I wanted to get outside the fence and ended up watching the opening ceremony in the Vidigal Favela.
I was looking for a rawer view of the Olympics and wondered how deep into the favelas the Olympic movement would reach.
We arrived at the community celebration in our VW taxi van. A few girls were practicing their cartwheels and back bridges. A boy on a bike was racing a boy who was running. Teenagers were playing basketball, and behind them was a men’s league soccer match.
As I stared at the graffiti, I wondered what sort of mark – if any – the Olympic movement would leave on this community.
One in five people live in the makeshift and scrunched up housing of the Rio favelas. Here, the people are working class or poorer. They wake up early, work hard and go to bed late. My impression is that the favelas are changing faster than outsiders realize, but slower than the residents would like.
I spoke to a number of the adults who were mulling around, watching the opening ceremonies on a big screen in the plaza. One woman, Maria, said that she was proud of Brazil for hosting the games. She would watch the games with her children and she wanted to see her country win some medals.
Contrast from city
This scene contrasted the energy we saw in the Maracana. The crowd was humble and modest. Most people spoke of the social issues that are the backdrop of the games. The economy is slow, and business is slow. Life on the edge is still a grind. It seems that other people are getting richer from the games, but not them.
My cameraman, Keith, suggested that I bring my Olympic gold medal and show it to the kids. I doubt they had ever seen or held anything this valuable or rare.
They put it around their necks and sunk their teeth into the shiny object. A couple eight-year-old boys laughed and bounced around, loving the cameras and the attention.
I was expecting some Olympic magic, but didn’t feel any. Instead, what I felt was muted curiosity and afterwards it struck me. This is how change happens: slowly and steadily. Quick progress is too often followed by a crash. Here in the Vidigal Favela, we joined a community celebration and created a small Olympic moment for a few dozen kids and adults. If more of these moments are created, they will add up and leave a big impact.
Throughout the games there will be thousands of these mini-Olympic moments, and they will combine to leave a big impact on the spirits of the people in Rio.
After our night in the Favela, Rio has already left an impact on me.