Ten things I learned in Rio-de-Janeiro


Usain Bolt (C) dances samba during a Jamaican Olympic Association and Puma press conference at ...
Usain Bolt (C) dances samba during a Jamaican Olympic Association and Puma press conference at the Cidade Das Artes in Rio de Janeiro on August 8, 2016. Adrian DENNIS / AFP

As action of the 31st Olympics draws to a close this weekend, it has been journey of a lifetime and here are the ten things I have learned in what has been my adopted home for the past three weeks, Brazil’s commercial capital, Rio-de-Janeiro.

  1. They Don’t Care About the English Language

You will meet at least five Brazilians before you find an English speaker. Their lives revolve around the language of their colonial masters, Portuguese and their culture is crafted from their colonialists merged with some African influence.

Thus finding your way around the city if you do not know Portuguese can be quite difficult.

Ordering food is even harder and I have had to use all manner of sign language to indicate what I want to eat and sometimes they bring the wrong meal or much more food than I wanted.

What makes it even worse is that despite the fact that they know that you can not speak English, they still insist on talking to you in Portuguese as they ignore the frustrated look on your face.

  1. They Love Dogs

For some strange reason everyone in Rio has a dog or two, which they keep, in the house. These mongrels are house-trained and the owners occasionally take out the canines to relieve themselves. Dogs are very territorial so you should see two dogs growling at each other on the roads as their owners try to restrain them.

  1. Teeth Braces are in Fashion

Teeth braces were a fashion failure when I was growing up in Nairobi in the 90’s.Thus I am baffled when I see Brazilians smiling with the widest grins showcasing their lime green braces and silver railings covering their teeth.

Everybody has braces here from police to children and even elderly people. It seems having the perfect smile is a big deal and dentists must be smiling all the way to the bank.

  1. Love is in the Air

Cupid is hard at work in Rio. Everywhere I turn all I see are couples walking hand in hand, whispering (in Portuguese) and generally looking like the couples we see in movies.

They are not afraid of public displays of affection and young people will show their love to each other no matter where they are from the beach to the streets and to the shopping malls.

The average Kenyan man is averse to holding hands in public and no wonder our ladies love these Brazilian soaps where everyone is called Rafael and the men are more romantic than the ladies.

  1. Ezekiel Mutua would not Approve of the Fashion

Since I landed here three weeks ago I have been searching for the Brazilian national dress. Ideally it should be the most common piece of clothing that I would see people wearing.

But what I have found is that shorts especially tiny ones that leave little to the imagination are all the rage here.

Strangely I have seen a few men donning them but the majority are worn by ladies of all ages, shapes and sizes.

Kenyan parents would recoil at the manner of dress here and spotting someone who is decently dressed (by Kenyan standards) has become a rare occurrence.

There is no telling how self-styled ‘moral police’ boss and Kenya Film and Censorship Board chief, Ezekiel Mutua, would react to the dress code.

  1. They Love Their Steak

The new generation of Kenyan vegans and vegetarians would have a tough time eating healthy on a cheap budget in Brazil.

Every local eatery is like an upgraded nyama choma joint with salty steak and chips on high demand.

Chicken plays second fiddle to beef and it isn’t rare to find locals sipping on Skol beer and biting into meat outside their favourite bar.

But that’s not to say that Brazilians don’t take care of themselves. Many of them are very physically active and they enjoy jogging along the Copacabana or working out on the monkey bars set up by the local government and situated at strategic locations.

  1. Never Flush Tissue Paper

When in Brazil never flush your tissue paper in the toilet or the drainage could choke up leading to nasty surprises.

There are signs everywhere warning users not to flush any paper or plastic into the loo. Their drains are rather narrow so blockages can occur. That is all I will say about that.

  1. Brazilians are very Friendly People

We have received many offers of help when we were out and about in public especially because of the language barrier.

People who could speak a measure of English would often walk over to us and enquire if we are okay and if we know where we are going.

This was repeated over and over again showing us that to some extent the city has accepted its visitors and they have put politics aside until we depart.

  1. #BlackLivesMatter

Dark skinned people in Brazil seem to be at the bottom of the food chain. We noticed that all the security guards in some of the malls we visited are of the dark skinner disposition.

In addition we found that sometimes the guards trailed us around the malls almost as if they thought that we are pickpockets. I also shared earlier on our website about how police harassed us thinking that we were criminals.

Our host tells us that generally darker skinned Brazilians enjoy a lower quality of life than the light skinned ones. It seems the #BlackLivesMatter campaigners in America should turn their attention to Brazil.

  1. Tattoos

So Brazilians love dogs, steak, braces and also tattoos. Everywhere I turn all I see are different coloured tattoos etched on the arms and legs of the locals here. When I asked my host why he had one, he looked at me in surprise almost as if wondering what was wrong with me. Brazil is a melting point of cultures; races and I guess one way to find identity is to etch it on your arm in the form of a tattoo.

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Story By Waihiga Mwaura
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