I was working on the accessibility of MetroRio, the underground tube network servicing Rio de Janeiro. It was January 2015, and the pressure was on to hit our deadlines and complete a timed evacuation project for all stations. It was sweltering, that’s the only way to describe it. Central station stank of old food and sewage, and I was struggling to turn a blind eye to the tens of people that lay begging on the street for the third time that day. Rio is happy, vibrant, a city that is a total joy to be a part of, but I remember really struggling at that moment. It might’ve been because I’d brought in Christmas and the New Year without my family, or that a good colleague had been horribly shot in a carjacking, or, more trivially, the fact that I was losing sleep through lack of air con, so laid down in bed spooning a heavy, 20 inch room fan every night… Either way, I left work after hitting the deadline and celebrating with my boss, and had a little cry as the taxi pulled in to pick me up.
A huge, smiley driver, without a word, came over and scooped me up out of my chair (my mental, and very British, Health and Safety bells ringing!), sat me down in the back seat and put my chair in the boot. He then sat in the driver’s seat and flashed me a grin in the rear view mirror as he turned on his CD player and blasted out Pharrell’s Happy, complete with some serious dance moves. His driving was questionable, but I have never laughed so flipping much with a complete stranger before, so much so that he quite possibly made my week, and we hardly said a word to each other! As I looked out of the car window, all the colours seemed that much brighter, the sounds were that much sweeter, and I remembered once again how lucky I was to be out in Brazil, doing something I’d always dreamt of.
There’s nothing quite as powerful as a complete stranger changing your perceptions for the better, and I sincerely hope that absolute darling of a driver is doing just the same for all the Olympic and Paralympic visitors out in Rio right now. Viva Brasil!