There are many favelas all over Brazil, the one I'm living at is considered small, with an estimated 200 families occupying it. One of the largest favelas houses about 300,000 people, and I imagine it would be like a labyrinth.
The building pattern for the various apartments seems to be rather loose, basically houses are squeezed in where ever there is room. There is the one main pathway and then numerous passages and treacherous staircases leading up, down and every which way.
The apartment I'm staying in is tiny and has two bedrooms in theory, as neither has a door. The two bedrooms are separated by a sliding door and my room is separated from the living area by a crude curtain, a transparent one at that. The bathroom also features a sliding door, and it boasts several leaks, missing tiles and an unsophisticated hot water system; in short a bunch of wires are attached to the shower head with electrical tape.
It is not common for kitchens to contain a hot water faucet; therefore, getting grease off pots and pans is a tad arduous. Particularly as the oven doesn't work, so most of the food is fried and I am the self-appointed dish washer. However, we do have broadband internet, with the wires from the computer passing out through the living room window, which then connect to the greater network of cables strewn around the neighbourhood. This is one of the many visual charms of the area.
This narrow space was already housing 3 adults and 2 kids before I arrived to complete the picture. I have a room all to myself, with the kiddies sleeping in the 'master' bedroom with the parents in the same bed. Douglas’s brother, Nildo, lives on the couch and spends most of his time shirtless, so I don't complain. Especially, when he prances around in a towel after showering; after all I came to Rio for the scenery.
Now, it is customary in Brazil for people to frequent each other's houses without invitation. So on my first morning in Rio I found about 8 people in the house. It was crammed enough with the 4 adults and 2 kids that lived there and it became much smaller with additional bodies. I dreaded having to push through all the human traffic to reach the bathroom which was of course located on the other side of the living area. Melissa managed to stem the amount of people coming over but not entirely as such is life in Rio. Being a westerner, this was a big issue for me initially as I am accustomed to space, so I tried living with Melissa's cousin for some privacy, her place being empty most of the day. The tenant that had occupied it prior to her had been involved in drugs and was now serving a prison sentence. There was still a bullet hole in the living room window from the police raid and I had already heard gunfire, which took place at the front of the favela, very close to Melissa's cousins' apartment. Yet it did not seem to move me; perhaps it was the sense of it all being unreal.
Instead, what worried me was the walk from Melissa's place to her cousin's place of an evening; it was dark, enclosed and deserted.
Additionally, it seemed I had begun to adapt to the living arrangements, I came to realize that it was like living with family and that we co-existed in harmony.
There was also the magnificent view my accommodation afforded me; I have the Christ on the right, the Sugar Loaf on the left and the city of Rio de Janeiro in the middle.