A lot of things have happened since I last blogged. The group is now split up into two hostels in Barra, a neighborhood not too far from the university we were studying at. I say were because we have had to have classes in our hostel this week due to a police strike that has raised uncertainty in the city. The university is closed as the peak of the police strike experienced around 50 reported homicides in a 3 or 4 day stretch. The city of Salvador is around the size of Chicago and my classmates and I are by no means near the danger but nonetheless I have had a few problems as we wrap up our three weeks in Brazil´s third largest city.
12 male students in the group were placed in one hostel a block over from the rest of the group. Our Hostel room has 4 bunk beds. Due to the confined quarters this week will be one lived out of our suitcase. The bathroom is located in out hostels back courtyard a few steps from our “room“ and has the comfort of a county fair porta potty. Many of the students have resigned to use the lobby´s restroom. My room is windowless and located against the main road underground. This location is well suited for late night sounds of locals rummaging the streets for garbage and early morning construction work. By all means I am still very much excited to be in Brazil, the primary question I raise in this blog is the impact of the contrasting experiences between myself and my classmates.
The primarily girl hostel located only a street away has many perks. They receive one free capirinaha every evening (a favorite Brazilian drink), along with a nice dining room with speakers for late night group gatherings. The mostly girl hostel has bathrooms roughly the size of our entire room. Thankfully the hostel discrepancies may come to a premature end as the program staff debates moving us out of the city early due to mixed perceptions by family and staff on the status of the city.
On a more reflective and upbeat note, I´ve had a moving experience this week, and all it took was a late night run to the market. My friend and I were looking for something to satisfy our sweet tooth after dinner one night and as we checked out we were faced with what was my most gut wrenching experience thus far in Brazil. A frail middle aged man, barefoot, with shaggy hair and a dirty windbreaker asked for us to buy his groceries. Obviously, distraught, and homeless the man uttered “se comprenden“ as he timidly pleaded to my friend and I. All the man had in his hands were a bag of powdered milk and something else I couldn’t make out. Every fiber in my body felt uncomfortable as I couldn’t tell if he was t trying to work me over. With my 4 week Brazilian tan I had often being mistaken as Brazilian and the dumb American ploy wasn’t getting me out of this one. Finally, my friend and I paid for our groceries and walked out of the market only to see the next man in line paid for the homeless man’s groceries. At this moment my heart hit the floor. I had enough money to pay for the man’s groceries but couldn’t bring myself to give into this one man’s simple request. Well if I give this man money then I might as well give money to every other man, woman, and child who come up to us on the streets and ask for money. I can´t possibly feed e very disadvantaged and hungry mouth I encounter on this trip. I realized that night that the only difference between my empathetic mindset while in America and in Brazil is that in Brazil I had no more excuses. No more was I free to feel sad for those less fortunate and leave it at that. Here I am a man with power, not to cure world hunger, house the homeless, or even the problems of Brazil. But here, a college kid from Rock Island Illinois can do what he can and show those around him that love, brotherhood, and humanity still have a place in everyday life. Who cares if the man was hustling and trying to work me over, the bottom line is wherever I go I bring my heart, my morals, and my spirit and those things will last long after I leave this place. No one man can change the situation of an impoverished city alone but the beauty of studying abroad is as you open your heart and embrace your surroundings; the world has a way of opening itself to you and showing you just how much a difference you can make.