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Travelling to a place for the first time is a rare chance to compare what you think you know about the place with the reality.

This will be the case big time for me and my family, since this will be our first time below the equator and to South America, Brazil and Rio.

Like most people, our ideas of Brazil and Rio come mostly from some form of media. So what has the media taught, or better yet, told us?

Well, there are countless sources that show us that Rio is full of beautiful (mostly white) people — from the supermodels it exports to the scantily clad locals on its beautiful beaches. 

A few years ago, many news sources declared Brazil wasn’t just a pretty face, it was also an emerging economic power — literally, the B in BRIC nation. And this was confirmed by CBC news, where I learned that the Braziian investment firm, 3G Capital, owns Heinz, Kraft, Burger King and Tim Hortons (although I had to listen closely and do some of my own digging to confirm this one).

Most recently, if you believe all the stories (and there have been lots of them), you’d think all those beautiful bodies were in danger of being feasted on by hungry hordes of Zika-filled mosquitoes gnawing their way through every screen in Rio. This idea was the first casualty in preparing for our trip. When we asked our Rio contacts if there were screens on the windows where we were staying, both of them said nobody has screens on their windows in Rio. They also said it’s winter so there are no mosquitoes and that, even if it was summer, Zika is mainly an issue in the countryside.

So what other ideas might not survive our trip reality check? 

Well, of course, two of the first things I learned about Brazil were that it has one of the biggest rainforests in the world with one of the best known rivers — named after a well known e-business company (Oh, right. The river came first.) However, it has been so long since I learned that, I can’t remember the source.

Being a huge Police fan, Sting taught me the Amazon rainforest was really important to the world and was really in danger.

The 2011 movie Rio reminded us Brazil has a really big carnival, lots of beautiful birds and some guys who are up to no good. 

Again from CBC, I learned Brazil had a female president who, unike her popular predecessor, Lula Da Silva (who’s presidency I learned of from a friend who attended the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre), was, or may be, impeached on corruption charges. 

Regarding Afro Brazilians, movies like City of God (2002) showed us brutal gang violence in one favela where almost all the people doing the killing and getting killed were Afro Brazilian. Then in 2008, Michael Frantis’s super popular, “I love you” showed there were also black folks in the favelas who were dancing, laughing and loving each other — and everyone else around.

And, most recently, the Rio 2016 opening ceremonies taught us all a few things by being surprisingly frank about Brazil’s leading role in the African slave trade and current conditions in favelas. (The country holds the record for importing more African slaves than any other country and for enslaving them the longest.)

We arrived in Rio a few hours ago so time to get out there and see how many of our preconceptions go the way of the Zika myth.

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Robin Browne

Robin Browne is an African-Canadian communications professional and the co-lead of the 613-819 Black Hub, living in Ottawa. His blog is The “True” North.