I recently went with my language school to a favela called Complexo Alamão which is in the north zone (zona norte) of rio city. In the south zone (zona Sul, the rich safe zone) the North, and especially Alamao are known as being dangerous. It is the new home to the drug traffickers who were kicked out of the favelas of the south I think about 6 years ago. So now the favelas of zona Sul are generally safe, and zona Norte is considered much more dangerous. This didn’t seem to be the case from our visit but when you are a guest and invited to go in to a dangerous favela by a resident, and are escorted all the time, you are generally going to be safe.
One of the lads who lived there talked of how safe it was and mentioned that people talk about how dangerous it is because they are taking information from 20 years ago when there was daily shootings and drug wars, but the fact remains the north still has loads of problems and although it is better, people are still dying regularly, whether killed by the police, or other drug dealers. (This is why a lot of people are against the Olympics and World Cup being in brazil. This crime ridden side of rio isn’t shown to the tourists. In fact it is actively hidden, with many poor people being stopped by the police from travelling from the North to the south (a one hour train trip))
Anyway we didn’t have to go far in to the favela to reach the community centre we were painting so all was well.
Part of the favela life is the noise, it is pretty much constant. Whether it is dogs barking, people playing music on massive speakers out of their windows, the motorbike taxis running up and down the hill. But the noise as I entered Alamao was unlike any other favela I had been to. The whole place was buzzing. Throughout the day there were fireworks going off, the dealers use these to warn when police are nearby. In Vidigal where I live you hear them maybe a couple of times each week, here they were going off multiple times each hour.
Anyway we got to the community centre and everyone we met along the way was kind and greeted us with a smile. The only time I felt a little bit uncomfortable was when we walked past a group of lads smoking weed. But when the happy guy with dreadlocks in our group smelled it, identified them as the maconheiros, and gave them a thumbs up and a wave, they all smiled, laughed and waved back.
Anyway I painted this below:
The day was SO hot but a lot of fun. The language school staff kept telling me to be careful of the sun and drink lots of water. I was drinking a lot but not guarding myself too much from the sun. After a couple of times standing up and nearly passing out though I decided it best to take a break out of the heat, eat and drink more and generally recover. As we were working the staff from the community centre were bringing us bbq, beer and wine, and afterwards they made a big dinner for us. I was also offered a large wall to come back and paint. Yeehaw.
Overall it was a great day and it was good to go to a favela which so many people had warned me against visiting.
It’s strange visiting these places because I know they used to be a lot more dangerous, and I know they are still more dangerous than the south favelas, but they just seem fine. I think it really is only when you live there that you see the dangerous side, the aftermath of the shootings and gunfights with police, and the effects of the drugs crime.