I get a knot in my stomach almost every day here in São Paulo. When I catch a view of tents pitched in a garbage-ridden patch under the freeway, I get a knot. When I see the tents’ residents huddled together smoking crack, I get a knot. When I quickly avert my eyes from the woman on the sidewalk huddled in blankets with only one foot that looks like it’s rotting, I get a knot. When I see a girl no older than six or seven wander barefoot down the supermarket aisle asking for money, I get a knot. When I walk out of there and find I can readily identify which kids in the parking lot are from the squatter settlement across the street, I get another knot.
I wonder if Paulistanos around me notice these things or if they shrug it off as part of the city life, like the traffic, drizzle and labor strikes. I wonder if it’s better in the U.S., where desperate poverty for the most part is hidden, making me more prone to shock when faced with it, or if it’s better here where it’s inescapable everyday, but I run the risk of becoming immune to it. I don’t have answers.