The $2.00 Purse
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 narrow 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
She Wants the Red Purse
People stroll by, but one couple stops and comes 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 face which was gaunt but defiant. 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. Stroking a candy apple red faux leather bag, her husband asked the cashier for 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 machismo, I turned my attention away from the counter as they spoke to the cashier.
Seconds later, flying past my 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.
What to Do?
My plan of what I should do was being concocted in my head. 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. I felt a sense of calm come over me when I decided I would wait until she 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. What do they think will be in there, a wad of money which accidentally was dropped?
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 angry that those who passed over this didn't offer to locate the owner and return it. My face felt flush from the anger. I was angry with all the citizens of Brazil 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 which are never encouraged only quashed. Only through the television do they see a life outside their own. Using an antenna made with two saucepan lids strapped to a long pole, they can have a fuzzy television signal in their home. Programs which 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.