Favelas offer authentic watching experience

The Maracana Stadium is seen behind a favela in Rio de Janeiro on June 8, 2014. (REUTERS/Eddie...

The Maracana Stadium is seen behind a favela in Rio de Janeiro on June 8, 2014. (REUTERS/Eddie Keogh)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:53 PM ET

RIO DE JANEIRO -- The man at the table leapt into the air and did four bunny hop steps towards the television.

He did a 360 spin on one leg after realizing Brazil had failed to score yet again.

This time it was Brazil’s opponent, Mexico, that neared a goal and the 30 or so people in the bar let out a collective groan.

It could have been anywhere in Toronto, London, New York -- just a bunch of Brazil supporters living and dying with their team.

It could have been except for the dogs wandering in and out of the bar, their constant barking; the dirt street where chairs have been set up to hold the spillover from the bar; the lack of a washroom; and dozens of kids running all over and the massive fireworks those kids set off that send you scurrying for cover.

A 600ml beer is $1.75 USD and the woman doing the serving is shocked when you tip her.

Definitely not Toronto.

Welcome to Asa Branca, a favela just outside Rio.

Brazil’s favelas have reached legendary status.

Most are on the side of hills with somewhere around two million people calling them home. They are centres for deprivation, crime and corruption. It has made them tourist attractions.

They have also attracted the attention of the Brazilian police and military that has been on a mission to pacify favelas in an effort to paint a pretty picture of the country for tourists arriving for the World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

The two favelas I entered Tuesday were not dangerous.

Vila Autodromo sits just outside where the Olympic facilities are being built, located on the site of the former Formula One race track.

Politicians in Rio would love to remove it as quickly as those Formula One cars could move.

Vila Autodromo has become a political hotspot.

Residents have staged a long battle to remain there. Some families have taken significant offers of money and apartments to leave the favela, while others value their house and plot of land. They won’t leave, despite offers of as much as $1-million rials (about $500,000 USD) for their property.

Residents say the city will do anything to get them to move.

It has cut down trees to make their favela hotter and is now putting rules in place to make it more difficult for residents to take public transit.

The favela is a mishmash of concrete homes that stand next to razed properties that are nothing more than a pile of debris, empty lots and half-destroyed homes.

It’s difficult to believe people actually lived there, but the tomato plants and the occasional desk and chair buried under the concrete are proof human habitation did, at one time, occupy the space.

Some streets are receptacles for water and sewage. Then there’s the smell – oh, the smell.

The only street that is relatively bare of debris is the main street. Everything else is a promenade through bricks, wood and slop.

Yet Theresa Williamson, founder of Catalytic Communities and a planner and advocate for favela residents, says this is where residents want to be.

“They don’t want to live in an apartment on the second, third floor,” she said. “They want their plot of land and garden.”

Williamson brings out several residents to tell their story to a group of Canadian and international journalists, and a slew of her interns.

The stories are compelling and focus on the residents’ desire to remain living there.

The stories usually end with an emotional statement about how the politicians are more interested in putting money into the pockets of construction companies than improve the favelas or treat their citizens fairly.

The politicians just want the residents away from the Olympic facilities before the world sees them.

The residents don’t want to move.

The cynic would perhaps think they might be willing to move the better the offer gets. But, as the political game is played, they want the world to know what Rio is doing to them.

But there’s little question people who live in a fovela, especially the smaller ones, have a different lifestyle and sense of belonging. It is, in a sense, a big family where everyone knows everyone else and events are shared within the community

Back at Asia Branch, Mexico and Brazil end in a 0-0 draw.

There is five minutes of disappointment and then more fireworks go off. There is dancing and singing in the streets and three young women are singing karaoke while a mother dances with her young baby.

Despite the daily struggles in the fovela, Brazil played soccer and that’s a cause for celebration.

But as you walk away from the fovela, the last view you get is of a massive complex of ritzy apartments. Even in the dark, the penthouses cast their shadow on the fovela as if they are trying to hide it from the rest of the world.


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