Okay, so let’s talk about the proverbial elephant in the room. It seems like everywhere I turn, there is news about Rio, and most of it troubling. After years of the media not reporting much of anything about Brazil (or Latin America, for that matter), the onslaught of horrific/hilarious/hopeless news about Brazil, and Rio in particular, must seem like a worrisome kind of truth for those unfamiliar with The Marvelous City (as it is known in Portuguese, a Cidade Maravilhosa). But it is a partial truth, partial because there’s always more to life than what makes it into the headlines, and partial because it is a one-way look. And with the Olympics about to begin, that critical gaze is more intense than ever. That always happens when the Olympics are being held in the “Developing World.” China, South Africa, Russia….?
Sure, the water is polluted, but that’s not something to make fun of, or imagine that it’s only because “they” can’t get it together. The same mocking international scrutiny was not turned on Oklahoma City when athletes got sick from the water when the new rowing venue was opened in that pitiful excuse for a river (a term that hardly applies to a straightened, concrete-lined course that looks more like a large open sewer than a natural waterway). And my attempt to swim in another apparently natural river in the state got me an eye infection, thanks to Tyson chicken dumping into the Illinois River between Oklahoma and Arkansas. Disgusting, and heartbreaking. So, let’s watch out for that stone throwing, my fellow glass-house occupiers.
Last week, first responders greeted tourists arriving at the airport in Rio with a dramatic warning (in English):
Building on this, Daily Show host, Trevor Noah, says that living in Rio should be considered an Olympic sport:
…in some ways, that’s always been true. It really is a marvelous city, but it is a hard place to live. Harder for some than others. However, it is the subject of love songs, and hilarious musical critiques (stay tuned for examples as this blog takes off). Nobody knows how to critique Brazil, with more nuance and humor and love, than Brazilians. But they do it from a position of knowledge and commitment, and not some self-satisfied assumption of superiority.
Let’s turn the tables for a moment. As Matt Reimann, of Timeline.org say: “We need not let Rio off the hook, but perspective is important. A homicide rate of 18.6 per 100,000 people makes Rio safer than contemporary American cities like Baltimore (with 33) and St. Louis (with 50), host to the highest homicide rate in the country.” (See here for the full article; thanks to Sean for finding this.)
So, yes, there are problems, but there are problems in lots of places. We will be arriving in Rio at the tail end of the Olympics, once “the world” has let out a collective sigh of relief that things went better than they imagined. And when the media circus has gone off to some other place, we will be there, and I will be sharing as much of the beautiful complexity that makes Rio a truly marvelous, troubled, inspiring city as I can.