For the past three years, winters in Brazil have been marked by major events. Around this time in 2014, the country hosted the World Cup, a tournament that ended in bitter disappointment for this football-mad nation of 200 million.
Last year, protests against the now suspended president Dilma Rousseff spread all over the nation, in what became the beginning of one of the biggest ever political crises to hit these shores.
And now the Olympics — the first ever to be held on South American soil, which concludes later tonight with the Closing Ceremony (the Paralympics will follow on September 7th).
With the world‘s attention soon to turn away from Brazil, people here are afraid of what’s to come. The economy is in the gutter, unemployment stands at a staggering 11.2%, and violent crime is on the rise. The bill for playing host to the World Cup ($7 billion) and the Summer Olympics ($11 billion) in the space of two years is something Brazilians will have to live with for a very long time.
I was no longer in Rio in 2015, but the World Cup and Olympics were the determining factors in my decision to leave London in 2012 and go back to my roots. Young, educated, with a good amount of experience in my chosen profession, once in Brazil the world would be my oyster… or so I thought.
The truth is, during my first stint here I failed, miserably, to assimilate. With the arrogance of a privileged westerner, I could so clearly see everything that was wrong with this place and what people needed to do to fix it. Set in my ways, I alienated some locals. I came from a “better” place, where things worked and there was no corruption. Except that I didn‘t know jack.
My Brazil experiment didn‘t last long — a little over a year to be precise. Speaking the language and having the look were only going to take me so far. Culturally I was too far removed. And so I returned to London, certain that’s where I “belonged”.
In 2014, I came back for three months to cover the World Cup. Travelling Brazil’s host cities, speaking to the poor in urban peripheries, and the rich in hotel lobbies, watching the games in the stadiums, in the favelas, bars, restaurants, even airplanes, gave me a better sense of the many societal and cultural layers in this continental piece of land.
This place is not just Copacabana or favelas, carnival or football, rich or poor. In between all the stereotypes, those of my ilk lose sight of everyday people — those who are resilient, tenacious, generous and funny, who are just trying to make the sweetest of lemonades with the bitter lemons the system throws at them daily.
The photographs here were taken throughout my six-week stay in Rio while covering the Olympics. Staying at my cousin‘s apartment in the city centre gave me a much more genuine perspective of how everyday Brazilians feel about the changes their city and country have gone through. But even if taken five years ago or even ten years ago, some of these images and the stories behind them would still be relevant today and, in my view, will remain so for many years to come.
All photos by Felipe Araujo
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Felipe Araujo is a freelance news journalist based in London. He spent five years at CNN International and covered the 2014 World Cup in Brazil for Germany’s public broadcaster ZDF. He writes about race and minority issues, sports and culture. Twitter: @felipethejourno
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