Saturday, August 18, 2012

Wow -- close call ? ? ? I've got to learn this Portuguese!

As many of my posts start out, the day was wonderful with blue skies and plenty of sun to go around for everyone.  I am not sure I have shared before that Luiz works for the Federal University of Brazil or that the day before I arrived this time they went on strike.  To be quite honest I am not sure why they are striking but it probably has to do with wages and benefits like most strikes.   I do know that this strike is nationwide and involves thousands of federal employees.  The timing could not have been better for me as it allowed us to spend more time with each other literally.  Since we are apart half the year it was sure a welcome surprise upon my arrival.  Every week they check in to see what is happening on the negotiating front and I don't think there has been much movement.  I have also thought how I would hate to be a college student,  waiting for the strike to end so I can begin classes again. The best universities in Brazil are those ran by the government so when the employees strike,  classes come to a halt.  But, this post is not about the strike so I better get back on track.
The handout at the rally
On this wonderful day with blue skies Luiz invites me to participate in a strike rally.  The university employees along with other striking federal workers were gathering in town and parading by car to the central square where all the government buildings are.  As the cars proceed to the square, the plan was to make noise by honk their horns and disrupting traffic in order to gain attention for their cause.   This is how we were planning to participate and I figured it would be a new experience so why not.
Leaving the apartment at 8:35 sharp as the rally was to begin at 9:00, we drive to the gathering spot which is a large square near a University campus in the city. (There are several campuses within Goiania) Upon arriving we find a parking spot and walk across the square to join the group of people gathering.  There are two obvious groups identified by their flags, banners and the color of their t shirts.  One group is the educators all wearing blue and red and then there are the civil police
wearing black even though I think there were a few other organization mixed in as well.  They are all part of the same demonstration so we find a place to stand near a monument on top of a small hill.  A great viewpoint.  I snap a few photos and take a short video as I wait for Luiz to return.  He has grabbed a banner and headed back to the car to tape it on.  The banner will acknowledge our participation in the rally as we drive through the streets.  The people watching is great as
a couple of buses filled with participants arrive and cars with flags hanging out their windows continue to enter the small parking area.  The media is present and it becomes obvious who the leaders of the group are as they position themselves in front of banners for interviews.   There are some participants who have dressed up wearing red sparkly  wigs and crazy clothes and then the rest are just wearing the specific colors of support.  Unknowingly I have worn a red shirt today and although it does not say anything supporting the cause, at least it is the right color.
The crowd grows and soon the parking area is filled with cars all displaying the necessary identification.  From our hill top perch, we can see the crowd growing and getting ready to march. As the group becomes more compact we are surrounded by the civil police who begin to hand out snacks and since I did not eat breakfast it is a welcome surprise.  In the distance there is a loud speaker and someone begins making announcements.  ( in Portuguese of course)  I am not one hundred  percent sure what they were saying but from a word or two I did understand I believe he was giving instructions.   At this time the small parking area is filled with cars.  Participants begin to park along both sides of the street restricting traffic flow around the square.  A car carrying a coffin slowly maneuvers by and stops along the road just in front of a small truck.  Oh the back of the truck are two large speakers which are connected to the intercom system where the instructions are being delivered. The speakers have a large banner on the side which says something about the President of Brazil and her lack of willingness to negotiate with the government employees.  It is
soon 9:40 and everyone standing around begins to gather closer to the car with the coffin as more instructions continue coming from the speakers on the back of the truck.  At this point Luiz translates that there will be a group of people marching the short distance to the square. The procession will include the car with the coffin followed by the truck with speakers, the marchers, and then the rest of the vehicles honking their horns and waiving  their flags.  Remember the whole idea behind the morning is to slow down traffic and get attention and support from the community.
The protesters begin their march and as our car is on the other side of the park we head in that direction.   Luiz decides to change our plans and drive to the central square and walk to meet them instead of being a part of the driving procession.  He does offer me the opportunity to walk along with the marchers but I decline - maybe in hind sight I should have walked along?   It takes us little time to drive to the square but once we pass the congestion created by the march we arrive in no time.  We begin walking back down the street about 10 blocks until we hear the protesters chanting in the distance.  I of course get my camera out to continue taking photos and cross the boulevard to the center
grassy area for a better angle.  The coffin goes by and then some marchers and soon the civil police in black are in front of me.  I snap a photo and one of the guys says something to me.  Of course with my limited Portuguese,  I do not understand and give him my " ah what? - I can't really hear you??" look which normally gets me off the hook when someone speaks to me on the street.  This time however,  the gentleman keeps looking at
me which is a little strange but then again I have no idea what he said and Luiz is across the street and did not hear.  We wait for the second large truck which has the protesters who dressed up with colorful hair on top.  They are using a second loud speakers to share their message with anyone who will listen.  Once they pass by we decide to walk to the square with them, however we remain on the sidewalk.
Like I said earlier it is a nice afternoon and the weather is perfect.  I take some more photos of some of the downtown buildings as well as the procession of protesters.  Soon I notice someone throwing confetti out a window of one of the buildings along the route.  I am not sure this was planned or spontaneous but it sure grabs the attention of several people milling around.   Shortly after this I notice one of the civil police men taking a photo in my direction.  I look around to see if there is something worth photographing behind me.  Maybe someone throwing more confetti, but I cannot figure it out.  I turn back and feel like he is taking a photo of me.  I briefly think to myself "I wonder if he realizes I am an American and is taking a photo of me" but that is crazy.   He soon continues walking and I forget about it.  A
short time later Luiz and I are on the corner by the central square.  The procession begins to make one loop around the square before holding a small demonstration in front of the band shell.  At this point we are not sure what the specific plans are so we stand on the corner for a minute or two trying to figure out what we are going to do.  As we ponder, a group of six or seven guys dressed in black come across the street with cameras in hand and begin to talk to Luiz and I.  I again am not sure what they are saying but they begin to take photos of us and state something about Facebook.   Luiz seems to get frustrated and pulls out his identification handing it to them and trying to explain who we are. (at
least that is what I have since gathered he was trying to explain)  The guys in black ignore him and scurry back across the street disappearing into the crowd of people.  Luiz fills me in that because we were walking along the rally, a group of the civil police thought we were some supervisory group who were taking notes and spying on them.  (I guess paranoia about the government is common in Brazil)    They were going to take our photos and put them on Facebook to further their cause.  Luiz was frustrated that they would not listen to him or even for a minute consider that they may be wrong on their assumptions

about us and wanted to set the record straight.  By this time the procession of people and cars had begun heading around the square, so we followed looking for someone from the university who could help us clear things up.   About half way around he ran into the head of the university employees and explained to her what had happened.   She invited us to hop into her car to finish the journey around the square.
Once the procession came to the band shell everyone stopped as people jumped out of their cars to gather and take part in
the demonstration.  The truck with the loud speaker was parked there and people were giving more instructions.  The head of the university employees took the micro phone and asked Luiz and I to come to the font.  She made an announcement introducing us and letting everyone know that we were with the cause.  That Luiz was a federal employee who was striking with them and I was his american friend. I am sure part of her request involved not posting our photos on Facebook or continuing with this charade.  Luiz thanked her and we joined the crowded to observe the rest of the rally.
The demonstration seemed a little unorganized as they carried the coffin into the middle of the street.  On the top of the coffin was a photo of the Brazilian President and some words.  A man doused it and ignited it with a lighter.  I don't think they practiced this
ahead of time as the coffin barely produced any flame.  After a while some of the protesters approached the coffin,  ripped it open and set it on fire again.  This time it burned good and more people spoke and cheers sounded.  After a while we decided to leave and head home.
As we drove home,  I thought about the events of the day and wondered if the misunderstanding all started with Luiz and I standing in the middle of the civil police that morning.  I wondered where and who started the first conversation about us and how that snowballed until they were confronting us at the corner by the square.  Although I did not know exactly what they were saying,  I am surprised by how they (being civil police) handled the situation and really escalated it without us playing a single part.  I really don't think we were in any danger but I also realized just how quickly a group of people can become a mob acting off of emotion and not reality.  At the end of the day  I was just glad to be home!  

No comments: