São Paulo: Just a normal day in the favela

“This particular favela is safe. It is a good one, don’t worry…” my friend Chris said, who is working for a NGO in Sao Paulo. I was interested to know more about his job and what the organization is in particular doing for the poor in Sao Paulo. When walking through the favela, the unexpected happen…


This morning, I left all my belongings at home and just had my phone and a couple of Brazilian Reais in my pocket. Even though my friend ensured me about the relatively safety of the place I wanted to make sure not to wear my camera or any fancy clothes. Lea, The German volunteer was picking me up from the entrance of the cultural center which was located a bit outside of the favela.

She gave me a proper introduction of the NGO, its history and activities including several ongoing projects. I met quite a lot of people and everyone seemed to he very friendly and open to meet foreigners. Most likely, the people were used to the many German speaking volunteers and I tried to blend in. After the morning coffee the real thing started and we visited several projects in the favela including but not limited to kindergarten, library, hospital, etc.

Something Unexpected

Lea once more told me that the favela is relatively safe and that the only time it is getting relatively dangerous, would be when the police is entering the area. “They start to shoot immediately” and apparently this is the time were a lot of people get killed by wandering bullets.

Just in this moment when we left one of the buildings to continue our tour, an armed police squad walked passed us.

SH**!!!!!! I could not believe it and Lea told me to walk together with her in the opposite direction. “They must look for someone”, she said. I already imagined that the show will be kicking off in every second and got already a bit nervous.

Suddenly, from the other side of the alley we saw a young man running towards us with a plastic bag in his hands. And the police with their pulled out guns in their hands, just behind him. FU**, FU**.

“Come here, don’t stand in their way”, Lea told me and we tried to “escape” the situation. The actors were just passing us in 5 meter distance and my face must have turned pale white. I really did not feel comfortable with the situation and just wanted to leave this place.

Lea surprisingly told me that the police would normally shoot people who are running away. Especially, people who are involved in drug trafficking (the plastic bag in his hands made sense in the meantime).

We went straight into the next building which was the library and waited for the situation to calm down. After a couple of minutes we did not hear anything anymore and went outside to finish the tour.

Of course, just in this moment a young fella with black sunglasses came around the corner and adjusted his gun in his trousers. “Great… I just want to leave! NOW!”, I thought and Lea must have read my mind.

While the favela was previously a super busy place with children playing in the streets and people practicing a dance for a local festival, the location reminded me more of a spooky ghost town. Everyone was going inside while we could observe people exchanging the latest information on their phones.

Favela Monte Azul

Happy End

While I was on my way back again to my friends safe neighbourhood, I was thankful and relieved nothing really happened today. After all, I was happy to experience such a dangerous situation which reminded me of not being in Europe or Asia anymore. I put up my guards again and was more careful than at the beginning of my journey.

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