My grandmother’s advice for my time to be spent in Brazilian urban poverty—“don’t internalize suffering, intellectualize it.” Don’t let the sadness I see overcome me, maintain perspective and emerge from my Global Citizen Year with the experience and drive to change what I will but not resentment towards this unfair world. I have sat on a beach in Brazil with one tattooed up 14 year-old as he cried from hunger pains, watched another struggle to spell his own name and a third become a father.
Each of these boys was born into an extremely young democracy that fails to represent his family, fails to recognize the maze of dirt paths that makes up his neighborhood as a neighborhood at all. Each was born in a favela of tens of thousands of families with one public school, one health post, one garbage truck and no police station. In a neighborhood full of violence and drug trade where I have heard the value of high school questioned because of teenage death rates. But not one lacked the infectious joy and emotional resilience that I am so astounded by here.
Because there is this unbreakable optimism, this faith here that one will always “achar um jeito”, find a way. There are kids who beg for money one minute and break into smiling samba together the next. There are men who walk out of Palafita water slums, hopping over mud puddles and garbage piles in shining leather shoes and a full suit to get to church. There are families living on pitifully minimal government handouts who manage to throw together a car-tire barbecue and a bucket of beer and shrimp to go to the beach on the weekends. I simply can’t explain how these people get by daily, but no matter what they have they enjoy it with a wide smile and then thank God for giving it to them.
The point is that for all appearances, Brazilians have mastered the art of evading internalization of suffering. And to live in the moment and love whatever it may bring is indeed an art—it is the dance, the music and the soccer steps that make Brazilians scream with joy. For someone like me passing through a tough situation, this skill allows me to laugh every day I live in a favela and emerge without serious depression. But I wonder about the other side of this glass-half-full worldview for my friends here; whether it is this very satisfaction with things as they are that contributes to the absence of higher education, to the early pregnancies and general lack of vision and value of tomorrow that plagues this place. If we look at today with a positive lens no matter how bad it is, why improve our future?