Let me start by explaining what I meant above with ‘first or second country’. As a global citizen (which I consider myself to be) with strong allegiance and identification with India, my birth country, and equal allegiance and affection for the country I now reside in, United States, I am fed up with having to explain nationalism, motherland, loyalty, residency, assimilation, and what right if any I have to speak about either nation when I use other definitions. So I now choose to address them merely in the order in which they came to my life – or rather - I came to them. And Brazil is not anywhere in that list, but today I choose to speak for her with as much conviction as I would for either of the formerly mentioned. My right to do so comes from being a fellow member of the human race.
The headlines on Rio Olympics usually goes as follows:
‘Rio Olympic village not ready – toilets leaking, electrical problems cause concerns’ – oh the horrors!
‘The IOC possibly having second thoughts on choosing an unstable (read developing) nation’
‘Rio misses yet another deadline to be ready’
And the best I saw so far waking up jet lagged this morning in Tokyo and turning on BBC-J: ‘Drug infested favelas within close distance of the Olympic village’!!!!! Followed by images of a correspondent, visibly protected by armed police, walking the sleazy looking streets while solemn music played.
The narrative and fold of events feel a little too familiar, bringing back memories of coverage of the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth games primarily by British media. ‘Dogs roaming the streets around the village!’, ‘Mismanagement and total infrastructure collapse in Delhi!’, ‘Will the athletes even survive?’
So let me break the news to my fellow humans who have not lived in such cities ever: they do exist! A significant fraction of this worlds population lives in cities (or towns, or villages) where sewage flows into open waters in some parts or most, neighborhoods of high crime border closely posh high rises and tourist attractions, dogs (or other animals) roam and defecate in the open and infrastructure stumbles under pressure. I have walked the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico, passing by luxury resorts to ‘The Pearl’(for those not familiar: think Puerto Rican equivalent of a favela that you would fear). And let’s not talk about certain parts of Buffalo, NYC, Chicago or Rochester. And yes, I have been to a similar region in London too, not too far from the shining lights.
Remember the coverage on deadly bacteria in Rio’s waters?
India has rivers which are contaminated with matters akin to what were described in the above articles and therefore possibly deadly bacteria. But tourists from around the world flock to Hrisikesh and Benaras in search of spiritual bliss and bathe in the same Ganges without – wait for it – dying! Or even falling seriously ill. Rio is a well-known tourist destination – its beaches are swarming with people who visit the city from all parts of the world and yet survive. It’s not that there aren’t health risks. Off-course there iare – especially to visitors not resistant and precautions need to be taken – but the theme of exaggeration in such articles stand out blatantly.
I am not advocating for bad hygiene conditions, poor infrastructure, or corruption and lawlessness in the developing countries, or anywhere for that matter. Neither am I trying to malign or exploit some of my most beloved cities (anyone who knows me knows how much I love NYC). My point here is – if all human life is of equal worth – why do we care so much when the privileged have to withstand some of what the unprivileged live with daily? And even if we have to – why do we focus on the short lived stories of inconveniences instead of the lifelong crises?
Who do you think had the worst day? The athlete from Australia after a long flight who couldn’t get his room light to work? Or the men in blue- grey suits; shown walking in the same story, sweating profusely, with their tool boxes and ladders, trying to fix their city’s shortcomings?
Who do you think has a choice to escape? To not do what he is having to do? To not withstand what he is having to withstand? The athlete competing or the man working possibly minimum wage hanging from the electric pole (quoting ditto an image I saw in coverage of the Australian team’s complaints on one channel).
Why can’t we focus on the ‘other’ people instead? Why can’t headlines read like this instead:
‘Brazil, in spite of severe unforeseen and untimely economic, political, and health crises puts together what is needed as bare minimum to let the games happen’.
‘A drug lord of the favelas, in spite of what his daily life looks like, welcome people into their city and asks them to enjoy and stay safe’(based on the last line that was dedicated to the man with an handkerchief covering his face in the same story from this morning).
When the mega game committees choose a venue, they are not bestowing a favor of a lifetime on to the host cities. Nor are they coming unaware of the challenges that they might need to face, or of the ‘shortcomings’ of the ‘unconventional’ city they have chosen - like favelas exit in Rio and they can be danger zones (even I knew that when I was in high school in India)!
Each and every city has its dark zones and shortcomings (watch Drugs, Inc. on Discovery). Each and every nation will falter some when tasked with an event of such proportion. Obviously, the ones with infrastructure and resources in place will react and recover faster and the others will struggle. So why make it breaking news? Why hold the watch glass in hopes of seeing them fail?
Hold a magnifying glass over a corner in Manhattan even (let’s take Madison and 34th – my favorite one) and flaws which might have remained unnoticed otherwise will be discovered. Then when we exaggerate the flaws speculating about the catastrophe an open manhole might cause, we might cause some disasters to happen. Akin to Heisenberg’s principle: no effort of measuring can be completed without altering the state of what is being measured.
And then voila for us! More news and more ratings.
Please, let’s restrain from this temptation to kick our fellow humans when they are down. When they our support and possibly assistance instead.. Yes - some parts of this world are behind (causes of which can often be traced back to exploitation by the same counterparts which boast of forwardness today). But this is still our world – our people – our fellow humans – all of us deserve equal and all our challenges are shared.
So let’s stand and cheer for Brazil instead. Let’s rejoice that her economy is showing some signs of benefit from this event at las. Let’s be proud of her people for opening their doors after a hard year. And let’s wish them luck.