The worldwide Augustana College experience

Morro de Providencia and LAPA

Another busy day to add to the books. Today we went to class, visited Morro de Providencia, and had reservations at two music venues in LAPA. In class we covered more about the hip-hop culture that is present in LAPA. After class we had time to get lunch before heading to the metro station to take the train in to Rio where we would meet with interns from Catalytic Communities (CatCom) and venture in to Morro de Providencia.

Morro de Providencia is a favela in Rio that was used for filming both versions of the film Black Orpheus. Now is probably a good time to discuss what exactly a favela is, since not everyone is familiar with the term. Before leaving for Brazil we spent a lot of time talking about the communities that we would encounter, and Rio is famous for its favelas that are positioned on the hillside. One aspect of favela life that we covered was the name that the media has made for the favelas. Favelas are often made out to be dirty, violent, drug riddled, and a marginal part of the population; described as shanty towns, slums, squatter communities, and ghettos. These descriptions bring with them connotations of squalor, illegality, and precariousness. However that is not the reality of many of Rio’s favelas. While Providencia was once described as one of the most violent favelas in the area, it has turned its reputation around with the help of non-profit organizations like CatCom and artists who desire to help these communities maintain themselves.

While we were in Providencia we saw running water, restaurants, corner shops, satellite TV dishes, and may other “modern” amenities. The people of Providencia are not living in squalor and looked just like many of the individuals that we pass on the street every day in neighborhoods like Flamengo and Catete. These views can rule out the idea of squalor. Morro de Providencia has also been a community for more than 100 years. Providencia was originally settled by black soldiers released from the army with no pay. They went to the ports to work and formed the community that is now Providencia. In the 1980’s the governor at the time declared that the individuals living in the favelas would be allowed to stay if they had been in their homes for more than 5 years. As a result of this declaration there were no evections from 1988 until 2006. However, with the FIFA World Cup coming to Brazil and the 2016 Olympics coming to Rio, the city has started to go back on their word. With everything that we learned and saw I would say that despite the challenges that many favela communities face, there are minimal differences between them and other lower class communities around the world.

Now that we’ve covered that a favela is not a slum/ghetto/illegal housing unit, we ca talk about the experience I had. We took the metro from Catete, the neighborhood that I am staying in, to Central Station. At Central we met some of the interns from CatCom. The interns took us to a stop where the combivans would stop to pick us up. Combivans are one of the only ways for residents to get to Providencia. While there is a cable car station that was built at the top of the hill, the residents say that they don’t have a need for it and that more pressing needs, like schools and medical care, were pushed aside to fund the cable cars. The ride up the hill to get to the base of Providencia was certainly a ride; some of my classmates compared the ride to a rollercoaster. Once we got to the base of Providencia Nicole, one of the interns, told us that people who live at the bottom of the stairs that we were seeing do not identify as living in the favela, since they are still more accessible. Nicole also told us that when someone up the hill gets really sick and needs medical care, ambulances won’t even come up because there is no way to reach the homes.

As we walked through Providencia we looked at the houses we were led by Marceo, a local activist and photographer, who explained that the local government of Rio has been systematically gentrifying and displacing families who have lived there for years. At each location that we stopped he told us a story about what had happened in that area. In one place there had been a project in which the city had allowed a company to mine for granite. However, they eventually realized that this operation was unsafe after they were experiencing problems from the blasts in the city center. Additionally, one day a large piece of granite broke off the hillside and tumbled down the hill, killing more than 50 people in the process. At another location we were told about how the government came in and evicted people, saying their land was going to be taken over for some cause; then the government demolished the houses. However, years later the skeletons of the houses remain and no work has been done by the government.

After we returned from Morro de Providencia we had a little bit of time to get ready before going to LAPA to experience the night. Before leaving for LAPA we spent some time in class debriefing on our experience in Providencia. Many people said they were glad that we were able to go to Providencia to see what we had been learning about. After our debriefing we took the metro to LAPA. Araceli and Lucy made reservations for us at two venues. The first place was more of a sit-down location with a dance floor and live music. The woman who was performing last night sang some songs that I’ve heard while listening to my bossa nova Pandora station. The second place was more of a dance club, which I couldn’t bring myself to stay out. While the music was enjoyable it was also very loud. After leaving LAPA I came back to the hotel to just hangout and relax while my peers were out.

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