Watching the World Cup has transported me back to
where my wife and I visited last April.
What we saw was spectacular. “God is Brazilian,”
the natives proclaim, and at times their hyperbole seemed justified. Brazil
Rio de Janeiro I
woke early and wandered the streets of Santa Teresa, a charming, colonial neighborhood high on a hillside overlooking the city. It made for ideal exploration. I could follow the steep streets down to the
city, descending by stairs in spots, or climb into the lush rain forest along
winding roads. No matter the route, the views were stunning. Through broken clouds, I caught glimpses of
Christ the Redeemer, atop Corcovado, his outstretched arms reaching to embrace the city.
But many in
clamored for survival. Each morning I encountered scenes of human deprivation, both heroic and
dispiriting. The city’s squalor stood in
stark contrast to her natural beauty. Rio’s
slums, known as favelas, clung to steep hillsides. They were never far from view. In an intimate square, in the heart of
Santa Teresa, a family slept on boxes under a wooden cart. Flies swarmed the barefoot children. Their condition disturbed me. How can life be so unjust?
As always answers proved elusive. The more I pondered, the more befuddled I became.
You turn a corner and
lies the open bay:
no sailboats, no puffy clouds,
only a boy
straggling up a steep road.
He picks through piles of trash.
When he nears you
he holds out his palm.
Feed me, his eyes plead,
I need to eat.
You pull a coin from your
pocket as a plane rumbles above.
His hand shakes now.
The plane curves away
and you wonder:
Why him and not me?
What is it worth?
Will he inherit what
is his, as proclaimed,
or is it all for naught
a cruel game?
You place the coin in his hand;
he swells with joy.
Conrad Tuerk is a teacher and writer living in Rutland, Vermont.