I asked my son what he thought of the favelas after our first visit, and I was struck by his answer. He said, "I don't want to live in a house anymore! I want to live here!" Huh?
Where I saw happiness amid poverty, physical danger and potential disease, he saw happiness period. He saw kids running free with no apparent supervision, setting off fireworks and setting up impromptu soccer games. They lived in a maze of homes that were almost like secret passageways, but they knew the way. They were insiders. He noticed that everyone knew each other, and freely walked into each other's homes. He saw that they cared for one another.
We passed lots of adults hanging out and playing games. One of my favorite sights was of small groups of men sitting close together with a table top balanced on their knees, holding a domino game. They literally needed each other to hold the table up. It was such a beautiful picture of community to me.
But while I saw all the adults hanging out as a sign of unemployment that contributes to their hardship, my son saw grown ups hanging out and having fun -- something he doesn't see all that often, quite honestly. In his world, grown ups are busy working, always have too many things to do, no time to play.
Of course, as a child he is not aware of the dangers that jump out at me as a mother. I see cholera or typhus in the trickling streams that run through the streets. I see late-night danger in the men playing dominoes outside of the 2-shelf bar. I see minor injuries turning into infections that lead to death for lack of medical attention. I see babies I hope desperately will survive their own childhoods here.
But I am convicted by my son's desire to live in a slum because of the freedom, happiness and relaxed pace he sees there. The favela is not something I thought I would want to take back with me. But I hope I can now, in a way. I hope I can make my home more like this beautiful slum for my children.