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Neighborhood in Brasilândia

The other night, a friend in the States asked me, “So when you say you’re living on the periphery, what does that mean?” It’s a good question — the “periphery” of São Paulo actually refers to a rather large area which makes up the perimeter of the city. It’s the neighborhoods at the extremes of the city — but still part of the city proper. About three months ago I moved to Brasilândia, which is situated on the hills that lie to the north of the center.

The periphery also carries connotations of being “peripheral” – inconsequential, marginal, not central. According to Brazilians I’ve spoken with, there exists among some Paulistanos (people from São Paulo) this attitude toward the periphery — that the people who live here are not important, that there is no cultural life. The metro does not reach most areas of the periphery. Poverty is widespread, and there are many favelas (favelas also exist in pockets in many areas of the city).

The streets here are narrow, and the buses wind through roads full of traffic and people. To get here from the center of the city, I take a bus from the end of the metro red line (Barra Funda). The bus takes 45 minutes if traffic isn’t heavy.

Several people I’ve met here have asked me, “What brought you to this ugly place?” And in truth, Brasilândia is not pretty. There is trash in the streets, graffiti on the buildings, drug traffickers hanging around on the corners, and concrete everywhere.

Nevertheless, I’m beginning to discover some of the beauty of this place. First of all, of course, there are the people who have been so welcoming. Today, I was wandering around lost, looking for one of our parish communities, and a little old lady called out my name. I didn’t recognize her, but she knew me from the parish and greeted me with a kiss. She wondered where I was going and if I was lost — and then walked me to where I needed to go. I should add that this is the third or fourth time this has happened and it’s always a different little old lady!

The kids who play in the street where I live love to greet me in English — “Hellooooo” and ask me to say their names in English (but many times there is no equivalent). I showed some of them a photo of “Harry Potter Day” at my niece and nephews’ school. Ever since, they’ve been telling the other kids that my niece and nephews actually attend Hogwarts. Woops.

There are many dogs living in the street, and Pretinha is one of them. The neighbors care for her, though. One makes sure she gets her shots, others feed her, and my housemate and I allow her to sleep on our porch when she wants! She’s the most spoiled street dog I’ve ever met.

So that’s a little slice of life on the periphery. Até mais!

Erik Cambier
Erik Cambier served as Maryknoll lay missioner for 25 years, in Tanzania, the United States, Venezuela and El Salvador.