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November 23, 2004


Puxa!  I just got back from watching one crazy film!  It was a documentary of sorts about the 1976 reunion of a real-life group of singers known as the Tropicalists, who were like the Jimmy Hendrixes and Janis Joplins of Brazil.  But man, these artists took the ideas of hippy-ness and rock-n-roll and ran a marathon with them!  The concert that the film revolved around–which was played almost in full during the film in between interviews and clips of the artists at home, at birthday parties, and in the studio (and in the courtroom, as Gilberto Gil was arrested in Florianopolis for drug possession)–looked more like a costume party.  Gal Costa and Maria Bethânia (who was once a male) were dressed in flowing, gauzy skirts and bikini-sized tops with long beaded necklaces and belly chains (not to mention their long, flowing hair); Caetano Veloso was dressed in a gauzy, white get-up that made him look like a Roman guard complete with a headpiece; and Gilberto Gil pranced around stage in a white, full-body leotard and a floor-length white scarf.  The film was muito engrassado–very silly–but very entertaining, too.

On a much more serious note, this morning we went to Eldorado do Sul again and met with a group of residents in Vila Jardim.  A number of the residents had remembered about the meeting we invited them to last week when we split up into groups to go door-to-door to introduce ourselves.  The meeting took place in the shade of the mini bus we rented to take us out there (since the University’s bus was, as usual, stuck in the garage due to lack of money to pay for gas).  The residents–about fifteen of them plus their kids–seemed very enthusiastic about our desire to work with them and were eager to hear our ideas as well as share their own (for example, one woman suggested that we and the community create basins for capturing rainwater at various points throughout the neighborhood since the residents currently have to walk all the way to one end of the vila to fetch water from a pump). 

After we explained once again who we are and why we want to work with them, we split up and went with some of the residents back to their houses to offer tips on how to best locate windows and doors so as to maximize ventilation in the tiny, tin-roofed structures that many are still in the process of assembling.  It was a small first step, but a rewarding and important one for both us and for those in Vila Jardim. 

The thing that keeps striking me the most is how normal the people in Vila Jardim are.  I know that’s going to come off wrong, but what I mean is that the people I’m meeting in Vila Jardim remind me of middle-class people I know here in Porto Alegre and back home in the States.  One of the young women, who has an adorable blond little boy, looks just like one of the Brazilians I went to Argentina with in September–except her smile is even sweeter and more genuine.  One of the fathers and his wife remind me of young couples I know back home, with the same responsible, yet “I’m still cool, right?” mannerisms.  I think it’s hitting me even more now that it has in Mexico or South Africa because I am comfortable enough with Portuguese that I almost forget they’re speaking to me in another language, and because a lot of the people here are white, making them seem even that much less “different.”  I think the notion that people who have different cultures, languages, or skin colors are “others” was at some point ingrained in me–probably in public school–so even though I know that we are all very much the same when it comes down to it, I still find myself having to fight the impression that others are somehow different; I think it’s a self-defense mechanism that we have of protecting ourselves from feeling the strong emotions we feel when we recognize that all of the suffering billions in the world are just like us–and I think that that self-defense mechanism is somehow insidiously taught through the ways that we learn about other “peoples,” whether in school or through the media (by the way, I read a great poem on the bus the other day:  Escravidão eficaz / A mídia diz / E você faz: Effective slavery / The media says / And you do).  As Paul and I were saying after his visit to Vila Jardim with me last week, it’s really hard to experience those emotions without actually meeting people living in horrible conditions because that’s when you realize that they are just like you and me–and that’s when it becomes hard to live your own everyday life without questioning whether you have too much, and without developing a deep commitment to using your life to promote social change rather than the “system.”

From → Brazil, Uncategorized

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