Poverty. Despair. Violence. Protests. In the build-up to the World Cup, you would have been forgiven for thinking that the tournament was taking place in the midst of a war-torn country. Television reports, newspaper columns and online articles all focused on the troubles in Brazil: the struggles of the poor, the dissent of disaffected locals because of all the money they believed could have been spent elsewhere and the somewhat relaxed approach of workers towards preparations.
Those stories, however, have been rather sparse over the past couple of weeks as the quality of football on show and the cocktail of noise and colour have grasped attention. Focus has shifted from the downbeat outlook of those in favelas to the overwhelming sense of joy that is manifest everywhere. Thankfully, the tournament so far has reinforced the belief that away from the clichés, Brazil is an incredible, inspiring and fascinating country.
I was fortunate enough to spend a few months working there two years ago and although I sadly couldn't return for the World Cup, my experience left an indelible impression. Far removed from the oft-repeated horror stories of favela battles, disgruntled residents and violent demonstrations, the lingering sentiment was one of immense warmth. Yes, there are areas where poverty is inescapable, where there is anger and resentment towards officialdom and places tourists are best served avoiding, but without wishing to trivialise those issues, they are by no means exclusive to Brazil.
Delving beyond the headlines, what struck me was the sincerity of the friendliness and openness of the people. From those portrayed by stereotypes as dejected and disenchanted, I encountered affability and genuine kindness. Both from people who lived in favelas and from those who supposedly looked down on them with disdain, I experienced a caring attitude that was in direct contrast to the cold-hearted media cynicism. It is, indeed, a country of contradictions, a place where those who have plenty and those who have little mix in close proximity, but the overarching sentiment from all sides was one of welcoming pride.
Pictures and videos from the country may only offer a snapshot into World Cup life, but the joy is clear to see. In the stadiums and on the beaches, the vivid colours, the incessant noise and the hub of activity are striking. A quick glance at the country reveals a festival of excitement, of fans, separated yet together, enjoying themselves, enjoying the experience. The philosophy of Brazilian cheerfulness is infectious.
Away from the obvious tourist attractions - the remarkably imposing Christ the Redeemer, the picture-perfect Copacabana beach and the enormity and elegance of Parque Ibirapuera in São Paulo, to name but three - it is this admirable attitude, one of determination to enjoy life and of encouraging others to do the same which will stay with me. As the World Cup has progressed, gone are the fear-inducing headlines and stories designed to create panic. Those who have opened their minds to Brazil's enticing culture are currently experiencing a tournament that oozes positivity and fun. Long may it continue.