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NPR Brazil Correspondent Prepares For Debut In Carnival Parade


The Zika virus has hit Brazil hard, and that country's in the middle of Carnival, when people pour into the streets for all-day- and night parties. Samba parades are the heart and soul of the festivities. In Rio de Janeiro, our correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is prepping for her debut in a parade. And Lulu, before we get (laughter) to this ridiculous thing you're doing, I have to ask whether Zika has affected these festivities at all.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: No, actually. I have to tell you. One million people were out on the streets in Recife, another one million people out on the streets in Salvador. Those are the two of the hardest hit cities with the Zika virus. They're in Northeastern Brazil. And here in Rio de Janeiro, it's just jam-packed with people dressed in outlandish costumes. So I think this shows that nothing and no one stops Carnival.

SHAPIRO: And those people dressed in outlandish costumes include yourself. How one Earth did a serious, award-winning journalist get roped into a samba parade?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) OK, well, first of all, you have to understand that these samba parades are really, really serious business. Twelve teams called schools work around the clock all year long. They spend millions of dollars in order to compete. And then they do these parades in the Sambadrome, and it's broadcast live on television. So they allow people to buy costumes, members of the general public. But they're pretty expensive - $250 to $650. Paying for a costume allows you to be in the procession. Of course, you have to go to the rehearsals, which I have. And you have to dance samba like a maniac for 80 minutes - no stopping, no catching your breath. Points are deducted if you don't know the song or the steps during the event, so it's a really, really big deal (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Do you actually know how to samba?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm a salsa girl, so it's taken me a bit of getting used to to dance to another beat, if you will. But I am confident. Yes, I am confident I will do Vila Isabel - that's my samba school - proud. And if not, I am moving country. I am just letting you know.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Wow. Well, describe this outlandish, over-the-top costume you're wearing so we can have an image on the radio.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm sure you're thinking sparkles and feathers, and you would be kind of right. If you've never seen these parades, they're kind of insane. You have these massive floats with these very elaborate themes and people dressed as animals and fruits. And it looks like you're in some sort of hallucinogenic dream.

This year, I am going to be wearing a massive globe on my head with blue feathers protruding out of the top.

SHAPIRO: It's about two feet high (laughter). I'm also wearing pantaloons, a big breastplate covered in diaphanous material. I'm supposed to be a colonial conquistador, but one person who saw me in it said it looked like a conquista-bird - lots of plumage.


SHAPIRO: First time I've ever asked anyone on the radio, what are you wearing? My last question for you - there's a song you have to sing, right? So will you give us a little...


SHAPIRO: ...Bit of it?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No, absolutely not.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I've already humiliated myself enough.

SHAPIRO: Well, we do have a recording.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in foreign language).

SHAPIRO: OK, what do these lyrics mean, at least?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. So they are a nod to the tough times that Northeastern Brazil has gone through historically. They talk about slavery and the drought, and of course, it has extra resonance this year because, of course, it is the area of the country where the Zika virus has hit the hardest. So it's not just a moment of celebration and, you know, and having fun. It's also - has a serious, somber note to it, for sure.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, samba well. Make us proud. I cannot wait to see the video.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Thanks. Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.