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(BRAZIL: Host, 2014 FIFA World Cup) A land of myriad beauty and contrasts

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NOTE: The article was written in June 1995 and is reprinted here as a feature write-up about Brazil on the occasion of its hosting of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The author traveled to Brazil, South America in May 1995 as a grantee of the Group Study Exchange (GSE) program of Rotary Foundation under the sponsorship of Rotary International District 3850.

The GSE program is a unique educational experience that furthers international goodwill and understanding by providing an opportunity to outstanding business and professional people to study another country, its people, its culture, and its institutions through personal contacts with Rotarians, their families and other people.

As the lone Zamboangue–o in the five-member GSE Team representing select Visayas and Mindanao regions, the author, who was then head of the Information Management and Public Affairs unit of the Commission on Population regional office 9, shares a recollection of his personal observations and learning insights on the month-long, all-expense paid study tour.

BRAZIL, as any Braziliero is always proud to say, is a country blessed by God. Its vast expanse of land, which is 28 times bigger in area than the Philippines, is rich in natural resources. Its beaches and fine sandy shores that come in multi-color, the total stretch of which extends to thousands of kilometers, are world-renowned and beyond compare.

There are no natural calamities that bring havoc on the land as often as the Philippines has to contend with year in and out; there are no visits of frequent devastating storms or typhoons, no recorded destructive earthquakes, nor threats of erupting and lava-spewing volcanoes to dread about like the Philippines’ Mt. Pinatubo.

There is, however, one pitiful thing Brazilians themselves say in jest that God overlooked and failed to shower His graces - its people.

About 70% of its population live in abject poverty, maybe equally, if not worse, than the poverty situation in the Philippines. Slum areas, or favelas as they are locally called, are as familiar as Brazil’s numerous world-famous beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema in Rio de Janeiro. The disparity between the rich and the poor is evident; the middle class is few.

Brazil is a country where opulence and poverty blend together, where wealth and misery are on extremes, and where religiosity and immorality exist in compromise. It is a land living in contrasts and contradictions amidst a landscape endowed with myriad beauty.

Population and Land Area (1995 Data)

Brazil occupies two-thirds of South America with smaller countries like Peru, Chile, Paraguay, Colombia, Venezuela, and Argentina as its neighbors. It has a population of 160 million people. Its population density, or the average number of persons living in one square kilometer, is only 17. With a population of 70 million, Philippine density is approximately 233 persons per square kilometer.

(Brazil is a tropical country in South America and is located halfway around the world from the Philippines.)

Unlike the Philippines, Brazil does not see population growth as a serious social concern, much less a threat to spatial distribution. Hence, there is no family planning program officially endorsed by the national government, much to the satisfaction of the Catholic Church.

Due to the tremendous influx of migrants into Brazil during the 17th century, the population is mostly Caucasian (60%) and mixed nationalities (40%) comprising of Portuguese, Italians, Germans, Syrians, Lebanese, Asians, Indians, and Africans.

Mulattos, those of mixed black and white ancestry, constitute about 25% of the entire population.

The Portuguese Language and Zamboanga’s Chabacano Dialect

Although Brazil has a racially mixed and diverse population its citizens are bound by a common language, Portuguese. There are no dominant regional or ethnic dialects. Portuguese is the official written and spoken medium of communication.

Surprisingly, Zamboanga’s Chabacano dialect, with its adoption of many word derivatives from the Spanish language, has peculiar similarities with Portuguese.

To my amusement, the many Brazilians I met and conversed with in Chabacano understood me clearly well. In several formal functions of Rotary and other informal social gatherings that our GSE team attended, I gladly obliged to “popular public demand” to give a sampling of our native dialect which I spoke with a combination of crooked, faulty Spanish I remembered from my college days.

By speaking Chabacano I drew curious attention and interesting questions from my Brazilian listeners inquiring about its oddity and strange similarity to their Latin language.

Even my four Visayan and Ilonggo-speaking GSE teammates at times asked me to be their translator, thinking perhaps I spoke fluent Spanish and understood some good Portuguese. It was a funny, yet flattering, experience.

This particular episode in the study exchange tour was an ego-booster. As a total stranger in a foreign land where many of its people barely speak or understand English, I gained the extra confidence to interact and present myself like a proud show-off, with our unique Chabacano dialect to boot!

Football Passion

Football, or soccer as it is also known, is Brazil’s all-time sport passion. The love for the sport borders on fanaticism; it is almost cult-like. It runs deep in any Brazilian’s psyche. In any world series ballgame, the mania translates into a unifying national pride that binds its multi-racial diversity into one people, one cheering nation.

Brazil’s World Cup championship titles are impressive and lend credence to its dominance in the sport.

It is no wonder then that whenever its national team plays in any of the many football venues in the country such as the Maracana Football Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, reputedly the world’s biggest which can seat 180,000 to 200,000 spectators, a public holiday is declared to provide every citizen the chance to watch the games live or view on national TV. Almost all public or private service operation then comes to a standstill. 

Talk about football anywhere and anytime in Brazil and the Brazilieros’ world comes to a full stop.

If in the Philippines rich families can put up a whole-length basketball court in their backyard, well-to-do Brazilian families, at least some prominent Rotarians who hosted us, have well-manicured, modest-sized football fields in their residential lawns!

Some Social Practices

Brazilians, young and old alike, are fun-loving and - like football - music, dancing, and drinking are a way of life for them. They enjoy a lot of Samba dance and Bossa Nova or Reggae music festivals all throughout the year. The Mardi Gras festival in Rio de Janeiro is a popular annual event that has drawn world attention with many local and foreign tourists joining the street celebration.

Brazilians are amiable people and are noted for their warmth and hospitality. Interestingly, among their commonly practiced social norms is the beso-beso or the buss on both cheeks. Although the handshake is acceptable, the beso-beso, which is done with a slight body embrace, customarily follows after greeting ÒhelloÓ or bidding Ògood-byeÓ between men and women, or among women themselves.

This Brazilian gesture of social greeting and courtesy will remain one of my fondest memories about the month-long study exchange.

In my whole life I have never been bussed so many times, or kissed endlessly with gusto so many lovely and gorgeous-looking Latinas, mulattas included, whose physical and facial attributes can easily qualify them for any world beauty pageant much to my delight and heart’s content!

While engaging in the double buss is simply an act of their cordiality, Brazilians are generally observed to have less personal inhibitions compared to Filipinos. They have an open and demonstrative attitude toward sexuality, a far-cry from our innate conservatism.

The young and middle-aged freely express their mutual affection for one another regardless of the time and place. Not a bit bothered by people around who do not even seem to mind nor give them a second glance, having a passionate  display of affection in full public view is as natural as holding hands. It is but an ordinary sight to see couples smooching in shopping malls, restaurants, beer joints, at the beaches, during parties, or while simply relaxing or taking leisure strolls at the park.

The  Mardi Gras festival in Rio de Janeiro where colorfully- and scantily-attired revelers and spectators alike engage in provocative sensual dancing and uninhibited merry-making gives one a glimpse of the Brazilians’ liberal sexual outlook in life.

Religiosity and Liberal Lifestyle

Brazil is pre-dominantly a Roman Catholic country with only a negligible percentage of the population professing other faiths.  However, it is surprising to note that the people’s religiosity and the way some moral standards are being observed can be an interesting study in contrasts. Compared with Philippine religious and social norms, they can be far from being compatible.

Attribute the deviation to cultural upbringing and liberal lifestyle, even the Church can be approvingly lenient on the attire church-goers, especially women, wear during Mass.

In disbelief I have seen women dressed up in eye-catching and revealing outfits like midribs or spaghetti blouses with plunging necklines which can easily divert and steal any man’s piousness and attention during Mass.  

In several instances I had to console myself with the thought that God is forgiving after I irresistibly ogled at and eventually ended up stiffnecked during Church services that I attended in the company of well-mannered, innocent-looking yet inappropriately-dressed mulattas. I had to forget about reverence and Church dŽcorum.

Culture may likewise be the probable reason for the seeming tolerance on media regarding the promotion of obscenity and the proliferation of pornography. R-rated films bordering on the explicit are shown on primetime TV programs at night without a trace of advisory on parental guidance for children being aired.       In downtown Rio de Janeiro, pornographic magazines and weekly newspapers are openly sold along sidewalk newsstands. While in the Philippines the distribution and sale of lewd video and print materials are considered illegal and taboo in our ardent desire to respect human dignity and uphold our Christian moral values, Catholic Brazil’s apparent condonation of society’s social wrongdoing may end up in time contributing to the people’s moral and spiritual degradation. 

AIDS Capital of Latin America

Religiosity has not deterred altogether the widespread problem on prostitution, which is partly a given consequence of the booming and lucrative tourism industry in Brazil. Undeniably, poverty strikes at the very core of this social menace.

While Bangkok, Thailand is known to be the AIDS capital in Southeast Asia, Brazil is said to be its counterpart in Latin America. With the reported estimate of 200,000 cases (enough to fill up the Maracana Football Stadium), the HIV and AIDS scare  is real, and awareness on protection and prevention has become high, especially among the young population.

However, if the people’s continuous moral undoing and wanton disregard of decent, acceptable sexual norms and practices remain unchecked, they may one day undermine Brazil’s spiritual stronghold as the largest Catholic country in the world.

Nature’s Paradise on Earth

Other than its numerous social and economic ills which are typical of any Third World country - the Philippines included - there are more exciting things to discover and learn, a lot more beautiful places to see, and definitely, a lot more to understand and appreciate about Brazil, its people and its culture.  

Brazil is a country beautified by nature. The vastness of its colorful and art-perfect landscape can thrill and captivate you no end.

Aside from “The Marvelous City” Rio de Janeiro, definitely one of the world’s most beautiful cities - where the popular Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and the iconic arms-outstretched statue of ÒChrist the RedeemerÓ in Corcovado mountain are located - there are the  vast Amazon jungle, the earth’s  last frontier; Foz do Iguacu, the world’s  greatest  waterfalls; the scenic Pao de Acucar Rock; the picturesque Botafogo Bay; the mountainous sand dunes in Ceara state that offer a thousand thrills to buggy riders, and an endless world of other captivating sights and destinations to explore and behold.

As one writer once said, falling in love with Brazil is inevitable. It comes naturally. The country remains to be as exotic as ever, its immense landscape seemingly God’s favored masterpiece of nature’s paradise on Earth.  

My month-long affair with her as Rotary’s Ambassador of Goodwill was an unforgettable fling and an excursion of a lifetime, beyond doubt an enriching experience. With much appreciation and gratitude to the Rotary Foundation, Rotary International District 3850. I wish I can join its GSE program the second time around.

(Some unfavorable observations are personal learning insights. They are not intended to give a disapproving view of the whole of Brazil. They are impressions drawn merely from the few number of states and cities our GSE team visited and the limited information provided to us by host Brazilian Rotarians. - Eric L. Despalo, June 1995)




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