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#SurvivingRio Part 6: Masking Reality

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Tuesday night in Rio de Janeiro, a projectile penetrated the glass of a bus taking journalists from Deodoro to the Main Press Centre in Barra. Reports have varied between stones and bullets breaking the glass and injuring two passengers, but that doesn’t change how frightening the situation was, or how easily that could have been my friends.

The bus carried credentialed journalists and Olympic volunteers, the latter category being the label of the 25 students UNC-Chapel Hill sent down to work for the Olympic News Service. While I don’t have access to that particular form of transit, it’s scary to think how differently things could have gone.

It’s also an eye-opening reminder that these Olympics are not all fun and games, which had become my mindset after 12 days in Rio.

If you’ve followed this series, you already know about my initial fears about the trip. All of these crises surrounding the Olympics, from Zika to water to security, swirling together through my head as I prepared to board a plane and fly right into the storm.

But you’d also know that within a day, the company I’m with made me feel like I’m right at home, surrounded by friends old and new. That aspect of the trip has only strengthened, with each day providing another unique memory that I’ll look back fondly on (and with an immediate sense of nostalgia) when (insert “don’t you mean if?” joke here) I touch back down in Raleigh on August 20th.

There have been enough stories to tell from the past 12 days to convince me I could write a book about this experience. I could tell you about $13-all-you-can-drink-beer night, or accidentally putting my hand in an anthill while trying way too hard to be smooth, or getting lost in the Brazilian equivalent of Compton, or showing up to a surprise dinner at a 5-star Brazilian steakhouse in gym shorts and a hat.

I could tell you about begging my housemates to let me stay with the group of 25 to soak in every possible moment with the rest of my friends, or how at the USA beach volleyball game Monday night, the PA speakers blared “Jump Around” and all 11 Tar Heels in attendance knew exactly what to do.

I could tell you about soccer shootouts with Jenny, or getting a Brazilian bar to play “Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy” with Rachael and James, or endless Borat references with Louis and Caleb and Cory, and still have hours left of amazing memories to recount.

Despite all of this, Tuesday night still happened. And while it’s easy to brush off, any of us could have been on that bus. It was a cold dose of reality, one that had been masked by night after night of what felt more like vacation than work.

This place is still dangerous. There’s still very visible unrest throughout the city by citizens who have been pushed aside in favor of tourists like myself and hundreds of thousands of others. My friend Louis put it best Monday night after walking down a less-than-beautiful street to dinner: You can never be too comfortable here.

After nearly two weeks, I broke that rule, and the ongoing updates on the media bus will undoubtedly drive that point home for at least a few days.

But it also speaks, again, to the inherent importance of people and the relationships you cultivate with them. You can’t make danger go away, but you can mask it with incredible moments with even more incredible friends. You can never assure 100% safety, but you can still enjoy life because of who you surround yourself with.

Coming to Rio for the Olympics has been a gigantic risk. That’s something that I’m more aware of now than I have been at any point of this experience.

Thankfully, every second has been even more rewarding than the last.