From the comfort of a sofa and a screen, I have ‘traveled’ the world over, ‘discovering’ corners of the world that would leave many a great explorer of centuries gone by green with envy. Satisfying as it may be knowing the geography, history and culture of a region in Nepal or a city in Bolivia, the yearning to feel the experience in actuality never escapes an armchair traveler. I recently got the opportunity to get this monkey off my back when a trip to Brazil with my friends materialized. It’s true what they say about travel being an eye opener and the trip to South America was quite an enriching experience. Among the many observations, the following stood out:
- Being away from home makes you appreciate your roots – The default outward looking mentality of appreciating anything foreign and exotic makes someone not fully appreciate their own. We have seen it with the post-humorous discussions of Wangari Maathai’s life. A foray outside our borders sharpens our ability to observe another culture, enabling us to apply that level of perception and appreciation to our own roots. This got us to understand how big Kenyan athletes are in the worlds eyes. Every time you told a Brazilian you are from Kenya, they asked you about running or whether you are there for a marathon. As far as ambassadors go, you can’t beat that. The same way we associate Brazilians with football is how the world associates us with running. No offence to our East African neighbors but I’m certain we would have been given a puzzling look if for instance we stated our nationality as Ugandan or Tanzanian. Nor would a Brazilian know anything about Moldova, Oman, maybe even Euro countries like Latvia, Montenegro and such. But they know about Kenya. Which gives you a rush of nationalistic pride. It’s incredible to think that I had to be 20,000km from home to realize how much of a big deal our runners are and the extent to which they have put our country on the world map.
- Travel challenges you to get you out of your comfort zone – In many ways, our lives are a set of routines repeated ad infinitum and the measure of success and personal achievement becomes equally limited. As long as our bank accounts are regularly replenished or our transcripts favorably graded, most will feel contented without further introspection or an urge to self-improve. Chatting with an uneducated hawker or a Brazilian hooker in English when their native language is Portuguese leaves you red-faced and feeling quite limited as a person. Knowing a foreign language became a goal of ours as we left Brazil, if not for anything to get rid of that bugging feeling of inadequacy and foster that common bond of humanity.
- Brazilians love their football- Yes, everyone knows that Brazil is a football mad country but you don’t realize the extent to which the game permeates every aspect of their society till you set foot in the country. From floodlit mini-pitches in the city center where tournaments go on way past midnight to the beach pitches, football facilities are everywhere. And they are not afraid to nail their colors to the mast as almost all shops will have a flag of the team the owner supports. A waiter will politely tell you the jersey you are wearing is ‘shit’ if he supports a rival team. The height of their passion was evident when you see a group of friends playing beach football at Copacabana at 3:30 am. At the stadium, football attendance isn’t limited to the lower class and a section of the middle class male population as happens locally; from chain smoking old men to incredibly beautiful and scantily clad ladies, the crowd was as diverse as it could get. (For the football fans, you will be surprised to find out that Mane Garrincha and not Pele is regarded as the best player of all time).
- Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness – In a world where stereotypes are taken for facts, getting to see people in their natural setting and interacting with them changes how you see them. Yes there was that white woman who clutched her bag tighter upon seeing you but that was an exception rather than the norm. At the end of the day, all human beings are essentially that; humans. People are curious to know your story, where you come from, how people live where you come from as they warmly welcome you to their country. The fears you had about a certain place quickly dissipates as you realize the innate friendliness of people. As Maya Angelou put it, travel is the one hope we have to recognize “that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die.” And just like that, the artificial divisions we put upon ourselves goes away. Essentially, we are all just people trying to get the best out of life.
- Brazil is no 3rd world country – The perception among most people is that Brazil is a third world country when it’s anything but. Rio is Brazil’s second largest city and the standards set there are extraordinarily high. From ethanol-fueled cars, to elaborate subway systems, exemplary public amenities to general public hygiene, Rio reeks of a highly developed city. As per Mercer’s city rankings of cost of living for expatriate employees, Rio de Janeiro ranks 12th among the most expensive cities in the world in 2011 ahead of London, Paris, Milan, and New York City. Rio also has expensive hotel rates with the daily rate of its five star hotels the second most expensive in the world after New York City. With these rates set to increase during major events, those planning to attend the 2014 world cup best save up quite some amount if the trip is to become a reality.
- 6.The beauty of Art- If done in a coordinated way between the artists and authority, street art adds real beauty to a city. Words don’t do justice to art so I’ll let the pictures do the talking.