Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rio de Janeiro's Rocinha

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? 


  1. united we stand...divided we fall.It was an amazing place filled with people living their lives...a vast thriving community.

  2. You did an excellent analysis of what really is the Rocinha community. People tend to have a wrong idea about these communities, as if they had only violence and poor organization (the recent pacification has helped to improve this perception).

    Thanks for posting this!

  3. I love learning this sort of thing about a foreign place. I've only briefly visited Rio years ago and never saw this neighborhood or learned about it.

    Whenever I move to a different country and get to know it as I live there, I find out that my preconceptions were all wrong. It's never what I thought it was.

    So I learned something about Rio today! Thanks!

  4. Great post, Rachel. Wonderful insight, and I love the analogy you used.

  5. Beautiful post, Rachel! I loved your perspective as a Carioca (self-claimed wannabe).

  6. No video with the whole gang (Rachel, Jim, your parents, Mr. Rant, DJ Zezinho... ) in a funky ball in Rocinha surrounded by cachorronas & popozudas ?

  7. I been trying to make this post for over 30 minutes but the Blogger will not let me even though I have account..sometimes computers frustrate me! Anyhow, This is Zezinho from Rocinha.

    I will get her to a funk party eventually Anita but not sure how Mr. Rant will like it. I write this to you as I am watching mounted police on horseback walk through my favela. Strange it is with the police here. Unfortunately, no, it is not better, just different. I dont like living under a police occupation. But we in the favela all know that after the olympic games they will be gone and we much like the last 40 years will go back to being ignored. This is life in Rio.

    I want to thank you Rachel, Mom and Dad, Jim for visiting my home with open minds. I started making these educational visits becase people in the favela asked me and also becase I got tired of peoples negative reactions when I told them that I live in a favela. The best way to get to know a place is to go there. I have never tried to promote this idea that you can not come to Rocinha on your own. You can. People who pay for visits want INFORMATION. They want a deeper personal knowledge by being in the favela with someone from there. They want accurate information, not a O Globo new report. They want to walk or have access to areas of the favela that they would not normally go for fear of getting lost. They dont want to sit in the back of a jeep or a van. When you walk through my favela, people welcome you becase you show trust in the people when you walk here. In a van or jeep, its as if you show that you have fear of us. If you do decide to visit a favela, please do a walking tour. We have plenty of good guides here in my favela to chose from.

    Some people think that by coming here, its like a poverty visit. Yes, people are poor but there is a big range between extreme poverty, starvation and just being poor. Ignoring poverty, no matter what the level, is not going to make it go away. Many people I receive actually come back to volunteer or try to help in some way. I refer about 10-15 volunteers a month to various NGO's in the favela. The favela likes people who come to help.

  8. continued..

    About 8 years ago I started thinking about ideas on how I could help the community. At that time I was working as a sign painter/grafite artist and a DJ. I used to get asked at least 5 times a week if I could teach someone how to DJ. This is where the idea of having a DJ school came from. DJ culture is so popular here, why not?

    I started the educational visits about 6 years ago and when I began, I made a promise to the people here, to give something back. I am very fortunate and blessed that the favela likes, respects and supports my work. I was able to have a great year in 2011 so I started the DJ School SPIN ROCINHA ( this past August.

    There is no way that I would have been able to make this project without YOU, the tourist who pays me to educate you about my community. Favela communities are often very misunderstood places. The media will never tell you the truth about us, which is why most people have fears of favelas. It is my responsibility and goal to show the otherside. The hard working, honest, good people here who make up aprox 1/3 of the population in Rio. I am one of them. I live in a favela and I am proud of this.

    The future for me? To continue to educate and help change peoples ideas of what favelas really are. I want to see how SPIN ROCINHA goes for now, but I already have interest from favela Prazeres in Santa Teresa and City of God. They want DJ Schools in their favelas.

    I would like to make that happen somehow eventually. What I need? Sponsorship in the form of equipment. I dont want money for my project. Our project needs equipment, so if any of you out there reading, know any DJ's or companies that sell DJ Gear, please let them know about us!!!

    If you need write me, my email is:

    To see fotos of the kids in action, add me on facebook:

    THANK YOU all for your help!

    Zezinho da Rocinha!

  9. absolutely. somehow, i felt you would come to that conclusion. beautiful point, rachel.

  10. What an inspiring post!!!


  11. Zezinho- how long have you lived in Rocinha and how did you learn English so well?

  12. My mother is from the US and my father originally born in Ceara but grew up in Rocinha. I spoke both languages asa child. My mother was a school teacher and she made sure I spoke English too. I have spent aprox half my life here in Rocinha. But now, I will never leave Rocinha. I have learned to apreciate this place. For me, Rocinha is a very special place!

    Zezinho da Rocinha

  13. Wow! We are definitely going to take this tour next trip to Rio. I never would consider it before you posted this and also before the comments from Zezinho. I thought the concept was incredibly tacky and touristy, and it was insult to the people who lived there to do it. But now I have a much better understanding - instead of a "zoo" it is a living, breathing museum of Rio's present and past. Thanks!!

  14. Eu sou do Ceará, Zezinho! Seu pai é de Fortaleza? Acho muito bonito o trabalho que você faz, e principalmente o fato de você mostrar a Rocinha como ela realmente é (e não como a mídia mostra por aí).

  15. Matheus, obrigado..meu pai e, mas nunca fui amo minha favela muito e nao quero sair daqui, nunca.

    Born Again Brazilian...I live here and care about my people. When I first started educating people about my favela, some people here were not very happy but I explained to them that the media only shows our communities in a negative way. This is not accurate and not right. I explained to people in Rocinha that all of us need to do our part to show that our favelas are not places of misery. We make less money but have hopes and dreams like everyone else. I am very sensitive and protective of my community. Everybody knows me and supports my work. They know I only want to present the community in a good way. Because I was born here and still live here, I think my visits are appreciated as I like to have my guests also interact with the locals. When my guests say hello to the locals, this means so much to them. Being aknowledged, noticed helps them to see foreigners in a diferent way. Just as you are curious about the favela, they are curious about you. Rachel can tell you as she probly said hello to over 50 people the other day.

    Zezinho da Rocinha

  16. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  17. "When my guests say hello to the locals, this means so much to them. Being aknowledged, noticed helps them to see foreigners in a diferent way. Just as you are curious about the favela, they are curious about you. Rachel can tell you as she probly said hello to over 50 people the other day.",6993,EPT764232-1664,00.html

  18. When people say hello to me, I like it too. Outside the favela, if I say hello to people they turn away or dont say hello. As the article Gritty Poet put up on his post. It costs nothing to say hello.

    One reason I return to ROCINHA is becase in the US where I lived, people unless they were friends did not make contact with other people unless they had too. It was like everybody had fear of each other or if you said hello they either thought you were strange or wanted something from them. People need to take off their headphones and start connecting with each other. We are all in this human race together. Start getting to know your neighbors and connecting again like it was in the 1950's and 60's.

    I always make a point to say hello to the street cleaners. We are all valuable in our own way!

    Zezinho da Rocinha


  20. Rachel, wonderfully written and I love your analogy to family. Its easy to come here as an expat and be isolated in a "mini america," within your greater metropolis but thats not really living in another country. What's the point of moving here if you don't try and break down your comfort zone and understand as much as you can about your community and its people on every level. I salute you and Jim and your families for opening our eyes to Zezinho and his beautiful neighborhood. I am definately taking this tour next time I am in Rio.