Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Travelogue from five working days in Brazil 2012. Day 1

I am working on two research projects in Brazil. One in Espirito Santo and the other in Rio de Janeiro. I've been to Brazil six times now in the last three years due to these projects. Each time I have become more and more familiar with this wonderful country and equally wonderful people. My last trip there was in November. A trip that lasted for seven days, of which two days were spent traveling. The destination this time was Rio de Janeiro and I was there with a colleague and PhD candidate Trond Heitmann from Østfold University College and masterstudent Anne-Martha Utne Øygarden from the University of Oslo. Here is a little travelogue from the five working days I had in Rio de Janeiro.

Sunday, 11/11/12

Sunday was reserved for a visit to three poor living areas ("favela") with Jean Carlos Handlykke Luz, who works as a philosophy teacher and Åsne Handlykke Luz who is a PhD student at Universidade Federal Fluminense and the University of Bergamo. They met us outside the hotel at 8 AM and we went to the first favela that was a 15 min walk away. There are numerous favelas in Rio. Jean and Åsne say that it is estimated to be about 900 of them in Rio. The first we visited this Sunday is called Cantagalo. We walked the steep stairs and narrow alleys for several hours up to the top of the area where we had a good view of Rio and the ocean. Children ran around us in the narrow alleys, people greeted us friendly and we felt both safe and welcome here. Before the police took control of Rio's favelas last year, this was one of the places where drug gangs ravaged and it was unsafe to visit. Now the favelas in Rio are "pacified" and a "pacification police" control the areas. This seems to have led to a change in the favelas. Drug gangs are removed and there is no longer a state of war between these gangs. A year ago there was a war here, and people were shot and killed. Now it's peaceful and it is safe to visit these same areas.

 Åsne says that UPP (The Pacification Police Unit) have existed since 2008. In Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho they have now been for 3 years. UPP is now in 29 favelas in the areas of Rio which is located close to tourist attractions and places where it expanded to the Olympics and World Championships. UPP entered after the military had hunted down drug gangs and there was a sort of war in the days or weeks before the UPP, who have special training in a more pacified approach, was inserted. This is indeed a very controversial project even though most are happy that there is very little arms and drug trafficking any more. It probably still exists, but not openly anymore and the bands seem to have moved to other areas. In the favelas where the UPP are, gentrification is a big issue, house prices prices have gone up, there is considerable speculation.

Having been in the area a few hours we wandered over to a favela which is close by, Pavão Pavãozinho. We began at the bottom and walked up hundres of stairs, in and out of alleyways, and came at last to the top of the area, which also here was a fantastic view. In both these areas, we met a poverty we have never seen in Norway, but at the same time a kindness and courtesy that was overwelming. It's strange to think that even this favela was dangerous for strangers just one year ago. Walking around like we did this Sunday with a camera in my hands and taking pictures of houses and people, was formerly associated with great danger. Now we were encouraged to take photos and ask inhabitants who live in the area to be photographed. 


After lunch and a little rest, we took a taxi to a third favela called Vidigal. Here we met Felipe Paiva, a good friend of Jean and Åsne and who works as a theater actor. He has guided many groups around in this area and was well known. In contrast to the first two favelas, there were more congested roads here and we had to be careful of cars. Felipe led us up steep roads, to several places where he told stories about the places. We stopped at the health clinic, police station, cultural center, school, sports ground, and took a break in a café on the journey. 

Felipe Paiva said he also participates in The Photo Clube - FavelArt & Photo (FAF) and we discussed the possibility that HiØ could make a photo exhibition of photographs from the FAF. Felipe got my email address and would be in touch to provide more information about the club and the possibility of a collaboration. Slums in Rio are often portrayed negatively and FAF attempts to introduce the special and the many riches that favelas have both individually and what they have in common. Amateur and professional photographers exchange experiences and inspire each other in the club.
The aim of FAF is to:

-Take pictures of favela areas and adjacent areas
-Conduct Photography Workshops.
-Create photo exhibitions slum areas and public spaces.
-Have discussions with professional photographers.
-Visit Galleries/Museums/Cultural areas.
-Promote photography competitions.

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