Nat CastañedaComment

Hard life, smiles, in abandoned Rio building

Nat CastañedaComment
Hard life, smiles, in abandoned Rio building

Toddlers roam in diapers or even naked in an abandoned building in Rio de Janeiro that has become home to hundreds of squatters. Mounds of trash create pockets of stench in what used to house the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics.

Residents bathe in garbage containers filled with water and pass the time playing cards, smoking and watching television thanks to electricity illegally tapped from power lines. The former federal building, just a short walk from iconic Maracana Stadium, has been occupied for several years. But an influx of recent arrivals underscores the fallout from Brazil’s worst economic crisis in decades.

Luciana Bastos, 30, moved in with her husband and two daughters after they both lost their jobs and couldn’t make rent.

“The owner of our apartment asked us to leave and we didn’t have anywhere else to go,” Bastos said, sitting on a bed in a room with sheets covering large holes in the walls.

Bastos said she and others make an effort to clean only to then see trash thrown in the same places.

“How long do we have to live in a pig sty?” she said.

Despite the hardscrabble existence, there is a strong sense of community.

Video by Felipe Dana. Edited by Renata Brito.

Residents laugh as a man tattoos a doll with a kite on a woman’s calf. Children hit a green soccer ball with sticks in a hallway while others ride bikes around the property. A few women sunbathe and chat with others holding babies. Teenage girls pose for visiting journalists, giggling as they pucker their lips.

Jayanne Pessanha, 20, said her sister died a few years ago after falling from an empty window, one of the biggest dangers in a building with dozens of wide and long windows that no longer have glass and are not boarded up. Her brother died when he hit his head during a fight.

“Many people criticize us. They say we live in garbage,” said Pessanha, who has “Jesus Cristo” tattooed on the side of her neck. “Those who are here have faith. They have faith that they will leave this place.”

Text from the AP news story, AP PHOTOS: Hard life, smiles, in abandoned Rio building, by Felipe Dana and Peter Prengaman. 

Photos and video by Felipe Dana

Visual artist and Digital Storyteller at The Associated Press