Bus driver Luiz Bezerra used to have just one thought on mind as he climbed the crumbling steps to Cantagalo every evening. It was this one thought that drove him on far more than the oppressive humidity or the sweat beading on his forehead: "How will my wife, our two daughters and I survive the night?" Cantagalo, a slum clinging to a slope above the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, could only be considered picturesque if viewed from the safe distance of a tourist helicopter. It is poetic only in its name, which means "the crowing of the rooster."
On every street corner of this favela, a Brazilian term for "slum," men stood around dealing drugs and settling their differences with automatic weapons. Gangsters raped young women, mugged the elderly, controlled the neighborhood and stifled any form of public order with their violent excesses.
These days, though, Bezerra has different concerns, ones that can be summed up neatly in two key phrases: "garbage collection" and "zip codes." Now his life revolves around small daydreams instead of nightmares.
"I'm sure all this isn't very exciting for you," says this man with graying hair. He's sitting in his workroom, where a dollhouse-sized model apartment with a miniature couch and built-in kitchen speaks to his ascent to the middle class. "It's not that exciting for me either, actually. But, believe me, for the first time in a long time, we ordinary people are taking part in Brazil's boom and, for the first time, we're experiencing hope."