Opinion, by Pia Granjon Lecerf
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Here I am with my brother in law, on a beautiful sunny Carioca day, in Santa Catarina, near downtown Rio, with a couple who lives there and to whom I was asking my way. We chat a bit while I help them carry their daily shopping down to their house.
Alleys are very steep there! They tell me that we have to keep going down; the alley where they live is a place where evidently no gringos wander. Well, I am lost, this is why!
Right or not, I then don’t feel any hesitation to stay in this kind of favela street. I have anchored in me some naivety and simplicity that puts me naturally in this state of mind.
After all, I am just a human who will probably see other humans when going down this alley, that’s it! My notion of respect stopped me from taking pictures, even though I am burning to take some. Maybe next time. For the moment, my camera stays in its box.
When walking down, two men look at us. I understand their message as being: “You don’t belong here, get out, now!” Right, we got out after having been down the street.
The person I was with had taken a picture when we were at the beginning of the street. Is it the cause for those aggressive looks and words? I do not think so. I don’t think the men could see the picture being taken.
I felt I was at a crossing of several of my cultural representations; among those, the one linked to social belongings here, in Rio. As a gringa, for a fraction of a second, I asked myself if it was clever of me to go down this alley without being with the local couple that could be a kind of a “passport” for being here, if I may say it this way.
Why wasn’t I sure? Because as foreigners living in Rio, we regularly have warnings from employers, consulates, other expats, school, newspapers. So I observe, I feel in my daily life and I build my own opinion and take decisions, like all of us do. Not always easy actually.
My brother in law doesn’t live in Rio and didn’t feel very comfortable being in that street. The two men who looked at us in what we felt was aggressive, also have their own representations of themselves and us, gringos.
What is interesting for me is to be able to recognize our own representations, their limits and to know how to evaluate them regularly for not staying in a static image that then loses all its meaning. Let’s be careful with generalities, they can lead us to totally wrong interpretations.
So no, not all the favelas alleys are dangerous. And no, not all the favela alleys are safe. Yes, reality is complex, each of us has to find where to stand. No need to end in a favela in Rio for reassessing our representations!
Have a beautiful week!
Pia Granjon Lecerf