Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
By Pilar Olivares
One day I decided to check out rumors that there were gringos living in the famous but feared “favelas” of Rio. I went to the Vidigal favela and asked residents if they knew any foreigners living there, and they confirmed, “This place has been invaded by gringos. Look around a while and you’ll see a parade of them, even Peruvians, Ecuadorians, from everywhere.”
Although the term gringo was originally coined in Mexico to refer to Americans, here it refers to any foreigner, even myself, a gringa from Peru.
There in Vidigal I met Ekaterina, an attorney from Russia who is living in the favela with her Chilean boyfriend, Marcos. Spending a day with them was like training myself to be a translator – Ekaterina doesn’t speak Spanish and is only just learning Portuguese, so her best language of communication here is English. Between photographing and interviewing, I often ended up in the middle of the couple and their language problems.
For Ekaterina, living in Rio means lowering her standard of living and status that she had in other cities of Europe, where she lived before coming here. Here she is giving English classes while Marcos works as a street artist. This city is expensive, and it’s far from easy to get by without a stable job. The only housing option for them was a favela, where a two-room apartment rents for about $200 a month. No other neighborhood in Rio’s center or southern districts has anything near it in size that cheap.
Marcos is happy. He adapts to anything while Ekaterina constantly complains. “I can’t stand the filth. I don’t like it when the people yell a lot. It sounds as if they were always fighting. I’ll never get used to this. Sometimes I feel like yelling, ‘Get me out of here, Mom!’”