I wanted to write something upbeat on January 1 to usher in the new year and contemplate the many things I learned over the course of a challenging 2014. Instead, I woke up, made a feeble attempt to bid farewell to my last party-goers and spent the rest of the day musing at the irony that after a year of feeling like I had no voice, I would ring in the next in its literal absence. It was in this way that I also discovered that I had unknowingly made a tacit promise to myself to never blog when I was upset. On the other hand, it’s also possible that when I was in Sao Paulo, I viewed everything as an exciting and “novel” experience that I could blog about, allowing me to view even the most frustrating of encounters in a positive light.
Here in NC, that’s a little more difficult. Of course, it was easy to come back and re-adjust to the luxury of having my water glass constantly refilled at every bar and restaurant. It also wasn’t that exciting to once again have access to my full wardrobe—it turns out I only wear about three different outfits anyway. And I immediately took it for granted that I had a car to take out at 11pm and buy as many groceries as I wanted at the 24/7 Harris Teeter. These were the simple things, and they seamlessly integrated themselves back into my life.
Other things have been harder. I bump into someone on the street and instinctively, murmur, “ah! desculpa!” Similarly, sometimes when mentally formulating an e-mail, I get several lines in before realizing that I am writing an American and can (well, probably should) write in English. Before, I never understood it when my Brazilian friends would tell me that they missed speaking English. “How can you miss having even the simplest tasks being made more difficult?!” I would marvel. When I came home from studying abroad in Sevilla many years ago, I remember feeling as if a shroud was being removed and the sites and sounds around me were finally coming back into focus. There were certainly no feelings of saudades that time when I ordered my first meal back in English.
It’s been drizzling all day, never convincingly, but always just enough to give you hope that maybe it will all-out storm, finally making a dent in refilling the Cantareira water system that is currently at 3% of its capacity. All day today you could feel the air buzzing, everyone waiting for the election results to start rolling in. For the past month, people have been tuning in to presidential debates, usually with some mixture of interest and disgust. On the street, campaigners have been handing out stickers and waving giant flags, eager to persuade even a non-voting Gringa. I have learned there is no use trying to avoid it, especially with your advanced English students. Every conversation inevitably reverts back to Brazilian politics. Months of anticipation finally culminated today around 8pm, when Globo TV posted an update with 95% of the votes counted. Immediately after, we could hear people shouting in the street and car horns blaring. In one of the closest elections in Brazil’s history, the sitting president, Dilma Rousseff had won.
Though disappointing to many, this was a surprise to none. Dilma had been projected to win for weeks. Among the poor, especially in the country’s Northeast region, Dilma was the favored candidate, due in large part to her party’s welfare programs like the “Bolsa Familia.” Here in São Paulo, however, where people tend to be wealthier, Aécio, of the more centrist PSDB was far and away the favorite. Brazil’s economy has all but screeched to a halt, and inflation has increased as of late; as any good American also knows, who better to blame than the current president? Aécio, a former governor of Minas Gerais state, is staunchly pro-business and against the more interventionist policies of Dilma’s Worker’s Party. He was therefore the logical choice to steer the country’s economy back on course. And then there was the assertion that Dilma, as a former member of the Board of Directors, was involved in a major scandal involving the state-owned oil giant, Petrobras. Although many people weren’t extremely excited about Aécio, the election seemed like a good opportunity to start afresh after the Worker’s Party’s 12 years in power and let someone else make the mistakes for a while.
It’s a big day here in Brazil. For the past week, it’s been impossible to go anywhere in Sao Paulo without hearing “Dilma! PT! PSDB!” as well as a number of choice words I will leave to your imagination. Campaign posters are everywhere, TV stations have been airing publically funded campaign ads in specified time blocks, and the streets are filled with people handing out political propaganda. On Thursday, the fourth presidential debate was held, and over the weekend, Brazilians all over the country journeyed to their hometowns to place their votes. By now, Sunday evening, the votes are in, indicating essentially that all the excitement is culminating in six more weeks of winter.
Because no one candidate garnered the majority of the votes in today’s first round of elections, the top two candidates: the current president and PT’s Dilma Roussef and her PSDB rival Aécio Neves will go head-to-head two weeks from now. This was a surprising first round result in what has been a dramatic and even tragic election season. On August 13th, less than two months before election day, Eduardo Campos, the candidate representing Brazil’s third major party (PSB) died in a plane crash in Sao Paulo state. At the time, he was polling well behind the other two candidates, and it seemed clear that Dilma would keep the presidency. However, after tragedy struck, Campos’ vice president Marina Silva began to rise in the polls, giving all indication that this radical environmentalist who grew up poor and illiterate in an Amazonian state, might give Dilma a run for her money.
I can’t pretend to be the model citizen who diligently writes my senator to voice my opinion (sorry, Mom), researches every election down to the last city council member, expresses my frustration through music or art, or even really uses my background in biology or toxicology to actively engage with my community. As an idealistic high schooler back in 2003, I did take a bus to NYC to protest the war in Iraq, but aside from this one glimmer of activism, I’ve remained your pretty standard American who prefers to kvetch about bad foreign policy and the theft of women’s reproductive rights, from the comfort of my own home, preferably only with people who I know will agree with me.
Still, when I left to study abroad in 2005, I was extremely frustrated with my country. To my mind at least, we had entered the war in Iraq with little justification other than our anger about the Sep. 11th terrorist attacks and the need for a scapegoat, accompanied, quite conveniently, with a desire to oust Saddam Hussein. That’s not to say there weren’t important things I truly appreciated about the US, like peanut butter and oh, maybe some of the people, but overall, I felt pretty ready to escape the “Patriot Act” mentality.