convince the US people that they have, but really do not. What good is a drug to "cure" you of one thing but the side efects give you three other bad things?

We just accept what is becase we are born into it. Just like me growing up in Rocinha pushing the "rola rola" (water container) up the hill. It is something we just did and never questioned if there was another way. Growing up in the favela is no party, life is dificult but it is simple. What I mean is that the work, just to live, is hard but its not to complicated to dig a ditch so somebody can pour ciment in the hole. The thing that I miss here in the US is the sense of community and family. If you do not know somebody, they are a "stranger", you must automatically fear them. Every place have bad people but it is a small percentage. But if you believe the news and tv they make it sound like 9 out of 10 people are bad. But if all you see or read is about murders, rapes, abuse, drugs, alcohol abuse, domestic problems, then you tend to think that this stuff happens on every corner every minute of the day. 

The average family in the US of married couple with two kids aspires for the house, car etc, but at what price? So to attain this in most big cities (where the good jobs are), both parents have to work. The kids are sent off to day care. So, what we have is other people rasing our kids teaching them who knows what. So, when your 3 three year old comes home and say the "F" word, your surprised? If people didnt worry about keeping up with the neighbors and lived within their means, this would not happen. The mother could stay home and the family could survive on one paycheck. The kids would be raise in the stable enviroment and really get to know their parents. Now, by the time the kid is 5 or 6, the video game, tv or computer is the "baby sitter" becase both mom and dad are way too tired (from working), to give the kid(s) quality time together. Is this raising a child? 

Family is number 1 in other countries. In the US once you turn 18, your parents are trying to force you out of the house. And shame on a society that wants to put their grandparents in some "old folks" home. Independance is nice but these things I will never understand. I xan only speak about Rocinha. We had many "parents" in the favela that looked after us. If both parents had to work, there was always somebody you knew well, or grew up with that would help out. Not some stranger that you know nothing about. There is always something to do in the house in Rocinha and it does not always involve a tv. We learned how to make our toys out of what ever we could find, and we played with any and all kids. Life was simple, no video games, no computers no artificial stimulation. We would listen to music on a old radio, dance, and laugh. We would go up into the woods and swim in the lake or walk in the forest and play games. Most of our entertainment was outside playing footbal or any other game where our friends were included.

So, now that I am older, I look back and miss these simple things. Yes, I have more money but at what cost. Can I say I am really happy? I have to say, no. I go to work and my fellow workers can see that my mind is not there, but in Rocinha. I have thought out the pros and cons to both places. I know my place is not here in the US (as nice as it may be for others), but back in Rocinha, where I have my family, values and the simple life! I am in the proces of setting up some business there in Rocinha not only to help myself but other people there too..

"nem melhor, nem pior, apenas diferente!" 
"not better, not worse, only different"

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

This makes me think

"I believe that the lack of empathy and understanding from outsiders remains a big obstacle to long-term improvement of life in the favelas." 

This foto is taken from the Visual in Laboriaux, in Rocinha, the favela, we are the ones with the million dollar views! But thats about it!

The opening statement says a lot about society. I do not think anybody wants to be raise in poverty. When we are born, we really do not have choice what class we are born into. I never asked my parents to be born here in Rocinha, it just happened. Rocinha is a place like any that a child would not know anything diferent unless taken outside of Rocinha. I just thought everybody lived like me. It was around 12 years old that I could see and understand that we had diferent classes of people depending on how much money you made. My father tried to protect me from seeing the realities outside of the favela becase he was ashamed of his own circumstances. I remember the first time leaving the favela to go to centro to meet some my fathers friends and seeing a public bathroom and places and how diferent it was from  the favela shocked me.

As a child going to school I was made fun of because of where I lived. I went to a public school where there was a mix of kids. There were basically two classes of people in the public schools, those of us from "the hill" or favela, and those that were from the "asfalto" or formal city. We were the “favelados” or slumdwellers. The rich always went to private schools and did not want to mix with the lower classes. Still, in public schools the non favela kids who were poor but not favela poor, still made fun of us. I guess they felt better becase they could pick on us. I am sure looking back that they got picked on by the upper class kids, so this was a continuation for them to pick on us. A cruel cycle but reality. Being from the favela was just one step up from being homeless or living on the street. If I look at it that way, I am so happy I had a home, favela or not, I had roof over my head, oportunity for school, and some food in my stomach.

We had little but we made do. I had one pair of shoes that I was only allowed to wear to school and otherwise I wore sandals. My father wanted our shoes to last. As my three brothers grew older, shoes and clothes if in good condition were handed down. I remember owned 1 jacket, 1 hat, 4 t-shirts, 1 nice slacks for church, 1 nice button shirt, three shorts, 4 underwear and 2 socks. We ate 1 large meal a day and one snack or small meal. We had acess to Jaca fruit which we ate everyday becase you could eat it off the tree. Every meal had rice and beans. On a good day we had chicken or fish. Rarely did we eat red meat becase it was too expensive for us. Life was simple and predictable.

The area I was raised to what is now Rua 1 high up on the hill, was mostly barracos or shacks of wood. We lived in a two room shack all 6 of us. The bathroom was outside and we had to shower outside in our underwear. A shower was two buckets of water, one to get wet and soap up, the other to clean off the soap. This was life and you get used to it. We had no eletricity, just lamps and candles. We finally got a Tv hookup when I was about 9. He had to run a wire from a neighbors house to get power. My father loved radio and Pagode music, so at least we had noise in the house. The radio was battery operated.

When I was about 11, we moved into a larger more stable house. It was what I called it the “half and half”. I told my friends that if they wanted to find my house just look for the brown and rust colored, half and half. It was a joke but true, our house was half wood, half brick. So, it was easy to find. We were in a beco that was made of dirt becase cement roads where we were, was not common. In the rains the dirt road would become mud and dangrously slippery.

The house was four small rooms, two bedrooms, one for my parents and the other for us four kids. My father was a construction worker who build level beds for us, one on top of each other. There was a small eating/living room area and small bathroom with a toilet and shower. Outside the side door of the house was a tiny sink with a small tacked to the wall mirror, to wash hands or shave. We did not have windows, just sheets of plastic we would use to keep the rain out. We had a small fridge, sink and hot plate type thing that plugged into the wall. Very few people at that time had stoves, like they do today. We had eletricity but it was minimal and did not always work. My father bought kerosne lamps as a backup. We often studied by candle light. Water was inconsistant and you could not drink it. There were days when we had no water which was dificult to wash clothes, shower or clean dishes. Often we would go to neighbors as this was life in a favela.

We did finally get a small used television but we did not watch it much. My mother ruled the tv in the nighttime inviting neighbors over to watch the novelas. Most of the time we were studying or playing outside when she watched tv. That was her time for socialization and connection with community. She also liked to sew and make clothes. She was a English teacher so she had plenty of work but liked being around the house too to take care of us.

Development in my area was slow until a huge migration of people especially from the northeast of Brazil, in the late 70’s came to Rocinha. Then some major building took place in many areas of the favela. Everywhere you walked people were busy building, tearing down, creating some sort of house. It was exciting but also crazy time. Strange accents and expressions were heard and with this migration brought crime. Mostly petty crime but still bothersome to the existing residents.

The drug gangs came into power around this same time and instituted rules in the favela. Since the goverment and police never came here anyways, the drug guys took control of the neighborhoods and set the rules, no stealing, raping or killing inside the favela. I am not sure on the exact details becase I was a kid, but the dealers set up a coexistence with the police. The police were not to enter the neighborhood, and the dealers would keep peace among the residents. This was also a time of tension becase the residents association which was formed in 1961 and established, was not sure what to make of the drug gang. The drug gang bought hearts and minds by aiding some of the poorest residents by providing food and necessities. Also many in the drug gang were “cria” or from the favela.

Interesting dynamic it is and far more complicated than I can explain here. The drug gang became the parallel power and filled the role of the goverment. The gang built community centers and had simple roads paved. If you live in the community what would you think? After years of being neglected and shunned by the goverment, who do you turn to? The gang filled that role. I wouldn’t say people were happy about it, but they accepted it. What else could they do?

For me, school was never fun and it was dificult to make friends. The kids from Rocinha stuck together and the non favela kids had their groups. I hated this becase I wanted to learn about others and make friends. Reading was my favorite subject. I did make some friends from outside of Rocinha, but never did I get to visit their homes or create real friendships with them. It was all superficial. And it was like in my face they liked me but if  they were with another non favela kid, they would pretend they did not like me. Weird peer pressure.

Its kind of sad becase in youth is where prejudices are born. It where people learn to hate. As I said in the last blog entry: ignorance + fear = hate. How true. So sad becase understanding and learning is what we need. Why cant favelados and asfaltos be friends? Again it goes back to education!

The outside world sees favelas as a place where people have stolen everything. To them we have taken electricity, water, land and do not pay taxes. Favelas are places where "those kind of people" live, dirty, theives, uneducated etc..And there is truth to that, but rarely do people want to know the "why"???? Why do favelas exist? 

We lets start with a history lesson, the goverment promised soldiers who were freed slaves, that if they fought in the war of Canudos (1893-1897) in Bahia, that they would provide these soldiers with jobs and housing. After this war, many migrated to larger cities in the south of brasil. Areas like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo brought many people with the hopes of jobs. People were able to find jobs but could not find afordable housing. When the soldiers asked the goverment for help, the goverment turned to the hills pointed and said "build your houses there".  So, the people did just that without goverment help. The first official settlement was in dowtown Rio in a area called “Morro de Favela” after the plant that grew there on the hill. Later the first “favela” was named "Morro da Providencia" or Providence Hill.  Morro da Providencia still exists today in dowtown Rio de Janeiro.

If a favela is without government control or structure, it is obvious that services like water, eletricity, sanitation and proper sewer systems will not exist. If  the government does not even recognize you enough to put your community (of 250.000+ people) on a map, that says a lot about discrimnation. So, then where does the community get these things? Well several places. In Rocinha the Estrada da Gavea was paved in 1939 way before Rocinha was favelized (if that is a word). Back then it was a small community of farms where vegetables were sold and car races used to run up and down the estrada. Eletricity was brought to the main street by the influence of the catholic church, who was instrumental in the 1950’s to getting services for the people who settled there. Today there is formal eletricity to most of the residents but not all. The company called “Light” is located at the bottom of the hill near the pasarella. If you are one of the residents who lives deep in a beco, you probably run a “gato” or line to your neighbors and get power from them. But in turn that person’s light bill is higher, so nobody gets for FREE!

Water has always been in Rocinha but acess has not always been easy. There is a water source deep in the woods close to Portao Vermelho and other areas higher up where water is pumped by CEDAE, which is a municiple company. The majority of residents have water but still problems occur. Two months ago I went 2 days without water and had to use neighbors facilities.

Sewage is more dificult to understand as it exists but there are many open places where sewage is visable and contributes to health hazards for residents. There is a open sewer ditch in a area called the Valao, instead of building that PAC project of the futebol field/swimming pool next to the samba school, they should cover the Valao! There are pipes you can see that criss cross the hill but nothing like the USA where you never see or hear it.

Sanitation and garbage pick up a problem. There are areas on the side of the road desgnated for pick up. The prefeitura is supposed to pick up the garbage 2 times a day, but rarely do they.The residents also need education about not littering in the becos or small alleyways deep in the favela. But it starts with having garbage cans available for people to put garbage in! The residents association does have people who they hire to clean the streets. I would think it would be easier for them to clean if there were garbage cans around. I walked one day for about 30 minutes before I found a garbage can. Garbage on the streets and in the becos also attracts rats!

Many of the services came about due to the residents association and the influence of the church. They both fought for attention to be brought to the community. The services are still substandard but are better than nothing.

If somebody does not understand the community or have fear, they create a dislike automatically and avoid. This is how I feel the asfalto world looks at the favelas. Better to  avoid and marginalize, than to include in everyday society. This is where opportunity comes in. Who has it,  and who does not? The people in power distribute that opportunity according to one’s worth. In Rio, monetary worth, specifically, where you live. If I live in Gavea or Barra de Tijuca, automatically, I am seen as a person of value and opportunities of all types are “given” without question, to me.

If I am from Rocinha or another favela, I am seen as a person not of value. Instead I am seen as a servant to service the upper classes.

Opportunity changes things dramatically. But opportunity comes in diferent ways. Education is number one! They say in Brasil, everybody has the right to education and that is true, but the quality of education is what everybody deserves. The favelado gets minimum education that prepares him to be a “servant” for the rest of his life!

If a person has access to decent education, they can change their life. How much, is dependent on what society will allow. What I mean by this is if a guy from the favela is smart enough to become a doctor through all the schooling necessary, will he be given the chance to practice? Or will he be not valued just becase he comes from the favela?  Hard to say on that becase the few who do make it to that level, have to lie and deny their roots just to get ahead. I am certainly not close to that level, but in my past I lied about where I was from, becase the media constantly pumps negative images about favelas in the news. Who would want to say they are from such a horrible place.

I know there are many people who would love to move up and out of the favelas but feel stuck. From my observation, favelas will never go away until the upper classes pay their employees better. My father earned 550$R a month. Now tell, me where else can he afford to live? So, you rich people complain about favelas and such, but you are just as much part of the problem.

So now back to this statement:

I believe that the lack of empathy and understanding from outsiders remains a big obstacle to long-term improvement of life in the favelas. 

There is much truth in this, but I feel there needs to be exchange on both parts, favela and asfalto. Only the next generations can change perspectives about how each are viewed. The outside needs to get to know and understand people of the favelas. And the favelados need to give them the chance to get to know them.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


What is Rocinha? Rocinha is a place of continuous activities and diferent people. It is like a cell that never stops. A city inside a city. Aplace of about 250,000 people in 780 square metres. So, yes it is crowded.

Yes, Rocinha is a "favela". but this is my home. 

A friend of mine brought this thing to my attention and now this make me think. I am brazilian-american. If I want I can live anywheres in the USA or Brazil. I am very lucky to have this oportunity.

So, the other day a friend asks me, "You have the choice to live anywhere, why a place like Rocinha?" I had to stop and really think about this. The good and bad of living in the US and living in Rocinha. 

First some background. 

Rocinha is my home, where I was born and raised and mold as a child. Growing up was dificult but I did not know any diferent. The thing that complicated life was knowing in society that I was diferent. Brazilian society teaches you that from a young age. If you are from the "morro", you are worth less, at least the outside world treats you like this. I can now understand why very few who live in favelas venture outside, other then to go to and come home from work. There is not much mixing of the classes. Yes, I can work as your housekleener but I will never be seen or treated equal to you. 

As a teenager I resented the upper classes, not becase they had things, but becase they were always assumed to be "good" and favelados were always seemed to be bad. They had every oportunity handed to them and we were never given equal oportunity. So, yes I grew up with resentments. What makes them beter than us, money?

My father told me of a time he went outside the favela to find work. He worked  in construction as do most men in the favelas. Rio was built on the backs of favelados! He went to a job and there was him and two other guys. All the guys got hired for the job but my father was paid half of what the other were paid becase his work was not considered equal becase he lived in a favela.  This sucks but still exists today!  

After eating with some friends of mine last night, one of them made the comment "ignorance and fear breed hate", this is so true! I have lived that statement my whole life. I read on the internet comments from forums, or hear in the street or words directed at me full of descrimnation based on fears people have inside themselves (media brainwashing). Cant people think for themselves and do research before forming a opinion about something they know little or nothing about?

Do people really believe that EVERYBODY  who lives in a favela is BAD? Closed minded people. I can open my mind, can you open yours? I am willing to learn about you and your life, are you willing to learn about me? 

So, back to some history about me, I have lived in both the US and Rocinha, Brazil. I am older now and question where I think I can be most happy. First I need to find out what makes me happy. The things that make me happy are family, friends, working and having a purpose in life.

I think for me having a purpose is number one.  What are we all doing here? i used to think it was about having nice things and all but now, I do not care about this. I want life to be simple not complicated. I want to be surrounded by family, friends and people that care about me as I do them. In the US, I do not have that. I have NO family here and no real purpose. In the US all I do is work and its very lonely becase people do not have time to socialize like they do in Brazil.

I would rather be poor and be surrounded by family and friends then be rich and have nobody.

The next Blog I will talk more about what I think my purpose is in the life and I believe I found it!