Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Guess the question???

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I've spent plenty of time in the poorest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, Lima and other cities without anything happening to me. Never been to Brazil although the favelas there generally have a reputation for being more violent than the pueblos jovenes here. I'd recommend calling up some sort of social center or youth center in the neighborhood to ask about volunteering there; they're always happy to have the help and you'll both be safer and be more able to see how people actually live their lives than you would just wandering around aimlessly.

I think it would be wise of you to think about this: What do you hope to gain from walking around?

there are banks, bars and even a McDonalds

Yes, a favela is like a normal neighborhood, except full of drug dealers and poor people. Poor people and drug dealers also enjoy beer and hamburgers.

I always dress down and don't even have
any valuables apart from my ugly tennis shoes

You're still and will always be a tourist and will therefore ALWAYS stick out like a sore thumb. Do you know what happens when you get robbed and the thieves see you don't have valuables? You get beaten to a pulp.

In my opinion (and no offense to you since I don't know you personally), this is plain stupid. This is also still very voyeuristic, since there is no difference between gaping at poverty as part of a tour and gaping at poverty on your own. Remember, if there is a dollar to be made, some Brazilians will offer you whatever you want: cocaine, an illegal marriage to make you a legal resident, lobster meat outside of its fishing season, 10 year old girls for en evening of fun, etc. So though most Brazilians I've met consider favela tours offensive and tacky, they'll still take you on one because they get to make money off of the gringo.

Thousands of tourists go to favelas in Rio de Janeiro and I still fail to understand why. Is it because the tours are advertised in guidebooks? Because of movies? Because of the views? It can't be curiosity because these same tourists skip poor areas in Bogotá and Buenos Aires and Recife and Mexico City and in Detroit and in their own home towns. Why? What makes carioca poverty a tourist attraction?

If you want to do something original, something unique, something different, something that will actually help those you gawk at... then go to remote villages in the Amazon or towns that were flooded in Maranhao or Piaui, bring food, a smile and willingness to help.

The ONLY caveat to visiting a favela, as I have said before, is this: meet someone who lives there. It's not that hard if you learn Portuguese, go out at night, go to the beach, talk to people on the bus, etc. You'll get invited for a barbecue, you'll make friends, and you'll see the favela you are curious about. But the entire experience will be natural and organic and authentic, not to mention safe.

carlos69 wrote: "On the off chance you are stopped by the cops entering or leaving on the assumption you are going to buy drugs, then some level of fluency would be handy."

That bit of insight is worth reading a second time.

I live in Brazil. I have friends who live in favelas. My wife is from a favela. I have walked in and out many times. Nothing has happened to me because, AS I SAID IN MY ORIGINAL REPLY, I am walking in and out with someone from the favela. Instead of waiting for the answer you want to hear, you should heed the advice being given to you.

You'll see poor people, trash, stray dogs, people selling meat on a stick, kids playing soccer, guys with guns, stores... all pretty normal in Brazil. So again, I ask you: what do you expect out of this experience?

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