Monday, March 28, 2011


Me at Christ the Redeemer
Earlier this month before carnival started, two of my best mates from my hometown, McMinn and Darb, came over to see me in Brazil. Before making our way over to Rio for the carnival, we spent a few days chilling in Sao Paulo. And I need to take this opportunity to clear something up! One night we had been to a restaurant and were walking back towards my building. Just a few feet from the door to my apartment, it became clear one of the resident tramps had taken a massive shit on a shop doorway! So if you have heard McMinn and Darb telling you I live in an area where people shit on the streets....well, it’s not untrue, but it’s definitely not a regular thing!
A few days ago my landlord decided to raise my rent....despite the fact we have not had a maid in to clean the apartment for a while (This maid is included in my rent, I’ve not turned into a toff! “I can’t believe it yaaaaaaaaaa, I haven’t had a maid for ages, yaaaaaaaaaa! I need the maid to clean my bloody house....I’m no povo, yaaaaaaaaaaaa!”). So I am about to move into a different apartment for the remaining time I have left in Brazil...I wil be moving to a nicer area. With no tramps. And no human faeces! That’s right folks, I’m moving up in the world!
So back to carnival! This year wasn’t the first time I’d experienced Rio carnival. Two years ago me and my Japanese mate Kazu came over to Brazil to explore the country, in time for carnival. Having spent the previous three years in Japan, I was aware I should be much more cautious with my belongings than I was used to. And just a few hours after landing in Rio, me and Kazu went out drinking in Lapa (which is not the classiest place in Rio!), and twice I had kids sticking their hands inside my pockets trying to rob me.

Looking back, I think having people try to pickpocket me on day one, made me feel I needed to be, well, more cautious with my stuff than I had planned on being. And I guess for the remaining time I was in Rio I was overcautious, to the point where I never fully felt relaxed there. If I’m being honest, despite it’s carnival atmosphere and obvious beauty, Rio intimidated me a little the first time I was there.
Having lived in Brazil for almost a year now though, I find that although I constantly have my eyes peeled to check what’s going on around me, this is just how it is over here. I remember about 8 months ago in class I was teaching a group of students, who, like me, expressed surprise when one of the other students in the class told us she had been robbed at gunpoint for her handbag, just that morning. I looked around in shock, and I noticed everyone else looked very surprised too. Then a student said “I can’t believe it! 5.30am and you got mugged! They are getting up much earlier these days!” That’s when I realised I wasn’t on the same page as these guys; that the thing they were surprised about was the time it took place, and not that it took place at all!

Darb, Kiko, McMinn and myself on Ipanema beach,
This is because this is quite common in Sao Paulo, and each of my students seem to have a story or two about their own personal experiences. My friend Kiko once even had a gun pointed at him in the street, with some guy asking him to give him his designer tee-shirt! One of my students once asked me what it was like to have ATM’s on the streets in England, because she couldn’t imagine ever feeling safe taking money out so publicly. Over here you take your money out inside the bank, which often has an armed guard inside.

I have accepted this is the way things are, to the point where, despite the threat of being robbed is actually very real, I now feel quite at home here in Sao Paulo. With this more relaxed mindset...I went to party in Rio!
Some of the lasting memories I have taken from carnival this year were from the many blocos (street parties) we went to. Here, hundreds of people lined the streets to follow either a band, or a truck, with a huge sound system on the back of it. As you can imagine, with everyone drinking plenty it got pretty rowdy in amongst the crowds. Two years ago I went to one of these with Kazu, and I remember the way many girls were shamelessly approaching him after discovering he was Japanese (the girls certainly didn’t act like this in Japan!). Despite the fact that the largest settlement of Japanese people outside of Brazil is in Sao Paulo(just 220 miles away), there were not so many Japanese looking people at the carnival. And as soon as Kazu confirmed he was Japanese, the girls were well up for ramming their tongues down his throat! Fast forward 2 years, and the same thing was happening to my friend Darb. For those of you who don’t know Darb, he has blonde hair and pale skin, which is obviously pretty common in England.

Ipanema Bloco, this street was lined with people
ready for the party to kick off!
Yet over here, where black hair, brown eyes and a tanned completion are the norm (particularly on the beaches in Rio), Darb definitely stood out. I remember once seeing him dancing down the street, and so many people were reaching out to touch and grab him! My Brazilian mate Kiko (who also joined us for carnival) said the people in the street did this, because to Brazilian’s, Darb is a bit 'exotic'.
This year I also got a glimpse of carnival from a woman’s perspective, as at one bloco in Ipanema, three Danish girls jumped out at us from the crowd of people; screaming “Oi, foreign guys”. They asked us if we minded if they joined us for a while. They then told us that they were having trouble with the Brazilian men, who were touching them at every opportunity. They were very nice girls, yet at the same time quite plain looking, so at first I was unconvinced that they were having so much trouble. Then just a minute later I saw one of the girls being groped by a guy, who had obviously spotted this girl, and come over especially to cop a feel! And they were groped by different guys a few times in the five minutes they were with us. One of these girls told me the previous day she had been to a bloco, and as she was talking to her friends, a guy she didn’t know had walked over, looked at her and then pulled down her knickers!
I asked Kiko why a man would do this to a woman over here....he simply replied “men don’t respect women so much during carnival”. Whilst this is a bit of a generalisation, as obviously the majority of men wouldn't do this over here....the way Brazilian women are percieved by men is an issue some Brazilian women have. Let me explain. When I first came to Brazil, I was quite surprised to see the reaction many men had to an attractive woman walking past them. It is not uncommon for a man to noticeably stare at a woman’s body for a good 15-20 seconds as she walks past (not just a cheeky glimpse when she has her back turned!). Germaine Greer would definitely have her work cut out over here! So I once had a conversation with a female student, who is a respected business woman. This sexually charged image she assumed many western men have of Brazilian women concerns her. If she speaks to someone internationally for the first time on the phone, she worries that the recipient of the call may be assuming she is a promiscuous woman, who likes to parade around in little more than a few sequins and a feathered head dress! 

Me and mcMinn inside the Sambadrome
on the final night of carnival.
Going back to the carnival, it is not simply about its street parties, no, no, no! The most famous event during the Rio carnival takes place in the Sambadrome. Samba schools prepare floats, costumes and its dancers for a full year, ready for carnival. And me, McMinn and Darb were lucky to have had good seats to see this...and when I say ‘lucky’, I really mean it! We turned up outside the stadium at 2am (it runs from 9pm-6am), with the intention of buying a ticket. Each gate was manned by someone checking tickets, with each guy pointing us to the next gate to buy our tickets. But when (a really intoxicated) Darb noticed that one of these entrance gates was not being manned, he immediately ran up the stairs past this gate. Me and McMinn followed, fully expecting to be turned away...but we weren’t. We had only gone and managed to get in for free! The parades were spectacular, as were the dancers (many wearing just a few sequins and feathered head dresses!).
To say that we drank non stop for a week would make my attitude to carnival sound quite juvenile. However drinking is a huge part of the carnival culture...and when in Rome! (Eeeeear! I was well pissed and dat! I was well pissed every night weren’t I!!!) One afternoon, after some sightseeing we returned to the hotel and turned on the TV. An old bloke was reporting on the carnival, and was absolutely wasted! I don’t speak Portuguese so well, but you really didn’t need to know that much to understand his slurs referring to Pamela Anderson (being shown on TV as she was at carnival to promote beer.), or his gestures to understand what he was saying about her breasts (at 3pm in the afternoon!). When I asked Kiko why he would be allowed to be on TV like this, he said quite simply “because this is carnival. No problem!” This line kinda summed up what I was seeing out in the streets of Rio. At any given hour of the day it was quite common to see groups of men in women’s clothing, old people drinking on the streets with young people, gays dancing with straights, really bizarre costumes worn by eccentric attention seekers...and girls crying, because the loves of their lives (for a whole 5 minutes) had just seen a more attractive girl walking past, and the girl had just been ditched for a newer model!

So this was my experience of carnival in Rio this year...obviously a lot of what went on has been omitted (I’d quite like McMinn and Darb to still be speaking to me after this blog has been posted!). And as a result of carnival I am now skint, and working hard to get some more money saved....

But, it was definitely worth it!

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