Well, the best-laid plans of mice and men—and international creatives—often go astray. Today, instead of Andy Martin interviewing Megan Farrell about her excellent book, American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City, Megan herself will post about the transformational effect that the protests in her adopted country are having on her world outlook. (Not to worry, barring further major events, Andy’s interview with Megan should appear next month.)
For nearly a week solid, I was locked to social media sites, doling out information about the protests in Brazil, via blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Along with other expat friends here in Brazil, I was been trying to make up for the fact that global news outlets were doing little to spread the word about the public demonstrations going on in São Paulo and other large cities.
Like a large percentage of my foreign friends, I have a closer connection to the country than your average expat. I have a Brazilian husband, and though she was born in New York City, a daughter who is a Brazilian national.
Ignorance was bliss
I’ll admit, before June 13, the night when police “lost control,” using rubber bullets against protesters and even journalists covering the events, I had little real knowledge about the injustices occurring in my new home country. I chose not to let such things enter my world.
Being displaced often makes it easy to be removed from your own surroundings.
Being displaced also makes it easy to be in a bit of denial.
But that Thursday night in mid-June, as my husband and I sat in a bar near our apartment and watched as the streets filled with protesters, my perspective on my adopted country changed.
The bar’s manager wasn’t allowing patrons to leave out of fear we would be exposed to the enthusiastic, but angry, crowd—some of whom were attempting to start fires to distract the police from blocking their access to Avenida Paulista, the central thoroughfare of São Paulo.
The protest eventually moved on, and we were able to leave, but my interest in what had initiated this movement lingered.
Not just about 20 centavos
By now, many of you hopefully understand that millions hit the streets of Brazil over more than a bus fare increase. Yes, that act was the catalyst. A 20 centavos increase meant an additional monthly expense of eight reais (R$8 is about US $4). It may not sound like a lot to you and I, but as minimum monthly wage in Brazil is R$675 per month (about US $300), every centavo is accounted for in the household of the working poor (i.e. the emerging middle class).
But the fare increase also speaks to deeper issues concerning the government’s priorities. Many Brazilians are finding it hard to stand by and watch as the government attempts to squeeze them for more, all the while spending millions of dollars on preparing stadiums for the 2014 World Cup—millions more than other countries who have hosted the event. Meanwhile, public services within Brazil remain abominable.
A few examples:
- Across the country, emergency rooms of public hospitals are filled to the brim with patients hoping to get care, yet doctors have no means to help the majority.
- Public school teachers often don’t show up to conduct class.
- Police are untrained and uneducated, often looking to supplement their meager incomes with bribes.
- Public transportation is decrepit in many cities.
“Its hour come round at last…” —W.B. Yeats
As I wrote in my recent book, American Exbrat in São Paulo, one of the more frustrating aspects of living in Brazil can be the Brazilians’ passive attitude on the inefficiencies and transgressions that occurred in their country. Be it that the post office ran out of stamps (again) or the police never showed up when called, a local’s response to this would be some version of, “That’s Brazil.”
So when hundreds of thousands took to the street in protest, with a list of complaints in hand, no one was more surprised than the Brazilians.
The media took it lightly at first, burying the story about a bus far increase in the back of the papers. Then, the focus was on the violence of the demonstrations. But the reality is that when you gather such a large group (everyone was invited by social media), there are bound to be a few who are there to express extreme anger or simply to commit acts of violence.
But as one who sits within the scene, I’ve found the protests mostly peaceful and the intentions positive. The people of Brazil want change and want the world to understand that their country isn’t satisfied with the samba and beach party persona. There are real issues within the nation’s borders that need addressing.
Whither the rest of the world?
As mentioned at the outset of this post, sharing information about the realities of Brazil’s protest movement has become an important objective for me. Friends, both foreign and Brazilian, and I have been passing along videos, news articles and photos that depict the main events as well as the sentiments of the people.
Many of us who have blogs about being in Brazil—mine is Born Again Brazilian—have written posts on these topics. For instance, I have just posted on Dilma Vana Rousseff, president of Brazil, who has stood in support of the Brazilian protesters.
Yet many friends and family members in the U.S. were still sharing updates on Facebook about their morning meals, their cats, sports teams, and other notices. These felt like irrelevant nonsense. How could this be? How could they just not care?
But then I recalled that I have friends in Turkey, who are going through the current protests. I have friends with family members who are in Greece and must have lived through the two years of protest in that country. I know little about what is happening in Ethiopia, where the first large-scale protest since 2005 has just broken out. And before June 13th, I was blissfully sharing little more than food photos and trip pics.
It is easy to be self-absorbed, content to contemplate the details of one’s own little world. It is even easier as an expat, when so much of your surroundings are of an unfamiliar nature. You take comfort in that which is close to home.
But now I have a different attitude and think about my power to disseminate information. It’s satisfying to share the details of what goes on in the politics of this country and have people you know respond positively.
But it is as important, especially for those of us who have an audience through blogs and other outlets, to keep tabs on what is happening elsewhere in the world and use our skills to move toward justice and peace.
This episode in Brazilian history has changed me forever.
Or so I hope…
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Readers, any questions or comments for Megan about what she is experiencing? Have you had any similar moments of political (re)awakening—or do you not “do” politics as an expat?
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a new episode in our Capital Ideas series, by Anthony Windram.
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images: Surrounding Megan Farrell (aka Maggie Foxhole) and her book cover photo are several photos taken by TDN writer Andy Martin. Go to his photo blog to see more.