This week I twisted my ankle while running for a bus. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, whether I lost my footing on the uneven surface of the pavement of whether I simply tottered over on my own accord. I certainly hadn’t been drinking so I’m blaming the terrain.
The pavements of Brazil would be enough to give a British health and safety inspector a cardiac arrest. The concept of English council employees walking around streets with a ten pence piece to check whether the council needs to repair a paving stone or fear being sued is laughable in Brazil.
Brazilian local government officials would need to fill their pockets with loose change to stand any chance of having enough to measure the gaps in the pavements here. Not that a local government official would be that bothered. It’s not the fact that they don’t fear litigation, or that they don’t care, it’s because the responsibility to maintain the pavement in front of a house or a shop belongs to the house or business owner. While this probably saves the council quite a bit of cash it does create a right hotch potch of different designs, styles and heights of pavements – a nightmare for someone rushing for a bus but an impossibility for a wheelchair user. Funnily enough you don’t see many wheelchair users on Brazilian streets.
It’s not just the state of the pavements which highlights the difference between England and Brazil when it comes to matters of health and safety. Not long after I arrived my daughter was invited to a children’s birthday party and I accompanied her. In the front garden was a ten foot trampoline and a swimming pool holding 7000 litres of water which had already turned an interesting colour filled as it was with children wreaking havoc.
Herein lies a basic difference between Brazilians and myself. A Brazilian sees 7,000 litres of dubiously coloured water as an opportunity for fun whereas all I see is a soup of bacteria an infection whose main benefit lies in stimulating my daughter’s immune system. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-fun. We had a trampoline in our own garden in England which I was happy for my daughter to enjoy providing she was securely fastened inside by a sufficiently zipped up safety net.
The trampoline in this particular party did have a net of sorts but it had a gaping opening on one side which, while permitting easy entry and exit, was never fully closed while the infants leapt about inside. I hovered around the opening while my own daughter had her turn, ready to catch her and flinching every time she made the slightest move in my direction. The Brazilian fathers relaxed on the other side of the garden.
Perhaps my nervousness could be attributed to the story of my friends daughter who managed, during the brief period the zip on her trampoline was open, to launch herself through the gap and land on her head. Was it just a freak accident about which I shouldn’t be overly concerned? Does the Brazilian child’s exposure to risk develop their ability to avoid freak accidents? Has my constant mantra of ‘be careful’ turned my daughter into a nervous wreck who is so risk averse that she is unlikely to attempt many of the possibilities that Brazilian children enjoy?
Eventually she too entered the pool of immunisation and played the games the other children played. Once she had her confidence she was difficult to remove. And no-one got hurt. Well that’s not exactly true. A girl did fall through the opening in the net and onto the concrete floor. Thankfully she was not badly hurt.