Complexo da Maré, a favela complex of 130,000 people in the north zone of Rio de Janeiro, is far away from the city’s postcard scenes of beaches and winding sidewalks. It’s dirty. It’s poor. It’s violent.
And, I’m going to show you, it’s one of the most lively, diverse places on earth.
My name is Sascha and I studied history at Harvard University. With support from a postgraduate fellowship, I’ve spent a year and a half living in two favelas in Rio: the first five in Rocinha, and since May 2015 in Complexo da Maré, which is where the stories on this blog will come from.
The idea for this blog came out of conversations with family and friends back home. Knowing that I was in a favela, the questions they asked me tended to be along the lines of common stereotypes: “is there running water? how do you have WiFi right now? are the people tough?”
I know why they thought this. I’ve seen the movies about Rio and read media reports on those terrible, drug-ridden slums, and I had some of the same expectations – poverty, violence, sadness – before I came here.
Upon arriving, I realized that reality is a lot more heterogenous. While I can understand how some of the tropes of the heroic laborer, the secretive drug dealer, and the victimized single mother evolved, I’ve also witnessed a lot more: lavish birthday parties, rock concerts, motorcycle taxis, construction companies, beauty salons (for humans and dogs), and, more generally, people who are anything but sad and self-pitying.
By telling these stories, I want to provide another perspective on the realities of life here.
This blog will consist of two sections. One will feature stories of people who live here, in their voices, as told to me during interviews, and another will be my own voice, answering questions, providing context, and discussing more generally this experience of living as a gringo in a favela.
For a more detailed account of how I conceived of this blog, see my first post.
It’s from talking with others that this project began in the first place, so please, please, get in touch with me if you have any questions or comments at saschabercovitch at gmail dot com. I’d love to hear from you!