Lessons from Brazil – Scary Streets


I’ve been living in Brazil long enough to have second-guessed my decision to walk down a particular street or two. I hear the stories from tourists and some Brazilians but I think it won’t happen to me. During the instances when I am passing someone who isn’t seemingly dangerous-looking, I always imagine (in an American blockbuster film kind of way) how I’d react if he tried anything. My mind goes as far as to imagine me taking the robber’s gun in one swift movement. Highly unlikely and rather stupid but these are what-ifs.

Last month in Lapa, I left my friends at 2AM and walked to catch the bus. As I was about to turn down a certain street which would have led me to the ‘Central’ (the same Central Station from the movie), an old timer told me not to go down that street, that it was dangerous. I thanked him and continued on my way, thinking a little feeling of danger would be ‘fun’. Again, stupid. Nonetheless, I walked down that street and then eventually missed the last bus of the night, having to wait another 3 hours for the next one, luckily along with many other people.

The next night, same dark street in Lapa, same time, I read the news that someone tried to shoot another person and got off 15 shots before dispersing. Police didn’t catch him.

Thus far, I can say that I’ve only ever seen one, maybe two suspicious characters in my entire time here, and suffice to say I’ve never been robbed.


Spending a good 30 years in the US and living all over the country, I only once felt uneasy at night. I was living in New Orleans and walking through the 9th Ward, where I’d heard of people being robbed, even during the day. It’s strange to think that three decades can go by before someone has their first uneasy feeling about walking down a street in their own country, but it just goes to show how much of a bubble we live in.

As a side note, the other night my Brazilian friend who has been living in the US for about 5 years was held at knife-point walking down a Californian street she knew well.


4 thoughts on “Lessons from Brazil – Scary Streets

  1. I’ve been going to Brazil since 1987 and never had any big
    trouble in Rio.
    Well I take that back-the trouble I’ve had was with the Police who on two occasions tried to “shake me down” to get some money. They actually stopped a taxi (in Ipanema at night) I was in and had me come out and strip down to my underwear.Not a great scene.Luckily I spoke Portuguese and was able to talk my way out of it.

  2. ” My mind goes as far as to imagine me taking the robber’s gun in one swift movement.”
    If you go to Krav Maga classes they teach you how to do this. Although practicing in a gym is no doubt different to real life, I would bet that the sort of low calibre criminals that hold people up in the street would be easily surprised and disarmed by such a move. OTOH you might mess it up and get shot. Depends what is at stake I guess…

  3. You obviously have a good eye and a good sense for knowing what you can do and where you can go and get away with it. I sight seeing in New Orlean’s and avoided danger by riding my bicycle so fast that I was long gone by the time people saw me pass. But, I heard some gunshots that day and saw the worst housing development exterior conditions I’ve ever seen in the United States, including people living in buildings with some boarded-up windows after a fire.

    I’ve lived in Brazil for eight years and, two months ago, two guys tried to rob me in daylight, near a bus stop, I was taking photos of myself using my cellphone, to kill time, and looking like a tourist, I guess. They came up to me, getting into my personal space and asked for my cellphone, trying to intimidate me instead of immediately trying to overpower me.

    I said, “TOQUE NÃO!” in a commanding voice and they jumped backward a bit. Then, one of them asked if I was a karate master or something, since I wasn’t showing any fear of them and I was even giving orders. I said, “SOU!” (I actually had my crappy old cellphone balled up in a fist in my right pocket, preparing to hit one of them. After all, this was my first cellphone with a camera, and the only camera I had, so I wasn’t going to voluntarily give it away, even if had cost me only forty Reais used.)

    Then, one of them pulled back his jacket to reveal some sort of piece of metal, which he apparently wanted me to think was a knife, although it looked more like the brocaded boarder of an aluminum buffet plate. Surprised and suddenly a little unnerved, I took a few steps rapidly backward and realized that I was far enough away from them to just continue walking backward in safety and get away from them without fighting them at all.

    One of them laughed at me, ridiculing me between them as I retreated, but their laughs didn’t last long. A “viatura” police car passed by with three officers inside and told them what had happened, pointing out the malefactors. They got “abordado” stopped by the police, who frisked them. To avoid reprisal, I got on my bus and left before I could see the outcome.

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