Monthly Archives: October 2011

Living on the Periphery


Neighborhood in Brasilândia

The other night, a friend in the States asked me, “So when you say you’re living on the periphery, what does that mean?” It’s a good question — the “periphery” of São Paulo actually refers to a rather large area which makes up the perimeter of the city. It’s the neighborhoods at the extremes of the city — but still part of the city proper. About three months ago I moved to Brasilândia, which is situated on the hills that lie to the north of the center.


The periphery also carries connotations of being “peripheral” – inconsequential, marginal, not central. According to Brazilians I’ve spoken with, there exists among some Paulistanos (people from São Paulo) this attitude toward the periphery — that the people who live here are not important, that there is no cultural life. The metro does not reach most areas of the periphery. Poverty is widespread, and there are many favelas (favelas also exist in pockets in many areas of the city).


The streets here are narrow, and the buses wind through roads full of traffic and people. To get here from the center of the city, I take a bus from the end of the metro red line (Barra Funda). The bus takes 45 minutes if traffic isn’t heavy.


Several people I’ve met here have asked me, “What brought you to this ugly place?” And in truth, Brasilândia is not pretty. There is trash in the streets, graffiti on the buildings, drug traffickers hanging around on the corners, and concrete everywhere.


Nevertheless, I’m beginning to discover some of the beauty of this place. First of all, of course, there are the people who have been so welcoming. Today, I was wandering around lost, looking for one of our parish communities, and a little old lady called out my name. I didn’t recognize her, but she knew me from the parish and greeted me with a kiss. She wondered where I was going and if I was lost — and then walked me to where I needed to go. I should add that this is the third or fourth time this has happened and it’s always a different little old lady!


The kids who play in the street where I live love to greet me in English — “Hellooooo” and ask me to say their names in English (but many times there is no equivalent). I showed some of them a photo of “Harry Potter Day” at my niece and nephews’ school. Ever since, they’ve been telling the other kids that my niece and nephews actually attend Hogwarts. Woops.


There are many dogs living in the street, and Pretinha is one of them. The neighbors care for her, though. One makes sure she gets her shots, others feed her, and my housemate and I allow her to sleep on our porch when she wants! She’s the most spoiled street dog I’ve ever met.


So that’s a little slice of life on the periphery. Até mais!

Siku Njema – A Good Day

wheelchair-wonder smToday was a good day. I was able to be part of something good. My part was being a connection and a driver.


In the past month, I’ve been a part of a number of different things, besides my usual work leading an education project for kids. I’ve met two different groups of visitors from various countries – some only here for a few days. Sometimes even these brief connections with people can be ever so meaningful.


Today I was able to help a young man get a wheelchair – his first ever. If he’s on a smooth surface, he can maneuver himself around, set his brakes or get going again. He’s stronger with one hand than the other, so he’ll take some time figuring out how to really get going. Even when he’s being pushed around, the dignity of being able to sit upright and watch the world, rather than being carried like a child swaddled on his mother’s back reminds me of why I am here, to listen, to help where I can, and to celebrate the joys in life that come in spite of the struggles.


One group of visitors came to help construct a house. I was able to pitch in for one day & got my first experience of local construction by hand! We literally passed globs of mud from one person to the next into the house, then packed it between rocks for the walls, then sealed the wall by throwing mud at it.


One other treat in the past month was going to a nearby national park with coworkers. We stayed at a lodge right at the edge of the park with a waterhole, where the elephants and other animals came for a drink. It was amazing.


I also celebrated being another year older and know how very blessed I have been. Thanks to all of you for being part of my life.

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