Brazil Blinders

A friend of ours shared a catchy video on Instagram the other day called “Carioca não ta ligando pra nada” (“Cariocas don’t pay attention for anything.”)

It’s a short, comedic Instagram post where the guy in the video talks about how people in Rio will completely ignore everything going on around them. On the a bridge, in the middle of a shootout, a “normal person” would just wait in their car until the situation calmed down. Cariocas? They’ll get out and fly a kite, play cards with their friends, sit down and have a meal. It doesn’t matter.

Perigo

The caption on the video says “A carioca looks at danger and finds it funny. LOL”

It’s a joke based on truth. The first time I noticed this was when we went on a trip to Maceió. Anywhere in Brazil, there’s a fair amount of poverty – often in pockets. As we drove from beach to beach, we’d pass houses and towns that exceeded a level of poverty I’m familiar with in the United States. I found it heartbreaking. The harsh contrast of my vacation with these day-to-day realities weighed heavy on my mind throughout our trip.

“How can you guys just ignore that?” I’d ask Gustavo.

As usual, we’d talk about how the level of violence, poverty, sadness, and so on in Brazil – especially Rio, from our perspectives – was too much to hold. If you stopped to think of every atrocious thing you saw in a day, you wouldn’t do anything. Instead, you develop a sense of numbness.

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Looking in the mirror

I see it in myself these days because Rio changed me. Recently, there was a shooting nearby. I saw in a news article that someone commented about how awful it was that it happened so close to a pre-school. Instead of horror, my first thought was, “That happens all the time in comunidades (favelas).” Only after that knee-jerk reaction did my sense of compassion and humanity kick in.

It’s disturbing to see this in myself. I often talk with Gustavo about how much I struggled with hearing traçantes most nights when we were in Rio. While he understands where I’m coming from, it’s always sort of a comical conversation for him, too. How can something so “normal” bother me so much?

He lived most of his life in the same apartment building in Rio, which is situated in Tijuca, at the foot of one of the hills with the Sumaré comunidade visible from his parents’ living room window. Hearing gunshots, notifications of extremely violent crimes, or seeing people in dire poverty was a norm and is part of daily life in a city like Rio. My sensitivity towards it often felt quaint, naive.

Photo by mohsen shenavari on Unsplash

Blinders

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in the wake of the ongoing fires in the Amazon. I’m horrified by what’s happening and keep returning to news pages for updates, curious for how we can help. As usual, my therapy for these world issues is sharing information on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Not because I believe I’m reaching new people, but more because I need some sort of outlet to vent.

Gustavo, who has the patience of a saint when it comes to my questions-that-have-no-answers, has beautifully handled me asking “Why isn’t anyone we know sharing this?” non-stop. It’s weird. Friends in Brazil who share every little facet of their lives seem to be silent on the issue.

How can you just go about your daily life when your country is burning?

That’s when it hit me. The blinders. “Carioca não ta ligando pra nada.” Even on a large scale. Even when it’s the entire country. Even when it’s the whole government. Even when it’s the “lungs of the Earth.” Or, perhaps, especially so when it’s the lunges of the Earth.

There’s just too much and too little people feel they can do. So the blinders come out to make things bearable.

And so we just see silence.

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