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Sunday, November 20, 2011


Lately, I've been roaming around Brazil. Enjoying my last month here and its bittersweetness is getting to me. I remember people telling me before I left that I would come back a different person, that I would learn so many things by leaving my comfort zone and that my perspective on things would begin to open up once I experienced a foreign country at its fullest. Now, with just 2 weeks and a half left in Brazil, I can say that I've definitely become more aware of societal problems and cultural differences different from the ones I've always known, but I still don't consider myself changed or scarred from the experience, just awake. There are so many things about the world people usually don't think about or if they do, they don't know the actual truths behind the situation.
Last week I traveled to Salvador, Bahia, one of the poorest regions in Brazil. Before going there we were warned several times about the ways of the people in that city, but the things we heard were just basic. "People will ask you for money,"and "don't take your money with you," or "don't stay out too late." What no one told us was that despite the high poverty rates, the only beggars I encountered were kids under the age of 10, who were mostly crack addicts and homeless, knowing this I can only assume they rely on being part of a street gang or just part of a group of kids with the same problems relying on crimes to survive. Mentioning this it is obvious that the poverty rate in this city is above average and absolutely nothing like I expected.
My parents are going to kill me for doing this, but the point is that I am alive and nothing happened. But while I was in Salvador, my Australian guided m3 around the section of our hostel and invited us to see a favela, yes, it wasn't a paid or planned tour, but during this "tour" we were walking inside of it and it was literally a labyrinth, up and down, little streets and alleys with houses smaller than my bathroom, once we reached the top my heart was beating really fast knowing that all the stories I had heard and the pictures I saw on what I believed were fictional movies were true, a very deep feeling of frustration followed by realizing that these people have little options and their only resort is to live on top of two more houses with little roof. Once I reached the top, across the street was a very tall apartment building with a private entrance and a view of the ocean... when they told me that the class difference was very noticeable, I never thought it would mean me standing in the middle of a street in between two different worlds within a walking distance.
The first thing they told us when we got to the hostel was, come here we'll show you the map, mind you this was the safest part of the city. Nick, our australian host takes out a map and starts circling little by little all the sections around our hostel except 3 streets, all he said was don't go here or here or there for 3 minutes... it was only a matter of taking the wrong turn and we would end up in the most dangerous part of town or the safest one. It's a sad reality we were forced to face, but still we really couldn't afford to get scared of the culture we've already been emerged in for almost 4 months, the only thing left to do is be cautious and trust the advice we were being given.
The weather was absolutely great, it was too hot to breathe in but it was exactly what we were looking for, the type of weather that allows you to be lazy and just lay on a hammock in the sun or on a tapestry at the beach and after passing out for a few minute wake up to the bell of the ice cream man passing by only to find your favorite fruit popsicle (goiaba) waiting there to hydrate you... yup very corny, but that was my life for a few days. Going to an island with deserted beaches and cheap caipirinhas and people doing capoeira on almost every corner can also be added to the list.
Salvador, was by far the most cultural aspect of my study abroad experience. Seeing little kids asking for food or money just to exchange it for crack money or big Brazilian men stopping us in the middle of the day acting like our best friends only to give us a handshake and say that they will happily be our drug dealer for the remaining of our trip was the extreme I was missing from living in Florianopolis. This extreme left me shocked at times and left me wanting to understand these people's lives more, understand why it is that they are faced with certain circumstances. By far the most outrageous experience I was faced with was the day we were relaxing at the most crowded beach I've ever been on and in front of us there was a kid running like a gazelle and then we see a man running after him screaming, "ladrao" or thief. At that moment it was as if the entire male population at the beach stood up to chase that boy, but it wasn't long until he was kicked on the side with a capoeira kick by the same man that started chasing him, later he was being trampled by the rest of the men at the beach... did I mention this happened less than three feet behind me? No cops around or at sight... 15 minutes after being beat, there were still no cops. Later, the same men take him 'captive' to who knows where and the last thing I see is a kid, could've been 14, crying and bleeding. After commenting this with a local, he answered very serious, "Yeah, we hate thieves here in Pelorinho. If people get a hold of him it's almost certain he'll get killed." These are the type of things that make me think that criminals really don't have a choice sometimes, if a tourist knows about what can happen if you take the risk of stealing a local must now, but still it's survival. If they can't get a job, food, money or even a place to live in, their only option may be to steal with the possibility of getting killed... they must really have no choice.
It was a shock to be in this city for an entire week. But it was a great experience overall. I learned more about the Brazilian culture or at least another spectrum of it. Even after seeing the other extreme of Brazil, I still love this country and its diversity, although I still don't know half of what I came here to learn about it.