Everyday life is full of contrasts and contradictions. But some places are so complex and intertwined with opposites it is makes for an unforgettable experience. Such is life in a favela as I recently discovered in Rio de Janeiro.
A favela was explained as a poverty-stricken city within a city, where its inhabitants live and work while trying to make the best of things under substandard conditions. Twenty percent of Rio’s population lives here.
I toured two favelas, first up being Rocinha, the largest, most densely populated and urbanized favela in Rio. It has had a beast of struggles with violence and organized crime despite being located between two of Brazil’s wealthiest neighborhoods, São Conrado and Gávea.
Rocinha looks like a colorful mosaic intermingling with the hillside.
As we made our way up the east slope of Rochina we visited with local artists who captured the heart and spirit of the favelas with colorful housing, samba dancing, and images of Christ the Redeemer.
I bought several paintings from the street artists above because they were colorful and artistic, supported the community, and a great way to remember this experience.
Below are the two views that inspire these painters.
To the left of the street where they work is this sweeping million-dollar view of Rio. To the right is a slice of reality in the favelas.
It is only 15 minutes away from the world famous Copacabana beach, which is at the bottom of the hill from Rochina, yet the two worlds couldn’t be farther apart.
Views like this in Los Angeles come with with a high price tag. This view in Rio comes at the expense of living too far from daily necessities like water, power and transportation.
The lack of infrastructure gives rise to improvised and jerry-rigged plumbing and electrical wiring. It looks like organized chaos at best.
Our next stop was Vila Canoas – a small favela that has around 3,000 people and has never been ruled by a drug gang.
As we meandered along the streets I struggled with projecting my associations of the hardship of poverty with unhappiness.
I found life in this favelas rich in beautiful color, vivacity and community.
Not to mention a sense of artistic humor.
Unexpected beauty is created from broken things. Being in the favelas is chaotic, from the riotous colors to the ambient city roar, to the tantalizing aroma of BBQ.
I left with a feeling of admiration for the people who make their lives in the favela, who accept the hardship, surely get angry at times, but mostly pursue their lives with a certain feeling of hope despite their fragmented position in life.
Even though the beast still roars poverty in the favelas, beauty’s soft voice sings a song of hopefulness.
…and then, she paused for thought.