City of God is one of Rio de Janeiro’s notoriously dangerous favelas. A quick google search will confirm that, listing incidents of gunfights and drug apprehensions every few days. The taxi driver was also quick to confirm it.
“It’s not bad, it’s horrible” he corrected us. “No so much here, down the side streets.”
Is it really safe?
It’s sossegado, they’ll tell you. It’s quiet. They always tell you that, despite the fact that there had been shootouts 3 out of the 5 days of that week. To you, that may not seem safe, to someone that lives in the favela, that’s normal. Any fighter will tell you that the difference between winning and losing is in the small details. Inches could make the difference between life or death and blocks can make the difference between war and peace.
The dealers in my neighborhood reminded me about that before I left out today. They had pointed out to me the holes from last month’s gun fight and were retelling stories. Police operations (shootouts) have been going on since the olympics, escalating in June on the Brazilian valentines day, and finally culminating when they arrested the head hood, but both the police and the dealers were both still heavily armed. In facet I almost walked smack into a guy holding an odd shaped gun that I mistook for a t-bar while heading out in the afternoon. We both just side skirted each other, brushing elbows, and continued on with our days.
They continued their story, alternating details as they passed a joint between them.
The fist-sized hole in the wall a few inches from my arm.
The shattered glass window of the house that stood 10 feet from my own.
And they just laughed.
About the bullets flying by their head.
About the day that one of their own got shot in the neck down by the Pistao.
“You almost died, but you laugh?”
First, it’s the adrenaline.
Then comes the fun.
Most people are scared of them, but I'm scared for them.
I took precautions before leaving for the City of God. I might think lightly of my own saftey but I was taking 4 other gringos with me.
We all got our asses kicked by 17 year old Gabi.
So I asked directions and landmarks, checked who the local gang was, made sure I had credit on my phone and cash in small notes, and asked permission to film out of the gym window towards the street.
I wasn’t actually worried, but knowledge is power, and I know I push my luck always talking to dealers and taking pictures of police.
Everyone is scared of the favelas, but I'm scared of getting robbed on the bus or on the beach. I didn’t care if it was considered “safe” or not. I haven’t checked the statistics, but I’m pretty sure more gringos die in plane crashes and car accidents then getting gunned down in favelas.
Everyone knows City of God is a violent place, what I cared about was making sure they know that there’s more to it than that. That in the middle of all the violence there is still a small room above a church where kids come every day looking for a way out. That when Flograppling and Graciemag are following Mackenzie Dern and Leandro Lo all over Portugal for Europeans, that those same kids are right there huddled together playing card games and eating left over bagged lunches that the refs bring them. If you look closely you’ll find them at most of the major competitions, watching and waiting. They’re there all day every day waiting for their coach to finish working so they can go together back to their small Airbnb where they sleep together, alternating between mattresses and floor space, cook huge pots of spaghetti to save money, then relax restlessly waiting for their own fights.
Is it safe?
I get this question all the time.
If you ask the kids from City of God, they say yes.
If you ask my kids from D.C., they say the murder rate is up 80%.
If you ask anyone I took out to City of God today, they’ll tell you they had a good time.
Safety is subjective.