In 2017 I decided to spend some time in Brazil during my gap year volunteering in a local NGO. I moved to the NorthEast of brazil in the State of Cearà, in Fortaleza and I ended up living in an area that is called Bela Vista, after getting to the house where the family was hosting me.. I understood I was living few meters away from a favela.
That word to me was something that I was reading on the books of Political Economy of Development. Favela is the Brazilian name for slum. it is nothing else than the poorest part of a city where the 6% of the Brasilian population live and where Government has not access as most of the time there are paramilitary groups that manage life there. In my country, as in the rest of Europe people know that favelas are very dangerous place where there are gangs, arm fires and robberies going on. Well.. it is true, it is not the safest place where you want to be when you walk around a city in Brazil for the first time.
In my case, I was lucky as I was living with a local family who knew how dynamics were over-there. They knew what to do or what to not do. I realised by some episodes that I ended up in a not really safe place but after couple months living there I understood that even in the richest areas, safety was not a concrete concept in the Brazilian culture. What I really got from very episodes is that you pay your security and that is a fact.
I remember the first days I arrived in Fortaleza and I was doing grocery with my host brother, Vinicius. That day I decided that I would have cooked for him and my Brasilian mother – senhora Vilani – the famous pasta alla carbonara.. so I was looking for the imported pasta and.. there I found an Italian man, Carlo with his wife Shirley from Uruguay! A couple in their sixties who were living there since many years and so generous that they invited me and Vinicius and his mother to join them for lunch the coming Saturday.
(Well.. I am really well-known around my close friends for being really expensive and friendly so no wonder why I always end up with this stories around the world)
So I met Carlo and Shirley the next Saturday in their house next to the beach in the rich area of Fortaleza. But that was not like any rich area of other cities I have seen so far. There were really tall walls surroundings the villas, a lot of cameras.. Carlo was explaining to me that even if you have money it is not worth showing off your really expensive car around the city or any valuable personal effect as that would be put yourself in danger.
In some way I understood that having money in Brazil means being safety
During my Bachelor I have learnt many theories and studies a lot about the developing countries as I have learnt about the social issues in Brasil mostly dominated by drug traffickers and paramilitary groups, but moving in one of them changed my worldview. You learn so much about the GDP per capita, government relations and policies while sitting in the classroom but you do not observe children walking into shops alone begging for food, you do not hear from the news daily the violent deaths and robberies while you are eating your lunch and you do not live in a town where there is the curfew.
You do not feel it on your skin. Living in these conditions has been a bit overwhelming at the beginning. Before that day I have never really worried about my security. I have always given for granted my freedom to walk around a city, with the telephone on my hands while listening to music at almost all the times of the day.
My time in Brasil taught me not to give everything for granted
In Fortaleza, the town where I moved It was not possible to keep the habits i had before getting there. I remember one day when I left my home to walk to the bus station. It was the very first day that I was about to move with the bus and I had my phone on my hands. I saw this guy who was at the opposite side of the street selling handicrafts in a little stand. He left the stand and started walking towards me. Once he reached me he told me, in Brazilian, that I had to keep an eye on the phone and I should have put it in my bag, otherwise it would have been really dangerous. I tried to answer with my broken Brazilian to thank him, I put my telephone inside my bra and walked to the bus station.
True, these stories could not be attractive for people who are thinking of visiting Brasil but besides the social dramas that there are in that country I have marvellous memories that are alive in my mind. I have discover a population that is truly full of joy and with warm heart and desire to share even the few things they possess. I still cannot easily explain were all that happiness came from but for sure it did not come from money. That is another thing that i learnt and always brought with me.
Money are not bringing happiness. Happiness comes from your heart.