Are we still in Retrograde, y’all? Lately, I have been re-thinking, re-living, and re-processing some experiences in Brasil. One of them; is my time spent in Rio de Janeiro. Collectively I’ve spent quite some time in Rio.
At first glance I did not fall in love with the city like I had hoped I would. I expected it to sweep me off of my feet like prince charming in cinderella… I expected it to all click, to all make sense, for the puzzle piece to come together. That Aha! Moment, Oprah raves about. That I had made the right choice to come to Brasil on a Fulbright grant. Instead Rio greeted me on a very foggy day where my ride from the airport to Copacabana seemed like a time warp. I could not see the road very clearly and the trip seemed longer than it should take because the drivers were driving slowly…
Rio was not sunny nor bustling with noise and samba music everywhere. In fact it was foggy, meek, and rather somber. The city mirrored what I was feeling at the time and now in hindsight I think we were going through similar experiences. Some struggles, some strife, and a lot of internal reckoning.
There is duality of life in Rio. There is a jarring juxtaposition I saw and felt. My mother and brother came to visit me and we decided to meet in Rio. The iconic world-renowned “Cidade Maravilhosa” (Marvaleous City). One example of this duality was my life as an Ex-Pat / Tourist staying at a hotel in Copacabana Zona Sul and from our rooftop pool deck we could see Morro do Pavão–Pavãozinho. The parallels between identity, time, and place dominated my experiences in Rio. The congruent lives and bodies that inhabit the streets of Rio and the comunidades on the Morros that form the Favelas.
I was able to learn more about this duality that exists with Favelas and people’s understanding of them when I offered to take pictures of people on the rooftop. The tourists from other countries gladly took pictures in front of the beachfront view, the mountains, and the favela backdrop. When I offered to take pictures of a Brazilian National with these backdrops they almost always did not want a picture in front of the favela. Out of curiosity I would inquire further. Some would respond and say “Não preciso de uma foto na frente de uma favela” (“I don’t need a picture in front of a favela”) and I would ask “why” – and they would just shrug and say thank you for the other pictures and leave. Others would give me two more minutes of their time and explain more in depth why they would not want to. They would answer, “Why would I pose in front of something negative in Rio?” and I would challenge and say “why not?” The good doesn’t exist without the bad and the bad doesn’t exist without the good – isn’t that what Ying and Yang has taught us? I would continue the conversation and say what about the colors? What about the people that live there? That is their home. What about their stories?
These interactions really impacted me and I continue to process these conversations as entry points to what exists in Rio. Some people want to visit and just enjoy the enchanting views, dance, and food. What about the critical truths and struggles that exists in Rio, the dual city?
I had the opportunity to visit Tavares Bastos with some friends. When discussing and planning this trip, my friend who lives in Rio said, “It’s safe and there is good food”. In the same breath he said it has “The best views of Rio”. We did go to The Maze Restaurant that serves Indian food. This rooftop view is magical and breathtaking.
These views jolted me to reality because these communities are physically elevated living on mountaintops. They stand tall, they see the city from a different vantage point. They have the the best view of the city. Underneath the facade of “beach town vibes” there are layers and layers and layers of history , trauma, and resiliency. I left that lunch yearning for more integration, more understanding, and with more questions. I wanted to meet the people who lived there and listen to their stories. Do they come and enjoy this restaurant too? What is their day to day experiences like? What are their raw, unapologetic and present truths. Then I continue to reflect – am I engaging in exotic “otherness” rhetoric because I am interested in learning more about these communities?
I was going through a really difficult time emotionally and physically while visiting Rio. Thus, I put a lot of pressure on Rio when we first met. I expected this city to use its fairy dust and spread its Tinker Bell wand around and make it all ok and make all the suffering disappear. On the contrary, Rio gave me a couple more rainy days and I had to sit with my feelings about what was unraveling in my life abroad.
Rio asked me to think critically, ask questions, and not take one answer as the sole truth. This city demanded that I look at the situation from all the angles; upside down, right side up left to right. Perhaps the reason why Rio is so enchanting for some is because Rio asks you to step it up and be a braver version of yourself. To reckon with your wounds and begin to make sense of them.
I am grateful for the friends I have made in Rio and them challenging me to focus on Rio with a critical lens and move past the enchanting views. To engage more fully with the society and truths that exist there.
More to come on Rio.
Até a próxima,