I have been raving about the beauty of Rio, the rolling hills, the cliffs and water crashing upon its shores and I suppose I have a bit of 'splainin to do about the other side. (Not the favelas. I am itching to write about them but this is more along the lines to anyone who may be reading this saying "Wow Aisha describes Rio as heaven upon earth and I am booking tickets tomorrow!") Well please refer to expression at left. Still smiling as not to scare you (it really is pretty. It really is fun. It really has fantastic mangos) but just gotta discuss a little about the safety thing. I waited till after I returned to write about since loved ones read this blog and I wouldn't want to frighten them while I was still there.
The Theft Thing. Theft and violence is a reality in Rio. Two people in my class had their passports stolen out of their rooms by maids who came in to clean. If you dont have a safe in your place to store your valuables go without the maid service. My American Express Card was stolen but it was sort of my own fault as I left it next to the computer and walked away to get a drink of water. When I turned around it was gone. I found out that its a big business to steal cards and then sell them. Doesnt make a great deal of sense to me because as soon as I realized it was gone I cancelled it. Dont most people do that? Incidentially it was quite funny when talking to AmEx: Amex:"We can overnight you a new card to our office in Rio" Me: no, thats okay just send it to Georgia" AmEx:"No we can send them to Rio!!" Me: No really its okay my husband is coming next week and I dont need the card. AmEx: "Oh that's fabulous we will overnight it to your house and your husband can bring it to you" Hmmmm this all left me wondering, exactly why is Amex sooo eager to get the card back to me. Me thinks I should think about my spending habits! :)
The mugging. When you're in a city for a week and get your bearings you begin to feel comfortable. You can't forget you are still a tourist. One student was walking back from the internet cafe with groceries not too late in the evening and was followed home and assaulted and suffered a bruised eye and a mild concussion. One thing is that you see other people around and get a false sense of security that you are safe. Most people really wont go out of their way to prevent an assault on another. Especially when you know the one assaulting is likely armed.
The shooting. last Wednesday a few classmates an my professor went to take a tour of a law firm in Botofogo a ritzy part of Rio with a beautiful beach across the street from the firm. One guy and girl from the program decided to take a few minutes to cross the street to take a picture of the beach. As they stood on the median between the beach and the firm two armed men, one on a bike holding a pistol and one on foot began circling them demanding cell phones. As the students walked away they began firing and one of the bullets went through one of the students ankle clean through. Its one thing to hear about a shooting. Another to see the hole in the ankle that the bullet left and the expression of the person shot... The story made headline news in Brasil and even internationally because the location of the shooting was very unusual. Everyone says these things can happen in Atlanta or any other major city. While I know that is true I cant help but feel a chill at the coicidence at all the "this could happen anywhere" happening dead smack in Rio.
The corrupt cops. So I went out with friends to Lapa which is supposed to have nice restaurants and cafes but upon arriving I quickly saw that it was really just clubs and bars and public drunkneness so me and a friend decided to book it and took a cab back. Alhamdullilah we got back okay but that same night two cabs with four students in each cab were pulled over by police supposedly searching for drugs. They forced them out of their cars and went through their things and physically searched them. They let them go but not before taking $200 from a girls purse. Our professor discussed with us to be careful after the incident because apparently cops have been known to plant drugs. Sometimes the cops need to be feared more because their shady practices can have legal implications on your liberty.
In conclusion Rio is a gorgeous city and it is worth a trip if you were thinking about it. You just have to keep both eyes open and follow common sense and not go to the beach after dark or any place with less people. Just safer. Though to be honest Kashif and I often went to the beach at night but we always made sure there were other people like a group of volleyball or soccer players out and that the area was very well lit. I dont mean to scare anyone but since I'm relayingbmy experiences I should share both the good and bad. Thought I'd get the bad out now.
** As an interesting sidenote I have heard a lot of crime stories that happened to people in Rio. A LOT from everyone to my flight attendant to professors but every last one happened to men. Its interesting because for some reason at least I always thought okay if there's a guy along with the group we'll be safe but they seem to go after men more than women. Proffesor was saying that the culture encourages working for your money. Stealing from a man is like you "earned" it.