8th (and final) dispatch from the Southern Hemisphere
There were a few important things that I had wanted to write about, but hadn't had time to include, so here they are.
I have not mentioned the economic situation in Brazil, which is fairly disasterous. This does not mean that I have not noticed it, or spoken to people about it. Chaim told me that Brazil has 180 million people, only 10 million of whom can afford to buy goods. I heard another number, which is even worse: only 3% of the population can afford to buy things in Brazil. Basically, there is no middle class here. You are either well-off, or you are dirt poor. There is no national health care here, or if it exists, it is very minimal (worse than Medicaid in the US, I think), so I have seen a lot of poor people here with severe disabilities. I actually don't know if it's caused by disease or by malnutrition, but a large percentage of the poor people I have seen on the street here are missing limbs (one or more), or have severe limps. Some of them are blind.
I felt guilty, for awhile, about taking a vacation in a country with so many obviously destitute people, but decided, in the end, that my buying or not buying things here, and my coming or not coming here, would not really affect these people. If anything, I guess it could only help them. But, as Chaim told me, really, all the money here goes to the rich people, who constantly get wealthier, while the poor stay poor.
I spoke with Chaim a lot about the problems in Brazil, and in South America in general. The real question is, "Why, in a country filled with so many natural resources, are so many people so desperately poor?" His basic take on the issue is that everyone is corrupt here, and has been since the country was founded. The Portuguese came and they stole all of the treasures of the country. Everyone after that, who has come to rule Brazil, including the current democracy, has been after only one thing: making as much money as possible off of Brazil. And this money is made off of some combination of the poor people and the vast natural resources here. Labor is incredibly cheap. Peggy told me that people can get a live-in-maid here for between $100-$200/month.
Anyway, that's that. It's very sad, and if I knew what to do about it, I would do it, but I guess that this is the situation in most of South America, and also in parts of Africa and the Arab world. Also, Asia, I assume. Sigh...
I also wanted to write about traveling alone, and traveling in general, and how wonderful it is (the alone part has both pluses and minuses: major plus is that I met a lot more interesting people than I would have otherwise!). But Chaim and Peggy want to feed me one last dose of wonderful, sweet, juicy fruit, so I have to go. Also, cheese. The kosher cheese that I got at the market here is wonderful. (It's not a "kosher brand," like Miller's or Migdal. It's regular cheese that a rabbi goes and supervises and makes sure is rennet-free. Yum!)