There are actually a ton of posts I've wanted to write lately, but I just haven't had time to get caught up on the vacation stuff, let alone my other musings (I have a feeling the vacations posts will soon fall by the wayside). But I had a depressing experience on Friday and I wanted to tell you all about it.
I call my experience, "The Brazilian Small-Town Teenager: A Case Study."
On Friday, I went back to Caipirópolis to go to a bridal shower and then to a baby shower. When I got on the bus, there was no one next to me, but a teenage girl got on at the next stop. She was crying pretty heavily. At first I was worried about her, so when she struck up a conversation (about nothing related to her crying, which was a little awkward), I felt bad for her and made small talk in case she wanted to talk about whatever was making her cry (NB: I hate small talk).
This was a mistake. It turns out she had only been crying because she was sad to say goodbye to her family, and the amount of crying was perhaps disproportionate to the gravity of the event. I should've just pretended that I didn't speak Portuguese, or I should've been rude and ignored her from the get-go. The girl didn't stop talking for the ENTIRE bus ride (almost 6 hours!). Even when I pulled out my Kindle and started giving her curt answers, she didn't catch on.
But I learned a lot about this girl and her town during our extensive conversation, and let me tell you -- it was information I would have just rather not had. I like to think that the world is a good place, that there's hope for the future and for the next generation, and this girl really sucked some of that optimism out of me. (And now I'll pass this information on to you, dear reader. How nice of me.)
The girl was from a town just outside of Caipirópolis. She was 14 or 15 (in her first year of high school, she told me) but looked about 19 or 20. She told me she'd been visiting her aunt and her cousin and was now going home to go back to school. She informed me that she hated school. Teenagers all over the world say that; I wasn't too fazed. She also made a comment about how the last bus driver she'd had was a lesbian, and how lesbians are "gross". (I saw a connection between the two comments -- hating school and judging gay people, I mean.) I asked her why she thought lesbians were gross. Her answer was, "because they are!" I asked, "but why?" again, and she couldn't give me an answer, and I told her so. But she just wasn't getting it. She quickly changed the topic.
At first, I was pleasantly surprised that this girl didn't ask me where I was from. I thought at first that my accent from her region must really be spot on, though I don't pronounce a lot of words the way she does -- for example, I don't pronounce brava as "braba," nor do I switch my [r]s and [l]s to result in words like "plobema" and "vortar". I also use plural nouns, and not just plural articles (so I say things like as casas and not "as casa"). I know I'm a linguist and I'm not supposed to make
It's so hot on this bus! Ninguém merece!
This drive is taking forever! Ninguém merece!
But then she said, "Ugh, but school, you know? Ninguém merece!"
I said, "na verdade, todo o mundo merece!" (Actually, everyone deserves it!) I was pretty proud of my wit there, but the girl just stared at me blankly, which was her response to about 80% of what I said during the trip.
She proceeded to tell me the kicker of our conversation. A real shocker of a story. Apparently, in her town, there were 2 types of public schools: state-run K-12 schools and city-run K-12 schools. (I've heard of this in a few Brazilian cities -- from what I understand, cities implement their own schools to supplement the poorly-invested-in state public schools.) Anyway, because the state public schools didn't have any money, they tried cutting corners by canceling schools on Wednesdays and extending vacation times from 2 weeks to 4 weeks.
Now, what we, hopeful, optimistic citizens would EXPECT to see would be protests from state school parents, or a mass exodus of state school kids to the city-run school. But guess what happened instead. Did you guess? I'll go ahead and tell you: the parents from the city-run schools complained that it "wasn't fair" that their kids had to go to school more than the kids from the state-run schools. They complained and complained (and probably used ninguém merece a lot) until the city-run school reduced its hours to meet the state school schedule.
Just take that in for a minute.
Now if that information doesn't totally depress you, I don't know what will. Every book and study I've read about poverty and social action programs and all that has found that improvements to infrastructure and social assistance are most productive at the city level. But here's an example of a city government honestly trying to provide something for its community, and the citizens just flat-out rejecting it out of pure laziness. There's no other explanation I can think of. I was so, so sad when the girl told me that. The only way I can recuperate any optimism would be to think that maybe she was wrong, or that I misunderstood her. But I don't think either of those things are likely to be true.
Later into the conversation, I realized that she hadn't asked me where I was from because she honestly couldn't grasp the concept of another country, or someone being from one. I don't know if she even registered the mistakes I was making in Portuguese. At one point, she asked if I'd preferred living in Caiprópolis or Crappy Beach Town, and I explained that I was from the US, so at first Caipriópolis felt small and crappy but then once I left it, I appreciated it. Again, more blank stares about the US comment.
A few minutes later, she said, "You're from the United States? Um...so...that means your family doesn't live here?"
"Yes," I replied.
Then she was telling me a story about some party she'd gone to, and that she'd met a little girl who was "durka." I thought it was a word I didn't know.
"Durka?" I asked "What does durka mean?"
The girl had apparently heard the word for the first time at that party, and didn't really know what it meant. She struggled to answer me. "Well, um... you know....she wasn't exactly Brazilian, like me. She didn't have 'the Brazilian way about her.'"
I thought for a moment.
"Turka?" I asked. Turka is the feminine form of the adjective "Turkish." "Was she from Turkey?"
The girl shrugged. "That must have been it. I don't know."
I'm just gonna go ahead and state the obvious here: maybe if the girl spent more time at the school her city tried to give her, she wouldn't be functionally retarded.
But yeah. I hope the girl is an extreme example of "The Brazilian Small-Town Teenager" and not an average.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of the weekend was filled with dead fish conversations with other small-town women ("so how do you know the bride?" "Oh, I'm her friend") and equally asinine comments from people at the parties, such as the following:
- Why are plane tickets so expensive? All you do is sit there!
- My baby is 2 and isn't talking yet, but it's fine. Every baby is different!
- Everyone who comes to this city gets the flu. Why, I saw a woman on the news who said she'd been here for 2 weeks and she got the flu!
I just cringed and tried to nod politely at the first comments (no reason to try to teach people about economics or developmental milestones), but there was one exceptionally ignorant woman who really did me in. There was a woman at one of the parties who was a math professor at a local university. When she mentioned it at the table, a woman of about 50 said:
"Oh my god! Why do you teach math?! Math is impossible! Math is for men's brains."
"No it's not." I said rudely. I'd been kind of quiet, so the women looked over at me.
"Men's and women's brains are the same. The only reason women think they can't learn math is because other people tell them that it's something only men should study. Maybe if women didn't tell other women that math was too hard for them, then they'd be better at it, don't you think?"
As always, I got blank cow-eyed stares from the person in question, but at least the math teacher was smiling. (She also diplomatically responded to the older woman with "well, there ARE more men in the department than women.")
I can barely tolerate regular stupidity, but women putting down women is where I draw the line. There was also a teenage girl at the table, and I wanted her to hear a counter-argument to that woman's statement.
It was really nice to see a few of my friends and to celebrate the upcoming wedding and the upcoming baby, but all in all, it was kind of a frustrating weekend, and I lost a little faith in humanity and felt kind of old and isolated.
I'll leave you with some Joanna, in case this post made you feel the way I did. She always helps me out: