I was recently interviewed and photographed by Peruvian Reuters journalist Pilar Oliviera, who subsequently included me in an article about the current trend of non-Brazilians moving to the favelas entitled "Slumdog Gringos".
"The story of Tom is a little different from the others [foreigners living in Rio's favelas]. Tom is a trumpet player from England who arrived in Rio five years ago with the goal of experiencing Brazil’s music. Tom found a small apartment belonging to a French expatriate, who rents it for $400. It’s high up near the hilltop of the Pareira da Silva favela, with an impressive view of Sugarloaf Mountain.
Tom knows that the money he pays could be used to rent a room in Rio’s center, but he says his reason for being there is not just economic. He likes to live with the slum dwellers to learn about the culture and roots behind Brazilian music.
Tom is well-liked by his neighbors, as one of the few gringos who mixes with others in the community. One of his friends told me, “There are gringos who come here only to make money, open hostels, and contribute nothing to the community. Sometimes they arrange parties for gringos only, without Brazilans. Tom is different. Children, his music students, greet him on the street, and the owner of a small shop chats with him.
When I accompanied him to look for a friend who lives down the hill we walked along streets so dark that I felt it too unsafe to walk with a camera. But Tom assured me in his relaxed English accent, “It’s very safe here, nothing will happen.” Along the way I noticed some silhouettes in the darkness that spooked me, but only after we returned to his home did he confess that those truly were “mysterious.” Still, he assured me that nobody touches the local gringos.
Tom says that in Rio he has a more active social life than in London, participating in samba events where he plays with others musicians. He has close friends in the favela.
“Rio is an excellent place for a musician,” he said. His only worry is his ability to support a future family. He wouldn’t think of sending kids to a public school or a public hospital. The cost of living and private services like education and health is so high that Tom concludes, “To live a comfortable life in Brazil you have to be rich.”