Direne 1 & 2
This deactivated plastic ware manufactory is one of the longest occupations of the area. It’s been already fifteen years of the first attempts. Besides the plastic factory other industrial sheds and buildings have been incorporated, turning this place in a sort of complex of factory squats, divided into Direne 1 and Direne 2. According to recent survey, there are 190 families residing in those industrial spaces. An important feature of this area is its proximity with the main settlement of Jacarezinho, localized in one of the industrial streets that borders the favela.
All those families count on a coming resettlement a promise made by the State Government.
Sonia tells us that she arrived at Direne coming from Engenheiro Pedreira, in the surroundings of Japeri, metropolitan area of Rio. The motive for her initial displacement was a family dispute. She used to live with her sons, but as time passed they got married and brought their families to the same house. She had an argument with a daughter-in-law and left the house. Sonia was one of the first settlers of Direne, it’s been thirteen years since. “It is only me and God here”. Sonia recalls the first moments of the occupation, when the difficulties were striking, including a resistance game with the police before the occupation finally established itself. “The police kept removing us, but we kept coming back”.
Sonia runs a small convenience store, where she serves coffee and snacks for the industrial workers of the region. She highlights that she always worked in her life, starting by her own house as a child. “Without struggle you have nothing”.
About the lodging conditions of the building the woman comments that the edifice is not bearing the weight anymore. And regarding the resettlement perspective she comments: “If it comes we will have to go, but there are many people in worst conditions than us”.
Antonieta reached Direne three years ago coming from São Paulo. Her marriage came to an end and she moved to Rio, where she lived before, to get closer to her daughter, who now lives next door to her mother. Mother and daughter reside in the open area in contiguous brick shacks.
Antonieta says she worked her whole life cleaning houses, as a maid, but can’t stand the physical exigency of the function anymore. She highlights that despite the fact that she is not professionally active, she is still paying the government to get retired. Even though, she has no certainty of being able to receive the money back, according to her because “God could make his call before the retirement day comes”. Women get retired in Brazil usually when they reach 60.
About the lodging conditions at Direne the woman says she had a hard time getting adapted. “The water flows inside our house, the sewer is open. And inside there is even worse (pointing to other residences of the squat). “It is terrible to live here, but what can we do? We need it”.
“Now they are paying attention to us!”, comments Carminha about the fact that she is being interviewed.
Carminha came to Rio from Bahia 15 years ago. It’s been twelve years that she resides in this squat, known as Direne. She is one of the oldest residents of the old plastic factory. Before she established at nearby favela do Jacarezinho, but she couldn’t afford rent. “It wasn’t good, but at least was (could be considered) a place”. She has four kids, and lives with all of them and her husband in a improvised room in the ground floor of the building of the old factory.
She works delivering advertisement folders in the mailboxes, but also as a daily maid “when it pops up”, sporadically, so to speak. “Without those options, I would do nothing”.
Carminha says that living in Direne is to “push with your belly”, in a popular Brazilian proverb, that means, among other things, delaying a decision, or to sustaining a difficult situation. “Many people criticizes us for living in a factory squat, saying that this is no place to live. But if we don’t stay here we have only the street. Now, thank God, we are expecting for coming change… (the residents have a promise of resettlement made by the government). Here the children can’t play”.
Andrea lived in Jacarezinho before joining the factories’ squats. Just like many people around she could not afford rent any more, and was expelled from the tenant’s house along with the siblings she had at the time. Andrea recalls how she arrived at the industrial plant and found a “corner” to her family. The situation was fully precarious at that time, because the factory’s surface, by some reason, was all covered by an abundant layer of dense oil. Presently she resides with 8 children in an improvised room adapted from the ruins of the industrial plant. Andrea is 33 years old, has 8 kids, and is completing 15 years living in this factory squat. These figures above take us to the conclusion that Andrea arrived in this improvised lodging complex when she was only 18. Her exceptionally large nuclear family was indeed created mainly at Direne. How many pregnancies must Andrea have endured since she inhabits the old plastic ware factory?
“I don’t work, my income comes from Bolsa Família (social benefit for the poorest). I get 500 reais (220 dollars), and with this money I carry on”. Andrea has a pretty positive attitude towards life, especially for someone in her position. For one of her sons, life is even harsher, he sits on a wheel chair and displays characteristics of someone that went through an infantile paralysis. Andrea explains that this is not the case, he was a normal boy when last year he was ran over by a heavy truck just in front of the main entrance of the squat. This neighborhood is still very industrialized and the come and go of heavy trucks is frequent. The mother describes that the 15 year old boy even suffered a loss of brain matter, survived, but got paralyzed. As she portrays this tragedy two neighbors help her taking the multi damaged adolescent for a walk. “This is my life and we keep on going until the Government gives us the new condominium it is promising”.
“We must be tough, otherwise we collapse”, says Andrea, before adding that she stands alone. She has no husband and her mother is living as a beggar a few years from now. Andrea displays shocking upright mood while describing such a hard path in life. “We must be joyful, otherwise, I can’t keep on going. Should I be mourning in a corner? No, I won’t”.
Katia is one of the first residents of Direne’s squat, she estimates her arrival in 20 years. The woman lives with husband and two sons in an adapted room from the remains of the old plastic ware manufactory. Katia mentions that she used to live with her mother at Jacarezinho but left to have her own space, with her own family. “To me, personally, it was better, I earned my privacy”. Katia depicts Direne’s lodging conditions as precarious, “for example, now we are out of water, and it only reaches us at night, when it does at all. But we keep on going… Looks like we are to leave this place soon, which is great because it’s all falling apart. My roof is collapsing”. Katia and her 190 neighbor families from Direne count on a resettlement promise made by the State Government of Rio de Janeiro.
“When I got here I was well (healthly well), but I had a CVA. I had to walk to the UPA (closest health facility) and it was good (the treatment)”. M. Luzia recovered from the cerebrovascular accident with no apparent damage. She arrived at Direne three years ago to escape an unaffordable rent. Today she lives with one of her sons at an adapted space from an old office of the plastic factory. “I bought it here thinking that one day they (the government) would put us somewhere else”. Luzia was born in Paraíba and came to Rio when was only 17 years old. “I came with an uncle, but he left me, leaving me by myself. I have three kids”. She comments that she has nothing to say about Direne’s lodging conditions. “Here we help one another. I am with God. I go to the Copacabana beach to sell my coconut candies. I have always worked as a maid. Oh, how I worked…”
“When I got here I hit the bottom. The company had just bankrupted, it was too much garbage, lots of rats. We did it by great struggle, suffering, stress. I come from Paraíba, used to work at a graphic park here. I lost my job and house after a health problem. Lying down I kept asking God to show me a place to live. A friend came to this place (Direne) and I came along. This was so ugly, but I said this was better than the streets. I told Elias (husband) that I found a place, and it’s ugly but I am going. Better than face the landlord. I only brought some clothes and my fridge. It’s been 16 years I am here. There was so many mosquitos… Also burnt oil covered the floor, which was so hard to clean. I only came here because the need was outstanding. My husband was also unemployed. Before he lost his job he was making 190 a month and the rent was 170 (she cries). There is no victory without struggle. The greatest the struggle, the greatest the victory. I hope that the miracle of leaving this place (resettlement) happens. People used to say I was joining the beggars. When you got a job you have lots of friends. Jobless and its over (friendships). I lived for 8 years in a house before coming here. I paid all I owned. I lived here (in the beginning) hiding because it was too ugly. People said that a bulldozer would pass and tear me apart. I assembled wood picked from the remains of an old favela (removed). They kept saying someone would burn everything. I was so afraid of here. The rats were so big, and they confronted us! I am terrified by those animals; I don’t even speak their name!”
Elisabeth, as described below, was one of Direne’s first squatters. She raised her children at this old factory. She inhabits a space which is a mix of external and internal areas of the ruins. The woman has a little garden that overflows green. She tells it stated after an upstairs neighbor threw some seeds at her space. Now she has a small aroeira tree and medicinal herbs. Elisabeth’s narrative is a sort of synthesis of life in an abandoned factory squat…
As soon as your arrive in this place you experience the inhumanity of the environment. A place that was suitable for industrial chemical production, meant to forge modern’s life plastic utensils. Where the floor was made of a thick layer of burnt oil, constituting the farthest surface for human comfort. The ruins’ darkness was dominated by hordes of fearless rats. It took a lot of gut and sweat, and more sweat, and concentration, and lots of faith to transform this scenery.
Health problems, unemployment, quarrels, it all jointly carries people to those buildings. The main dilemma is between the horror of residing the inhospitable, destruction itself, and the panic regarding the inconsequence and indignity of living in the streets. To reach the point of having those two sole options, and having a family to care, is, paradoxically, what kicks the impetus to stay at the factory and avoid the street. Let us not forget of the societal relations that enforce displacement – delayed rents, fights and menaces.
Once settled at the factory a different kind of “social relation” keeps on bullying the honor, the one that points the finger recalling the social downgrade that the particular factory squatter status represents. People spend their lives in those conditions, they get used not to suffer excessively. The wages that are never close to cover monthly expenses. There is no coverage. Living amidst a perfect mosquito habitat, where urban animals proliferate. But progressive landscape modification, structure’s creative adaptations build a strong enough bond for a bit of balance and some rest. Still, minimum standards are never acquired. In short the improvised sewer is blocked, tropical rains hazarding everything, garbage accumulating disgustingly. The job that never comes, friends that disappear – you are not as valuable as before, employed. One may continue, but never forgetting his debts, paying the debts is imperative. You may feel your life threatened when invading a factory – bumping into police, gangs, dangerously infuriated businessmen, fire, eviction, collapse. Arriving with little, you build your roof from remains. You will face many demons and monsters, material and immaterial ones. Faith is what you need to keep the rats away.
Fabiana is close to completing one decade living in the rear area of an annex building of the plastic factory. It’s been nine years in this factory that she is in an invader role. Her brick house is located in an open area. Like many of the factories’ residents she came from Manguinhos (nearby slum). “I bought this space in the middle of a ball funk, playing with a friend. I never thought of living here. But I had to leave my mother’s house, and ended up in other people’s houses. I came with my three children and the father on my youngest one. When we arrived there was a sewer exit inside the place. I threw concrete at the sewer. Here we have may mosquitos, many rats, and the sewer fills up everything when it gets blocked”.
Fabiana, who works as cleaning auxiliary, would, if she could choose, have her own business. Wishing to become a “businesswoman”, as she says, managing a little restaurant.
Taís resides in one of the most degrading áreas of Jacaréneighborhood. The old shed, today without a roof, which was part of the plastic factory, was first occupied after abandoned by animals. The place was transformed in piggery, where pigs and horses lived. After pigs and horses, humans advanced to the area.
“It’s been one year since I am here. I came from Manguinhos. I broke up (her marriage) and I had to leave (her house). I live with three children (including newborn twins) and my husband. Here the sewer is the worst”. To reach Taís’ shack is imperative the crossing of a wooden pieces bridge over a putrid mud made of sewer.
Asked if she has any dreams in life Taís rapidly answered – “I’ve always dreamt of being a photographer”.