Helena Moreira Lima

"They said that the favela had to go, but that didn't stop them from selling the land"

Coming from

Now living in

I was born in the Ceara. I came here because all my brothers lived here, and I wanted to work, to have a better life, and not depend on my father. My mother was already getting old, so I came here to try and help them. Of five siblings, I’m the youngest. And all of them lived here. So I came, and I’ve been here since 1987. I haven’t even been back for a holiday. When I arrived here, my intention was to live in Rocinha with my brothers. Then I got to know their father, and we went to live in Estacio. I went to live in the little favela near Mangueira, as someone was selling a little wooden shack there. So we bought it, and went on building it. How much did I buy it for? I think it was 500 cruzados. A friend of ours was going away to Brasilia, so we bought it off him. It was partly built with concrete, but it had a wooden roof.

My husband made a terrace there, and we built another room on top. When we went to live in this little favela, there were very few houses. Where I lived, it was like a private street, we had our gate. A friend of mine came from the Ceara, and she would stay with the children when I went out to work. And another friend, and when she died, I looked after her daughter. And at the end, there was another. This friend of mine who died, she used to throw a party at the end of the year. Everyone brought some food, and there was forro, you know? It was great. My house was pretty, it had a little kitchen, everything. Before I bought my place there, we lived in Estacio near the Metro, and my brother-in-law who had a job on Rede Globo said there had been an announcement, that that area belonged to the Metro, it didn’t belong to anyone. They said that, but they never asked anyone to pay for anything, they didn’t stop anyone from building there. Friends called friends, they all built a place there. Anyone who had money would buy a space there and build on it. A friend of mine built a kind of tower, and rented the rooms out.

No one believed it. We didn’t pay energy bills, City Hall ordered a meter to be put in, but they never switched it on. So what happened. When City Hall came, everyone was still asleep. Was I at home? Yes, I was. It was my son who answered the door, as I was asleep. It had my husband’s name on the piece of paper. It said you will have to leave on such-and-such a date, and they started to film. They marked every house with a number, and went to take photos of your bathroom, your living room, But we didn’t let them know who was living here. The first people who left went to Santa Cruz. But it’s far away, that was more for retired people. I said no straight away, I won’t go, because the children were all at school nearby, and I worked near to my house. How would I get there from Santa Cruz? I didn’t want to get the bus, things like that. I used to go to work on foot. My husband said if you don’t go, you might lose. But I said I’m not going to go, Jesus. We saw the news that they were knocking down people’s houses with them inside. We didn’t have anyone to call to find out. When we got here, there were a lot of water leaks. Because they didn’t do anything for us. Just like what they made for people at the Olympics, a lot of leaks. Ours was the same, we had to fix our own things.
We don’t have a single document. It will be five years soon that we’ve been here. But I didn’t pay energy bills or water there. We couldn’t complain if there was a power cut, we can here. Everyone used to put the air conditioning on all the tim

Reporter: Natalia Viana

Photographer: Natalia Viana

My journey

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