Author: Damian Platt

To Skate—Perchance to Soar

Nairobi, January 2021. Saturday morning. I whizz joyfully around the multi-coloured skatepark. Beneath my feet, the board responds with twists and turns. I apply pressure with my toes and heels. I pop its tail and jump. It rises into the air, lifting me with it. My confidence grows. Now I decide to drop in from the edge of the kidney shaped pool. My heart races. I fly into its deep end and carve around the bowl’s steep edges. But I am coming back over the hip when, abruptly and unexpectedly, the skateboard slips away from me. My fast-moving body obeys its own trajectory. I fly up, then down, before crash landing—arms splayed, chest first—on the hard concrete. The impact knocks the breath out of my lungs. I roll onto my back, gasping. Faces appear above me, silhouettes against the blinding equatorial sun. They keep saying sorry. What for, I wonder? It’s not their fault. It might seem odd, given that I am in a skatepark and far from the written word, but gathering my breath, …

Four Decades of Terror: Rio de Janeiro’s Never-Ending ‘Drug War’

Welcome to Rio de Janeiro. Late August 2020. A woman tries to keep her child quiet. She is using her phone to film silhouettes moving past her glass front door. There is no mistaking the swift, purposeful shadows. Hunkering down, they point assault rifles and machine guns. During the short, chilling clip at least nine men run past. They are so-called “drug soldiers” from one of Rio’s famous favela communities, in the process of invading another. The invasion led to hours of gun battles, hostage-taking incidents and the death of Ana Cristina da Silva, a 25-year-old mother (not the woman in the clip), as she protected her toddler from bullets. It took place a short walk from the business district and was the latest episode in the city’s four-decades-old “drug war,” one of the world’s most intractable urban armed conflicts. Millions—a quarter of cariocas (Rio residents)—live in more than a thousand favelas in metropolitan Rio. Heartbreakingly, these tight-knit micro-societies are some of the most violent urban areas in the world. Essentially, endemic violence serves to …