By Roy Gachuhi
By the time you read this on the hard copy of the Nation, the marathon race will have ended and the Olympic Games officially closed.
It is the challenge of reporting for a newspaper in the age of breaking news. But it gets even harder: Nairobi is six hours ahead of Rio.
In my job, just a few minutes after deadline time for a story is too late. Six hours is practically a full day. That is why you cannot read about the two events mentioned above in today’s paper. Online readers have better luck.
I am writing this at 4am here – 10am in Nairobi – and I must make sure that I finish in good time to be able to go and watch the marathon. And this I am doing while recovering from a massive party after Brazil beat Germany to win the men’s football gold medal.
Rio had come to a standstill for the match and then exploded in delirious joy. (I now understand what happened here in 1950 and 2014 when they lost the World Cup finals at the Maracana. But now, I can tell you what you couldn’t have read on any online platform i.e. I have lost my voice and I am not the only one. It was the mother of all parties.)
I have made friends and met many interesting people. There is one in particular that I have to say something about because she made a big impression on me. She keeps reminding me of Wangari Maathai. Strength of a woman isn’t just another Kenyan cliché if used to write her story.
Here name is Heloisa Helena Costa Berto, an Afro-Brazilian Candomblé priestess, also known by her Candomblé name Luizinha de Nanã, whose home and spiritual center in Vila Autódromo were demolished to make way for the Olympic Park. In May this year, she received the Dandara Award from the Rio de Janeiro State Assembly.
The Dandara Award is named after a colonial era warrior woman and was established to recognise the exceptional work of Afro-Brazilian, Latin American and Caribbean women in the State of Rio de Janeiro. Heloisa Helena was the award’s first recipient. She had also recently received the Pedro Ernesto Medal from the City Council of Rio de Janeiro in recognition of her fight for housing and religious rights.
On receiving her award, Heloisa said: “This prize represents a recognition of our everyday struggle. Blacks who suffer racial prejudice daily. This prejudice is disguised in pleasantries and hidden through jokes. The award also represents a victory for us practitioners of Candomblé.
Even though I wasn’t able to reach my main goal of remaining by the lagoon in the home of my mother Nanã, I consider myself victorious. I was able to reach so many other goals.
I see this in the number of people who have joined me in this cause. People of various religions who support me in the right to freely practice my religion and to own the house of my mother Nanã.”
Rio, as indeed all of Brazil, is heaven to some people and hell to others. The Olympic Games have brought these contrasts into focus. Heloisa is one of those people who try to make it a good place for everybody.
Roy Gachuhi is in Rio de Janeiro as a writer-in-residence with Agencia Publica, an independent Brazilian investigative journalism news agency.