What are the stories we aren’t hearing about on TV or in the news? In this series, correspondents write about their experiences in the countries where they are based. Here, Nina Jurna shares what it’s like to live in Rio’s Vidigal favela.
There didn’t seem to be an end in sight to the steep, narrow staircase you had to climb to get to our new house. Panting and perspiring, the movers lugged the boxes up the stairs. A refrigerator, couch and another load of boxes stood waiting in the burning sun at the bottom, ready for the next trip up. “They want more money,” warned Russo, the man with whom we had managed to get a good deal for our move, but only after considerable negotiation.
They knew beforehand that everything would have to be moved up the hill; the houses are situated high up in a slum like this, piled on top of each other and built against the many hillsides of Rio de Janeiro. “I hope they’ll want to stay,” he said as the movers grumpily started their third trip. “You’ll never get all your things up the hill on your own. Just pay a little bit extra and you won’t have to listen to their complaining anymore.”
I have been living in Brazil long enough to know I have to take doom scenarios into account; there was a really good chance they would just leave me and all my things right there on the street. Swindling comes in many forms in this country. I was just doing a quick calculation in my head when an imposing man called out to me from the house next to mine.
“I’m already done with work for the day and thought maybe I could lend a hand? Does everything that’s down there still need to be moved up the hill?” He sounded cheerful. “You’re the first gringa (foreign woman) to come live on our street. There are Argentinians a little further down, and an American couple. And at the top of the neighborhood there are a couple of pensions where foreign tourists stay,” he said.
The movers gave my cheerful neighbor an angry stare as he introduced himself as Reilson Oliveira. “Come on guys, let’s all lift this refrigerator together and bring these last boxes up, and I’ll get us all beer afterwards. Welcome to Vidigal!” He laughed and I suddenly felt completely at home.
- The rest of the story ‘Correspondent in… Brazil’ can be found in Issue 26.
Text Nina Jurna Photography ©Visualspectrum/Stocksy United