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The $2.00 Purse

Updated on May 26, 2020
Blond Logic profile image

Living on a farm in Brazil, I've gained local in-depth knowledge of food, plants, and traditions, which I share through my articles.

A Day Shopping in Rural Brazil

The intense Brazilian sun sent me seeking shelter in a small shop while I waited for my friend. I tucked myself in the shadows behind the sun bleach mannequins which were dressed in counterfeit Tommy Hilfiger, Nike and Adidas gear. This shop sells a little bit of everything with nothing costing more R$15 (Brazilian Reals) that's about $5 (US). There are no prices marked and the store is nothing more than a tiny open-fronted hole, not more than 9' across. It sells clothing of random sizes too small for those who buy them and in the center are tables full of panties, towels and other odds and sods that no one can live without. I stood waiting and watching the crowds pass by on the uneven cobbled sidewalk. The open-air butcher across the street busied himself waving a towel trying to discourage the flies from landing on his once fresh meat. A few doors away the post office is packed as everyone needs to pay their car tax which is due at the end of the month. The line is long and spills onto the sidewalk with at least 30 people waiting. With only one attendant those people will be there for at least an hour paying tax on cars they can't afford. Credit has taken a firm grip in this part of Brazil

The Red Handbag
The Red Handbag | Source

She Wants the Red Purse

People stroll by, but one couple stop and come in the shop, she's thin, her age is hard to know. She could have been 35 or 55, her long and stringy gray hair framing a gaunt but defiant face. A life of eating only just enough, left her with sagging skin draped on her bones. Tucked inside her blue tank top was a fluorescent green purse. I wondered why she had it stuck inside her shirt, maybe she feared she'd be robbed.

Her husband encouraged her to look at the purses hanging on the wall just inside the door. She was stroking a red faux leather bag, her husband asked the cashier the price. After hearing the price of $3.00 (R$10.00) he told his wife it was too big. Pointing to the smaller cheaper bags, all which were shit brown, he reached up and took one down for her. Disgusted at another example of Latin machismo, I turned my attention away from the counter as they spoke to the cashier.

Seconds later, flying past my right shoulder was her old green purse. It had been cast out as trash on the sidewalk, unwanted and unneeded. Staring at the discarded article, wondering what to do, I watched as people saw it and continued to walk past. Stepping over trash on the sidewalk was nothing new for them. I, on the other hand, was concerned about this purse. A wide range of emotions flashed through me, anger, disgust, acceptance, and an inbuilt or brainwashed need to pick it up and put it in a trash can.

Brazilian Banknotes
Brazilian Banknotes | Source

What to Do?

My first desire was to take the purse to the woman and tell her she shouldn't litter. I quickly quelled this desire I didn't want to embarrass her, the husband, or the shop assistant. As a foreigner, I would be considered arrogant and out of line for stating my opinion. I felt a sense of calm come over me when I decided I would wait until the couple left, pick up the purse and throw it away.

It wasn't to be, as a man walking passed looked at me and then the purse. He lightly kicked it along until he was out of the view of the doorway, then casually bent down and picked it up. He opened it and sped around the corner. I suspect when he found the purse empty, he'd do the same thing and cast it away in the road. Cars would drive over it, and yet someone else would follow the same procedure, kicking it along the street and looking inside to see if it held anything of value.

I was angry, which isn't a frame of mind I get into often. I was mad at the woman who threw it away littering the streets. I was angry about the man who picked it up like a thief who steals from old women. I was mad that those who passed over this and didn't offer to locate the owner and return it. My face felt flush from the anger. I was angry with all Brazilians for accepting this type of behavior.


I Was the One With the Problem

My friend arrived and I shook off this feeling of negativity before it ruined my whole day. Later, I reflected on it and found the person who was in the wrong was, in fact, me.

How dare I expect these people to live their lives according to my values. They have not had the same opportunities I have had in life. I have had the benefit of an education, ample food, and medical care when needed. The people here of my age have had very little education as they were often required to work at a young age to support their family. How can I whine about the fact that she threw her purse away? This was her statement to the world that she could now afford a new purse even if it was just $2.00. Her old purse was now a source of disgrace and trash to be thrown on the heap of useless articles no longer needed. To think I was going to belittle her, on a day which she was able to finally buy something new for herself.

The guilt I felt was replaced by relief as I was thankful I didn't pick up the purse, and as an arrogant foreigner, tell her she was a dirty and thoughtless person. Her pride would have been hurt, and she would have tagged all foreigners as rich, hateful and bigoted.

I will never fully understand the life they have led as they will never know mine. Theirs is a life of hard labor and dreams that are never encouraged only quashed. Only through television do they see a life outside their own. Using an antenna made with two saucepan lids strapped to a long bamboo pole, they can have a fuzzy television signal in their home. Programs that show them how others live. Novellas featuring beautiful and wealthy families from the South of Brazil living on huge estates. It's the world of which they dream but will never experience.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Mary Wickison


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    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      Hi Paul,

      That genuinely surprises me as I thought of Thailand as clean and efficient. Perhaps I've been looking at tourist brochures.

      I think it is all about education, this, however, needs to be reinforced at home and has to be seen as a long-term goal.

      The idea of not littering has been engrained in the US psyche for so long now, it has become a social responsibility.

      Keeping an area clean helps bring communities together. When they take pride in their surroundings everyone benefits.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I enjoyed reading your article about the $2.00 purse very much, Mary. Behavior like this also happens in Thailand. People seem to litter everywhere they can get away with. For many people, there is no sense of public consciousness.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      Hi Shauna,

      I am certain she will.

      In almost all of the shops locally, they sell inferior quality products which don't last but it is all the people can afford. It is a vicious circle which keeps people poor as they need to buy again to replace items.

      Imports which are seen as better quality, are out of everyone's price range except for the very wealthy.

      For example, a Playstation could be purchased here for the same money it would cost to fly to Miami, stay in a hotel on vacation, buy a PlayStation and return home.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      Mary, your self-reflection is admirable. Too often we judge people without stopping to think about their lives and what they've been through. That discarded green purse was the woman's way of casting aside past hardships. She found a bright spot in her life when picking up her red $2 purse. I'm sure she'll treasure it as a symbol of overcoming whatever sour apples life had handed her up to that point.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      Hi Nell,

      When you stop to think about how we view the world, it's through values given to use by our parents, society, and country. We see news reports and our reactions are those which we have been brainwashed to believe are correct.

      As a psychologist, you must see how different cultures can clash, solely based on preconceived ideals.

      As always, great to hear from you.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      4 years ago from England

      So though provoking. And something I would never have thought of. like you it would have been my first reaction, thank goodness you suddenly realised how their lives are so different. Great read Mary.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      Hi Dora,

      Because I have lived here for 8 years, I often forget how different the culture is compared to that in Europe or the US. The people are genuinely friendly and good natured but when something like this happens, it is a clash of cultures and it takes me by surprise.

      Thanks for reading today.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      A very good read, Mary. It's a story with great depth because it presents issues for the reader to deal with; or it might just be your personal reflection in which you allow the reader to enter. Whatever, it is different and interesting.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      Hi Bill,

      Thank you. As you can tell it was something that affected me emotionally.

      You're right, I should expand my writing.

      As always, great to hear from you.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Excellent, Mary! I loved this, a type of writing we don't get to see from you...and I hope to see much more of it.

    • Blond Logic profile imageAUTHOR

      Mary Wickison 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      Here they are making strides but it is so ingrained in the culture. I was teaching English in a school here and a young girl's pen began to leak. Instead of throwing it in the trash can in the room, she walked over to the window and threw it out. I freaked out and the lesson immediately changed direction. I explained that doing that in another country would not be acceptable.

      I remember seeing anti-litter messages on TV growing up and this was reinforced in schools. This is what I believe has to happen in our respective countries. I think it boils down to respect for the environment, the city and the people.

      Trash collection is frequent in our area although it has to be taken to a collection point on the main road. 3 x a week in the city and 2x a week for rural locations. Even with that service, most burn their trash once a week or throw it over a wall or on the side of the road. This, of course, leads to rats and leaves places for mosquitoes to breed. Stray dogs, chickens, and even donkeys rip open the bags. I have spoken with the mayor regarding proper bins at collection points, but he only wanted to talk about how many football pitches they have invested money in. I fear change will be slow.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I guess until we've walked in someone's shoes we can't understand them.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      4 years ago from South Africa

      Beautiful, profound, and thought-provoking hub. Also a lesson to me, as I can't handle littering and people who seem to live happily in dirty suburbs. I have to remind myself that those people's sense of clean and dirty, right and wrong, allowable and not allowable are not the same as mine, as they were neglected for ages by my ancestors and even at present by their/our own nonfunctional municipalities who are supposed to remove and manage rubbish.

      Humans are the most adaptable species. We simply adapt and learn how to be happy even when our circumstances seem to be a hell to others.


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