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Original photo by Renata Daou

An Open Letter to My Hometown

Dear Manaus,


Some call you “Paris of the Tropics” due to the luxury architecture from the rubber era, or “Lungs of The World” due to the Amazon forest and the oxygen it provides for us.


You prove so much air for us, yet here we are dying from the lack of O2. 


While attending college in the United States, many people have asked me what it was like to grow up in Brazil. More specifically, they asked what it was like to live in the Amazon area. 


It was full of weekends enjoying one of the Amazon River tributaries. When I was younger, it was full of holidays going to a friend’s farm where we would ride ATVs, enjoying the view of the forest. It was full of weekends in a treehouse that had the best view of the forest and the river. It was visiting the amazing waterfalls that only exist in the nearby interior cities.


Living in Manaus meant having the best of both worlds. I could do ecotourism by staying in a hotel and fish piranhas, swim with botos, and play with monkeys. It also meant living in a full metropolis, which was what I actually lived most days. It was living in a free economic zone with more than two million people.


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But today, Manaus is not the great place that I learned to love. Manaus became a place with two hundred deaths in one day, breaking the city’s record. There was a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. to help minimize the outbreak. It was also hundreds of people infected with COVID-19, lacking oxygen to survive.


Manaus is the largest city in Amazonas and serves the whole area, which is about six times the size of the United Kingdom. People from the interior of Amazonas go to Manaus to receive treatment since it is the only place with proper ICUs. 


In the last 15 days, the demand for oxygen in Manaus increased five times. At the same time, just before the big collapse in Manaus, the president increased taxes over oxygen cylinders. 


The situation is bad, it looks like an apocalyptic scenario. All hospitals, public and private, are full. Healthcare workers have to decide who they are going to admit to the ICU based on survival chances. If you get COVID-19 you better pray you don’t need a hospital because if you do…good luck. 


That makes me scared for my grandma, who is 95 years old. That makes me scared for my father, who is 68 years old. That makes me scared for my aunt, who has high blood pressure and has had pneumonia before. That makes me scared for EVERYONE since the virus doesn’t discriminate; not after seeing my 21-year-old friend in the ICU and seeing my classmate’s dad, young and athletic, die from COVID-19.


You’d think that the governor would try to help this beautiful state we love so much, right? Wrong. Corruption and money laundry are extremely common among the governors with money from our taxes, and the federal government is just disappearing. 


Buying respirators from a wine house? Really? Could you at least try to hide that you’re stealing money? This is just embarrassing for you at this point. 


It is us, residents from the state of Amazonas, that had to organize ourselves to provide oxygen to our own people. We were the ones spreading the word, collecting the money, and buying the necessary material to survive. No politician. Just us. 


Due to all of this combined with people partying during the pandemic and not following the World Health Organization safety guidelines, the situation has made international news — for all the wrong reasons. BBC and the Guardian were among the first ones to report. Even Demi Lovato posted about it on her Instagram stories.


The international attention we’re getting is helpful, as it will probably enable us to get what we need sooner and prevent more death. I just wish it was under different circumstances.


I wish we were seeing the beauty of Manaus and all the things that it has to offer. Instead, we’re seeing the state at its worst time. Considering that Brazil doesn’t have a plan to start vaccinating people, I honestly don’t see things getting better anytime soon.


I just want to say that my heart will be with you, Manaus, no matter where I go. And I hope the next time I go there, it will be to see all the good things that make you so special to me.


Take care,


Renata is from Amazonas, Brazil, and studies international politics and broadcast journalism at Penn State. Her hobbies include reading and writing, editing pictures, and dancing for fun. She likes to learn new languages, currently speaks four, and is trying to learn a fifth. Fun fact: she wrote a book, but let’s not talk about that.
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