What Rio de Janeiro Taught Me
After visiting countless places over the last three years, memories blur and the level of distinctiveness across cities and towns starts to diminish. It is those rare moments within that are held forever, those that touch our heart and soul, that change our mindsets, that make us rethink our purpose and those that spark an even greater sense of wanderlust. That’s what travelling is all about, and that’s what I experienced over a five weeks stay in Rio De Janeiro; a city of colours, contradictions, and culture.
Rio struck me in many ways. Its beauty and poverty were equally intriguing and disconcerting.
“It’s okay; it’s just the way it is.” One of the students I worked with shrugs. She is 15 years old, driven, smart, yet full of contempt. I work at a well-established school in one of Rio’s largest favelas and face the reality of a nation struggling to offer the same to all its people. Inequality is the norm, and there is no change in sight.
Happiness does not equate to friendliness, but Samba does.
The Brazilian stereotype of smiling, helpful faces wherever you look was not as obvious once I was there. However, stepping into the local samba club opened the doors to an entirely different world of rhythm and positivity. Making friends with locals has never been easier.
The Brazilian paradox
One of the younger boys’ smile is nearly as shiny as his new smartphone he proudly shows to me. He shares a small rusty hut with his parents and two siblings up on the hills. Rapid urbanisation forced the poor to settle on the mountains of Rio’s lush landscape, home to some of the best views of the city. A Brazilian soap opera is blaring in the background. His mother complains about the lack of clean water. Making sense of all these contradictions seems impossible initially, paradoxical later. I came to the conclusion that this is what makes Rio; the harsh behind-the-scenes reality somehow seem to fit with the fake, and loud spectacle the Brazilian beauty mesmerises its visitors with on stage.
Have you visited this spectacular city yourself? I would love to read about your experience in the comments below.