Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sickness and Spare Change

I have some weird illness that I caught from Lucas- it kept him, and therefore us, awake for three nights last week so it's kind of like the second time I've had it. If Evani gets it after me it will be like I've had it three times. I'm running a fever and my mouth is full of sores. I have postponed going to the doctor, but today when I woke up I discovered my hands are covered with red welts that look like flea bites or angry little red zits. Or little chicken pox. Time to go to the doctor.

When I lived in the States, I hardly ever got sick. I used to get migraines a lot, and those have gone away since I moved here, which is fantastic. However, I've had other health problems since I expatriated. The first year I lived here I had constant intestinal problems, which I suppose was to be expected what with the different foods and internal fauna and such... but what really drove me nuts were all the colds I caught. I would go a year or two without a cold in the States- but here it seemed like I caught one every couple months. I hated it.

And of course there was the dengue fever I caught the first time I was here...

And that totally weirdo affliction I had where I completely lost my sense of equilibrium and couldn't walk without supporting myself with a hand on the wall... the doctor said it was actually stress related...

And the couple times my throat swelled up so much that I couldn't eat because it was too painful...

And the freakin' scabies that plagued us for a couple months when Lucas was a baby...

Am I forgetting anything?

Illness is no joke here. There's lots of tuberculosis, and polio is still widespread, amongst other things. An acquaintance of a friend of mine died of tetanus the first time I visited. I think everyone hears about the high incidence of aids here, but as far as I know I don't know anyone, or know of anyone, who has it or has died from it. Occasionally homeless folks will come up to me and tell me they have aids and can't I help them with some change, but I don't generally believe much of what these folks tell me- their situation is such that they say what they think they have to to get some cash for whatever it is they really need. I can't begrudge them too much, although I do think it's a shame when someone comes up to you with a baby and says they desperately need to take him to the hospital, or shoves a prescription in your face and tells you that their child desperately needs it filled. The first happened to me and I discovered that the baby wasn't even his, and of course didn't need to go to the hospital. The second happened (actually has happened more than once) and I discovered that the concerned parent had been toting that prescription around for days to accumulate donations. Nobody told me that until after I gave her five reis out of the goodness of my heart to save her child.

So I started out talking about sickness and ended up talking about begging. I know you get people asking for money pretty much everywhere in the world, but being hit up for change here in Salvador is a constant occurrence, especially for a Gringo. I've heard it's worse than the rest of Brazil, even the rest of Bahia. Part of it is of course because there is intense poverty here, and although it's hard for me to see that (I don't tune it out very well) at least I have sympathy for those without recourse. But there's another side to it- what they call in Brazil cara de pau (face of wood). This describes the person who will come up to you and do or ask something totally outrageous with a straight face like it's normal. That kind of beggar drives me nuts. The guy who will hit me up for change not because he needs it, but just because I presumably have some and he wants some. Probably to buy a cigarette, or a beer or something. There are tons of people like that here in the city, and they tend to cluster in the same areas as the tourists. There's a name for them: caçadores, or hunters, because they prey on tourists. Caçadores can function on many levels but I'm not going to get into that right now.

I know this isn't a problem confined to Salvador, I remember seeing punk rockers in San Francisco with a couple hundred dollars in piercing jewelry embedded in their faces bumming change. I remember when Phish came to town in Amherst, and suddenly there were groups of hippies looking for a handout on the street corners. A friend of mine had someone ask him for change and then recognize him as a college classmate. But that doesn't make it any more pleasant, especially when you have to keep saying 'no.'

1 comment:

michelle said...

Man, here's hoping that Lucas just gave you a case of hand foot and mouth disease. It's a horrible sounding name for a pretty common and harmless- if uncomfortable- illness that little kids get often. Definently better than scabies!
I'm enjoying your posts! I hope you update your blog more often than I do mine!-michelle