Keep in mind, this was written while living in Niterói, (near two unknown, non-UPP favelas) while I currently live in a popular, UPP-designated favela (more on that to come).
I live in between two favelas and I’d like to share what it’s like to live here. At no time have I felt like my life was in danger but I’m told it’s not smart to go walking at night where the favelas end and the “regular part” begins. In fact, once I was standing next to my then-girlfriend waiting for a late-night bus to drive by and she told me to keep vigilant and to not stand close to her so we don’t look like a couple. I suppose the thinking behind that is that one ‘target’ is easier than two. That being said, I’ve never felt threatened in the 12-13 months of my life I’ve spent here.
Unlike most ideas of favelas being violent places, living in or near one is one of the safer places to be. If any petty thief were to rob someone who lives here, he might not wake up tomorrow because no favela boss wants to attract the police or any extra attention. It is quite important that business (ie, drug trafficking) continues as normal and that the middle to high-income customers have a safe place to buy. I suppose this safety factor is one of the perks of favela life, both for said customers and for its residents.
There is one exception to the rule and that’s when one favela is trying to take over the other for more power, prestige and money. If that were to happen here, it’d be a little too NSFL (Not Safe For Life) for my liking. From what I’ve been told, such a scenario played itself out here 10 or 15 years ago. These days, Rio’s favelas are getting the UPP (Pacified Police Force) treatment and while that’s good for those favelas in particular, the risk is that other favelas will endure hightened struggles for power and control, thereby becoming not safe to live near.
As for my daily life and how the favelas up the street affect me, it’s mostly in the noise department, as I hinted upon in a previous article about sounds in Brazil. Mornings are owned by the local wildlife (birds) and the portable gas delivery men. Weekend nights fill my ears with funk music from the local bailes. The evenings, in most cases, bring about sound-only fireworks from the hills and ‘open mic night’ from makeshift evangelical churches while nights generally go to random gunfire (a few shots here or there, every other night). Best I can guess, they’re guns being fired into the air, on account of being told by locals that this area is pretty chill.
In terms of street life, there’s the oh-so-famous street corner, attracting people from near and far, young and old, drunk and sober, all seemingly happy folk. As I wrote about on my blog, I’ve never seen so many people, on a consistent basis, on one corner in my life. Night or day, that corner is chock-full. While I go for the local shops, it seems most people go for the conversation. The idea of making time to chat with the guy who sells the news or the guy who sells the bread is part of Brazil that I have yet to adopt. I just want to get in and out and perhaps that makes me more of a foreigner than my accent.
If you are looking to live outside the fancy parts of town and are in search of a more realistic environment, I’d recommend trying to find a place near a favela, at least for a few months. It’s a sure fire way to gain perspective and when people ask you if Brazil is just partying and going to the beach, you can tell them Brazil is not just an idea, it’s real life…and you’ve lived it.