Youth Torn Between Gangs and the Government

Stories by Monte Reel, Washington Post Staff Writer | Photos by Fred Alves for The Washington Post

Up on the Roof

Brazil Portrait 1
The refuge of a rooftop in Rocinha.

One of the most important architectural elements of a house in a favela is the rooftop.

Families have cookouts on their roofs, string hammocks, catch naps. It's a rare flat surface, which means it's where young kids pedal tricycles in tight circles, and where older ones dribble soccer balls. It's where women wash clothes and hang them to dry, where they chat with neighbors who can be found on their own rooftops, doing the same things, at slightly varying altitudes.

"It's like the community relations center," says Maiza Madeira, stepping out onto a roof that looks over much of the favela. "Put a little pool on the roof, and it's like, 'Hey, come on up!'"

Her rooftop happens to be a little higher than it used to be. Her mother bought this house, and when her children grew up they decided to add a second story, laying the bricks and smoothing the mortar themselves. It's a familiar progression that -- from Madeira's rooftop -- can be seen almost everywhere you look, including the house next-door, where half-finished walls have begun to rise along its perimeter. She says the man who lives there is hoping to rent out his addition.

"I love it up here, but I only come out during the day," Madeira, 37, says. "Never at night." No matter how high the houses climb, they can't always rise above the violence.

Madeira points to a house a couple of roofs over. A year or two ago, a boy stepped out onto that roof at 7 a.m. to get his shoes for school, she says, and he took a stray bullet in the head. Next Story »

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