Wednesday 2 December 2009

Adventures in Sao Paolo Part 4: Searching for Marcelo Lima

It’s another month gone and I’m at the airport in Sao Paolo, waiting for my flight to Buenos Aires. The taxi ride was expensive (80 Reais) but very fast and I’ve now got an extra hour to kill and time to reflect on another whirlwind few weeks of vibrant people, new problems, passionate conversations, beers, and days so full that I haven’t even had time for blogging.

In truth I’ve been meaning to post more often, but I’m finding that I just don’t think in actively reflective ways, so I don’t have much to say on a daily basis. My notes would be all be repetitive… “I met some great people, had interesting conversations about social development, offered some new perspectives, ate well and had a few beers!” Can’t imagine how any of you would find that interesting after about the 5th time :) Churning out emotive descriptors of daily experiences is therefore not proving to be an option with the time I have. But I find if I carry on absorbing things in my usual go with the flow type way, then things aggregate and crystallise and the writing occasionally just happens. Like today.

I’m sad to be leaving Brazil. I’ve met as many lovely people as I did in Mexico City, which is pretty amazing. I’ve been looked after and entertained and included, to the point that I’ve never had a single day with time to occupy by myself. In my short time in Rio, I caught up with Iris, Theresa included me in the amazing things she’s doing and Gilberto showed me around. In Sao Paolo, the Ashoka crew took me for beers, Elenice showed me around the city, the Wikimedia guys made me feel part of the movement, and others from my hostel hung out with me in the few moments there was time to spare.

Wikimedia crew - Ale, Tom and Glauco

Brazil is great but different to the way it’s held in western social consciousness. I was surprised that people don’t wear bright colours so much any more. It’s all gotten a bit European on that front. The food on the other hand is very American in terms of size. Big portions of solid food – meat rice and chips. Missed the spiciness of Mexico, but welcomed the simplicity and straightforwardness of big plates.

Coco and more huge munch!!

Samba is not what I thought it was either. It’s so much better! Rio was more fragmented and Sao Paolo less hectic than I was led to believe. Favelas too, are not what I imagined. Tom and Ale took me to visit a project in a slum that borders the very fancy University of Sao Paolo, and when I checked to see if I should leave my wallet and camera in the car, I was told that it wouldn’t be a problem. And yes, I still have everything!

Samba party

Life in the Sao Remo favela is lived out in the small streets that weave through the brick structures, so the vibrance of people and youth really strikes you, but for all it’s close crowdedness, no one could tell us where to find Marcelo Lima. He’s a young kid who’s trying to become an economist and has been there all his life, so it really surprised me that no one even seemed to recognise his name. The doors have no numbers or names on them and tiny shoulder wide pathways weave through the dwellings, making me wonder how people know where to find each other or what they use as markers for reference.

Sao Remo

Looking for Marcello

Still no joy...

On an insider’s tour with Marcelo after finally finding him!

On the rubbish heap outside the favela. The government doesn't provide decent services.

Brazil is also different to the way it’s held in Brazilian social consciousness. Contrary to the powerful belief and constitutional focus that Brazil is a place where anyone can belong, there is serious institutional discrimination against people of colour, particularly women; and there are issues with the social autonomy and recognition of many ethnic groups. In a country where voting is mandatory, corruption is rife, most people have no idea who they voted for, and participative democracy is fledgling. Finally, in a place where there is locally believed to be no culture of giving, there are stunning examples of time and dedication and achievement in the addressing of social issues and in the development and mobilisation of fragmented communities.

As a place, it’s been just another country for me. Buildings are buildings and roads are roads. Malls look the same and cars are universal. Scenery awes and man-made achievements astonish. Ethnic artefacts blur and roadside shops sell the same things. Foods change and language alters in sound. It took a little longer to connect with people than in Mexico, where I was blown away by the warmth of the people I met, but in reality the difference was marginal.

I imagine you’re feeling that this means I didn’t care so much, but I did. Here’s the thing… I love that amongst the all the little differences that we use as separators, lie fundamental and powerful similarities with other places and peoples. I love feeling at home in cities I’ve never seen before, and I love feeling that it probably won’t matter where I go this trip, if I take the time to understand perspective and engage, there’ll be vibrant people, new problems, passionate conversations, beers, and days so full that I won’t have time for blogging!!
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