“I think you’ll find that if there’s one word to describe Brazil, it’s dichotomy,” Tony told us.
Last Monday, the Brazil fellows visited a neighborhood in Salvador called Massaranduba, where we saw the last remaining palafitas, or water slums. We wound our way down dirt roads, between bare but solid brick homes, and past a game of ping pong improvised out of a couple of chairs, a wooden plank, and two broken tiles for paddles. Then the land stopped. Ahead were houses on stilts in the water, build by hand and connected by a rickety boardwalk—a boardwalk that even our host, Marcial, was cautious of. It is hoped that soon the families in these homes will be moved to more sanitary, structurally sound, government-built housing, but for now, they sit precariously in the Bay of All Saints, surrounded by trash piles and construction.
On Saturday, our classmate Mayon invited us to his aunt’s apartment building, just up the road from where most of us are living this first month. There, we took advantage of the gym, pool table, ping pong table (regulation size, this one), and the cable car down the cliff to the dock on the bay. There were a number of these docks, some with slides, jet skis, pools, and other amenities. Boats from the yacht club up the road floated by as we jumped into the salty water, trying to avoid the trash that bobbed back and forth with the tide. Perched high on the cliff behind, the residences of Vitoria looked out over the Bay of All Saints.
As we discussed economic inequality in Brazil during class the next week, our professor, who had heard about our recent excursion to the palafitas, observed that we were seeing two views of the bay—two vastly different realities: life in Vitoria, and life in Massaranduba. I’m only just beginning to perceive the dichotomy that exists here, and the perspective it will provide me with—a perspective that, as Marcial said, it is essential for us to take with us and impart to others.