Wittgenstein once opined that the limits of my language are the limits of my world. I always understood this theoretically, but to experience it is another story altogether. Arriving in Rio de Janeiro yesterday has ushered in a series of emotional realignments of my worldview that quite frankly are difficult to put into words.
When the global south and my eyes first met my heart was in for a shock. Rio is considered by Brazilians to be a tourist city, not the heartland of the country. Yet, the first glimpse of the city seen from the oval window of a Boeing 767 is an immense bay speckled by cargo ships and Favelas lined natural coasts.
The airport was littered with more foreigners than usual, however, due to the U.N’s Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development and the Environment. Over 20,000 security personnel are stationed in the city for increased protection. Yet, such a large influx of armed soldiers does not seem to phase any of the locals. Police and military personnel seem to be around every winding corner of Rio’s narrow streets. Despite the increased presence of physical force, the people seem to feel freer than in most Westernized countries. A culture of conversation pervades – in front of every street shop, in every park, and on every subway people are chummily conversing, couples are publicly affectionate, and children are playing.
Everyone has a dog (and no, not just an L.A. outfit accessory dog) and everyone is concerned about your family. No one in this country would think that saying “I like to meet new people” is a personality characteristic, its just a fact of life common to the human condition. At the Universidade em Rio de Janeiro the professores are Occupying the Campus and the students are the ones desiring to attend class. The educational culture is topsy-turvy compared to the U.S.
When people hear you speaking English you are either met with a slight scowl or a glance of guilty curiosity.