Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A memorable night in Brazil

Note: I'm not going to translate any of this Portuguese. If you really want to know what's being said, email me and ask, If that link doesn't work for you, just copy and paste the address. Or you could, ya know, type it yourself. Also don't freak out about the beginning, it works like a story. Read the whole thing before emailing me asking me what's going on.
*Edited so when Rebecca reads this she doesn't think I'm a huge dorkass. I only deleted two sentences so it wasn't that much. Ask me what I said in person and I'll tell you but this way only makes me look like a huge nerd.*


After literature class on 7th April 2006, Rebecca, a junior from the University of South Carolina, asked me if I would be interested in going to the movies with her after our capoeira class that night. I told her “sure, I’d definitely be interested in going.” We had talked about going to see The Constant Gardener previously. I had already seen it in America and really enjoyed it, so I thought it would be cool to see if dubbed in Portuguese, or at least com legendas. We never got around to seeing that movie though, however, it was no big deal.
Well that night I left my capoeira class early as I was expecting a phone call and had to leave, because I knew it would be approximately a 35 or 40 minute walk home. I left knowing I had already told her I would be interested in going, but again, it was no big deal. I have a feeling as I type this that that evening she wasn’t sure what she wanted to see or at which theatre she wanted to see it.
On Saturday 8th April, I went with Tiphane to Praça Santa Andrade and watched capoeira and even jogado a little bit, then did a little samba at the end. After that, we went to eat lunch, I tried to find a used bookstore, and then I bought tickets to a play that I will see at 7PM Sunday 9th April at Teatro Gauira. When we got back home, Joseane told Tiphane and I that Rebecca had called and wanted to see if we were interested in going to see a movie with her tonight. Tiphane didn’t want to spend the money, but I figured why not.
However, after participando na rouda and walking around from 11AM until 5PM, I was kind of tired. Both Tiphane, minha colega at WSSU, and I took a little nap and then I woke up to eat. While I was eating, Rebecca called back and asked again if either of us was interested in going. I had intended to call her back but had literally woken up five minutes before her call. Tiphane told her that I was interested, although she wasn’t, and found out for me which movie she wanted to see, and at which theatre she had planned on seeing it at.
The name of the movie was A Máquina and it was playing at Shopping Estação. I agreed to meet her at the ticket office at 8:45PM, with the film starting at 8:50PM. Of course, there were previews and it being a Saturday night the line was quite long, so it’s good I got there early. However, all that aside, as I was eating I started to think that I really didn’t feel like taking the bus anywhere, and I also didn’t want to have to walk 50 minutes to Shopping Estação, I would venture a guess that it’s at least 3 ½ miles from my house here in Bairro Ahú. But, I also didn’t want to have to call her and tell her I wasn’t coming, so I finished eating, grab my two bottles of water and threw them in my book bag, tossed on a hooded sweatshirt and started walking.
I met Rebecca there, just like she had said, about 15 minutes before 9PM. I was still waiting in line, reading my copy of National Geographic Brasil when she came up and said hey and that she had already gotten her ticket. I kept reading and waiting, then bought my ticket. The movie was very good, although somewhat confusing and hard to understand at points. Not hard to understand because of the language, but simply because of the content, the plot, and the overall structure of the film.
I often walk around with Rebecca, and quite often it’s for long distances, usually around 45 minutes to an hour. I have walked so much around Curitiba that I know my way around the entire Centro Civico quite well, and have even fiquei perdido in the city quite a few times, which helps out quite a bit when I’m not actually lost. After the film, we walked from Shopping Estação to Shopping Müeller where she would catch her bus home.
We talked about quite a few things; capoeira, classes, other students and graduate school, to name a few. I definitely had a great time walking and talking with her.
We arrived at her bus stop at Shopping Müeller and stood talking some more until her bus got there. We continued to talk about graduate school, I told her about my April Fool’s Joke, and my special little shout-out to my good friend Joe. Then suddenly, the conversation just ended.
It didn’t end because there was nothing to talk about, or because we were suddenly disinterested in what the other person had to say. It ended because of an exceptionally sad situation; something I had seen from at least some sort of distance in Brazil, but had never been particularly close to something such as this.
Two children, the oldest clearly no older than 10 years old, with the younger one looking to be no older than eight years old, walked to where Rebecca and I were standing. They were wearing old and seemingly quite dirty clothing, and I assumed the children had no home and no parents. I could go on for pages about what I believe to be the social and political reasoning behind children ending up in this situation, not only in Brazil but in other countries as well, and why it makes me so incredibly upset and sad to see it, but it is enough to know for this purpose that seeing this made me feel exactly like I just described; incredibly upset and sad.
The two boys stopped at a water meter and lifted up the cover. They searched for the valve that would turn the water on and upon finding it, did just that. What followed was something that was quite shocking to me: the two boys practically took a full bath using this water meter. They were thoroughly cleaning their hands, making sure to get all the dirt off of them, and they followed with their arms, feet and legs, and then their faces. Again, all using what may very well have been unclean water from a city water meter. After washing and cleaning their bodies, they took their sandals and cleaned them as well. Rebecca told me she was considering telling them to be sure to wash their shoes as well, and that they were so smart for doing it without being told to do so.
Because our conversation had simply stalled, she told me I could go ahead and start walking home, as I still had another 20 minutes to go, and she could wait in the tube with the other people waiting to catch the same bus. I just told her that seeing things like this make me exceptionally upset and gave her a little two- or three-sentence explanation as to why.
The boys finished up cleaning themselves and their shoes, closed the cover to the water meter, and began walking towards whatever or wherever it is they consider home. A couple of people gave the two boys some change to get food, and they walked away happy. I guess Rebecca was right: even though the boys may find it easier to live on the streets on their own than with parents going through struggles of their own, they at least seemed to be very happy and lively and joyful about what they had; each other, a little bit of money, and a little independence.
After they walked away, Rebecca’s bus came and we shared the typical Brazilian goodbye; a hug and kiss on the cheek. I am not a person that particularly cares to draw attention to myself in such a manner, so what followed was something I wanted to do while she was standing there, but I didn’t want it to come off to her as if I was simply trying to impress her or make her think something of me that she may not have previously thought.
Following Rebecca getting on her bus and me walking away, I intended to find the two meninos knowing that they couldn’t have gotten too far since they had left only a minute before. I thought they had turned the corner and were walking up the sidewalk on the side of the mall, when they had actually walked to a hotdog stand on the corner to get something to eat with the change they had been given only seconds ago.

I tapped the younger of the two boys on the shoulder.
“Oi, menino. Venha aqui. Vocês estão com fome? Você e seu amigo?”
He looked up at me, somewhat surprised that a guy five times his size was asking for him. I supposed he had a relative amount of trust knowing I wouldn’t hurt him, especially knowing that others were around.
“Sim,” the little boy said to me.
“Então, eu tenho um pouco de dinheiro para vocês, mas antes de eu te dou este dinheiro, você precisa fazer-me uma promessa, ok?”
The little boy shook his head in agreement and let out a slight “Ok.”
“Vocês têm de estudar muito, vão para escola todos os dias…”
With a smile on his face and a small look of pride and joy, he stated, “Eu vou para a escola todo dia.”
“Então, você estuda muito?” I asked him.
He responded “sim” and nodded his head with a smile still on his face.
“Ótimo. Então, você estuda muito, ler muitas coisas, e aprende todas as coisas que você pode aprender.” The entire time I was telling him this I felt like letting a heavy stream of tears come down my face. Would anything I was saying to him make any bit of difference? I guess first I had to find out his name. “Como é seu nome?”
“Christian,” he replied.
I stuck my hand out to shake his, and let him gain even more of a sense of trust and respect. He reached out and shook my hand, letting me know he was open and welcoming my respect for him.
“Então Christian, me promete essas coisas, e um dia você vai fazer grandes coisas com sua vida e as vidas de muitas mais pessoas. Concorde?”
With this I wanted to give him the reassurance that I do truly hope he makes it off the streets and never again has to ask for handouts or beg for money. I wanted him to know that reading brings knowledge, and that true power lies in knowledge and education, and that only with these two things can you gain the wisdom to grow.
“Sim, posso,” he assured me.
“Legal. Christian, meu nome é Zack. Eu sou Americano. Eu sou dos Estados Unidos. Muito prazer Christian. Eu tenho R$10 reais para você e seu amigo. Lembra-me e faça essas coisas para mim, sim?”
“Sim, sim. Muito, muito obrigado senhor.”

The boy appeared to be in disbelief. When I told him I was American he seemed to also be in shock that he had just met an American. His near speechlessness when I told him I was going to help him be able to eat; the look of his gratefulness when I showed more care for his future and his life than someone may have ever shown him; the pure surprise and gratitude that filled his face and his eyes when I handed him the R$10 that could possibly feed him and his friend for another two days filled my body with chills and my eyes with tears as I walked away.
It filled me with chills to see a boy as young as him on the streets with no help from the government and no help from a positive adult influence. It filled me with tears to know that there was no more that I could do than what I did. It filled me with chills to see a young boy so grateful for the smallest amount of money and to know that I had just helped in filling two little stomachs with food for a little while. It filled me with tears to see him happy and knowing that, even though there only exists a small percentage of chance, perhaps a 22 year old American student in Brazil could help this boy truly do something great with his life and really make something of himself and his life that him and his family can honestly and truthfully take pride in.
My sadness over the situation was accompanied with joy, followed by more sadness, and followed by even more joy. I was sad because I couldn’t do more; I was joyous because of how happy the boy became upon receiving genuine help; I was sad because I didn’t know where this boys life would go once I walked away; I was joyous because I envisioned him passing the vestibular and going on to help create better living situations for impoverished families across the country that has been both great to him; having a place to live; and terrible to him; offering virtually no help to live as he should be able to.
My R$10 will not change the world, and in terms of percentage, my help would cause a zero percent decrease in world poverty. However, throughout all of my time so far in Brazil, I have realized I can’t change the world, and that no individual and likely no group can do such a thing either. That R$10 may have changed the life of Christian and his friend, though, and if my small amount of money and conversation with the boy could change his life, it could change the life of the family he may one day have, causing a chain reaction that may have never started.
I hope to hear Christian’s name on the news or read it in the paper, and if I ever obtain the level of political influence that I would one day like to obtain, I hope to run into him at an international conference and listen to him tell me about his latest project and how well it is going. The next day I may have read about a child being kidnapped or killed instead of reading about a child from the streets making a change in his life and the lives of others in his life’s journey had I not taken the time to walk to Shopping Estação to meet Rebecca that evening.

The moral of this very true event is not only to not be afraid to go out and walk an hour at night, because the health benefits are far superior to doing nothing except waking up, eating dinner, then going back to bed, but most importantly that, although a person who does not particularly believe in fate, one never knows what could happen nor who they could help, and that only through going out and seeing the true surroundings of one’s environment will they realize they can, in fact, help.
One person cannot change the world, but with enough care and love in your heart, you can help one or two people at a time, and although not the physical world in which we live, the world of those particular individuals can be changed.
So get out, “start a revolution” as they say, and choose to help, but don’t choose to help because it will make you feel better about your own life. Do it because there are billions of people, men, women and children of all nationalities, ethnicities and religions living in this harsh environment we call life who desperately need care, attention, love, respect, and acknowledgement that they, too, are human.

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