Notes from Favelaland

Not my name, the name a friend who lives in Complexo do Alemao gave to what his home becomes in the hands of others. A kind of Disneyland for well-meaning foreigners, a place where fantasies and dreams (and nightmares) are played out. Where politicians arrive to have their photos taken with a child, never to be seen again. Where artists from other countries turn up to add something original and edgy to their portfolio.

I’ve never had such a stressful time working on something as the past week. As well as the pressure of trying to find and do justice to some sense of reality about the place (will post the story, and therefore enlighten you on the subject, once published), there is the difficult of even finding out the truth.

Then someone accused me of not having the right to write about Brazil, since I’m not Brazilian. While that is a ridiculous argument, since it pretty much negates the existence of any foreign correspondent anywhere – not to mention free speech generally – it threw a light on a certain tension that exists. It is why, as a dear friend said to me afterwards, expats create “sad little huddles” rather than integrate.

I saw that Four Four Two this month is denouncing the death of Brazilian football, and I wondered if Brazilians do feel like the gringoes take over their voice for them, often making wild inaccuracies in the process. Of course, a certain type of person will always try to attack journalists in social situations. I always put it down to a mixture of envy and the kind of controlling personality that doesn’t like anything being published which that person doesn’t agree with personally.

That free speech thing, kind of sucks if you’re a bit of a tyrant about your opinions. At the same time, it isn’t the first time I’ve been faced with sentences like “you’re not from the third world, you don’t understand.” It’s the flipside of being called Blondie in the street. A bitterness and resentment which, to be fair, is rare in Brazilians who are generally pretty sociable and curious folks in my experience.

Anyway, somehow that was all about me, but it’s difficult to write about these stories until they are published. It’s kind of overwhelming to see the huge hope on the one side, and the suffering and violence on the other. How cynical can I be? How cynical do I have the right to be?

One thing is for sure, the next story is going to be about dogs, clowns or fit men. Light relief needed.