Trash + Poverty = A Very Polluted Rio Negro


We got into Manaus at about 1 am on Tuesday, May 21st. I was instantly struck by the humidity and how much hotter AND grosser I felt in comparison to Sao Paulo and Piracicaba.  The hotel we were staying at struck me as a prison, and I was instantly in a bad mood.  The last week and a half had finally caught up with me.. and I wanted to get back to the US PRONTO.  After taking a shower, which was conveniently housed next to the toilet (no shower curtain), I hastily fell asleep hoping that I wasn’t eaten alive by bed bugs.

I did feel better in the morning, when we started our adventure a few blocks away to the Market, which is housed along the Rio Negro. The Rio Negro is one of the largest tributaries of the Amazon River, and is black- where it gets its name from. The water itself actually looks like Coca-Cola.

My heart cried and I was so shocked by seeing the poverty that I was walking through.  In my heart of hearts I always knew that people lived in poverished situations, but for the first time in my life I was seeing the real deal. This was not 1 or 2 homeless people in Seattle, WA, but an entire community in poverty. There was so much trash in the river and roads- the physical state that the community was in was falling apart and to put it simply-sad.  I started getting angry, thinking about how people could live in situations such as this, and my senses finally kicked in. This is what they know- this is what their lives are.  Is it fair and appropriate to feel so sad and effected by this place?

I still am struck by the sheer volume of trash that floats in the river- that all these people depend on for their transportation and sustenance needs.  Our guide told us, “well you can’t really throw anything away”. This impacted me- heavily. No, you can’t really throw anything away. Where is “away?!”  Everyday in the US you throw things away- you take your trash out.. but where does the trash actually go? So, yes- there is trash in the river, but where else is it supposed to go?


Channelized Rivers and A Different Education System

Universidade Sao Paulo – Day 3

Today we packed up all our things and headed to the University of Sao Paulo during rush hour traffic. Let me tell you, you think traffic is bad in Seattle?? Sao Paulo is an entirely different playing field! Just a few miles of city travel can take over two hours! On our way to the university we passed one of Sao Paulo’s many channeled rivers. As the bus crossed the bridge we all saw this crazy floating crane contraption trying to clean gunk out of the river. The irony is that our guide told us there is a river that runs parallel to this one that is not polluted and its used for recreation only. It is starting to baffle my mind how much pollution there is here and how it appears the residents of this place are totally accustomed to it; it’s just their way of life. I’m under the impression that they realize that it’s polluted, and they know it’s bad, however I don’t know of any action that is taking place on the public side to clean up the pollution and focus on a clean river. One could say though that the floating crane does show action on at least some level, right??

To be fair, I don’t even know the names of these rivers… I have barely been exposed to this culture and environment, and I am pushing all of my biases and assumptions onto this place. One take away for me is that I need to look up more information about these rivers and try to put myself in the shoes of these residents to truly understand these complexities.

Once at USP, we met first with a professor of public policy who painted the picture of what the education system is like in Brazil. The system in place provides public education for free to all people- Brazilians and international students; this even includes higher education. (Umm… should I come here for my PhD?!) However, if you are an exchange student then you have to pay your home university’s tuition. So, if you decided to apply and stay at USP then you would not have to pay for tuition.

We were told by the professor that the education system in Brazil is taken very seriously which is why all public education is free. This is very unfair though because to get into a public college you must go to a private high school and pay to take special courses to even get into the public university. So, as it turns out, the people that end up at public universities are the ones that can actually pay for it. (Because they can pay for a private high school education.)

It was great for me to learn about how different the education system is here because I honestly had no idea that the education systems around the world could vary so widely.