Rio de Janeiro is like a family, a family with estranged children.
Visiting Rocinha, you could see the family resemblance. She looks like a sibling of my neighborhood only closer together and much more on top of each other. Then there is the obvious, more neglected by their parent the government. The thing about ignoring children is that it does not make them go away. Quite often, it just makes them hungrier for life. That was my first impression of Rocinha, a very concentrated center of life.
In Rocinha you have a large grouping of people who have all but been ignored by big government. They are our maids, bus drivers, tour guides, and trash men. They carry our city on their back, literally, with their labor. They are honest people who work hard and then climb up a large hill to their home, the view reminding them that as neglectful as their city can be it is still beautiful.
As I walked through the busy streets and down the narrow alleys, I saw a lot of things. I saw newly washed laundry hanging. There were toys sitting on the windowsill in the sun. I saw welcome mats in front of alley doors and people sitting in windows saying hello to passerbyers. There were families chatting with neighbors, little babies breastfeeding and kids playing near their Mothers.
I saw people there. I saw people living their lives. And you know what, they are damn resourceful people! Take the mail system. In Rio de Janeiro, as in everywhere, you have to have an address to receive mail. 90% of the residents of Rocinha live in the little alleys that don't even have names (though they are starting to put some in). Did they throw their hands up in surrender? Nope. Someone found a solution.
Members of the community can give R$2 a month to a barber who has a shop on the main street. Using his storefront as their billing address, they can get whatever service they need (internet, cable, etc). The barber organizes all the bills in alphabetical order and they come and pick it up monthly. He makes an additional income and offers a service that aides another resident. That is not survival, that is just smart.
Regardless, life is not all peaches and cream. There are still quite a few sections with open sewage lines that are blocked off by pieces of wood and an issue with the water supply. It is ludicrous that the one and only pumping station was built 25 years ago. Don't even get me started on the "community center" built by the government. That is its own blog post!
What hit me the most about this visit was how wrong I was. People should tour Rocinha just as much as Santa Teresa but with the same intent. I went on an educational tour. Trust me, Zezinho is not the guide one wants for a light and history free visit. He goes into politics and voices the thoughts of someone who has been a member of the community throughout all the changes.
We as Cariocas (or wannabes such as myself) have a duty to know our kin. It is our job as siblings to know who they are, understand them, learn about their joys and struggles, and accept where they are coming from. You do not fear your brother. Rocinha is a part of our Rio de Janeiro family. It is time we look them in the eye and welcome them in. Working together as a family, as opposed to fighting among ourselves, makes us better as a whole.
Yes, it is more complicated than that but what family isn't?