Thursday, June 20, 2013

Seven Days In Sao Paulo- Diary of a Foreigner




As many of you will probably be aware, something BIG is going down in Brazil right now. There are so many great blogs, articles and videos already out there that explain the situation (including the informative yet powerful video I've added underneath). So what I want to do with this blog post is to give you a run down of what life has been like on a daily basis for me personally over the last seven days. I've done this to give some perspective of what has gone on that goes beyond the pictures and news headlines you've probably seen and read about. 




Thursday 13th June

Yet again I heard my alarm, woke up, took one look at it and slapped it into silence. I’m not impressed with myself. I should have gone running today like I did on Tuesday morning, but instead I rolled over and slept some more.  

I had a couple of classes today, and with the protests about the 20 centavo (6p) rise of the bus and subway fare being extremely topical, it didn't take long for my students to give me their opinions on it.  The protests were newsworthy here not just because of the motivation for people taking to the streets, but also because they were then tarnished by acts of vandalism. 

“I really don’t agree with the Protestants use of violence” said one student, echoing a very similar mistake made by many of the students I've taught this week….that protesters are called Protestants in English.  After pointing out the mistake, we continued the discussion. “Why not protest about corruption and lack of infrastructure? 20 centavos is nothing” my student said after I’d asked him to elaborate on his opinion.

“It might be nothing to you, but surely it’s a big deal to the poor people living in Sao Paulo?”  

“Andrew, it’s not even the poor people out protesting. It’s the university students from USP causing the trouble”. 

Students have had conflicting views today, and I even heard that some of these protesters are rumoured to have been paid to be there by other political parties. 

These protests are somewhat divisive.  

When I got home after my evening class I discovered from Twitter that a demonstration in Sao Paulo that evening had got out of hand and that police had been very heavy handed. I was pretty shocked at the video footage I saw, it is kinda weird to see people being shot at and gassed on the streets I walk down daily.

Friday 14th June

Just a few classes today, so I killed some time in Starbucks between classes with my book. I seem to go there a lot, too much maybe. I hadn't been much of a coffee drinker before moving to Brazil, but now I can’t imagine my day without a coffee at some point. 

During my second class my student (who lives very close to where the protests took place last night) told me that the demonstrations from the previous night had affected her plans.

“Andrew, I was going to go out with my boyfriend for a romantic dinner” she began. “But we had to stay in. Everywhere closed early around here and it was too dangerous to go out, so we couldn't even leave my apartment….and to make things worse, I had no food in” she laughed. “I really didn't think things would get so bad!"

That evening I had class, I usually go to my students offices in Berrini but because of the protests around this area, we agreed to  have our first Skype class. After, when I asked my student how he felt about the class without me physically being there he told me he much preferred it to regular classes.

"I enjoyed not needing to look at your face for an hour and a half!” I think he was joking....!

Before this class, I logged onto my Facebook and Twitter accounts and saw that there is a lot of anger directed towards the police from the previous night, and many of my friends had confirmed through Facebook that they were going to a protest on Monday in the Pinheiros neighbourhood. A few hours later my housemate arrived home and told me that his boss nearly got arrested last night when he left the office. He had tried to make the short walk to the subway but was approached by a policeman who had threatened to arrest him. It was only after he’d pleaded with the officer that he was allowed to continue on his way. I've met his boss, he works in IT and definitely doesn't look like much of a trouble maker. If this is what's going on out there, this is some scary stuff!

Saturday 15th June

My Facebook feed is going crazy today. So many videos and pictures of police shooting at groups of people who were holding banners and chanting “sem violencia” (without violence).

My friend called me to ask if I wanted to go to Skol Sensations with him, a huge dance event that is held annually in the city. I impulsively decided to go. The youtube clips I’d seen had looked amazing….and I am happy that  the event more than lived up to my expectations. The night life in this city is phenomenal. 

However not long into the event, my friend had his iphone stolen. He hadn't felt it being taken from out of his pocket, and as you would imagine, he was angry. “I’m sick of this. Things like this always happen here in Brazil. I've just been to Canada with absolutely no problems, but here in my own country I’m robbed 2 hours into a night out”. 

Sunday 16th June

If Facebook and Twitter are anything to go by today, my Brazilian friends are REALLY angry about the way Thursday night turned out with the protests. There is plenty of talk about the next one tomorrow, with people saying it’s not about the 20 cent rise anymore, it’s about….(get comfortable) the World Cup, corruption, lack of infrastructure, health care, crime and the general standard of living in Brazil. Tomorrow is going to be a VERY big deal. 

After showering I went to a food fair with my housemate. In between eating (amongst other things) we talked about the impending protest. “In the future when I have children and they ask where I was when the protests were on, I want to tell them I was there” said my friend.

Monday 17th June  

“Andrew, how long have you been teaching me now? And for how long have you had to listen to me complaining about how corrupt my country is? Well now things are finally changing, we are not powerless anymore. I am feeling so optimistic about Brazil’s future” said one of my students (a university student) with a huge grin on her face, as she talked about taking part in the protest later in the day.

I tend not to see many grins on a Monday morning, so I felt a bit bad when I told her after her passionate speech that we’d be looking at a grammar exercise I'd brought in for her.

Later when I told another student that the protest was happening near to where she lived, I swear she was about to break down and cry in front of me. She had no idea. 

This is a generic 'Sao Paulo is bad' picture, not one from during the protests
“I support the protesters Andrew, really. But it’s going to take me so long to get home; it took me a really long time on Friday because the police just closed the roads I need to use. Traffic here is bad on a normal day. And I’m so tired after my weekend!”  

What might be hard for someone who isn't familiar with Brazilian culture to get their heads around is that the Brazilian people have waited until now to act. You have these big sporting events round the corner and the issues they're demonstrating against aren't exactly new. So why now?

Well let me tell you something you may or may not know, Brazilians rarely complain about things. This surprised me when I first realised this, I mean when you see those passionate footballer supporters and feisty looking samba dancers on the TV and news back home, you wouldn't expect them to be shy when it comes to expressing how unhappy they are about something. 

“Andrew, what’s the point in complaining. It never really gets us anywhere” have said numerous of my students to me during our classes over the years. And as an English teacher I've heard so much about corrupt politicians that just get let off the hook. “And what can we do about them? Nothing, because this is Brazil we are expected to just accept it. It is the way things are". 

"But you have the power to vote for whoever you like, right?" I once asked.

"It really doesn't matter who we elect, politicians are all as bad and as corrupt as each other”.

Well, the 20 cent rise in the bus fare has proven to be the straw that's broken the camel’s back, and as someone who has listened to complaints about the system for so long, I couldn't help but root and feel empathy for everyone out there demonstrating. 

It reminded me of that youtube video of that Australian kid who was being bullied and he just couldn't take anymore….he’d reached boiling point and after grabbing the bully, turning him upside down and then dropping him on his head, you just knew that for that kid, that one act of courage had unleashed something inside him that meant he would never be the same again. 

And that is what has happened in Brazil today….there is surely no going back from this? 

Tuesday 18th June

Before class this morning I looked on the UK websites to see if the events had made the news. The Guardian had reported it, alongside a video focusing on the violence in Rio….which surprised me, because there were so many other things they could have focused on around the country, things that didn't involve violence. 

As I approached the train to get home after my evening class, I actually knew it had closed but was secretly hoping it had been reopened. I knew this because I had been in a wi-fi zone nearby and had access to Twitter and Facebook. Thanks to people updating their statuses, sharing and retweeting key information, I've been kept in the loop with what's happening and when it has happened. So I'm not likely to find myself unwittingly in the middle of a protest that's got out of control. 

police pepper sprays woman
At the station a police officer came up and asked me where I was going, and after telling him, he went out of his way to direct me to the nearest bus stop….I really appreciated this. Police have a bad reputation in Brazil, but they aren't all bad....but judging from a picture doing the rounds today, it's easy to see why people might disagree with me on this one.

I mean, look at that girl, she looks like she couldn't fight her way out of a wet paper bag, let alone do something that warrants being treated like this.

So  I eventually squeezed onto an overcrowded bus, and instead of feeling uncomfortable I, like most people on there, simply felt relieved to be heading towards the direction of home. As we drove past one bus stop, I saw a line of people waiting to take the bus that would have made a grown man weep….

My housemate sent me a message to say that he'd got stuck in Bela Vista. There were lots of bombs and shots going off around his friend's house, so he was staying there the night.

 Wednesday 19th June

There wasn't anything planned on a big scale in the city today, which is good because I’d switched a class and was teaching on Paulista Avenue, the place most of the protesting has been taking place. I called my parents today to let them know I was fine, My Dad had seen Dilma (or as he calls her, ‘that woman whose name I can’t pronounce') on the news in the gym, but David Guetta was on really loudly at the time and he couldn't make out what she was saying. 

I think the call did more to worry than relax them, because they weren't really clued up on what was going on here. I forget that I'm living in a bit of a bubble that makes these riots seem all consuming, yet in the UK other news stories are of more significance (Step forward Nigella and her surprisingly non-obese husband). 

I took a nap after my morning class, and then looked on Facebook. The Brazilian Human Rights Division have approved a bill to research a cure for homosexuality. It still has a few stages to go before being officially passed, and in the current political climate I’m sure the Brazilian people are just dying to foot the bill for this one! How out of touch are these people!!! 

So later today it was announced that the price of the transport in both Sao Paulo and Rio has been reduced to 3 reais, knocking off that 20 cents that started the riots in the first place. The people won, right? Well the mayor of Sao Paulo tagged onto the end of his speech that cuts would need to be made elsewhere. 

Thursday 20th June

One of the most iconic pictures of the protests has come from Rio....
that's an awful lot of unhappy people right there!
So is that the end of it? Well with another big protest planned nationwide today, I wouldn't count on it. People are feeling somewhat optimistic here right now that they can make a change, they're taking to the streets draped in Brazilian flags and there is a real sense of community within the protesters. I've not seen so many of my Brazilian friends talk politics before, and it's actually very inspiring. You can see that they enjoy feeling a part of this, and also that these protests have been empowering for them.

"If we can change to get them to reduce the price of the bus, what else can we achieve? We just need to keep going and going" said my student earlier this week. And with things having gained such momentum in such a short space of time, I'm sure what has happened here in the last seven days will have a huge impact on Brazil's political landscape for a long time to come.

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