First days at the favela Babilonia
Today is Monday. My heart is bursting; the sights sounds and smell seem so alien. I don’t know where to begin. I sip green tea in my daughter’s kitchen. It is the hub of her home, a newly renovated and decorated apartment in a recently ‘cleansed’ favela called Babiliona. It was built by the army in 1930 while they were stationed here. One of the first favelas , with Providensia (built 1879), built to give the soldiers homes for a few months. When the army moved out it became the home of migrants, slaves and those who needed cheap living accommodation; now, no longer temporary homes but a vital part of the growing city.
‘M’ moved in here with her recently graduated partner, three months ago. Before that it had been a single story house owned by Seu Manuel. He lived here for over twenty years with his wife and only daughter who has since move out and has a home and children of her own.
During this time Manuel struggled with the effects of the Rio rain and poor damp protection, so he decided to build another story on the existing property and move upstairs. So doing he was able to make fundamental changes to the foundations and the lower brickwork and render the lower apartment damp free and comfortable for future tenants, who would provide him with an income during his retirement. Allowing Manuel to remain relatively comfortably in the community where he has lived and worked all his life. Having the time, expertise and improved cheaper building materials the little apartment became by Brazilian standards, if not palatial a desirable and cheap first home.
I return to my bursting heart. Everywhere, It feels is so foreign! The favela although it is built of concrete, not made of wood, is still a shanty town and difficult for a distant mother to understand. The streets are barely a few feet wide and very steep. There are cats, dogs, children dust, dirt and broken drains. The environment appears vulnerable and unstable. In the evening the streets are noisy with comings and goings; as I write, outside a television is being smashed and the copper wire being removed. As the night draws in so the quiet comes. The morning comes slowly and so the streets are swept, washed and rubbish removed. And the vast army of work men begin the day – regenerating. Me? I wonder whether a bursting heart is more comfortable than a broken one?
I think so.