A street vendor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, says that working during Carnaval is like being able to complete a marathon: hard, but worth it. Edmilson Silva, 53, left home on Friday, February 17, and, as of Wednesday, February 22, had not been back. He moved temporarily to the center of the city where the revelry goes on around the clock.
That means tourists and locals (“cariocas”) who dance and jump Carnaval for hours on end. They need food and drink once in awhile. That is where Edmilson comes in. He says he has not had more than a couple of catnaps inside his car since Friday.
“I am up all night and can doze off a little during the day only. I am far from my family until Ash Wednesday. I work the area around where the big samba school parades take place (“Sambódromo”). It is very busy. On a good day, and they are all good days during Carnaval, I sell 1,200 cans of beer, plus hundreds of plastic bottles of water.
‘The money I make here will sustain my family for a couple of months,” says Edmilson, who adds that he has sold beverages for 30 years at soccer stadiums. “The only thing like Carnaval is New Year’s Eve on the beach in Copacabana, but that is only one night. This goes on almost non-stop for more than five days.”
Ms Maria dos Santos usually sells her beverages on Rio beaches. But, she says, during Carnaval she goes to the city center and works. “I dance a little samba, listen to the music and make money,” is the way she describes it.
Luis Carlos Ferreira da Silva is a street sweeper who has 23 years experience cleaning up the center of Rio de Janeiro. He explains that during Carnaval the workload is a lot, really a lot, bigger. “But we work our normal shifts and don’t get paid anything extra,” he says.
“It can be very heavy work, especially when a big popular samba band (“bloco”) marches. You know, thousands of people dancing along. They have a lot of fun but it gets really dirty and we have to clean it up, the job has to be done.”
Luis Carlos adds that during Carnaval, just to get in the spirit of things, he always wears a colorful hat along with his uniform. “We try to do our work and have a little fun at the same time. We do our work in high spirits,” he says.
The urban cleaning department of the city of Rio de Janeiro (Comlurb) reports that it has 745 garis and other workers on duty daily during Carnaval: 210 garis clean city streets after the passage of blocos, another 445 take care of the Sambódromo and the area around it. The rest clean the rest of the city.
Rio city authorities face the daunting problem of trying to control Carnaval participants without dampening the event’s trademark joy and enthusiasm. According to the subsecretary for Public Order, Marcelo Maywald, the city is more organized in its efforts to organize Carnaval with each passing year.
There is all the dirt and trash that has to be cleaned up. And, of course, the traffic: difficult at the best of times, chaos during Carnaval. The city has hundreds of “traffic facilitators” on the job just to keep vehicles moving.
And then there is the disturbing fact that people urinating in the street during Carnaval has become a significant problem.
Subsecretary Marcelo Maywald, reports that since parades began marching, way back on January 20, a total of 805 people have been picked up for urinating in the street; 93 were women. Last year, 777 people were caught urinating in the street during marching band parades; 26 were women.
Maywald says that as the number of revelers rises, the number of portable bathrooms on the streets rises. “A lot of people stand in line like good citizens. But there are people who just behave badly. We arrest them. We started arresting people three years ago. With people being taken into custody, we believe everybody is more aware of this problem.”
Maywald says that on February 20, 55 people were arrested for urinating in public, among them a Dutchman and an American. He also pointed out that this year blocos had time limits – a time to begin and a time to end their parade – besides predetermined routes with portable bathrooms.
City inspectors are also cracking down on irregular commerce during Carnaval: arresting street vendors without a license and confiscating their goods.
According to the city Tourism Bureau (Riotur), over 72,000 people were in the grandstands for the second night parades of the Special Group of Samba Schools of Rio de Janeiro on Monday, February 20. The parade takes place in an area especially built for the big parade in the city center, known as the Sambódromo or Passarela do Samba. The seats inside are pretty expensive.
At the same time, there were probably at least a million people dancing and jumping Carnaval outside the Sambódromo on the streets of Rio.
During the parades (four days, so far), a total of 1,700 people received medical attention at nine first aid stations located next to the Sambódromo. Fifty of them were transported to local hospitals for further treatment and care.
Compared to last year, the need for medical attention was up 26%.
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