São Paulo – The financial district of Brazil. “It is the most populous and wealthiest city in Brazil. It exerts strong international influences in commerce, finance, arts and entertainment” (Wikipedia). Sound pretty nice, huh? But there is another side behind that financial city a lot of people are used to overlook.Some weeks ago I was going out with some with some of my Brazilian friends. We went to some bars and had a few drinks. When the last bar closed we walked along the streets trying to find a place that would still sell beer. Skyscrapers in the background- tents in front of us. Here in São Paulo it is kind of common to see people live on the streets. Some of them are considered lucky to have a tent.
After I had moved to Brazil I soon realized how “normal” it is here to have this huge amound of humans living on the streets and how sad it actually is that a lot of people kind of stopped looking at those people. It has become so common that it has become part of the city. Just like the skyscrapers in background, those tents seemed to belong here in a sad way.
People live inside those tents. Other people walk past. We walked past.
We went to some kind of garage shop to get some last beers before we were to head home. They were selling pizza aswell. I decided to get some pizzas and three Snickers I wanted to bring back to the people who lived in those tents.
When I walked there I did not know where to put the food. I couldn’t just lay it on the floor, right? So I was walking around those tents and suddenly saw some movement in one of the tents. I got closer and knelt down to see the entry.
Inside were a lot of matraces and it reminded me of those cosy Moroccan tents in the desert where people were sharing their tea inside. The atmosphere here was anything but cosy.
I did not know what to say as a small boy of around 12 years of age came crawling towards me. I sat down and looked him into the eyes.
You might not know, but I am terrible at looking people in the eyes. It kind of freaks me out. I tend to focus on their forehead instead or just look somewhere else while talking.
This time I did not.
I was looking this boy straight in the eyes and I said in Portuguese “I am sorry my Portuguese in not perfect, but I got some pizza and three snickers and I would like to give them to you.”
He looked back at me and his eyes told me that I could come closer inside the tent.
So I did.
There were two other men sitting in the back of the tent. None of them was wearing shoes.
They were calm. I was calm.
I handed them the food.
None of them was smiling, but they nodded at me. I nodded back and slowly got out of the tent.
I heard “Obrigado” when I was walking out, which means thank you, and I walked back to my friends.
Thank you for what? For spending this rather small amount of money on some pizzas or for seeing them?
While I was thinking about this I remember a street artist here in São Paulo. He is called Mauro and does some amazing streetart in the city. It’s always a girl who looks up into the sky.
I had seen him once spraypainting the city and we had a quick chat.
And then … just imagine a city as big as São Paulo with twelve million (!) inhabitants … he was passing on a bike.
I was him with his backpack passing me on the street I was sitting with a beer in my hands. At 3 am, just when I had thought about his art.
VERACIDADE he is writing. “the truth” it means. At the same time “ver a cidade” means “see the city”.
I saw it.
I looked it straight into its eyes.
Open yours when you are traveling. See the people. Look them into the eyes and even if you can’t change this whole fucked up system behind- try to look those people in the eyes and acknowledge that you can see them.
“When you look away from a homeless person, you diminish their humanity and your own.” ~ Brené Brown