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Expats and favelas (Rio de Janeiro)

this article was taken from The Christian Science Monitor:

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The pulse of Rio de Janeiro's slums luring foreign guests

Tourists and expats are flocking to the city's favelas for 'authenticity' while fearful middle-class Brazilians stay away.

By Andrew Downie | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the February 6, Protected content

RIO DE JANEIRO - It is the first Friday of the month and, as usual, dozens of people are milling about Englishman Bob Nadkardi's house listening to a jazz jam session.

But although this is Rio de Janeiro, there is hardly a Brazilian in sight. The reason is the venue. If this was the ritzy Ipanema area, the place would be filled with well-off Cariocas, as people from the city are called, enjoying sounds that run from beebop to bossa nova.

But Mr. Nadkardi's sprawling, unfinished, labyrinth of a home is set on top of a favela, one of the thousands of shantytowns that dot Brazil's big cities.

To many Brazilians, favelas are dirty, violent, frightening places. But to many foreigners, they are exciting, interesting, and romantic. More and more outsiders are coming from overseas to live, work, and just visit favelas, observers say. In doing so they are highlighting the difference between Brazilians who regard favelas with fear, rejection, and even disgust, and foreigners who embrace them as vibrant crucibles of modern Brazilian culture.

"In Brazil, no one likes favelas, no one thinks they are cool," says Marcelo Armstrong, the owner of a company that runs daily tours to two Rio favelas. "Foreigners are more open. There's a certain romantic appeal to favelas."

Although no figures are available on the number of foreigners living in favelas, Mr. Armstrong says the number is definitely rising and cites his own statistics as evidence. The number of tourists taking his tours has risen from around four per month in Protected content , when he started the business, to around Protected content month today. Of those, only a dozen or so are Brazilians, mostly the partners of foreign visitors.

Few Brazilians see the appeal in favelas

That, Armstrong says, is because middle-class Brazilians have no desire to see or learn how the other half lives. Although about 1-in-5 residents of Rio live in favelas, the communities hold little interest, and a great deal of fear, for the elite and middle class.

And with some justification. Many if not most are controlled by drug gangs armed with powerful weapons that sometimes include grenades, bazookas, and even anti-tank missiles. Much of the daily bloodshed that has made Brazil the second most violent country in the world, according to UNESCO, takes place there. With basic amenities like sanitation, running water, roads, lighting, and policing often absent, few dare venture in.

Yet it is precisely those qualities that attract foreigners, says Hermano Vianna, the author of several books about the relationship between favelas and Brazilian music. Compared with ordinary, and orderly, middle-class lifestyles in Western Europe and the United States, life in a favela is seen as unpredictable, romantic, and very cool.

"People come here to get away from the boredom of their own countries," Mr. Vianna says. "They are looking for cultural authenticity. This is like Disney to them."

Nadkardi would say his house is more Miles Davis than Walt Disney. The charismatic Englishman began building a home here in the Tavares Bastos favela 25 years ago. Although it is still a work in progress – as the bags of cement scattered around prove – it is a local landmark.

Like many favelas, Tavares Bastos is built on a hill, and his home, at the end of a steep, narrow alleyway, has spectacular vistas of the city below. Nadkardi has turned it into a club, art gallery, and bed-and-breakfast, and people are now flocking to get a taste of what he calls "the real Brazil."