What is Poverty? Happiness in the Favelas
Rio de Janeiro is known for having two contrasting cultures; one side is full of untamed beauty and grandeur, while the other side is brutally mal-civilized and equally untamed. The most beautiful and famous beaches in the world are covered by scantily-clad females and males. Although Rio de Janeiro is known for the unlimited magnificence, it is hard to enjoy the sights without noticing the ever-present poverty surrounding the outside hillsides of the city. There are over 550 individual favelas or shantytowns in Rio de Janeiro . The favelas are filled with very nice people who are happy to see tourists who are interested in their cultures. The favela's inhabitants quickly deter you from whatever beliefs you had from the incredibly uninviting images of the favelas on the outside. When you look from your hotel rooftop all you can see is hundreds of small scrap houses on top of each other, which cover the hillsides that look over the beaches. You cannot think of Rio without remembering these communities, which are comprised of one-third of Rio de Janeiro 's population. Many people try to disassociate these people from Rio de Janeiro , but they are a vital part of the history and culture of Rio de Janeiro .
When our group toured the favelas, many of us were very skeptical of the events that would soon follow. Most of Rio de Janeiro 's citizens who are not from the favelas rarely venture even in tour groups into the favelas during their life. This is primarily because the horrible reputations the favelas have of being run by drug lords that cause countless acts of violence within the community. This is not all fabricated; our tour guide explained to us that the majority of the favelas are run by drug lords, but the violence is mainly between different drug gangs and or the police. We toured Rocinha, which is the biggest favela in Rio De Janeiro, with a formal recorded population of 60, 000 people, but most people believe it could contain as much as 200,000 people. The favela is run by an organized crime group called the Red Command. The Red Command keeps a tight grip on crime in the favelas. Our tour guide explained to us that other than drug-trafficking, there is no crime in the favelas. The drug lords are very opposed to any incident or event that would cause police action. Therefore if you commit a crime, then you will more than likely be disposed of by the drug cartels, in order to keep the police out of the favelas in the future.
I had a constant feeling of confusion while in Rocinha, because I could not understand why I felt so safe in a place that had such a horrible reputation. The people within Rocinha all walked around with smiles and children ran throughout the streets like you would see throughout any regular community. I honestly can say that that I felt no fear within the favela, and really was in shock of how happy the people were even though there living conditions were not in the best of shape. I then paralleled my thinking to some of the false assumptions people commonly have about slums in inner-city areas in the United States that have been labeled as ghettos. Yes, there are negative aspects to each type of slum, but you lose all of the positive aspects by totally ignoring these areas as a whole. Some of the favelas are very much like their own cities, especially the large ones like Rocinha. These favelas offer many services to the community, including legal, dental and even doctor's offices. While in Rocinha I saw many of the same stores that you would find outside of the favelas.
The people in the favelas did not look impoverished; one factor could have been because Rocinha is on of the nicer favelas. Money is obviously not the key to happiness in Rio de Janeiro . The people in the favelas are able to enjoy unbelievable weather all year around, while also living beside the most beautiful areas in the world. They place much less value on monetary objects than those from the United States . The shocking thing to me was the fact that Rocinha was facing some of the nicest houses in Rio . Below these houses was a state of the art American private school. The contrast of rich and poor is staggering, literally 100 yards away from each other. This is why the Rio de Janeiro is called by some a "melting pot" or "café con leche". On the beaches you cannot really tell who are from the favelas and who are from the richer parts of Rio , because they mingle freely with one another. If I had the chance I would definitely go back for full day tour, because the favelas have so much to offer culturally that you cannot receive on the beach. The happiness you see in the favelas is indescribable because what most people associate with poverty is sadness, and the people of the favelas did not look in despair.