You are one very lucky lady senhora!

You could have died tonight!

As the gravity of my current situation finally started to sink in, I looked up at him, my eyes wide with terror and hot tears falling down my cheeks.

What the hell was I doing in this crazy city?

Hours earlier, as I was returning home to the south zone after an incredible Samba lesson and such a beautiful encounter with the locals in one of Rio’s most infamous slums, Mangueira, my heart was exploding with love for this amazing city.

Despite my feet being raw from so much dancing in the past few days, I decided to take the scenic route along the Copacabana orla (beachfront) to get some fresh ocean air.

Cidade Marvilhosa.

The marvellous city – Rio’s nickname from the locals – and weren’t they spot on!

I honestly think this has been the best day of my life!

I’m finally living my dream – dancing and romancing in the City of Samba!

Despite all of the hardships I had both witnessed and personally experienced in the past 6 months of living here – from language barriers to cultural misunderstandings, a frustrating lack of technology, government bureaucracy (good luck trying to extend your tourist visa!), overwhelming social instability and racial inequality, as well as unexpectedly running out of money (due to rapid inflation) and having to work 7-days a week teaching English to support myself and pay for my dance lessons – I felt like I was finally coming into my element and starting to really enjoy what this city had to offer.

Soaking up the afternoon rays on Copacabana beach, I reflected on how far I’d come in my dance journey – arriving here with no Portuguese, very few friends and minimal dance experience, to now undergoing dance training every day, learning with professional Carnival passistas, dating a Carioca dance teacher and dreaming of one day turning into a professional Brazilian dancer – how amazing is life sometimes?!

Me in 2003, with Copacabana beach in the background

I returned to my apartment just in time to answer the phone. It was my boyfriend calling to invite me to a Samba de Gafieira event that night in Lapa, one of Rio’s famous Samba hotspots.

I’ll pick you up at midnight!

Everyone who is anyone in the Samba scene will be there! We MUST go!

Midnight? You see, everything in Rio starts late. Most people don’t eat dinner till around 10pm, then will have a quick nap and get ready around midnight in order to arrive at clubs from 1am, when the party is really getting started!

As this was my first day off in over a fortnight and due to the sheer excitement of the day just gone, I decided I needed a night in to reset, cook myself a healthy dinner and get to bed early.

Thanks amor, but I’m going to have an early one. I’m exhausted from so much dancing!

Ha ha! Welcome to Carioca life! No worries, get some rest and I’ll call you in the morning.

Me at one of my favourite Samba clubs in Lapa

With dinner prepared and simmering on the stove, I jumped into a much-needed hot shower to scrub the salt and sand off my skin.

As I was washing my hair, I laughed out loud as I caught myself again humming that familiar Barry Manilow tune…

 

“Music and passion were always the fashion…at the Copa, Copacabana….”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=591d-XV5rEo

 

Out of nowhere, I heard a huge commotion coming from outside and suddenly someone was banging furiously on my front door. I quickly turned off the tap, wrapped a towel around me and ran to peek through the spy hole to see what was going on.

I couldn’t see a thing.

The noise got louder and now I could hear people screaming and running up and down the corridor. I immediately dropped to the floor.

OMG. The apartment building must be under attack.

I crawled along the floor and into my kitchen, curling up into a ball. I had heard of people sneaking into buildings whilst the doormen were sleeping, but never imagined it would happen in a posh area like the south zone where security was high.

What should I do? I peered around the corner of the kitchen to double check my door was bolted. Phew.

As I sat there, wrapped in nothing but a towel, my hair dripping wet and my heart almost bursting out of my chest, I remembered what my boyfriend had told me to do in a situation like this.

Don’t make any sudden movements.

Try not to be seen or heard.

If they do see you, look them in the eye with confidence, not fear.

If they ask for your money, jewellery or phone, just give it to them, especially if they have a gun.

Right. He didn’t mention anything about making sure you had clothes on though!

The noise suddenly stopped so I crawled to my bathroom to grab some gym clothes that were lying on the floor. Just as I was putting on my tights, I heard another mighty pounding at my door.

Senhora! Senhora! Is anyone there?

Again I hit the floor and crawled back to the safety of my kitchen. What on earth is going on?

And then I saw it.

SMOKE.

Billowing underneath my front door, filling my room quicker than anything I had ever seen in Hollywood movies.

FIRE! The apartment building is on fire!

With lightning speed I got dressed, grabbed my handbag and passport and wrapped the towel around my face. As I opened the door, a huge cloud of smoke hit me and I immediately dropped to my knees.

The corridor was pitch black but I could just make out the sounds of someone nearby. I started to crawl in the direction of the nearest staircase, and just as I reached the top, I bumped head first into a fire fighter who was doing one final check of my floor.

Senhora! Meu deus! I thought you weren’t here!

Come, quickly! Follow me and try to hold your breath! 

When we finally reached the bottom and exited the building, I fell to my knees in total shock and unexpected exhaustion.

Glancing around, there was an army of fire fighters lining the street, with multiple fire trucks parked in front of my complex, their ladders extending up to the top floors that were engulfed in flames.

Out of nowhere, a blanket was thrown around me and a cup of water was thrust into my hands.

 

You are one very lucky lady senhora!

You could have died tonight!

 

As I came to terms with what had just happened, I couldn’t control the sobbing that came from deep within me.

Was my dream of dancing like a Brazilian Samba Queen really worth risking my life for?