Favela life: ‘See nothing and say nothing. It’s how you stay alive’

A Rio favela resident tells how the global media has not found the ‘real Brazil’ during the World Cup

A resident stands amongst the remains of demolished homes in the Metro Mangueira favela, approximately 750 metres from the Maracana stadium, where the final of the World Cup will be played tomorrow. The homes were thought to have been knocked down for a parking lot for the stadium, though that has yet to be built. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

A resident stands amongst the remains of demolished homes in the Metro Mangueira favela, approximately 750 metres from the Maracana stadium, where the final of the World Cup will be played tomorrow. The homes were thought to have been knocked down for a parking lot for the stadium, though that has yet to be built. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

Journalists are getting ready to go home, after the frenzy of uncovering the “real Brazil”. Favelas all over Brazil have been invaded by camera crews hoping to uncover the “reality” within these meandering alleyways we call home. Visiting a favela seems exotic and edgy, and toothy smiles mask the fear something sordid might unfold.

But, the real truth doesn’t make the final edit. You see, favelados obey the “law of silence”, an ingrained and automatic defence. You see nothing, you hear nothing, and you say nothing. The law of silence even penetrates my home. Someone could be shot dead next to my son, but he will tell me he saw nothing. He’ll believe it too. It’s better that way. It’s how you stay alive.

I wasn’t born in a favela; maybe that’s why I see things as I do. I moved from one type of poverty in the state where I was born, to a completely other type here in Rio de Janeiro. After decades of cleaning the homes of the rich (starting when I was eight), life brought me to raise my sons in this surreal place.

Violence is normal here, although we see fewer bodies in recent years. I remember, when my boys were young, setting up a little table in front of my house, to sell cakes. As I sat there, two guys walked past, arguing; one little, the other large. The short one was a trafficker, gun in hand, while the bigger guy was probably here to buy drugs. The argument developed, and the big guy was shot; first in the stomach, then in the chest, and finally in the head, just to be sure.

Body removed

All of this on the street outside a barber’s shop, on a sunny afternoon. The body was quickly scuttled into one of the alleyways, by a group of traffickers who appeared after the last shot rang out. Then, the barber came out with buckets of water, and a brush, to scrub away the blood. Moments later, it was like nothing had happened. And, nothing had. Nothing that would ever be spoken of.

The favela in which I live is not pacified, nor will it ever be. We’re not on the right part of the map for that. So, there are no police and no state presence. Instead, heavily armed teenagers patrol the streets, and lay down the law. We do as they say, or suffer the consequences. There are lots of rules; often we need to guess what these are.

If a trafficker asked me to hide a gun in my home tomorrow, I couldn’t refuse. Luckily, this has never happened. But, I wouldn’t risk refusing them. I could get a punch in the face, I could be kicked out of the community with only the clothes on my back, or I could be killed there and then. Anything could happen, depending on their mood.

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