The things you find when you try

I saw this gorgeous mural in a social project called Espaço Criança Esperança (“Space for hope for children”), in the Cantagalo favela, right behind the well-known wealthy Ipanema neighborhood. It really depicts the wonderful mix that composes Rio de Janeiro: rich and poor, beach and mountains, dance and music.

I went to visit Cantagalo in my first week in Rio. I was with a friend and both of us heard that there is an interesting community center inside but didn’t know how to get there. Just as we got off the elevator that takes you from the metro station to the mountain, we met two young male residents. Instead of simply giving us directions, they offered to take us around and spent more than an hour proudly showing us all the new projects that have been being developed. It was a great demystifying experience as we saw the favela through local eyes: kids rollerblading, people chatting around in bars and little restaurants, internet cafes, repair shops, etc.

Many things have been written about Rio’s favelas (slums or “communities” as they are called in a politically correct language in Brazil). Normally, most accounts either fear the favelas (“don’t get in or you will die) or idolize them (“a bustling hub of the rise of Class C”). To me, favelas are just poor neighborhoods that have good parts and bad parts, as well as people. One thing for sure, the favelas in the south zone of Rio, certainly have the best views in town.

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