The worldwide Augustana College experience

Some Observations

Hello again, friends! As is probably obvious at this point, I made it to Salvador alive… albeit very very tired that first day. Our poor host mom, Selma, was cooking us dinner, and by the time it was ready my roommate and I were both passed out–my roomie in her bedroom, and myself on the couch in the living room (keepin’ it classy, as always). No worries, though, we’ve been awake for every meal since then haha. Anyway, I promised some juicy stories (kinda) in my last post, so I suppose I better deliver. So much has happened, it’s hard to know where to begin, but I suppose I’ll start with some general observations I’ve made about Brazil before y’all get to hear about my lovely trip to the hospital and enlightening experience with Brazilian doctors (by which I mean I paid a lot of money for very little information). So without further ado, some observations:

  • Poverty. I was a bit conflicted on whether to start with this one, because I feel like it negatively portrays Brazil, which isn’t my intention. However, given that it was the first thing we encountered, I felt it was only fitting. In our classes and seminars for this trip, we’ve learned a lot about the gap in equality between the rich and the poor, but nothing can compare to actually witnessing it. The drive from the airport to our hotel in Ipanema immediately passes through a favela, which is a Brazilian slum. Our guide pointed out that the “noise wall” next to the highway was actually put up because of gunfire between favelados (favela residents) and police during the process of pacification (which was ultimately successful). There are vendors selling snacks on highway ramps, people sleeping on streets, and entertainers who rush into the middle of intersections to perform during red lights (my favorite: juggling on a unicycle). Hundreds of thousands of shabby brick shacks are built into the hills surrounding Rio. Even in Salvador, from our window you can see a maze of little houses with big shiny skycrapers as the backdrop. The contrast is almost painful sometimes. And yet, the funny thing about all this is that even though poverty is everywhere (or perhaps because it is), Brazilians seem okay with it. The “American” way of dealing with poverty is to avert your eyes or look busy; Brazilians, on the other hand, will look straight at it and deal with it. There are vendors everywhere, especially at the beach, and if you don’t want anything, you look that person in the eye and say “Não obrigado” (“No thank you”), and they move on. People will offer to help in any number of ways, and if you have some change, you accept the offer. If you don’t, you apologize and they move on. It’s weird, but somehow very… civil. And even after almost two weeks in Brazil, I can’t quite wrap my mind around it. Sometimes I wish it was more like this in America–people here may be poor, but they do the hardest work (laying sidewalk bricks by hand in 90-degree heat, for example), and it feels wrong not to acknowledge what they do. At the same time, however, it’s hard for me accept such blatant, widespread poverty, and near impossible to justify the life I’ve lived and become accustomed to.
  • Beauty. Since I started with such a bummer subject, I figured I better balance it out with something a little more positive, which is conveniently the second thing I noticed overall as well. I’m sure this is probably one of the more talked about observations for Brazil, but I have to say it as well–everything and everyone here is beautiful. Now, I have heard some people say they weren’t that impressed with the ladies here (you know who you are…), so perhaps I’m blinded by the difference in culture, but in my opinion, people here are truly attractive. You see black, white, and every color in between. I love it. The scenery is equally as beautiful. So far we’ve been in coastal towns, so I guess that’s to be expected; perhaps this might change once we go inland to Brasília. But really, how ugly can a Brazilian town be?
  • Confidence. I don’t even really know how to go about phrasing this one, so I’m just gonna give it my best shot–everyone here seems really comfortable with themselves. Even my roommate has noticed, so this isn’t just me being crazy (well, maybe). Men and women walk around like they own the place, chill and relaxed, but still confident. Itty bitty bathing suits are a big thing here (aha, pun intended!), and people wear them regardless of body shape or size. Men walk down to the beach wearing just a speedo; women wear bikinis with sarongs that serve double-duty as towels and blankets. To date, I have seen two one-piece suits for women–one was an Augie professor, the other was on a native Brazilian but had the sides cut out. All this confidence, paired with beauty, is both inspiring and intimidating–I would love to have that Brazilian attitude, but at the same time, I wonder whether I have it in me. Only time will tell, I suppose.
  • Crazy Drivers. It is actually legal to run red lights at night for safety reasons, and it is not uncommon to see three cars spread between two lanes. That is all.
  • Great Food. This is another one which I’m sure I am not the first to say, but it needs saying as well. Everything is so fresh, and fruit can be put into just about anything. Personally, I’m a fan of açai and fresh juices. I don’t even want to think about what I’ll do when I am no longer surrounded by juice shops on every corner. Also, arroz com feijão (rice with beans) is probably as close as you can get to a national dish, which is excellent for me because I have fallen in love with it. I am on a mission to learn how to make it properly before my time here is up. A mission, I tell you!

So there you have it, Brazil is a nutshell… sort of. But probably not really. At the very least, you could say it is Brazil to me. And now, what you all have been waiting for: how I ended up at a Brazilian hospital (don’t worry, it’s not graphic or anything super bad). It all began one fine evening when we were walking back from the metro after a trip downtown to Palácio Tiradentes and the Modern Museum of Art. Everything was fine and dandy when, suddenly, my dumb self trips in a pothole (sidewalks here are a legit safety hazard), and in the process of falling gracefully to the ground (ahem), twisted my ankle and scraped my knee. Usually I get right back up with this sort of thing, but I was so rattled I stayed on the ground for a few seconds. When I got up I felt a little light-headed and dizzy. Embarrassed by the fact that everyone was asking whether I was okay, I brushed it off and hobbled back to the hotel in pain. Things didn’t look too bad that night–not much swelling, no bruising–but by the time I woke up next morning, I had a golf ball on my ankle. The program directors were obviously concerned, and wanted to make sure it wasn’t broken, so it was off to the hospital with me… which also meant missing a trip to Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf mountain), a sad day indeed. Brazil does provide public health care, but given the slew of governmental problems, it’s no surprise that public health care isn’t that great. So that meant a long taxi ride to a private hospital in the neighborhood of Botafogo (see photo in previous post for an idea of distance).

Once there, the wait to get into the ER wasn’t long (makes sense), but after that, things fell apart a little. The doctor came in pretty quickly and ordered an x-ray, but it took a while to get the x-ray taken. And a million times longer to hear the results (very exact times, clearly). Double good news: my ankle is not broken; and turns out a meal is included in the bill, so I got a “free” lunch (rice and beans, of course, with an amazing chocolate mousse which I’m pretty sure was just straight melted chocolate). I also got a super stylin’ boot to wear, and it is actually called a “robofoot,” so that pretty much makes me certifiably awesome. Even though my ankle wasn’t broken, I was still referred to a foot doctor for closer examination and an MRI. Arrive at foot-doctor office to be greeted with a super-long wait and the realization that they don’t accept debit cards so the R$400 bill needs to be paid in cash. Thank goodness for able-bodied program directors who are able to run to ATMs and get that much cash. In the end, foot doctor was less helpful than ER doc–reiterated that my ankle wasn’t broken, that I should use the boot and rest it when I can. Not a word on how long I need to wear the boot, approximate healing time, etc. Thank goodness for mothers, Google, and email. All our travelling and walking around complicates things a bit, but prognosis is still good–I mean, it’s just a sprain. I will be in the boot for most of our trip now, meaning I’ll probably miss out on a few more awesome adventures (capoeira, for example), and will get many more awkward stares from strangers, but such is life. One thing is certain: if there is any time to embrace my inner Brazilian and strut (hobble?) around, this is it.

Wishing you safe sidewalks and strong ankles,


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