Posts Tagged ‘community life’

I’m about 5 weeks coming and going to “my favela” to talk with people, observe their behaviour, interview people and to try to understand the complexity of the Complex, the conjoint of the 14 communities that have been occupied by the army since November 2010.

I have learned a lot about the local reality and the changes that are occurring in the last couple of months. I have also found a couple of interesting and urgent issues relevant to my research. Issues that help me to focus, and issues I wasn’t aware of before going there. However, there’s a huge barrier, a boundary, physical and mental, that hampers my “immersion” in the community. I feel that I have to live their lives in order to make sense of their reality. That’s why I’ve decided to move there.

I am not really sure why I haven’t moved there in the first place. Not so much a question of not wanting to live there, but I didn’t realize at the time the necessity. And most of my friends who live in Lapa, Santa Teresa, Glória, lively and bohemian neighbourhoods, offered me plenty of rooms to rent. I am also partly working at the consulate, near to those neighbourhoods, which justified my choice to stay here, in this area. But over the weeks I am realizing that it doesn’t work as well as I had hoped. The physical boundary is the distance. It takes me about one hour to get to the community. Also, I depend on a handful op people that know about my research and see the benefit of it for their community (and therefore help me to talk to people, arrange interviews, etc.). People work very hard to make a living so usually they don’t have much time to talk to me. Simply going there and talk to people is much more complicated than I thought. Arranging visits is a very time consuming process, as my handful of people also work.

The mental boundary is what bothers me even more. When talking to people they soon ask me where I live. “In Glória”. “Ahh, Glória.. Nice..” Yeah, why would I want to live there? I’m a Gringa, why would I prefer their community over the bohemian Lapa? And that is precisely what hampers my research. When I discussed this with my Brazilian roommate, she told me that she and her friend have a theory about foreign researchers. They have this obsession with the favela (and I guess so do I), but only for research purposes. When it comes to living, they prefer samba instead of funk. This is a real loss, because especially night life learns you so much about the day to day life of the people. Over a beer you really get to know someone and his or her stories. And in the bakery you see how people interact with each other.

Suddenly this research project didn’t feel so good anymore. I felt not only the need, but also the obligation to move there. It doesn’t feel just to go their, acquire my data, and leave again. As you might have noticed in older posts, I write a lot about the divided city, the conception of the favelas as a different or separated society. Don’t I replicate this idea by living in “one part” and travelling to “the other part” of the city, thus indeed treating the communities as a different place? The idea that living there is “better” or “less exploitative” than not living there might be just a feeling rather than a well grounded scientific argument, as one might argue that I won’t be offering much in return. What will my research  mean for the community residents? What will it change? Nevertheless, the least I can do is immerse myself as much as I can in their lives in order to write something that makes sense.

I am very excited to move. The moment I told people I wanted to live in their community, most people react very enthusiastically. Everyone started to look for places to rent. They called all their friends and a couple offered me to stay in their house (their 12 year old son would temporarily sleep in their room). People are so warm, open and helpful. They wish you a good morning or a good afternoon. I can’t wait to buy bread in the nearby bakery. Especially at night and in the weekends the community awakes. Although life has become much more calm after the occupation (the army maintains order and prohibits parties and big gatherings of people), people gather on the streets, in bars, chat, play music and have fun. Kids play soccer and old men drink beer. And the view is amazing.