Explaining the Unexplainable

Mariah Donnelly - Brazil


March 30, 2012

America is not perfect.  I would say that almost universally Americans would agree that this statement rings true.  Just ask an American about recent politics and when you hear just a long moaning noise you will know what I am talking about.  But what is easy for Americans to see isn’t always so easy for people living in other countries to see.  Sure a lot people , globally, think that America has a problem in terms of  our military presence abroad but people don’t usually view this as a “problem” for Americans just more of a nuisance for everyone else.  What often gets forgotten in the third and second world countries, especially among people who don’t have great access to the news or are highly educated, is that the United States has problems too. And I don’t mean to cast a bitter shadow over  that last statement at all, I mean who really wants to read about their own countries problems on a daily basis let alone another countries problems.

What tends to happen in a lot of countries where the United States is generally looked favorably upon is that people have the tendency to glorify it. And why shouldn’t people? I mean if you are only seeing the huge mansions and rich people living the life on the television shows and movies, who wouldn’t want that life? I found this especially true in Brazil where I would say on a daily basis I see my host family watch more American TV shows (albeit dubbed in Portuguese) than Brazilian TV shows. And American music is ever-present here as well, I still remember the first time I heard a construction workers’ ring tone was “Candy Shop” by 50 cent.  It wasn’t until a few nights ago when I was talking with my host father about healthcare that the topic of “America” and “Its problems” has really ever been brought up.

My host father was asking me where I go if I am injured… do I go to the private or the public hospital? And once that question was asked I knew this conversation was going to get about 1000 times more difficult. Luckily my real mother in the United States has worked both sides of the healthcare system (currently she is a nurse and she used to work for United Healthcare), so I am a least a little bit well-versed in how our healthcare system works.  In order to not make this post longer than it should be the conversation eventually led to the inevitable truth, no we only have general hospitals, yes this means that if you cannot pay/ do not have insurance you in general cannot get help (of course it’s a lot more complicated than that, and yes you can get help but the question is how much debt is one willing to go into receive that help). I am assuming that the reaction I received from my host family after I said this would probably be about equivalent to the reaction I would expect from them if I told them the United States was just obliterated by an asteroid.

How do you explain to a person that the most powerful country in the world can’t give medical coverage to all citizens? It took about ten more minutes and a lot of “Yes I promise I understood what you asked, yes this is the correct answer” until we got the conversation back up and moving. It continued to develop into me explaining how insurance works (which is almost about the same here in Brazil) but no there is no such thing as a public hospital (where anyone regardless if they insurance or not can get help) in the U.S.

What I like most about this conversation I had was it brought up two important things: A discussion about how two separate but powerful countries handle essential problems such as healthcare and second it opened the door to explaining the unexplainable, that the U.S. is not perfect and we have our problems too. Its moments like this where I am thankful that I took a gap year. It never really hit me how crazy it is that the U.S. isn’t able to give something so essential to all other citizens. But as I see it, it’s just more food for thought for a young-adult on a life changing journey.

Mariah Donnelly