When people find out that I have been spending a total of six months a year in Rio de Janeiro for the last couple of years, they always open their mouths in amazement. The “O” shape of their open mouth gets even wider when they realise I have virtually no photographic trace of my lengthy Brazilian stays.
There are several reasons why I have taken such few pictures. The first one is safety. Both my own safety and my possessions’. I know some bloggers or tourists may disagree with me, but Rio de Janeiro is not simply the idyllic vacation spot you see in pictures, where even the favelas look stunningly beautiful. Yes, maybe you took pictures with no problem because you weren’t aware of what life is like in Rio outside Copacabana and Corcovado, and yes, maybe you were lucky enough that nothing happened to your possessions so you didn’t have to find out. But taking a phone or a camera out of your bag here in Rio de Janeiro is little short of an invitation to assault. You don’t want to get that tourist stamp. Tourist equals inexperienced, which in the eyes of a robber might mean he now owns a new phone.
My first time here, I was supposed to meet a friend in Central do Brasil – the most central and crowded – and dangerous – bus, train and subway station. I had met this person on the Internet, on a website for foreign language learners, so we had decided to meet in a place that was both crowded – since we couldn’t know for sure if the other person was a real language learner or a criminal – and easy to reach for the both of us – while the first requisite was on easy one, the second one wasn’t, being Rio such a huge city and each place so distant from the other. That morning, I took the bus with my boyfriend – my Brazilian boyfriend was the main reason for me being there – and I got off the bus some stops before he did to go to work. As soon as I got off the bus, while crossing the street, I took out my phone to check if my friend had texted me, and two seconds later I received a message from my boyfriend saying “DO NOT USE YOUR PHONE!!!!!”. He had already repeated this instruction to me a thousand times, but I guess as a small-town girl from Europe, used to walking and texting at the same time, I couldn’t fully grasp the urgency of his advice, and thought that looking around carefully before taking my phone out – an old phone whose screen didn’t even have colours – would be enough. I put the phone away and waited to get to a more strategic place to check my messages.
As I got to a very small park on the side of the bus terminal, with a couple of benches and a gate around it, where a couple of bus drivers were eating their lunch, I stood in a corner with my back against the gate and plants to prevent attacks from behind, looked carefully around in all directions and took out my phone. While using it, I kept on looking up every five seconds or so. Before completing the sentence “I’m here”, to be sent to my friend, I looked up and saw three different men from three different directions walking towards me at a fast pace without taking their eyes off my phone. As soon as I looked at them they stopped and removed their gaze. It was like playing Statues with three spiteful strangers.
In the end I managed to send the message, my friend arrived, my phone was safe. It’s been three years since that incident, and I still haven’t been robbed – which is unbelievable for all my Carioca friends. I don’t know anybody here who has never been robbed at least once. But the “trauma” stuck with me: I don’t have a job, I don’t have a salary, how am I going to buy another phone for myself if they steal this one from me? Should I even bring my iPhone, or should I just take an old phone with me and give up the thought of taking any pictures? And what about a camera then? Sure, travelling is not about taking pictures and showing them around, but sharing with my family and friends would be nice, not to mention starting a travel blog, as I have been intending to do for a long time now. Yet of course locals go out with their phones and everything, so it’s hard to tell to which point I’m being paranoid and where rational concern starts.
This is just one aspect, though. Unfortunately, another strong reason for my lack of pictures is my insecurity. I love taking pictures, and I would love to be good at it, but I’m really not. In high school I started walking around with a reflex camera always in my bag, because you never know when creativity might strike. Since that camera was really heavy and I always have muscular pain in my shoulders, for my graduation a couple of months ago I asked for a mirrorless camera – I love her so much I gave her a name, and yes, I said her, not it. I named her Luna. And yet, I hardly ever use her. I put her in my bag, and then, when it’s time to go out, I get overwhelmed by thoughts such as “My pictures suck anyway, what am I bringing her for?”, “I’m ridiculous, dreaming of being a creative person and always obtaining embarrassing results for at least ten years now”. My pictures never come out as I wish they will, not the framing, not the exposition, not the focus, not the colours. Needless to say, I take the camera out of my bag and leave her at home, as I did last Sunday, when I failed to record my favourite local fair and a stunning sunset in Ipanema. I can’t tell you how depressed I got – luckily I have a very sweet boyfriend who cheered me up with a cheese tapioca – which I have no picture of, and therefore I’m getting depressed again. (…Tapioca?)
It’s so frustrating, I feel like I’m imploding, and yet I still can’t change it. I don’t want to be this person, and yet I still can’t change. I’m lacking courage, and fear is paralysing me. Fear has always pushed me to do things. Whenever I felt scared of doing something, I thought “Won’t I regret not doing this if I die tomorrow?” and that would be enough, I’d jump and do it. And yet I can’t get over this self-consciousness which haunts me at every step. Every day, when fear wins and I spend yet another day at home, it kills me a bit.
However, I really want this to change somehow. At least on weekends, when my boyfriend doesn’t work and he will be watching out for me while I shoot, I am going to bring my camera with me. I have asked him to please force me to bring her even when my pathological insecurity takes over and I insist on leaving her at home because I’m no good anyway, and he agreed. My love-hate relationship with this city is very strong, and I hope my pictures can help me express it when words fail me.
Yesterday, on Sunday, I did bring my camera with me, and here’s the result. My editing skills are pretty low, too, considering I have hardly ever edited any picture in my life except on Instagram.
This is the beach at Barra da Tijuca, which I prefer to Ipanema and Copacabana as it is mostly attended by Brazilians and not tourists. It is also less crowded, and things are cheaper. You can easily buy an água de coco for 5 reais – roughly 1,5$ – while sun-burnt men coming from the countryside to make some money walk along the beach all day long selling bikinis, cangas (the typical beach towel), ice-cream, matte (a very-Brazilian caffeine-rich ice-cold sugared drink, with or without lemon), freshly cooked shrimps, queijo coalho (a cheese they will grill on the moment in front of you on their small portable grill) and Arabic food.