Surprise and relief was my response to Martina’s chat, with two youngsters from the Living & Learning project, about growing up in a favela. Sometimes the day to day normality of favela life is lost in the media focus on violence. It is also important to bear in mind that the level of law and order in the favelas varies from area to area and one account does not depict all favelas.
“It was the best childhood ever, I wouldn’t change it for anything!” they say in unison. “Our community (favela) was one big playground, we used to play all day – football, hide and seek and other games. We played ‘til our mums would shout at us “come back home, you have to wake up early for the school tomorrow!” They continue: “You know; it’s different if you live in one of those big buildings in the town – you don’t have such liberty; you don’t have that many friends; you don’t even know your neighbours! In the favela it’s exactly the opposite – everybody is on the street, chatting with each other and you have so many friends!”
“Do you ever feel like you are living in a dangerous place?” I asked. “There were drug traffickers who brought police in and of course their stand-offs were dangerous, with shooting and all. At least once or twice a week police entered our favela. But when they left we just started playing again and life carried on. The traffickers were from our community, we knew them; they had nothing against us. But we didn’t know the policemen, they could call us names, shouting at us: ‘get back home’. We were more scared of the police than the bandits.”
So I want to know – “how has the introduction of the UPP (the pacification police present in Rio’s favelas) changed life for you? Is it better now?” “Yes, some things got better, you can study, and there are many courses and sports available for free now, so the social provision is better. But you know, the feeling that favela is a place where people are poor but happy is not there anymore. Now we can’t do anything, they want us to keep quiet in our houses; we can’t have festas (parties, mostly on the street) or play loud music. Kids can’t play out until late, they won’t let them anymore. We just don’t have as much freedom as before the pacification.”
And how they feel now? I wondered if they wanted to continue living in a favela. “I never want to leave my favela” says Jorge “I wouldn’t find such freedom, friendship and closeness anywhere else. So I always thought that even if I get rich, I always want to stay close to my favela, and maybe have a house nearby. I have never ever thought about leaving my community. It has its problems but I still think it is the best place to live. And after all, you don’t get better views that from up on the hill!” “It was the best childhood you could wish for, Martina, within our community! I wouldn’t change it for anything!” Djalma assures me.
At the end of our conversation I ask them if they would like to take a photo and they suggest – let’s make a heart for our community. That’s the true declaration of their love, isn’t it? Martina