Rio de Judeo: Enter the ‘Favela’
Posted by Oyster on March 25, 2008
It is beautiful to see that we are one Jewish nation, even if in Diaspora.
It is meaningful and humbling to work side-by-side with Brazilian Jews and non-Jews, doing the necessary work to bring hope to their most desperate poor.
If anyone is to understand how Rio de Janeiro, the ‘marvelous city’, is a city of extremes & contrast, then you have to get away from the glittering sandy beaches of Copacabana & Ipanema, and see the infamous ‘favelas’ (shanty-towns) that surround the metropolis. Numbering over 300, these unrecognized dwellings serve as slums that house the working poor of Rio, with infestations of disease, drugs, gangs, and misery. It was just such a spot that we choose to try to bring some Tzedek (justice) into the world.
We found out, first-hand, what our project would actually be. We partnered up with a private school to help them build a solarium for the young children that would be supervised there. Situated at the base of the favela (they’re literally built up the sides of granite cliffs that edge the city of Rio) named Pavao / Pavaozinho (Peacock / Little Peacock), we then went on a walking tour of the upper favela.
“Don’t stare. Don’t point. Don’t make eye contact. Stay close. Ignore the drug dealers. Ignore the automatic weapons. This is not an African safari“, says Alex, our guide from the Rio Hillel. “You’ll see poverty, suffering… don’t laugh, don’t make small jokes.”
What do I see?
Homes built on homes, up to 5 levels high. They’re constructed slip-shod from mortar, crumbly hollow red-clay bricks, and some light rebar. They are open & partially-covered sewers. Graffiti is everywhere, from the mural-worthy to the mundane. You can pass through alleys where roosters are crowing, and drug deals are going down, with a handshake full of reais and a flash of a gun. We pass by a clearing between the hap-hazardly stacked buildings, that serves as a trash pit. A chicken wanders through, aimlessly pecking at ample bugs and styrofoam blocks. As I stare up at a government sponsored tenement, a woman looks down from above, spits messily out at us, and turns back into the darkness.