Monday, October 17, 2011

Do I Feel Safe in Rio de Janeiro?

"Why can't I carry the ipad to the car?"

"Because we live in Rio de Janeiro and it could get stolen. Sorry sweety, just a fact of life."

That was a little conversation I had with my 5 yr old this weekend. He really wanted to leave the restaurant carrying the ipad. I'm sure it would have been fine but I just don't like to even hint at attracting attention or unwanted action.

It got me thinking. Am I afraid? Wow, talk about a loaded question.

I never ever admit it outright but yes I am sometimes afraid. I have actually stopped reading or watching the news here because of it.

There really are a lot of horrible things happening here! There are also a lot of people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. That scares the shit out of me. I'm constantly cruising around with my boys and what if we were passing by when there was a random shooting with the police at one of their little kiosky points? What if I was driving with the kids and got carjacked. Would the guy give me enough time to get either or both of my kids out of their seats? (fyi, I have taught my 5 yr old how to get out just in case.) And if I am on my own and stealing just isn't enough, what then?

Honestly, I could go on but I won't. These thoughts sit there in a dark back corner of my mind. I make them stay there. I refuse to live daily playing the 'what if' game. It's just way too real down here to manage that without losing your sanity.

So I decide to not be afraid because, let's be honest, there isn't that good of a chance that it'll happen in my area. *knock on wood*

Generally I don't even think about that dark corner of my brain. I cruise around everywhere, take mass-transit, and *gasp* use my cellphone in public. I live here. I decided a long time ago that if I was going to live here that I would really do it.

That means that I take my obviously American gangly white ass out wherever it needs to go. I take the kids, I listen to my mp3 player, ipod, or whatever and I live my life while sticking to well populated areas *wink wink*.

How about you? Any city ever make you nervous? 


  1. Interesting timing, I just read on that on the first 7 month of 2011 homicides is down 13.2%, auto theft is down 15.3% and armed robbery in the streets (roubo de rua) is down 14.3%

    Nevertheless, in Rio I would take the same precautions... hell, I even take my socks off to go to Maracana (not that I have particurlarly expensive socks, but you don't want to appear a "Mauricinho" at Maracana) :-D

    NYC is extremely safe (for a Brazilian point of view). The day Rio manages to get any crimes statistics (less rape) close to NYC it will be a proud day for me. But I never ever felt so afraid living in Rio or Brazil as I was on 9/11 here in NYC.

    So I guess in the end, fear is an emotion... it is a way to force our brains to focus on survival, so until Rio reaches civilized crimes rates no expensive electronics/jewelry or appearance of wealth on its mean streets... just be safe

  2. No. I do not feel safe. And I have to fight that feeling ALL the time because I'm unwilling to live my life here in fear. But still. It sucks to be a target, or at least a way more visible one than the obviously Brazilian chick sitting on the bus next to me. I keep my keys on my body, spare cash for a taxi somewhere safe and never put anything in my purse that I'm not prepared to lose. So yeah, Rio changes my way of life significantly. I'm not even wearing my real wedding ring anymore! (Gold at $2000 an ounce wasn't making me comfortable!) But it seems like even Rio's big city problems are starting to take over in the US (necklace snatchings, etc), which is weirdly comforting. Something to toss back at family and friends who say "OOh, scary city." It's not as if their localities are bastions of security either!!!

  3. I've said before that I consider myself lucky to have not had any problems the previous times I was in Rio. And I'm a target of a gringa if there ever was one. I remember feeling like I just wanted to shout out while walking the streets...." I'm NOT rich just because I'm an American people!" but since I don't know Portuguese, I figured it wouldn't be as effective as I wanted it to

    I can honestly say that here in my town I feel pretty safe. I can carry around anything I want and dress anyway I want with no problems. Many people move here to Greenville because of it's country charm and it's a great place to raise a family, and I like this for my kids as well. But it will never carry the diversity and the big city energy and fun that I crave for them to experience as well. For these reasons and many more, I think I might possibly be willing to try living in Rio and just adjusting to everything you you mentioned you have to as well.

  4. Too right Rachel, you've gotta live your life! It's scary if you think about the worst things that could happen, but what kind of life would that be? Calculated risks and contingency plans are the way to go I think. Terrible things happen to people in cars sometimes and if we really stopped to visualise what that might be like it would be scary too. But we still drive/ride in cars don't we? It's just we use seat belts and don't do it after drinking 4 caipirinhas right?

  5. Rachel,

    I am with you. Better not to live in fear. I also agree with Tom, he makes a lot of sense.
    I am usually nervous while working in Los Angeles or New York, like you said, I don't want to be the guy caught in the wrong place in the wrong time. Local news in New York do make me nervous, dead bodies are found all the time under bridges and in parks, either people who were raped and killed or murdered and had their bodies disposed off in the parks or the rivers.
    You never hear about it on the national or international news.
    Philadelphia and parts of Washington DC also put on the edge, but again, I refuse to live in constant fear. I just make sure I am not alone in dark streets, at night. Don't carry anything I can't afford to loose.
    Always have a little extra pocket money for an occasional thief.
    When Gil's mom came to visit us, she stopped a guy from snatching my wallet as I looked for cash to purchase our Metro passes. She is a big city veteran, she spotted the guy from several feet away and got in front of him, blocking him from reaching across my sholder to grab my wallet. Oh, she yelled at him too, to scare him away.
    You always wanna have Gil's mom with you if you are riding the New York subway system ;)


  6. Fear is relative, for example, I do not think I have a fear if i live in Rio de Janeiro. if you think about it, just like bad things can happen in Rio de Janeiro, also can occur anywhere in the world, blow up a restaurant, somebody rob .. Anything can happen anywhere, then you have to choose between living always in fear or face the fear and try to live a happy life [in my opinion, trying to live a happy life is what matters] =)

  7. I have always had a simple wedding band for this reason. I have to say, I no longer keep cash in a secret area nor worry about the contents of my purse. Well, unless I'm going on a night out or something.

    And Plug, fear is relative but, for example, if you compare Rio de Janeiro and San Diego... There is an obvious difference.

    Ray, awesome! That is my goal. I want to grow up to be like Gil's Mom :)

  8. I have to say that in Rio I am on high alert but in the US I am still cautious. The thing that differentiates between the two is that in Rio I am cautious about everything and in the US I pick and chose my battles.

    The reason for this I think is that in the US I feel at home. I feel almost invincible. I know the law. I know the rules. I know what to do if something were to happen and who to call.

    In Rio I am kinda shit outta luck. If shit hit the fan I might as well follow the shit because I haven't got a chance in hell of knowing what to do first. This is why I am more cautious. Make sense?

    So I have to say 'No' I do not feel safe in Rio but that's not Rio's fault per say. Maybe when I have lived her for years on end it will get better. It already has improved the 2 years that I have been here.

  9. But hey, the U.S. is worse, right?

  10. It's amazing how diverse Brazil can be. I live in São José dos Campos, 700,000 inhabitants, 60 miles from São Paulo and 240 from Rio. I was never robbed, neither most of my friends. Rio is wonderful for sure, but I don't have the guts to live up there... Fortunately we are free to choose where we live!

  11. Sara- I totally get what you are saying. I feel better now that I know the system a little more. At first it was just overwhelming.

    Anon, I don't think the US is worse in crime. I'm sure there are some bad cities but I don't know... it's a different kind of bad.

    Jenner, Brazil is SO diverse!